What is a Game Worth?

Halo: ODST was criticized as “not worth full price” since it was “just” an expansion of Halo 3. Yet this was the game that introduced Firefight, which became a staple of later titles and significantly extended the life of the game. Since it didn’t require intimidating and often hostile online play, my wife and I played hours and hours of co-op against waves of Covenant opponents in Firefight matches. That doesn’t even count the replayability of the campaign (nearly as good as Halo 3, in my opinion) or the add-ons like the Halo 3 multiplayer maps or beta access to Reach multiplayer.

Firewatch is a beautiful little character-driven game that was made by a tiny team. Just about everyone who has played it has loved it. Yet, at least one person wanted a refund because it was “too short”, even though he or she[1] played, finished, and liked the game. It is possible to blow through it in just a few hours, but it is a contained narrative, not an open world exploration.

Now, some are bitching that No Man’s Sky is going to “carry an astronomical fee” even before it has been released or played, just because it was developed by a small team and “looks shallow” based on preview material.

Games, like apps, should be judged on quality, not a relatively meaningless metric like length. People who have no problem dropping comparatively large sums on consumables or ephemerals suddenly become Scrooge McDuck crossed with Roger Ebert when it comes to software.

Let’s have a show of hands: How many of the bajillions of hours of side-missions in Skyrim made you feel anything other than annoyance at the inventory management at the bottom of yet another dungeon? How much actual story did you get in the work-week-worth of time you spent on any one of the GTA games? Is a sprawling, flabby, repetitive time-sink “worth” more than a short, contained narrative just because it takes longer to finish?

  1. Let’s face it, it was probably a dude. Even my sister, who is a certified grade-A diamond-class entitled bitch, wouldn’t ask for a refund under these circumstances. This is a woman who caused a scene in a restaurant over a tiny spider dropping down from a 3 story vaulted ceiling and scuttling across a table, and even she would be like, “#^¢* that. I ain’t gonna ask for my money back” under these circumstances.  ↩

Apple’s Game

Sean Haber:

Apple also announced that AirPlay will now support direct peer-to-peer connections. This means that latency will be much lower and connections should be more reliable. It also means that your iPhone (for example) will not need to be on the same wifi network as your AppleTV in order to use AirPlay …

Apple announced this week that their game controller API will now transparently forward controller events from one device to another. What this means is that if you already have a shell-style controller for your iPhone, you can now use your iPhone as a dedicated standalone controller to play games that are running on your iPad or Mac and the game itself doesn’t need to know any different. It just works …

Metal is an extremely thin layer of software that interfaces between apps and the underlying GPUs. It does the same job that OpenGL ES has been doing for us for years, but Metal is optimized for Apple’s own hardware and software needs while also cutting out a bunch of legacy cruft in the process. This means games that use Metal will use less CPU time communicating with the GPU, which leaves more CPU time left over for running the actual game itself.

As I wrote last year, the smoke around the Apple TV as a console has been getting pretty thick. iOS 8 betas show that some of the technical barriers I mentioned earlier, like latency, have been significantly reduced, and the introduction of a lower-level API like Metal makes programming for performance much better for developers.

I disagree with Haber on one point; I still think that the Apple TV will be primarily an extension of iPhone/iPad gaming rather than being a stand-alone system. If Apple actually makes a game controller, and if the new Apple TV runs “real” iOS instead of the fork that it’s currently on, then that might change. Given Apple’s secrecy, it’s possible that they’re preparing launch games in cooperation with gaming studios, but right now, with the information at hand, I think it’s unlikely.

Nintendo Closing Großostheim Headquarters

Look for Nintendo to double-down on 内向き (uchimuki; internal focus) in the future, with an even stronger emphasis on the domestic market to the exclusion of the world market.

It doesn’t take the prognostication talents of Nostradamus to predict this, since it has precedent. One weakness that was repeatedly pointed out in the release of the original Wii was Nintendo’s seeming disinterest in how well their new console was selling overseas. Supply was rarely impacted in Japan, and despite sales that were better than double in North America and Europe compared to Japan’s, they held back on production to the point where some saw it as a marketing tactic. It took 3 years after release for the supply outside Japan to meet the demand. The ramp-up of production was slow and cautious, probably because they didn’t want to get burned if the popularity of the Wii wasn’t sustained.

Globally, the PS4 might be outselling the Wii U, but in Japan, it’s a different story. Nintendo’s sales are phenomenally better in Japan. Considering that with the original Wii the non-Japanese markets were doing everything short of promising sloppy wet blowjobs contingent upon a better supply of consoles and Nintendo’s response was <yawn>, foreigners who love Nintendo games might want to start brushing up on their Japanese now, because it’s a pretty good bet that there will be significantly delayed releases and very short supplies for overseas markets for further Wii U revisions or successor consoles.

Some Games Need to Be Buried

The collapse of Atari as a creative force, and the collapse of the wider industry in the early 1980s, is inevitably a complex tangle of individual failures. If I could personally only draw one scarlet thread out of it, though, it would be this: the people who sold video games no longer respected them. They had no restraint, and they got to a point where they were shipping bad games in ridiculous quantities and expecting idiot punters to continue to buy them. A lack of respect only spreads, and that’s what happened. Those punters weren’t idiotic after all, and they tired of sorting the good stuff from the bad. Atari and its ilk treated games as a gold mine and eventually, as is often the case, as a strip mine. You can make decent money off a strip mine right up until the moment that you suddenly can’t chisel anything more from it at all. And, even at the best of times, nobody wants to actually live next door to a strip mine.

