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Sunday, October 20, 2013

EA's next debacle and the crash of 2014

Having played a considerable amount of Battlefield 2 and 3, I am not at all sanguine about the prospects for success of the next version of the franchise:
The Swedish Army drafted Patrick Bach in the early 1990s and tried to make a soldier out of him. No such luck. Mr. Bach couldn’t see the point of pretending to protect a country at peace since the Napoleonic wars. The only part he liked was the shooting.

Twenty years later, Mr. Bach commands a high-tech army that is at war all the time. As the creative force behind the Battlefield series of video games, he must make sure that players come back again and again, no matter how often they get whacked. Which, if you are keeping score, is about seven billion times in the last two years.

For months, a development team in Stockholm has been frantically preparing a new version of the game. Played out in desolate cityscapes, on the sea and in the skies, Battlefield 4 is a dream of Armageddon without civilian suffering to make things messy. Already, fans are hailing what one early reviewer called “an insane new level of destructibility.”

Bloody and dramatic as it is, Battlefield 4 is only the opening move of a bigger effort by Mr. Bach and his colleagues at Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment, or DICE, a development studio owned by the Silicon Valley gaming powerhouse Electronic Arts. They are trying to create a new type of military shooting game even as the genre confronts technological, narrative and public relations hurdles. If they fail, video games will be that much closer to extinction.

Like big-budget movies, newspapers, printed books, DVDs and other once-dominant means of conveying information and entertainment, traditional video games like Battlefield — played at home, with a special console or maybe a souped-up PC and the biggest possible screen — are under digital assault. A handful of programmers in a garage can put together a crude but compulsive smartphone game in a few weeks. These games are designed to be played in snippets, anytime and anywhere, making them ideal for a busy modern life.

Mobile games are not exactly complicated. Fruit Ninja involves slicing animated fruit in half. ActionPotato is all about trying to catch potatoes. Candy Crush Saga consists of rearranging pieces of candy — and is played 700 million times a day, its creator says.

Immersive games like Battlefield, on the other hand, require years of intricate work by hundreds of software engineers and artists. They demand an investment by players, too: $60 plus quite a few moments of attention. And they are tied to technology going the way of the rotary phone. PC sales are dropping as users migrate to tablets, while sales of the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation consoles have wilted 40 percent in the last two years.

Traditional video games will not disappear tomorrow. It is a multibillion-dollar business, with shooters like Battlefield its most enduring category. The visceral thrill that players get from their virtual guns — the ability to reach into an imaginary world and destroy things — cannot be replicated on a smartphone, at least not yet.

Electronic Arts is nevertheless trying to extend franchises like Battlefield to devices, because it must. But at the same time, it has to grapple with the threats undermining traditional gaming. Though the classic consoles are getting reboots this fall, there is no guarantee that new models will permanently revive the format’s fortunes. In 2006, Nintendo introduced the Wii to iPhone-type excitement. The latest version had a tepid response. The new Xbox and PlayStation will get more attention but face an undercurrent of doubt.

“Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are beyond the point of no return in this industry,” analysts at Asymco warned in a report last month titled “Game Over.”

Even a relentless optimist like Frank Gibeau, a veteran executive at Electronic Arts, acknowledges that the industry has become much more complicated.

“When you take technology and entertainment and slam them together for a highly demanding user base, you’re in the deep end of the deepest pool,” he said. “The movie business is tough, but this is really hard.”

The first-person shooter, which allows a player to be the character instead of just an observer, took off with the demon-slaughterfest Doom in 1993 but had its best run after 2001. The games drew inspiration from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the real-life exploits of the Special Forces. Studios often worked in collaboration with former members of the United States military.

Danger Close, a Los Angeles studio also owned by EA, released last fall the 14th incarnation of Medal of Honor, a shooter that was promoted as the ultimate in realism. But reviewers disparaged it and gamers rejected it. Don’t look for version 15 anytime soon; EA shuttered the studio.

Mr. Gibeau explained EA’s new shooter strategy: “We’re doubling down on the DICE team.”

Which is how it came to pass that a bunch of guys in Sweden whose knowledge of the American military comes from watching “Saving Private Ryan” and “Platoon” is now making EA’s only contemporary military shooter.
Good luck with that one. As one of the first designers of a 3D military FPS, (you can see videos of the unfinished Rebel Moon Revolution on YouTube that a Russian hacker team put together), I've watched the rise and fall of the mil-FPS with equal parts amusement and despair.

I can't think of company that has blown more, and better, opportunities than EA. They have acquired, and destroyed, so many excellent game studios. Origin. Bullfrog. Maxis. Westwood. Now PopCap, Playfish, and Firemint. If it weren't for their valuable sports franchises, Madden and FIFA, they'd have gone out of business years ago.

One of the startling points of the article is that EA has gone from publishing 67 console and PC games in 2008 to 10. They are doing the exact opposite of what Taleb recommends in Antifragile; they are increasing the fragility of the corporation. By putting so many eggs in so few baskets, a few failures will be all it takes to bring down the corporation once and for all. I have friends who are at the studio head level, and EA has closed down multiple profitable studios because their revenues are not large enough.

Which means EA is literally strangling in their cradles what would have been their next generation of blockbusters, because very few studios produce massive hits on their first or second attempts. Rovio famously succeeded on what it claims was its fifty-first attempt. Ultima was the successor to Akalabeth, or as it had previously been called, D&D Game #27. Wolfenstein 3D was id's 14th game.

The game companies are failing to understand that the games market has not grown so much as bifurcated into games for gamers and games for non-gamers. The problem is first that there are more non-gamers willing to play Angry Birds and Candy Crush than there are gamers, second that the mobile platforms are far more conducive to non-gamer games than gamer games.  (Or use hard core vs casual if you like, it is the concept that is important, not the terminology.) So, in trying to chase both markets simultaneously, they are pursuing intrinsically self-contradictory strategies.

