Humble Bundle

Earlier this year, the head of independent developer Wolfire Games approached his friends and contacts in the games community with the idea that they should offer their games on a “pay what you want” basis. The Humble Indie Bundle, which included indie darling Gish and my beloved World of Goo, went on sale in May and, despite many people offering $0.01 for the collection, raised over $1.2 million (almost $400,000 of which went to charity). The sale was such a success they decided to try it all over again with the Humble Indie Bundle 2, which is available for the next few days.

If getting a handful of great games for well under their retail price doesn’t sell you, and you are the type who does not feel compelled to support the indie scene from which our medium sees so much of its heart and innovation, know that you can allocate your payment for the bundle to charity and screw those greedy indie devs! →  Read like G did.

Digitally Delivered

Since I spent the first half of 2010 doing my part to keep Bioware in business, I recently decided I could stand to play some smaller, but nonetheless worthwhile titles.  I have a running list in my head of all the creative and fun downloadable games I would like to play, and finally set aside the time to follow through on a few of them.

NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits

Spanish developer Over The Top Games could teach a master class on developing with the strengths of the Wii in mind (they could not, however, teach any kind of class on the English language).  NyxQuest is primarily a platformer with a few sections that combine light-gun-style-shooting or some other novel mechanic with the core jumping and navigating obstacles formula.  After completing a section where you need to use the pointer to move obstacles out of your way and drag items behind you, shake the remote to rid yourself of hindrances, then shoot at charging enemies, the only reason you won’t wonder why larger developers can’t make a game that understands the Wii controls this well is because you will be too involved in the game.   →  Think outside the post.

Numbers Are Fun – Back by Popular Demand

After a long hiatus I have once again been induced to write an update on the financial state of the video game industry. My plan is to divide this write up into two main “chapters.” This first one will cover the “hard” numbers: hardware unit sales and earnings reports. The second will cover the “soft” topic of average player profiles, including online connectivity, hours per day, tie ratio, etc. This section promises to be densely packed with numbers, but it should not require an MBA or a degree in statistics (at least it shouldn’t, since I have neither). Please note, I will cover software sales with the “soft” numbers, since it is not easy (possible?) to get reliable software numbers.

Most people who follow games closely, whether or not they specifically check sales numbers, probably have a rough idea of how each of the three consoles has sold so far this generation, but putting some actual numbers next to these impressions should be helpful. →  Oops, I did it again.

Review – Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut

The Knights Templar were an order of Christian soldiers from western Europe who gathered substantial influence and wealth during the Crusades. Many were tortured and/or executed in France in the early 14th century, primarily because King Philip of France owed them money and felt it was more expedient to kill them and disband the order than it was to pay. Of course, he did this under the pretense that they were not in fact true Catholics but rather practitioners of any number of bizarre rituals. As a result of these probably false accusations, their previous military prowess and influence, and the massive fortune they acquired through donations and the early bank-like system they developed, the story of the Knights took on mythic proportions.

Just like in real life.

Unfortunately, they are also an overused trope in movies and pop literature, either as grand puppeteers that actually rule the world from behind the scenes, or as the source of some treasure beyond all of our wildest dreams. →  Now you’re reading with power.

Review – Time Hollow

Adventure games exist on a spectrum from what are essentially puzzle games with characters (such as Zack and Wiki and possibly Professor Layton and the Mysterious Village) to games with little interaction that are basically interactive books (I would include an example here, but, at risk of blowing the punchline, the game I am reviewing is further on this side of the spectrum than anything else I have ever played). The interactivity in Time Hollow consists mostly of moving from area to area. Once you find the right location (park, school, home) events frequently set themselves in motion and you just have to tap the screen to advance the dialogue; sometimes you have to tap each character on screen to get him or her to speak.

There are a handful of objects in the game which are very obviously interactive, so finding them and their application is rarely a challenge (the plus side of this is that it means there is no pixel hunting). →  Postlanser: Heritage of Read

2008 in Review Part 4

Games, I have always believed, would benefit from acceptance into mainstream culture: once the stigma that video games entertained only troglodytic nerds disappears, the scope of what games are allowed to be would increase. This has started to happen, as, despite the whining and hand wringing of those who want games to remain in their and only their basements, gaming has expanded over the past several years. Part of this has been in the form of non-gamers picking up controllers, but my bet is that most of it is ex-gamers picking them up again, or twenty-somethings not putting them down as they (we) age.

