Star Wars The Last EA Game?

Well well well… What’s happening here then?

Since the launch of Star Wars Battlefront II, EA’s stock has lost $6bn in value. This is an extraordinary drop considering it coincided with what was arguably the biggest game release of the year.

The old saying of “you could put the Star Wars brand on a stick and sell it” has been proven wrong by EA. You can’t put the brand on this monetization and progression system and succeed.

The problem for EA isn’t stock value. It’s about stockholders expecting the worst when it comes to the freemium game market. The reactions to Battlefront II reached mainstream news and the idea of “games as gambling” is now synonymous with EA and Star Wars Battlefront II. The level of interest piqued that of politicians and now governments are passing judgments on whether this is gambling. Will this lead to legislations handicapping corporations from their freemium revenue streams? It’s possible if the pressure continues.

EA has forever tarnished themselves now and Star Wars fans are pushing a petition demanding that Disney remove the beloved franchise from EA’s grasp. So not only have EA been backed into a corner with the outrage and media coverage, they have put the freemium market into the hands of governments and risked their connection to the worlds biggest franchise.

Good work EA.

Despite all this, it isn’t the beginning of the end of EA. Their value is actually greater than last year and their sports franchises alone, even if governments add legislation hamstringing Ultimate Team profits will forever keep the corporation in profit. What all this might do however is change the gaming industry for the better as games would need to rely on quality, not addictions to profit.

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EA’s lost the Battlefront but will win the war

If you play games and don’t live under a rock you’ll likely know that EA’s flagship Star Wars property Battlefront 2 launches November 17th. If you know that, you’ll also know that EA has been under fire from the gaming community because of it.

Firstly, EA got community backlash over their decision to put all progression into a loot box mechanic. Meaning, you’ll progress but your rewards are down to luck. EA have made changes to this but in early reviews, the progression system is widely considered the worst part of the game.

Secondly, EA made hero characters Luke Skywalker and Darth Vadar cost 60,000 credits to unlock. Based on the time it takes to earn credits, if you purchased nothing else, it would take 40 hours to unlock just one of the two. The gaming community applied pressure and the heroes now cost 15,000 credits.

So two wins for the community, but is it?

What bamboozles me, as a gamer, is why do EA continue to mask the real reasons for their progression decisions? They don’t need to come out with PR reasons. Gamers KNOW why they are using loot boxes.

Loot boxes aren’t fun per se. They are addicting. EA knows it. Gamers know it. EA also knows by controlling the % chance of rewards and the time needed to earn a loot box they can extend Battlefront 2’s lifetime value. Meaning, the longer you keep someone playing and the more appealing the carrot (on the end of the stick), the more likely they’ll crack and spend real money due to a whole host of psychology traits people have.

In all honesty, EA could come out and say “we know loot boxes, grind times and sexy rewards will earn us $$$”.  It won’t stop people buying the game and it won’t stop people playing it.  You could put the Star Wars brand on a stick you find in the woods and someone would buy it. It’s STAR WARS!

The fact EA (and others) don’t just say the truth is because of player motivation.  Saying the above will make gamers give up in the grind.  Yet EA could come out with a robust and honest reason to build trust otherwise it leads to other questions like…

Launching with heroes at 60,000 credits and then reducing to 15,000 looks like a calculated move. A means to say to the community “look we’re listening”. It’s the same tactic as in stores. When a sale approaches the prices go up and the following sale price then looks more appealing. The fact gamer’s see a 45,000 credit decrease makes it all seem reasonable but it just highlights these giant carrots dangling on the end of very long sticks.  It’s marketing.  Just consider this…

It is estimated via Star Wars Strategies that it will take 4,528 hours to unlock everything via the loot box progression or $2100. If this data is accurate, EA will definitely win the war as winning a battle means nothing in the long run.

 

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Everything is fuelled by big data

The title may sound extreme but all businesses thrive on knowing their customer. Well, they did. It’s now only about what the data shows.

This puts data scientists at the forefront of customer services as they are the ones extracting via extensive consumer tracking. This scares the living sh*t out of me as the logic-minded number crunchers aren’t really into service with a smile. They like facts and digging deeper.

So as you press yes on that interface, they get a chunk of info, but likely want to know more, so everything is now digging that bit deeper. This started decades ago and now there is so much big data that Amazon knows what you order, when you order it and the price you’re willing to pay, at that moment in time. You are in the matrix, so to speak. Well, your actions are at least.

So while those pretty interfaces that data scientists use look friendly and informative, it’s actually your life in a pie chart. A pie chart that every technology company can buy, utilize and take advantage of to make a profit.

