Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Why People Will Buy the Vita and 3DS

February 22, 2012

The Playstation Vita launched yesterday and already articles like this one are coming out:

“It almost feels like Sony designed a product for a world where smartphones and tablets don’t exist,” said Gartner Research Director Michael Gartenberg. “It costs more than most phones and the same as most gaming consoles. It is hard to say who is the market for this.”

Somebody go tell Gartner, the market is consumers who want to play the best AAA games out there, not bored housewives.   Somebody also tell them that an iPad costs $500-$900, an iPhone costs $300-500, and an iPod Touch costs about the same as a Vita and you still have a ton of people who fork out their money to replace one or more of these devices every year.  Contrast this with a  $170 3DS or $250 Vita that won’t have to be replaced for half a decade and suddenly the pricing is not that big a deal.

If the Vita doesn’t click with consumers, it would not be the first handheld device to disappoint.

Consumers shrugged off Nintendo’s last handheld, the 3DS, when it came out last March. Less than four months later, the company had to cut the price by $80 from $249.99 because of disappointing sales.

Over the holiday season, the 3DS became a success.  It is now the best selling console of all time in Japan and has outsold the DS in its first 12 months to market.  The writer must’ve been asleep for the last 6 months.

Here’s another one.

Sony tried this once before. People had serious doubts about the Playstation 4, a bulky, expensive piece of powerful hardware that powered through early lackluster sales and established itself as a viable and dominant home console.

The fact the guy thinks the Playstation 4 actually exists makes me scratch my head.  That he put a picture of the original PSP instead of the Vita makes me scratch it again.

 Even as Sony attempts to position the Vita as the only mobile gaming device worth having, the hardware seems self-conscious of its own relationship to modern handhelds. It looks like an Apple device, with its rounded edges and shiny black finish. And it’s loaded down with all manner of gizmos that the core gaming audience they’re aiming at usually spurns: tilt controls, front and rear cameras, not one but two touchscreens.

Piano black is not an Apple attribute.  The DS came in piano black.  So did the first PSP.  The one industrial design attribute that’s strictly Apple is a gorilla glass encasing.  But the Vita doesn’t use that.  It uses a plastic bezel.  So what is he talking about?  Who knows.

And there’s a difference between shunning the core gaming audience and supplementing a core gaming device with features to capture other markets.  I don’t feel like explaining it right now.

You don’t buy hardware just to marvel at hardware specs.  You buy it because serves a purpose.  The one that serves this purpose better than the others wins.   For gaming hardware, the purpose is to play games.  If both smartphones and dedicated devices lacked games worth playing, they would both fail at their purpose.  Thus the software becomes as definitive a factor as hardware specs, if not more, in everything from customer satisfaction to profitability.   Thus it makes more sense to scrutinize the gaming experience on these devices than to talk something as derivative as industrial design.  Which analysts and journalists are not doing.  The “in” thing to do nowadays is conflate $1 minigames with $50 console games.

Bottomline, for tablets/smartphones to make dedicated gaming devices obsolete, they have to have games that are as good as the ones on these devices.  But they don’t, due to reasons I talked about in a previous post.  Because of this and because mobile developers have no way/plans to remedy this, dedicated devices will continue to have a market and the 3DS and Vita will do quite well.

Other thoughts:

  • You know how you go to Fry’s and next to the AAA PC games they have a shelf full of cheap $5 games in cardboard sleeves?  App store games are the portable equivalent.  Budget software galore.
  • The rule on mobile is the minigame and Freemium pricing that degrades quality.  The rule on dedicated handhelds are AAA games with a price point that mandates quality.
  • The smartphone/tablet is a launching point for minigames.  Every single one of these minigames can be ported to the Vita without a loss in user experience.  Yet, on a Vita, these games are now second tier to exclusive AAA gameplay, just extra diversions on the side.
  • The opposite doesn’t work.  You can’t take a Vita game or 3DS game and port it to iOS without loss – both because of hardware limitations and because of pricing.
  • There’s conflation about the direction the gaming market is headed because of Apple and Android’s success as platforms and the influx of tablets.  Reality is, while the platforms and their accompanying hardware are successful, the app store business model sitting on these platforms is flawed.
  • The 3DS is a launching point for beloved Nintendo IP that can’t be found anywhere else.  Nintendo is a company that has proven it knows how to make games and is all about innovation.  Gamers will buy and have been buying the 3DS for these reasons.
  • The Vita is the closest thing on the market to having a AAA console experience in your hands.  It’s the device best suited to porting best selling AAA console IP such as FPS’s and sports games.  Gamers will buy a Vita for this reason.