This is why I think we are well on our way to another 1983-style video game crash. Some in the industry think we're already in it, but I think 2014 will be the year this becomes clear. It's not a bad thing, though, as it will destroy the sickly giants and clear the way for a new generation of game companies, which likely will not include the likes of Electronic Arts, Rovio, or Zynga.

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71 Comments:

Blogger Kentucky Packrat October 20, 2013 8:25 AM  

Number One Son laughs at me when I tell him that the winner of the console wars will be Apple and Google. I point out that Apple and its developers are pulling down more dollars per user than all of the portable game system makers combined, and Apple wasn't even trying to make a game platform. Apple has the controller standard out now; all it has to do is extend the Store to the Apple TV, and the accidental iOS game console will be born.

I don't think the XBox or PS4 die anytime soon, I just think that the post-PC world will catch up with them faster than it has to PCs (and that's saying a lot).

Anonymous MrGreenMan October 20, 2013 8:59 AM  

I lost a programmer to Zynga; he said that their strategy was to just see what else was popular and produce ten clones of it. I don't think he works there anymore - I got the impression that it was like the stereotype of a game maker on steroids - churn and burn.

Anonymous VD October 20, 2013 9:03 AM  

I lost a programmer to Zynga; he said that their strategy was to just see what else was popular and produce ten clones of it.

Yep. They have never shown any ability to produce a game that isn't a pure Facebook parasite. All Pyncus ever wanted to do was make some money. He did that. Now they're done.

Anonymous H October 20, 2013 9:03 AM  

Have you heard of Sean Malstrom? He's also been documenting a coming crash for video games.

Anonymous FUBAR Nation Ben October 20, 2013 9:06 AM  

EA's version of Steam is absolutely terrible. Their security is so bad that Russian hackers have been able to take over accounts, including mine. Don't deal with them. Their customer service sucks and their security is almost non-existent.

When is the next version of Half Life going to come out? That's the big question.

Anonymous VD October 20, 2013 9:07 AM  

Yeah, Sean has three excellent points in one recent post:

1. Sony dominance only occurs when gaming popularity (meaning by society interest in gaming) is in retreat [see Generation Five and Six]. Unlike Generation Five and Six which was gaming’s retreat in the face of macro-economic expansion, Generation Eight will be gaming’s retreat in the face of macro-economic decline. It’s going to be really nasty.

2. Minecraft still in the top 10 is a giant scream that says ‘graphics don’t matter’. However, since the Game Industry missed the 2×4 board swung at their heads called the ‘Wii’, they will likely miss the Minecraft lesson as well. (VD: The success of Top Eleven is another example of this lesson.)

3. GTA V selling ’50%’ of all retail sales isn’t a representation of how good GTA V is, but how weak everything else is. Jim Webb at GameIndustry.biz in the comments says “No! No! This is normal! It is normal for a big game to take up 50% of the industry sales!” hahahahahahahahahahah. There is a reason why he gave no prior examples!

Anonymous jack October 20, 2013 9:11 AM  

it will destroy the sickly giants and clear the way for a new generation of game companies, which likely will not include the likes of Electronic Arts, Rovio, or Zynga.

And, thus, Alpinwolf. Every dog will have its day. Did anyone here thing Alpinwolf would be satisfied with stories and, what seemed to me, even as a non gamer, a fairly limited game offering?
Pleasse....

[uh, is it too late to buy stock in Alpinwolf?]

Anonymous FUBAR Nation Ben October 20, 2013 9:22 AM  

Vox, do you think games like WoW will also see shrinking popularity?

I think some of this is self inflicted because studios release games that still have some major bugs plus the attempt to try to get you to buy $10 mission packs every few months.

Anonymous Daniyal Wali October 20, 2013 9:23 AM  

it will destroy the sickly giants and clear the way for a new generation of game companies, which likely will not include the likes of Electronic Arts, Rovio, or Zynga.

** I, for one, welcome this! Kill the sickly giants...make way for games that cater to gamers. I'll wait. I've got GTA V, Civ 5 Brave New World, and Elder Scrolls games to keep me busy in the meantime. Death to E.A.!! heh. **

Anonymous p-dawg October 20, 2013 9:26 AM  

Star Citizen is the wave of the future. Chris Roberts is rolling in dough - they break new stretch goals almost as soon as they announce them. Over $23 mil so far and no production company in sight. Crowdfunding isn't likely to help newcomers to the video game scene, but with guys like Roberts and Garriot behind games, they have a chance. And there's no cut lost to middlemen. If Star Citizen launches well and succeeds, I expect a wave of similar games from past masters of gaming. Maybe we'll see Daikatana II! (that last part was a joke, in case you're reading this, Mr. Romero.)

Anonymous Will Best October 20, 2013 9:30 AM  

Vox, do you think games like WoW will also see shrinking popularity? Wow peaked at 12 million a little over 3 years ago and has shed nearly 5 million subs since then. It just isn't attracting new players anymore. Probably because you have to grind to 90 and pay $70-80 for the whole game before you get to the multiplayer part of it.

Anonymous VD October 20, 2013 9:38 AM  

Star Citizen is the wave of the future. Chris Roberts is rolling in dough - they break new stretch goals almost as soon as they announce them. Over $23 mil so far and no production company in sight.

I very much hope so. I've been talking to Chris about a possible AI design for an aspect of it since it was still Wing Commander Reboot. I really need to get around to writing that up for him. But I'm a little concerned that there are more chiefs than Indians involved. Chris is one of the great industry designers and I have the utmost respect for him, but I'm a little concerned of the possibility of an Ion Storm situation where there is too much money coming in too quickly.

