Monthly Archives: July 2017

Futile Hunt for Pokémon Go Profits

Nintendo last week made it painfully clear that The Pokémon Co. and Niantic — the developer of the popular mobile app that takes players off the couch and into the real world — were far better positioned than it was to reap financial rewards.

Niantic, which is a spin-off of Google parent Alphabet, now has a net worth around US$3.65 billion, and is estimated to generate more than a million dollars a day from the game, according to Citibank analysts.

Much of that revenue potential lies in a wealth of in-app purchases designed to heighten excitement for Pokémon Go gamers.

“Unfortunately for Nintendo, this won’t move the needle much,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Nintendo’s stock price shooting up [following the launch] was in part an overdue market correction, and the Pokémon Go craze merely inflated the numbers.

Given Pokémon Go‘s revenue potential, it would seem that Nintendo, which long has developed Pokémon-themed video games, should be reaping the rewards — and passing them on to its investors. However, it’s far more complicated than that.

“Niantic and The Pokémon Co. are the driving force behind this game, not Nintendo” said Lewis Ward, research gaming director at IDC.

“Investors didn’t do the basic due diligence to see where Nintendo stood in the supply chain — and in fact, it was a junior partner,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Nintendo currently has just a one-third stake in The Pokémon Co., which in turn controls what happens around Pokémon, including plush toys, action figures and card games.

“Where it may have gotten confusing is that on past handheld versions, such as on the Nintendo DS, Nintendo was the developer and investors may have thought that was what was going on this time around,” Ward suggested. “Only about 10 percent of the revenue actually reaches Nintendo. The rest goes to Apple [and] Google and is then split between Niantic and the Pokémon Co.”

With so many hands out, it should be no surprise that Nintendo’s cut from Pokémon Go is smaller than expected. Even the valuation of Niantic might be optimistic, given that the developer has just this one app — which may or may not sustain its popularity as cooler weather sets in and younger players head back to school.

“This $3 billion valuation of Niantic is just plain wrong. That puts it at roughly a third of the valuation of Supercell, which Tencent recently acquired for $8.9 billion,” said Super Data Research’s van Dreunen.

“Supercell has had not one but four top-10 mobile games in the last few years, and generates $150-$200 million a month off its titles,” he observed.

Even Nintendo’s response to the game’s success has been unexpected.

“Frankly speaking, Nintendo already sits on a mountain of money, and this sudden craze around Pokémon is great for headlines, but Nintendo has never acted on a whim,” van Dreunen maintained. “You’d expect any other firm to jump on top of this, but instead Nintendo has now also delayed the Pokémon Go Plus, and that might in fact just be the right strategy for them.”

Pokémon Go Plus, which Nintendo plans to launch next month, represents just one possible profit generator related to the game’s release.

“Nintendo will capitalize on Pokemon’s popularity in a number of ways,” predicted Steve Bailey, senior analyst for games at IHS Technology.

In addition to the release of the Pokémon Go Plus, “there’s the knock-on effect on the whole of the franchise itself, which has strong association with Nintendo platforms — hence explaining the market’s perception that Pokémon Go was a game wholly created and owned by Nintendo,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“The Pokémon Go [Plus] will also retail for around $35,” noted IDC’s Ward. “That will be a bit of money, even if only a few Pokémon Go players want it, but this is Nintendo’s kettle of fish and they own everything associated with it.”

The Last Guardian Down of Game

Much of the coverage of this Sony PlayStation 4 game, first announced at E3 in 2007, has focused on its long development process and delays.

The Last Guardian originally was to be a follow-up to Fumito Ueda’s Shadow of the Colossus, but after years of development twists and turns that resulted in nothing more than vaporware, it seemed possible the title never would be released. The creators slipped into silent mode about five years ago but reignited hope with an appearance at this year’s E3.

Although Sony once again pushed back the release of The Last Guardian — this time to Dec. 6 in North America and Japan, and Dec. 7 in Europe — it did offer a new trailer as a way to maintain buzz over the title.

In addition, SIE finally allowed a handful of reviewers to have some hands-on time with a 45-minute demo that highlights the gameplay in what could be one of the most ambitious video game titles to date.

The Waiting Game

Delays in video games are commonplace, but rarely do development setbacks wear on for as long as a decade. One notable exception is Duke Nukem Forever, which was announced in 1997 and released in 2011. It then proved to a critical disappointment — and that is a portent that SIE may have a hard time avoiding.

“I’ve felt a growing sense of exhaustion toward The Last Guardian from the gaming public,” wrote Philip Kollar for Polygon.

“It’s not that there aren’t fans eagerly awaiting the game,” he added. “But on the other hand, The Last Guardian’s absurdly drawn-out development cycle is difficult to ignore.

