Question Block : Xbox One and Going Indie

Welcome to this edition of Question Block. As always, send your questions to rdonaldson@vfs.com or post them in the Comments section below. Thanks for reading!

 

Why do you think so many people are upset with Microsoft’s announcement of Xbox One?

In general, I think there are two main reasons:

  1. Scattered and confusing messaging;
  2. Disappointing business and design decisions.

Leading up to the event, there were rumors swirling. Microsoft responded in various ways, generally just creating more confusion. The announcement event could have gone a long way to clearing up some of these concerns, but unfortunately just served to fan the flames among most gamers.

Always On. Sometimes On? Once a day On? Huh?

Perhaps the biggest backlash has been around the ‘always on’ requirement. Although this was one of the top issues on gamers’ minds before the reveal, Microsoft ignored the point entirely during the conference. When journalists asked executives point blank following the conference, Microsoft’s messaging was all over the map. Some said it was absolutely untrue, others said it required a connection once every 24 hours, and still others said that the requirement was up to third party developers. This served to make matters worse, leaving gamers feeling that at best the console required a connection once a day to play even single-player games. In any case, this kind of roughshod communication is disappointing from such a revered company as Microsoft.

All Used Up

The second biggest issue revolves around used games. On every previous console, gamers have been able to lend games to friends, sell them secondhand, or take them for trade-in to popular stores like EB Games, GameStop, and even Best Buy. For some players, this is the only way they can afford to buy a new game: get a $30 credit for the last game they bought, and apply it to the $60 price tag on the new game they want. Microsoft announced that games will need to be installed to the Xbox One hard drive. Once installed, the game will be locked to that particular account. If you were to lend that game to a friend, your friend would simply be given the option to purchase the game – the disc would be a coaster to anyone but you. There’s a system that lets you play the game if you, the owner, are at a friend’s house, but only if you’re signed in with your profile. If we look at the messaging around this issue, again the water was muddy, with comments to the effect that Microsoft is still investigating different approaches.

Watch It

We’ve all known that Microsoft wanted to make a big play for the center of the living room for some time now. But we didn’t expect them to push games to the backseat. Now that they’ve held their E3 press conference, we’ve seen a taste of the games they have in store, which should alleviate some of the pain. But gamers should still be concerned about the balance of Microsoft’s efforts on the games vs. TV front. Personally, I don’t think Microsoft has a shot at winning the living room. If you look at most peoples’ living rooms, Sony is actually in a better position, already supplying many of the TVs, stereos, and Blu-Ray/DVD players around. I think it’s more likely that the mainstream would buy a Sony product as a living room hub than an Xbox One. Does that mean I think Sony will win (or even really try to fight in) the war for the living room? My answer is no, but that topic is better left for another day…

Xbox ONE, with mandatory Kinect.

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Question Block : Casually Kickstarting

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Welcome to another edition of Question Block. As always, if you have questions you would like to see in a future edition, post them in the Comments section below or email rdonaldson@vfs.com. And now, on with our show…

I recently read that Ubisoft has seen revenue growth in FY13 because of its core games like Assassin’s Creed, Just Dance, and Far Cry 3, and less growth in its casual games. Does this mean they will focus less on developing casual games? They are also depending on the success of new consoles. How much will the success or failure of the new consoles affect the company?

We have seen something of a platform transition in the casual space in the past year or two, as companies shift away from Facebook in favor of mobile devices. This has caused a bit of a downturn in revenue for many casual developers as they wind down their social titles, and Ubisoft’s casual arm is no exception. Keep in mind that Ubisoft makes a lot of casual games for platforms like Wii and DS as well, and with slow sales of the Wii U and 3DS, they aren’t reaching the casual install bases they found on Nintendo’s last generation of systems. Despite the slowdown, it’s almost certain that Ubisoft will continue to support casual to some extent, so we can expect that its performance in that space will generally follow the market. Whether that means casual revenue will be at higher or lower levels than before remains to be seen.

Ubisoft has tended to have a very diverse portfolio of games, and some of the titles that we as gamers might dismiss are actually some of their top sellers. True, Assassin’s Creed III shipped 12.5 million units to retail to date, but Just Dance 4 has shipped 8.5 million! (Though keep in mind that shipping to retail doesn’t necessarily mean impressive sell-through numbers.) This pervasive strategy helps the company weather transitions rather well, since it means it has products spread across many different platforms. That said, certain consoles skew towards certain demographics, so a slowdown in Nintendo console sales will lead to a downturn in Ubisoft’s casual revenue; poor sales of Sony or Microsoft consoles would have a bigger impact on Ubisoft’s hardcore franchises.

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Question Block : Ages and Pages

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Welcome back to another edition of Question Block! Thanks to everyone who emailed in their questions. Send your questions to rdonaldson[at]vfs.com post your questions in the Comments section below. Each week, we’ll choose a few to tackle in an upcoming post.

Now, let’s get to this week’s questions.

Is it detrimental to view the game industry as young?

This is one of those questions that could easily spark a debate, but here goes…

I think it’s detrimental if it’s used as a crutch to settle for less than we could achieve. I think it’s detrimental if it’s used as an excuse to be reckless and avoid following processes. I think it’s detrimental if it’s used to explain away immature behavior or unprofessionalism.

The industry isn’t all that young, though. It certainly feels young, because it’s fairly recent that it’s become mainstream — partly thanks to the proliferation of games on mobile devices and social platforms, but also because parents are still playing games alongside their own kids. It feels young because we’re always learning how to deal with new consoles, platforms, technology, business models, and players. And it feels young because many of us are young at heart, no matter what age our bodies might betray.

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Question Block

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Welcome to Question Block, a new (and hopefully regular) column where you get to choose the topic!

Submit your questions in the comments section below the latest post, or by sending them to rdonaldson[at]vfs.com  —Each week, we will choose a few questions to tackle.

Anything and everything industry-related is fair game, whether you want to know why Nintendo isn’t attending E3, what to expect as you enter the interview process after graduating, or why you need to learn about QA when all you want to do is design.

Keep in mind that the responses here are opinions, and in some cases, they may not be shared by the VFS Game Design department. You are welcome to agree, disagree, laugh, or cry as you see fit. The goal here is to get all of us thinking about and discussing the many interesting facets of our industry.

Let’s get started!

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