The age of monetization

7 07 2013

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As some of you might have read or heard, Blizzard finally acknowledged the idea of adding MTX ( monetized items ) to the colossal giant that is World of Warcraft. Why is this significant? I think it’s not only a sign of the times, but the fact that the most successful MMO to date is considering moving towards that type of business structure is a huge sign. The age of MMORPG’s charging a monthly fee, plus an upfront purchase price is about finished. Now some of you, might jump for joy and release a victorious shout of “Finally those greedy bastards, it’s about time!”

What most gamers/people don’t realize, is the significant cost of building and maintaining an MMO, and in most cases, the subscription fee is well justified and needed just to keep the game running, and that’s not even addressing the issue of building new content. However, when markets stop supporting one business model and consumer spending habits change, the industry must find another ( insert cheesy “Life finds a way” quote….okay maybe not 😛 ). Thus a new age has dawned, and that is the age of monetization. When games like Puzzles and Dragons make an ungodly amount of money in a single month, the rest of the industry starts to take notice. ( Try to the tune of 113 million, and they aren’t the only example )

 http://www.joystiq.com/2013/05/13/hit-mobile-rpg-puzzle-and-dragons-earned-113-million-in-april/

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Now you might say, “Well that’s not an MMO, it doesn’t compare”. However, as an individual that works on Guild Wars 2, I can tell you in-game monetization is the future, so it would be in your interest to understand it and embrace it, especially for MMO’s it’s going to be a requirement just to get an ROI ( return on investment ) for a product. It’s my belief, that the next console generation that’s starting, will also start to experiment with FTP ( free to play ) and MTX business strategies. Some will even argue that video games are moving towards being a “service” versus just a “game”, but that’s a completely different discussion.

What does this mean for you? This means that you better start being able to identify good and bad MTX/FTP business strategies. For every one out there that doesn’t feel manipulative or over the top, there’s guaranteed to be the ones that feel like they are smacking you with a proverbial MTX hammer, or if you’re of the older gamer generation “Insert coin to continue!” feeling.

Ultimately, with rising consumer expectations, skyrocketing development costs to meet those expectations, and the failing of traditional business models, the industry is in a state of flux. While this is both an exciting and scary time, I think what it means is that in <=5 years, we will be consuming video games in a way that we never would have imagined…..so in the holy words of Samuel Jackson, “Hold on to your butts…

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hahaha….yah no seriously though, you should hold on to them……

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American “Gun Culture” & Video games:

13 04 2013

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Let me first state that this is not a political piece aimed at either side of the hotly contested gun control debates on Capitol Hill. While I am very passionate about my 2nd Amendment rights, this is not what this is about.

Disclaimer: I am not writing this piece partial to either gender, when I say “him, he, his, man” it’s an all-inclusive statement covering men and women

Frequently, I see conversations and posts from people outside of the United States whom are bewildered by what is perceived as the American “Love Affair” with guns. The purpose of this brief post is to attempt (to the best of my ability and understanding) to try to explain why America is this way, why guns are important and pivotal to our society and culture. Then I will relate that to video games, especially heavily influenced Western video games. In order to attempt to appreciate this article, I ask that you set aside any cultural or personal biases (especially if you are not an American citizen) and try to view our culture outside of your own cultural lens you’ve acquired from whatever environment you were raised in.

 Washington Crossing the Delaware

That being said let us begin! So the elephant in the room, so to speak, “Why are Americans obsessed with guns?” No doubt many countries just view us as “cowboys” and a people that are in love with themselves. In order to understand us you must take a look at our history. America was colonized and founded mainly on the ideals of independence and “freedom”. Granted, there are some very dark patches in our past, but over the course of our history you will see a common element or theme. Our society has been about the individual and their independence. Take a guess at what’s been at the corner stone to all of that, the gun. The “gun” has always done something miraculous to the Western individual, in the American mind-set; it’s a transformative tool that allows a man, an ordinary man, to pick it up and change the world, his environment, or to do something greater. This has been the case from when pilgrims settled the West, to when we fought against ourselves in the Civil War, and so on.

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Do most Americans truly believe that they will have to “rise” up one day and overthrow the government? Probably not, but the “gun” is so deeply rooted in our culture that it’s a part of who we are as a people. Just take a look at the stories we write, the movies we make, and most of the video games we tend to build. You will observe ordinary individuals confronted with an unconquerable conflict, you’ll observe them taking up arms and transforming not only their mental models but overcoming obstacles that were previously viewed as insurmountable.

