What a crazy year! For the world, for the game industry, for games culture, in my own personal life and for RetroNeo Games.
I really can’t pick a topic for this month so I’m free-styling a bit.
There’s no shortage of topics to choose from.
It’s been the year of the Loot Crate, but that’s been done to death. Even my blog of lost month dealt with it indirectly.
Relatedly, EA has been seeing nothing but negative headlines all year even apart from the Loot Crate issues, due to Mass Effect Andromeda, closing Visceral Games (and shutting down the single-player Star Wars project), and more, but I don’t really see the fun in rehashing that out.
Reportedly, the new Assassin’s Creed was great and sold twice what its predecessor did (proving the benefit in breaking the yearly release cycle), but I haven’t played it so I can’t really talk about it.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the top games of the year, but I haven’t a PS4 so I can’t speak about that either (borrowing one is top of my to-do list though).
The Nintendo Switch is doing far better than anyone expected, and Zelda and Mario are another two game of the year contenders, but I’ve no Switch so I haven’t played them either.
One thing I can say is that I was wrong in my predictions of this time last year that the big shooters would be 50% off again this Christmas. The sale prices this season on Battlefront “2” (it’s 4, really) and Call of Duty are decidedly more conservative, with only Wolfenstein 2 being discounted all the way down to 50%.
Today’s news that a man was killed in Kansas during a swatting “prank” is very newsworthy but I don’t exactly want to end the year on that note. Though I will link to the PC Gamer article. An arrest was made, at least. Conventional wisdom is to keep your business channel quiet on anything political or controversial, but I don’t fully subscribe to that idea. If something is plainly wrong and needs opposing, then staying silent helps the offenders, not the victims. I hope the perpetrator goes to prison for a very long time. I personally can’t believe that the ‘set an example’ harsh sentencing of another swatting case last year didn’t stop swatting in its tracks. In that case, police non-fatally shot the swatting victim. The perpetrator, a teenager, was charged with domestic terrorism and given a heavy sentence (if I recall correctly. I can’t find the older articles today as the current tragedy is dominating the search results). He cried for his mother as he left the court room. Anyway, now a man is dead, and we have toxic gaming culture and manchild streamers to thank.
That segues into a personal note. I like coding, and I like creating, so making games is a great fit for me, but looking at the problems of the world this year, and then looking at the types of people I’m creating disposable content for (whiney sexists & racists and swatting scumbags) really turned my stomach all of a sudden. I’ve struggled with feelings of anger, frustration, and depression on and off for years. While I’m coming through it, I used to use playing games as escapism, and making games as my way of fitting into the world productively. Lately, though, I’ve felt an urge to help the world more directly. To stop contributing to distractions and start taking positive action – whether that be for charity, fighting toxic gamer culture, or something else. I’ve wrestled with the idea of leaving this industry (that I’ve fought very hard to become a part of – more on this next month) and beginning a coaching practice to get unhappy young men out of their gaming escapism and give them meaning and purpose. Then, as fate would have it, a couple of amazing opportunities came my way from the games industry and so I’ve stayed – though I still feel the call to do more. As I said, more on this next month.
I want to update the world on what all of that previous bullet point has meant for Sons of Sol, but, next month.
I’ve also barely played any games in the last 5 months (reasons next month, again) and when I do I’ve only managed to enjoy the ones that I know I can beat in an evening, like What Remains of Edith Finch or Tacoma. Just why this is, I’ve a few ideas on, but that’s a blog I’ll write another time. I was seriously looking forward to Wolfenstein 2 as I loved the original remake, but after a few hours playing it over Christmas, I was just stressed by playing it, which defeats the purpose. Great game though, and I’m all for its themes and marketing. Would like to hear if other non-parent gamers (because the reasons for parents not having time are obvious) experience the same thing.
My main goal for Christmas (and my reward for the year) was to play through XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, along with several other games, but with it more than half over I feel I’ve barely started.
I asked a friend who’s staying over what I should blog about, and she said to write about “how to find more time to play games”. Together we joked that the first thing in the article would be “stop writing blogs”!
So, I’m actually just going to go with that and stop this one here!
Happy New Year to all of you fine readers, especially the regulars. Thank you. Your support is greatly appreciated, especially the notes or the comments when we meet in person. They keep me going.
I’ve a lot more life changes coming up shortly and some Sons of Sol questions to be resolved in the next month, so I’ll fill in all the blanks next time. It’ll be a sort of a follow-up to the quite-popular first blog I wrote after starting full-time development on Sons of Sol.
Today I want to share some tips aimed to maybe help focus game developers (or those thinking of getting into it) on worthwhile goals for the various stages they might find themselves at in their careers (or non-careers).
I want to examine a few situations that the developer themselves may be in, rather than focus on game genres, just to be clear. At each stage I’ll look at some worthwhile goals, as well as your challenges, and unique freedoms that you may have.
Hopefully people will get something useful out of this. Setting goals and focusing is key to success in any aspect of your life, so let’s get started!
I’m a hobbyist
Let’s say, like a lot of modern musicians and indie developers, you have no intention of making game development your career. You finances are stable, and you do what you can in your free time purely for the love of it. You have a half dozen or more abandoned projects because as soon as something becomes boring you move on to the next fun idea. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s your hobby! But let’s just say that you decide, maybe as a bucket list item, that you want to finish and release a game properly.
Example Goal: Release a finished game for sale to the world within the next 3 years.
Challenges: You have limited time to put into development, and this may be further hindered by life things like weddings, vacations, family events, etc. You also have limited expertise and (probably) an environment sparse of other experts to help you out or to playtest your game. You’re unlikely to dedicate a whole lot of time to marketing or community management, either.
Freedoms: You don’t need your game to make money (this one is huge). You can make anything you want that will keep you interested (though be careful of feature creep if you actually still want to finish the game). Your ‘deadlines’ can be moved (though this can be a disadvantage if you’re not disciplined enough to keep the game roughly on track). You may have the spare cash from your day job to pay contract artists, voice actors, modellers, etc, thus vastly upping the quality of your game for little time invested.
The best advice I think is to choose a game idea small-ish in scope that you can make, that you want to see the light of day, and that you want to give up your free time working on. These considerations are true for most of the people on this list, but especially so for hobbyists. Without peers around you, maybe try to find (or create) game dev meetups in your local area. An example would be The Games Co-Op that I organise each month in Dublin, Ireland. The goal is to give developers a regular date on the calendar that they know they can bring a game build to and get feedback on (a second goal is to network and find others to work with).
I’m a student
Students are a funny breed. They often have the loftiest of goals, but are also probably enjoying their college years and don’t necessarily see these things as being at odds. I’m not for a second saying that they should not enjoy these years. On the contrary! They should make the most of them and cut down the expectations of what they’ll build in college during this time.
Students often underestimate just how much hard work goes into making a game and how hard it can be to work with other people, especially when it comes to their friends. They should plan their projects accordingly.
Example Goal: Finish your assignments and get a good grade for them (I wouldn’t go any further than this. Don’t think of your assignment as being Chapter 1 of your epic action-RPG).
Challenges: Your ambition can be your undoing. You have other assignments that need your attention but which might be less interesting. Give them all due time! Young students especially will likely have plenty of party nights not working and then plenty of crunch sessions where they’re doing inferior/buggy work. You are assigned to work in groups (this is a major one. It’s actually an advantage long term as it trains you for real life and work in companies, but for college projects you often can’t choose who you work with and necessary skills might be missing from the group. The group will need a leader or there’ll be a too-many-chefs situation.) The college probably technically owns anything you create, and if not then you’re still sharing ownership with your team mates and you likely haven’t signed any contracts, have you?
There are exceptions to this advice, like if you find yourself in a prodigious wunderkindgroup then maybe you should continue with them post-college, but generally the aim should be to get good grades on assignments, have a portfolio of finished or at least presentable projects, and to graduate as a strong individual. Presume to find some good collaborators and weed out some bad ones. After college maybe start something up with the good ones, but don’t presume to finish a particular project ‘after college’ with the same team. The members will disperse, get jobs, lose interest, or just not want to work with you again, but they’ll all own a piece of whatever you created together. Be prepared to let all those games go, but learn what your strengths were and prepare to build on them later. Remember that game mechanics can’t be copyrighted but the characters and assets you created do carry ownership, probably split between the group members. After college, rebuild the fun ideas if you must, but leave behind the names, models, and other assets.
I’m a recent graduate
The logical next step. You’re probably looking for work, and finding it very hard to get some. What will help? Well, unless you have to, don’t necessarily go straight into a job at GameStop and spend all your free time spending your hard-earned money. That’s not the path to becoming a game developer (though it is fun for a bit in your early 20s if you must). Instead:
Example Goal: Keep building projects. Release some solo mobile games (finished and shipped titles are the most impressive thing for your résumé).
Challenges: Basically life beginning, and all the demands you’ll feel on your time. Make sure to keep up your craft or your’ll lose it. I’m thinking of this period as somewhat transitional. Pay some attention to areas you need to improve (like modelling or pixel art for me) but also start moving into your speciality and building a portfolio that shows it off. This is the time where some recent graduates will go into paid work in other fields, never again to return to game development. Others will drift, doing a bit of game dev, a bit of other things, and in a year they’ll be competing with newer graduates without having gained a head start on them. The most driven ones will use this time to sharpen their skills, prove their worth, and either find good paid work, or find funding and start their own companies!
I want to make games on the side
This is a bit like the hobbyist, but with more of a profit motive. It requires goals, discipline, market research, and a proper accountant (good thing you can afford one (also, if you’re making money in any of these categories I’ve mentioned you probably need to be filing tax returns – just my little disclaimer – I’m not giving financial advice here today)).
Example Goal: Release a mobile game every 6 months, waiting for a hit.
Challenges: Most of the same ones that the hobbyist faces, plus trying to compete on the App Store(s). Trying to make the game stand out.
Freedoms: Same as hobbyist. You don’t need to make money, but you are hoping to at least make development worth your time (Some of game dev is very enjoyable, but the hobbyist stops short of the gruelling testing, accounting, and legal hurdles that come towards the end of a game project. You’ll want to feel that this is worth doing.)
This is possibly the most/only sensible way to tackle the mobile games market without millions of dollars to spend on marketing. Examine the market, make something, hope for a hit, don’t get one, learn from it, make something else, and repeat. But don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Personally I chose not to compete in mobile because I didn’t have an interest in mobile games that would sustain me through the hard parts, and I also didn’t think I had a reasonable chance to stand out and make money. For me, game dev wasn’t going to be ‘on the side’ (at least when I started out) so this isn’t a route I took, though I might do it in future.
The 6 month goal is achievable, and also gives you two chances at a hit each year. Not too bad..
I’m employed in the games industry
Congratulations, you’re living the dream!… maybe. In bigger studios you may feel like you have very little agency over what gets created, and in smaller ones you may fear more for job security long term (though you should always be concerned with this in the world today, especially in a games studio funded by profits). So what should you focus on?
Example Goals: Sharpen your expertise to the max, utilising the mentor-rich environment that you’re now in. Build your professional network. Get your name in the credits of some big titles.
