Deep Silver and the upside of being a private company

Jeff Grubb has a great article over at GamesBeat about Deep Silver, the private European publisher that purchased the Saints Row and Metro 2033 franchises from THQ:

Most publishers are publicly traded corporations. They answer to shareholders who demand constant growth. Deep Silver is at odds with that typical structuring. Two people, Kundratitz and Franz Koch, own all of Deep Silver (and its parent company Koch Media). Rather than pleasing a large group of investors who only really care about the bottom line, Deep Silver is much more limber because it’s only concerned with those top two individuals.

[…]

It’s odd that a game company would hold up delivering what “gamers love” as something that makes it different. At the same time, gamers have a deep dislike for public corporations like EA that seem to put shareholder needs ahead of gamers. If Deep Silver doesn’t have to answer to a board concerned solely with a return on investment, maybe that really does make it different. And maybe that’s the publisher we need.

I spent last summer working for a private real estate development company owned by one person. It’s amazing how a company’s culture is affected by its structure – we had no shareholders to keep happy other than the guy in charge. That meant the only factor we ever had to consider was whether the work we were doing matched the quality he expected.

On that note, here’s a Branch conversation about Apple taking itself private. 

Roger Ebert, 70, passes away

2013-04-03T185758Z_62958790_GM1E94407WQ01_RTRMADP_3_PEOPLE-ROGEREBERT

The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that Roger Ebert passed away of cancer today. He was a film critic whose body of work was both celebrated and vast; Ebert regularly produced reviews over the course of 30 years, sometimes writing about nearly 300 movies a year.

Ebert’s renown as a writer is widely known, but something particularly fascinating about him was his status as an early adopter of new technology. As the Sun-Times states, he invested in Google initially, and was one of the first notable personalities to be found on emerging social network Twitter. He was a man who recognized quickly and accurately the influence that digital innovation would exert over the ways we communicate with one another and, to an extent greater than any other critic around him, leveraged that into a wide c0ntinued readership. Yet he rarely seemed perturbed by the caveats that this increased degree of exposure, remaining mum about the occasionally infuriating Internet experience. A late-life shot across the bow at trolls and his well-documented war against people who believe video games are art were some of the only ruptures in an otherwise perfectly manicured online presence.

Ebert could be inconsistent and somewhat arbitrary, and because of his de facto status as the Big Dog Film Authority that opened him up to a lot of heat. But he also recognized that such is the toll that comes with the democratization of voice – not everyone is able right away to use it in a courteous manner, and not every authority figure that emerges is able to stand up to scrutiny when nearly everything they say is archived on the Internet. Good on him for nonetheless recognizing the value of a forum for open discourse and having the grace to accept the pitfalls that still come with that.

Drew Byrd-Smith – drewbyrd.blogspot.com

EA CEO John Riccitiello Sets SimCity Ablaze, Walks Away as it Burns

john_riccitiello

Kotaku:

John Riccitiello, CEO of game publisher Electronic Arts, is stepping down from his position. […] EA’s financials took a dive during the recession in 2008 and have not come close to recovering since. The past six months have been particularly rocky for the publisher behind games like Battlefield and Madden.

If you’re looking for some harder numbers, take a stroll on over to this Fortune article, then give yourself a moment to digest how hard they actually are. A 25% drop in video game paraphernalia sales within the span of a year? Declining profits for the fifteenth straight month in a row? Financial success is fleeting and unstable in this medium, a lesson EA has been subjected to repeatedly since 2008.

Gamers are a population with a sophisticated understanding of the Internet and a compulsion to pick apart attempts to appease them; the fanbase, thus, is simultaneously difficult to please and extremely vocal about their dissatisfaction. Any venue can become a platform for airing out grievances. EA bore the brunt of this after ascending to fiscal supremacy in 2007, cultivating a reputation as a soulless giant bleeding dry whatever developers they could get their hands on. Efforts to further commodify gaming (the increasing prevalence of microtransactions) or compete with popular innovations like Steam (the development of the widely criticized Origin) furthered their unpopular reputation among disappointed consumers. The very public struggles of The Old Republic and SimCity are among EA’s most recent debacles, the latter of which seems to have incited Riccitiello’s resignation.

As Kotaku indicates, EA brought some intriguing (if not always successful) IPs to the forefront under Riccitiello’s watch, but this is a climate of AAA 200+ million dollar blockbusters and mounting distrust of Big Gaming. The likes of Mirror’s Edge and Brutal Legend simply aren’t enough to balance out a company’s release-day debacles and DRM politics. Is this the beginning of a new era in content-provider accountability, or simply another portent of a quickly monetized medium devouring itself?

Drew Byrd-Smith – drewbyrd.blogspot.com

What the next generation of video games needs to succeed

playstation 4 controller

Clifford Unchained – 4th and Inches for Sony

My biggest thing about this “Next Next Gen” is that the biggest winner will be the one who has several things going for them:

  • The games. It’s all about the games.
  • The ecosystem. Apple knows that Itunes and the App store are a HUGE factor in their success.
  • The ability to remain adaptable in a fast moving world. Fast title updates from developers. The “Minecraft test.” If the hardware is great and the system sound then the biggest deciding factor will be how much each console creator allows the community to take over in an organic fashion. It sounds like the Sharing feature is a great step. The next one? Indie games, mods, user levels…you know, the things that the PC is so darned good at.

This is exactly how the next generation console war will be won. Consoles can no longer rely solely on their first and third party games to “win the war.” Robust game libraries are a must, of course, but they must be combined with robust media ecosystems and more PC-like interaction models. Sony is certainly attempting to do this with the PlayStation 4.

