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You People Are Never Satisfied!

You people. The lot of you. Always wanting “more” and never being satisfied with what companies dribble out to you in press conferences and Youtube videos. Why is it when a company like Nintendo goes to all of the trouble to hold a huge press conference showing off what the Wii U can do that you shrug your slouched shoulders, yawn, and move on to the next shiny bauble.

It’s infuriating, really. You have this seemingly insatiable desire to be dazzled.

I mean you people can’t even tell the difference between what is clearly a phenomenon like Wii Fit and what is “ho-hum”. You laughed at Wii Fit and looked at it like a weird gimmick. Well 43 million units of Wii Fit have sold worldwide and are sitting in closets and underneath beds all across the planet so stick that in your nunchuk and smoke it. (Smoking sort of defeats the purpose of Wii Fit but what do you care?)

Now, stop asking for more, get excited, and make sure to reserve your copy of Super Mario Dance Party Paperboy IX.

Decline of the Mega Publisher?

We don’t do a lot of money/business talk around these parts but this story is worth mentioning because it could foreshadow what the future of this industry might look like down the road. The landscape is changing. Fast.

If you are in the stock market and you have shares of many of the big name game publishers you are likely none too pleased with the current trend — in that you are losing a lot of money.

The big stories in gaming and the market are currently revolving around THQ and Zynga and to some extent Facebook. However, there is a trend at work which isn’t being talked about but this piece over at GIBiz paints a rather murky picture for companies like Electronic Arts and Take-Two. In fact, EA and Take-Two’s stock has fallen faster than the yodeler on the Price is Right.

Electronic Arts’ stock has lost almost 40 per cent of its value since the start of this calendar year – and in fact, since the middle of last holiday season (around November 2011) the company’s stock has been in a steady decline which has now wiped close to 50 per cent off EA’s valuation.

That’s not only bad that’s dangerously bad. This is why:

This fluctuation represents billions of dollars moving out of the company’s valuation, and the fact that it’s a trend which has persisted for six months suggests that investors are genuinely concerned about EA, rather than simply being spooked by rumours or speculation in the short-term.

…while the NASDAQ itself saw fairly solid gains in the first half of 2012, EA went into free-fall. To the 50 per cent loss of value in the stock itself, we now have to tack on around 10 per cent of additional losses – since EA’s stock should reasonably be expected to be 10 per cent higher, if it had only managed to perform on the same level as its peers in the NASDAQ.

So what’s going on here? GIBiz writer Rob Fahey hypothesizes that the decline can be traced to Star Wars: The Old Republic’s launch and subsequent decline in subscribers. There is certainly some evidence that it’s part of the picture. He also puts a lot of the blame on CEO John Riccitiello, and rightfully so.

It’s important to understand, and really why I am even writing about this today, that this is not confined to THQ and EA. Big publishers sinking millions into projects are having a tough time sustaining the status quo. Last fall Ubisoft saw a massive drop in its stock and has only marginally recovered and watch out if Assassin’s Creed III flops.

The industry is evolving at an unprecedented speed. Gamers are picky, there are (much) cheaper options available, there are so many other ways to spend one’s free time and the $60 game is fighting to survive. The mega publishers need to adapt to this or run the risk of becoming a 2nd tier publisher or going the way of former top dogs like Atari.

Many games publishers face a tough transition, not merely to next-gen console hardware next year (which is tough enough in itself), but also to a world of new business models and new competitors. Several of them probably won’t make it unscathed, and the stock market knows it.

It’s a Bob Dylan song. (One of the good ones.)

Take-Two has lost a whopping 30% of its valuation, a staggering number when you consider that the fall occurred well after EA started to slide. As Fahey points out, Activision is one of the few who remain unscathed and as of today has a value three times that of EA. (It helps when you have Call of Duty and Blizzard in the barn.) Still, the #1 US publisher isn’t riding gallantly into the sunset.



The take from that graph?

In short, the games industry’s most bankable company in the USA right now is only just managing to keep up with its tech industry peers, while the other top two publishers are rapidly spiraling down the plughole.

Dark Souls PC to Have Voice Chat? Nope

This isn’t really a news story because it ended up being a non story. Apparently Namco listed that the game would require a microphone for voice chat. The specs flat out said:

Additional: Multiplayer requires microphone headset support

So Eurogamer ran the story (perhaps maybe a phone call next time before going to print rather than after?) assuming it was true when in fact Namco just listed it incorrectly, which yet again caused the PC gamer crowd to get all twisted up and mad. If you don’t know, general voice/partychat in Dark Souls is disabled on the consoles. This is a solo game, even when playing with someone during a boss fight. It’s kind of a big part of the design so adding built in and required voice chat would be…bizarre.

Then again so is the reaction from some PC gamers to the entire Prepare to Die edition.

