Issue #160
August 11, 2014
Growing Pains
Front Page

Welcome to another issues of Currents, where video game industry headlines are broken down and editorialized. This week's theme is "change." Our touch points in this issue will be Crytek's shift from independent developer to online publisher, EA's Access program altering the way we look at video game pricing, and Japan's purchasing habits moving away from consoles and towards the mobile market. As you will see, while change is necessary it is also inherently painful. All of these stories feature growing pains.

Completely ignoring a proper transition, I want to show you another YouTube producer that has really impressed me. Zurachi has been doing his thing on YouTube for a while, and has produced some neat video game related videos over the years, but one of the coolest things I think he is does is musical composition. He recently released a completely original tribute to Secret of Mana (a personal favorite of mine) called "Rebirth of Light." Check it out below and subscribe if you like what you hear.

If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:

  • What do you think of Crytek moving away from AAA games?

  • Are you interested in EA Access?

  • Are you surprised that consoles sales are down in Japan? Do you see that changing?

Crytek has seen better days. Rumors have swirled of the company having trouble paying employees and bleeding staff since the early spring. Kotaku claimed that current and former Crytek employees had described a "tense, unstable environment, plagued by poor communication and a number of high level departures in the company's biggest studios." One employee interviewed by Kotaku estimated that as many as 100 people have left the studio since March. It was also asserted that the multi-national studio has had to cancel work on a handful of games over the past few months, including some original IPs and a sequel to the Xbox One exclusive, Ryse.

Crytek representatives had been publicly denied all allegations that the company is facing financial difficulties, but recently backtracked to indicate that the company was currently going through a "major transition" in order to become an solely online publisher. I thought that would be the last of Crytek updates for the time being, but I was wrong.

Changes are abundant for the international games studio. This past month, Hasit Zala resigned from his position of Homefront: The Revolution game director at Crytek UK as well as his larger role of franchise director for the free-to-play shooter Warface. He's one of a larger group of staff that chose to depart the UK office due to missed payments and an uncertain future. Oddly enough, it looks like he'll be making a return to Homefront.

It was recently announced that Deep Silver had just acquired the rights to Homefront: The Revolution and will develop the game under a new Nottingham-based studio known as Deep Silver Dambuster. It isn't clear as to whether this is a renamed version of Crytek UK, but it is known that a number of former Crytek UK staff, including Hasit Zala, are a part of Dambuster studios and will head up the game. It has also been reported that Crytek just received a cash injection and was finally able to pay its staff after numerous paychecks. Not all news is good news though.

Crytek Austin is looking like it is on its last legs. The Texus-based studio, which consisted of a number of former Vigil staffers, has lost so many people recently (including the entirety of its leadership) that the development of Hunt: Horrors of the Guilded Age allegedly had to be shifted to Crytek's main offices in Frankfurt, Germany. All-in-all, it doesn't seem like the doors will be open in Austin much longer. The silver lining being that some of the departed staff have formed a new studio and are now exploring the option of developing Darksiders III.

The title of this article is "From Savior to Self-destructive" for a very specific reason. Long before THQ had dissolved, Crytek UK was known as Free Radical Design. Free Radical was known for putting out fan favorites like the TimeSplitters series (an IP still owned by Crytek) and Second Sight, but had been nearly destroyed after the release of the PS3 exclusive, Haze. In 2009, Crytek swooped in to save roughly 40 members of their staff its over $50 million (US) into the studio's development. Similarly, during the THQ liquidation, Vigil Games was one of the few studios left out in the cold until Crytek had swooped in and established Crytek USA, hiring as many former Vigil employees as possible. Interestingly enough, Homefront, the IP Crytek was trying to develop a sequel to before giving up and selling off the rights, was another product of the THQ dissolution. It's almost as if Crytek has become a victim of its own poor, if well intentioned, spending habits. It could be argued, and has already by many, that the company has the wrong people currently at the helm.

Homefront's development is now firmly in Koch Media and subsidiary Deep Silver's court. Deep Silver also happened to absorb Volition and the rights Saint's Row after the THQ liquidation. Additionally, the company acquired publishing rights to the Metro 2033 series in the aftermath. One has to wonder if Koch Media will someday be placed in the same financial pickle as Crytek. I hope Koch examines what happened to Crytek as a lesson in short-sighted gains creating long-term pains.

