Activision just had a record-setting year of high revenue (presumably they are not feeling the impact of peaking attention), in part because the quality of their products is still high-ish. They laid people off because they could, not because of any downturn in business.
EA's quarterly results are down, because their product quality has suffered and their pricing has risen, players are somewhat disengaging. Those problems are with EA and internal to EA, not problems with the industry.
The article is right to claim that too much focus is on "Fortnite", but they miss their own point. These companies are not suffering from "peak attention", so much as they have stumbled into various mismanagement and/or bled out a chunk of their talent and ability to create. These companies problems are impacting the products they ship.
If you build a well designed, well crafted product, players will still happily arrive and spend lots of money (as EA's own Apex Legends is showing today, and as Fortnite, Spider-Man, RDR2, Warframe, Path of Exile, Magic Arena, and many others routinely demonstrate.)
Activision is not concerned about whether they are making money now. They are concerned about whether they can continue to make money. They have profitable, mature lines but nothing in the battle royale genre that is quickly growing and a threat to both Call of Duty and Overwatch, not to mention what’s next after that. They need to invest heavily in acquisitions and development of new titles using their existing brands. The layoffs came from areas of the company that wouldn’t be able to help with that.
The morality of layoffs can be debated, of course, but analysis of the reasoning has been too absent from close followers of the games industry.
That's not really how games work though. Games are mainly emotional purchases of mass-produced art, not commodities like Corn or Oil. Games are not fungible like this. Telling Activision "you must make a battle royale game because Fortnite" is a quick way to watch them burn a lot of money on something that likely won't be very successful.
It's like saying, "Hey Warner Brothers. Disney just made a bunch of money making this 'Frozen' film, so you need to also make a movie about Magical Sisters in some sort of Medieval European Ice Palace". Technically, they can execute on this, but the result is unlikely to be successful.
> They need to invest heavily in acquisitions and development of new titles using their existing brands. The layoffs came from areas of the company that wouldn’t be able to help with that.
With all due respect, I believe Activision needs to do the exact opposite of the above.
They need to invest in their existing successful titles (WoW, Overwatch, Diablo, Hearthstone), all of which have growth opportunity Activision has ignored in various amounts. And Activision needs to constantly be developing new brands with innovative new games behind them to experiment with. This is a sustainable approach to business in an industry where the market demands can shift wildly literally overnight.
Trying to acquire their way out of this, and recycle their old brands year-over-year into quick products, is how their product quality dropped in the first place. It's not a healthy way to handle the market, it's not a sustainable way to grow their business, and it's why they constantly worry about "whether they can continue to make money".
Maybe a more apt example is "Hey WB, Marvel just made a huge amount of money making a 'Shared Superhero Movie Universe'. You should do that too".
Although I guess WB is finally starting to make good movies in Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and maybe Shazam?
In any case, I agree with you. Battle Royale games are clearly the hot new thing at the moment, but Hearthstone (Blizzard / Activision) basically created the online collectable card game (yeah: MtG is the original game, but it never had a good and/or profitable video-game version before Hearthstone).
The goal of these game companies should be to discover the NEXT big game genre. Battle Royale is big today, but it will be years before you can launch a new Battle Royale game on the same quality as Fortnite.
New Genres pop up all the time: MOBA (League, DOTA, HOTS), MMORPG (WoW, Guild Wars, Final Fantasy, Eve), and now Battle Royale. Who knows? Maybe the next major genre will be robot-cars with rockets on them that play soccer. (Rocket League, except no clones have been made yet!! Think about it...)
The organizations themselves feel like they can't handle 100 1MM projects compared to a single 100MM project just from leadership and management but that's not something I blame wholly on these companies, it's a structural thing in most public companies right now. From a simple analysis it is so much less risky for them to just acquire a new development firm with a sure thing/hit that can be shoved down their sales funnel. You gain the best parts of the corpse too: the employees, the IP, the proven product, and the future and recurring sales. Sure they'll lose the employees, but the rest of it will carry weight until the IP is forgotten. Even right now the IP for both EA/Activision is probably still worth a ton if they had to part it out.