Here’s a brief rundown:

*PC gamers read about this awesome game on the Xbox 360/PS3 called Dark Souls. It’s a wonderful game. Console only.
*Phone calls are made, petitions are started, Namco and From Software are surprised by the outpouring from fans who want to play a PC version of their beloved hardcore RPG.
*The publisher decides to release a PC version and will also include a slew of new goodies — areas, bosses, new PvP etc. Woo.
*It’s reported that the game is basically a port and will not be optimized for the PC and that From Software had a hell of a time making it work. (Now, keep in mind From didn’t say that it didn’t get it to work, just that it was a bitch to do.) I saw it at E3, it looked great, ran fine, and I was floored when I read about the gnashing of teeth after the show was over.
*Some PC gamers are mad.

Here’s a snippet of what I mean, taken from the Eurogamer comment section (and there are a LOT like this in various threads)

What was the point of that whole petition we all signed if we gonna land up with a game that is sub par?

No optimisation? Ok my dual core is going to be 100% all the time, nice job Namco Bandai

All the joy from the PC version announcement has completely dissipated. This is really sad.

I’ll say this: if Dark Souls on the PC has the exact same framerate as the Xbox 360 version, even the choppy bits in Blighttown, but adds solid new content and allows those who play games exclusively on the PC to experience this wonderful game even if the framerate dips below 30FPS from time to time, then PC games should thank Namco and From Software from the bottom of their hearts and be happy that there is a PC version to play at all. There wasn’t going to be.

(Oh, but if the framerates are worse than the 360 then I reserve the right to retract my comments and agree with them.)

Lastly, there is an interview over at IFC (Yeah, IFC) with Nobu Taguchi of Bandai who discusses some of the concerns as well as some of the new goodies, including the new PvP arena.

“In order to maintain the authenticity of what the consoles already have, we basically did make a direct port plus a few tweaks to kind of make things a little bit better. I won’t say it’s moving at 60 frames per second or anything, but it moves to the extent that it satisfies a lot of people’s concerns that they had with it.”

The horror.

The EA Sports E3 2012 Report

EA Sports puts on great E3 demo presentations. There is a real art to this. While the Dead Space demo was too long and sort of tedious to sit through, the EAS team has this stuff down pat. It is so beneficial when they show you gameplay clips from last year’s game be it FIFA, Madden, NHL, etc. And then follow that up with the new version, showing you precisely why and how it has improved.

This was evident with NHL 13 and FIFA. Seeing the old skating model in NHL and then seeing the changes for 13…it was striking. This is the real focus it seems with NHL and the skating felt great and the inability to turn on a dime this year will fundamentally change how you play both offensively and defensively.

It sounds like a small fix but after you spend time playing it, it is very easy to see the improvements. Example: I was given the gamepad and told to race down the ice; it takes a bit longer to reach full speed in ’13 and you can also press the left stick in for what is essentially a speed burst. I got the sense that it really was a speed “burst” and not a turbo button, but I’ll need to spend more time with it. Still, at full speed I was told to cut across the net; in NHL 12 this would have been an easy maneuver, even with the puck. However, in NHL ’13 my speedy skater tried to turn, his momentum, due to his speed being what it was carried him crashing into the boards. The idea of turning while racing at full speed — it’s simply not going to happen. This will absolutely change how NHL plays — and I think for the better. There was more to the demo from additional animations, the talk of better physics, better defensive positioning, etc. but this was my big takeaway from my playtime. NHL is one of EA’s best franchises and this looked like a no-brainer purchase.

The same can be said of the FIFA 13 demo. There was again talk of new animations, better physics, more realistic moves, the sort of stuff you expect from an E3 presentation. What stood out to me was the fact that players can screw up. This has always been a sticking point with me when it comes to FIFA. I want players to make mistakes and not all behave the same as if they were playing for Arsenal. The example we saw followed a goal kick, as the ball sailed high overhead and beyond the midline, an average player raced for it. The ball went over his head and in the old game, as long as he touched it, it would stick to his foot like glue. In FIFA ’13, he may miss it outright, he may make a great play and control it or it could even go off the side of his foot and end up as a turnover. It looked natural.

Anyway, the other point I took from the demo was the smarter play from AI players — not just the opposing team but the players on your own team. Runs look smooth and no longer are stopped due to a change in position. A player won’t make a run that takes him offside, stopping momentum. It was pretty slick.

If the rest of the game works like this, and if average to low rated players play as such it will go a long way in making FIFA, already a very good game, even better. This was a very good demo, no doubt.

