5 Conclusions: 06/07/18

July 6, 2018

A regular look at gaming-related stories from the past week or so whereby conclusions are drawn from anything and everything. These may be incredibly well reasoned based on events from the week. Alternatively, they may be highly speculative, drawn from very little evidence. More likely, they will be somewhere in between.

Conclusion One: Some games will never end, as long as people keep paying.

At least, that’s the hope of Ubisoft, who this week posted a blog stating that they don’t want games to be “finite experiences”. This ties into the industry’s rumblings over the last year or two about a move to games-as-a-service, a highly contentious change in the way we consume video games.

In Ubisoft’s example, they stated that once the hero’s main quest is complete — be it liberating a land, killing a tyrant, and so on —  the game is over. They want that to change, by continually adding more and more new self-contained stories into the existing game.

"This is why I talk about having several fantasies; not only being the hero who's going to free a region, but maybe also the fantasy of having an economic impact, of being the best at business in this freed country, or even having a say in how it should be governed, now that you've gotten rid of the dictator. And I think we can have several different experiences with different game systems in the same world, if the world is rich enough and the systems are robust enough.” — Lionel Raynaud, VP, Ubisoft Canada.

There are plenty of questions to be asked about this possible move. Firstly, there’s the obvious associated and ongoing cost with games-as-a-service. Studios aren’t going to continually churn out content for free, so it seems that a shift here has two upsides for any developer: it lets them reuse and retool existing assets in different way (and saving on development costs), while simultaneously milking as much money as possible out of players to carry on a story.

Personally, I prefer an ending. When a story is done, it’s done and I’m happy to close the box and move onto the next game. This isn’t the same as standalone DLC which the likes of The Witcher 3’s great value Blood and Wine story was on a par with full-priced releases. No, what Ubisoft are suggesting is an unfulfilling way of dragging out the adventure just to keep a player within its world. Would God of War’s ending have had the same impact if we’d known that a month or so later, there’d have been another part tacked onto the end? And then another? And another?

A lack of closure in narrative — or worse, deliberately leaving a story unfinished to allow the option for charging further on down the line — feels like a cynical move by an industry who has shifted focus over the last few years to making as much money as possible at the cost of the player experience. Loot boxes and microtransactions have both come in for criticism and rightly so. If this is the start of an alternative cash grab in the wake of the loot box backlash, count me out.

Conclusion Two: PlayStation backwards compatibility will be announced this year.

The internet had a temporary heart attack on Tuesday after PlayStation’s Russian Twitter account posted a picture of the console next to a giant “X” with the translated text stating simply: “Prepare yourselves. #forthosewhoareplaying”.

The immediate conclusion was that Sony were following on the heels of Microsoft’s E3 announcement about a new Xbox console being developed — a statement which, when made, was as vague as the subsequent explanation. It’s unlikely that Sony were taken aback by that claim given the R & D departments in all of the major hardware developers have no doubt been working on the next generation of consoles long before the recent ones came out. However, it may be an indication that they will be officially announcing a new console soon. Would they call it the “PS X” given Microsoft already snagged that letter for its most recent unit?

A more likely conclusion is that the image stands for PSX (the original PlayStation’s handle), suggesting that plans are afoot to provide backwards compatibility for the 90s console - and perhaps PS2 and PS3 as well.

Of course, it could just be referencing details of the next PlayStation Experience event — but this is far less exciting to think about. Our money’s on backwards compatibility. More updates as we hear them!

Conclusion Three: Nothing is off-limits for gaming merch

Companies love a good video game tie-in, especially when it comes to merchandise. The ability to take any old tat, plaster a loveable console character on it and sell it at a premium is a trend that’s never really gone away. A browse around your local Forbidden Planet will expose you to all manner of cheap plastic Tetris lights or Minecraft keyrings.

But if you thought the barrel had been scraped when Nintendo released their Nintendo Cereal System back in the 80s, think again. Sony have just topped it with their new Sonic Curry, which actually makes your poo turn blue.

This isn’t a joke. It’s a real thing that you can buy with money (or gold rings, presumably). Retro Core did the hard work and cooked one up, and the result was...well, something that lasted a lot longer in your system than you might prefer. According to the video description, he was still seeing blue a couple of days and four toilet trips after eating it.

What’s next, Zelda Imodium? Thinking about it, that cash-in might better if it was called “Solid Snake”.

Conclusion Four: EA will change their Ultimate Team modes on sports games like FIFA

At Jump Dash Roll we have been covering the global crackdown on loot boxes, gambling in games and the like for much of the year. Things keep moving, and mainly in a good direction for gamers. The latest piece of news is massive — and likely not the end of the story.

EA has told Eurogamer that for FIFA 19 packs odds for FUT items will be made available. This is humongous news. For years FUT has been the mode of choice and in itself is one of the biggest revenue streams EA has, with 21% of their 2018 net revenue coming from Ultimate Team modes across all sports franchises, a substantial amount of which is thanks to FIFA. Their net revenue in that year was over $5 billion, so Ultimate Team made over $1 billion alone.

By detailing the odds people might be less inclined to sink a bunch of cash into the chance to get Messi, Ronaldo or another top player. Whilst we are unlikely to be given the odds of getting those guys over other Gold players (who can often be very common) just writing down in decimals or fractions what you’re actually paying for can only reduce people’s spends, in total. Then, what of Ultimate Team as a whole? Is it not just microtransactions for loot boxes wrapped up as a tradable card game? Yes it is — a really fun and compelling one, but at the same time, one which encourages overspending and gambling, none of which can be considered good. So, in time, expect EA to change Ultimate Team game modes into something else. It’s about time there was a big refresh, anyway.

Conclusion Five: Nintendo won E3

At JDR we’re not big believers in a particular developer “winning” a conference, especially when that conference is E3 where hype can often overshadow actual news. In most cases, all parties will bring something of interest to the table, even if said something wasn’t what fans were expecting.

This year’s showing was a lot more muted in comparison to previous years though, with many expected games not making an appearance at all. One title which did prompt excitement, however, was Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — and it seems that Nintendo may reap the rewards of showcasing its multiplayer brawler, at least according to GameStop's merchandising VP, Eric Bright. In an interview with Games Industry, Bright claims that the week after the announcement, pre-orders for Nintendo Switch doubled. He thinks the game may also have helped to calm nerves at Nintendo who had experienced something of a slide in stock after the conference:

"Nothing beats Nintendo's overall announcements. "Super Smash Bros is jumping right up to the top of the [pre-order] list. We're also seeing great reaction from Pokémon Let's Go, both SKUs, and then of course people are trying to get their hands on the Pokéball [controller] as well." — Eric Bright, VP Merchandising, GameStop

So, good news for Nintendo, and if the sales figures are anything to go by after the conference, they can comfortably claim to have done the best out of E3's main exhibitors. I'm still sore about not seeing Final Fantasy VII Remake, though.

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Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.