Why Zynga Sucks

January 27, 2012

Hi, my name is Zynga.  I’m the first pure social gaming company to go public.  I want you to believe I can make you money.

I’m a slave to two platforms.  Facebook and Mobile.  I serve the social gaming market in both platforms.  This market has a huge bottleneck – it has a shitload of games but only a select few can dominate and pull the huge profit.  To compensate, I as well as all the other  social gaming companies flood the market with a nonstop barrage of games, hoping that one of them somehow becomes a hit.  Ironically, flooding the market makes it even more difficult all around for someone to succeed, creating a wonderful race to the bottom with a ton of cheap interchangeable shit.  This differs from traditional gaming, where you can have multiple hits across different genres.  But for you investors I’ll pretend all games behave the same no matter the market.

The social gaming market I serve has little product differentiation,  making brand loyalty practically non-existent.  So when gamers get tired of what they’re playing, they migrate to whatever they happen to click on next or whatever their friends are playing.  They don’t wait for the next Zynga game to drop or stick entirely to Zynga games.  Bottomline is social gaming customers don’t care who makes the game they’re glued to for the next 5 months.  Whether it’s Zynga, Playfish, or Kabam is irrelevant.  So expecting me to generate a long term profit on the basis of having a couple hits doesn’t work. But for you investors I’ll act like social gaming is all about brand loyalty.

The crux of what’s made me different is my streamlined analytics – the numbers I’ve crunched to make the perfect skinner box.  With the exception of my Poker and puzzle game ripoffs, all my social games are reward/punishment skinner boxes that might as well be nothing more than a game where you click on cows every 6 hours.  The analytics I use for the skinner box’s definitive features such as how long I gotta fuckin wait to harvest my crops, how much $$$ I get for serving virtual casserole, and other shit like this are what keeps the user coming back more reliably than my competitors.  Besides being the first company to take advantage of Facebook, a milestone that can no longer be duplicated, these analytics have been the key to my success.  Unfortunately, having the foundation of your success be a bunch of spreadsheets means it’s easily duplicated.  Which is why other companies like EA and Booyah are intruding on my turf now.  But for you investors I’ll pretend I’ve got something my competitors don’t have.

I suck at making games.  So I steal.  I steal code.  I steal gaming concepts.  I steal whatever game mechanic is hot at the moment and reskin it.  My biggest hits were ripoffs.  Farmville was a ripoff of Farm Town.  Cafe World was a ripoff of Restaurant City.  Mafia Wars was a ripoff of Mob Wars.  Words with Friends ripped off Scrabble.  Scramble with Friends ripped off Boggle.  Is my compulsive stealing to turn a profit sustainable?  I don’t know.  But it does make for some great PR, like my lawsuits with Psycho Monkey, Vostu and Agincourt.  Or when Nimblebit put me on blast in the media for ripping off Tiny Towers.  Which makes me a second rate gaming company posing as a first rate investment. But for you investors, I’ll pretend I’m a creative trailblazer in the industry.

Farmtown vs Farmville - Zynga doing what it does best

Choices are good for the consumer!

The creative bankruptcy that is the social gaming bubble

Is my CEO smart?   Behind closed doors, he hates innovation and urges his employees to jack ideas by all means necessary.

Fellow Fool Patrick Martin compiled a non-inclusive list last year of some of the social-game maker’s more apparent reproductions, including FishVilleMafia Wars, and Word Twist, among others. Patrick also quoted CEO Mark Pincus as once saying, “I don’t [expletive] want innovation. You’re not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers,” according to an ex-employee who spoke with SF Weekly. – Motley Fool

Pincus is anti-innovation which seems to make sense because my market of bored housewives doesn’t really care about innovation too much.  They just want something to pass their time while they’re taking a shit or the baby is asleep, and that something needs to cost a buck or be free. That’s why they’re all okay being lame ass farmers. So one might say innovation is a waste of money when the stuff you’re selling and the stuff you’re competing against is bottom of the barrel cheap crap.  Too bad this strategy of perennial copying is shortsighted because it’s given me lawsuits, a crap reputation, and saturated my market with the same skinner box clone bullshit that makes it hard for me to get a hit in the first place.  But for you investors, we’ll pretend Pincus’ roadmap of nonstop IP ripoffs is a brilliant long term strategy and won’t generate any backlash.

