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Major Games Publishers Are Feeling the Impact of Peaking Attention (midiaresearch.com)
83 points by beerlord 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

This seems like a inaccurate take from folks who are not following the gaming industry closely.

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.)

The best reporting on Activision I’ve seen has been from outside the games industry and games journalism (I’ve preferred writing from this link, Variety, Bloomberg, etc.)

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.

> but nothing in the battle royale genre that is quickly growing and a threat to both Call of Duty and Overwatch

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".

> 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.

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...)

I feel that the structural components of these large gaming publishers are actively working against them creating an environment to discover any new thing, let alone a new game genre. For instance I just do not believe that these large companies have the logistical bandwidth/incentive to not chase a 100MM hit, and these larger publishers have clearly learned from the post-MMO, post-Kickstarter, F2P/DLC landscape. It was quite a few years ago when I heard the anecdote that all new proposals should have a DLC/loot box hook for projects, and it just makes so much sense. Valve and others trailblazed the concept that you could convince people to part with their money for a chance of getting something of perceived value. Everything they have been doing is to create ecosystems of engagement to create those long relationship/impulse opportunities. To me, this is optimizing for the fact that most consumers in the market seem to have less free money for the traditional model that they are used to, but are willing to leak out a few dollars here and there en masse. From the platform side the console churn/complexity that was there in the 90's is lessened, slowed, and standardized.

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.

I agree with all that (I try not to think about how we’ll never get a lovingly made, non-F2P Warcraft IV.) I just think that even if their growth strategy is bad or callous, it’s still a strategy and the restructuring/layoffs aren’t only to cut costs.

They are releasing Warcraft 3 remastered - maybe if it does really well they would do a Warcraft 4...

> but nothing in the battle royale genre that is quickly growing and a threat to both Call of Duty and Overwatch

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.

> I want to take the fun out of making video games

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.

Making a video game is not fun. Designing one is, but there's so much elbow grease needed to get a design to production that most people who want to make one don't ever complete.

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 latest Call of Duty game has a battle royale mode. I can't recall hearing anything about their BR mode after launch. Clearly, just making a BR game isn't a guaranteed path to success even when it's backed by a major brand name.

Have we forgotten all the bland brown cover shooters that weren't successful, or the pile of WWII shooters before that? Somehow the industry and many of the customers continually forget that chasing the latest trend typically doesn't pan out. If I want to play BR, then PUBG & Fortnite already exist.

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 Call of Duty BR mode is not free. It's very good, far more polished than Apex Legends.

Neither is PUBG and it was the dominant BR game for a reasonable length of time. I still hear about PUBG and it seems to get more viewers on services like twitch than CoD. This is despite the fact that it started without the kind of brand recognition CoD has and it has a history of being janky.

>but nothing in the battle royale genre that is quickly growing and a threat to both Call of Duty and Overwatch

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.

> EA's quarterly results are down,

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.

EA is really struggling with their Star Wars license. If they put out just 1 good Star Wars game they'd see insane revenue. I haven't purchased an AAA title in years and I would buy an okayish Jedi Knight IV.

My dream is a modern Star Wars/TIE Fighter space shooter. Those were some of my very favorite games back in the late Win 3.1/early Win 95 era.

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?

My dream is a modern Star Wars TIE Fighter space shooter...in VR.

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.

Elite Dangerous is as close as you'll get.

VR or non VR, refresh of X-Wing vs TIE Fighter with modern graphics would be epic...

> Why does everything have to get the AAA treatment these days?

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.

Which has the knock on effect that championing a smaller project through internal green light is not as good for your career as waiting for the chance to lead a AAA title- I’m guessing

Some of the space battles in Battlefront 2 approached the fun I had playing X-Wing and TIE Fighter, back in the day.

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.

Because Disney will never give its licences to a company that ships less than 5m copies per SW game.

That's one of the reason EA is one of the only publisher big enough to have the rights.

To follow up on it, EA isn't even terrible on having the studios make relatively great games. A quick look at the skyrocketing success of Apex: Legends, announced _at the EA call_ on Feb 5th, has already surpassed 25M accounts and 2M concurrent users.

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.