Challenges: Depending on where you are, you may be experiencing horrible crunch conditions (Don’t allow this to destroy your quality of life. Stand up to this lose-lose practice). You may be working somewhere that forbids you from working on your own stuff on the side (for some terrible reason. So, know what you’re allowed do, and push for internal game jams if this is the case. Creative people need a break from working on just one thing). You may have low morale if you’re not making something that interests you, especially if you haven’t other creative outlets.
Freedoms: You’re being paid to make games and are surrounded by people who can make you even better! Many companies will pay for or subsidise a trip to games conferences for you. Absolutely take advantage of this!
This is one of the best places to be, but don’t assume that your job will last forever (it might, but studios suffer lay offs or close completely all the time). Use the time to become amazing at your craft, and network and go to conferences so you meet people that know you’re amazing. Your professional network of people you’ve met in person(!!) is the single best way to find work in the future. These may also be the people that you form an indie studio with, if that’s your goal.
I’m thinking of leaving my job and making a game full-time
This is where things get serious and you have to really start thinking like a business. This is kind of what I did except that I didn’t get to choose to leave my previous job (just as well though – tax advising isn’t as fun as game dev).
Example Goal: Release a profitable game on Steam within 2 years. Maybe follow to consoles.
Challenges: Budgeting accurately/ not running out of money/savings. Keeping to a timetable (they say plan how long your game will take and double it. I did. Then I had to double that, then life happened and the original schedule is irrelevant now). Creating a game that will compete on Steam (easier than mobile, but still incredibly difficult). Targeting a market gap (eg. I picked single-player space games) that will still be a gap in 2 years (or so) when you finish the game.
Freedoms: Full time hours to dedicate to development (careful not to waste them by doing too much ‘research’ or adding unnecessary features). It’s possible to gain financial grants (varies from country to country) to support your game. Being full-time and putting your own savings in gives potential partners (profit-share artists, composers, or publishers) more confidence in your project and may help you build the team you need, even if you can’t afford to pay them directly.
A lot of PC indies are in this full time development/ full time panic state. Money is a stress, but with solid business plans and some game development experience, you can make an honest go of it. Most games lose money, but a long sales tail on a decently-made, worthwhile game can be a good foundation for a business. Watch this great GDC talk on the ‘No Hit Wonder’. You are also in with a real chance of making good money (odds are better than winning the lotto, and can be improved by having a streamer-friendly game that’s excellently polished and stands out from the crowd).
I’ve had a successful game and I’m growing my company
I can’t speak from experience with this one, but here is where many companies staff up and build a second game. Many build a game that has little or nothing to do with the first game, and maybe they don’t know how to manage larger groups of people, or budget at these higher levels, and it all falls apart. Others succeed beyond their wildest dreams! My advice would be:
Goal: Create a new game that builds upon either the IP, the mechanics, or the essence of the original (that’s what your fans want. Five Nights At Freddy’s is a great example of a developer maximising the value of the IP they’ve built).
Challenges: Usually you staff up, but hiring the wrong people can be a real challenge (remember: hire slow, fire fast!). Trying to keep fans happy – there are expectations now! Deciding what made the first game successful and building upon that without treading all over it (it’s a fine line to walk).
Freedoms: Your track record (and sales of the original) should make funding/raising new finance/finding a publisher easier. You should be able to hire and pay more staff directly, and also attract better staff because you’ve proven that you can successfully ship a profitable game. It will be easier to get console dev kits or get special access to exclusive launch deals, as well as press and streamer attention.
This is the position we probably all want to find ourselves in, yet none of us can start here. It requires mastering multiple (not all, but many) of the previous situations and also requires a powerful drive and resilience inside yourself. There will be many failures and many hard decisions to be made to get here, as well as sleepless nights and anxiety caused by having your work viewed, reviewed, and torn apart by the (voracious) gamer community. You might even get here and discover that it’s not what you wanted, but I think that for many of us, the financial freedom to spend our days doing what we love is the Holy Grail. For anyone reading this blog, what you likely love is making games. Best of luck to you! I hope that I’ve been able to help in some small way.
I’ve recently begun moving into part-time business workshopping and coaching, aimed largely towards creatives, artists and game devs. I still make games, and Sons of Sol is still happening, but I ran into the budget problems mentioned in the ‘I’m thinking of leaving my job and making a game full-time’ section. So now I’m moving into the ‘games on the side’ section, but with finishing the PC game as my goal instead of the mobile games (for now, anyway).
Most of you will probably find yourselves hitting several of these stages over your careers. Personally, I kind of skipped the student one, but self-taught through 1GAM projects.
If this guide was helpful or if you’d like to ask me anything related to game dev business, do get in touch through the comments or the RetroNeo Games contact page.
Jump is a brand new monthly subscription service for playing a curated selection of indie games. “Think of it like Netflix” says company chief Anthony Palma. It will support PC, Mac, and Linux games, as well as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR titles.
In March I wrote about this very topic. So I get to say “I was right”. It wasn’t a radical guess or anything, but my fridge is all out of humble pie so I’m going to take that prediction as a win.
Well, is it a win though? Wasn’t I arguing that this would bring on the end times… or something? Well, sort of. I invite you to read that article, and its follow-up in April on potential Alternate Payment Models of the future. To summarise, change is inevitable, so fighting the tide is ultimately fruitless, but the direction we appear to be heading is to devalue games to the point where they’re not worth making any more, and only the most generic, risk-free games will be invested in and made in future. That is worth resisting.
Tell us about Jump
Okay so there are a few things I like about Jump.
1. Its price and revenue share
Your one monthly payment of $10 gets you access to everything on the platform. It’s a little more expensive than Netflix, and I like this. Games are pricier than movies and TV shows already. However, games are constantly going on sale and approaching worthlessness. Jump itself might make games worth even less, true, but that’s happening anyway and at least they’re not racing Netflix to the bottom. $10 is a respectable fee. I’d pay it.
One of my key complaints about Spotify in that blog was that artists apparently get a terrible share of revenue. I might be wrong, but I think it’s a predatory percentage share of the revenue that Spotify take, and if I am wrong, it’s still a worthless payout that most artists actually get.
Jump are taking a 30% cut and leaving 70% to the developers. I like this. Either they’re nervous about how they’ll be perceived and accepted, and by extension their success, or more likely they’re just happy to maintain the status quo. Steam take 30% of the cut on all game sales on the platform; why should Jump go lower? Good that they’re not going higher either.
So 70% of all membership fees go to the developers, according to how muchtime players have spent on their game. This means that if players just try out your short game and (if it were on Steam) would have just refunded it, you still get paid.
2. It’s a meritocracy
Just to drag that last point out, if your game is better and gets played more, you get paid more. The hidden danger with this is that it might encourage developers to make the game artificially longer, by having excess grinding or backtracking, just to run up the minutes spent, and thus the pay-out. In the same way that Free-To-Play models negatively affect game design, so too might this. However, it’s counterbalanced by two things. Firstly, people said the same about games needing to be particularly engaging and polished in the first two hours after Steam brought in refunds, and I haven’t really noticed much change being reported on there. Secondly…
3. It’s curated
Jump will launch with 60-100 games and add 10-12 more each month. It is not going to be an open platform. Apparently, only games of a certain quality and popularity will be allowed on. This solves Steam’s major problem of discoverability and quality, but only for a select few.
You can be sure that the platform will be inundated with requests for access from developers. Maybe we’ve come full-circle, back to before Steam launched Greenlight and opened the flood gates. This is good for developers who get on the platform, but bad for those who can’t. It is pretty good for consumers though, which will be essential to the adoption of this platform.
You also don’t disappear just because your game is a few months old. In their algorithm, older games get jumped back up to the top of the discoverability queue periodically.
How do they pick the games that make it on the platform? Apparently they’re looking at 3 things. Critical response, peer response, and market response. Basically, are there good reviews, any awards, or good sales? Apparently having one of these things is enough for consideration, with two or three being better. I would guess that the vast majority of games will have either none, or all three. Good reviews lead to good sales and awards often follow (or precede, like getting Best In Show at EGX or PAX).
4. It’s just for indies
On Jump, a user is there to play indie games. They pay for that, so you can be sure they’re there for you, and maybe less interested in what EA are doing over on their subscription service. It’s great that a user here isn’t choosing between the newest AAA launch and your indie darling, as they would be doing over on Steam. It really is somewhere that indie games have a chance to shine, and this is one of the big fears that I brought up in the March blog, originally.
5. It’s not exclusive
Being on Jump doesn’t mean you can’t also sell elsewhere, which is great for fans who want to have their own copy of a game, and great for devs who’d still like the option of trying to win big on Steam. It’s been stated that a developer can launch on Steam and then come to Jump after six months if they wish, when they’re starting to see sales really die off. Good for devs. I like.
However, if you got lukewarm reviews and didn’t sell, you may not have the option to get on Jump anyway.
6. It’s an online service
I’m actually not sure if I like or dislike this, but I’ll leave it in this group, anyway. There is no download and install of the games. That’s a big plus if you’ve a slow connection, and great if you want to try out a game immediately. But it’s not a streaming service either (where the game runs on a server somewhere else and you get sent the results to your device) which can also have latency issues, especially with slow or unreliable connections.
Instead, it pulls enough of the game down from the servers within about 20 seconds, that you can start running it locally, but without storing it locally or constantly checking in with the server. It’s not a Unity-exclusive platform, but if you’re familiar with Unity’s Web GL builds – that.
But there is one thing I really don’t like.
WebGL is the future, but speaking as a developer I’ve still found it to only suck hard! I did a blog (now partly outdated) about migrating older Unity projects into WebGL-friendly formats and getting around certain inexplicable bugs people were having.
Many improvements have been made since, but even still, the last time I tried to put Sons of Sol into a WebGL build (last week), it wouldn’t even build, let alone run. I do believe that it’s due to having XInputDotNet stuff in there, which I use to make the controllers vibrate, but how can it be that this futuristic platform doesn’t support vibration?
Actually, Unity doesn’t support vibration in controllers normally, anyway. Sort it out, already, please!
In addition, all the old Unity Web Player (since deprecated in all major browsers) games that I’d updated to WebGL and replaced on this website have since broken. I discovered this yesterday. I don’t know how long they were out for. I monitor game news and Unity blogs for updates on this sort of thing. It’s possible I missed it, but I was unaware of any newer Chrome, Firefox, or Unity updates that should have broken these once-painstakingly-fixed game builds. I’ve had to remove them or provide only PC builds for download on the site. It’s very frustrating to try and keep up with.
I’ve just found WebGL to be a nightmare so far, though I know it works for some people with no problems, so your mileage may vary. A developer will have to get their game working in this format, with a reportedly simple Jump plugin, to get on the platform. I’ve actually no idea if Sons of Sol will ever get on the problem. At one stage I made myself a WebGL expert and still couldn’t get that game to work on it, though there is a lot more going on in Sons of Sol’s code than there is in the other game jam games that I fixed.
My message to any devs is this: “If you think you’d like to get on Jump, test today if your game actually works on WebGL. If it does, keeping testing it regularly. If not, good luck to you”.
