Industry Figures

10 12 2008

sesame-street-flashers

Kim Pallister on another trend towards a healthier games industry. Good games industry figures are notoriously hard to get hold of:

He cited this as an example of a different attitude to sharing numbers within Hollywood. I beleived it was a symptom of supply and demand. Bigger industry, more demand for the numbers, more people figuring out ways to make money off covering that scene. I think we’ll get there over time, though a change in attitude could possibly accelerate it.





Encroachment

12 11 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/stoic1/2741922393/

More news of non-games companies moving further into videogames this week. Tomy announced that they have a 50 year old catalogue of IP, and intend to take it into games publishing for current consoles and handhelds via a new Tomy publishing label. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone that toys and non-electronic games are exactly where Nintendo started and worked before going anywhere near videogames.

Meanwhile, a new patent by Apple reveals, potentially, that they may incorporate motion control into the Apple remote. As that VentureBeat piece points out, it’s wouldn’t necessarily be a huge technological step to start offering games though the app store and Apple TV, and it makes sense when the Wii has created a market.

This could go in all directions. Places like the App store can encourage indies to work via digital distribution, but a proliferation of more traditional businesses could also lead to an explosion in work for hire (and another cycle of publishers marketing departments thinking they can design games…) as well as exposure to new markets.

(CC Dingbot photo by Stoic)





Google to Buy Valve? (UPDATED)

17 09 2008

(EDIT: Apparently, Google are not buying Valve, but I’m suspicious. Both companies seem to have been fairly evasive, with Valve’s “This is 100% rumour” not being a flat out denial, and Google refusing to nix the speculation. Nicholas Lovell reinforces the quote from Kim Pallister below: Content doesn’t make much sense for Google, but Steam really does. It’s possible that early talks for the acquisition of Steam have mutated into an uncontrolled rumour about buying Valve. This would explain just why the rumour has bitten so hard, with at least one news editor I know stating their sources are certain something is, or was, going on).

It seems Google might be entering videogames in a bolder way than anyone expected.

I’d been meaning to post a follow up to the part of this post on Google getting into Games. Kim Pallister blogged some thoughts on it a few days ago, saying:

I don’t think believe the content publishing business – where specifically I mean publishing to mean “the business of funding and otherwise aiding the production and bringing to market of content” – is something that fits within Google’s DNA.

Kim often has pretty good analysis on his blog, and I found this convincing, but the Inquirer reports that Google is set to acquire Valve. Within hours it’s been linked to by MCV, Develop, EDGE, Rock Paper Shotgun, and C&VG among others. This rumour is biting hard because it’s surprising yet makes sense. The official line from Google is a highly suspicious, or improbably mischievous, “no comment“.

Of all the buys Google could make, as one of the few developers big enough and forward looking enough, Valve are a good fit for them. In the long run, Google ownership of Valve, and more specifically Steam, could be a massive factor in prying PC gaming dominance away from Windows, and integrating AdSense with more than just casual or web games.

(CC image by Don Solo)





EA Acquisition of Take-Two: Cut

17 09 2008

Take-Two’s shares tumbled 24% this week on the news that EA was no longer interested in buying them. “Strategic mistake” seems like an understatement.

The most interesting part of the whole thing is that, while Take-Two own Rockstar, their latest contracts with Sam and Dan Houser end next February. This is being reported with full on, end-of-the-world-gloom for Take-Two, but I don’t think it’s quite so bad.

Even at such a high level and after a bidding war, how much would salaries for the Housers be as a percentage of Take-Two’s profits? Probably miniscule. Even if they don’t retain Dan and Sam, they do get to keep the Rockstar brand. While the Housers are becoming celebrities and carry a lot of value among game developers, it’s likely that the studio name is worth more.

Too late for Take-Two shares though, which have fallen to levels around where they were before EA expressed interest, and before GTA IV was released. Without some serious work over the next year, it’s likely the company will shrink, which is fairly shocking given that they’ve made the highest profile release of the year.

Though EA are apparently no longer interested in Take-Two, they will of course still be trying to expand to a size where they can’t be taken over themselves, so Ubisoft remain a likely target.

(Image: Wall St., in GTA IV)





Big Boom

12 09 2008

A couple of stories this week highlighted the current boom in games. Not only were analyst forecasts for UK game sales doubled recently, but Chief Exec of HMV Simon Fox told The Sun:

“Within the next 12 to 18 months, it’s possible games will be bigger than music for us.

“Music is in our DNA and we are totally committed to it. But the fact is, the market is moving away from music — so we are giving more space in our stores to games.”

Mr Fox was speaking as HMV revealed sales from the end of April to last Sunday were up 4.1 per cent on the previous 12 months.

He said computer games enjoyed the fastest growth, thanks to products like Grand Theft Auto IV, Wii Fit, Mario Kart and Brain Training.

