business

EA filed an ‘Engagement Optimized Matchmaking’ patent in 2016

Remember Activision’s rather skeezy matchmaking patent from last year? That one was pretty straightforward in how it worked, if unpleasant: You buy something from the cash shop, and the game then makes an effort to match you up in a place where that cash shop purchase was a super great idea. Turns out that Electronic Arts has a similar but distinct patent filed from 2016, and it should get your hackles up just as much as its predecessor.

This one, at least, is not going to validate your every cash shop purchase directly; instead, it’s a matchmaking system dubbed Engagement Optimized Matchmaking that links you up based on play style, sportsmanship, skill, and willingness to spend money. The bright side you could point to is that it’s less explicitly about reinforcing cash shop purchases; the down side is that it’s still a matching system based on keeping you playing rather than providing a fair match, and at this point EA does not exactly have the goodwill of players. You can watch a whole video breaking it down piece by piece below.

Also worth noting is that the patent was filed in 2016, but it has not yet been approved. So it doesn’t appear to be live in the wild yet, but it’s on track to be.

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Gaming industry roundup: SWBG2’s poor sales, Gambling Commission, slot machines, and parody games

Don’t agree that lockboxes, lootboxes, and gambleboxes were the biggest story of the year? We’ve collected so many news tidbits just on that over the last few days that we’re resorting to rounding them up rather than spamming. To wit:

First, Merrill Lynch analysts have now lowered their expectations and profit estimates for EA thanks to the performance of Star Wars Battlefront 2, which the analysts believe will fall short of the 14M sales estimate by 2.5M. At least in big box stores, the game also performed relatively poorly on Black Friday.

On point: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gambling is under $1 on Steam. “Do you love opening loot crates, but hate the tedious gameplay sessions in between? Our marketing department has the game for you! Unbox random items! Get stuff, but not what you really want! Skate legal and ethical lines! Remember kids, it’s only a video game, so grab your parents’ credit card!”

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The Soapbox: Evaluating gaming monetization through the lens of Nintendo’s mobile history

Bloggers and journalists throughout the online gaming industry have been talking about monetization a lot lately. It’s not just lockbox/gachapon scandals, or their relationship with gambling, but basic monetization and what we want from it. Games, after all, don’t make themselves; we have to pay for something to make that happen. But some gamers seem to view free-to-play games as a game that should be free, not one to be supported if it earns respect. And on the flipside of that, far too few game studios give off a vibe not of experimenting with monetization but of maximizing profits above all else while barely veiling their greed.

However, outside the MMO world, there is a company that’s been doing it “right” for a long time: Nintendo. The AAA developer/publisher is known for both innovation and hesitance, following in others’ footsteps with great trepidation, trying to figure out the ins and outs while entering the mobile market long after it’s been established. The company recently released a new mobile title, but what’s interesting is that it and the company’s last four games are all different genres with different monetization strategies. Exploring these titles and their relationship to their monetization plans will not only highlight the potential success of the models but hint at why they work and how they can be curbed into models gamers and lawmakers can better accept.

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EA lockbox debacle wipes out billions in stock as SuperData forecasts regulation

It looks as though the rebels may have defeated the empire — or at least struck a mighty blow to give the latter pause.

CNBC is reporting that the fallout from EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II and its lockboxes has done serious damage to the company’s bottom line. EA’s stock price dove 8.5% following the uproar over Battlefront’s egregious lockboxes, the resulting decision to (temporarily) remove them from the business model, and weaker than expected sales. This means that $3.1 billion of shareholder value has now vanished. That’s no small potatoes.

Wall Street Analyst Doug Creutz said that this may be the catalyst that sets some serious changes in motion for the video game industry: “We think the time has come for the industry to collectively establish a set of standards for MTX implementation, both to repair damaged player perceptions and avoid the threat of regulation.”

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Massively Overthinking: Are modern games too cheap?

This week’s Massively Overthinking topic is a submission from reader and commenter camelotcrusade, who takes the industry’s current fight over monetization in a different direction from lockboxes. “Are modern games too cheap?” he asks, probably slowly reaching into a can of worms with a wicked gleam in his eye.