The problem with Kickstarter is that you need a NAME to make it really work. Based on ATOB sales, if we did one now for Alpenwolf, we'd probably raise 10k or thereabouts. Not nothing, but simply not worth the effort. Fortunately, we have what we need to get the first game or three done as we're not doing something of Star Citizen scale.

Blogger Rantor October 20, 2013 9:39 AM  

The business model where you buy a profitable firm, milk it, then decide it isn't profitable enough (but don't want to compete with it) so you kill it has got to be wasteful and in no ones long term interest. Similar things happen all over the business world, I think I read recently that Kmart was selling off some of their most profitable locations because they need the cash! So they are keeping the losers and selling known winners? This can't be good. So are all these out of work gamers barred from joining together and building a new powerhouse?

Blogger RandalThorn October 20, 2013 9:41 AM  

Vox when you say 'video game crash' do you mean the console video game crash or the PC video game crash as well?

Because, according to NVidia there are now 600.000.000 PC players all over the world.

Anonymous VD October 20, 2013 9:44 AM  

Vox, do you think games like WoW will also see shrinking popularity?

As Will Best has noted, they already are. Most of the post-WoW MMO games failed. Predictably, as it happens. I still think I could have salvaged Age of Conan if Gaute had stayed, but the game was doomed once Craig Morrison was promoted to Game Director from Anarchy Online. He thought the key to success was simply fixing and polishing everything and completely ignored the design improvements I produced for them, which should be a case study in why you never give a Producer the responsibilities of a Designer.

Anonymous frenchy October 20, 2013 9:47 AM  

Cannot stand EA. FIFA is decent, but ever since they got the sole license to the NFL back around 2005, the Maddens have sucked due to no competition. They just re-issuing the same game with new controls. A while ago it was simple just to play your team's season, now you have to go through all of that draft craft and junk just to get to the season. FIFA is the same to some extent. I just want to play the season like the Sega Genesis version let me do, but now...

And Steam is a killer as well. "You must download your 3 GB game in order to play it." Really? So to play Napoleon: Total War, I gotta sign up for some dumb account, and then leave my computer on for hours?

And then these console gaming bastards will sometimes region lock their games and devices. Pfft! So much for letting gamers play the games they want. Nintendo is making a huge mistake in this area. Thanks goodness for importers.

And what is also killing them is the price hikes. Games are costing too much for what is given in return.

Just went to the inflation calculator @ BLS and input $40--the average cost of an Atari 2600 game in 1980. Comes out to $113 in today's phony money.

And Vox, gotta agree that graphics are not the full equation. Who remembers Herzog Zwei? Man was that game ahead of its time. Or even Starflight? Got Warrior of Rome 2 for my Genesis. Not great graphically, but fun to play. Game had a huge learning curve, but one of the most realistic sims I've ever played. Not heavy on tactics but more operational and strategic gameplay. The first game, and maybe the only mil sim I know of where the more your units did something, the better they got at it.

I'm beginning to think gaming peaked with the Dreamcast and PS2--ideas, gameplay, and being able to go online.

Looking at the PS4, all I can see is superior graphics versus the PS3. Games are otherwise the same. I think the greatest innovations with today's consoles have been the wireless controller and being able to download games.

The [console] gaming industry is beginning to look like the movie industry--running out of ideas an issuing a bunch of reboots. It would be nice to play a game where the bad guys are not always renegade Russians, Chinese, North Koreans. These games are becoming cliché.

Anonymous FUBAR Nation Ben October 20, 2013 10:13 AM  

Hollyweird and TV is clearly dead. When you're biggest sellers are rip offs of comic books like The Walking Dead, The Avengers, and Iron Man you know it's time to call it quits.

The nail in the coffin was Schwarzenegger getting back into making movies. He should of stopped with Last Action Hero.

Blogger Cinco October 20, 2013 10:14 AM  

I am truly surprised there was no mention of what Blizzard has failed at in it's last 2-3 attempts at a major release. Starcraft 2 was a miss, and Diablo III was an abortion, WoW is dying. In trying to reach more of the casual gamers, they have destroyed their customer foundations.

I recall Fredrick the Great saying, "to defend everything is to defend nothing." I wonder if the same applies to video game audiences. To appeal to everyone is to appeal to no one.

Anonymous FUBAR Nation Ben October 20, 2013 10:22 AM  

Diablo III sucked. It was basically an effort to get you to buy a huge amount of gold and items so you could play progressively harder levels.

Then you have specialist hackers who make a living off of playing video games and selling the items and gold.

The game was FUBAR.

Anonymous CunningDove October 20, 2013 10:25 AM  

I think one of the biggest downfalls to the gaming market is the marketing. I see an ad for a game that looks cool, go to Game Stop (cause it is beside this awesome burger place) & ask when is Destiny available... "6 months from now! Would you like to pre order your copy?!"

Are you kidding me? NO! I will forget that I pre-paid for it by then. And having to wait that long from the initial, COOL!!! to "oh, look. That game I thought might be fun 6 months ago is finally here." Just does not really inspire me to purchase. Not when I can go back & play the Zombie version of Brothers In Arms (I think, I still have not gone back to play it yet.)

Anonymous Golf Pro October 20, 2013 10:28 AM  

I was very excited to see the great SimCity franchise return with a new version from Maxis. Talk about an original game! Not only was it extraordinarily deep where game play was concerned, void of the tired shooting theme, but it also provided real teaching opportunities.

Years ago a friend who taught Intro to Economics in Washington State and who was a supply-sider and advocate of lower taxes, used SimCity to demonstrate the impact of shifting tax rates and particularly the impact that higher taxes or rising taxes on various populations in community. SimCity allow you to raise tax rates on high, medium or low income individuals, on high, medium or low income commercial entities or on Industry. He used SimCity in his class room to demonstrate the kind of exodus that can and does occur over time when rates rise and the kind of influx of tax payers to a region when tax rates are lowered. He also used SimCity to demonstrate the diminishing return of both high tax rates and lower tax rates. Finally, he demonstrated the impact of of deficit spending in a community using SimCity.