This will be a very interesting one to watch. I would like to see everything remain as it was a few years ago, with people paying for games they wanted, and games holding value enough for serious, dedicated developers to actually approach game development as a business. But the only constant is change, as they say, and this is the way the winds are blowing. Given that, I think Jump is looking like a fairly benevolent new force in the marketplace.
I’m actually unsure if a drop in your wifi would boot you out of your game. I don’t think WebGL would, but maybe Jump’s proprietary software might. I don’t think so because they seem to be fairly measured in a lot of their decisions so far, and an always-on connection would be a deal breaker for a lot of people. Having to log into the site at the start of your game session each time isn’t much better though.
How frustrating is it those times when your router goes down and you realise that you’ve suddenly nothing to watch, listen to, or play, because you can’t get onto the servers to start a movie, album, or game? I do like to own copies of the things I want to use.
Or what if you lose a job and all of a sudden you’ve all the time you want to play and watch everything you couldn’t before, only to realise that you’ve to cancel all your subscriptions and you don’t own hard copies of anything any more because it’s [current year argument].
I would like to see the option to download locally and play without internet access during the month of your membership. I just don’t know how that’s going to turn out.
It’s telling, however, that I currently feel like I would probably subscribe to the service, and that I would want my own game on it. As a consumer and a developer, I’m cautiously optimistic about Jump.
Let’s see how it goes. What do you guys think about it? Do please let me know in the comments.
Jump is currently in Beta and launches in “late Summer 2017”.
Sorry about the title. It’s a little inaccurate but I couldn’t resist. This article is about the game Mass Effect: Andromeda and the fact that it’ll never be fully appreciated because of bad management decisions.
Andromeda, the 4th game in the Mass Effect series, and supposedly the first of a new trilogy, released on March 21st, 2017 in a broken, bloody mess, and has factually killed the series dead (well, cancelled and “on hiatus” is as dead as a gaming franchise ever officially gets).
So it must be a bad game, right? Well, no! Not the version I played (v1.08).
In an era where “games as a service” is increasingly becoming the norm, and hardly any big game is ever finished on release day any more, we see more and more games releasing in broken states or missing features and getting patched later. A large part of the reason is a (I argue) misguided adherence to schedules, budget and targets set by marketing departments and management, rather than listening to development teams who actually have their hands on the product.
It’s very easy to criticise, of course. There are good arguments to be fairly rigid with deadlines. Maximising the value of expensive marketing campaigns that are planned months in advance is one. Not making the development team complacent and feeling like they’ve infinite time to “get it right” is another, but when reviews still happen in and around launch day, and review scores are permanent, surely it must be better to take the financial hit of delaying the game than releasing a travesty and killing one of gaming’s biggest franchises of the past decade.
Not the first time
EA, Mass Effect’s publisher, frequently seem to be one of the worst offenders in this regard, with the infamous Sim City and Battlefield 4 botched launches being among the worst examples of the last 5 years. You’d think they might have learned a lesson. To a degree, they did, but not well enough. Andromeda was delayed once, initially scheduled to release in 2016. EA even said that they would consider delaying the game again if it made for a better experience. Evidently, they should have. It’s not clear how collaborative the decision to release was between EA and developers Bioware, but undoubtedly, the wrong decision was made. That’s evidenced by the fact that just 3 months after launch, I’m playing an enjoyable game that I’d rate 7/10. It has its problems, but has none of the embarrassing animation gaffes that defined the game’s release.
This is, unfortunately, how Andromeda will forever be remembered, and it’s something that was only in the game for a few weeks around release. You won’t see that now (or at least, I haven’t) but things like this predisposed players and critics to see the game’s other faults in a worse light. There are some cringe worthy lines of dialogue here and there, but there’s also tens of thousands of good ones. “My face is tired” is the one that will be remembered, though, because it’s early in the game and while it passed me by without major upset, anyone already totally unimmersed by the animations would just see it as another nail in the coffin.
Still not perfect
I must say that audio problems persist and playing with subtitles is essential in v1.08 or you’ll miss a lot of response lines from anyone standing more than 2 metres away. Similarly, the dynamic camera zoom, which supposedly focuses the camera on the speakers when a non-cutscene conversation starts, all too often fails to frame either speaker and leaves you staring at a desk or a wall.
Another early complaint was that planet exploration had these unskippable flying transitions between planetary orbits. While they look cool, they get tedious. You can now skip inter-planetary cutscenes, but not inter-system ones, and not ones for entering or exiting a planetary level. I can only presume that they’re necessary to hide loading times, but other games would allow you to skip after maybe 5 seconds when the loading is done, instead of watching the full 20-30 second identical cutscene every time you come and go from the Nexus (which will be a lot of times).
More playtesting and development time could have fixed these issues, led to positive reviews, greater sales, DLC, a sequel, and the continuation of the franchise. Instead, the game was sold at 50% discount less than 3 months after release, after the series was cancelled.
There are a few things I’m trying to say here
1. To developers & publishers: “Prioritise quality, because gamers care!”
From what you’ve read so far, I’m sure you’d agree that in hindsight (or if they had just learned lessons from other failing releases) the better decision here would have been a second delay of 3-5 months. Sometimes smaller companies have no option, financially speaking, but to release now, but this isn’t true of EA/Bioware.
Players forgive and forget delayed releases, but a bad launch is bad forever.
2. To gamers: “PLEASE stop pre-ordering games”
I feel a hypocrite to write this, so let me first disclaim that as a developer, I currently do offer Sons of Sol for pre-order on this very site. I don’t push it, and I don’t particularly encourage you to buy it (though I do appreciate the support if you did) but it was necessary to sell a few units to prove that we’re “in commerce” for business-y reasons.
BUT! As a gamer, I never pre-order, and I always wait for reviews. You contribute to a culture of bad releases and broken games if you support this practice, particularly in the AAA world. When developers already have your money, they don’t need to make the product any better than ‘passable’. You’d think that, for their reputations, they’d want to deliver the best possible quality, but it’s not always the case. Look at Arkham Knight, Dead Island, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, No Man’s Sky, ornow, Mass Effect: Andromeda. These are all games that you’ll find on lists of all-time bad releases, and all have earned their creators considerable scorn. It can drive gamers to piracy as well with the logic “I paid you for a good game. You didn’t give me one. I’m stealing your next one”. Never mind the illegality, and the paradoxical logic of ‘once bitten, go back for more’ – it happens, and it affects bottom lines.
The sad thing is, most of those games have gotten better with patching, and reached a state that gamers would have been happy with if they’d received that version at launch, even if launch were delayed.
If you don’t pre-order, developers will be more concerned with having good initial review scores and word of mouth, and will have to earn your money before taking it. Listen, forget about the horse armour, the classic skin for your character, or the unique handgun that you’ll never use in multiplayer. Just stop pre-ordering.
3. To gamers: “Consider waiting for sale”
I don’t think this will do the industry any favours if you’re already waiting for release and not pre-ordering, but if you’re a thrifty bargain-hunter, know that EA in particular are showing that they’re willing to discount their biggest releases to 50% off within just weeks of release. In December, I wrote about how Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 (both critically acclaimed but released in a busy pre-Christmas cycle) were selling at 40% and 50% off respectively in the Holiday sales. The same has happened with Andromeda in the Summer/E3 period, and I would suspect that the same will happen with Star Wars: Battlefront 2 at the end of this year. If you want to wait to see how that game is reviewed, you may as well wait a little longer in case there’s a hefty discount at Christmas time. This seems to happen a lot with multiplayer games, which can die on the vine if they don’t get a critical mass of players fast!
4. To EA: “Is Origin Access really doing you any favours?”
EA, and so many companies like them, want to move their customers onto more predictable monthly subscription models. I don’t like this as a consumer (it’s basically the same as pre-ordering everything the company do, and losing access to everything any month you don’t pay up), but I can see why it makes business sense, too. EA’s version is called ‘Origin Access’.
So, one of the incentives they offer to members is to “try new EA games before they’re released”. Maybe those words sound good in a board room, but it’s actually a horrible thing! This is because it means either
i) The game is ready and you’re holding it hostage an extra week so you can try to lure people into anti-consumer subscription models, or
ii) The game is not ready, and you’re letting the internet(!!!) get their hands on your unfinished game and tear it to shreds with memes, scathing YouTube videos, and negative reviews.
This is the very definition (totally in the dictionary, just take my word for it) of a double edged sword. EA hoped to cut into the market with one side of the blade, and instead got sliced with the other.
Never ones to learn, though, this offer still remains on the Origin Access website at time of writing.
The motives I’ve mentioned above are of course just my opinion, but if you have another way to read the situation, I’d love to hear it in the comments.
So I’ve barely talked about the game itself, and that’s kind of my point. Nobody knows Mass Effect Andromeda as the good game that it’s actually turned into, because you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and the internet has an incredibly short attention span.
So, to give the game its due, my two paragraph review is that it’s quite enjoyable, and definitely worth the sale price I paid for it. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m well into the second Act, and it’s been reminding me a lot of the feeling of the first two games, of which I was a big fan. The breadth and depth of character interactions that you’d expect is there. Those awe-inspiring moments of stepping onto a spaceship bridge or a sheer cliff top and beholding magnificent vistas are the high points that make you feel the fantasy of being a space explorer. Andromeda didn’t lose that from the originals. The combat is a lot of fun. There’s less tactical squad management in combat (con, in my eyes) but it’s replaced with a verticality and movement focus that feels fresh (pro). There’s also nothing stopping you from hanging back and just sniping. The story is compelling (if a little too similar to ME2 in parts, so far). Unfortunately, excessive inventory management from ME1 came back, but I’ve been largely ignoring my armour pickups and R&D options and doing just fine at surviving. There’s also a fun co-op multiplayer segment very similar to ME3’s, though it has micro transactions so… look I just hate ‘reward crates’ in general, but the multiplayer doesn’t require that you buy and it is quite fun.
There are plenty of frustrations, though. Some still unskippable transitions, inventory management, poor menu layout for Research, some jarring dialogue, bad camera work and audio problems, but they all speak to merely a lack of polish, rather than a bad core game. The core game is good, and the polish has been improving with patches. I wouldn’t write this off if you haven’t played it yet, but don’t pay full price.
Concluding the conclusion
Game good. Silly corporate decisions bad. Hopefully both will get better. You can help by not pre-ordering or joining subscription services.
Until next time..
PS Sons of Sol (our game)has its final weekend on Square Enix Collective this weekend (July 1st & 2nd) and we’d love your votes and comments! Thanks!
So I wanted to follow on from last month’s blog and continue to discuss the possible future of games monetization. To briefly sum up what I’ve said before, I’m concerned by an increasing trend towards heavily discounting games earlier and earlier (Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Titanfall last Christmas, for example) and the effect that this has on the perceived value of games.
The success of Spotify and Netflix’s models in other industries concerns me and we see a bit of a move in that direction with things like Humble Bundles, EA Access, and console equivalents.
If we’re not careful, we’ll get to where there’s no money to be made in games and only the most trite, generic, relatively low cost and mass-appealing titles (the Call of Duties and FIFAs) will be financially viable. We stand to lose so much as gamers if certain trends take root over the next decade or so.