Early Reactions

Those who have had a chance for some hands-on play found The Last Guardian a mixed bag — innovative but lacking polish. The latter point could be telling, given the time that has gone into this title’s development.

On the plus side, “the game looks beautiful, its environments are stunning, and its puzzles are clever and satisfying, often with multiple layers to figure out,” wrote Polygon’s Kollar.

Because of its beauty and depth “The Last Guardian could well be a worthy successor to Shadow of the Colossusand Ico before it,” added Sam Byford, writing for The Verge.

Yet, problems do remain. The single-player, action-adventure game tells the story of a young boy and his giant feathered friend, who aids him throughout the journey. Much of the overall story still remains a secret, but puzzle-solving is a key component. The lack of polish could cause this ambitious title to crash and burn.

“This feeling of uncertainty is amplified by the puzzle design and control system, both of which are a lot looser than you’d find in a game like this,” noted Byford

Too Ambitious?

It does seem that The Last Guardian may have fallen into the trap of being more ambitious than the technology can deliver. Worse still is the fact that gamers may expect something truly revolutionary, given its 16-year development cycle.

“It’s been overhyped, and this is a serious problem for any product. It may have overset expectations, making even a decent effort unacceptable,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“Initial game play is reported to be difficult and frustrating, and that too is not a good sign of success for a game — and likely one of the reasons why it is being delayed,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“While it is certainly an ambitious project, it would be a tremendous letdown to meet current anticipation with a mediocre or buggy game,” warned Joost van Dreunen, principal analyst at SuperData Research.

“We’ve seen what it did to Ubisoft when it started to release Assassin’s Creedon a yearly schedule,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Eventually they had to pull back. The right approach to The Last Guardian is to take the extra time, even if fans start to get impatient.”

Patience on the part of gamers also could result in setting the bar too high.

“Products like this often have to be scaled back to meet release dates or contain budget, but if the expectations are set on what initially was intended, the result is the game looks crippled — and people don’t buy crippled products,” warned Enderle.

“The Last Guardian was initially revealed for the PS3 several years ago but has since seen multiple delays pushing it onto the PS4,” noted Bailey.

The Game Battlefield

In other words, those seeking a game that approximates such films as All Quiet on the Western Front or Paths of Glory aren’t likely to find it in Battlefield 1, which is closer to what an Expendables film might look like if the characters had to rely on antiquated technology. This isn’t to say that it makes for a bad game.

Far from it in fact, because Battlefield 1 does everything the series has done since it first stormed onto the PC with Battlefield 1942 15 years ago. It is big, bombastic, chaotic — and for gamers who prefer action-packed intensity over historical accuracy, this one delivers many times over.

Campaign for One

As with many first-person shooters, this is really two games in one — or one game with two very distinct modes. Battlefield 1 includes a single-player campaign that allows the player to take part in key engagements around Europe and the Middle East.

Unlike such titles as Medal of Honor or Call of Duty — which originally were set in World War II — the campaign isn’t presented in a linear order. Nor should players expect absolute victory.

World War I didn’t culminate with the defeat of one side, of course, but rather ended suddenly with an armistice that came as something of a surprise to both sides.

Players can jump into five unique “War Stories” after a brief introduction that serves as the game’s tutorial.

This lends to the game an experience similar to that of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, exposing players to different facets of the war. It should be stressed that each of these is told via a different persona, rather than through a single character’s experiences.

In total, there are 15 individual missions that offer real variety in settings — from the mud-soaked trenches of the Western Front in France to the Alpine passes in Italy, to the Arabian Deserts with a fictionalized T.E. Lawrence.

This being a Battlefield game, players won’t take part in combat entirely on foot. The game allows players to command a British MkV tank in France, pilot a Sopwith Camel biplane, and even ride a horse in the desert.

There are a number of twists thrown in — notably that in the desert campaign, the player controls not Lawrence or another British advisor, but rather a Bedouin fighter who happens to be a young woman. Such a thing would have been unlikely in the real conflict.

However, since this part of the story is told by Lawrence — who in real life made up as much as he actually accomplished — it is a narrative liberty that works on some level.

A bigger issue with this game is that rarely do the campaigns feel much like anything out of World War I, a conflict remembered largely for static trench lines and often futile attacks across no man’s land.

The missions lack any “going over the top” style attacks and instead play out in the same linear manner as most shooters. This is where perhaps the biggest opportunity is lost with Battlefield 1, and why it only bares a passing resemblance to the historical conflict.

Another problem with the campaign is that the developers felt the need to try to honor those who fought — something no game that is so cinematic in nature can pull off. In the introductory tutorial, it is noted that millions of soldiers on all sides were killed, and players are reminded “you are not expected to survive.”