The new SimCity has some very cool improvements, but in my view they screwed up by requiring the application be located in the cloud, rather than on one's hard drive. One of the compromises this required was that the cities one builds be much smaller than in the past. Today, the spaces one can use to build cities is much smaller than it used to be when the game sat on the players hard drive.

It's a nod to the idea of social gaming. However, folks played SimCity for a variety of reasons. One of which was to see just how large a city one could build and sustain. It was great fun to figure out how to get one's city to over a million people. It wasn't easy. Now, if you build a city that gets to 200,000 people you've achieved something quite impressive. It's not the same however.

Anonymous VD October 20, 2013 10:33 AM  

I was very excited to see the great SimCity franchise return with a new version from Maxis. Talk about an original game!

It was before your time, so I will repeat the story. My old game studio partner once got hooked on SimCity and played from 8 AM to 5 PM one day, not only a) forgetting to get dressed, b) forgetting to pick up the wedding rings for his wedding in a few days, but also c) failing to notice that a dog, desperate to go outside, had urinated right next to his desk.

He so completely lost track of the time that when his fiance walked in after returning from work, he said: "what are you doing here?"

She was less than entirely pleased.

Anonymous VD October 20, 2013 10:34 AM  

The new SimCity has some very cool improvements, but in my view they screwed up by requiring the application be located in the cloud, rather than on one's hard drive.

And yes, you are entirely correct. To say nothing of implementing that stupid decision in an incompetent manner, thus preventing many players from being able to play the game after they bought it.

Anonymous Anonymous October 20, 2013 10:37 AM  

"The game companies are failing to understand that the games market has not grown so much as bifurcated into games for gamers and games for non-gamers"

This is really key. The hugely successful (in the gamer community) series of historical simulations that Paradox puts out, profitably, is a testament to this statement. Similarly, the Total War series grips even casual gamers and historical gamers who can tolerate a little bit of entertainment in their history. The author of the article, in his praise of EA, widely misses the mark of where the future of the industry lies.

--JT

Anonymous DonReynolds October 20, 2013 10:58 AM  

A Swedish version of a militaristic shoot-em-up video game makes me think of those cowboy western movies made in Japan (with all Japanese casts). Maybe you have seen a few, where the tough cowboys take their boots off before going in the saloon to wash down the dust with some rice wine. They simply could not imagine it any other way in Japan....and neither could their audiences.

I have been disappointed with the video game industry since it began with Nintendo, Atari, and Coleco. Had I looked ahead 30+ years from where I joined in the fun, I would have expected MORE variety rather than less. This is what comes from several different companies fighting over the same demographic for decades and the failure of video games to broaden that audience. I would not worry about declining sales of the XBox and Playstation machines and games too much. Everybody who wants one already has one.

Blogger Doom October 20, 2013 11:07 AM  

I sort of, from a player perspective, think we are already in the dead zone. I have seen very few games I'd be willing to plug a nickel into, especially after seeing them drop in price from $60 to $12 in record time lately. Not a good sign, but at least I have been picking up... things to try without so much bite. But why haggle over a few potential last breaths of dying behemoths.

And while it will, may, eventually lead to great new games... the dry time until new great games are produced is annoying. As well, gaming is in trouble. No help from MS which seems, also mistakenly, to think PCs can be set up like tablets and smartphones. They all seem to be pissing on their own graves. Reminds me of the government, Hollywood... pick a group. Yeah, it seems as if the elites of the world have all been driven to some sort of madness.

I wouldn't care if it didn't directly affect me. Idiots.

Anonymous Michael of Charlotte October 20, 2013 11:11 AM  

As a turn based strategy gamer, I've felt the gaming industry hasn't addressed my needs in quite some time. Seeing parts of it fail won't be too bad as it might focus them other opportunities. Getting kind of tired of playing Empire Total War.

Having said that, I've also noticed that they seem to be adding difficulty to some games where it doesn't need to be. The Last of Us is amazing to me in just how difficult operating the game is. It feels like in order to strike, I need to move one thumb up, the other down while simultaneously hitting two different buttons. At 37, it's made me wonder if I'm too old for gaming because I simply don't want to deal with it.

More strategy games, less complication in the first person shooters please.

Anonymous DonReynolds October 20, 2013 11:12 AM  

Rantor......" I think I read recently that Kmart was selling off some of their most profitable locations because they need the cash! So they are keeping the losers and selling known winners?"

Shortly after emerging from bankruptcy, K-Mart sold a ton of their real estate (locations) and used the money to buy Sears. So what are they going to buy this time? (Yes, buying Sears was a good move.)

Anonymous gwood October 20, 2013 11:57 AM  

Am I the only one here excited about the Oculus Rift?

Anonymous bluto October 20, 2013 12:03 PM  

Michael,
It's not turn based, but Crusader Kings II has been a blast (and I'm normally a turn based gamer). It's the only Paradox game I really enjoyed.

Anonymous FUBAR Nation Ben October 20, 2013 12:05 PM  

I think a problem with games these days, though it could just be me, is that they are too complicated. I don't want to have to spend many hours to figure out all the controls and combinations. It takes the fun out of the game.

Example: Serious Sam and Quake are probably some of the funnest games ever made and the controls were simple. Soldat is another one. That's why I was never interested in X-Box and the other newer consoles. I have always found PCs to be superior due to the ability to customize and upgrade them. With consoles you are stuck with the same level of performance, FPS and graphics.

Also, who has time to play all the games that come out? Give me Rome: Total War any day of the week over the newest Mass Effect 3 or Skyrim type of game that never ends.

