You probably thought this would be a post about the Super Bowl, huh? Well, I couldn’t care less about that. But these are three news bits from the last week that I enjoyed and can all loosely be tied together with a football theme.


Image: Microsoft

I am so glad that most of the commercials for the Super Bowl end up online immediately, and in many cases, uploaded well ahead of the game itself. This means I didn’t need to watch the game itself to see arguably the best commercial of the lot.

I have enjoyed video games all of life. But I’ve probably never once given thought to how I would enjoy them if I wasn’t fortunate to have both hands and all ten fingers. I guess the closest I’ve come to experiencing anything remotely similar was the couple of times I’ve had an arm or wrist in a cast. These times forced me to improvise, but they were temporary.

Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller for Xbox One allows just about anyone to play video games they never thought possible. And the world is so much better for it. We are already living in a world where there is a wider range of games made by the most diverse group of game developers. Now we are entering a world where more people can play and enjoy those games as well.

It’s a beautiful, uplifting piece. I, for one, am looking forward to the games these kids grow up to make themselves.


Now let’s switch gears from American football to real Football.

I was an impressionable youth in the early nineties when the Premier League was formed. I saw mostly highlights but I was drawn to flashy, winning teams. Manchester United was the only team for me after the first season.

Players come and go, but few become Legends with a capital “L.” Ole Gunner Solskjaer is right up there with the very best Man United Legends. I loved watching him play, most of the time coming on as a substitute. He quickly grew a reputation for changing games on their head. There was an air of excitement when you saw him standing on the touchline, readying himself to enter the match. And we’ll always have Barcelona.

In this interview with the now caretaker manager of Manchester United, he reveals that he played nearly as much football manager games as he spent playing actual football. He even credits playing the game with how he approaches managing a real team to this day, especially how he evaluates and treats youth players.

In many cases I feel that it would be hard to reliably translate skills you pick up in a video game to real life, but strategy and simulation games such as Football Manager are researched and developed to such high accuracy and complexity that they force the player to make similar decisions that would face an actual Premier League manager. It is not impossible to fathom a future where a professional manager is not bred from literally playing at the highest level on the pitch but rather one who played Football Manager on the highest difficulty.

It almost makes me feel good about all time spent playing games throughout my life. Unfortunately, my chance of managing Manchester United is slim to none at this point.


This last news piece only relates to football in that it takes a look back at gaming industry revenues for the last fifty years, or roughly for about as long as the Super Bowl has been played.

The graph itself tells a fascinating history of the industry. You can see the initial rise and dominance of Arcades in the seventies. The console boom and crash of the mid-eighties. Which leads into the long resurgence of consoles and handhelds through the nineties. And with the arrival of mobile gaming the early 2000’s, the industry has continued to grow to new heights year after year.

The Bloomberg article itself is not all roses as it focuses on the last few years of stagnation and decline in the overall health of the industry, citing, ” China’s stricter approach to game approvals, a shortage of big console hits, and fatigue among players for battle-royale titles like Fortnite” for the down turn.

The first point is probably to blame for the decline in overall revenues due to the sheer size of China’s potential market, consoles and handheld systems, which are far more popular outside of China, appear to be largely flat year over year. I would also agree to some extent that there have been somewhat fewer “huge” games, or maybe there have just been more titles with huge expectations that have released only to miss their intended mark (cough… Fallout ’76… cough…).

That being said, one could point to Red Dead Redemption 2’s achieving the second largest entertainment opening weekend ever or how Super Smash Bros. Ultimate became the fastest selling game in Nintendo’s history in less than a month. You could also argue that Fortnite fatigue is a bit overstated when you see that more than 10 million players gathered concurrently to watch a Marshmello concert in game.

There’s no denying that the industry is struggling in the short term – large, AAA companies like EA and Activision are struggling to find their footing as the industry changes around them, most companies are struggling to match the business of making games with quality of life issues, and the current console generation is nearing the end of its life cycle. But to me it seems more like we’ve stalled on an extended loading screen, waiting for the next great content to load in, and we can set off on our next great adventure.

Looking back at the games I played in 2018

But even that comes with the caveat. The world may be a dumpster fire but people making games should not be killing themselves to bring them to market. It makes no difference if you are working 100 hour-weeks building the biggest game ever made or working on a your personal seven year passion project one while accumulating debt and no access to affordable health care, people should be able to work in reasonable and more sustainable environments.