In a more theory kind of sense I just feel like this is one of the problems with how public companies work right now. Once you are of a certain size and exist primarily in the B2C space, the mindset becomes optimize, reduce costs, and make GAAP profits. While I feel like historically this may have been a healthy transition from companies at (today's dollars) 50MM-150MM AR to take them to 500MM+ AR it doesn't translate as well when a 100MM revenue increase is the only way to even move the needle when the majority of the company's revenue steals the attention.
This makes the assumption that if they make it, the market will obviously move to their product. The genre has a fairly fixed market, and taking away players from their previous investments (time and money) will take an exceptionally good game.
Ironically, making good, interesting games is the one thing that Activision/Blizzard are/have been shifting their focus away from, ever since the iconic "I want to take the fun out of making video games" statement from their CEO.
Which is just insane. Part of the compensation for game developers is the love of their trade; without that, or undermining that, then it's just a low paying, high stress, and life wrecking tech job.
Companies like Activision wants to reduce the risks of failure (where failure means sales don't reach target). Therefore, they cannot trust experimentation (where all the fun in game making comes from). Anyone looking for this should instead turn indie!
The thing is, I know I'm not the only person who doesn't like BR, and there's certainly money to be made without a BR mode. Just look at Rockstar, they're doing absolutely fine financially.
The past year's Call of Duty had a battle royale mode, which was decently popular. Its problem was that the purchase of the game was a barrier to entry compared to free competitors like Fortnite and Apex.
And yet they posted pre-tax profits of almost 1.5 billion dollars in 2018 (their highest profit numbers in the last 4 years). That's hardly the mark of a company that's ready to go under.
Growth is not the only measure of a companies health.
I suspect it wouldn't have the same widespread appeal as an adventure/shooter/RPG like Jedi Knight, but it could be also be made at a pretty low cost, and it's not like the license restricts how many Star Wars games they can release. May as well go make a space shooter with a smaller team while they still have the license.
Why does everything have to get the AAA treatment these days?
But I doubt the VR market is big enough to justify the investment that’s demanded by the Star Wars license. Like you say, AAA is sometimes a straight-jacket.
The same thing that causes companies who are making record profits to be considered underperforming: growth at any cost. For EA and Activision/Blizzard (and their big name kin), if a game doesn't have the potential to make significantly more money than its peers, it's not worth making.
It's a little too fast paced and frenetic, but dodging between large girders on a huge space station while being chased by an enemy A-Wing is still quite fun. Or looping around the back of a Star Destroyer in an X-Wing.
If they took that engine (which already featured decent enough AI controlled bots), slowed things down a bit, and wrapped a campaign around it all, I'd be sold.
That's one of the reason EA is one of the only publisher big enough to have the rights.
They need to focus on what's made them most of their money over the past years, game sales for series games (FIFA, NASCAR, etc.) and great first-party titles that aren't on a rushed release schedule. Apex is a great example of the latter. Nobody knew it was coming, and it ended up being a polished game that will probably make EA a significant portion of money.
Disclaimer:? I play Apex, and legitimately enjoy it. I also play Anthem, which although not the _best_ game in the world, is still of pretty high production value from what I've played.
"Of course, Titanfall 2’s disappointing sales aren’t as much to do with the nature of its content as much as it is about timing, and that’s entirely on EA. Sandwiching Titanfall 2 between Battlefield 1 and COD: Infinite Warfare hasn’t helped the game at all. Seriously, what were they thinking? Apparently, even the game’s producers were left in the dark behind the decision-making process."
It's multiplayer was good too, but it was launched in a really bad spot that was 100% EA's fault.
EDIT: Downvote away, but that is Disney's public stance on the topic.
IMO, modern business models for gaming (ie casinos for elementary school kids) are problematic and are turning kids off. There will be a harsh reckoning as more and more people figure that out.