This expansion has meant that the collective entity known as “gamers” now has much broader tastes: broader in terms of theme and maturity as well as content. →  Destroy All Articles! 2

Video games vs. the Recession

As an investor, it is prudent to invest in a number of different instruments (stocks, bonds) and markets (the United States, emerging Asia) because the more diversity in a portfolio the more bad news it can withstand before being severely impaired. For examples, stocks do well during good economic times, while the more stable bonds will likely outperform in poor times. Holding both allows you to make money when all is right with the world and preserve much of your money should things start to turn south. However, in times of crisis, correlations go to one. This statement has an obvious truth to it, since, as we just witnessed, almost every market in the world goes down together when things get bad enough; almost nothing (most US government bonds performed well, but that is about it) escapes unscathed. →  Rule of Read

Review – Insecticide

DS Adventure-action hybrid Insecticide attracted some attention (on this site, if not from the videogame community as a whole) when the developer, Mike Levine, criticized negative reviews of the game for overlooking what he considered some of the game’s strengths. What are these supposed strengths? The game is in 3D and features voice acting. To me, the measure of a game isn’t the number of dimensions in which it resides, but how much fun it is to play, and whether I believe the developer tried to do something interesting or innovative.

The early criticisms, as well as Levine’s retort, turned on two key disagreements. Reviewers thought the controls were poor and the game had technical problems. Levine thought the reviewers did not completely explore the controls (ie complained about using the d-pad and buttons while stylus controls were available) and argued the game is technically very impressive (in 3D and featuring voice) even if there are a few hiccups. →  Nobody puts article in a corner.

Review – Yakuza

As a fan of the Shenmue series I was induced to try Sega’s Yakuza (non-neutered Japanese name: Ryu go Gotaku, or Like a Dragon). Hardly a review was written that avoided comparing some aspect of the game or the game itself to Sega’s acclaimed series. If you have not already played them, I am here to tell you that these are drastically different games. While there are some cosmetic similarities, the crowd that adores Shenmue (at least those who do so for the same reasons I do) will not find a spiritual successor here. While both games are basically brawlers in an open world, with plenty of side quests and dark corners to explore, the heart of Ryo is absent from the muscular Kazuma.

Shenmue has many strengths (and several weakness), but chief among them is Ryo’s hesitance to resort to violence unnecessarily and his ineptness in many adult situations. →  Knock knock. Who's there? This article.

Numbers are fun – November ‘Nihilation

There has been a lot of good sales news for the industry over the past month. Enough numbers have been released that PR people from all three console manufacturers are able to claim some victory. We have all grown accustomed to hearing that Nintendo’s grandparent-friendly hardware is setting the world ablaze, but recent information has shown that its competitors may be gearing up to offer a viable challenge. The biggest headline probably has to be the fact that Nintendo DS sales set the record for most systems ever purchased in a single week with 653,000. This, combined with 350,000 Wiis sold during the same period adds up to…a lot of stuff sold by Nintendo during Thanksgiving week. The Wii is still supply constrained so it’s tough to say how many units Nintendo could be moving, but the Wii reached five million units in the US sold faster than any other system in history, doing so in a mere 12 months. →  Onimusha 2: Samuread's Destiny

Who is responsible for making sure I have heard of a game?

Next week Capcom will release Zack and Wiki for the Wii.

This is significant not because I want to play the game (although I do, and you should also) but because I had never heard of it up until a few days ago. There have been plenty of articles and columns recently that lament the fact that third party titles have failed to sell on Nintendo’s newest console. This fact, the fact that Nintendo has suffered a similar fate with past consoles, and the perception that they are either competing too fiercely with these third parties or have too difficult and onerous a quality assurance process have led some in the industry to believe that the big N is doomed. The Wii will be unable to dominate this generation without significant third part support, they argue. →  Michigan: Article from Hell

A deeper look into Nintendo’s bling

Nintendo’s recent ascension to become the second largest company in Japan has been making news on a few sites which track the business aspect of video games. While it is true that a company’s market capitalization (basically a measure of what the stock market thinks a company is worth) has grown by leaps and bounds of late (as will happen when the price shoots up as much as Nintendo’s has) some of the underlying financial numbers are even more fascinating than the headlines.

By market cap, Nintendo is substantially larger than Sony (Nintendo is worth about $75 billion, to Sony’s $47 billion). In truth, this metric is only one way to judge the size of a company. What’s another, you may ask? How about sales, I answer. Sony’s sales are leaps and bounds higher than Nintendo’s. →  Knock knock. Who's there? This article.

Numbers are fun: But charts are amazing

Market capitalization is a measure of what investors think a company is worth, so it basically represents size. In order to get a little perspective on the relative size of some of the companies with which we, as gamers, are most familiar, I have thrown together the below chart.