Though from what I read, EA allegedly had zero input into Apex. That might be why it is becoming popular. I just tried Apex a few days ago, it was pretty fun.

How much input did they have into Titanfall 1&2? Those weren't exactly gangbusters.

EA gets a lot of the blame for TF 2's failure.

"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."



Titanfall 2 had one of the best singleplayer campaigns for an FPS over the past 5 years. Really fun and unique.

It's multiplayer was good too, but it was launched in a really bad spot that was 100% EA's fault.

Whilst the launch window for Titanfall 2 was pretty bad, I have a feeling that the multiplayer and longevity of the game would have suffered regardless. The skill ceiling is too high for most players, and I feel that without the casual audience the playerbase would drop off as it has even without competition from the other shooters.

I started playing maybe 2 weeks after launch on pc, there weren't that many players. And I'd be running around looking for a titan and some solo pilot would be flying through the air parkouring and one shot no scope me. I wouldn't even see them. After about 30 minutes of getting murdered like that I just stopped playing. Luckily I didn't pay for the game. So yeah no real onboarding, people were way too good.

Titanfall 1 was still a decent game, and it garnered a lot of support from fans. I played it, but not the sequel.

Apex is a great game. Throw in some force powers, lightsabres, and holocrons, and you suddenly have a great Star Wars game.

Just think of how many different colours of lightsabres would be available through microtransactions. I would have said grey area gambling but you did specify okayish.

Disney's perfectly happy with EA's treatment of the Star Wars license, so what could be wrong? /s

EDIT: Downvote away, but that is Disney's public stance on the topic.

I don’t have a ton of direct insight into gaming, but in general when a business that’s dependent on development is facing headwinds and doubles down on hitting the numbers, that’s a bad sign. It’s often a signal that the firm is not investing in the business.

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.

Or even accelerating the rate at which players age out of their target market. There's only so many games you can be subjected to the loot box marketing spree before you start turning away from major publishers all together. I like to sit down and enjoy my video games, not have carrots dangled to open my wallet after every chunk of gameplay.

Amen. I just got a Switch and Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it's really nice to just sit down and play, knowing that since I have already payed everything upfront, the next 100 hours of gameplay are mine to enjoy without any business transactions interrupting it.

Confused about this response. The person it's responding to says Activision is doubling down on development by saving money in non-development. That's sounds like the opposite of "doubling down on hitting the numbers" and more like putting the money in the correct place, R&D, while saving it in others.

Wow, this is the first time I hear this argument, and it is a really good one.

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.

I mean, they aren't saying that players don't products, the point is that when "players will still happily arrive and spend lots of money" then (unlike earlier years) those players are leaving some other product (quite likely also made by one of the same few major publishers!) and spending less money there, so building that well-crafted product didn't bring new sales but cannibalized existing sales; and if the industry builds twice as much well-crafted products, the total revenue for the industry will be pretty much the same, with the only difference being that maybe one publisher will gain slightly more sales at the expense of another.

>If you build a well designed, well crafted product

Not a strong suit for triple-a developers.

I'm not sure developers are really the problem. It seems like over the past 10-15 years the video game publishing industry has adopted Hollywood turd-polishing tactics (late review embargo dates, extremely frontloaded marketing blitzes with almost no useful/accurate information) to try to sell troubled productions as-is instead of overhauling them. Anthem absolutely reeks of this, for example.

Developers aren't the root cause but when you're making a AAA game the required team size alone pretty much means you're not going to have an all-star team of devs.

It's been years since I played any games really. I enjoyed D3 and really committed for a while to WoW. personally, I don't really like free to play as it distorts the gaming experience too much. Take WoW for example: when it started, it was legitimately slow and hard to get to level 20. Now that level 20 is the free to play cap, it only takes a few hours. All the fun that came from exploration and "play" of the game in that early level set is now gone, replaced by speed grinding, achievements, and constant rewards. I feel like leveling used to be a consequence of playing, now, since they've basically decided that there is no play until endgame, leveling is a chore that is meant to be rushed through. I mean, I get that endgame play is fun, and that the big raids are fun, but, they've so distorted the solo-questability that as a part time player there is virtually no point. There was a point in there where they could have focused on the long-term viability of the game and doubled down on mid-game content - better quests with complicated storylines, better low-level raids, better "role playing game" mechanics. Instead, they focused on endgame, where WoW and Fortnite start to look a lot more similar. One just takes a ton of work to be competitive and one is easy any free.