You’d think because big data has taken the burden of knowing your customer that things like quality, innovation, challenge and fun would become the focus, it hasn’t. Mostly because each is too reliant on an individuals personality. This is why addiction, explosions, sex, shock value and other “pushing the boundaries” have become the norm. It grabs attention, holds attention and we engage. There is little choice involved.

Don’t consider the above as sarcasm. It’s fact but is it scary?

The collection of data isn’t scary. Data is good as it could lead to the curing of Cancer. The showing and sharing of non-personal data isn’t scary either. If your names not on it, does it matter if they know 27% of people love walking around their home nude in the day?

There will be big questions for big data and Artificial Intelligence ahead. It’s just whether we end up in an Idiocracy-style world before hand.  You should only worry if you don’t trust big corporations or your government…

Oh sh*t!

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Hyprotransactions and next level profiteering

While some of us struggle to give our games away, some manage to achieve the next level of profiteering. From Player Unknowns Battleground to <insert any major AAA here>, it’s rife and it’s tiring gamers out.

So what is exactly rife?

* Selling a season pass without showing what it includes.
* Adding microtransactions to $60+ Buy-2-Play games.
* Holding content to one side and selling it as microtransactions.

Why are these a problem?

Ten years ago this kind of profiteering wouldn’t have been considered but the spiraling cost of development, the internet and use of data across all facets of a games release has made it all into a science. A science which takes advantage of the psychology of gamers by preying on consumer traits (or frailties).

What this means is that publishers know gamers want to be #1, to be the best or have the fullest, completest experience. So they can sell useless items as part of a deluxe edition as it links into that part of a consumers psychological traits. A publisher knows that it’s easier to sell the season pass before a game launches because they still control the hype, and reality compared to hype is often less enthralling.

It’s not a crime but it’s manipulation. Which is exactly what consumerism is. However, will consumer protection laws revisit these practices, or will the digital, gambling era never be encapsulated?

Only time will tell.

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The Sony Switchtendo

Imagine a world without wars. Forum boards and YouTube videos will calm and all gamers will live in harmony.

I did mean console wars…

Over the last few years, the boundaries have softened. The big M (not McDonald’s) seem to have lowered the guard with crossplay, sharing their Minecraft brand and ultimately opening the doors for modding and all manner of shared experiences.

Both Sony and Nintendo embraced indies but it was the big N who shocked all with their IP’s going to mobile, both Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run thrived. Not to mention their IP crossover with Zelda + Dynasty Warriors and Mario + Rabbids have proven to be popular. Nintendo seemed to be following Microsoft’s lead by opening up their platforms.

That just left Sony to make a move and sure enough, they did. Sony is to publish games on PC and the Nintendo Switch.

Now before you PS4 fanboys kickoff, let’s look at the facts. It’s not like The Last of Us will be getting a Switch release. It’s more a separate publishing group that pushes indie games…

Who knows where it will end but it does seem like all majors are looking to a future where platforms are less important than IP’s.

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Wrong about VR

Last week I said Virtual Reality (VR) wasn’t the future.

I was wrong.

VR is an experience. Imagine watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi in VR?

The scenes and story unfolding around you. With 3D sound and crystal clear fidelity. It would be unlike any experience… That could be the future of VR. Epic, but sporadic.

My perspective changed while experiencing Everest VR. My mind flipped. VR isn’t for the day-to-day. It’s not going to overtake gaming, or education, or training. It’s just a branch of our digital future.

VR will forever be held back by price, complexity, and fidelity. For sure, these factors will improve but that curve, to achieve mainstream will forever put VR behind Augmented Reality (AR).

However, where AR is for the day-to-day mundane. VR is for the epic moments.

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The future of technology, not just gaming

Virtual Reality (VR) was the killer product in the not so distant past.  The idea behind Oculus excited more than just gamers. Educators, scientists, and creators flocked behind the idea and like any movement, investor hitched upon its back turning possibility into reality.

So… now we can see where VR stands, let’s be honest, it’s not exactly at the forefront of any development agenda – worst still, it’s not on many consumers wishlists. It’s bulky, it’s restrictive, it’s often nauseating, and worst still, it’s not all that exciting once the head tilt and warp-to-position mechanics are grown tired of.

VR could come to fruition once prices drop and technology matches expectations. Yet, long before that happens another technology, far more useful and interesting has leaped up into the periphery of educators, scientists, creators, and investors…

Augmented Reality (AR).

Why will this catch on, where VR failed to ignite?