Anonymous FP October 20, 2013 12:09 PM  

Blizzard has actually listened somewhat to the players or rather the lack of folks logging in to play D3 and is dumping the AH for the expansion. Of course their whole arguments for requiring log-in for single player and the AH were killed by Blizzard itself with the PS3 version of the game.

It will be interesting to see if it helps. I won't likely be touching it. D3 was my worst buy last year. Going back to the WoW grind was more fun.

The main benefit of Steam these days are their fire sales, especially the summer and winter ones. Games that are 1-2 years old for 50%-75% off usually. A high speed net connection is necessary though. Of course, everyone loves the damn cloud stuff these days. Windows8 and OSX now require one to download backup image files instead of a disc with most new machines.

"At 37, it's made me wonder if I'm too old for gaming because I simply don't want to deal with it."

I've been feeling that way myself the last couple of years and I'm 36. Health issues and other interests have been a cause though. It took me two years to get back into Starcraft2 and its not been that engaging. I still haven't gotten around to Skyrim or the Witcher games.

Anonymous Credo in Unum Deum October 20, 2013 12:31 PM  

First question:

Why is that if someone sits in front of TV screen watching football for 3-5 or more hours, that is socially acceptable, but if that exact same person sits in front of the exact same TV screen for the exact same 3-5 or more hours, but plays video games instead, they are considered socially awkward?

I don't get video games like Call of Duty. They're fun, yeah, I guess. But why would you do that when there are perfectly good AR-15s, Glocks, Sigs, an other fine firearms collecting dust on gun store shelves across the land? There are also huge swaths of open land with good hills for a backstop to practice shooting on...

It's like the difference between porn, and real women. Why would you have photons flying off a computer screen when you have plenty of flesh and blood women to spend your time with? (I do not condone the sin of fornication, nor any other sins of a sexual nature, I'm just making a point. Save it till marriage.)

Real life is now, and always will be far better than virtual life.

Anonymous AXCrom October 20, 2013 12:35 PM  

Despite all the Steam trash talk, I like the ability to easily buy the smaller independent games. For the last year or so I have been playing the hell out of Chivalry (first or third person medieval combat, think Battlefield 2 with swords and maces) and War of the Roses which is a similar game. I see Steam allowing smaller game companies to get the publicity and distribution for their games in the same fashion Amazon does for independent authors.

Anonymous Sojourner October 20, 2013 12:46 PM  

Well...BF4 in Beta has been awesome. It's always been about the MP crazy experience and that still remains and is rather more insane than 3 was. So there's no issue there. Also GTAV selling like it has with that market share is because there has been NOTHING to come out in months worthwhile (all about to change). Everyone knew to avoid GTAV and it also gets people to play that normally would just play the latest version of Madden or whatever. But that all starts to change next Tuesday when Batman Arkham Origins comes out. Also this new console cycle feels like a breath of fresh air (at least the PS4 does). I've got a PC that basically gives me next gen anyways but after a few months I'll be on the lookout for PS4.

As for the time argument about playing Total War Rome over the latest Mass Effect or Elder Scrolls, well how much time do you spend reading a book? Because I guarantee you a hardback novel of 700+ pages will take you 20 to 40 hours to complete which is the same amount of time most of these games take. So really that argument goes out the window. If you just don't enjoy long games, well that's just fine don't play them. But your Rome playing will add up over time to just as long as any long form RPG will. Just that one is like a TV show where episodes are stand alone in nature and the other is a story told over many episodes.

Anonymous VD October 20, 2013 12:48 PM  

Why is that if someone sits in front of TV screen watching football for 3-5 or more hours, that is socially acceptable, but if that exact same person sits in front of the exact same TV screen for the exact same 3-5 or more hours, but plays video games instead, they are considered socially awkward?

Because it is not intrinsically a solitary pursuit. But mostly because a much higher percentage of those who play games are socially awkward. You're putting the cart before the horse.

I don't get video games like Call of Duty. They're fun, yeah, I guess. But why would you do that when there are perfectly good AR-15s, Glocks, Sigs, an other fine firearms collecting dust on gun store shelves across the land?

Because if you shoot people in real life, you will be arrested. You clearly don't understand that the fun isn't in the virtual shooting, it is in the virtual killing. The shooting isn't even remotely realistic.

Anonymous VD October 20, 2013 12:49 PM  

BF4 in Beta has been awesome. It's always been about the MP crazy experience and that still remains and is rather more insane than 3 was.

I was very disappointed with the MP in BF3 compared to BF2. I thought it took a step backward.

Anonymous Doomaistre October 20, 2013 12:52 PM  

Would the entire industry really crash just because EA did? I don't really see how that would affect Japan, which despite all the doom-saying from gaming press shills, is still steadily powering away. Japanese companies opening up to Steam is also a good sign.

Anonymous VD October 20, 2013 1:13 PM  

Nintendo is facing its own issues, Doomaistre. EA is merely one of the giants facing difficulties.

Anonymous Jack Amok October 20, 2013 1:26 PM  

I very much hope so. I've been talking to Chris about a possible AI design for an aspect of it since it was still Wing Commander Reboot.

Ah, Wing Commander. In the office last week, we were lamenting the decline in game design since the 90's. It's like watching Casablanca and then Avatar and wondering what the hell happened.

Don Reynolds is right when he says "I would have expected MORE variety rather than less." Baffling. It's not a matter of people who don't want to create more variety, but the money guys have been myopic in what they will fund, and the cost of producing titles exploded in the late 90's.

But I'm a little concerned that there are more chiefs than Indians involved.

The advantage of the non-gamer (mobile, facebook, etc) platforms is that they have so much lower cost of entry than the hard-core markets, so it's easier for the would-be chiefs to start their own - ah - tribe. Which may be why we're (sadly) seeing so much better gameplay innovation in the non-gamer segment.