The problem as I see it is that there’s a race to the bottom happening with the traditional pricing models, and while many, including myself, still prefer to pay for and own a copy of the exact game they’re looking for, the margins are shrinking all the time and in the future we may have far less games to choose from as smaller developers may no longer be able to afford to run studios, and even larger ones will be far less willing (even less than they are now) to innovate with their games.
I want to look at what is being done, and what might be done about this.
What’s Happening Today?
This is where you basically pay a subscription and get access to a library of games as long as you’re still paying. The Spotify or Netflix model. In the last post, I mentioned how things like EA Access or a potential Steam equivalent could be disastrous for smaller games, but this is one way that EA is already trying to battle the downward trend in the perceived value of games. Hats off for trying, but I really hope they don’t succeed with this. Imagine you get laid off from work (as is quite the modern reality). Suddenly you’ve way more time to play games, but now have to cancel your subscription because you can’t afford it. You’ve got nothing.
End of Game Subscriptions(?)
Eve Online and World of Warcraft have both been retreating a bit from their monthly subscription models, chasing after their dwindling player bases. Both now offer the game for free at lower levels of play, but retain the subscription if you want a more complete experience. Granted, these games are both over a decade old, but if these titans don’t think that a subscription fee for their games is completely viable any more then it’s doubtful that newcomers will adopt the model either; though it remains to be seen if this F2P/subscription blend will do the job for either of them.
AAA has been trying for years to squeeze extra pennies out of their fans by charging more for more content, and it’s gone as far as the total DLC costs sometimes now even costing as much as the core game. This was never a popular approach, but it did work, and it helped AAA games remain viable despite their massively inflated budgets.
Now, however, they’re beginning to realise that charging for extra multiplayer maps, and having only some players migrate over leaves all of their map servers underpopulated. We don’t have details yet, but Battlefront 2 this year seems to be saying that they won’t have DLC, or at least none that prevents all of their fans from playing together.
So we’ll see some changes to how DLC works, it seems, but it’s likely to stay around in some form for a long time yet.
Overwatch, Counter-Strike, Battlefield and countless others are tapping into the dark side of human psychology by charging players to maybe win something they want. They’re actually working gambling into their games to keep the coins rolling in. Well, it had to happen eventually, and because it works, we seem to be stuck with it. The disgusting part to me is that they charge you money for the chance of winning one instance of a digital good that costs them nothing to produce. I hate this (which is ironic because of what I’ll argue for later, though it’s mainly the gambling element that I dislike). I have never and will never go along with it, at least not in a game I’ve already paid for, but this article is about how games are going to make money in the future, so this stays, and my personal tastes be damned.
Free To Play (F2P)
This is really looking like it may become the most popular payment model in future (it pretty much is now, especially in the East), but there are so many variations on it. On mobile it often means that you view ads or pay to unlock new levels, whereas in online traditional games it often means paying for cosmetics, XP bonuses, or in-game items.
We’re seeing that on YouTube, advertisers increasingly try to sponsor a video directly so that their message is given by the host, instead of in a skippable ad which usually isn’t worth their time. What will happen to mobile F2P when advertisers decide that they’re not getting the return they need in paying everyone else’s way? Because make no mistake; advertisers pay for the party, and we all hate looking at ads. Mobile payment models will have to change, and largely I have no problem with that. With the vast majority of mobile games that I’ve played, it seems that the payment model infects the game design and almost dictates that many of these games feel the same as one another. This might just be me, but the only mobile games I’ve truly enjoyed are ones that I’ve paid premium for; namely 80 days, Reigns, Monument Valley and some others, where I pay to get in and they cease trying to sell me things. I can get immersed then.
Players by and large don’t have a problem with these payment models except for when you can pay more to have better items than other players (“pay to win”) or when they’re mixed in with premium models (“fee to pay”. This is sadly becoming the norm, it seems).
Okay and there’s more examples and more combinations, but let’s move on.
I mentioned at the start how the value of games seems to keep falling. In traditional economics, the price is set where supply meets demand. The problem we face in the modern age is that with digital goods, supply is infinite (for all intents and purposes. Ignoring potential server costs). Demand for games is still a finite number because it’s based on people, but since we’re not tied to a limited print of 1 million physical cartridges (or whatever), one extra game code has no inherent value in the eyes of many. It has even less when you consider the sheer volume of games on offer nowadays.
People attempt to justify piracy and theft on this basis, but others are also less willing to pay the asking price for their digital copy of a new game because it doesn’t cost as much to produce as the physical copy on the GameStop shelf (they’ve got a point, but that’s another topic).
Whatever the extent of the problem today (we could argue on that) I doubt you’ll disagree that gamers seem willing to pay less and less for games, but are still willing to pay the guts of $1,000 (those who can afford to) for a new iPhone. Physical goods hold value because their supply is limited. Classic vinyls or SNES cartridges are more valuable now than when they first sold, but people think nothing of pirating The Doors’ Greatest Hits or emulating Zelda digitally.
So how do we shore up the value of our wares to prevent a crash when supply is unlimited? Appealing to consumers’ generosity and sense of idealism isn’t the answer. Pay What You Want models are rarely successful and we’ve seen CryTek almost go out of business attempting it with their game engine.
Well, just for fun, let me throw out a few ideas and we’ll see if there’s anything to be said for them.
What Might Be Done?
Let me disclaim that I’m not necessarily hoping to see many of these in practice, and currently gamers would never stand for many of them, but since I’m talking about radical changes to how games are sold anyway, let’s just go with it. The idea that everyone should be able to afford a game and that all games should cost around the same as their peers is fundamentally flawed, doesn’t apply to many other luxury goods anyway (like sports cars, watches, hotels, food, seminars, online training courses) and will likely be something we leave behind in the future. Just saying.
Limit the Supply anyway
What if you announced that you would only sell 10,000 copies of your game, but that it would cost $100? Could you sell it to your true fans? Probably. They wouldn’t want to miss out. Okay it would depend on what the game is and the reputation of the creator(s), but I do think it would work. The economic theory is sound, anyway.
What if you built an online, living, open world like nobody had ever seen and made a bounty hunting game, but you only allow 100 access codes to the game at any one time? Access costs $2,000 and when you’re done with ownership you can auction off your right to play (so its value may rise) and the developer gets 50% of the resale? I’m only throwing around numbers, but the theory holds, I think. Could I find 100 rich YouTubers who would pay a premium to be one of the few broadcasting this historical new game? I think so. They’d make their money back on the stream, then resell their access and make more.
Virtual Real Estate
Let’s talk about the apartments in GTA V Online, but this could apply to any hub world. You pay in-game currency to buy swanky (or not-so-swanky) safe houses to store your cars in and launch heists from. The suburban bungalows come in pretty cheap but the penthouse apartments cost a lot more. You buy them with in-game cash so it’s more of a progression reward than a monetization, but since you can also buy game currency with real money the lines are blurry.
The thing is, the game just puts you into your own instance of the penthouse apartment. It might be the most exclusive high-end safehouse in the city, but pretty much everyone has it after a bit of play time or direct payment. What’s the value of that? There’s no exclusivity/scarcity. So what if they only allowed one instance of each safe house? Now, okay, since you can buy in-game cash with real world money then we would probably just have some entitled little troll lording it over everyone, and that’s not much fun for players, but I’m just trying to point out some lateral thinking. The game’s developers would be selling virtual property for real money. Real property holds value pretty well because it’s limited. Virtual property doesn’t offer real shelter, granted, but when limited in quantity it would suddenly be something that creates value. If it could only be transferred within the game, and the developers took a cut, then suddenly MMOs are still games, but now monetised by rules similar to real estate economics.
Say what you want about Star Citizen, but it’s proving that traditional payment models aren’t the only way to go. When they sell an Idris mini-carrier for €1,000 and say that they’re only selling a dozen of them, they’re snapped up in moments because the goods are (or will be when released – whatever) unique.
Pay for bullets
My friend Colm Larkin (Guild of Dungeoneering) suggested jokingly the other night that you could charge for bullets. Although he was joking, I’m going to address it earnestly. What’s the difference between a round of deathmatch and a round of paintball? Sweat and limited ammunition. That’s basically it.
Airsoft is a hobby where those who can afford it buy all the best gear, sidearms, grenades, etc, and the others just rent the site’s bog standard gun and try to conserve ammunition over the day. Nobody really complains that it’s “pay to win”, yet it kind of is. What if you had an F2P shooter where you charge admission to the servers for a day, or a reduced rate for a month’s membership? Or if extra ammo cost real money?
Nobody would go for this because shooters are a dime a dozen, but fundamentally there’s not a whole lot of difference to the entertainment value of how you spend your Sunday afternoon. I pose the question: why couldn’t it work? After all, before home internet was much of a thing, my friends and I would often pay to hang out in the local internet cafe and play Delta Force, Unreal Tournament or Half-Life on a LAN. If you think that that’s a thing of the past, just take a look at South Korea, where going to a café with friends to play League of Legends all night is very much a common past time.
Rent the hardware
Speaking of internet cafés and the like, I’ve recently heard how VR is really taking off in China and Japan. They love it, but the size of the average home or apartment is way too small to house a VR system, so they go to shopping malls and arcades that have set up high-end VR PCs that can be rented by the hour (or so).
Here we have a limited amount of real estate and hardware being rented, so it’s not the case that digital games are providing fixed value here, but we’re still fundamentally talking about games and, if anything, this just proves my point that limited supply is how value can be created, and infinite supply is a problem for the future of video game pricing.
Cloud Gaming is becoming a thing, too. It’s now possible to have your games running on high end PCs “in the cloud” and streamed directly to your smaller, cheaper device that could never ordinarily run them. You can essentially rent someone else’s gaming PC as desired, and stream the results to your TV or tablet. Again, we’re talking about renting hardware, but you can imagine how certain specific games or controllers could only be provided by one proprietary company, and they then charge for access. Here, supply is limited, and price well be set where that supply meets demand. Think of the hang-gliding VR tech or the Virtuix Omni which most people couldn’t fit in their home. Tying your game to custom hardware may be more difficult to produce, but it does ensure that you retain value in the units that you do supply.
Competition Entry Fees
Here’s another quite simple option. You run tournaments in your game. Fighting games, sports games, or deathmatch games seem likely candidates for this, but it could even work with single player games where victory is determined by the highest score or fastest completion time.
Let’s say 50 people pay $5 to play. There’s $250 in the pot. The winner takes $100 and the next two runners up take $35 and $15 each. The developer then has the remaining $100 per tournament to pay server costs, staff, and recoup development costs.
Would that work? Why not? Games are pretty social now, so I don’t see a whole lot of difference between this and going to bingo or a table quiz, especially if some of the money went to charity.
Be a Superstar
You know how most actors wait tables and earn very little from acting but Brad Pitt earns millions for the exact same job? It’s not because he’s a million times better than the next guy, it’s just because he’s not subject to the market forces of supply and demand for actors. He’s not in the acting business. He’s risen above that. He’s in the Brad Pitt business. He can sell watches or fragrances or cars. It doesn’t matter.
