It's the week that Sound Shapes finally came out, and the week before we're allowed to officially tell you that Darksiders II is pretty good. Embargoes, huh? What a pain in the ass. There was lots of intriguing news this week, so let's starting digging into that right away…
July Kinda Sucked
The gaming industry's summer lull was more pronounced than usual this year, as the NPD Group reported this week that total US retail game sales for July only reached $548.4 million, a spectacular 20 percent slide from the same month last year. Making the decline worse is the fact that July 2011 was already the single worst month for the industry since October 2006. Electronic Arts' annualized amateur pigskin sim NCAA Football 13 was the best seller for the month, and was the only new release to make the top 10. Super hero games performed well, with LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes the number two game for the month, and movie tie-in The Amazing Spider-Man finishing the month in third place. With one exception, the remaining games on the top 10 were all released in 2011. That exception was Call of Duty: Black Ops, which was released in 2010, and no doubt piquing interest again in light of the steady drop of new details ahead of the game's launch. It's unlikely you missed it, but in case you did, there was a new multiplayer trailer this past week. Want to see it? Even if you're a hater? Here it is…
Game hardware sales were pretty soft as well, down 32 percent to $150.7 million. While there wasn't much to crow about, Microsoft did announce that the Xbox 360 was the best-selling current-generation console for the 19th straight month, selling 203,000 units in July. Accessories were the lone area of improvement for the industry, up 8 percent to $136.9 million. According to NPD analyst Anita Frazier, that number was bolstered by points and subscription cards, as well as Skylanders action figure packs (Activision finally released the exclusive figures from the pack-ins as standalone figures this summer). The NPD Group believes more than 25 million Skylanders figures have been purchased by customers since the game launched last October. Frazier also cautioned anyone against expecting a miracle recovery for the industry in the back half of the year. "Based on year to date sales, and taking into account the release slate for the back five months of the year as well as the anticipated launch of the Wii U, annual sales for the new physical channel should come in around $14.5 billion for the year," Frazier said. That would represent a drop of nearly 15 percent from the NPD Group's 2011 US retail sales total of $17.02 billion.
After all that doom and gloom - we need something to look forward to, right?
New Consoles Need to Come Soon. Really Soon
A "new version" of the Xbox will be on store shelves sometime during the next 18 months, according to a new job advertisement at Microsoft. "Over the next eighteen months, Microsoft will release new versions of all of our most significant products including Windows (Client, Server, Phone and Azure), Office, and Xbox, along with completely new offerings like Microsoft Surface," reads a line from the requisition. Just to be clear on what they were talking about (another, cheaper 360 - or the next-gen box?), we reached out to Microsoft for comment, and a representative responded in predictable fashion. "Microsoft is always looking for talented people to innovate now and in the future," we were told. "We don't have any further comment on this or any other job posting." Of course they don't. They never do. But we have to ask.
"At this stage, we can't comment on or even speculate as to when, or if, the next generation will be announced. But we think that it's time for the next generation and we think that it's overdue already." - Cevat Yerli, Crytek
Earlier this week, Microsoft shot down speculation that it had already accidentally confirmed a new Xbox, saying comments from Microsoft general manager Brian Hall were "misunderstood." In an interview last week with The Verge, Hall name-dropped a "new Xbox," but Microsoft said he was actually speaking about this fall's new Xbox Live update. Of course he was.
The analyst consensus is that the next Xbox, as well as the PlayStation 4, will be on store shelves for holiday 2013. A recent 56-page document supposedly originating from Microsoft said the next Xbox would launch in 2013 at $299 bundled with the second iteration of the Kinect, among other updates.
This shift can't come soon enough for many. According to Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli, the next-generation consoles are "overdue already." In an interview with VG247 Yerli said, "The current generations are drying out, and the longer we wait for the next generation of consoles, the higher the likelihood that they could fall behind tablets in terms of being the first thing people reach for when the time comes to play games," Yerli said. "Tablets are putting pressure on the gaming industry, and taking over in some ways, so that should be kept in mind." Asked about the possibility of Microsoft announcing its new Xbox at the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Yerli explained that it's already the right time for new platforms. "At this stage, we can't comment on or even speculate as to when, or if, the next generation will be announced. But we think that it's time for the next generation and we think that it's overdue already," he said.