To enjoy and play games require some initiation to it as a kid. And the kind of games marketed at kids today I don't think do a good job at creating this interest. That could really hurt the industry long term.
Not a strong suit for triple-a developers.
I guess if I had one point to make it would be that all the big titles focus a lot on endgame rather than making the mid-game deeper and more fun.
They recently did a stat squish and made a large part of the old world autoscaling so you can take your time in an area and exhaust the quests there.
I have no idea what you mean when you say wow is like fortnite.
All this said, the quality of writing and attention to game design has suffered recently. I assume Blizzard has attention on other games.
Whereas games like fortnite are "download and play". Sure there's emotes and hats, but that's not gameplay. Its low barrier for me to start whenever. I'm not missing the last 10 expansions.
I very much liked the early days of D2 when you had to legitimately watch out to always have scrolls of town portal. Or in D1 when your mana didn't auto-recharge and you had to meter out potions, trips to down for free heal/mana, and just getting in there and doing physical damage because you were out of mana and needed to wait for a potion to drop.
Convenient features always take me out of the world a bit, and stuff where you have to die, try something new, die again, etc to win always makes me feel like I'm actually learning to play better.
Speaking of gear, my fondest memory was a 9 hour camp for my toon’s Golden Efreeti boots. When they dropped I was so elated and so happy with all my friends who stayed that long to help me get them.
It's a game where destroy everything in sight is the correct strategy, you actually get annoyed when they keep coming and coming.
Engaging and fun.
No grind, microtransactions, idiots on multiplayer, just jump in and fuck shit up.
You also have private servers of all expansions.
For us who grew up playing lots of video games but are now adults, we now have:
1. Way less time
2. A higher expectation of quality
3. More money
Creating "Quality Time" entertainment is why I founded Escape Character. We're a platform for online experiences with a live actor. Since a paid actor is involved, and we pay them a suitable rate, events are ticketed even though they're online, just like an escape room or theatre show.
I have a background in improv theatre (but also a PhD in Comp Sci), and my initial crazy idea was "what if every NPC in a game you were playing was played by a good improvisor who could adjust to you." Economically this is feasible as long as the player:actor ratio is 4:1.
Our first online experience released last week - a 45 minute "live action digital adventure" called The Aluminum Cat. Tickets here: https://escape-character.com/
This content is made in-house, but our goal for Escape Character is to enable actors to work from wherever, to audiences based anywhere. Currently these kind of high-touch responsive experiences are exclusively in-person, e.g. escape rooms, immersive theatre, Disneyland.
I feel like I'd be more sure (and more likely to purchase tickets) if I had a better idea of how it plays. The description seems to be lacking. Perhaps a short video would help people better understand what they're buying into?
To be fair, this is my problem with real "dinner theatre" as well. I simply don't know what to expect, and so I'm not likely to buy tickets.
We have a gif here:
And a secret highlight reel from our premiere show:
For many immersive events, lots of people are curious, but afraid that they'll be forced to act, or put in an awkward situation. It doesn't help that most "immersive theatre" events are so expensive to run they haven't really tried to expand out of the rich early adopter urbanite demographic.
Initially our closed alpha format had audience speaking to the actor, but we repeatedly found out that the average person was intimidated. We recently switched to a mouse-based/ouija-like UI you can see in the highlight reel. This has been surprisingly expressive. We don't use audio or text chat at all for the audience anymore. More info on my blog:
If I was to describe these events honestly, I'd called them "streamlined D&D" or "training wheels LARPs", but I think D&D and LARP* are intimidating mediums to the average person.
* Live Action Roleplaying.
“Initial price” seems to be the lure. Game revenue would look a lot different if publishers were required to use the term “Submit DOWN PAYMENT of $0.99 (All Content: $200.00)” or “Pay First Month $0.99 (Price Per Month: $3.99)” or “Try Now (All Content: $389.00)” or “Buy Chapters 1-3 ($9.99)”.