If the vast majority of games were being sold for 99c, and Hideo Kojima made a new game, do you think he’d also sell for 99c? No. He’d charge $50-$100 and (as long as the game reviewed well/was finished/etc) people would pay it. Gladly. Because his name carries weight. In a world where any simpleton like myself can teach themselves how to make games in less than a year, it pays to be a celebrity.
Jonathan Blow managed to charge over the odds (for an indie game) for The Witness because he’s the guy who made Braid. It didn’t have anything to do with The Witness being twice as good as the next indie game out there.
Isn’t that a little uh….?
Sort of. I mean, I’m happiest when I pay GOG a fixed fee (under $60) for a DRM-free copy of a game that I want to play and replay whenever I want. I’ll be very sad if this goes away, but things are shifting too. I hate Season Passes, most DLC, and especially fee to pay or loot crates, but I also don’t want to see my games on a service like Spotify-For-Games earning me $100 in their entire lifetime, because then I won’t be making games. I’m just trying to look ahead here.
We have to remember that games used to be extremely difficult and try to kill you off quickly so that you’d keep pumping quarters into the machines… and we loved it!! It was the birth of the modern games industry, but you could see that approach as being pretty nefarious, too. The fact that we want everything free now because it costs less (not ‘nothing’, remember) to produce each additional unit is a fairly entitled view and, I suggest, it would lead to the destruction of the games industry in the same way that it’s gutted the music industry.
This topic is wide open to debate and interpretation, but the core idea that got me thinking was “what happens to the Supply and Demand model when Supply is infinite”? Price has to drop. When the price drops too low, games will cease being made. There’s no arguing with that core logic, but what happens over the next decade is fairly wide open and hard to predict.
What trends do you see emerging or disappearing? I’d love to hear from you so hop into the comments.
Before I start, I just want to thank everyone who read last month’s blog and voted for Sons of Sol on Greenlight. We got through on March 16th and are very appreciative of the support.
So with doing Greenlight recently, setting up our preorders, applying for competitions, funds, chatting with publishers, and doing some general reading of material from entrepreneurs like Daniel Priestly, Mike Dillard, and Richard Branson, something that’s been on my mind a lot is exactly how we’ll sell our game. How can we stand out in such an oversaturated marketplace and is there any way we can think laterally to avoid simply joining the race to the bottom that games are currently suffering price-wise.
When a market is over-saturated you need to innovate to stand out, after all, yet we don’t see an awful lot of that, and I can’t think of any particularly encouraging examples.
That said, we’ve nevertheless been assuming a traditional approach with Sons of Solso far. I priced our preorders on this site at €5 marked down from an estimated final price of €15 or €20 (and showed this info). Anyone I’ve spoken to is pretty much of the opinion (and so am I) that we need to be on Steam and selling for €15-20.
However, as I wrote about in December’s blog ‘AAA-pocalypse?‘ I’m very conscious of the nosedive that the industry is taking regarding the value of games, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the problem. After all, I don’t want to come to a place where I can toil away for years making a quality product that can’t pay me a decent wage for the time I put in. Indeed, that’s where a lot of indie devs and even AAA studios find themselves more and more, but there is still money to be made if you do everything right and have a little luck (getting into games isn’t the most sound business decision you could ever make, but you can make the best of it).
Squeezing out variety and fostering homogeneity
While there is still money to be made from games, I worry about the direction it’s taking. As we see with Netflix for TV/movies and Spotify for music, people are all too willing to forego ownership of a relatively expensive copy of some entertainment product in favour of unlimited access to far more titles as long as they keep paying a small fee.
I think this has been disastrous for the music industry. While digital distribution and the rise of piracy hit the music industry hard, it’s virtually impossible to make any money as a new artist since Spotify came along, no matter your talent. I can’t think of a single music venue in Dublin that actually pays a band to play nowadays (excluding traditional Irish music). Instead, you now have to pay the venue to play. If you want to be a big music success, you almost have to go through some trite reality TV contest where a couple of moguls take all the money and tell you what to sing.
At the risk of sounding old and cranky; music (on radio and TV at least) all sounds ‘the same’ to me now. The only interesting stuff seems to come from acts that established themselves 10 or more years ago and are still going. Record labels won’t take a risk on the unknown and so they’ve distilled pop music down to a succinct money making formula. At the moment, the only new music I’m really interested in is games music, and I come from strong music background before I got into games.
A quick aside: While you’re reading, have a listen to my incredibly talented friend Ódú, who doesn’t gig very often and doesn’t get radio play because she can’t afford to! Talent doesn’t get paid any more. It pays. We’re living in the upside down. 🙁
Almost all new bands you hear are hobbyists, because nobody will pay them to actually hone their craft. Therefore they’re not as polished and practised as they could be, and can’t get their music out there because the radio only plays the same few identical chart toppers.
The same for games?
We can see the games industry beginning to turn perilously towards a Spotify-style model with EA Access, Humble Monthly, and Xbox and Playstation’s online services also giving you a collection of free games each month in return for a flat fee. It seems like they’re trying the Netflix/Spotify model on for size.
Thankfully, the games industry is enough of an oligopoly (a small number of large companies, rather than one big monopoly) that while EA, Ubisoft, Sony, Microsoft, etc are all pulling in different directions we won’t likely see one service like Spotify scooping up all of the games. If that were to happen some day you can be sure that we’d lose the amazing variety of games that we have nowadays.
Imagine the amount of talented indie developers already who learn so much by making one game, but it flops, and they can’t afford to bring their experience to bear on a second title so they go get “a real job”. We might have one good game out there because they made it on their savings with the hopes of turning a profit, but we’ll never have another, better game. The talent has moved on to some office cubicle somewhere, never to emerge again.
Now imagine that at the outset, they knew their game would only net them a few hundred dollars at most, and that virtually nobody would ever own it, because it was only available on a subscription service and netted only a couple of cents per play. Would even that one game still get made? Probably not.
Steam already feels a bit like this since Greenlight opened in 2012, and I don’t think that Steam Direct will change the situation all that much, personally. But imagine if Steam were to offer you access to all games on the site for just $12 a month. Would you do it? You probably would. Personally I like to own a copy of my game that doesn’t need to be verified and that I can play in 10 years if I so choose, but it’d become a more expensive way to go, for sure. By the way, I don’t have a Spotify account and still buy music I like.. I just don’t really like any any more :P.
Games take a lot longer and cost a lot more to make than a music EP, but there are a lot of similarities between both industries. Music and games are both substitute leisure goods. Generally, if one game or artist is too expensive, you’ll just buy a cheaper one. There is a huge amount of choice, so artists have very little power, and the value placed on their work only ever goes down.
There are exceptions, of course. Jonathan Blow made a name for himself with Braid, so when The Witness came along in January 2016, he decided that his reputation could demand a higher price for his game, and he set it at $40 instead of a more ‘normal’ $20 for an indie game, in order to fight the downward trend in indie game pricing. In his case, it worked out. That said, just over a year later, it’s the lead game in next month’s Humble Monthly bundle, so you can get it (and several other games) for just $12, so the higher price was very short-lived.
Titans of the industry EVE online and World of Warcraft, both going for over 10 years, used to command monthly subscriptions from all players, but have since introduced Free To Play elements, up to a certain level cap. This is to help combat a dwindling player base, which makes sense in games that old, but newer subscription-based games haven’t really taken their place. They’re just “too expensive”. Or at least, they are seen to be by an entire generation of gamers that expect everything for free or close to it.
The near future
Some say that we’re heading for another games industry crash. We’re not. It’s a $100bn industry that isn’t reliant on physical distribution any more. Games can be produced and distributed cheaply, which wasn’t the case the last time the industry crashed.
However, we are going to see some major shifts and a lot of big companies (not to mention thousands of smaller ones) will likely go out of business. Monopolies aren’t good for anyone so I really hope we don’t see a single Netflix-style company taking over. We won’t any time soon because there are a lot of powerful companies in the ring who would have to go under or be bought out first, but in 10 years, who knows. Nokia was the leading name in mobile phones just a decade ago. Times change, fast!
Games have one advantage over music, at least. They demand your full attention. They’re entire other worlds that you can immerse yourself in. Players therefore are usually quite discerning about what they buy. It’s not just background music. While games are substitute goods to a degree, there are huge numbers of gamers who play one game and nothing else (League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2, etc), so they’ll cooperate with whatever payment model that game uses and other models won’t really affect them.
Spotify managed to seize most of the music market very quickly, and only certain gigantic artists such as Taylor Swift or Prince had the power to turn them down for their tiny commissions and continue to make a living from their existing fan bases. I can see that while EA might be happy to shift everyone over to EA Access, Blizzard won’t feel the need to do the same because their players are very loyal and tend to play their games for years or decades, rather than just a few months.
Right now there’s too much money to be made and too many ways of making it for any one payment method to come out on top just yet, but it’s going to be a very disruptive few years to come.
Adapt, Engage, Survive
Well, at least EA are experimenting; taking their 2007 hit Crysis‘ tagline to heart. So are other big publishers, though usually by just overcharging for Season Passes and adding microtransactions.
Regarding the EA Access approach, I just don’t happen to think that a subscription service model will be good for developers, or for consumers who want variety in their games. Not in the long run. As a gamer I’d much rather pay more and value a game, than suffer the choice paralysis and actual stress that comes from playing a game when you know you have fifty more lined up to play that month. I already have this just from Steam Summer and Winter sale purchases that I haven’t gotten to yet! I don’t need more choice, frankly. And as a dev, I’d also like to think that my efforts will be worth money to somebody when all is said and done.
That said, times are changing. Companies big and small should reconsider just how long the $20-$60 premium pricing models (and others) will be viable in the face of never ending sales, bundles, and subscription offers.
I wanted to get into some alternatives today but this preface has already turned into its own thing so I’ll leave that for a follow-up post.
What do you think of all this? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you like as consumers, and where you think the industry is headed. Comment below, and consider signing up for the newsletter to be emailed when the next blog is posted.
A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog lamenting the decline in first person shooter campaigns in favour of multiplayer components. Last month, in a blog addressing predictions of a games industry crash, I gave a little time to arguing that single player content may well be the way forward for the AAA industry. I’m writing today to give a bit more time to that idea and to act as a counterpoint to my blog of a year ago.
I won’t be giving much attention to the (awesome and always-inspiring) indie scene today, but everything that I argue for AAA here can apply down the foodchain as well.
As I wrote last month, 2016 left us with a lot of high quality AAA games that reviewed well and sold poorly. This could have been down to genre fatigue (‘sequelitis’), consumers being more wary of the hype machine, or just saturation of releases. Most likely it’s a combination of all of those things.
Even though Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (COD:IW) picked up its sales slack a few weeks after release, Activision were surely hearing alarm bells when they realised that the multiplayer servers were underpopulated because most COD fans were still playing last year’s Black Ops 3. This was further exacerbated on PC by the fact that Steam owners were unable to play with Microsoft’s paltry number of buyers on their Windows 10 games store.
So many games in recent years have reduced or foregone single player content in favour of focusing on multiplayer audiences. The problem there is that without hitting a critical mass of players, those who want to play your game will have nobody to play the game with. There are only so many players to go around, but they’re being offered more and more games to choose from, and then often being subdivided into those who have bought DLC maps and those who haven’t, and usually further divided by what platform they own the game on. Late 2016 may have been the early warning needed (whether it will be heeded or not remains to be seen) to alert these companies that current trajectories may not be sustainable.
