[Misc] EA acquisition rumours, Avengers Alliance, smart games, long games

Rumours spread quickly around the gaming news sites yesterday that Nexon may be interested in  launching a buyout of Electronic Arts. Nexon is a South Korean company best known for F2P MMOs like Maple Story and Dragon’s Nest. EA, as readers probably know, is an American company best known for a wide slew of AAA games and includes some fan favourite development houses. This is a pretty flimsy rumour, especially as it would involve Nexon getting involved in a load of different markets that are new to them. But who knows?

So yeah, what is happening to the gaming industry that this is even a rumour?

My interpretation is that although EA does hold a lot of market share (and mindshare), they haven’t been able to translate this into profits as efficiently as other gaming companies. They’ve also been seen as not adapting well to the death of retail and growth of direct download. So this is reflected in the share price, which is perhaps low enough to be seen as a good deal to a buyer who is better at monetising games. And that’s why some analysts are saying EA is vulnerable to a takeover; it may be seen as good value for money.That’s about as far as my analysis gets since I’m not much of a market person – any readers have any thoughts?

The magical online universes of EA games

One of the strategies EA announced recently was that they want all of their brands to become ‘online universes’. So you could interact with them via console, mobile games, PC, tablet, etc.

Play Battlefield, for example, on a console in the evening, a PC in the midnight hours, a smartphone on the commute and a tablet while at the office. All the data, all the progress and achievements, will carry from one device to the other, allowing the player to play “how he wants, when he wants and on the device he wants”.

No one who reads gaming blogs need really blink at this. After all, we’re people who read (or write) and think about games when we aren ‘t actually playing them, which is I suppose a sort of ‘online multiverse of brands.’ Anyone who has been in an MMO guild probably interacted via a guild bulletin board, which you might have checked from your smartphone or from work (during lunch hours, obviously). Sandbox games like EVE pretty well encourage this type of constant immersion and interaction, if only so that you can find out what’s going on when you aren’t playing.

So it shouldn’t be shocking if EA wonders whether people who love, say, Football Manager, might want to interact with it somehow during the day. It’s not the worst idea in the world ever. Why play Farmville on Facebook if you had a Football Manager game on Facebook you could play instead when you felt in the mood for a Facebook gaming fix (which I am mocking less now that I have found one I like, see below)?

However, as gamers it is a bit concerning because I wouldn’t trust EA (or any other developer) not to push incentives for playing the game on as many platforms as possible. Which is demoralising if you have the wrong type of smartphone or only want to play it on the PC in the evenings. If I buy a PC game, I expect to be able to beat it just by playing it on the PC. I certainly don’t want to feel forced to go outside that to find better stat boosts, or to feel at a disadvantage because I don’t have an iPad to play some spinoff game on as well. This online universes strategy could be used to gateway the most colossal grinds known to mankind.

Yet, again as MMO players, we’re pretty well used to being advised to go read guides, watch videos, use addons, and learn how to play our game of choice better from outside the game.

Ultimately, if the games themselves and their spinoffs on other devices are good, this could still be a fun trend. It just sounds ominous when EA talk about it.

Marvel: Avengers Alliance

avengers_fb

So, Avengers Assemble (as it is known in the UK) was released yesterday. We’re seeing it over the weekend, so expect some pictures of Loki here next week (le swoon).

Meanwhile, for my Marvel superheroes fix, I have been playing Marvel: Avengers Alliance on Facebook. Yup, I know I hate Facebook and all of its works, especially the F2P social games, but this one is pretty cool. It’s a turn based pokemon-style team fighty game, in which you collect and level up your superhero pals and go take on the forces of naughtiness and supervillainy. It has all the usual social paraphenalia, such as being able to go visit your friends ‘cities’ once a day to get extra stuff and needing some friends to help you boost various power aspects.

But I find the social side fairly low key in M:AA compared to your typical Zynga game, the writing of the various adventures is pretty good and the different currencies work well together to keep you focussed and interested. By this I mean, you need in game cash to help pay for levelling up and research, which you can get by sending heroes off on long missions on their own. You also need ‘shield points’ for levelling and research which you can get from your friends, and ‘command points’ to acquire new heroes which you can get from beating end of level bosses.

As per pokemon, there are different ‘types’ of heroes (tanks, scrappers, blasters, infiltrators, tacticians) each of whom are strong/ weak against other types, and some of your heroes will also have special bonuses. For example, flying heroes are immune to ground attacks, Asgardians (like Thor and Sif) are immune to fire and cold, armoured tanky heroes (like Colossus or Thing) are immune to bleeds et al. And you can use research to get better weapons for your character, who is a SHIELD agent.

The other feature in this game that I enjoy is the writing. Each episode is a self contained story which is part of the larger story arc, and I enjoy that all the characters have recognisable voices. Whoever wrote the game likes the comic characters, and that comes across well.

I haven’t actually felt the need to give them any money for this game, even though I really like it and would not begrudge them the cash. The F2P framework always makes me feel like paying is for losers. If it had a tip jar, I’d probably contribute.

And a couple more links

A proper links post will be coming this weekend, but for now here are a couple of posts about gaming in general that I found interesting.

Brainy Gamer takes issue with the argument that games are dumb, and is getting together a list of smart games. Here is his current catalogue of smart games as submitted by readers, see if you agree with the choices.

Keen ponders the length of games, and considers the point at which he gets exhausted with a game and can’t be bothered to finish it. I have definitely found this, and whether it’s to do with the length of the game, the style of the game (it can be hard to keep up with a very long storyline that has tons of characters, twists, etc), or simply mechanics that don’t grab the players, I think games can definitely be too long. Lots of Final Fantasy games end up in this category for me, even the ones I like.

The Shape of Things to Come

This week, two main news stories made their way out of EA. The first one is that they bought Playfish, the social/ facebook gaming developer, for a eye-bleeding $300 million plus change.

And the second is that EA laid off a lot of staff, including 40% of Mythic, developers of Warhammer Online. I think it’s fair to say that WAR’s days are numbered, and there’s not going to be any magical expansion on the way to introduce a third realm and save the game.

This is not a post of doom though, the MMO genre isn’t dead. And no big game publisher can really ignore the massive success that social games have seen for the low cost to make. But MMOs have been going through a process of experimentation and refinement over the last few years. A lot of big budget games haven’t been as successful as they might have been expected to be on paper.

2010 may see the last gasp of the AAA big budget MMOs. It’s going to be a fantastic year for MMO gamers. It will see Star Trek Online, Final Fantasy whatever (14?), Guild Wars 2, Jumpgate Evolution, Cataclysm (I don’t really count this as a new game but it’ll be big) and SWTOR.

CCP still have to announce what they’re doing with Vampire even though it’s an open secret that they are working on a Vampire MMO. Blizzard haven’t yet announced their next MMO although they’re known to be working on it. But I doubt anyone else will start working on any new MMOs with that sort of budget and scope any time soon. It’s time now to wait, and see, and find out what players actually want.

As to where social gaming is going, Mashable makes 5 predictions here — of all of those, the one I have most confidence in is that EA will find new ways to monetize.

2010 is going to be an amazing year for MMO gaming, but will it just be the beginning of the end?