This, in a single paragraph, is what is going wrong with game companies right now. Wil Shipley’s analogy about running a software company was similar: mining vs. farming.

I have a friend who works in the industry. His company doesn’t even start working on a game before they have a monetization model. In other words, they don’t care about what kind of game it is, they start thinking about extracting money before anything else. It’s short-sighted and self-limiting, but it looks good if you’re only thinking about tomorrow.

The backlash is already starting. People who care about games are increasingly becoming soured on mobile platforms. It’s not that you can’t make good games there; the existence of games like Oceanhorn, The Walking Dead, Year Walk and Monument Valley show that it is possible to create good games on iOS (which is pretty much the only place anyone is actually making money, and where developers have more of a chance to make money from direct purchases instead of having to rely on a freemium model).

Cash grabs, like the mobile version of Dungeon Keeper, are destroying what little credibility mobile has left. If this trend doesn’t change, it won’t be long before anyone who actually likes games will give up on mobile completely.

Microsoft Cortana

As long as they don’t turn her into a sexy version of Clippy, or let her strand me at a check point with insufficient ammo and a sense of impending doom, I think I’m actually okay with Microsoft turning Cortana into a virtual assistant. It’s obvious that the company needs some kind of personality involved with their products, and Jen Taylor certainly deserves the work. My only reservation is that Cortana might be to Siri what Bing is to Google. Considering that Siri’s inelegant failure modes have made her the butt of jokes [1], despite her entertaining sass, that might be a truly awful outcome.

  1. In Agents of Shield, one of the characters said, “This is so cool! It’s like Siri if it worked.”  ↩

Game Over?

Horace Dediu makes a strong case that both console and portable gaming are in irreversible decline. He thinks that gaming on mobile phones is disrupting the industry to the point where new gamers are not even considering the traditional console or handheld platforms.

I think he's right. Certainly, I've argued that Nintendo should have gone down a different design path with the Wii U, and the advent of the PS Vita TV shows that I was thinking in the right direction for the next generation of 'tween consoles, as peripherals of handheld gaming devices that provide extensions of capabilities at home.

I'm even more convinced that Apple is prototyping console-type experiences through Apple TV, given the recently-announced support for game controllers in iOS 7 and official APIs for sprite graphics. AirPlay streaming is already feasible for some games, though it lags a bit too much for a really solid feeling on slower wireless networks.

I've seen speculation here and there that Apple will implement games as apps on Apple TV, but I don't think that will happen precisely because mobile gaming is where the puck is going. Any Apple TV integration will be an extension of iPhone or iPad games, not a replacement for them.

Mirror’s Edge

Some parkour enthusiasts put together a video inspired by Mirror’s Edge. They nailed the point of view and feeling of the game.

Mirror’s Edge was was one of the best games of 2008 that no one seemed to play. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was an original concept and got increasingly more enjoyable as you learned to look for optimal paths. I think that many reviewers never got to the point where they could flow through levels.

I still occasionally run through a time trial level or two for fun. The gameplay is a cross between platforming and puzzle solving, all from a first-person point of view that makes you feel like you’re there doing it. The score was great too.

A new game has been announced, which is excellent news. I will be buying it.

Iwata on the Possibility of Providing Nintendo's IP on Other Platforms

"What I believe is that Nintendo is a very unique company, because it does its business by designing and introducing people to hardware and software - by integrating them, we can be unique. And because we have hardware and software developers in the same building, they stimulate each other," he said.

"And those kinds of conditions have enabled us to create something that no other companies can create. Those kinds of backgrounds are there behind the fact that such a number of great Nintendo franchises exist, and those great franchises always shine for people around the world."

This is why I said earlier that I don't expect Nintendo to ever offer their games on any other platform, including on iOS.

The Top F2P Monetization Tricks

Ramin Schokrizade at Gamasutra dissects the techniques money-centered games use to extract the most from their players victims. One of the games he specifically mentions several times is Candy Crush.

My wife likes puzzle-type games and downloaded Candy Crush because of generally positive reviews. I tried it out too to see what it was like. A few minutes into playing Candy Crush, I realized that the whole reason the game exists is to try to tempt you into buying something. Skill had very little to do with winning. Instead, the power-ups (some of which you can win by playing) were essential for making any progress. I assume that later on you have to spend money to keep those power-ups. I deleted it after a few runs.

In addition to the techniques outlined by Schokrizade in the article, I noted that there is a cool-down timer which eventually disallows you from playing at all if you don't spend money. This is nonsensical if you are trying to make a fun, addictive game; you would want people to play more. This is completely understandable if you're designing something that is primarily a money-extraction machine disguised as a game.

(Via Daring Fireball)

Gamers Make Decisions Faster

(Via @kgjealy)

"Gamers see the world differently," said Greg Appelbaum, an assistant professor of psychiatry in the Duke School of Medicine. "They are able to extract more information from a visual scene…"

Appelbaum said that with time and experience, the gamer apparently gets better at [making probabilistic inferences]. "They need less information to arrive at a probabilistic conclusion, and they do it faster."

This is very obvious in online games. In real life I'm fast enough to catch flies, but I spend more time looking at a spawn screen than playing in most online matches. Kids who grew up with online games have been in training their whole lives, while I picked up gaming again only in the last several years. I've probably got better physical reflexes, but (judging from my statistics) 8 out of 10 online gamers can hand my virtual ass to me.