He added: “In games, we grew by just over 50 per cent, ahead of the market.”

Speculation has also been flying around that Google will start publishing games. Forbes write:

There’s no question the company wants a part of the $18 billion videogame industry. The real question is: What is it planning to do to get it?

It seems they have the resources and staff in place, including ex-head of SCEA Bernie Stolar.

As ever, it’s good to see games expanding so much. However, publishers remain a massive layer of insulation between developers and profits. This is their job to a certain extent, and not some kind of evil plot, but it means that good times for games as a product are not necessarily good times for game developers. It’ll slowly make it easier for experienced developers to find jobs, but it doesn’t grant much security for studios.

(CC image by Thomas Hawk)





The Art of Digital Distribution

1 09 2008

(Above: Preliminary artwork from the development of Braid)

It’s unprecedented: The Daily Mail have given a gushingly positive review to a videogame, Braid. The Daily Mail, of course, has been at the front of many a “ban this sick filth” campaign against nearly every controversial game of the moment. As Destructoid put it, “British tabloid in game-liking SHOCKER!”.

Anecdotally, even my older brother, who only rarely plays games and hates most of them, watched me do a speedrun of the game this weekend while I explained the story to him. At the end, his words were “This is a significant piece of work”.

Since it’s a 360 exclusive, many will have to wait until the PC version of this is out, and luckily it’s likely to have fairly low system requirements. In the meantime, Gamasutra have an article about the development of the game’s art style, going from the basic programmer art through many iterations to the final product. It’s an interesting read, though a little fragmented due to originally being a series of blog posts. There are more in the same series there.

It struck me during this weekend that there weren’t really many propositions that would make a game entering the market at £10 look good or desirable next to £50 new releases like GTA IV. Am I a snob for thinking the idea of a £10 price point in brick and mortar retail kind of smacks of the cheap multipacks of Spectrum cassettes to be found littering cash and carries during the late 80s? Indie games can’t possibly hope to compete in the AAA arms race, and as a result it’s likely that a rack of boxed XBLA titles would create a bargain bin perception.

Digital distribution is the perfect medium to bring indie games back to the fore and reward experimentation though. Braid, Castle Crashers, RezHD, and Pixeljunk Eden are all things that have caught my eye over the past month, but in the past 5 years of my gaming there was very little in the same vein to be had. As a result, in one month since signing up for xbox live, I’ve spent more on games this past month than I usually do in most. There are PS3 titles I’d be buying digitally if I owned the one in our house too. £40 – £50 price points lead me to contemplate AAA purchases carefully, and I don’t make many. £10 for something that will keep me and a housemate entertained for a quiet weekend is a steal.

Digital distribution is a strange current where technology and culture mingle and drive each other. In the case of music, there’s an absolutely overwhelming amount of content, but with games, it’s still fairly easy for a single one to stand out and be remembered. I feel quite privileged to be able to observe a new form of media adapting to new technology.





Death of Leipzig Greatly Exaggerated

27 08 2008

The lingering death of E3 seems to be creating instability elsewhere, with European event organisers fighting it out to provide a better successor. As reported by MCV today, the MD of Gamescom organiser Kölnmesse is talking his show up, claiming it will replace Leipzig:

“It was to be expected that the Leipzig trade fair would try to keep the topic in its 2009 programme as well by announcing its date. But they will have to do it without the industry for the most part. The lead trade fair will take place in Cologne in 2009 and beyond.”

“From Leipzig we are bringing the clear message that the games industry will be exhibiting in 2009 in Cologne at gamescom.

We have met with broad approval, and the industry is looking forward to gathering in Cologne. Whatever happens in Germany in 2009 outside of Cologne cannot claim to represent this sector.”

Bullish, especially considering that Leipzig had record attendance at over 200,000 this year, and so many game developers have been talking it up as a good balance of trade and consumer shows during the long death rattles of E3.

However, GamesCom has the backing of the German publisher’s association, the BIU. Additionally, bad transport links have always been the Achilles’ heel of Leipzig, and and may be a big enough opening for Cologne to successfully attack. We’ll see.

For now, The Inquirer has some interesting details that aren’t being reported elsewhere:

Well, while the Leipzig organization owns the “Games Convention” IP, Kölnmesse was a bit more devious and hooked the BIU by offering it free-of-charge ownership of the GAMESCom event. So not only can Kölnmesse claim the backing, it will be the de facto official gaming entertainment tradeshow in Germany because it’s owned by BIU and regardless of whether it turns out to be a steaming pile of you-know-what.

So now, much like what happened in the UK, there’ll be two major gaming tradeshows in Germany that will eat each other up and ruin the fun for everyone.

There’s a massive opportunity in the wake of E3. Hopefully, these shows aren’t about to mutually strangle each other instead.