5 Conclusions - 16/02/18

February 16, 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: Loot boxes be gone

Over the past few months loot boxes, or similar (think FIFA Ultimate Team packs) have been shrouded in controversy. A loot box found in a game typically has a random chance to give the user an item, which sometimes might be really useful and at others a complete and utter waste. The thing is that more and more game devs and publishers have blindly inserted such mechanics into their games in an attempt to make more cash. EA’s financials for last fiscal year detailed that total revenue was $4.8 billion - and of this $800 million was from Ultimate Team modes across various sports games such as FIFA and Madden. That’s $800 million raked in from digital card packs which invariably give players their tenth version of Jack Cork as opposed to that longed for Messi or Ronaldo. The less said about the Star Wars: Battlefront II debacle, the better.

A loot box

Anyway, the signs are there that this is going to be stopped sooner or later. China last year instigated a law requiring companies to detail the odds of loot boxes or card packs and now Hawaii is legislating against the sale of any game with loot box mechanics to those under the age of 21 as well as requiring clear labelling for awareness and provision of the odds.

Whilst this is just one state in one western country, this alongside the China law indicates the world is turning against loot boxes and the ugliness of them compared to the real purpose of games: fun. Time will tell, but it’s likely that loot boxes will change significantly in the near future — though it won’t be without a fight given the revenue they bring in, and the lack of resources needed to implement them versus creating a brand-new AAA game.

Conclusion Two: VR tourism is here, nearly

Later this month Ubisoft will be releasing Assassin’s Creed: Origins Discovery Tour for free to owners, or for twenty dollars (and presumably a one-to-one exchange rate for pounds) to non-owners. This is a collection of 75 tours of ancient Egypt, put together by folk who really know what they’re talking about, i.e. historians and Egyptologists.

An example of modern-day virtual tourism

What next? You’d imagine Ubisoft will continue this with their future (or past) Assassin output. If you take a look at what’s been released to date, you could have had similar tours of Renaissance Italy, Napoleonic France and Jack the Ripper’s London. All that’s needed is for the graphics to keep improving, VR to become mainstream (another story — but start by eliminating motion sickness, lowering the price and consider bundling it with consoles) and then we will have virtual tourism. No need to drop all that cash on trips to these wonderful lands with too many other tourists any more.

Conclusion Three: Investing in gaming is a serious proposition

The videogame industry rakes in far more cash than anyone on the outside might reasonably expect, and this trend has been continuing year on year. According to Newzoo, in 2017 the market generated over $100 billion in revenue, with little sign of slowing down.

Publishers are also raking in the cash. Ubisoft's shares were up 92% in the space of a year, while Activision Blizzard made the headlines recently for generating billions from microtransactions - accounting for over half of its total revenue. Mobile gaming has become a huge factor, with some estimates claiming it will account for half of all sales by 2020. The year on year industry growth for mobile was at an almost staggering 20% last year.

Look at the size of that crowd

So, is it time to get serious about investing in the industry? Quite possibly. The eSports market in particular is still relatively new, and hasn't yet tapped into the serious advertising and sponsorship opportunities that the likes of mainstream sports like football, tennis and rugby now take for granted. However, eSports are hugely popular in Asia and thanks to streaming sites like Twitch pulling in millions of spectators, it's only a matter of time before this sector of the industry is propelled into the mass market.

That said, UK development — while predicted to have a sharp increase by PricewaterhouseCoopers over the coming years — could be affected by Brexit. Trading is unpredictable and often volatile, and the gaming market is far from exempt from blips, as Take-Two Interactive's recent stock price has shown. However, the upcoming release of Red Dead Redemption 2 could go some way to alleviating their pain — and the future of the industry on the whole is looking very healthy indeed.

Conclusion Four: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a phenomenon

It’s not clever to conclude this. The game was released in March 2017 via Steam’s Early Access programme and version 1.0 dropped in December. It’s a multiplayer survival game inspired by the 2000 film Battle Royale. Everyone has heard about this game even if you know little of it, or have never seen it in action. You might have heard about it because of other games which have tried (Fortnite) — and will try (Red Dead Redemption 2 for example) — or you might have just seen some words there and heard some noises here. It’s pretty obvious it’s a phenomenon.

PUBG is full of explosions and shooting, obviously

Yet still, to see that it’s hit 30 million users and over one billion hours of play is mind-blowing.

Conclusion Five: Actions speak louder than words - Sony will handover a customer’s private information if the situation “warrants” it.

In Kansas, USA, Sony has handed over a PS4 (and PS3) user’s information to the FBI after a warrant was issued because this particular individual was suspected to have planned to fight for a terrorist organisation after travelling to Iraq, via Egypt, from Kansas.

The actual warrant has been made public and clearly details what was taken in terms of PlayStation items and information:

  1. Account registration and associated devices for PSN ID DejanWoW (the user named in the warrant)
  2. Console serial number and sales history
  3. Console activity
  4. PS3 and PS4 message histories

It makes sense that this would be something the FBI are interested in when investigating a suspect. A PlayStation has a web browser, it contains files and it has ways of communicating with anyone else who has a PSN ID.

What’s interesting here is that in Sony has not taken any stance in relation to customers’ private information before, whereas other giant tech companies are vocal proactively or in response to requests being made of them.

Will this open the door for other corporations to start handing over information to authorities? And do PlayStation gamers now need to become far more careful about the messages they send to their friends, given that privacy is no longer assured?

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Luciano Howard

I've been gaming for 35+ years on the Commodore VIC-20 to the PlayStation 5 and pretty much everything in-between. I enjoy all kinds of games but if I had to pick a couple in particular, I'd say I adore Mario and love Dark Souls. I can talk about either an awful lot should you want to!