Firstly, AR is accessible. It’s via your phone.

Secondly, AR is familiar. It’s like using your phone as a camera.

Thirdly, AR is all about the software. Granted, older devices can’t use ARkit but consumers change phones like they change socks, so ARkit ready devices will become common.

Finally, AR is useful. From scanning barcodes in a supermarket to check if a product is cheaper elsewhere through to interior design, placing digital furniture in your home to see how it looks before you buy it… The skies are literally the limits with AR.

AR is 100% the future. Whether you want more digital in your life or not, it’s going to happen – mostly because Apple has decided such.

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Unfamiliarity killed the cat

What is it with this player versus boss genre?

I get it, gaming is in a rat race of simplification and everything pre-gratification is expendable. Imagine Metroid Prime without all the exploration and only the boss battles… Yeah, it’s not as good is it BUT that reduction is where we’re headed.

Just look at Absolver, a game where the bulk of the world is empty beyond players a) wanting to gank you or b) wanting to team up to easy-mode a boss. And more often than not, b) is followed by a) anyway.

It’s empty. Yet players flocked to it because who doesn’t want to learn kung fu.

The problem for Absolver is not that it’s difficult, but the player behavior and fighting system have a learning curve.

Therefore the initial flock thinned, and ultimately the game is spiraling downwards in terms of popularity. The same was true for the Ubisoft game For Honor.

When players can’t be the winner via familiar actions they get turned off.

This is why players don’t get turned off by the challenge in Hotline Miami, Cup Head and Dark Souls.  Familiarity.

What we know is that Death by Game Show, which was challenging, failed to get traction despite having short levels, instant replay value, and countless rewards. It had the ingredients but was unfamiliar to players and despite the market demanding “unique” or “innovative” products, consumers no longer connect when something is unfamiliar.

This is, without doubt, the fall off from mobile gaming culture.  Everything must be obvious and gratifying.

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Everything is getting political

The NFL is under a political spotlight and it’s fragmenting an audience who wants sport.

This is the crescendo of a scenario bubbling up since Colin Kaepernick kneeled last season for the 49ers. This is a reaction to President Trump’s speech not a melding of minds and opinion.

Most NFL teams thought they could ignore this like they ignored signing Kaepernick in the offseason. Let this sink in, “no one signed him because of the inevitable political media spotlight that would follow…”

Ironically, they are all now in that spotlight due to President Trump’s speech.

This is where media agenda takes control.

While in the spotlight it’s very easy for the media to spin your actions positively or negatively, it’s dealers (media) choice. They have the news feeds, they have the social media reach and work together to share talking points (fact). Get on the wrong side and it’s pretty much game over.

So, how is this relevant to gaming?

The gaming media is biased, driven by revenue and popularity. Remember, during GamerGate, we saw just how broken some of the gaming media was, perhaps (and probably) still is.

This is relevant because, in the next 3-5 years, it will likely be revealed how many gaming companies are using gambling mechanics to addict and manipulate those below the legal age of gambling, without warnings.

When this revelation grips the west, specifically parents of kids who are glued to their iPhones and iPads everything will explode. The entire gaming industry will be put under a spotlight.

The question is, when the gaming media has already proven itself to be biased, all about revenue and popularity, is it wise leaving the spotlight shining to them?

It’s kind of like when the NFL investigated the entire concussion scenario…

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Come on Indies, think it through

Sometimes, success should be kept under your hats indies. In particular, the success you’re having on Switch.

You may not realize this but every blog or article wrote saying “Switch rocks! Our games selling amazing, best of all platforms!” is another bat light being turned on, calling every developer to the party. Generous but ultimately suicidal.

You may take solace in the openness you have shown.  Yet, that solace will turn to burning hate as the publishers arrive.  Publishers whose solitary goal is to milk Switch users like big fat cows until empty, and you’ve just sent out the bat signal calling them… Bravo!

Those words even whispered will cause a thousand publishers ears prick up and singularly think (as there is only one brain) “let’s put our sh*t on Switch!”

So like on the Wii, Steam or XBox 360, where Indies initially thrived before the mass arrival of shovelware, clones and x.1 iteration culture. Oversaturation is now likely.  Meaning consumers get the TL: DR list of releases and ultimately gloss over before going to play whatever their friends are, what YouTubers have pushed or whatever IGN said was cool.

And so another avenue becomes clogged like an artery full of developers, marketers, and hacks.

Well done Indies.

Next up to be completely blocked like a public toilet will be AR.  At least that is what my spidey senses are saying (it’s a tingle more than a say).  Take care and muchos gracias.

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