Take the Xbox 360, which has remained the best selling console on a month-to-month basis for well over a year now. The Xbox is more than just a game console. It is a brand associated with media, from music to movies to games. Games and the operating system are updated on a frequent basis, in a fashion not so dissimilar from the PC updates consumers have come to expect. As a result of this evolution of the Xbox, Microsoft stands on a much stronger foundation than its competitors moving into the next generation.

Cliff Bleszinski on microtransactions

Clifford Unchained – Nickels, dimes, and quarters.

If you don’t like EA, don’t buy their games. If you don’t like their microtransactions, don’t spend money on them. It’s that simple. EA has many smart people working for them (Hi, Frank, JR, and Patrick!) and they wouldn’t attempt these things if they didn’t work. Turns out, they do. I assure you there are teams of analysts studying the numbers behind consumer behavior over there that are studying how you, the gamer, spends his hard earned cash.

If you’re currently raging about this on GAF, or on the IGN forums, or on Gamespot, guess what? You’re the vocal minority. Your average guy that buys just Madden and GTA every year doesn’t know, nor does he care. He has no problem throwing a few bucks more at a game because, hey, why not?

I’ve been making this very argument in support of free-to-play games and microtransactions from the very beginning. The proliferation of free-to-play games, post-release DLC and microtransactions across a wide swath of genres and franchises isn’t just a coincidence. This proliferation occurred because the model works.

Free-to-play games aren’t free-to-make. If gamers want  more quality free-to-play titles like League of Legends and Team Fortress 2, some gamers will have to ultimately dole out cash to ensure that happens.

Cliff Bleszinski on the problem with making video game sequels

Clifford Unchained – The Problem with Sequels:

But if you give the hardcore what they claim to want then the press respond “It’s just Game 1.5”

And then if you change it too much the hardcore will claim “you ruined it!” while the press might just give you accolades for a bold, fresh take.

That, my friends, is the sequel conundrum. 

It’s a lose-lose situation. Lots of young and nerdy creative types for the last decade or so have looked at video games and thought, “Yeah, I could make these for a living.”

In reality, it turns out that even dream jobs have their downsides. In the case of game designers, it’s that the balance that has to be found between making the game you want to play and the game the hardcore fans want and the game the press want to see.

IGN gets developers to “react” to the PlayStation 4

Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, the makers of Gears of War and the Unreal Engine:

As we’re building games that are an order of magnitude more detailed than the current generation, Unreal Engine 4’s tools combined with PlayStation 4’s hardware enable developers to achieve that in a reasonable amount of time and on-budget. Our console efforts are focused on high-end, mainstream platforms that will be supported by enormous launches and large-scale support by major developers and publishers.

Reads more like an Unreal Engine marketing page than informative reporting.

Penny Arcade on the PlayStation 4

Penny Arcade – Augurism:

The bump to eight gigs of ram was clearly a recent addition, and there’s a lot of gesticulation toward the more “wibbly-wobbly” and “timey-wimey” aspects of the backend.  By the end, though, they showed a machine that was exquisitely tuned to this particular nanosecond.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Wait, what?

Just kidding. Here’s what Tycho really thinks:

After absorbing the presentation, I feel confident in saying that the Wii U is the last of the traditional consoles, perhaps the last one ever.  Sony’s hour-long apology to publishers for the Playstation 3 (coupled with the leaked Durango specs) make this fairly clear.  Dedicated PCs with custom operating systems are the future, if not the present; it might be worth taking a moment to really let that soak in.

I agree completely. This is exactly why I don’t plan to buy another game console – with consoles becoming increasingly similar to PCs, I expect that we’ll see more major releases coming to PCs on day one. Also, screw spending another $400 bucks on a new console and $60 on games when already I have a badass XPS desktop ready to go and and a larger Steam backlog than I care to admit.

Patrick Miller takes a look at games journalism

patrick miller writes about videogames — RIP 1UP: A meditation on where games journalism is going:

So, instead, we rely on advertisers to subsidize our costs so we can offer the publication for cheap or free. Essentially, we have two masters; the readers, who demand quality (and can take their eyeballs elsewhere if they’re not getting it), and the advertisers, who demand reader eyeballs (so they can increase awareness of their product so that you will buy it). These are two separate but parallel transactions: The editors tell the readers, “Hey, you should come here and read all the awesome news reporting/in-depth features we have, for free” and the ad salespeople tell the advertisers, “Hey, you can get a picture of your product right next to an article that someone is reading!” For one transaction, the product is the publication; for the other transaction, the product is your eyeballs. 

Sounds a lot like what we what we hear about most other kinds of journalism nowadays. Online publishing is going to have to find a workable business model over the next few years or we’re going to keep going through this same pattern of shrinking and consolidation – and SEO bullshit and link-baiting.

What if the next Xbox is subsidized?

xbox 360 console controller

Chris Kohler:

With all this in mind, there should be no question that Microsoft’s pitch for its eventual new console, right from the off, will be: This plays games, but it’s not for gamers any more than an iPad is just for gamers. Everybody watches TV, so everybody wants an Xbox to give them a heightened experience. If someday you find yourself caught in a downpour and duck into the nearest doorway and thereby accidentally enter a Microsoft store, you would be able to buy an Xbox on a cell-phone style plan, paying $99 for the box if you subscribe to two years of the Xbox Live service. That’s today. What if that’s the whole pitch for the next Xbox? What if Sony’s machine is $500 and Microsoft’s is $100? That would be the Bambi vs. Godzilla of console wars.

The fact that Xbox Live has been a paid service for so long makes this a viable option for Microsoft. People are already used to the idea of paying to play online, and most consumers are fine with paying more in the long run to pay less upfront for the actual device (see: smartphones).