Gaming News: Layoffs at SOE, PC Zone kicks the bucket, Tale in the Desert’s new telling, Is Bobby Kotick a gamer?, Free Realms lifetime bargain

This week there has been a lot of debate on monetization of computer games. This has been an ongoing issue – how do people want to pay for games which they play over a long period of time (aside from ‘not at all, please’). And surely a game which provides 100 hours of play should be worth more than one where the player gets bored after an hour and never tries it again, shouldn’t it?

This week’s debate was kicked off again by analyst Michael Pachter. In any case, it’s clear that if you are in the business of selling expensive AAA certain best sellers with online multiplayer support that you fully expect players to keep playing for several hours a week for the next few months … then you’ll want to look at getting more money out of the punters via subscriptions and cash shops. Also you don’t want to take too many risks with your games – this is the current Activision model.

If you are in the business of selling a wider range of games and you hope that players will buy lots of them before they find one that they want to put more time into, then massive variety in the games on offer and lots of choices about demos, freemium, try before you buy, and optional DLC are the way to go. EA is heading this way.

There will be blood. The only certain outcome is that we will all end up paying more for online gaming. And that Blizzard will try to keep battle.net free for as long as they can since they’ve said repeatedly that they want to do that. Good luck there then.

Sony News: Layoffs, Free Realm cheap subs, security issues

SOE this week announced that they were laying off 4% of their staff (35 employees). Massively have done some digging and noted that this mostly affects EQ2 and Vanguard staff. I’ll call it now and say that there’s no way that SOE are working on Everquest 3. Feel free to mock me if I am proved wrong later.

This week, they also announced a good temporary deal on lifetime subscriptions to Free Realms. The Ancient Gaming Noob wonders whether SOE are in need of a quick burst of funds, which may be the case. But I suspect that actually people who have paid a ‘lifetime sub’ (which in this case comes down to the same price as a boxed game) are more likely to keep dropping in and playing the game occasionally, which also means more likely to spend money in the cash shop.

Also, I bet a lot of people who tried Free Realms and liked it but weren’t really drawn in enough to keep playing will pay the cheap lifetime cost, just to ‘keep the option open in future since the price is so good right now’.

Or in other words, I think this will draw in a lot of people who otherwise had no intention at all of paying for subscriptions. SOE is assuming this outweighs the income they get from people who actually did pay for subs, which I am guessing isn’t many. It’ll be interesting to see how this all works out. And also bear in mind they’re launching a new FR style star wars game this autumn so they’ll be hoping that some current active FR players will be spending cash in that too.

And the final SOE news this week is that they’ve had a security alert for EQ2/ station accounts. That is not good.

Layoffs at Rockstar

More layoffs in the game industry were in the news this week. Rockstar has apparently laid off 40 of the Red Dead Redemption team, proving again that making a best selling award winnning game is no guarantee of industry job security.

I think they also the win “worst use of management speak” award for this year so far for:

As Rockstar San Diego transitions from the launch of Red Dead Redemption onto future projects, we are realigning our resources in order to continue to develop games as effectively as possible.

PC Zone, end of an era

I always hated PC Zone so I don’t care if it died, but for those who do care, a 17 year old UK gaming magazine closed its doors this month.

PC Gamer has far far better coverage of the sorts of games I actually like (MMOs, adventure games, puzzle games, DS games etc) which is why I actually buy it occasionally. I hope that PC Zone’s demise is an indicator that the core audience is not what it used to be.

Activision wonders if hardcore gamers love them enough

Several stories this week about Activision:

  1. Activision Publishing’s CEO says that they need to fix their hardcore reputation. By which he means that they want hardcore gamers to love them. They have possibly realised that this is not currently the case although it will not in any way stop people from buying their games.
  2. Tim Schafer, respected game developer, has some choice words about Bobby Kotick and calls him a total dick who doesn’t like games.
  3. Item 1 above may explain why Activision actually responded to Tim Schafer’s comments. Their spokeswoman points out that Tim has never actually met Kotick and claims, “Bobby has always been passionate about games and loves the videogame industry.” Notably, she doesn’t try to claim that he isn’t a total dick.

Apparently Starcraft 2 cost $100m to make. But we don’t know how much of that Blizzard spent on painting the logo all over airliners. In any case, the game is released on 27th July, at which point they’ll start making all that money back. The sheer sums involved are now comparable to blockbuster movie development. That’s where the industry is.