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Conversely if you need an example of a polar opposite culture (for the sake of this anthropology discussion), take a look at Japanese culture and how they view the gun. Japanese culture is deeply rooted in both Shintoism and Buddhism which generally speaks of “balance”, “being attuned with nature”, and so on. When you view their creative works, you often see the “gun” as an extension of the self, instead of a transformative tool/object that changes who the individual was before they picked it up. It’s often also personified as channelling inner “chi” or energy, hence why many protagonists will “shoot” fireballs, have guns/cannons physically attached to them, versus being a separate object.

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I apologize for going off on a tangent about Japanese culture, but I believe it’s important to showcase another cultural example for anyone having issues setting aside their own cultural biases. Although, if you are not capable of doing that you will probably have quit reading by now!

In summary, I believe the “gun” will always be synonymous with American culture and especially video games. For people who are either not American, or are American and still don’t understand guns and how they relate to our society, try to view our culture objectively and really understand how it all relates. Inevitably, this is about to get comments asking about the “violence” in America. For my one truly political statement, I believe the statistics you see so casually thrown around are greatly misconstrued and abused by being taken out of context. Realistically, violence in American is at an all-time low, the reason you see so much of it is due to sensationalistic journalism and specific special interest groups and their agendas, but I digress.

I wanted to keep this really short, as a piece like this could get REALLY lengthy very quickly. This was not meant to be a dissertation, but a brief peak into American culture in the hopes to shed some new “light” and hopefully give people outside of the United States a chance to be objective without being automatically dismissive, perhaps I ask too much.





PS4 Announcement

6 03 2013

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I realize I’ve been absent from my blog for a while, and there’s been a TON of things I’ve wanted to discuss. Alas, changing testing jobs and keeping up with school, and admittedly trying to play through my laundry list of games, has kept me away! No more! I swear I’ll do a better job of posting from now on, especially as this is such an exciting time for the industry and the state of transition that it’s currently in!

So without further ado, I want to talk about the very recent PS4 announcement. Let me start by saying that I do not own a PS3, never have, and I don’t have plans of ever purchasing one. This was a huge change for me this console generation as I absolutely loved my PS2. I didn’t purchase one because I didn’t agree with Sony’s business decisions and how they chose to build the PS3. Let’s just say for the moment, that it’s all water under the bridge, so to speak.

If you haven’t watched the official PS4 press release that was launched a few weeks ago, you really should. Granted, most of the information presented was ambiguous and sounded anecdotally like the same empty promises Sony made for the PS3 announcement many years back. However, I don’t subscribe to “fanboy” type rages, so why am I writing this post might you ask? The answer is very simple, and it’s something I’m really excited about that Sony is doing. The ‘thing’ that I’m excited about is the fact that Sony decided to go with an x86 architecture for their new console.

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For your average consumer, they probably don’t know what that means, nor do they really care. From an industry/developer prospective, it’s pure awesome-sauce! Sony has notoriously had a very closed ecosystem with difficult to developer for software/hardware setups. The fact that they chose to build their new CONSOLE with a PC based architecture means three critical things.

First of all, and most importantly, this means that the traditional lines that separated what a “PC” and a “Console” was defined as, are quickly disappearing. Whether the average consume realizes it or not, we are entering a new age. The current “console” generation marks the end of what being a dedicated gaming console really was about. More and more you’re going to see hardware performing multiple tasks outside of gaming and being integrated with other devices on a level previously unheard of.

Second, aside from “traditional consoles” changing, the PC based architecture means that developers will have a much easier, and financially cheaper, time developing games for the system. Most importantly though, this means porting games built for other systems will be cheaper and better.

Thirdly, and this one may be a bit of a stretch, but it means the utopia most of us have had in our dreams of TRUE cross platform play, in some capacity, is becoming more of a reality than it ever has been. While this may not become a reality this generation, the less consoles are like traditional consoles, and the more they become like a PC, the easier it is for this dream to become a reality. It’s already starting to happen with things like Eve & Dust 514, and hopefully these types of relationships will continue to happen as hardware, software, and closed ecosystems become less of a barrier for developers.

That all being said, I fully expect Microsoft to release a very similar architecture for their next box. You can also expect it to be fully integrated with your phone, tablet, PC, and probably a dozen other things. Overall, next generation consoles will make as great an effort as possible to be an “all in one” entertainment center, as being a dedicated gaming rig with a close ecosystem is no longer a viable platform.

Like I said, new and exciting times are coming, and this isn’t even beginning to address the possibilities, or ramifications, of all the “smaller” android based home boxes or the Linux based Steam box coming out!