Earlier Warnings and Reversals
We saw some foreshadowing before 2016, however. Titanfall (2014) was well received but criticised for its lack of any single player content, and that story came full circle when Titanfall 2 (TF2) released with a short (normal length for AAA nowadays, though) 5-6 hour campaign to great critical acclaim (but, sadly, poor sales) and was praised as one of the best AAA campaigns in recent years. Having played it, I wholeheartedly agree!
Star Wars: Battlefront in 2015, rushed out to coincide with The Force Awakens movie, was similarly criticised for being multiplayer-only, though later added a single player element. Its sequel is set to release at the end of 2017 and seeminglyis reintroducing single player content as a selling point.
While most of the Battlefield games in the last few years have featured single player campaigns, their delivery had been seriously under par until Battlefield 1 (BF1) last year, and again, critics and fans praised the focus on this.
While single player content is more expensive to produce, developers must realise that its absence from a €60 title is a deal breaker for a lot of customers (the price should at least be reduced to reflect this, many feel). More than that, though. Single player content leverages risk for the consumer. As we’ve seen recently, if multiplayer only games don’t have enough players, then there is no game! It used to be the case that players bought games primarily for their single player content and then spilled over into the multiplayer for a little more of the same, but with a twist. Now that trend has probably reversed for many, but not all. I, for example, have no interest in multiplayer only games, especially at the €60 price point, but I did want to play COD:IW, BF1, and TF2 for their single player, and in the case of BF1 and TF2 I spent a little time on multiplayer as well.
But even if I’d bought them primarily for multiplayer, and the servers then shut down from lack of players (whether in 2 months or 5 years), I’m glad to still have a game to play. Without single player, some gamers aren’t prepared to pay top dollar for that risk, and that’s worth developers considering.
We sadly saw Dead Star, which featured a great multiplayer twist, shut down in October 2016 – just 6 months after launch! Evolve has also shut down, and Battleborn looks to be treading water as well, despite being a perfectly solid and enjoyable game!
I’ll note that Overwatch is an exception to my argument, but Blizzard seem to be the exception to every rule anyway. Indeed, their success is part of why all these other games are failing – especially Battleborn.
So what about 2017?
It’s looking good for fans of single-player content. If you allow that coop modes are hybrids of single and multiplayer (usually single-player-style crafted content intended for 2-4 players), then Ubisoft are releasing Ghost Recon: Wildlands in March (and it’s listed is playable in single player), and For Honor in February, which has single and multiplayer.
A big one is Mass Effect: Andromeda from EA and Bioware in March. It has a multiplayer mode, but its main focus is a 20-30 hour single player campaign. The last Mass Effect game was 3 in 2012.
I already mentioned that the new Battlefront will have single player, and the end of the year will likely also see a new COD game with a 5 or 6 hour campaign. These aren’t terribly exciting for the purposes of this blog, but the fact that they’re holding course instead of veering towards multiplayer-only is noteworthy.
We’ve also just had Resident Evil 7, and this year will also see Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Prey for the PC, Horizon: Zero Dawn for PS4, and Red Dead Redemption 2 for consoles (and hopefully the PC later, as with GTA V). So there’s no shortage of single player games releasing this year, and they seem to be getting greater focus, but how they perform will be crucial.
The way forward for AAA publishers?
If these games perform well, and doubtless many of them will, one hopes that it will convince developers that single player is not only not a thing of the past, but that these titles can produce their own runaway successes and that they can help publishers leverage their risk with more predictable sales figures. Players won’t often buy a multiplayer game if their friends aren’t playing it, so sales are vulnerable to a cascade effect. With a single player game, people buy just for themselves, and sales should be more easy to predict. Multiplayer-only may often have a higher profit potential (by eliminating campaign creation costs) but one thing we know about AAA publishers is that they’re more concerned with reducing risk than innovating. That’s not a criticism. It’s a necessity for them.. mostly.
With single player games, in the same way as with cinema releases, people will often buy in immediately for fear of having the story spoiled from them. This can protect against launch slumps. With multiplayer, people are more likely to wait for a sale as they won’t miss much. We saw this at the end of 2016. I would think we’ll see at least a couple of developers attempt to put greater emphasis on a great story with an unbelievable twist, in order to increase day one sales. Pre-order bonuses aren’t cutting it in the same way as they once were, seemingly.
I pretty much already concluded in the last section, actually. All that’s left for me to say is ‘thanks for reading’. This is a very uncertain topic, of course, and these are only my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours in the comments. If you liked the article, do consider sharing.
Oh and if you haven’t seen it, we’ve just released a teaser trailer for our own game ‘Sons Of Sol’. I encourage you to check it out below and like/subscribe/share/all that good stuff.
Hello folks! Myself and 27,000 other people are just home from GDC 2016 in San Francisco. For many, myself included, it was our first GDC. This year also marked GDC’s highest attendance to date, and there was no small focus on VR. They even went as far as to have an entire VRDC branch of the conference laid out with many talks and demos available for conference goers.
Personally, I was eager to try as much of the VR tech as I could, but more as a consumer than as a developer. My game is a 2D space sim, so VR is hardly going to have a major impact on it. Even further down the line, I can see myself favouring retro-style games (look at the company name, after all) than cutting edge VR, but I’m certainly interested in the area, as are many.
All the big players were at the conference and while many of the companies’ wares were on display by (very) advanced appointment only (Virtuix Omni, Playstation VR, Raw Data on the Vive) there was still a lot that I got to try out. I was very undecided about the future of VR before GDC. How the game industry evolves still remains to be seen, but I certainly now have an educated two-cents to throw into the conversation (Don’t mix metaphors. Don’t mix metaphors. Okay, sorry).
We’re closer than we’ve ever been, but is VR truly about to arrive for the masses, and if so, is it here to stay?
First Thought – Price
Before and after GDC, my thoughts on the cost of entry to higher-end VR gaming are that it is madly expensive. Even if I have now seen more of what I’d be buying in to, the cost is still a major obstacle.
The Oculus runs at $600 + shipping, and that’s without the Oculus Touch controllers which aren’t even released yet. The HTC Vive is $800, though it includes the VR controllers and the headset does have a camera, allowing AR (Augmented Reality) options that the Oculus can’t provide.
Both of those options require a high-end PC in the first place which will run easily over $1,000.
The Playstation VR might lead the charge when it comes to user adoption. At $400 for the headset, it’s only about as expensive again as a PS4, and half the price of a Vive. While the quality is a little less impressive than its pricier counterparts, reports are that it’s not that inferior at all (I didn’t get to try it at GDC, unfortunately). Console gamers are already less concerned with having “the best” as compared with PC users and so I think here is where we’ll see the biggest early adoption of VR, at least when it comes to gaming.
There are several cheaper options again, and these lead me to my next point.
Ambiguity & Choice Paralysis
Even for those who are willing to buy one expensive VR headset, they may well wish to wait and see what takes off in a year’s time. The Vive can do things that the Oculus Rift can’t, but some of those things require an 8ft x 8ft room. Many people will need to buy a house before they can make use of that particular VR offering!
The Oculus Touch controllers (which I did try with the game I Expect You To Die) do seem somewhat more natural that Vive’s controllers, though I haven’t spent a large amount of time with either.
Then you have the cheaper Samsung Gear VR into which you simply insert your phone (certain models of Android only) and you have instant VR. However, it only tracks your head movement and takes a single button input. This is not for advanced gaming. It’s more the evolution of mobile games in that regard, but the lower price makes it very viable for people who just want experiences like 3D movies, guided tours, or VR porn (yes, it’s already a thing. The porn industry has traditionally been on the cutting edge of technology – seriously).
Google Cardboard, the cheapest VR entry, can’t even compare with the Vive or Oculus in terms of what it can do, but anyone can afford it and it works with a far wider selection of phones.
What is VR?
So, what is VR? Well it isn’t just one thing. That’s a problem and an opportunity. The fact that there’s an affordable VR option for everyone may lead to high adoption, but whether it robs the higher end companies of their desired market share or primes the public for that more exciting stuff remains to be seen.
I would guess that it will create a low-level interest in VR and as prices fall, we’ll see more adoption of the better headsets eventually.
For the rest of the article, I’ll focus more on the higher end products.
The games industry has been making the most noise about VR, so it’s easy to forget its myriad other applications. Hospitals have tried adopting it to reduce depression and anxiety and ease recovery in patients. Architects are using it to show their designs in more detail than ever before. Even Six Flags theme parks have started using VR on actual roller coasters!
I wouldn’t be surprised if Google are working it into their Street View technology and all sorts of documentaries, concerts, and sporting events are sure to be recorded and broadcast in 3D in the coming years. Its use for mediation (see Deep – coming to the Tribeca Film Festival this year) or perhaps to treat forms of autism are very exciting also. And there’s the porn..
Thinking of VR as being “the next thing in gaming” is an extremely narrow way of seeing it, and many games developers are bravely leading the charge when time could very well show them to have had been headed the wrong way entirely.
This is my opinion only, but I don’t see VR treadmills designed for first person shooters as being the right way to go. I haven’t tried any, admittedly, but neither have many other potential customers, and that’s what counts. The FPS genre was pretty much fine as it was. It’s run its course, even! VR doesn’t lend itself well to lively first person movement. Older arcade shooters like Time Crisis may see a very positive revival because in those games you were tied to a single point in each section of the game, and then a cutscene moves you to the next. They worked just fine and as I watched demos of Raw Data (video below) and listened to the (very lucky) happy people coming away from their demo sessions, I think this is where VR shooters are heading.
I was very surprised to be asked “do you think VR will change the face of gaming” at GDC. For me there’s no question. It won’t! Look at the resurgence of 2D games, and the popularity of first person shooters. These games aren’t going away and they don’t need VR. Many 2D games exist because they’re cheaper to produce and almost everybody can run them. It makes no sense to develop the next FTL or Spelunky as a VR game. Indies already struggle to make ends meet (okay, maybe not those two) so they won’t limit themselves by developing for a smaller audience.
VR is a new peripheral (when it comes to gaming). It enables new types of games to exist, it will improve certain game genres, and it flat-out won’t work for other genres. The gaming world as we know it won’t change overnight, but it will slowly open up new territories.
Where VR shines for gaming
For me, any game where you are piloting or driving a vehicle will benefit well from VR. Being able to glance over your shoulder in a race car or fighter jet is something we’ve been missing and VR will really add to the experience. However, this is a very niche market. Headsets will sell well to the types of people who buy high-end joysticks or steering wheels, but these sales wouldn’t be enough to buoy up the VR industry.
We need new types of games.
I’ve tried a bunch of VR games that I’d describe as neat but I wouldn’t buy a headset for them and even if I had one I wouldn’t play the game for more than a little while. The first game I saw that I could really see myself playing every day was Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight.
You play as an eagle flying around an abandoned Paris. You hold a controller with buttons for acceleration and an attack, but all steering is done with the headset and it feels incredibly natural, smooth, and fun! There are single player and multiplayer game modes where you hunt down other birds who are attacking your nest (amongst other modes).