Meanwhile, all the other heavyweights in my market like Playfish, and EA are also creatively bankrupt so we’ve all jacked each other into a theft orgy so ridiculous, no one remembers who originally created what anymore.  This should have been a roadblock for a company like me that can’t create a game on my own.  It’s okay though because I’ve found a solution – I’m now jacking indie developers.  This should sustain short-term profitability and keep you investors fooled.  After the indie backlash though, hopefully I can come up with some other shit to jack, or get acquired by EA, otherwise I’m doomed. Well, at least I’ll still have your $$$, right Pincus?

Dear Zynga, thank you for jacking our shit - Indie developer #1

So all you investors, don’t worry, I’m still the market leader in a market so dysfunctional, short-term profitability and dynamic market growth hides the fact my market will eventually implode.  My name is Zynga, and this has been a public service announcement.

Translation: Short me in a couple years.  Unless EA buys me out. Peace

Why SWG is better than SWTOR

December 31, 2011

Star Wars Galaxies pre CU/NGE = Sandbox MMO

Star Wars the Old Republic =  Themepark MMO

Cantinas

SWG - Full of players socializing, entertainer classes designed to be in these buildings, music and dance used to buff combat classes

SWTOR - Empty as hell except for a few NPC's. If it weren't for the trainers and mission instances in the back of the cantina, nobody would go in here.

Crafting

SWG - complex yet rewarding. Survey the ground for a resource, assess its quality and stick a bunch of harvesters permanently in the game to harvest it. Build a factory to mass produce whatever good you want to sell. Then open up a shop to sell your goods. Customize the name of your shop and stick furniture / display cases in it. Hire an NPC or droid to sell your goods, customize his greeting. All this stays in the world permanently.

SWTOR - A step above WoW in that it lets companion crew skills to do the boring click/create stuff. Yet why has MMORPG crafting become so boring in the first place that we now need a gameplay mechanic to NOT have to do it?

Classes

SWG - 34 different professions, many non-combat such as image designers, chefs, engineers, in addition to combat professions like Bounty Hunter, Rifleman, Fencer. Ability to train one character in multiple classes and switch classes.

SWTOR - Combat only, all based off standard archetypes of tank, mage, rogue, healer or hybrids thereof.

Player Housing 

SWG - Buy a house deed from an architect. Place it on a plot of land to claim it as your own. Place furniture all around it. Put your name on the sign outside so people know who lives there. Invite other players to visit and check it out.

SWTOR - None. Well you get a spaceship but you can't customize it and nobody else but you is allowed on it. It's basically just a small instance.

Character Customization

SWG - Extremely detailed. Able to make a character that looked like you. You could even set your character's mood, which would change your character's facial expression.

SWTOR - Limited set of race specific skins. A bunch of the sliders only have 3 or 4 options on it.

Vanity Pets

SWG - Put 6 points in the Creature Handler profession, go out and find a baby creature. Tame it successfully, name it, buy food from a chef profession to feed it, watch it grow into an adult. Teach it tricks. Do it several times and arrange all your pets in a formation. Use them for combat or mounts if they're suitable. Give them away as gifts to other players.

SWTOR - Tiny little graphics that follow you around and do nothing.

Space Combat

360 degree freedom. Pilot profession that would grant you the ability to fly better spacecraft as your skill developed.

SWTOR - Starfox 64 rail shooter

Mob AI

SWG - Friendly creatures would approach you with a question mark and check you out before running back to their herd. Certain creatures would have unique behaviors and non-combat AI. Cats would track and stalk you. One aggressive creature would kill its babies when threatened. NPC's from different factions would be locked in battle.

SWTOR - Friendly creatures just sit there and do nothing. Aggressive ones attack you until you run away or one of you is dead. No non-combat AI.

Tippin a 40 to the memory of the Sandbox MMO, and all the innovation that got squashed when developers decided copying WOW was the only way to go

Why Rovio is a joke

December 15, 2011

Hi, my name is Rovio.  I want your $$$.  My CEO is running around telling everyone I’m gonna be bigger than Disney. Here’s why you should invest in me and lose your money.

Introducing Steve Ballmer 2.0

1. I suck at making games.  I have one hit, Angry Birds.  To make this hit, I used someone else’s physics engine and ripped off a game called Crush the Castle without permission.  Crush the Castle had catapults chucking rocks at knights wearing armor in a castle.  In order to not get sued, I changed the catapult to a slingshot, rocks to birds, and knights to pigs.  Except I was too lazy to take the armor off the pigs.

People bought my hack game anyway and turned it into a brand.  I owe this all to our graphic designers, who were able to create bird characters and pigs that are iconic and memorable.  Unlike everyone else who works for me, these graphic designers are great and hopefully they get poached soon.  The rest of our programmers on the otherhand are useless.