“When you think about it, many other things we buy have increased in price over the last decade but AAA games are still expected to be a maximum of $60, with many of us waiting for sales (or for free-to-play). Meanwhile, games everywhere are adding shops, post-release content, and DLC galore with increasingly aggressive pricing models. How much of this is to make-up margins they can’t capture up-front? How much should an AA game cost in 2017? $75? $90? Is there a price point where lockboxes, gambling, and in-game stores could focus on value-add instead of survival? And how did we get here? Whose fault is it? And how do we get out of this, or is ‘would you like a game with your store’ the future as we know it?”

Let’s talk money!

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EA drops the costs of heroes – and reward payouts – in Star Wars: Battlefront II by 75%

Don’t be too proud of the barrier to entry you’ve constructed; the ability to make in-game unlocks incredibly expensive is insignificant next to the power of angry consumers. An update after the latest furor over Star Wars: Battlefront II’s hero unlock prices sees the prices for these characters slashed by 75%, bringing Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader down to 15,000 credits, while Palpatine, Leia, and Chewbacca will run 10,000 credits and Iden will cost only 5,000 credits.

What EA doesn’t note in its blog post is that it also reduced reward payouts commensurately.

We’re sure the cost is one that’s still meant to provide a sense of pride and accomplishment, somehow. Whether or not this mollifies players who were rather justifiably miffed about the whole thing remains to be seen; what is already quite obvious is that this is not something that the target audience is taking lightly, so the next move is on Electronic Arts – and that move appears to be an AMA?

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CCP Games ceases VR development, closes two studios – no negative impact on EVE Online

Icelandic business website mbl.is has just reported that EVE Online developer CCP Games is planning to close two of its offices and cease all VR game development. The move affects over 100 staff worldwide, with the Atlanta office in the United States being closed and the Newcastle studio being sold off. The Newcastle office was the development house responsible for the VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie, which released as a bundled launch title for the Oculus Rift and has since been released on PlayStation VR and as a non-VR PC title.

The move will see CCP pull out of the VR market for the time being, focusing instead on PC and mobile development. The studio secured a $30 million US investment specifically for VR games back in 2015, and CEO Hilmar Pétursson revealed back in March of this year that the company had only recently broken even on that investment. Despite having some success with Valkyrie, Gunjack, and its recently released VR sports title Sparc, CCP acknowledged the limited opportunities and growth it sees in VR as a platform over the next several years.

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Activision secures patent for software to trick you into buying cash shop stuff, seriously

Hey, gang, this is absolutely wonderful. Activision has filed and been granted a patent for software designed to push you into buying cash shop crappies through the most insidious means possible. The breakdown is fairly straightforward: Once you buy something, the game’s matchmaking software will push you to a match where that something would be very effective or where another player’s purchases would influence your purchases, thus creating positive feedback and inspiring you to buy more! Isn’t that grand?

For those keeping track at home, this is starting to cross the line from gambling over to extortion, which is not a pleasant road to be walking. If you thought microtransactions amounted to a cash shop wholly separate from gameplay and you never had to worry about it influencing anything else, you were wrong.

Activision’s official statement is that this was simply a patent filed for exploratory software and it has not been implemented in any games. Said statement does not include phrases like “will not,” of course, so draw your own conclusions about when and whether it will show up. You can also draw your own conclusions about how shady it is, but the answer is pretty decidedly “super shady.”

Source: Kotaku, Rolling Stone; thanks to OneEyeRed and Leiloni for the tip!

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Stephan Frost’s Nexon project gains former Amazon gameplay engineer

The handrubbing intrigue over Stephan Frost’s mysterious project at Nexon ramped up this week with the announcement of another member that has signed up with the untitled game.

“Senior Gameplay Engineer Gabe Paramo joined the crew at Nexon OC today. I’m excited to get to work with this guy again,” Frost announced on Twitter yesterday.