I queued for an hour to play this at GDC and I’m glad I did. I came away feeling for the first time like I’d really found a new type of game. The sense of flight, the field of vision, and the agility the player could quickly learn were all very compelling. And say what you like about Ubisoft (I frequently do) they know how to make compelling games that keep you coming back for weeks – at least! I can really see this one being big on Playstation, Oculus and Vive.
The problem of Fragmentation
Eagle Flight is a simple game with simple controls that works very well. I think it’ll be one of the biggest early games of the VR generation. This is because most people, whatever they own, will be able to buy and play it.
The Vive in particular is guilty of encouraging the development of games that simply won’t be possible to play on the Oculus or PSVR. All the systems can track head movement and accept basic input, but the Vive can make use of a physical boundary scanning technology and front-mounted camera. This enables you to safely (if not yet ‘confidently’) walk around your living room while playing an experience, thus allowing types of games that we haven’t even imagined yet to be created. While that’s very exciting in theory, it’s in no developer’s interest to make games that can only be played on the Vive, when they could make simpler ones that will run on all (or most) devices.
Pushing the limits of the technology will yield great experiences, but someone who’s just dropped a grand into the Oculus isn’t likely to go over and buy a Vive for one new game. Who, then, is going to make the amazing games, and which platforms will they be available for?
I would predict a banality in the types of games that come out in the first couple of years until one platform or another really pulls ahead in terms of market share. That’s when developers will choose their dev platform and really start pushing the technology.
As if the headsets themselves weren’t expensive enough, there’s a whole subset of companies developing movement controllers for VR devices.
I’ve already mentioned Virtuix Omni, and my lack of belief in the product’s viability long-term. There are similar treadmills on offer, too, from other companies. I’ve even heard of virtual hang-gliders that you lie down and strap yourself into. I can only imagine how much floor space is required for that one! Presumably you wouldn’t get much use out of them, either. Games get boring, after all. This has always been true.
I say that without having tried any of those aforementioned. What I did try was VirZoom.
I’d seen GameSpot’s video (above) previously, and I was sceptical. How can you pedal a horse? That’s bound to feel stupid! Same goes for a race car. I tried this at GDC and was pleasantly surprised.
You wear your chosen headset, then sit up on an exercise bike. There’s a left and right trigger, and the pedals. Those are your main inputs. Tilting your head or looking at something directly is also a form of input. VirZomm provided five 1-minute demos back-to-back for attendees. I started off pedalling and the horse started moving. I was to lasso bandits off their nearby horses by catching up to them, looking at them and pressing a trigger. Simultaneously I had to avoid certain obstacles in the street.
After about ten seconds, I didn’t even realise I was pedalling any more. The gameplay just took over. The same went for driving the race car and even flying the helicopter. When you’re in it, it feels totally natural, despite how it looks to an observer and despite how unconvincing it must be to read about.
I finished the demo with a good warm-up done and a new appreciation for the types of games that could be created.
We run into the fragmentation problem again, here. Any games designed to work well for this exercise bike input will likely not be very convincing as a traditional game with an ordinary gamepad. Thus for the developers to make back money, one might expect the games to cost a lot, or at least to have been cheap to produce and probably lacking in variety. On the other hand, we see here that there are legitimately whole new directions to explore with VR. The retail cost of the bike is $400. Another steep investment. However, here you can weigh the investment against the cost of a road bike or gym membership. Maybe in colder climates where you can’t cycle or jog in Winter, the gamification of exercise could really take off. The bike also folds down pretty small so it doesn’t take up much space in your house.
If I already had a VR headset, I could honestly see myself making this the next purchase. I know I need more exercise, and while the best gameplay motivation in the current demos is merely to place on a world high-score chart, savvy developers could make some really compelling narrative games based around stories like Easy Rider, or Mad Max style road warrior games.
Update, 13/01/2018: If you’d like extra reading on the VR cycling space, I’ve recently been contacted by Eric from Bikemunk who read this article and offered a link to his own article on cycling software..
I personally think VR will be a big part of our futures, but not that it will revolutionise gaming. I doubt it will revolutionise any particular industry. I think it hasn’t quite arrived yet but that when it does it will be here to stay. The internet and the smart phone will likely remain the largest technical and social milestones in our recent history, but VR will certainly shake things up a bit and make the world a more interesting place to live in.
Updated 26 Nov 16: Since originally posting this blog, Chrome has made more changes that now prevent my Dropbox/iFrame (last section of this blog) solution from working. All browsers are working together on the future of the WebGL format, and Unity continue to make their own changes, too. The landscape is constantly shifting and while everything in here was useful info at time of writing, that may change over time. At time of update, the rest of this blog should still help you out with many problem areas that you may be having, though.
Fair warning, this post is targeted solely at Unity game developers. Normally I write posts targeted at gamers. Not this time. Today this is a public service for game devs 😛
If you’re reading this then hopefully you’re new to Unity. I say ‘hopefully’ because if you’re not then, as is the case with me, the chances are high that you’ve been trying and failing on and off for almost a year now to get Unity’s Web “this is the future, no really” GL builds to work for you. For me, at least, the problem was probably compounded by the fact that I am the ‘layman’. I know nothing about html, C++, how Unity works under the hood, what a NPAPI is or what Google’s problem with it is. Any material I did find explaining WebGL always seemed to be aimed at those with a slightly higher level of knowledge in these areas than I possess.
At the time of writing I was using Unity 5.3.1f1
EDIT: Do read into the comments. There has been some interesting news from Unity themselves and others. I’ll edit the article to include some of it.
In September 2015, Google Chrome stopped supporting NPAPI. All I knew is that now all my Unity Web Player builds of games on my site wouldn’t run in Chrome, and that 66% of my visitors were using it. I put in messages for people to please use Firefox or download the PC build, but people are lazy. Giving them an extra step or two to play my crappy game jam entries and prototypes is more than many of them were willing to do. And that’s my problem, not theirs. It’s my responsibility to fix it. And fix it I… couldn’t!
I suffered all kinds of problems from builds simply failing (usually), to builds successfully loading an empty scene but failing on the 2nd one, to gamepad inputs being horribly messed up (mine still are, so if you’re expected a fix for that in this post, sorry) and builds running (for seconds) in one browser but not at all in another. Even when I got good builds more recently, I couldn’t get them onto my site for another while. There were also confusing messages about exceptions happening but exception handling not being enabled. I couldn’t see where to enable this (it’s not directly on the build screen) and didn’t really understand what it meant, or what the exception might have been.
I even met some Unity ‘evangelists’ (as they call them) from the company when they came to Ireland last year (sound folk!) and asked a few direct questions about my WebGL problems but got no immediately usable answers.
This was all extra frustrating because by now I was seeing plenty of other devs get working WebGL builds out into the world, and I was wondering what was so different about my projects that caused them to fail so completely!
Because there’s so little support out there so far and because I’ve made huge leaps in the last two weeks, I thought I’d write this up and share it. Big thanks to Chris Gregan from Fungus (a great Unity plugin. Check it out. It’s free!) for his help. He doesn’t know it, but playing (the fantastic) Snozbot’s Text Adventure, seeing another great game running in WebGL inspired me to finally brute force a solution to it for myself. Chris was also a big direct help several times during the last two weeks and made the first breakthrough suggestion.
EDIT: For the sake of completeness, I should also mention that when you download and install Unity you will want to ensure that “WebGL Build Support” is selected. If you installed Unity without this, just run the download assistant again and select only WebGL. You don’t have to completely reinstall Unity to get the support back.
Enough Background! Solve it, dimwit!
Okay. It turns out that my single biggest problem came from the fact that every game I tried to build in WebGL was one that I’d started under Unity 4, not 5. Naturally, this was because all my games on this site have stopped working in Chrome, and I wanted to fix it. Many of you are probably in the same boat. I’d upgraded all the projects to Unity 5 and made successful Web Player and PC builds, but never a working WebGL build. Even the simplest single-scene game jams here failed.
If you’ve no Unity 4 projects then you’re probably not experiencing this problem so skip this and the next section.
I was in the middle of taking Teluma and rebuilding the level generation line by line, taking 5 minutes every time I changed a line to test a new build (infuriatingly, the exact same code would fail sometimes and pass others) when Chris suggested the following.
Export a Unity 4 project as an asset pack into a clean Unity 5 project
This may sound painful, and let me assure you, it is, but it’s also the only solution I’ve seen to date since waiting and waiting for Unity updates to fix the problem hasn’t worked. Something deep in a project’s files is incompatible. Deleting the Library or meta files won’t help you (well, it didn’t help me anyway). If this is a project that you really want working in WebGL, then rip off the bandaid. If it’s not, maybe consider if the project is worth your time. At the time of writing this, Teluma is the only project on this site that’s been updated for WebGL.
Take literally everything in your project folder and select it (scenes, prefabs, materials, sounds, scripts) then right click and Export Package…
Select all dependencies. Select everything. Package it up into one little Unity package, open a new Unity 5 project, and import the package again.
Everything will be broken. To my knowledge, there’s no way to bring in the project settings like Input Controls, Physics collision matrices, Tags, Layers, Sorting Layers, and possibly lighting settings (I’m not sure because Teluma uses only unlit sprites and that’s the project I did this with). The more complicated your project is, the longer this will all take to fix and test. Them’s the breaks.
EDIT: Chris has suggested a way to do the export with your project settings intact. Check out the docs here. I haven’t tested this at time of writing.
FURTHER EDIT: Tested now. While this works to export your project settings, it seems to be those very settings (something within them) that causes Unity 4 projects to break in WebGL. The painful way is still the only way I know of to go. I’ve packaged up a handy script based on that link to export your settings anyway if you want to. It adds a command to the Editor’s Menu Bar (Tools > Export Project Settings).
For me, it took a few hours to connect everything up again and test. Top Tip: If you put your Layers back into the exact same spelling and order as they were in before, then most of your prefabs and scene objects should fix themselves. I think this didn’t work for nested prefabs though. I can almost guarantee you’ll be fixing bugs for a while.
Once you’re sure everything is working as it should be (the confidence won’t return for a while) then you can make a build.
After the last step, I tried builds and I wasn’t really getting the exceptions error too often any more. However, it’s worth knowing where to turn these on and off if you don’t already.
I don’t know much about these save for the fact that you don’t really want them on. If your game is running well, you don’t get exceptions. If it’s got some bugs in it you’d be better off finding and fixing them than just allowing the exceptions. I believe enabling them also makes your builds larger, and thus loading times are longer.
I’m a n00b in this field, though, so only listen to what I’m saying there if you know next-to-nothing on the subject yourself.
You can also set things like the company and game name from here, as well as put in a logo.
DataCachingis probably worth turning on for performance’s sake on subsequent visits by players, but you are telling their browsers to download game data, probably filling up their temp folders… as I understand it… which I’ve already admitted that I don’t.
Unity Docs has this to say on the subject: “The Data caching checkbox in Publishing Settings lets you enable automatic local caching of your player data. If this is enabled, your assets will be stored to a local cached in the browsers IndexedDB database, so that they won’t have to be re-downloaded in subsequent runs of your content. Note that different browsers have different rules on allowing IndexedDB storage, and may ask the user for permission to store the data if this is enabled, and your build exceeds some size limit defined by the browser.”
