What’s Happening in the Industry?

So, let’s talk about games. As I write this, Pokémon GO is still going strong, No Man’s Sky has lost 90% of its user base in two weeks, and the Rio Olympics have wrapped up.

I’ll tackle the Pokémon GO craze first.

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I’m playing it. Who isn’t, right? I didn’t plan on playing it, but I got slowly sucked into it. And so now, my better half and I go out hunting some nights. But seriously, what is it about this game? On the surface, it’s just some mobile, social game with AR (Augmented Reality) and GPS (Global Positioning System) features. But those are just some of  the technical components of the game that form the whole. The magic sprinkle on top is the IP (intellectual property) tie-in, with the Pokémon monsters, right? Well, yes and no.

Pokémon GO’s success did not happen overnight. In this post on Reddit, Niantic CEO John Hanke describes that the game was about two decades in the making. I believe that Pokémon GO’s success goes much deeper than the integrated IP, and the use of cameras and GPS, and even beyond the established database of information used for the game. As a piece of software in general, it’s a finely crafted, well designed game. It contains many standard staples of RPG (role-playing game) mechanics, such as XP (experience points), and several other forms of currency, like “stardust”, “candy”, “coins”, as well as many statistics, like combat power, and size and weight, for each monster that you catch. You can evolve Pokémon into more powerful forms, and you can hatch them from eggs, which adds an element of randomization, anticipation, and surprise to the game.

All of these game design elements combine to make an overall cohesive experience, from the moment-to-moment gameplay of throwing curveballs to gain extra points, all the way to the metagame of territorial competition at the various gyms across the map. I realize that some of these concepts are not foreign to existing Pokémon fans who have played previous games based on the IP, or have watched the animated series. This is all new to me, as I was never into Pokémon , and I barely knew any of them beyond the classic Pikachu, Charmander, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle.

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Naturally, the game development community immediately jumped on any clues, ideas, and research on how to make a Pokémon GO clone, so that those opportunistic types can cash in on the trend, while the more clever developers would pump out tutorials and resources to easily plug into your own game to get you along your way; providing the shovels and blue jeans, so to speak. But if Pokémon GO took well over a decade to slowly build its data infrastructure, what makes people think that they can emulate Niantic’s success? As I mentioned earlier, the individual technological features of the game is not what makes the game stand out. For example, the AR component is still considered a gimmick, as the more seasoned Pokémon GO players turn this feature off, because the non-AR view gives them more control while trying to capture those elusive creatures.

So from a developer’s perspective, a game like Pokémon GO can never become an overnight success. There is just too much technological infrastructure and experience employed to make the game as polished as it is, server woes notwithstanding. Another example of this phenomenon is the story behind Rovio, the company that developed the game, Angry Birds. Rovio overcame many failures, before reaching their success on their smash hit.

And now, you’re lucky to find a piece of merchandise that doesn’t have an Angry Birds character on it! Anyway, I can probably keep going on about Pokémon GO, as there’s plenty to analyze about the game, from different angles of game development. So I’ll quit it here for now.

On the flip side, there’s a game called No Man’s Sky.

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To summarize, No Man’s Sky is a game that was recently released after several years of having generated hype, so there was plenty of anticipation for this game. Many players are upset about what the product was on the first day of release, and what it is today. It turns out, the game did not live up to its high expectations, as it was released with many missing features that the developers “promised”. After two weeks on the market, the game’s user base has dropped off dramatically.

You see, one of the many challenges, if not the biggest challenge, for independent game developers, is marketing their games. They’d rather be building, creating their game than spending time telling people about it. And then, when it comes time to launch, the game ends up flopping, or at the very least, not reaching the audience that it is intended for. And that’s why marketing is such a huge piece of the puzzle. The video game industry, especially the independent game industry, is no longer in a state of an “if they build it, they will come” mentality. Perhaps that was the case during the Braid and Limbo “era”, but now,  the tools are readily accessible at little to no cost. All an aspiring game developer needs to get started is to “level up his/her skills, put in a lot of elbow grease, and give it plenty of time to bake.” But in order to increase the chance of success, you have to throw in as much time, effort, and basically, blood, sweat and tears into making a product that you think people will like (more on this another time), and then half the battle is done. Just half?!? Yes, just half. Marketing is that other half, and that means communicating to the outside world; screaming at the top of your lungs, that you have a product that you’d like to share. Simply put, the more people who know about your game, the more the percentage of people that will actually try your game.

Anyway, off of the tangent… No Man’s Sky was marketed EXTREMELY well. The hype train was coming along strongly, which is a good thing… but only for a good, complete game. Without any substance to back up the marketing, No Man’s Sky fizzled out. It lacked any staying power. Typically, games can last several weeks to months, and some rare successful games have mass followings that will make it last for years after release, as in the case of games like World of Warcraft and EVE Online. Instead, No Man’s Sky saw a lot of players request refunds from the various distributors of the game.

Among all the rare successes in the game industry, No Man’s Sky represents yet another failure of game development, and software development in general. Godus is a game by renowned game designer Peter Molyneux, created by his independent studio 22 Cans. The game’s notoriety grew as the direction of development ran askew, and like No Man’s Sky, promised rewards didn’t get delivered. The game was initially funded by a KickStarter campaign, and the company over-promised and under-delivered. The story, written by Nathan Grayson over at Kotaku, is intriguing if you have the time to read it. Some other notable failures are the Batman game Arkham Knight released on PC and Colonial Marines, a game based on the popular Alien/Aliens movie franchise. Both games had high hopes, only to be riddled with bugs and performance issues, and in addition to that, lack of content, in the case of Colonial Marines.

So well, this is a quick look at the most popular trends in the video game industry in 2016, at least, as of the end of Summer. Typically, the industry has a lot more cooking around the Winter holidays, for the obvious reason that kids are looking to get electronic gifts from their parents Santa that are not Tiger handhelds.

As far as the Olympics goes, well, I hadn’t paid much attention to it, other than to all the devastating stories about Zika, green pool water, pollution, and a disgraceful “bro” story. You can go look those up for yourself, because some of them are too disgusting to even write about. I’m glad it’s all over though, so we can get back to regularly scheduled programming.

Well, that’s about all I feel that I want to write about right now. I’ve been behind the scenes, hard at work on my next game, but I’m still not ready to reveal anything yet.

Until next time,

Make it fun!

 

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