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.

That has nothing to do with being free. For many expansions now,WoW has pushed players up to the latest content (usually last expansion content and 10 levels). They've been through 2 stat squishes and several expansions where you get a character boost when you buy the expansion. The MMO feel only happens when you're paying an MMO though so it makes sense to push the players into a smaller cross section of the game. They introduce what you call "mid-game content" every expansion. Its just in the last 10 levels.

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.

But with MMOs, I didn't get in early or even recent, so its incredibly hard for me to get in on the action. I'd be relegated to begging and looking for groups.

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.

Like I said. This is why wow gives out character boosts for every expansion now. You can jump in pretty easily. You could drop in and be level into the end game gear loop in a couple weeks.

This is why Everquest was so great for me. Leveling took a long time and you really got to explore the world. It would take teaming up with people just to make perilous journeys - this is something I don't think exists anymore in games. Additionally, gear lasted much longer. You could be using the same piece of armor for months potentially as you leveled in EQ. It really felt like you were building your character. Now in MMOs, it often feels like you are just checking boxes to get best-in-slot items so you can be like every other high level $build $class character.

Some of my very favorite moments in videogaming ever occurred during the EverQuest closed beta. That game was so great. It would get dark at night, to the point where if you didn't have a torch (which cost money) you'd be bumping into the trees in Kelethin in pitch blackness, and shortly get taken down by monsters. I remember spending nearly half of my time playing that game just waiting around in the dark by the town torches of Felwithe or Kelethin, chatting with other players and waiting for the sun to rise again so I could go back out into the world. That game didn't even yet have a minimap, so when you got lost, you got LOST, and it was especially bad when the sun started going down and you still couldn't find a safe haven. The areas were big too, so you'd be playing for hours until you finally started learning how to navigate them. I remember downloading maps and printing them out, and referring to them when I got lost in game trying to figure out where I was.

The lack of a minimap is pretty awesome. There is a careful balance between preserving adventure vs making the game frustrating; between convenient and immersive.

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.

Yes! Felt like an actual adventure and less of a roller coaster on rails.

Exactly, I remember the feeling that you needed to have a certain level of situational awareness with what is going on around you.

I agree. In EQ things felt like an accomplishment. And having a significant penalty to death, I often experienced palpable fear in places that newer games haven’t been able to replicate. Those experiences cemented my best memories from EQ in my mind. Heck, I still have memorized the run from Freeport to Qeynos — which was quite perilous for a young level 12.

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.

Played Doom (2016) the other weekend on the new gaming PC, first time I played a game for years and though "man! Old games where hard".

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.

EQ definitely required a certain degree of situational awareness to it that I haven’t seen replicated to this day.

You may be talking about the "free sample of limited gameplay" or "free to play, pay to win" or "free to play, pay to not wait" models, to all of which I would deny the simple title of "free to play." A good example of actual-free-to-play is DoTA: You get access to the full game, all characters, all servers, etc. The only thing you pay for is cosmetics; you can't buy anything that gives an advantage in-game, and it's hugely popular as an esport and makes Valve tons of money. It's free-to-play done right imo.

I assume you're aware already, but if you are not, they are launching Classic this summer.

You also have private servers of all expansions.

Blatant self-promotion:

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'm not yet convinced that this is something I'd really like, but I have to admit I'm intrigued. And the prices seem really reasonable.

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.

That's valid! I think communication and setting expectations around immersive events is an unsolved problem.

We have a gif here: https://twitter.com/dustinfreeman/status/1096887625779048448

And a secret highlight reel from our premiere show: https://escape-character.com/secret/TheAluminumCatHighlights...

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: https://dustinfreeman.org/blog/immersive-theatre-mice/

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.

Interesting. The concept is remarkably reminiscent of elements of The Diamond Age. Was that an inspiration?

That's a strong yep ;)

The problem for me is that games are rarely designed to be “complete” anymore. I assume there’s some kind of catch with most of them, and it’s tiring. Why spend time on a game only to discover that it’s actually missing entire chapters, or has major bugs, or is curiously un-fun without an oddly expensive “optional” item? (Clearly many people must fall for these schemes, otherwise so many games would not be designed this way.)