Though heavy-handed, this should serve to remind players of how futile the war was — but the message is kind of lost, given that one can respawn at the last checkpoint. In other words, the developers tried to show some respect for the conflict but really missed the point, considering that the millions who actually fell didn’t get another chance.

One of Millions

The other game mode is the online multiplayer experience, which is actually even less like the actual combat of World War I than the single player mode. The game developers strived to include every possible weapon available to the soldiers, but instead of bolt-action rifles — which were the primary weapon for the vast majority of soldiers in the conflict in real life — automatic weapons, including the rarely used sub-machine guns, are readily available.

Just as with the single-player campaign, the multiplayer version of Battlefield 1feels less like a World War I simulation and more like the latest really bombastic shooter.

It is very much a game for fans of the series who favor the “run and gun” approach, and those for whom realism always has given way to gameplay mechanics. One does wonder why the designers didn’t opt for an alternative history steampunk setting instead. That certainly could have allowed for the grandiloquent combat and yet captured the look and visuals of the war.

Battlefield 1 allows up to 64 players to take part in the squad-based combat that has been a staple of the series. It includes locations around the world in its nine maps and six modes. These include the usual conquest, domination, operations, rush and team death match, along with a new mode called “war pigeons” that requires players to secure pigeons to use in artillery strikes.

In multiplayer mode, players can participate both as the Allied and Central Powers, whereas the single player campaign is playable only as the Allied forces. There are eight distinct classes that include the usual assault team and medic, but add pilots and tankers that have specific vehicle advantages.

There is also a cavalry option, that allows players to spawn directly on a horse. Each class has unique advantages and weapons — which does allow for more variety in the gameplay.

The Scenes of War

Where Battlefield 1 really shines is in its use of the Frostbite graphics engine, which makes the war look as close to hell on earth as anyone would ever want to get. At times it is a little too much in terms of explosions and fires — but again, this is where the comparison to a Michael Bay film is most apt.

The developers went all out to capture the look of the period vehicles and small arms, which are highly detailed. The same is true of their sounds. These features really do add to the experience, which is why a few nitpicks must be mentioned.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps the biggest disappointment isn’t Battlefield 1‘s lack of World War I authenticity, but rather that it hasn’t really brought anything new to the series. The first title, Battlefield 1942, introduced controllable vehicles and large-scale multiplayer gaming. Since then, the developers have added squad-based play, destructible environments and new multiplayer options.

Although it looks fantastic, Battlefield 1, really hasn’t advanced the genre. Still, there should be enough for fans of the series who want something different while keeping more of the same.

Linux Gamers at The Final Station

The indie game, which Do My Best Games and TinyBuild launched for PC, Mac, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this summer, became available for Linux last week.

Although the post-civilization genre is fairly crowded space, the zombie-killing horror ride has earned generally positive reviews from veteran games critics, who appreciated its narrative and level of detail.

There was no grand scheme to expand the title to Linux.

“Honestly, there wasn’t some specific reason for that — we just want to give access to our game [to] as many players as possible,” said Oleg Sergeev, game designer of The Final Station.

The ability to create a Linux port pretty easily on the Unity platform led the company to make the decision, he told LinuxInsider.

Open Source Demand

The Final Station is the first Linux port for the company, but it appears that the launch so far has been a successful one, with relatively few glitches, based on feedback on the site.

“You don’t typically see much priority on major gaming titles released for Linux, but there are some exceptions, and this is changing to some degree with software such as SteamOS,” noted Jay Lyman, senior research analyst at 451 Research.

“While Linux still isn’t usually treated as a first class platform, a growing number of titles are adding Linux support without requiring workarounds or additional compatible software,” he told LinuxInsider.

Other major titles that recently moved to Linux include Mad MaxDying Light, and American Truck Simulator.

Linux has become the operating system of choice in almost every segment of computing except for the desktop, noted Kevin O’Brien, a project manager and Linux enthusiast.

That’s partly due to the fact that so many games are written for Windows only, he told LinuxInsider. “The increasing availability of games on the Linux platform removes that obstacle and makes it more likely that Linux can be the default OS for average computer users.”

SteamOS Platform

Much of the drive to develop games for Linux began in 2013 when Valve Software launched its Linux-based SteamOS system for entertainment use. At the time, enthusiasts began to see greater demand for Linux-compatible gaming titles, but an additional problem over the years has been getting the related hardware necessary to take full advantage of those capabilities.

Currently, there are only about 400 titles that are Linux-plus-SteamOS compatible out of nearly 25,000 game entries in the Steam store, said Lewis Ward, research director for gaming and VR/AR at IDC.

That is indicative of the relative popularity of Linux compared to other operating systems, he told LinuxInsider.