They have no clue how to make a new game to carry this brand.  Then again my programmers just jack stuff so that’s to be expected.  Since my graphic designers are the only good employees, I have to put them to work and have them reskin the same game over and over for the next 2-3 years.  That way I can pretend I’m releasing brand new games and fool everyone.

2. Since my game design skills suck, I figured we can make more money by selling bird toys and t-shirts. Obviously this won’t last because people are gonna get sick of them, but I’m gonna pretend it will.

Mmmm hmmm yea

3. My CEO is running around telling everyone I’m gonna be the next Disney.  You should believe him because comparisons are everywhere.  Disney put out several cartoons and films to further the brand.  I only have one game.  Disney pioneered audio video technology in his cartoons.  My one game pioneers nothing.  It took Disney 3 years to create his first animated feature.  It takes me a couple months to reskin my one game for Chinese New Year.  It took Disney over 30 years before they went public and by then they’d put out Bambi, Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Fantasia, Alice and Wonderland, Peter Pan, etc and proven they can duplicate success several times over.  I want your money now and all I got is this one game.

4. My CEO doesn’t give a shit about protecting IP.  He’s happy China hijacked my Angry Birds IP to create an unofficial theme park.  Later on, if someone gets killed on a ride over there and a PR backlash happens that affects me, hopefully he will still be happy.

nice legs, ugly face

5. My CEO is bringing back balloons from China for me to copy.  This is because my marketing group is asleep.

Cheers to everyone who has the foresight to short me in a few years.

ugly girl ruins the picture once again

Why Apple won’t kill Nintendo

December 6, 2011

1. The App store’s business model is too fucked up to compete with Nintendo. Games are too cheap, and it’s not AAA game experience for a bargain cheap. It’s that’s all I’m willing to pay for this inferior gaming experience cheap. The games have little depth and owe it all to mobile’s budget price point. You get what you pay for.

Shitty games for sale!!!

Because of the lower pricing standard, it’s not profitable to make AAA games for core gamers AKA the demographic that’s been supporting the market for the past 20+ years. Instead it’s only profitable to make casual games or cheap IP ripoff games (Hi Gameloft) that capture submarkets – bored housewives with nothing to do, guys who have to sit on the A train while it goes through all of Manhattan, people who game on the toilet, and fanboys willing to buy any hardcore looking mobile game so they can pretend it’s the real deal.

In order to kill consoles/handheld, first and foremost mobile needs to have games that are better than the ones on consoles/handheld. They don’t, and when a game that costs more than a small pizza is considered too expensive, they’re not gonna be able to.

Why does my iPhone even have a GPU?

2. Mobile gaming is ridiculously commoditized – an increasing number of way too many games to pick from. So as the saturated market gets even more saturated, it becomes harder for developers to get their game noticed. In response, mobile’s already cheap pricepoint gets driven down even further and the gap in quality between mobile and dedicated grows even more.

At the beginning, iOS games ran $1-5. Then developers started migrating to Freemium. Analysts who confuse causation and correlation want you to believe devs are going to Freemium because it’s a superior business model. In reality, devs are jumping on Freemium because the iOS market is so saturated, you now have to give away your game to get someone to download it. Even worse, some companies are starting to wholesale their IP under a subscription model. iOS is going from being the dollar store of video games to the Costco of dollar stores video games.

3. Because of commoditization, marketing is impossible. When a AAA console/handheld game gets released, it’s a big deal. When an iOS game gets released, nobody gives a shit. Once in awhile you’ll have a game like N.O.V.A or Infinity Blade 2 that gets hyped up. Difference is, they’re hyped up because they got Apple to demo the game at WWDC to help sell the newest iPad. But if you’re a developer who’s not in bed with Apple, good luck with getting the word out on your game.

With Infinity Blade, I think the trick is to get Apple to promote your game on stage! [laughs] Oh, and in their commercials. We didn’t spend a penny on Infinity Blade marketing. We were thinking about it but never got round to it. It’s been a very profitable game for us.  – Mike Capps, Epic Games

The only marketing that really matters is getting your game on the top 10 chart in a market that’s so commoditized, it’s like playing the lottery. You’re basically hoping to hit what Malcolm Gladwell calls the tipping point. So are all the other tens of thousands of iOS game developers so it’s like one giant raffle from hell. And just like that, we can watch any innovative idea that could’ve challenged console/handheld gameplay get buried.

The online gaming industry is hotter than it has ever been thanks largely to Facebook and Apple’s (AAPL.O) iPhone, which are bringing video games to vast new audiences who have never been gamers before.