End of 2012 and traditional business models

29 12 2012
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Nuke Explosion Courtesy of Deviant Art – Kingsandji

So naturally this time of year people reflect upon their lives, decisions made, experiences had, and then inevitably begin to look forward to the New Year and what it might bring. Since my blog is strictly about video games (for now at least) I want to talk about what I’ve observed.

As an individual working in the industry, mass consumer of industry news, and avid gamer my entire life, I’ve observed several interesting patterns and here’s my predictions. I know I’ve said it before, but retail will soon be finished, and if consoles do not change their business models, then they will not survive past another console generation. I believe Sony and Microsoft realize this, and that’s why I believe the next two pieces of hardware that hit us next year, will not be what the core gamer audience expects. They are most likely going to be an “All-in-one” media entertainment box”, I say this because Microsoft is a metric compiling and consuming beast, and when their metric data is telling them that the majority of XBOX 360 owners are NOT playing video games, but streaming Netflix, music, and video, that something has changed. This is due to a number of variables, which I will not get into; I’d rather talk about the business model for selling games, and what has recently happened to me.

Let me start by saying, “I LOVE MY XBOX 360”, and until now I’ve been incredibly dedicated to it, only switching to PC to play a strategy or MMO game on occasion. I however, woke up one day and realized that slowly I was being sucked back into playing games on my PC, and for one major reason, it was a better deal. Yes Steam, I’m looking at you. Steam is literally the digital crack needle of video games for me. I find myself getting around to playing games that weren’t on the top of my list, JUST because they were on sale, or I find myself delving into new experiences because of a lower price point. Here is my point, the traditional “Purchase a physical copy of a video game at a brick and mortar store for +/- $60” is dying and will soon be dead. This is mainly for two reasons, one is a matter of convenience to the consumer, and the other is it is a better business model for developers. Consider the following, for a developer releasing a game through Steam (an online digital distribution service by Valve) they keep 70% of the profit from those sales versus selling in the traditional model of a physical copy at retail where they maybe see 30% of a $60 purchase, maybe.

Why, you ask, will things go this way? It’s because currently, the development costs for AAA games is NOT sustainable anymore. Most of the AAA games you see on the market that are sold cross platform, need to sell upwards of 5 million (or much more) copies just to break even, or begin to see a ROI or return on investment. The golden age of consoles has long since been done, and it’s time for something new. I am not predicting the death of consoles outright, more along the lines of their inevitable evolution. In closing, I’ll deal with the inevitable comment of “Well PC’s are too expensive, that’s why consoles will never die yaarg!” (Sorry about the pirate)

Yes, a quality PC gaming rig is more expensive outright than a console. However, the game has changed (see what I did there?) Due to changes in digital distribution on PC’s, I rarely paid $60 up front for a game on PC, while console gamers are still paying $30-$60 for games that I’m paying $15-$30 for. So do the math, yes PC has a higher barrier to entry on price, but you easily recoup the cost in saving on video game purchases. Just as an example, I ran a calculator service, just now, on my Steam game library, which calculates every game in my library at their regular cost (not what I purchased them for on sale) and currently my library is worth $1620.25, and I’ve only recently switched back to PC gaming. That’s already well over what I paid for my gaming PC, and it plays everything on ultra-graphics settings.

In closing, I know it sounds like this entire post was a Steam fanboy rage. Take it how you will, but it’s undeniable, that their digital distribution methods are changing the industry, and the way we consume video game technology. Sooner or later, you will have to get on the bus. So what has my rant about business models really been about? It’s about the wave of change we are about to see unfold next year, and personally, it’s going to be damn exciting, and the real purpose of this blog was to lessen the blow of any disruptive technologies that blindside the average gamer next year. The winds of change are upon us!

Thanks for reading!

-Cheers





The Secret World Review

28 07 2012

To be honest, I really hadn’t followed The Secret World at all during its development. Once it had been out for a week or so I started to hear things about it. At the time I had been playing Tera Online, which had great gameplay but terrible story narrative. So needless to say I was dying to play something with an actual story.

So I promptly started to look at reviews, and once again I observed vastly different and varying reviews with stark differences in opinion. So this was something I knew I had to try for myself. Most of all it boasted an incredibly strong story.

So I bought it, and chose to make an Illuminati character. Other than the entry cinematic, the first portion of an MMO that a player gets to see is naturally the character creation screen. To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with the character creation. The character models were odd and it took quite a bit of effort to create something that didn’t hurt your eyes to look at. Also, along with the weird character models the selections are pretty limited, at least when compared to today’s standards of options when creating a character.

