video game industry

Why developers believe abusive vitriol is the cost of doing business with games

When is it appropriate to send verbal abuse to someone you don’t know personally? When is it appropriate to tell someone that you hope they lose their job or suffer significant personal injury? The obvious answer to these questions should all be “never,” and yet a new article by small indie developer Morgan Jaffit points out that in the game industry, dealing with vicious targeted abuse is part of the cost of doing business. Development across the board is dealing with people who feel that there is a point when all of this is appropriate, even if they differ on the circumstances when it’s appropriate.

Needless to say, this has a pretty huge impact on development, and it spills over to related fields. (Is it appropriate to say awful things to a community manager over a feature you don’t like when the community manager is not a developer and had nothing to do with it?) The article cites the omnipresence of social media and the popularity of personalities who “tell it like it is” (read: spew invective and curses at top volume), and it’s the sort of thing that everyone who cares about the future of games should read and consider.

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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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Raph Koster on the cost of making games from the industry side

All of this talk about the price of making games and the price of playing games thanks to Star Wars: Battlefront II has meant getting a pretty decent peek behind the curtain. Case in point: a lengthy discussion and explanation by Raph Koster about how expensive games really are. While Koster outright says that it’s wrong to say games are “too expensive to make,” he also points out that it’s undeniable that costs on making a game have risen hugely while box price has proportionally fallen. And as he points out, that’s because there’s no real market for second best.

The key thing to understand is that the public doesn’t buy B games. A game with stellar gameplay and less than state of the art graphics is generally simply left on the shelf. Yes, indie games with distinctive art have managed to break through so everyone will cite counterexamples, but looked at statistically, it’s something like 99.9% don’t.

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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!


Shots are still being fired in the Oculus/ZeniMax lawsuit

All right. The Oculus/ZeniMax lawsuit ended, ZeniMax was awarded $500 million in Oculus money by the courts, and while the plaintiffs got less than what they had initially asked for, they did get the satisfaction of winning. That’s enough, right? We’re done with this story?

Oh, not even close. No, John Carmack, CTO of Oculus, yesterday made a public statement on Facebook claiming that everything ZeniMax argued in court was a series of lies designed to obfuscate the fact that he had never done anything wrong at all. You can read the whole response on his Facebook page, which does little to change the outcome of a trial that has already concluded and is now being waged purely in the court of public opinion.

ZeniMax issued a brief statement in response, which may be summarized in brief as, “We won, you lost, STFU noob.” As Oculus plans to appeal the ruling, the battle over public opinion is relevant, but the fact remains that both sides are still sniping at one another in a somewhat passive-aggressive fashion. Break out the popcorn; this ride isn’t over yet.


Self-driving cars are learning to drive with Grand Theft Auto

So it turns out that people were right when they said that self-driving cars were a terrible idea. We were all in favor of them; it seemed like a nice chance to relax, stare at the scenery, and possibly game while three sheets to the wind and without asking someone to pick us up. But researchers from Intel Labs and Darmstadt University in Germany are teaching the vehicles to drive using Grand Theft Auto, which means that self-driving cars will collide with other vehicles, drive on the sidewalk, and attempt to hide from police investigations by parking in a paint shop.

Jokes aside, the system being used is pretty awesome, using the environments of the games as a way to place the vehicles in real-life situations without any risk to human life. It’s a complex process allowing the vehicles to “see” and analyze a large number of objects in quick succession, thus providing valuable data to be used in finished models. If you’ve got any interest in the technology, it’s well worth a read. And if the next time you play Grand Theft Auto Online you notice that someone in your group seems to be moving rather robotically, maybe you should cut that player some slack.

Source: MIT Technology Review; thanks to Stemline for the tip!


Pokemon Go quickly hits the top of the mobile charts

If you’re one of the few people left who have missed out on Pokémon Go thus far, you’ve missed out on the fastest game ever to climb the mobile revenue charts. Yes, ever. People love dealing with floating pocket monsters, even during… inappropriate situations (and if you think that link is probably leading you down a not-safe-for-work rabbit hole, you would be entirely right).

The downside is that the game is also apparently asking you to give it access to all of your Google everything when you download it, but that’s a bug rather than a feature, with a security patch planned for the near future. Even with the security and server issues, the game is still set to receive an add-on peripheral that supports additional features within the game. That certainly can’t hurt the game’s climb in revenue, although you probably should avoid wearing that particular peripheral to bed.


The Crew boasts five million players

Would you believe that The Crew has five million players? Because apparently it has indeed just hit the five million mark, which is the sort of revelation that’s going to prompt one of two reactions. You’re either going to be completely stunned about this and wonder why in the world the developers go on to talk about Easter eggs after that revelation, or you’ll be wholly unsurprised and more interested in reading about the Easter eggs before having your meal of freshly cooked emu meat.

Or maybe it’ll be ostrich. Some large flightless bird or another, that’s the important point.

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but the definition of “player” isn’t clearly put forth here – it could mean five million registered users, five million copies bought, or five million concurrent players right now. Probably not the last one, though. Still, it’s a big milestone for the game regardless. And if that’s not really your speed, hey, Easter egg rundown.


The demographics and realities of selling games on Steam

Steam is one of those things that we think of as almost ubiquitous as a gaming platform. You can buy many MMOs on it, it has its own social networking functions, and it seems that almost everyone has it installed at home. But here’s the reality of selling on Steam: the average game on the service will sell only 32,000 copies through the service, and the average price for those titles is minuscule almost everywhere other than MMOs, according to a piece analyzing a plethora of data from the service.

Whilst many parts of the piece aren’t focused on MMOs specifically (after all, Steam covers other games), it’s an interesting look at a major online service and network for games. It also sheds some light on requests for games to be available on Steam and what a successful release means on the platform, with Early Access games not benefiting much if at all from having a second “real” launch. Check out the full article if you’ve got a mind to learn a bit more about how the service sells.


Final 38 Studios auction brings in $90,000 for Rhode Island

If there was ever any hope of recovering most of the massive $75 million debt left by the collapse of 38 Studios, it’s gone now. A last auction of the defunct studio’s assets last week brought in around $90,000 after expenses, with the auctioned assets consisting largely of office supplies, equipment, and other odds and ends. All that remain are a handful of servers, which the state will be handling through private sales.

The previous auction, which included the company’s handful of game IPs, brought in around $830,000, meaning that the company’s assets didn’t even knock a single million off of the overall loan debt. 38 Studios was based in Rhode Island primarily because of a $75 million loan from the state; the company’s bankruptcy in 2012 left its assets to the taxpayers.

[Source: GamePolitics]


NCsoft and Nexon meet to discuss financial issues

Relations between NCsoft and Nexon are not exactly comfortable at the moment; you may remember that it’s been only a few months since NCsoft bought a large amount of Netmarble stock just to block any possible takeovers from Nexon. The most recent NCsoft shareholder’s meeting seems to imply both companies are stepping back from that degree of brinksmanship, however. Current NCsoft CEO Kim Taek-Jin extended his time in office up through 2018, a move that Nexon executives present at the meeting did not oppose.

Nexon’s representatives did question the purchase of Netmarble shares at a considerably higher price than they had been purchased in the past and Taek-Jin’s appointment of his wife and brother to high positions within the company. Taek-Jin defended the former as a necessity of buying into a valuable and growing company, while he pointed out that his wife’s appointment coincided with a growth in profits from the company’s American division after it had been suffering from a deficit. It’s unlikely that the fencing between the companies has concluded, but it appears to be at least on hold for the moment.

[Source: MMO Culture]