But lower barriers to entry for game developers mean competition is intense, and would-be market entrants should beware of being carried away by the success of a handful of games like Angry Birds, industry executives said this week. – Reuters

4. Apple isn’t vested in gaming. They’re not like Nintendo where they have to care about the quality of games on their platform. If the 3DS has proven anything, it’s that for a Nintendo device, the games have to be stellar for the hardware to sell. Meanwhile, if your iOS games suck, there are 50 other reasons for you to use your iDevice and give Apple your money. Which is why Apple can just kick back and whitelist every IP ripoff and minigame that gets submitted. Contrast this with Nintendo, who wouldn’t release Super Mario 3D Land early even though 3DS sales badly needed it, because they wanted it to be perfect. The quality gap widens even more.

5. Mobile gaming is a bubble. If you believe everything I’m writing right now, you can see the hype that makes it a bubble. Analysts are jumping to conclusions about it killing off console makers even though the games suck. Analysts tout the specs of the latest iOS device even though the average iOS game looks like it can run in a browser. Features like Airplay Mirroring get hyped up as console killers even though nobody can name a game that takes advantage of it other than Real Racing. And much of mobile gaming’s success hedges on social gaming, which many people, mobile developers included, think is a bubble as well.

Innovation at its finest

When Zynga, a company who jacks code and game ideas, is getting investors to buy into their IPO, that’s funny. When Rovio, a one hit wonder that can’t do anything except reskin the same game 4 or 5 times and make bird toys, is drawing investors, that’s funny too. These companies have no return drivers for long-term growth. EA meanwhile is trying to position itself as the mobile leader by snatching up any mobile game developer with one hit to their name, degrading the value of its existing IP to by converting it to Freemium, and still remains mediocre. A trainwreck’s coming.

6. Whenever analysts cite data showing mobile taking over handheld marketshare, they cite Flurry. They usually show a bunch of Flurry pie graphs side by side and put a line in their article that says, “according to Flurry research” without even knowing who Flurry is. Flurry is a company that makes money by contracting its services to mobile developers and has a vested interest in the mobile app market’s success. All those pie graphs you see on every article proclaiming the death of Nintendo and Sony come off their blog, which if you’ve ever seen it, is essentially a long sales pitch to iOS/Android app developers to get them to sign up and pay for Flurry services. Which is why whenever Flurry talks about marketshare, they do funny stuff like use pie graph %’s instead of units sold, post revenue instead of profits, and leave out pertinent information like whether or not the market has expanded. Nice biased source.

According to our graphs, mobile is winning. Now give us your money

7. Control problems. Touch is good for things like physics games, diner dash type stuff, tower defense – basically a good chunk of casual game genres. It sucks for everything else. As much as the hype police would have you believe touch is the future of gaming and buttons are unneeded, iOS developers still put virtual buttons and analog sticks on the screen. If I had to guess why, it’s because there is no other alternative – buttons are superior.  The only difference is on mobile they take up half the screen real estate, there are fewer of them, and there’s no haptic feedback.

NBA 2K12 AKA Double Dribble for iPhone

8. A ton of pro-mobile arguments are predicated on some wierd logic suggesting console technology doesn’t grow.  They go something like this:

“Within the next few years, tablets will reach the power of current gaming consoles” – Infinity Blade 2 Developer

“It’s unquestionable that within a very short time, we’re going to have portable cell phones that are more powerful than the current-gen consoles.” – John Carmack, ID Software

So what?  My Windows Pocket PC was more powerful than my Sega Genesis.  My iPhone 4 is more powerful than a Playstation 2.  Mobile has always reached the power of console technology within a few years. In other news, the next generation console will reach the power of current high end desktops in a few years.  This has been the trend for the past couple decades.  Why are you stating the obvious and what does this have to do with mobile challenging the console market?  Nobody knows.

9. The whole mobile is gonna kill handheld/console argument came up when the current generation of flagship handhelds, the DS and the PSP, were toward the end of their life cycle, making mobile seem like more of a threat than it really is. The threat was hyped up by parties like Flurry trying to capitalize on the whole app surgence, Apple talking up iOS gaming as a dominant force in order to sell the latest iDevice, analysts who enjoy number crunching more than playing video games, and journalists who plagiarize each other because they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

The truth is that mobile is disruptive, but it’s not a game changer. The next couple years, when the next generation of consoles/handhelds takes off, will prove it.

Toast to all the gamers who intuitively understand that flinging a bird at a pig 500 times in a row won’t replace a good Mario game.