Next was Madden 13. Every year I hear the same thing from whoever is giving the Madden demo. Buzzwords like “Rebuilt”, “Brand new”, “From the ground up” and so on. This year was no different. The boxes were checked when talking to the game’s producer — it sounded perfect on paper. When I played the game I have to admit I didn’t see the huge difference in using the new engine. It felt like…Madden. However, there was one huge takeaway that, much like NHL ’13, could fundamentally change the way the game plays.

If you have played Madden you know this scenario:

You drop back to pass, your slot receiver runs a deep post and your split end runs a fly pattern. You throw to the receiver on the post and the millisecond you let it fly the defensive back guarding the player running the fly breaks on the ball. His back was to the play and in no way should know the ball is even in the air, let alone break on it like he’s a spider with multiple eyes. He races over to swat the ball away. Woo hoo nice play Robot Deion Sanders.

That looks to finally be fixed in Madden 13. DBs will now need to have “LOS” (line of sight) to the play before they react to it. This not only makes passing feel great but it also helps the run game as well. I played for a decent chunk and stopped and started the instant replay to make sure it was working as intended and sure enough…it was. Again there was a lot of stuff discussed in the demo from various trajectories on passes, etc. But this was my #1 takeaway from the gameplay demo. Oh, and that they retired Gus Johnson and Collinsworth (Woo!!) and replaced them with Nance and Simms.

The franchise chat I had with Josh Looman was worth the trip. Now, understand, I have no clue if this is going to work but I LOVED what Josh was selling me. It really is a radical departure from the old franchise mode, which in truth no longer exists. I could write a complete 2,000 word post on what they are trying to do here but I’ll give you the abridged version.

It’s called Connected Careers and it allows you to play as any coach or any player (online or offline) and even switch from one to the other mid career if you like. As a coach you run the team and as a player you have to do what the brass tells you. I love the fact that if you decide to play as the 2nd sting QB in Denver you are not going to play ahead of Manning just because you want to. You need to earn it. The best players play. The thing to remember is that now everything is performance based. Your abilities rise and fall based on incentives. Rush for 750 yards and you stay pretty much the same ratings wise; gash the league for 1,500 yards and watch as your ratings go up (depending on your age). So no longer will a player just blossom into a star without showing flashes of that ability. There is so much here that we’ll need to see work in practice — the draft for example. Players no longer have “potential” ratings. Poof. Gone. You scout them and you can see what the current ratings are (or at least ballpark) but the notion of a player with super high potential is a thing of the past. How will that work? I’m still fuzzy.

Players, coaches, whether controlled by you or the AI earn XP — so it’s very much like a mini-RPG. It’s potentially brilliant. (and will remind old timers of Head Coach, and if you know Josh this should come as no surprise.) But how will the AI handle that task? There is a LOT of decision making left at the feet of the AI. That scares me.

Free agency has changed from the old bidding method to a 4 or 5 week FA period. Player personality and the system a team uses will also help shape where players sign (not always for the most $$). In addition, player ratings fluctuate depending on the system in place. A great nose tackle might be rated a 90 in a 3-4 and lower if asked to play in a 4-3 scheme.

The downside: player editing is gone (within Connected Careers), NCAA draft imports are gone and custom playbooks have been shelved for the time being. This is a HUGE shift in how Madden’s off the field modes work so having every old feature wasn’t possible. As I said: I applaud this — a standing ovation applause for the balls it takes to turn things on its head like this. Will it WORK? No idea. There are pitfalls everywhere.

But man…I want to see it, pass or fail. My big concern outside of AI management …I wish I had a mouse and keyboard. There is a lot of administration to do if you choose to micromanage.

Moving on to NBA Live. The return of this franchise is long overdue and while I appreciated the enthusiasm from the presentation, the game has work to do. I am very much concerned that the game was not playable at the show, was only shown behind closed doors, is set for a Fall 2012 release and is still in “Pre-Alpha”. Again everything was checked off the feature list during the demo but until I get my hands on the game it’s hard to say much. NBA 2K remains the gold standard of the genre and EA is playing catch up. The demo was mostly feature talk with only a few clips of actual gameplay and with the release coming soon…

NCAA 13 I played for ten minutes and was late to another appointment. (I was at EA for literally 3 and a half hours). I saw that Michigan was rated an A+ overall and that was enough.

In all, a strong showing from EA Sports with NHL and FIFA looking like day one buys and Madden being the wild card. I really, really, hope that Connected Careers mode works out. It is potentially brilliant but Madden players are notorious for fearing change and hoooo doctor is this different.

A Whole Mess of a Eador: Masters of the Broken World Screenshots

I’ll have a preview for this incredibly intriguing turn-based strategy game from Russian developer Snowbird Games as soon as possible. In the meantime, here’s a slew of screens from E3 courtesy of Snowbird.

For those playing at home:

Yes, those look sort of like HoMM. No, I don’t think it plays exactly like HoMM although the combat is clearly inspired by it.

Full gallery after the break…