(BTW, Pox Vay is no doubt offended by your metaphor of chiefs and indians. You don't suppose he'll start donating money to charities every time you mention something like that do you?)

a case study in why you never give a Producer the responsibilities of a Designer.

Part of the curse of having Producers in the first place. The salvation of writing code is that producers never think they know how to do it. But they make up for that by hiring people who claim to be able to write code and who agree with them.

Anonymous Anonymous October 20, 2013 1:48 PM  

Really missing out not playing the Witcher games. Really enjoyed Skyrim, but BOTH Witcher 1 and Witcher 2 blow it out of the water.

Anonymous DC October 20, 2013 2:40 PM  

Well. As a long-time COD and then BF2,3, and BF4 player, allow me to agree with Vox that the companies are indeed making games for gamers, and games for casual players. However, even the games for gamers side is getting seriously milked. Consider the debacle that was COD MW2. Bobby Kotick and co. took a game that was tremendously popular (COD MW), and made it into a console port (no dedicated servers? really?), greatly increasing the price as well. I, as well as most all my friends, abandoned the COD franchise after that one in favor of BF2. Homefront was a sadly short-lived effort along in there someplace, too..

Kotick's legacy of charging a premium for a game, and then more for updates and maps, lives on in the gamer-type games arena, and is here to stay, unfortunately. DICE has spent an enormous amount on gaming technology to provide the destructible environment, and it does indeed take a massive effort for a company to produce such a thing -- it takes a fairly high-end PC to run BF4 in all its glory. Imagine what'll happen to that industry segment once the full range of player scripting, graphics development, and map tools becomes advanced enough and they have enough computing power to do the same thing in their garage -- steep drops in price and diversification, baby!

Vox is correct, I think, in noting that the casual-gaming side is where all the smaller players stand to make coin, and the ones that come out with simple, popular games, particularly for mobile devices or lower-end PC, will indeed be in a very good position.

For me, what makes a good FPS is:
1. good netcode -- smooth gameplay and none of this BF3 business where you get headshot after you've taken cover.
2. good hitboxes and registration; you should be rewarded for being faster and more accurate than the other guy, not the hopping, spraying and praying idiots.
3. weapons and maps -- well-balanced weapons and non-linear maps where, for a bad example, BF3's Metro map turns into a grenade and explosives-laden chokepoint grind -- your team (and you should be playing AS a team, this is where the social aspect of playing with your friends on a voice server comes in) should always have a way to turn a flank and regain the advantage. COD MW was great at this.

Finally, to whomever mentioned that real guns are more fun --- agreed! But I can't afford the ammo bill -- I think I'm somewhere north of a million shots fired in BF3 alone, so far.

Yah, as a hearing-impaired geek, this is what I do instead of watching TV; socializing online with my gaming friends flying helicopters and jets, screaming across a map on a dirtbike, or just calmly camping it up collecting kills with a sniper rifle -- way more fun and interactive than just watching what passes for entertainment on the TV!

Anonymous Ulmer Miller October 20, 2013 3:44 PM  

Yes, yes, the decline of the gaming industry. Makes me wonder if I'll not even buy a next-gen console. On the game design side of things, there is much mediocrity and has been for years... As for Age of Conan, how does one go about making a design doc for improvements to an existing game? I imagine you'd have to reference almost every existing aspect of the game and how it would be affected by the change(s). Seems like a lot of work!

Blogger Brad Andrews October 20, 2013 4:49 PM  

I am not sure I agree that watching TV is inherently more social. It has certainly been labeled as such, but how many people watch TV alone or effectively alone?

WoW has a lot of momentum which will keep it going whatever it does. It faces the big challenge of staying competitive for the gamers while being enjoyable for the more hardcore player. It has a ton of "back in my day" people who don't want any ease in the game, especially since they have already made the climb. Perhaps those hardcore gamers could keep it afloat, but I think appealing to a more casual gamer audience is likely to be far better for long term viability, whatever the hardcore thinks. I am not sure the company can pull it off though as the developers are likely more on the hardcore side themselves.

Some of us just want to have fun playing. We don't want to continually die until we figure out the magic decoder ring way of beating a certain part.

Seems to me the difference between playing Civilization in normal vs. god mode. (I forget the names.)

I also think Blizzard milked too much from WoW when it was higher up, not putting enough effort into refinement of the gameplay experience. The complaints about the money they spent on the revamp of their lower level quests indicates this. They have to stay current to keep people playing, yet complain when they do so for something that is pulling in so much cash.

Another big challenge is that many games don't need a massive revamp, but that is the only way they can make enough money to employ so many people. I would love to keep playing AOE or AOE2 with some interface tweaks, but they went and produced AOE Online which will be shuttering next summer I believe. Too bad as the game can be fun, even if repetitious.

Anonymous Rollory October 20, 2013 5:22 PM  

I worked for EA for a few years in the early 2000s. Went through exactly what was described - they acquired our studio, ran us into the ground, then mass layoff. They never even brought any of the stuff we made for them to market for various reasons - chief among them being that John Riccitiello had a temper tantrum because Microsoft wasn't returning his calls fast enough to suit him. Appalling way to waste an appalling amount of money and talent.

I actually like SWTOR (it's unimaginative and relentlessly liberal but it's easy generic fun) but I am glad its launch troubles torpedoed Riccitiello. The rest of EA upper management is no better than him, they're just a bunch of conniving politicking weasels trying to climb on each other.

I've bought maybe 2 games in the past 5 years, where I used to buy a couple every month. Mostly what I'm doing right now is working on implementing a number of ideas I've been mulling over for more than a decade in a Neverwinter Nights persistent server.

Anonymous Red Comet October 20, 2013 6:13 PM  

Nobody runs a studio or other acquisition into the ground like EA. You'd think the industry would have learned after Richard Garriott of all people was ousted after their nonsense. But no, the Bioware doctors sold out to EA and then lo and behold EA destroys Mass Effect 3 and they leave in shame. And they won't be the last.