While Yerli pines for the next generation, outspoken Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada sounded off on what the industry could look like if Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo were to join forces. Speaking to Australian news outlet News.com.au, Harada said he believes the potential for industry innovation would be "endless" if the Big Three were to someday build hardware together. "I think it would be interesting if Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo got together just to make one console," Harada said. "It makes me very happy to think about all the possibilities that could occur because of that." Elsewhere in the interview, Harada said Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are no longer able to control gamers' play habits due in part to the rise of mobile and browser-based gaming. "For a long time, the game industry has been able to control the way people play games," he said. "There was a platform that people used solely for their gaming needs, and the industry had control of the trends and such that occurred. [But now] people are able to not be tied down by consoles, and it doesn't stop with phones; we have browser gaming and all these different platforms."
What do you think? Is the next generation overdue? Or is the whole concept past its sell-by date? Are you ready for a completely new way of playing games? Or do you agree with GameSpot news intern Connor Sheridan's piece this week that new consoles are not needed for new ideas? Let us know in the comments.
You're Being Irrational
Making a game is hard. Making a game as ambitious as BioShock Infinite is even harder, as evidenced by some of the drama at Irrational Games this week. Director of product development Tim Gerritsen along with 13-year studio veteran and former art director Nate Wells have both left the company, according to updated LinkedIn profile pages reported on by Gamasutra. According to Gerritsen's LinkedIn page, he left the Boston area studio this month. Gerritsen was part of the senior management team at Irrational, overseeing product development--which means it was his job to crack the whip and make sure that Ken Levine and the team were delivering stuff on schedule. As for Wells, his LinkedIn page also confirms his departure from the studio this month. He also reportedly updated his Twitter profile to say "New Job…Details to follow," although it no longer includes that note.
Soon after this news broke, Irrational creative director Ken Levine revealed on Twitter that original BioShock art director Scott Sinclair will fill Wells' role.
Scott Sinclair, art director of Bio1, back in the art director's chair for Infinite to bring it home. Can't wait to show you what's cooking.— Ken Levine (@IGLevine) August 8, 2012
The surprising follow-up news to this was the fact that Epic Games' Rod Fergusson would be moving to Boston to take up the role of executive vice president of development at Irrational, and be the guy responsible for getting the game to ship on time. Epic president Mark Rein confirmed his departure from the studio in order to work on BioShock Infinite, calling it an emotional farewell. Fergusson began work on BioShock Infinite almost immediately, tweeting about his new job on Friday.
Interwebs have my official permission to be unworried about Bioshock Infinite now that— Mark Rein (@MarkRein) August 9, 2012
@gearsviking is on the job!
Senior members of BioShock Infinite's creative staff may not be the only things to do with the game that are being shaken up, if anonymous sources who spoke to Kotaku are correct. The sources claimed two multiplayer modes have been cut from development, but this has not yet been confirmed by Levine or anyone else at Irrational. While the two online modes in question, a tower-defense-like mode and a campaign-inspired cooperative mode, may not be under development, it is not known if these constituted the whole of BioShock Infinite's multiplayer.
Sticking with people-related news from this week, German site GamersGlobal reported on rumors that Doctors Zeschuk and Muzyka had jumped ship after the disappointing launch of BioWare's massively multiplayer online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic. The site noted that Zeschuk's LinkedIn profile had been updated to say he ended his stint as general manager of BioWare Austin in May of this year. (It still lists him as presently employed in the position of BioWare co-founder.) In addition, GamersGlobal attributes a "trusted source" at BioWare Austin with information that neither Zeschuk nor Muzyka was present at a company-wide meeting last week, and that Zeschuk actually hadn't been seen at the studio for weeks. An EA representative denied the rumors to GameSpot, saying, "When Greg Zeschuk announced the reorganization of BioWare Austin in May, he outlined his plan to return to his family in Edmonton for a much deserved vacation. Greg also announced the new GM of BioWare Austin and SWTOR, Matt Bromberg. Greg is still with EA. He's now back in Canada, taking time off and thinking about new projects. No changes with Dr. Ray."
DayZ to Stand Alone (Against Zombies)
In what seems like an inevitable move, popular zombie survival mod DayZ is becoming its own game, creator Dean Hall announced this week on the game's blog. Moreover, ArmA II developer Bohemia Interactive will actually be partnering with Hall to create the game. Hall will serve as the project lead on this more ambitious take on DayZ. "This is the fairy-tale outcome for a mod that many would have said impossible four months ago,” said Hall. Development on the mod will continue, as well. Hall said the big questions about how this splintering will impact each project will be answered in the coming weeks.