I obviously did not let this dissuade me in my quest to check this game out, so I ended up creating an exotic Illuminati character and went about playing the game. I won’t go into play-by-play detail of the game itself, instead I’ll put out some of my feelings and initial first impressions after playing through the majority of the beginner area and the first to instances/dungeons.

I was greeted by a pretty strong and compelling story narrative right away, albeit a little odd and different, but I can definitely do odd. If you like Stephen King novels, you’ll love the story and visual aesthetics TSW throws at you. More or less, the main premise behind TSW is that all legends/myths/secrets/supernatural stuff is true and fair game. So pretty much like an alternate reality here on earth. The NPC’s are all fully voice acted, and do a pretty solid job of adding depth to their character. Your character does not speak however, just kind of stands there like a bump on a log, which seemed awkward to me since the NPC’s I was reacting with were conveying emotion to me. To be honest, it felt a little… how do you say.. “Half-Assed”. To go to all that work with voice acting, animation, and dialogue. Then not to even have your character speak? It definitely broke immersion for me just a little.

Getting past that, lets talk a little about the gameplay. Where the story narrative and aesthetic design of the world shine as strong points for this game, the moment-to-moment gameplay combat feels awkward. Some have described it as, “floaty”. The character animations as far as running and acting seem okay, but using abilities in combat just feels jerky and unfinished. After awhile you do get used to it, but it doesn’t feel like they were attempting an alternate style of gameplay, it feels like I said unfinished and or rushed to release. That being said, they did produce an interesting and refreshing take on leveling.

Instead of having character levels, you level your weapons. Your character can carry two weapons at any given time. There are no restrictions when you can change, or what to. As long as you put the necessary points earned from playing into those weapons so you can use them. The other interesting aspect is you are limited to a set amount of usable abilities and a set amount of passive abilities. So you have to carefully mix and match your abilities both active and passive. This creates a refreshing and creative way since you can literally build your character however you want.

The characters also do not use armor; you use talismans and jewelry to increase your base stats. This however brings up an interesting, yet somewhat problematic topic. So instead of wearing armor, you just equip whatever fashionable clothes you like on your character. I’m sure some of you see where this is going, yes that’s right, ITEM MALL EVERYBODY!!!…… oh wait you ask, doesn’t the game have an up front price WITH a subscription fee? Why yes, you would be correct!

So now that I’m done being facetious, your character can unlock clothing via completing “decks” or unlocking weapon trees to completion. While these do give you so cool looking outfits, the exotic and everyday stuff has to be purchased in game via an item mall. This, personally I think is a TERRIBLE design decision. In a free to play model, or even a regular pay up front model, this would seem okay since the clothes are purely cosmetic. However, players are paying a monthly subscription fee, on top of having already paid full price for the game. This is going to come across as nothing more than a money grab, plain and simple. I believe long run, with that business model, they will end up alienating their customers and honestly it probably turned off a lot of potential buyers when they read about it.

Last thing I’ll mention are the quests, TSW does a good job of offering more than, “Hey go here, kill that pig, get some meat and claws, then come back to me and I’ll give you some mad loot!, annnnnd repeat till level cap” style quests. The game does have a few of those, but it also incorporates its version of AGR (augmented reality) style quests, where you actually have to use the built in game browser to research a quest in order to solve it, or just look up a walkthrough. The quests can be challenging and time consuming, but when properly utilized (without cheating) you get that, aha!, moment of elation. The fully voice acted NPC’s do a great job of delivering the quests to you in audio versus assaulting your eyes with walls of text.

So in recap, The Secret World does a great job of delivering a compelling and interesting story with fleshed out NPC’s, but somewhat falls flat on its face with gameplay combat and their business model. This game appeals to those that prefer strong story narrative over enjoyable gameplay, and because of this it will probably end up being played long term by a niche group and will end up being a free to play model or without a subscription.

TSW does have more to it, good and bad, that I haven’t mentioned here. My goal was to give you a rough idea of what it is about. My advice is to seek a friend who is playing and can give you their 24 hour buddy pass, to check it out. Hopefully with time, they can patch some of the inconsistencies. However with Guild Wars 2 on the horizon, time might not be on their side.

P.S. Gonna add a couple pictures at the end because they look cool, and aesthetically speaking they were awesome! (I would have added more but kept forgetting to take screenshots)





Game Industry Future?

7 07 2012

I wanted to make a short blog on the future of our beloved game industry (or at least my thoughts and opinions). I hope to start some dialogue with this posting, as this topic is usually at the forefront of my mind most of the time and I would like to hear other peoples opinions. That being said, I feel we are on the cusp of a massive and dramatic change. I feel conflicted by this, because as I see it physical video game media as we know it is probably about to die (or at least become a lot less common).