And don't even get me started about this year's SimCity release. They took everyone's money and were too cheap to stand up enough servers so most couldn't even play it on release. Then they gimped the game for months to allow more people on. To top it all off: no refunds. The whole debacle was pure anti-consumer evil. It's believed this event was the final straw in making Riccitello step down.

As for Blizzard, Starcraft 2 was a favorite of mine back in 2011, but it's been totally eclipsed by MOBAs (League of Legends, DOTA 2, etc) as the competitive non-fighting, non-FPS game of choice. Blizzard seems to want to focus more on their MMO work and has been reluctant to switch the game over to the free-to-play model of the MOBAs and Valve's Team Fortress 2 to try and save either SC2 or Diablo 3.

Over the last few years I've become convinced that MMO games aren't the money factories that most companies think they are and that World of Warcraft was really just a fluke.

I don't know the precise future of the industry, but I definitely expect to see more stuff like Chris Roberts' Star Citizen in the future, i.e. classic game creators making a new game in the series they're known for but doing little more than changing the name so that they keep control themselves this time. Richard Garriott is also making a new Not-Ultima and Keiji Inafune is also making a new Not-Mega Man as we speak.

Anonymous kh123 October 20, 2013 6:51 PM  

Speaking of EA, seems there's something to that whole "reliability of gold/silver as a true indicator for real wages" from several weeks back. 30 pieces of silver, as it were.

"Hoffman acknowledged it was unusual to find herself working in the heart of EA, but from her perspective, it appears as if the company has had a massive--but largely unsung--reformation from the inside."

Recent article from 2013 to boot.

Anonymous Video Game Spectator October 20, 2013 6:57 PM  

So basically, EA is the Goldman-Sachs-like giant vampire squid of the gaming world.

Anonymous Smokey October 20, 2013 7:22 PM  

EA is like the reverse King Midas - everything they touch turns to crap.

When is the next version of Half Life going to come out? That's the big question.

I've honestly just given up on Half-Life at this point. In fact I'm probably one of the few people in the world who thought that, Source engine aside, Half-Life 2 was a major step-down from Half-Life in terms of general fun factor.

Anonymous Athor Pel October 20, 2013 7:58 PM  

" gwood October 20, 2013 11:57 AM

Am I the only one here excited about the Oculus Rift?
"


Get a load of these. Oculus Rift is definitely a huge improvement on the VR headset but this thing looks like a better way of doing the same thing and actually going beyond it.

Cast AR glasses getting a look at Tested.Com


The Cast AR Kickstarter


Anonymous Myrddin October 20, 2013 9:03 PM  

Because I guarantee you a hardback novel of 700+ pages will take you 20 to 40 hours to complete which is the same amount of time most of these games take.

Five. Speed-running is considerably more constrained than speed reading.

So. I'm indie. I made a game and am making a second. And I've read Antifragile. But I lack EA's (squandered) ability to spray and pray, and I'm not certain how to make this work for me. The most I can think of is favor depth over polish, and speed over complexity, which are goals in tension, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. I'm dead tired right now, so my own pondering will likely be better tomorrow, but if anyone wants to throw the newb a bone, I will be grateful.

Anonymous Rollory October 20, 2013 9:09 PM  

re: 30 pieces of silver, they have a history of that too. A guy I knew while I was there flipped out one day and sent some blistering emails that ended up on fatbabies.com (the rumor site at the time), all about how incompetent everybody at EA Redwood Shores was. He got a raise, and he was in the 5% of people at the division who got paid relocations to Redwood Shores (the very place he'd sworn was the pits of hellish stupidity) instead of layoff notices when the place was shut down. He remained happily employed there for most of the following decade. Not because he was better than 95% of the other people, but because, all other things being equal, it was easier to keep paying him and keep an articulate critic quiet than to keep paying somebody else.

That was the one error in the fatbabies story, they claimed he'd been fired. Had I been in charge of that group, he would have been.

Anonymous map October 20, 2013 9:21 PM  

I don't know. The last video games I played were Rage, Crysis 2 and Batman Arkham City...all on the PC. The were absolutely fantastic, Rage being a slight turn-off because the game was very ugly in design and appearance.

I was incredibly impressed with Crysis 2 and Batman AC. These were not merely games. They were interactive movies where you were simply characters in a living world. I find it hard to believe that such entertainment technology is somehow being squandered.

Anonymous Jack Amok October 20, 2013 10:40 PM  

The most I can think of is favor depth over polish, and speed over complexity,

If by "polish" you mean graphical glitz, yes, but if you mean tuning and bug fixing, i'd suggest prioritizing that over depth. Not sure what type of game you're looking at, but unless you can afford to create a ton of content, replayability is what you need. Think about the original X-COM, it didn't so much have a ton of depth as it had a ton of ways you could combine the relatively few elements to avoid repetitive situations.

I think the real tension is between depth and complexity (or rather, simplicity). A couple people have noted the difficulty they have devoting the time needed to learn a new system. If you don't have any track record to convince people your game is worth the time investment, you probably need to make sure you don't overwhelm people with the learning curve.

Of course, the old adage is "minutes to learn, a lifetime to master." If you can do that, you're golden! See, it's simple...

Anonymous Golf Pro October 20, 2013 10:58 PM  

"The problem with the Culture series is the same problem that Star Trek has faced for decades. First, imagine that all the Earth's problems are solved! Okay... so now what?"

This was always my issue with Star Trek too, but I've chosen to ignore it and just enjoy character interaction. I will say though that I do like the new, young crew. But the one thing I'm wondering is about the Spock/Uhura relationship. I don't recall that in the original except one episode when Spock I think lost control of his emotions and ended up serenading her. Anyway, the Chris Pine Kirk is pretty darned good.

