Monday, June 20, 2011

The End is in Sight

Perfectly timed for my last post on rat pellets is an extensive interview with legendary developer John Carmack in Eurogamer where he says:
...the better games get the harder you have to go to give a delta people care about. That's going to be a challenge for the next-generation of consoles, to show that the pack-in title is going to look more awesome than what you get on the current ones that people will want to go spend $300 on a new console.

They'll be able to do it on the next generation, but it's going to be much harder. And whether it's even possible another generation after that is an open question.
And in an interview with CNET, Carmack says:
I can recognize the knee in the curve where I can do things that make the graphics better than what they are right now, but not as much better as if we put all that engineering effort into things that make it more fun.
This is huge.

Of course he's likely known this forever but it's nice to hear someone like John Carmack say that better graphics don't make games more fun, echoing what Chris Crawford said twenty years ago.

But more importantly, Carmack sees the end of the line for the improved graphics train that the industry has been riding all these years. He's saying the next generation of consoles will probably be the last to show obviously better graphics. For years improved graphics have been a major driver of sales for consoles and PC graphics cards, so this has huge implications for hardware vendors such as nVidia, AMD, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft.

It's been awhile now that I've been unable to see much (if any) difference in the side-by-side comparison images that purport to show the graphic improvements offered by the new offerings from nVidia and AMD. Since frame rates are decent, my main focus has been on power consumption as high-end graphics cards tend to be undesirably hot and noisy.

One of my pet peeves is draw distance. I always want to see further away, and for performance reasons most FPS and small scale tactical games have very short draw distances. So while improved hardware could offer longer draw distances, seeing tiny objects better in the far distance isn't going to offer a compelling reason for people to upgrade.

It's not just hardware -- as Carmack notes, the end of the improved graphics cycle will have a big effect on marketing games, too. Since so many games now are just old games redone with better graphics, publishers will have to find other reasons for people to buy new games.

The era of good enough graphics is almost upon us.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don't get all excited by the rat pellets

Many years ago, while it was still known as the CGDC, Chris Crawford gave a talk (no, not the The Dragon Speech) in which he brought up the concept of rat pellets.

Crawford has long maintained that a game's interactivity as expressed by its algorithms, systems, and play mechanics are what's important. I'm paraphrasing from an ancient memory here, but I recall Crawford saying that he'd work on a game to the point where it was fun to play, and at that point he considered it to be done. But then he'd have to add the rat pellets: the graphics and cutscenes and eye candy that the publisher required for a shippable game.

Subsequently the industry ignored Crawford and went on a twenty-year binge of emphasizing graphics over everything else. Well, most of the industry, anyway. Blizzard emphasizes gameplay, and Chris Hecker is taking that approach as well:
Make the deep and hardcore game first, and make it accessible later in development. I’m ripping this off directly from a 2006 speech by Rob Pardo, the Vice President of Game Design at Blizzard, about how they design games for the long term.  Here’s a great quote from the Gamasutra writeup:  “First we try to come up with what are really cool things, things that will get people to play for two to three years. Then we actually start talking about accessibility, how to make the content approachable and easy to learn. But it starts with depth first.”
One of the greatest achievements of Minecraft has been to allow gamers to see that graphics don't make a great game. It's always entertaining to read another admission by someone saying that after initially being turned off by Minecraft's simple graphics, they found the gameplay to be compelling.

I'd been thinking about bringing up this recollection of rat pellets and was moved to action by a recent posting over at Bio Break, where Syp posted 8 thoughts on the new Old Republic cinematic. Take it easy there Syp, I know there's not much else to go on at this point, but it's just a cinematic that nobody will care about once the game launches and folks can actually play it. Don't get all excited by the rat pellets!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Core gamers: You guys are so over

Core gamers had it great for years. During their reign at the top of the game consuming pyramid core gamers were the prime target of game companies. AAA games were mostly shooters or about topics appealing to 14-34 year old males, and many companies developed expensive hardware aimed at gamers. Life was good; it's good to be the king.

But with the Wii, Facebook, the iPhone, and iPad things have changed. From a piece by zebulum:
Angry Birds, by Rovio, has sales figures that would make an Assassin's Creed fan weep.

I had been working on a hardcore game targeted to the core gamer demographic of males, eternally trapped in a long adolescence. When our gameplay lead pulled out the Kinect, and began to dance with his avatar on the screen, I thought that our hardcore console project was going to get shrunk, maybe canceled, to reallocate company resources to this new device. After that, I believed the flood of out-of-work game design talent was going to flow away from hardcore games, towards the iPad and Google Android.

