Post-E3 Depression

Written by Benke on the 30th of June 2014 at 11:59

I'm just back from my summer vacation. Vacation as in caring for a 10 week old puppy 24/7 that is. It's not the most exciting of times in the games industry with E3 over and done with and a laughable release schedule for the month of July (seriously, it's completely empty). Then again Gamescom is just six weeks ahead and E3 help remind us that in spite of numerous high profile delays the end of 2014 should still offer plenty. In fact, the Destiny beta will help fill any void in July and there's always the backlog of games to work off. I know I've got a bunch of PS Plus and Games with Gold titles I need to work off. I think Trine 2: The Complete Story and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood are first in line. And don't mention my Steam backlog...

It's really rather weird how instead of spreading releases more evenly to avoid congestion it's as if the lower amount of AAA releases means they are even more concentrated to the dark months of the year. September and onwards is going to be mental.

Back on subject, E3 was great this year - perhaps not the showfloor (there's really nothing to fill the showfloor void as the numbers of AAA games continues to drop) - but there was a definite positive vibe about the place. The conferences were all great (perhaps with the exception of EA that was a bit odd). VR certainly stands out as the "next big thing", even if noone should think it will replace traditional gaming (and that's not the idea anyway), the indie scene looks more vibrant than ever, while steampunk and the Victorian age is the new black.

The Accelerated Transition

The Accelerated Transition

Written by Benke on the 12th of March 2014 at 15:56

Next-gen is now current-gen. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are about to turn four months. There are around 6 million PlayStation 4 units on the market and somewhere around 4 million Xbox Ones. Overall somewhere close to 10 million console gamers have moved to the new generation.

Compared to the install bases of PS3 and Xbox 360 this may not seem like much, but you have to factor in that these are likely the most affluent, early adopters and likely also a majority of the console gaming whales (who pick up 15-20 or more titles per year). With every new purchase of PS4 and Xbox One the last generation loses one of their more active users (presumably).

We saw it with Thief. PS4 and Xbox One accounted for 75% of first week sales in the UK. Sure those numbers are unlikely to hold up in subsequent weeks, but it says something about the nature of the gamers who have transitioned. They're the ones willing to pick up a core stealth title like Thief week one.

Batman: Arkham Knight is one of the first major third-party releases to do away with PS3 and Xbox 360 and it will likely be followed soon by other big franchises, with the likes of Call of Duty and FIFA likely to be the last ones sticking around on last gen.

This all moves faster than the industry was anticipating, and we could potentially see some games ditch PS3 and Xbox 360 ports in the lead-in towards release. Will Dragon Age: Inquisition really sell on PS3 and Xbox 360 towards the end of 2014 or early in 2015? That's a question EA has to ask themselves. And Ground Zeroes could very well be the only Metal Gear Solid V to see release on PS3 and Xbox 360.

We're fast approaching a tipping point where the increasing softness of PS3 and Xbox 360 software sales creates an implosion, and publishers will abandon ship. The future is now.


I'm the 15.8%

Written by Benke on the 2nd of January 2014 at 15:24

Over the holiday break I played some games that for one reason or another I didn't finish or even have time to get to. I spent a lot of time on games like Guacamelee and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (I really enjoy Sumo Digital's brand of drift/boost heavy kart racing) on PS Vita and I also spent a sizeable amount of time on the high seas completing Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag on PS4. I'm one of the 15.8% to finish the main story (if PSN stats are to be believed), and I find it fascinating to consider these percentages. Typically a game will give you a trophy or achievement within the first 30 minutes without asking a lot. In the case of Black Flag 92.6% of players have this first trophy. Since you're only part of the 100% once you've booted up the game this strikes me as a little odd. We're talking about thousands, probably tens of thousands of people who don't make it until the first trophy. Maybe they just install the game and accidentally boot up? Maybe they boot up online and continue to play offline? Who knows, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Another interesting tidbit is that Black Flag gives you the gold trophy for completing the final the final chapter (which is as simple as watching a cutscene). Strangely there is 16.2% who have finished the last playable chapter - i.e. 0.4% have stopped playing after that with only a cutscene left to watch. Maybe that's a representation of people who are in the process of completing the game?

I'm not going for the Platinum Trophy in Black Flag (got 82% of the trophies on my playthrough). Mainly cause it requires some investment into the multiplayer and I'm not really that tempted to play it - also going back to perfect the main story sequences by completing optional objectives feels too much like a chore. Then there's a trophy for sharing events online, and since I don't really know what that's about, or how I would increase my chances of doing this, it feels a bit pointless. But that's the way it should be. The platinum trophy in Black Flag sits pretty at 0.1% - ultra rare. It should be an accomplishment, both in terms of skills and time invested.