I feel both sad/happy about the apparent future of our industry. Any child of the 80’s will tell you about their passionate memories of their first Atari 2600, or playing Mario on their Nintendo until it was broken (except for the magic trick of blowing into the cartridge). Then the ungodly hours lost playing RPG’s and fighting games on an SNES or Sega. Unfortunately, as it appears the direction our medium is going, the physical game product in your home is headed towards extinction. I believe it will be similar to what Netflix did to Blockbuster. With skyrocketing development/production costs, developers/publishers have to change their business models. Its been happening for some time now, but this is the first that by and large the industry is really addressing it.

As I stated I’m also excited, mainly because I see the home consoles following the PC business model. Can you imagine? a home console where you purchase games with the efficiency of something akin to Steam? Most recently, Sony purchased Gaikai a cloud based video game streaming company. Naturally people are predicting the future is just streaming all of your video games to any device from some remote location. While nice in a futuristic utopian sense, I still feel that is a long time from now. Can you imagine every user on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network simultaneously trying to stream HD video games through the internet? I would bet a fair amount of money it would be a catastrophic failure.

In closing, there is a lot of conjecture out there on what Sony and Microsoft will do next. Personally, I’m ready for change…. sorry Gamestop, you had a good run but it’s time to move on (next blockbuster). Given the volatile nature of how quickly our industry changes, I hope we as an industry majority are ready for it. I would hate to personally witness a recreation of the infamous 80’s crash. Time to think outside the box and be flexible for the next big thing as an industry. It’s always as it has been, a sink or swim scenario.





E3 shenanigans….

11 06 2012

E3 Hatred and our Industry:

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks you have inevitably heard or read something about this years E3 event. That being said you’ve probably read some rather nasty and disgruntled posts/articles regarding E3.  While I do agree with some of the things being said on Kotaku and Gamasutra about E3 being outdated and a horrible representation of the industry we have come to know and love, I think there’s one crucial fact we are forgetting.

Well lets make that a couple of facts to be precise. First and foremost E3 is really an advertisement on steroids, it’s for the consumer NOT for the developer. So attempt to control your angst when your inundated with dub step and trailers showcasing only the popular genres/titles. Now before you blow up my post with your undying love, yes I’m being facetious, keep in mind I’m not defending E3 or saying what it SHOULD be. I’m just saying what it is today and I’m going to attempt to reason out why it’s the way it is right now, or at least why this year it felt so…. bland.

I think it’s healthy to keep in mind that as we all know our industry is a very unique one and ALWAYS in a constant state of flux. That being said it’s become very apparent to me, and anyone that has read any history, that if the industry doesn’t change radically then it’s headed for another crash. Perhaps not as big as the burning ship wreck that was the 80’s crash but similar. Fortunately the major players in the industry recognize this, for the most part, and after this console generation they know they have to change or risk dying. I think that’s why E3 was a major disappointment for most this year. I feel it symbolizes the industry as a whole holding its breath for whats to come.

The heavyweights or waiting to see what the other will do and at the same time attempting to redesign their approach to the home console almost entirely. Since for a long time people expected Sony and Microsoft to announce their next generation hardware at this years E3, that was the hype and expectation for a long time. Since that didn’t happen they attempted to fill the void with other things, obviously less interesting. That partially might explain why E3 this year felt outdated and almost irrelevant to just about everyone, except the “lizard brain 13 yr olds” (as a lot of posts so lovingly put it). Personally I feel it’s just the calm before the storm, if the timeline holds true to the forecast of 2013 being the announcement or release of all the new hardware.

I think right now is the time to really evaluate what would be the most successful business model for the next console generation and give Sony/Microsoft (Nintendo will do as they want, successful or not), our collective feedback. Like or hate either or all of them you have to admit that if they collectively fail the next go round we could be here to witness an industry crash that personally I’d rather really avoid and not witness.

I also think the indie “scene” and the publisher heavy weights really need to stop acting like children and learn to work together for the betterment of our beloved industry. That however is a completely different topic so I won’t go off on a tangent and I’ll save that for another post.

In closing E3 was a massive signal flare that the industry as we know it is on the brink of a game changing evolution. We as consumers and industry professionals need to embrace the change and help propagate it’s success. If your a dinosaur in your thinking and hold yourself back, and others, you need to re-evaluate yourself and our industry. Sit back and honestly ask yourself, are you helping our future or are you a detriment? In a nutshell change is inevitable so if you cannot embrace that, please do everyone a favor and remove yourself from the equation.