That being said, each year continues to deliver better and better experiences for players. There are more options across more genres every day. So much so, that I hardly found enough time to play even a small fraction of games I wanted to play, read about, or listened to lively debate on various podcasts. There are massive games like Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, and Marvel’s Spider-man that are still in my queue. And even more smaller games adding to that pile of shame – Dead Cells, Donut County, Florence, Obra Dinn, and Ashen to name a few.

Games I Loved

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Rebellion

Kassandra views a sunset
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is beautiful even when streaming the game.

Since I first stepped into the Animus with the debut of the series in 2007, I have been a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. No matter how the series has evolved, the core concept of exploring a sci-fi historical world with the ability to stealth murder anyone at anytime was so satisfying (though I could do less with forays into the naval elements).

Last year’s Origins was a fantastic return to form from the latest entries in the series, and Odyssey just about improves upon that game in about every way. Like Bayek, Kassandra is a fantastic character and the game gives the player the ability to flesh her out in their own way (for the most part). The Greek Isles were beautifully rendered. Gameplay was smooth and tight. The story was wonderfully bizarre, funny, and engrossing at the same time. I spent more than seventy hours in this world.

All this, and I streamed the entire game.

I was able to play the entire game without downloading a single MB via Google’s Project Stream Beta test. My overall experience was one of glowing satisfaction. There were occasional slow downs and artifacting, but I have to say, if this is a test of how games will be delivered in the future, I’m here for it.

If there is anything to gripe about the game for me, it is its slow turn from stealth action game to Action RPG. Gone is the ability to stalk your prey and dispatch them from a hay bale. However, there was another Assassin’s Creed experience released this year that did provide that stealth rush, Rebellion.

And it’s a mobile game.

And while progression through the game is so heavily gated with experience points, timers, power scores, and resources so as to be a microtransaction nightmare, when you actually get into the game and stab an enemy from a hay bale, it is so good. I would have loved to see a one time purchase that could have doubled progression speed which was used to great effect in Odyssey. As it is, the game is a grind that borders on masochistic if you’re not willing to shell out the cash to get those numbers up higher faster. I just want to murder fools from a hay bale.

Ubisoft is skipping this year as they did a couple of years ago which resulted in the great Origins game. Hopefully they can use this time to learn from every iteration of the game to make the build on this year’s games and create the best game in the series yet.

Subnautica

Subnautica game play
Base building in Subnautica is satisfying, just be sure to reinforce your walls.

Polygon did a great video where they reviewed the top fifty games of the year in seven words or less. Their review of Subnautica was spot on: “Super chill… until it’s super not.”

I have always loved a good survival game. I’ve spent dozens if not hundreds of hours in games like Minecraft, Don’t Starve, and No Man’s Sky. But they’ve all lacked one thing for me – a proper driving force or narrative beyond just surviving. (No Man’s Sky was improved by the Next expansion, but was so repetitive as to turn me off the game eventually.) Indie game classic Miasmata provided a bit of this with the goal of finding a cure for your sickness and avoiding the beast. The Flame in the Flood also strived to push the player forward beyond just surviving but world was a bit too disconnected making the grind for resources as much luck as anything else.

Subnautica bucks this trend by providing a mystery that is slowly revealed as you delve deeper and deeper into the depths of its oceans. You still have to manage your hunger and thirst, gather resources, and manufacture tools to explore what’s beyond the murky depths hundreds of meters below the surface. But the player is driven by finding the next upgrade that allows you to explore further and get closer to escaping this planet’s grasp.

I’m looking forward to getting more experiences that force you to survive and yet weave that through a narrative experience that gives the player purpose to survive in those worlds rather than just succumb to its elements.

Celeste

Celeste gameplay
Man, Celeste’s art is gorgeous.

Mental health is an issue that plagues more people than we will probably ever truly understand. Western society, especially in the United States, is built on our insecurities and anxieties. I myself have felt crushing depression at times in my life. Imposter syndrome is a very real thing.

Celeste is the first game to have moved me this much since Journey from thatgamecompany.

Everything about the game is beautiful – the classic graphic style, stunning soundtrack by Lena Raine, exquisitely tuned mechanics. But the metaphorical and literal story it tells about Madeline and her journey up the mountain named Celeste are what make game stand out above its peers.

Play this game as soon as possible if you have not already.

Games Everyone Else Seemed to Like But Me

Into the Breach

Into the Breach game play
Into the Breach is impenetrable for me so far…

I’ve listened to many hours of glowing praise for Into the Breach on the various podcasts I listen to. It appears on nearly every top ten list I’ve read. I just can’t get it.