Similarly, it would be very useful if publishers were required to show statistics on what percentage of people bought each downloadable pack. If you offer different downloadable chapters for instance and I see you have 50,000 downloads of the first chapter at $0.99 and like 10 people buying Chapter 2, I can conclude that maybe your game was not fun enough for people to want to play more. The platform may be able to determine this too, e.g. calculating an “average price per hour” factor that translates app time from those who purchased at least one component of the app, giving you a sense of how much time they were able to spend for their money.
Most of the top games your find on metacritic for Switch, PS4, PC and Xbox One don't do that.
For example games like Breath of the Wild, Witcher 3, and Read Dead Redemption 2 are complete games without the catch you are talking about.
Did I miss any?
One just needs to stay away from some of the larger publishers who have done questionable things. Plenty of other good companies/devs doing their thing, who deserve people's money.
The pace that the market is moving is pretty incredible in direct contrast to the landscape even just 5 years ago when MOBA's owned the world.
This in conjunction with other nimble, highly accessible entertainment experiences (Tiktok, HQ and its clones, etc) make for vast and extremely fickle landscape vying for attention. It's really fascinating to zoom out and watch it unfold.
Personally I'm just thrilled to see the level of production around eSports really kick off. Games that have been around for a decade plus now (CS:GO, Dota 2, Street Fighter) now have these incredibly high quality events and online coverage that for me have shifted my attention away from many traditional sports I used to watch.
Exciting times for sure.
Also most esports telecasts have too much fluff and too little gameplay, hours of pregame chats and pettifloggery for very short actual gameplay, they should take a hint from football(Soccer for Americans), esp EPL broadcasts, very less fluff.
I think the content would be richer if one could spectate the tournaments in-engine rather than watch them as video streams, atleast then viewers can take full potential of such telecasts, see things from any angle / perspective desired.
With Football and Basketball, the rules determine that the game is `x` minutes long, but because people are adapting games like Rocket League which were built for 'short' 5 minute matches and then a player is on to the next round. Where you see most of the time, like with League of Legends' LCS is that they can string multiple matches right after another on the same day. There's plenty of pregame and postgame talk and fluff, but you get that with other sports as well.
A great example of Football having the pre game coverage is the Texas GameDay team, which will start broadcasts at 6:30 PM and end at 8:45 with the beginning of game coverage.
Disclaimer: I play Rocket League semi-professionally, and was previously a technical director for a Football team's live cast (radio, TV, livestream).
I'm quite sure this is very intentional with Rocket League broadcasts. There's even a "director cam" that Psyonix built for this purpose, and it is still used often. It's just that it's not as exciting or impressive when you're not seeing it from the player's view for whatever reason. Everything looks slower and you miss all the nuances of the pros' mechanics.
2. Add to that DLC (and now microtransactions and loot boxes) pushing the ARPU up.
3. The rise of special editions and preorder content mean most games are launching with special editions in the €120-€200 range. I don't have a breakdown for special vs regular edition sales but they're certainly pushed hard and I know of people who do buy them.
4. Also not everywhere has seen the same stagnation in video game prices, here the price of a new release on console has gone from IR£25 (€32/$35) in the PS1 era to €70 ($80) these days.
My complaint: If I, something of a story completionist, want to ensure I get to play all the story content which was built for, say, Asassain's Creed Odessey, I have to not only pay that up front $100+ (to get the appropriate level of pre-order exclusive content) cost, I have to spend an additional hundred plus for season passes and other DLC. And that's not counting all the extra skins and weapons for sale.
I'm glad you feel you're getting your money's worth, but not everyone plays games the same way you do. For some people, the level of content you purchased is a week's worth of entertainment.
And what is someone _doing_ if they can burn through a game like Odyssey in a week? According to How Long To Beat, even if you skip the side quests and blow through the main campaign, that's 30 hours.
30 hours over a week is only 4-5 hours per day. For someone without children, that's hardly outlandish.
That leaves a lot of power to streamers hand. But streamers will play any game that they’re get paid to play unlike players from community.