My prophecy was correct. The project is gone, swallowed up in pre-production hell, and the team shrank with two waves of lay-offs. I went with it. Most of my fellow designers have moved on to designing games for the Google Android, Apple iPhone, and the iPad.
The other day I published a piece about booth babes at E3 and Zygna's absence from the trade show. In a response that perfectly embodies zebulum's characterization of core gamers as "males eternally trapped in a long adolescence", an anonymous commenter said:
This is funny and a bit misleading.

42% of all game players are women.

But does playing social flash games on your handheld smart phone on a casual Wednesday make you a gamer?

The bottom link is the funniest of all. Zynga calling FarmVille players Hardcore Gamers.

HAHahahaha, what a joke. And then feminists complain that women aren't being catered to properly in the mainstream video game (not flash game) market. Too funny.
Note the denial of the changing world. He's a gamer, and those casual FarmVille players aren't. He thinks he's still the king.

But when Zynga’s annual revenues exceed $250 million or more, even Activision notices:
You have said you are hoping to reach a broader audience than your typical hardcore Call of Duty player. Why is it so important to encompass a wider audience with Elite?

Sonny: I think the idea that most Call of Duty players are 16 to 35-year-old males might have been true a few years ago, but when you think that we have 30m players worldwide, the reality of the diversity within the Call of Duty community is astounding. We have, on average, people playing 170 hours a year, but there is still a tremendous number of people who play a smaller amount and they’re not just the 16 to 35-year-old male. They’re students, they’re male and female.

Berger: ...everyone should have an opportunity to compete and join clans – not just the core gamers. We already have a mass audience, so all we need to do is build something that’s right for the full spectrum.
Just because they've been catered to for years doesn't mean core gamers will remain supreme. It's a new world out there, and core gamers should be ready for it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's 2011. Why is E3 still full of booth babes?

I'm not at E3, but apparently there are plenty of booth babes, as usual.

It's 2011. Why are game companies still doing this?
Forty-two percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).
I've been disappointed to see companies that have gotten my money turn around and spend it on booth babes. Don't get me wrong, I love women. But to me it's a misallocation of resources since booth babes don't make games better. Designing for the male gaze doesn't make games better either.

It's disappointing to see the perpetuation of sexism through the presence of booth babes at E3 and the exploitation of booth babe photos by so many gaming sites.

Meanwhile, in a smart money-saving move, Zynga stayed away from E3. Check Zynga's demographics:
Figures from Anekal suggest that 55 percent of all social gamers in the US are female while, 53 percent of Zynga players are females between 25 and 44.
While I've yet to play any of its games, I appreciate Zynga's decision to avoid E3 and the whole booth babe issue which might turn off some of its female customers. While the rest of the industry continues to stock up with booth babes at E3 in order to chase the same old pool of 14-34 year old males, Zynga's laughing all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

World of Tanks price list in dollars

World of Tanks is free to play with the option of spending money to buy gold coins. Since the store prices are listed in gold coins, it's not immediately obvious how much things really cost.

Below is a list of items purchasable in World of Tanks with prices converted to dollars.

First, the price of gold coins:


Premium subscription prices (five prices given, corresponding to the price of gold above):


Premium tanks (again, five prices given, corresponding to the price of gold in the first table):

2USLT2 Light Tank3751.501.561.731.872.08
2Ger.LPzKpfw 38H735 (f)7503.003.123.463.744.17
3Ger.MPzKpfw S35 739 (f)10004.004.164.614.985.56
4Ger.HPzKpfw B2 740 (f)12505.005.205.766.236.95

Other items sold in the store (again, five prices given, corresponding to the price of gold in the first table):

Demount a locked item100.
Consumable (Chocolate, etc.)500.
100% training for 1 crew2000.800.830.921.001.11
Exchange Gold for 100,000 credits2501.
Convert 10,000 XP4001.601.671.841.992.22

Finally, let's say someone wanted get from tier 9 to 10 as quickly as possible. Assuming they had experience available, how much would it cost to convert the XP needed to reach tier 10 and buy the credits needed to purchase a tier 10 tank?

Convert 250,000 XP10,00039.9841.6346.0849.8355.60
Exchange Gold for 6,100,000 credits15,25060.9763.4870.2776.0084.79

Note that the 250,000 XP used above is an approximation; the actual amount of XP needed to reach tier 10 from tier 9 varies: 236,100 for US, 279,870 for German, and 311,415 for the Russian tech tree.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mojang is no longer an indie developer

By entering into an agreement with Microsoft to put Minecraft on XBox 360 exclusively among consoles, Mojang has given up its independence and has chosen to be bound by contracts and PR guidelines that control what Notch is "allowed to say".

PR guidelines are what happens when you sell out.

There's nothing wrong with selling out, it's a stage that many people and organizations pass through. But once you've sold out, the "indie" label no longer applies.