It’s been described as a puzzle game more so than an RTS, but something about it hasn’t clicked with my brain. FTL never clicked for me either. Maybe the games from Subset are just not for me.

I only recently picked it up and so I may not have given it enough time, so I’ll keep coming back to it for the time being. But for now, I don’t see it as the transcendent game experience I’ve heard described over and and over again.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Link battles Ridley in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I guess I need to unlock the Red Suit for Link before returning to the volcano in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

As with RTS games, fighting games have never been a first choice for me, especially the Smash series. That’s not to say that don’t like them; I hold Street Fighter II as one of my favorite games of all time. But it’s something about the chaotic nature of Smash or that you have to push a button to jump that turns me off. I have too much muscle memory from other games to get into the gameplay.

I also think the UI, especially the Main Menu, is a mess. It took me forever to find the story mode. A basic tutorial would be nice as well.

I’ll keep playing it with my son as he loves it. It is a blast to jump into a local multiplayer match with him even if I don’t know what I’m doing. He’s well on the way to unlocking the bajillion characters and stickers. Eventually he’ll be able to teach me how to play better.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to crush him in Street Fighter (while I still can).

Looking forward to 2019

This new year is already off to a great start. This month I’ve played the delightful Pikuniku from Devolver Digital. I am also looking forward to trying out the Resident Evil 2 Remake and then Anthem next month. Until next time!

1
Better Than Heaps of Plastic

The week started off with an unexpected announcement for the Nintendo Labo, DIY cardboard peripherals for the Switch. I’m pretty excited to play with these, other people were not. I think in the end, level heads see this as something that can only be good for the industry as a whole.

The medium is better and more interesting because Nintendo has remained in hardware. That Switch’s success means Nintendo may be emboldened to try seemingly off-the-wall ideas should make us more excited about its future.
-Patrick Klepek, Waypoint

Never stop being you Nintendo!

Oh, and it’s being released on 4/20 for $69. We see what you did there, Nintendo.


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Costs Go Up, Revenue Goes?

The Cost of Games
Raph Koster, game designer and essayist, provides a thorough break down of the rising development costs and compares it to expected revenue from players over the last couple of decades. His conclusions are based on admittedly limited data set but, spoiler alert, it doesn’t paint a great outlook for the sustainability for our industry.

To the players out there: I know none of the above is stuff you necessarily want to hear. Trust me, a lot of it is not stuff developers want to hear either. If you want to preserve the games you love, you can help by not pirating, by supporting developers, by not tearing them down on social media and calling them inept greedy bastards, and most of all by just understanding the landscape.

And if you are a developer, the best advice I can give you is this… this world isn’t fully here now, but the trends are pretty dramatic in my opinion.

-Raph Koster

Koster does offer some tough, long term predictions and potential solutions. The next decade won’t be easy but the some change will be absolutely necessary.


3
Steam Rolled

I admit that I love Steam. But it’s not perfect. However, if you think something else is going to come along and replace it, you might want to read this first.


4
AdvertiserTube

Trying to make a career as a YouTube personality has never been easy. Now, after a series of high profile incidents, YouTube is changing the requirements for who can be in their Partner Program. It might sting a bit for the smaller creators out their but as many wise people have said:

If you are not paying for the service, you are the product.


5
Mobile first, mobile first, mobile first

Google is not having slow loading sites in mobile search.


6
Which End Are We At?

the_end_of_the_rainbow

Started the post with some unexpected gold from Nintendo and ended with brilliant, yet bizarre, gold from xkcd, which was inspiration for this week’s headline. See you next week!

When I first started at Mattel, I started a report on the latest news and trends in the digital space. It quickly expanded and had about 50 people from across the company subscribing. It ended up being officially shuttered when I included an article that was cited as evidence by someone outside our group for something my group should be doing.

I really enjoyed the process and continued the report in my spare time. I moved it to a tumblr blog and quickly earned over 100 followers. Not too shabby for side hobby!

I continued doing it for the next two years.

Over time I learned a great deal from the experience but I also found the blog’s growth stagnating. I wasn’t promoting the report in any way and the topics I covered probably too broad for the platform (tumblr thrives on the niche). In the end, I became too busy to continue support and let the site lie dormant for the last year.

But now it’s a new year and it feels like the time is right to start it up again. Look forward to posts right here on my new website.

And if you are interested, the old tumblr blog can be found here.