“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.

There's a ton of modern games that don't do this.

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.

Basically just stay away from EA, Activision and Ubisoft and you won't find that much of this stuff.

Did I miss any?

I think you tagged the main offenders. I've been gaming since the 80s and if you look at the top games that have come out this generation on Metacritic, games and the gaming industry are hitting it out of the park. There are actually too many good games to play, you'd have a hard time playing through them all even if you were unemployed.

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.

I've played Far Cry 5 from Ubisoft and Destiny 2 from Activision and they both seemed like complete games to me.

Yep, even these big offenders only do it sometimes. EA released Apex Legends recently too - the key to that seems to be that Respawn owns the IP and EA didn't actually have any input in the development (allegedly).

An interesting thing that's happening right now with the release and rise of Apex Legends is seeing how these now stale numbers are already starting to move around in regards to the level of engagement that Fortnite now commands versus what it commanded only weeks ago.

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.

I do think Esports is let down by bad production quality of the telecasts, for eg: Most Rocket League telecasts seem show most of the match from each players camera, quickly switching from one player to another, but showing the whole action from a roof-top or sky camera or atleast traditional football broadcast like camera would make it more watchable. Even with CSGO and Overwatch, similar problems, the game designers and sportscaster should promote such more viewer friendly production of telecasts.

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.

> 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.

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).

> but showing the whole action from a roof-top or sky camera or atleast traditional football broadcast like camera would make it more watchable

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.

I bet football broadcasters would broadcast shots from the players' points of view if they could.

Rocket League hosts both high tier and low tier events. The production quality reflects this - their high tier events are very professional and have a completely different talent lineup than lower tier events, including the observer (camera man).

You want the production to kick off? There's nothing wrong with just airing the game, I don't need commercials and interspersed ads and huge breaks and player backstories and all this other fluff that comes with "production values". I like how technical the casters are now and not catering their commentary to lowest common denominator viewers, so someone who plays the game can actually learn something interesting. Besides, "production values" are literally just resource sinks anyway.

Wow I guess I am officially old now because I finally installed TikTok, and I would describe it as trivial and obnoxious rather than "nimble".

I feel like I'm way out of touch with what I read online about game prices, and I don't think that I'm looking at things wrong. Games still cost about what they did when I was a teenager -- which is to say game prices haven't kept price with inflation. Meanwhile, games have added big increased in graphical quality, in the amount of voice acting and mo-cap involved, in the size of maps and whatnot. Meanwhile, for instance, I got Assassin's Creed Odyssey for myself for Christmas, and I've been putting 5-10 hours a week into it ever since and I'm still only about 2/3rd of the way through the main story campaign. There's almost no other entertainment medium where I can go spend $60 and get that much time spent out of it. And by just waiting for the holidays, I didn't have to spend $60, I spent like $30. And yet online I see complaint after complaint about how big AAA games aren't delivering value for the money because of all the DLC available that they feel "should" be part of the base game. I don't get it.

1. Sales numbers have increased significantly. Compare GTA 3 (2001) which sold 2 million in its first 3 months, 6 million in its first two years and 15 million lifetime to GTA 4 (2008) which sold 8.5 million in its first month, and 20 million in its first 3 years to GTA 5 (2013) which sold 11.2 million on its first day, 29 million it its first 6 weeks and is currently at 100 million lifetime sales.

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.

> And yet online I see complaint after complaint about how big AAA games aren't delivering value for the money because of all the DLC available that they feel "should" be part of the base game. I don't get it.

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.

I'm pretty sure the game plus season pass was $80 at launch. Where are you getting $200 from?

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.


Gold was $100 (game plus season pass, plus an additional launch-time storyline), ultimate was $120 (additional skins and gear).


30 hours over a week is only 4-5 hours per day. For someone without children, that's hardly outlandish.

Regarding the video attention, Fortnite is building most of its community around game streamers instead of players! Most of the Fortnite events are heavily focused on big streamers than pro gamers unlike other successful big gaming communities.

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.

> But streamers will play any game that they’re get paid to play unlike players from community

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.