According to Paramo’s LinkedIn profile, he came to Nexon from Double Helix Studios at Amazon where he had been working in various roles since 2008.

Frost raised a few eyebrows last month when he left his seemingly cushy position as a World of Warcraft senior design producer to take up shop with Nexon as the creative and game director of a new and unannounced title.

Source: Twitter

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No, exploitative gacha mechanics are not a good idea for western devs

We’ve been talking about exploitative gacha games and related business models on Massively OP for a long time, most recently and notably in depth earlier this year when we covered how Japan, Korea, China, and Singapore have all passed laws to take the model down a peg. In fact, China’s newest anti-gacha laws have since been used to target MMOs, card games, and even Overwatch’s skins. So given all the crackdowns, you’d think that the trend would be to avoid it, right? That industry analysts and watchers on this side of the pond would be wary?

But no. Bizarrely, there’s a new GamesIndustry.biz article this week in which AppLovin Managing Director Johannes Heinze advocates that western developers start including gachapon mechanics, even citing Pokemon Go as a good example of how well it works. He argues that gacha requires:

  • A large, varied set of content
  • A strong desire from the player to collect as many items as possible
  • A game where gacha content is necessary for players to progress
  • An effective mechanic for duplicate content (to prevent player churn from pulling too many duplicates)

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Secret World Legends outlines how its free-to-play model allows you to unlock things without cash

The good news for Secret World Legends players is that you won’t need to pay money for the game. You won’t even need to pay money for things in the game that would otherwise cost money. The game offered a new post today detailing the free-to-play model, which will allow players to exchange Aurum (the microtransaction currency) for Marks of Favour (earned through daily challenges and normal play) and vice-versa. So if you never want to drop a cent, you can avoid it.

Weapon unlocks, some vanity items, weapon upgrades, the auction house, cosmetic changes, and some undisclosed elements all require Marks of Favour. Aurum, meanwhile, is used for unlocking inventory slots, character slots, progression boosts, bank space, other vanity items, and so forth. Allowing you to exchange between the two means you can always get more Aurum without necessarily spending money, although only time (and player purchases) will tell how generous the exchange rate is.

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Ashes of Creation’s Steven Sharif on his business history, $30M funding goal, and PvP

As I put this piece together Thursday morning, Ashes of Creation’s Kickstarter has far exceeded its $750,000 goal, surging along toward stretch goals with a promise to launch what amounts to a full-scale MMORPG with sandboxy territory and PvP just a few short years from now. But since the launch of the Kickstarter a few days ago, would-be backers have dug into the history of the company and cast doubt on the validity of the campaign.

To set the record straight, we spoke again with Intrepid’s Creative Director and CEO Steven Sharif to get clarity on his business past, the nature of the game’s affiliate plans, the state of staffing, the scope of the budget, and even some details on the PvP system and business model. Read on.

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Crowfall reaches a funding stretch goal and aims for one last target

Back in November, Crowfall studio ArtCraft joined Indiegogo’s fledgling equity crowdfunding platform, which makes use of brand-new laws that allow non-accredited investors to invest in start-ups online. This is indeed investment, unlike the donation-based, Kickstarter-esque crowdfunding you’re probably used to as a gamer, though investors are purchasing preferred shares, which are relatively restricted in benefit and transfer power, and there’s no guarantee whatsoever investors will see a return.

Still, it’s ahead of the game’s persistent state, funding for ArtCraft is apparently doing fairly well at. The game has just managed to hit the 35% mark for how much can legally be raised under its newest crowdfunding push. Now the team is getting ready for one final push to 50%, with one last stretch goal for players.

Investors who back the company through this equity crowdfunding venture will receive a special land parcel that will never be available through any other means, allowing you to make a villa in the shadow of a collapsed statue. It’s definitely a conversation starter, and it’s available for everyone who invests if the 50% mark is passed, while backers who don’t invest will still receive some freebies. If that sounds like something you just can’t live without, perhaps you might want to invest a little money in the studio after all.

Source: Official Site; thanks to David for the tip!

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