Anonymous Toby Temple October 21, 2013 12:12 AM  

Diablo III sucked. It was basically an effort to get you to buy a huge amount of gold and items so you could play progressively harder levels.

Yeah. But Blizzard seem to be heading in the right direction with Reaper of Souls and will remove the GAH and RMAH next year, March 18.

Anonymous p-dawg October 21, 2013 12:35 AM  

@frenchy: "And Steam is a killer as well. "You must download your 3 GB game in order to play it." Really? So to play Napoleon: Total War, I gotta sign up for some dumb account, and then leave my computer on for hours?"

Isn't your computer already on so you can play computer games? Steam also frees you from having to keep installation media which may become out of date, such as 3.5" floppies or CDs. Computer crash? No big deal. Install Steam, login, and install hundreds of games without inserting a single CD. Just go to sleep, wake up, and you're ready to go. Just saying, there's two sides to the download coin.

Also, you should probably leave your computer on all the time. Spinning the drives up and down and turning components on and off is not very good for them, and typical computers don't cost much to run when they're not in heavy use.

Anonymous The CronoLink October 21, 2013 1:34 AM  

Nintendo is in deep trouble right now, as explained by Malstrom. They fucked up really bad since 2008, specially with the WiiU, and even the 3DS, but they got lucky they virtually have no competition in the handheld market, which is why the 3DS has managed to float East and West.

Anonymous VD October 21, 2013 3:53 AM  

Shoot me an email, Myrddin. I have an idea or two that we can't use that might help you.

Blogger Markku October 21, 2013 5:12 AM  

Think about the original X-COM, it didn't so much have a ton of depth as it had a ton of ways you could combine the relatively few elements to avoid repetitive situations.

It also had absolutely ridiculous bugs, like the fact that whatever difficulty you chose, it switched permanently to beginner after the first battle.

Blogger Markku October 21, 2013 5:15 AM  

Someone think they have finished it on superhuman? LOL n00b, you've finished it on beginner. If you still have the installation media, download openxcom and see what it's like to REALLY play it on superhuman.

Anonymous jayb October 21, 2013 7:44 AM  

The Steam version of x-com doesn't have the beginner bug, nor does it allow your soldiers to get crazy massive stats (I always thought that was part of the design). And yes, I finished it openxcom on superhuman... might have taken a few reloads to do it.

Anonymous Myrddin October 21, 2013 9:19 AM  

@Jack Amok

Silly me. I knew that. I won't try and pretend I was taking it into account, though. Like I said, I was tired.

Anonymous Daniel October 21, 2013 9:49 AM  

It also had absolutely ridiculous bugs, like the fact that whatever difficulty you chose, it switched permanently to beginner after the first battle.

That game was so bizarre. I loved it, but could not ever figure out the difference in levels. I thought it had to be something subtle in tech progression or something, because I gave up trying to figure it out. I always thought it had something to do with Mars having overbalanced weaponry in favor of the player by the end. It didn't matter if the buggers had twice the hp and movement. You were nuking them by remote control by then.

Turns out, they didn't even have those advantages.

Still, loved those juking nukes. Psht-psht-psht-BOOM (sparkly fiiiiire everywhere...)

Anonymous Tallen October 21, 2013 11:50 AM  

1. good netcode -- smooth gameplay and none of this BF3 business where you get headshot after you've taken cover.
2. good hitboxes and registration; you should be rewarded for being faster and more accurate than the other guy, not the hopping, spraying and praying idiots.
3. weapons and maps -- well-balanced weapons and non-linear maps where, for a bad example, BF3's Metro map turns into a grenade and explosives-laden chokepoint grind -- your team (and you should be playing AS a team, this is where the social aspect of playing with your friends on a voice server comes in) should always have a way to turn a flank and regain the advantage. COD MW was great at this.


Exceptionally poor hosts aside, COD MW2 had #1 and #2 down just fine and to a lesser extent so did MW3. Black Ops 1 had neither so I stopped shelling out for COD games. Battlefield (any version) is even worse off than COD BO wrt hit detection and antilag.

Blogger Brad Andrews October 21, 2013 12:40 PM  

Blizzard was definitely a case of "right place at the right time" and I doubt anyone else will ever be able to repeat this. I suspect they are going to run their current status into the ground trying to keep the cash cow going.

A few people will pay "large amounts" for ongoing entertainment, but I suspect that will be fewer and fewer. The advantage WoW has is it is a large persistent world with a large player base, but that is not as wide an entertainment coverage as say Netflix, which has far more selection per entertainment dollar.

The shift to more choice for what a user does spend is likely to torpedo many companies. Is this really any different than the troubles the music and movie/TV industries are facing?

Anonymous Redjack October 21, 2013 12:44 PM  

That is why I love the Paradox games. EU3 (4 is on my wish list), CKII, and such.

Total strategy. A history nerds dream!

But not a huge market.

Anonymous Jack Amook October 21, 2013 1:52 PM  

It also had absolutely ridiculous bugs, like the fact that whatever difficulty you chose, it switched permanently to beginner after the first battle.

It was still damned fun, and a better turn-based tactical game than almost everything that has come out since.

Anonymous DC October 21, 2013 2:13 PM  

@ Tallen:
Agreed. I did play quite a bit of BO and found it ridiculously easy to just run and gun with the nearly-nonexistent recoil machine pistols. Just about the exact opposite of BF3...run and gun is run and die, there.

Another point to consider is than none of the MW or BO titles had maps big enough that you would notice a hitbox error. BF3 makes it obvious, with the much greater distances you can engage infantry from.

Sorry, you others, just can't get into MMO's like y'all, so don't have a point of reference with ya weirdos...

Blogger James Higham October 21, 2013 2:29 PM  

It's all a foreign language to me.

Anonymous Tallen October 21, 2013 6:04 PM  

A short Battlefield clip, just for fun.

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