A new tale in the desert telling to start soon

Tale in the Desert, the indie darling social/crafting MMO starts a new telling soon. (A telling is basically a reboot of the game, so if you are curious to get in on the ground floor, that’s the time to do it.)

I plan to write more on TitD soon. I did play it for a few months during Telling 3 and it’s  an absolutely fascinating game. It is also not one without its problems – the big problem in social games being the other players.

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9 thoughts on “Gaming News: Layoffs at SOE, PC Zone kicks the bucket, Tale in the Desert’s new telling, Is Bobby Kotick a gamer?, Free Realms lifetime bargain

  1. I always prefered PCZone over Gamer myself. I had a subscription for 5 years. I found them to have a more honest reveiw system.
    Then both they and Gamer got bought over by the same company and attempts to make the two more different (so they were no longer competing in the same market share) it kinda went down hill. What really did it was issue 200 where they went back through their history and got back all their old reviewers (including Charlie Brooker) and I realised then exactly how far it had fallen.
    It’s been about three years since I sub and I’ve not missed it. Gaming news I can get online, for nothing, and I don’t have to clear out a tonne of back issues every year or so.

    Also, 1 up to Schafer. Koitic’s becoming the Uwe Boll of video games, only with money and talent under him. Someone challenge him to a boxing match!

  2. It’s a tough industry at the moment. I’m not sure how all this excessive monetising is going to work out in the long run. I can see it coming back to bite them.

    Traditionally gamers have bought any title we like the sound of. In fact every gamer I know has piles of games they haven’t tried, or only tried for an hour. We’ve bought more games than we can play. By making each game a bigger commitment I think the industry is teaching the consumers to be more discerning.

    Of course overall it may not matter that many of us buy fewer games if they get better at making money out of the hardcore who want to spend £300/month to be the best and making money out of people’s personal information.

    • “Traditionally gamers have bought any title we like the sound of. In fact every gamer I know has piles of games they haven’t tried, or only tried for an hour. ”

      I have a strong suspicion that the average time spent on a computer game is less than an hour. If you play it for longer than that, then it’s one that you really do like.

      I think you’re right. But I also know that since getting into MMOs I’ve bought fewer other games. And I bet that’s also a trend that has been spotted.

      I don’t really know where all this is leading. I assume that people will pay if they feel the service is worth it. But can you imagine if a board or card game tried to charge like this?

      • MTG seems to do well enough. *shrug*

        The “blockbuster or bust” style of game development cannot last, though. It’s no accident that we’re seeing an indie and XBox live renaissance to fill the void left by the big boys playing in richer waters. That’s a pretty standard business cycle, and if it settles out less than catastrophically, we’ll have a nice variety in budgets.

      • MTG is a poisonous game payment model. It’s exactly the model (pay more to win, pay for a slot machine/ random chance of getting a rare card) that most gamers actually want to avoid if you ask them. The fact that foolish players were lured in and spent thousands of dollars/pounds/etc on collectible cards is only a feature for the manufacturer.

        Tesh, if a MMO did this you would be the first to complain.

        The game is fun, yes. But I prefer Bridge or (non-collectible) Illuminati. You can have a good, evergreen game without gouging.

      • Oh, I wholly agree that the MTG business model is abysmal. I’ve hated it for years, even as I like the game itself. I’m just noting that it’s successful, probably because there *are* those players who don’t mind it. We’ll see the same in our realm.

    • “Traditionally gamers have bought any title we like the sound of. In fact every gamer I know has piles of games they haven’t tried, or only tried for an hour. We’ve bought more games than we can play.”

      That’s the real killer for game developers – make a game with only 10 hours of content and you get lambasted by the hardcore. Spend the time, and MONEY, to create a 60 or 90 hour game and, yes, you might (I stress *might*) sell more, but how many of your customers will actually bother to play through said content? Where’s the ROI sweet spot?

      I think the big budgets really are killing games. More money spent developing means higher prices for consumers. Which means gamers *are* more discerning, and hence spend less. Or, at best, equal amounts on fewer titles, so the wealth gets spread less and less. All of the recent efforts at monetization are just an attempt to guarantee cashflow in a changing market; it will eventually bite those developers who abuse it. Maybe even those who don’t.

      In many ways, it’s nearly a no-win for developers AND gamers. Devs need every game to be a hit, and we as gamers get more and more sequels. Whereupon we proceed to moan and complain about a lack of innovation and creativity. Who in their right mind would even enter into such a situation?

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