In time maybe the 15.8% completion rate will climb. It's a fairly sizeable game after all, and it's one a lot of people will take their time to fully enjoy. And it's also reasonable to assume some people will abandon the main story in favour of open world shenanigans - afterall, you're free to enjoy it any way you want. Still, it's worth considering that people who actually finish large games such as Black Flag are a small minority. And often times I'm part of the 84.2% as I tend to move on before finishing large games as other games catch my interest before I've had time to finish them.

I'm the 15.8%

Size matters in video games

Written by Benke on the 8th of August 2013 at 13:36

How long should a video game last? It's a relevant question these days as some productions load in tremendous amounts of contents a majority of players may never experience, while other games fall embarrasingly short.

A couple of weeks back there was a bit of a rumble in the general Gamereactor editors discussion about Tales of Xillia. Review code had arrived and someone said... apparently it's 150 hrs of gameplay. That's a gut punch if there ever is one. Ideally you play every game you review to completion (that is when a game has an ending) - but realities like deadlines and other work duties also come into play.

Then I played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons - a completely linear singleplayer experience that you might want to replay just cause you enjoyed the first playthrough, but realistically doesn't offer more than the 4 hours or so of gameplay it spans.

Then there's a game like Splinter Cell: Blacklist. As many massive triple-A offerings these days it offers a full single player campaign, a co-op campaign and on top of that competitive multiplayer. It's a game that could last you months potentially.

And with the multitude of free-to-play offerings available what developers are competing for is the time players spend on gaming perhaps even more so than their money.

For a married 30 something like myself I often find myself hesitating from starting a game I feel will require too much time on my part. Start up an MMORPG? Hmm, do I really have 5 hours a week or whatever the minimum may be to enjoy it to spare? Other gamers may be at the opposite end of the spectrum. They eat and sleep just in order to devote the remaining time to gaming. Then a game that lasts a day is a big let down. We have different concepts of value and how long a game should last. Naturally price also enters the picture. You expect more entertainment out of a full price game than something you pick up on Xbox Live Arcade.

What I'm trying to convey, albeit somewhat obtusely, is that when reviewing a game you sometimes need to levitate above your own preferences and describe what the game offers in a way so that people with different preferences than your own can see if it might be something for them regardless of your own subjective opinions as a reviewer. It's something I constantly have to remind myself of.

The Devil's Advocate

Written by Benke on the 17th of June 2013 at 15:05

Let's get this out of the way first. I'm not a fan of Microsoft's new policy for disc-based licenses. It's forcing a switch that would eventually come on its own. They're taking heat for something that would happen naturally during the next generation - and in a way they are doing so because I think they want to avoid the PSP Go scenario Sony suffered a few years back.

Think for a second of what would happen if Microsoft launched a disc drive free version of Xbox One in a couple of years. Cheaper, slimmed down, and fully digital. Now, with licenses you'd be able to upgrade to the new model and hang on to your games without any real issue. Of course, a better solution to future proof things would be to allow players to transfer over their discs to digital licenses if they wished to do so at that point. The real issue here is how invasive you make it.

Make no mistake - Microsoft and Sony both want you to buy licenses digitally. Their licenses may not be exactly the same, but basically you won't be able to sell your used digital games or loan them out. That is the preferred model for both companies. It's what nets them the most money per "sold" game. Sony boasted that 60% of PS Vita game sales happen over PlayStation Store.

However, both Microsoft and Sony need video game retailers for visibility. Without shops and displays sales would fall simply due to lack of visibility. The compromise for Microsoft is to make a console with a disc drive and disc-based games. In the case of Sony it's more natural seeing they make money off Blu-Ray sales (whereas Microsoft has to pay a license to put the tech in their console to begin with).

Is Microsoft forcing the future on us? Probably. There are upsides to digital licenses and the cloud. Theoretically your license could last you a lifetime (I really hope Sony and Microsoft are future proofing their services this time), and then you'd likely be playing your PS4 and Xbox One digital titles well beyond the date your Wii U stops working (taking your digital purchases along with it).

The future isn't necessarily a bad one. It's just a little different. And I think we need to see a few changes in pricing to fully embrace it. Most games sold on Steam sell for a fraction of the full price, Sony has fueled digital sales by charging a premium for physical games on PS Vita. A license cheaper than buying a full game - well now, that sounds reasonable. That's a future I can dig.