As with all thrown together financial charts it has its shortcomings. Private companies, such as Bioware, SNK Playmore and Treasure cannot be included since they are not required to reveal their size and there is no market to determine it. Also, (and this may come as a shock to some of you) several of these companies are Japanese. This means that in addition to their market cap changing day to day based on price changes, when expressed in US Dollars, they change with foreign exchange rates as well. →  It was the best of games, it was the worst of games

Numbers are fun: Super awesome stock update

While at work today, and trying to justify thinking about video games, I became curious about the recent performance of the three companies gamers (probably) follow most closely. Thus you now get to read a rundown of how Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo stock has performed since the launches of the 360, PS3 and Wii respectively. But first a few caveats. With nothing besides perception to back this up, I’m going to say that Wii sales are more important to Nintendo than either of the other consoles are to the their companies. While I’m not sure, and I would be willing to listen to arguments to the contrary, I would say Microsoft is least reliant on its games division, but Sony obviously has diverse business interests as well. This means that stock moves could have nothing to do with game sales, and I am completely spinning my wheels. →  Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about huffing paint.

Numbers are fun: January 07 edition

There has been a decent amount of industry news in the gaming spotlight recently. A next gen system (Wii) was finally the best selling piece of hardware over a month (January) in the United States with 436,000 units. While the DS (239,000) still outsold the PSP (211,000), Sony’s machine has started to close the gap. All it took was a few original titles and sales have started to pick up. In terms of raw sales numbers, 2006 was a great year for the industry, and, in the US at least, terrific January sales have started 2007 off on the right foot. Japan sales last month were lower than those in January 2006, but this is hardly troubling. There are reporting problems with both the US and Japanese numbers that make it difficult to tell anything very specific, but it does seem as though the industry is alive and kicking. →  You may say I’m a gamer, but I’m not the only one

Review – Okami

While some genres are mainly constructive (most sim games for example), the action adventure genre has historically been destructive. Even though your character is generally on the side of good and fighting evil there is something dissatisfying about achieving your ends using strictly violent means. Rarely does a game come along (outside the real time strategy genre) that gives the player the ability to create as well as destroy. Okami is such a game.

As the goddess Amaterasu you alternate between attacking demons with a variety of swords, mirrors(?) and rosaries(??) and restoring the world around you to its former natural beauty. This makes the experience of playing the game much more complete, since you actually have the capability to act like a god (assuming its not the spiteful, vengeful type of god), meting out punishment to offenders and aiding the just in their day to day lives. →  Game is dead. Game remains dead. And we have killed it.

Numbers are fun: Year end edition – The handhelds

A few months ago I reported that the DS was an unstoppable juggernaut that had put quite some distance between itself and the PSP. Elsewhere on this site we have mentioned that PSP software sales have fallen off. After looking at some year end numbers on handheld sales, I hold to the argument that the DS will be (already is?) the victor in this generation of portable video games I think it may be a bit early to buy Sony’s product a headstone. Lets go to the proverbial video tape.

Both handheld companies entered 2006 with approximately 3.7 million units of hardware sold (DS had slightly more, PSP slightly less, but DS also had a three month head start). In the US the DS then outpaced the PSP by selling 5.3 million units (combined DS and DS Lite) while PSP managed a very respectable 3 million. →  Beyond Read & Evil

Numbers are fun: Year end edition

Heading into the holidays the question on the collective mind of the industry was which seventh generation system would emerge with the lead. For Xbox 360 this meant continuing to sell some units despite the fact that Nintendo and Sony were releasing their competitors in the market. For Nintendo and Sony, success meant shipping as many consoles to store shelves as possible and then selling all of them. So, now that the dust has settled, who has accomplished their goals, and who may be in trouble? It’s obviously too early to call the generation for one system or another, but the numbers do tell an interesting story. For our purposes, all the numbers below (unless otherwise noted) are US sales.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 had a year head start on both of the other consoles. →  We have the best words.

Why I play the games I play

While collaborating with the rest of the staff about yesterday’s article, I started to wonder a little more deeply, very much in the abstract way Jay was specifically trying to avoid, why I play the games I do. I think the answer to this question is very much the answer to the question of why play games at all, when there are hobbies/ways of life that are likely to lead to more sex/money/interpersonal relationships than video games.

A simple answer would be that I can never be a ninja, a WWII general, a wizard, an NFL quarterback, an etc, etc but video games allow me to come as close as I am likely to be able. I’m sure this is part of it, the desire to be immersed in a game to the point where I feel as though I am a part of it, but I do not think this is all, or even most of why I game. →  Read me now, believe me later.

Numbers are fun!

In the course of doing my job, I managed to stumble across some information about the stocks of video game companies. Turns out a Bloomberg terminal is a worthwhile investment (when I am not paying for it) after all. Basically, I am now able to put numbers (which will not be precise, since there may be some intellectual property rights at issue) next to musings such as “It seems the DS is selling a lot of unit,” or “What happened to the PSP, are there any games?” Please beware the frequent use of parenthetical statements (such as this one: DS = original DS + DS Lite).

Something that needs to be understood about the way traditional financial statistics apply to the video game industry (and entertainment media generally) is that there is a “round peg, square hole” problem. →  Tony Hawk's Posting Ground