The article doesn’t really mention mobile gaming which is a big factor in the attention economy, whether PC/console gamers like it or not. I think companies that handle mobile gaming properly will be at a serious advantage.

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.

I'd love to spend money on games. Most games seem to be optimized for younger audience (==dumbed down) or monetized in really dumb ways. So no buy.

There are plenty of games I find that aren't dumbed down or geared for younger audiences but then I find the opposite problem: they're way too in-depth and require way too much time commitment. I picked up The Witcher 3, and that's certainly not a kids game or monetized in stupid ways, but it's also not a game I can play for 10 minutes and then set aside for a few weeks and come back and play again. RDR2 is like that as well. Most of the open world games are, in fact. And games for adults that aren't open world game, I'm finding them to be super difficult. I assume I'm just getting worse at gaming, but it really sucks to be locked down to only a handful of games that are single player, casual friendly, made for adults, not so difficult that I'm throwing my controller across the room, and not nickel-and-dime me to death.

We need a "dad's games" genre.

Here are some worth your time and money. Look to indie games, mostly. Lots of great stuff in that space.

- Spelunky

- Don't Starve

- Factorio

- 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

- Frostpunk

- RimWorld

- Darkest Dungeon

- Monument Valley

- Portal

- Journey

- Paper's Please

- This War of Mine

- The Witness

Thanks for recommendation! (I already ticked off several titles from the list, will check out the rest)

+1 for Obra Dinn

I'd also add strategy games like Civilisation VI etc.

Oxygen Not Included, probably my favorite game of all time, and it's not even finished yet. Quite amazing, I think.

There is really not much there with Monument Valley.

Yeah, I'm feeling that. It's creeping into more traditional genres and publishers as well. I was kinda hyped for BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle until it was revealed that the base $50 game is a "starter pack"; only half the roster is included. For this kind of game it might be defensible to use DLC to negotiate the addition of more franchises contingent on initial sales, but they actually sliced characters from every included franchise, probably in an attempt to jack up the DLC attach rate. So it goes on the hypothetical "maybe I'll buy a discounted 'Complete Edition' someday" pile.

To me there are a couple of things going on. Both were touched on by the article to different degrees.

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.

The rate of technological improvement in video games has also slowed down (i.e, smaller increments in terms of graphics).

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.

While we're all complaining about the state of current games, what I really want is for games (especially RTS games, but really any game) to come with an API so I can build and test AIs. For example, I love the game Planetary Annihilation (I played its predecessor Total Annihilation a ton as a kid). But after a few dozen games, I began to think 'I wonder if I could just encode my strategy as a policy' - not even deep-RL necessarily, just a set of rules. But I can't even try because they don't have an API :(

If you're into RTS, Starcraft 2 is basis for a bunch of research and has an API available - see https://github.com/deepmind/pysc2 or a tutorial for getting started https://njustesen.com/2018/01/16/getting-started-with-the-st...

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.

Here, here.

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..

Investors see something like Fortnite making crazy amounts of money and ask why your game isn't generating that revenue. It's not rocket science.

There is intense competition between these battle royale games. Possibly more intense competition than we've ever seen. Being the 2nd WoW or top MOBA pales in comparison. Of the dozen BRs I've played (including mods for existing games), all but 3 already seem somewhat dead. PUBG, which was the leader for what seems like the longest duration, now seems like a distant third, and will likely never recover.

I think it might have something to do with a combination of free to play and no matchmaking.

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.

Matchmaking is a double edged sword. It makes the newer players feel more welcome, but it will make the dedicated players (who likely invest more $$) feel less rewarded.

I had written some comments similar to what you are saying. Getting into e.g. PUBG right now would be very difficult.

That makes a lot of sense. And even matchmaking, if implemented badly, won't help much: when matchmaking is based on monotonic point accumulation, players with sub-average skill growth will be pushed out. Likewise, if the matchmaking rank decays slower (or not at all) than actual skill, players who took a break will leave when they try to return.

> even matchmaking, if implemented badly, won't help much: when matchmaking is based on monotonic point accumulation

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.

That’s a pretty interesting theory that makes a lot of sense. I only casually play BR type games and this has certainly felt true for me.

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