Ouya: Asked for $950k, Got $8.6 Million
The Kickstarter campaign for Ouya, a new Android-powered home console that we've covered extensively in previous weeks, has finally come to a close with a spectacular grand total of $8,596,475. Clearly significantly more than its original $950,000 goal. A total of 63,416 users have donated to the project, which promises to have consoles out "by March 2013." On Thursday, Ouya creators announced that the console would support four controllers and that Namco Bandai would support the system. The publisher said it is currently in "active discussions" to bring some of its properties to Ouya, though none were named. Given that the firm already publishes PAC-CHOMP! (yes, all-caps just like a Linkin Park song name) Sky Gamblers: Rise Of Glory, and Flight Control for Android, it seems safe to assume that they'll probably start there. In addition to Namco Bandai, Ouya creators have partnered with streaming giant OnLive, and Square Enix, which will have Final Fantasy III available (in "HD") for the console at launch.
Sony: Defiant To The End?
Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Jack Tretton is apparently in complete denial about free-to-play gaming. Tretton spoke to GamesIndustry International this week about why he thinks many companies overestimate the trend toward free-to-play models and social connectivity, and also went on to explain why he thought the PlayStation Vita's meagre sales have been "acceptable" so far. "[Free-to-play and social] is a business I think a lot of companies are learning is difficult to sustain for the long term," Tretton said. "It's an adjunct or it's an add-on, but it's not where gaming is headed. It's an additive diversion. There's a place for social and freemium, but it's not going to replace the business models that are out there."
League of Legends says "hi," Jack.
Despite worries that smartphones and tablets could soon replace dedicated gaming hardware, Tretton was defiant, saying "the opportunity to be in the console business is greater than ever before." Selling hardware is always a long game, one which Tretton said he is confident will pay off for the Vita. "We felt if the tech was there, and the game support was there, then the audience would be there … I feel much better about it now than I did four months ago." Sony expects the Vita to sell 10 million units in its current fiscal year, mostly owing to a holiday lineup boasting titles like Assassin's Creed III: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified.
"[Free-to-play and social] is a business I think a lot of companies are learning is difficult to sustain for the long term. It's an adjunct or it's an add-on, but it's not where gaming is headed. It's an additive diversion." - Jack Tretton, SCEA
The problem, of course, is that outside of those two games, what else is there? There's a desire from Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford to see Borderlands 2 on Vita but no commitment to such an initiative. In an interview with PlayStation: The Official Magazine, Sony Computer Entertainment worldwide studio president Shuhei Yoshida is less optimistic than Tretton, "We're having a more difficult time than we had anticipated in terms of getting support from third-party publishers, but that's our job." Yoshida then went on to say that the publisher will continue to try to recruit third-party developers, and pointed to Assassin's Creed III: Liberation as a game that "could entice" other developers to see the benefit of working with the Vita. "We will continue to talk to development communities and publishing partners, and tell them why Vita can provide a great experience for the IPs they have, and I hope the Assassin's Creed game will prove that," Yoshida told the magazine.
What do you think? Is it too late for Vita? What does Sony need to do to make it a winner? Drop the price? Include a big, fat memory stick? Announce more games? Let us know in the comments.
Finally, we learned this week that Sony has abandoned its trademark for The Last Guardian, a game that we game journalists tend to go on an on about far more than we probably should, more than three years after it first applied for the rights to the name. The company let go of the trademark on August 6 (via PlayStationLifeStyle), and as we're piecing this story together, Sony had not yet responded to GameSpot's request for comment. In June, Sony senior vice president of product development Scott Rohde offered an update on The Last Guardian, saying it will ship "when it is absolutely ready." He also said Sony has no deadline whatsoever for the game. "It would be very easy to ship a game when it's not quite ready because we need to meet a business plan," Rohde said at the time. "Gamers are first. And the experience that we provide is first. And that's why we're going to talk about that game when we're ready to talk about it." While the trademark for The Last Guardian has been abandoned, that doesn't necessarily mean the game is canceled. Earlier this year, Ubisoft abandoned its trademark for Brothers in Arms: Furious 4, a World War II-set shooter in development at Gearbox Software. A Gearbox representative confirmed that Ubisoft had dropped the trademark to avoid administrative confusion, and it was later revealed that the game would be delayed out of 2012.'