Most of their community are following streamers instead of the game or Epic. That is how many of them moved to ApexLegends when top streamers got paid to play ApexLegends.
They're also paid by the community through subscriptions and direct payments (Twitch bits). They'll get more people watching (and more bits/subscriptions) if they play an already popular game that people are interested in watching.
I think Supercell is one company that does well in this space and understand that attention is a commodity. I’ve been playing their latest game Brawl Stars, and I although the graphics are a bit cartoonish for me, I can see the genious behind their design decisions: the game combines several modes that are simplified versions of today’s popular genres, moba and battle royale. Each game session lasts no longer than 2 minutes and it’s continuous real time gameplay. There is no waiting, no searching for opponents, no setup. You just pickup the phone and play. These 2 minutes of gameplay however are very engaging and fun.
This is the kind of sessions a lot people will be looking for in today’s world.
We need a "dad's games" genre.
- Don't Starve
- Oxygen Not Included
- All Zachtronic's games
- Stephen's Sausage Roll
- Stardew Valley
- Faster than Light
- Kerbal Space Program
- Dungeon Warfare (if you're a TD fan)
- Return of Obra Dinn
- Prison Architect
- Mini Metro
- Cities: Skylines
- Darkest Dungeon
- Monument Valley
- Paper's Please
- This War of Mine
- The Witness
I'd also add strategy games like Civilisation VI etc.
One thing is that videos games interest is largely affected by trends. When PUBG blew up I had been out of the loop and I actually thought it was a novel concept. But it wasn't. It was just an improvement to game modes that had existed for years. Now we have seen Fortnite take over interest in PUBG and now with Apex not because it was a totally new thing but because it's a familiar thing with new wrinkles. It's a lot like clothing fashion. We don't really go for totally new ideas because we want to fit in. There is a network affect going on where the hot new thing dominates just because everyone is doing it now. So there is definitely a limited amount of attention.
The other thing is the fact that various video streaming services exist and people can get much of the same experience from video or streams as they get from actually playing games. But video or streams are free or inexpensive whereas each new game requires a heavy investment. It is enjoyable to watch someone else play a game. Not quite as fun as playing it yourself necessarily but it also takes much less effort. You can also get various degrees of social benefits from streams or videos depending on how much time or effort. Again, not as good as "real" socialization necessarily, but also usually with much less effort.
I would go so far as to say that a lot of the investment into assets, programming, story, content in general is being broadcast out for free or low cost or for the benefit of streaming platforms/streamers and it's possible that the producers of those video games are not able to make as many sales as they would have had their content not been available (albeit in a non-interactive way) on those broadcast platforms. Which is not to say that it's necessarily overall bad for sales or bad for consumers. I just think it has an effect of sales.
Graphics are a major part of a video game and the first thing most people notice. With a slow down here it seems inevitable that there will be a slow down across the industry.
DOTA had also decent API links as far as I recall.
Also, there's a lot of research on older games, see https://github.com/openai/retro for interfacing with NES/SNES/GBA/etc games.
QuakeC enabled the community to demonstrate the possibility of good AI in 3d shooters in the late 90's. It spawned an era of popular titles being programmable. Some of those early bot authors went on to become lead programmers of further games, why did they forget their origins?
It does help a game to live beyond its years -- many previous games could become popular again with community AI improvements, and I'm not comfortable applying binary patches and they're not very portable either..
Once a BR has saturated the market, the percentage of new to experienced players starts to drop. I think most players will reach a skill peak and the game starts to get harder faster than they are improving. This can be frustrating, and since newer BRs have a higher percentage of less skill players they feel easier. With no money barrier, the players switch.
I had written some comments similar to what you are saying. Getting into e.g. PUBG right now would be very difficult.
Do any (modern, popular) games implement this kind of matchmaking? I believe there's often a monotonically increasing 'rank' or 'level' displayed to the player, but I'd be surprised if any major games used this kind of score as the sole foundation for matchmaking.