Source: Kotaku

EA Access is a subscription based platform similar to that of Netflix. It costs $4.99 a month or $29.99 a year and is an Xbox One exclusive. What EA Access membership actually gives you for your money is entrance to what the company is calling "The Vault," which is a collection of EA's titles currently available on Xbox One (excluding Titanfall). Right now that includes unlimited access to FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2 and Battlefield 4, but EA says the library will be expanded going forward. There will also be the additional value of a 10% discount on EA's digital content for Xbox One. It's got a lot of people talking, mostly about whether it is worth the money but also about why it isn't on the PS4.

The challenge, right now, is trying to decide whether the value is actually there. You see, Netflix works because the content offered is widely of high quality and quantity. The quality of EA's current Access offerings is of personal opinion, but the current quantity is low. Unless they add a number of excellent new games to the roster, I'm not going to say that it is worth it. Also, I find it to be a bit unfortunate that this is Xbox One only. And I don't even say that in light of the fact that it isn't on the PS4. EA has a huge library... on Xbox 360 and PS3. Not so much on next gen consoles. If the Xbox 360 was still alive and well, which it isn't, this service would be on THAT console and I'd probably love it. Alas, I suppose the Xbox 360 and PS3 are now considered last gen.

Sony has recently provided statements clarifying why the service isn't headed to the PS4, claiming that they don't believe it represents a good value to their current PlayStation Plus members, but I don't buy into that statement. Firstly, it isn't up to Sony to determine what is considered to be good value for their consumers. The gamers will vote with their wallets. Secondly, EA Access' unlimited access subscription model is a direct threat to the viability of PlayStation Now.

PlayStation Now has just entered open beta. It's a streaming game rental service that currently requires specific one-time fees for specific periods of play. Pricing on the current selection of more than 100 PS3 and PS4 titles is currently variable, with the least expensive option being $2.99 for a four-hour rental. Compared to $5 a month for unlimited access to a number of games, PlayStation Now is an atrocious deal. It's like comparing the Blockbuster movie rental model to that of Netflix; one structure has a clear advantage and consumers are bound to make comparisons between the two. Had Sony allowed EA Access on PS4, they would have been inviting criticism for their comparatively awful pricing model.

As a result of the previous beta, Sony has revealed that they are still tinkering with the system. I know that the company plans to reduce pricing on some of the short rentals to $1.99, but I'm not sure that is appealing enough. Participants in the private beta frequently made requests for a subscription-based PlayStation Now plan, and Sony has confirmed to GamesIndustry that such an option is being considered. For Sony's sake, I certainly hope so.

Sources: Game Informer, GamesIndustry

Do you ever ask yourself why all of your favourite video game companies are putting out so many games for mobile phones these days? Why franchises that were once console or PC exclusives are now mobile exclusives? The answer to both of these queries is that mobile is a much bigger market and can be far more lucrative form a revenue perspective. Think about it: everyone you know has a phone, most today will have cell phones, most of those will have smartphones, and at least half of those smartphone users are likely to play some sort of game on that device. It only makes sense that games go to where the people are, and in Japan both the people and games are shifting towards mobile.

Any regular reader of Media Crate sales will have noticed that console sales aren't doing too hot these days, especially in Japan. The Japanese games console market dipped 16% last year, according to a report by the county's Computer Entertainment Suppliers Association. According to CESA, the market for console gaming (hardware and software) reached $4 billion, down from $4.8 billion the year prior. Consoles sales in 2013 reached $1.5 billion, down from $1.9 billion. Meanwhile, smartphone game revenue doubled in Asia in 2013.

The Japanese are getting more and more into their phones. Revenue generated from smartphone games in Asian markets doubled in 2013, hitting $8.9 billion according to a recent report from CyberZ and Seed Planning. Japan, being a key Asian market, represented 60% of that revenue at a staggering $5.3 billion. It is estimated that smartphone game revenue will reach $12.1 billion across Asian markets in 2014 and a whopping $21.1 billion in 2017 based on current exchange rates.

That's right folks: handhelds and consoles are in a downward slide in Japan while revenues in the mobile space are almost four times better (and growing). I wouldn't expect your favourite Japanese developers to shift focus away from mobile titles anytime soon, and I wouldn't expect Japanese gamers to suddenly shift their attention back to consoles. Traditionalists will likely be disappointed by this news, but such is the way of change. You can't stop the world from turning or changing.

Source: CESA

That's it for this issue of Currents. Shout out to Sarah McGarr for the new 'Currents' icon. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.

Your dork from the Great North,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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