EDIT: Apparently this issue has been fixed in 5.4 so we have that to look forward to!
This still is totally broken for me and I’ve nothing to offer you here. I’m asking for your help if you have gotten a controller working correctly in WebGL.
For me the left stick works fine, but the game thinks that the Right Trigger is the Start button, and several other buttons are similarly remapped with no rhyme or reason behind it.
This was one of the things I asked the Unity evangelists about last Summer and they basically said that they’re aware of it and it’s on the list. I’m surprised that it’s still as broken several months later. For me, anyway.
According to Chris Gregan, audio is one of the bigger problems they’ve faced with WebGL. It uses WebAudio, while the other builds use FMOD. So there’s literally different rules and operations going on.
I experienced no problems but Chris said they had problems playing shorter sound clips in close succession. My gunshots in Teluma seem to be going okay, so your mileage may vary.
Third Party Assets
Given how much stuff there could be in your project that comes from the Asset Store and isn’t an officially supported Unity asset, the best thing I can say here is ‘be careful’. If you’re using assets or custom shaders that were written under Unity 4 and haven’t been updated, then they may be a source of trouble for you. Try building without them if you’re unsure, check out the forums, or email the developers.
In the case of Aron Granberg’s quite popular A* Pathfinding Project, I’m using it in Teluma and initially suspected it of causing trouble. Aron is still supporting it and he suggested one or two fixes on his forum. I had no trouble with it after doing the package export I mentioned above, though.
I like to use this so that the game keeps playing if I switch away from the screen. This keeps it going in the editor or in a build, except it doesn’t seem to work in WebGL and I haven’t gotten around it yet.
In other build types I can set the cursor lock mode but it doesn’t seem to work the same with WebGL. I attempted the solutions set out by Unity Docs but was unsuccessful. Now, that’s the official docs so I’m sure it’s correct and that my first attempt just got something wrong. Copying the First Person character controller script may be a good way to go. It corresponds to what the docs say about the events happening on button UP events.
Finally, deploying to Web
After all of that, my builds would run locally but I still couldn’t run them on the RetroNeo Games website. I opened this Unity Answers thread that was watched by 42 people but answered by nobody. The lack of response is what encouraged me to write this. Clearly it’s an issue people are having and there’s very little support for it.
If you know what an iframe is and this is painful to listen to, skip ahead. If not, then like me you may have attempted what worked with the old Web Player builds. That is to put the game in a public Dropbox folder (or similar) then edit the output html file of the game to reference the web link of the game’s .unity3d file, then copy all that new html into a code block on the site.
While this was how I handled the old Web Player builds, this totally failed for me with WebGL. There are several links which need referencing in the html file. Unity’s docs (bottom of the page) mention linking only 4 files. There are more like 8 in the index.html file. I tried linking 4 and I tried linking all, but both ways failed.
That’s when I learned about iframes (this guide is “for dimwits” remember).
So much simpler! I uploaded the build file to my Dropbox/Public folder, right clicked on the index.html file and got the public link. On my web page I added a code block of html and said:
After that, the game finally ran. Two weeks of brute forcing the problem had (mostly) paid off.
Controller support and cursor locking are still hurdles to overcome, but they feel much more manageable now.
Unity’s WebGL builds are no longer in preview mode. They’re now considered the way you’re meant to do business. There’s been a shocking lack of guides like this one (only, you know, smarter and more coherent) from Unity themselves or from the normally extremely active YouTube community who are forever making tutorials on this, that or the other for Unity.
Hopefully this will be of some help to people. And it will only get easier as Unity iron out the remaining kinks. I’m sure they’ll do a tutorial or live session on building and hosting WebGL at some stage, but for now, this is actually the most comprehensive guide I can find to Unity WebGL anywhere online. I figured out surprisingly little for myself but instead gathered (or discarded) information from dozens of sources, (and of course, from Chris Gregan) and I can only claim credit for writing down the most useful of that information in one place.
Far Cry Primal is coming out of nowhere and is really worth keeping an eye on! It was first revealed in October, less than two months ago, and it’s releasing on February 23rd (March for PC), just over two months hence (Achievement Unlocked: “Use ‘hence’ in the blog). The short time from reveal to release is bucking the trend of super-long hype periods, and it worked very well for Fallout 4 this year. At the time of Primal’s announcement I did a post on why I was optimistic, but also what I was concerned about. You can read it here.
Ubisoft unveiled their second trailer on Thursday night at The Game Awards, which was immediately followed by a slew of gameplay videos from various press outlets who had played it in the days prior. Presumably a press embargo was lifted at this stage.
The new trailer is shown at the top of this page and shows a lot more of the game in action, giving us a better feel for what to expect. The press videos on YouTube are worth watching as they’re mostly uninterrupted gameplay, which is a more honest representation. There are videos from outlets like Angry Joe, PC Gamer, and Game Trailers as well as the one below from the developers themselves (in case you want to see only what they want you to see).
Expansion or Sequel?
Given that Far Cry 4 only came out a year ago, and that it’s not an annualised series (like Ubisoft’s favourite child Assassin’s Creed), people figured this would be more of an expansion along the lines of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a single-player only short campaign which had the decency to release at a discounted price, to reflect the fact that it’s not a full game.
Developers at Ubisoft Montreal are insisting that this is “the next Far Cry game”, and are charging full price for it. I’ve a massive problem with this. You can hear from the gameplay videos I linked above that none of the other press really believe this about the game, and neither do I. Graphically, this game is the same as Far Cry 4. It uses the same UI elements (see the alert indicators and map icons?), same engine, and many of the same animal and human animations. Sure, there are new models (a brown bear is now a cave bear, a tiger is now a sabertooth tiger, an elephant is now a woolly mammoth, and the honey badger is.. well, still a honey badger) and a new map, but that’s exactly what Blood Dragon did, and it acknowledged that it was a short game and charged accordingly.
I feel they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes with the pricing. It remains to be seen just how long the game is, so I’m not willing to guess what a fair price is, but charging the same as they did for Far Cry 4, for half a new game with no multiplayer is not the fair price. I want to play this game, and I want to support the new direction they’re attempting, but I firmly believe that every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the type of world you want to live in, and I don’t want to live in a world where games companies charge us more and more for less and less. I’ll wait for a sale or something, but I’ve a big problem with their pricing.
No guns, but you don’t even need to play
I feared that they couldn’t really commit to using no guns in a game series that is built on gun action, but it seems they have. Bows and arrows and spears rightly take the place of pistols and rifles, and (from what I’ve seen so far) they’re not stupid rapid-fire versions of the weapons. They work quickly, but there’s still a pull back delay and the projectile seems to have to travel the distance to hit its target, rather than being as rapid as a bullet. This means that learning to hit moving targets at a distance might actually take some skill and be an actual challenge.
However, no fear of actually needing to play the game yourself, it seems. As with The Phantom Pain you can pretty much let your companions do all of the work for you. I’m sure there are certain enemy types and locations with lots of enemies where your sabertooth or cave bear might meet their end before they can clear the entire enemy presence for you, but from what the videos show, it looks like you can just find a wild animal, feed it meat, and hold a button to own it forever. It’s not even a more challenging quick-time event that might have leant tension to staring down a giant wild animal to tame it. You just hold the button. This is too dumbed down for my liking, especially when it appears that if your tamed animal does die you can just resurrect it with meat or some other resource (according to PC Gamer’s video and some of the animal UI we’ve seen, anyway).
There are over a dozen animals you can have play the game for you, but why would you pick anything less than the giant cave bear or sabertooth? It looks like a game design failure to me, to have the animals be so overpowered, but maybe there’s a progression system that means you can’t tame the bigger animals until further in the game, meaning you actually have to fear the wild ones early on and do some killing yourself. Hopefully. The larger animals also take the place of vehicles in the game, allowing you to ride around on them
The owl can what??
This won’t bother everyone, but it bothers me. You are a beast tamer, so you can control an owl. It takes the place of binoculars when scouting enemy positions. You can fly around from the owl’s perspective, though, see what it sees, and tag enemies. This is a bit silly, but okay, gameplay has to come first sometimes. But I hate when ‘the rule of fun’ goes so far as to shatter immersion and make you say “ah come off it, ref!”.. or something..whatever you say, yourself.
The owl can be upgraded to drop fire bombs and other items onto the enemy troops, or dive bomb and rip somebody’s throat out directly. Maybe if it was even one bomb, that would be okay, but it can somehow carry and drop multiple ones.
A parallel: The Phantom Pain kept taking me out of the (otherwise brilliantly tense and immersive) experience by jumping the shark repeatedly. Upgrading D-Dog to allow him to attach Fulton Balloons to enemies was too far, and this after the upgrade to let him carry a knife! Why would a wolf carry a knife in its mouth?! But I digest..
I’m still sold!
If there were more games like this, I wouldn’t be as excited for the game as I am. Far Cry is a series that I think has lots of problems. Even in hard mode the games are rarely challenging. Your character is just too strong to start with and only becomes more so. While stripping away your machine guns and grenade launchers was a bold move, letting animals do all the damage for you seems like even less fun, ultimately. But I’m partly assuming the worst there, as well. It could be very well balanced and there might be nuances to the systems that make varied approaches worth while (though ‘nuance’ isn’t a word I’d traditionally associate with the Far Cry series).
But we have to give credit where credit is due. This is a AAA publisher, the same one who’s deathly afraid to significantly innovate on Assassin’s Creed, trying something drastically different with one of their next-biggest franchises. While they’re doing a money grab by declaring that it’s a full game, this also means that they can’t shy away from it later by saying “oh, that was just a side-experiment; a joke, like Blood Dragon“, which again shows a very unexpected commitment to a new idea.
If you asked almost anyone what the Far Cry series was about they’d say something along the lines of guns, fire, explosions, vehicles, action, (more recently for the series) flying, power fantasy, and maybe ‘exploration’ further down this list. Ubisoft Montreal is saying that exploration is actually what the series is about at its core, and they want to take us to the original frontier for mankind, leaving behind helicopters, wingsuits, cars, rocket launchers, and the guns (while retaining crafting, the grappling hook, melee combat, skill upgrades, and grenade-like items).
I have to say I respect that, despite disagreeing with their pricing and some gameplay choices. I’m torn because I want to support new ideas, but not AAA greed. I may wait for a sale, buy it on a discount game codes site, or start a petition to drop the price… don’t laugh, somebody actually should. We should voice our concerns as consumers, not just pay-up-or-pirate.
I wrote two weeks ago about how first person shooter campaigns look to be dying off. Far Cry has been one of the few series holding back the tide, and here’s their newer game with no multiplayer at all. I want to support this game. I want it to succeed. It could see a reverse in that trend and encourage big developers to take risks with their first person franchises. Imagine Call of Duty set during the times of ancient Rome. Come on!!!! You can be sure Activision will be watching Primal very carefully.
Anyway, them’s my thoughts. Do be sure to check back on the site next week as I’ll have a very exciting post! An interview with legendary games composer Frank Klepackiof Command and Conquer fame!! Don’t miss it!