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Casual Friday: February 24th, 2017

 

Hi! Yup, it’s me again. Dom. I know it seems like it’s been a while.

 

I’m back with a new edition of Casual Friday for February 24th, where I round up the week’s most recent and relevant news to give a quick commentary. This week the companies featured are Nintendo, Koei Tecmo, Sony and Microsoft. Take a load off, keep it casual!

 

 

It’s hard to believe that the newest console from Nintendo ($NTDOY), the Switch, is out just a week from now next Friday, March 3rd. But it’s true, it’s around the corner and that means previews of the console-handheld hybrid itself plus its launch games such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2 Switch are starting to pop up. While we won’t get full reviews on the Switch until next Wednesday, March 1st or Zelda until next Thursday, March 2nd, we do know the early impressions are somewhat mixed on the hardware.

 

The concept of the Switch is awesome: a device that you can dock at home to play games on your TV, then bring on the go as a handheld gaming device. But according to previews and hands-on impressions, the execution is where it’s lacking so far leading me to believe the launch of the system is a bit premature. The reason? I think it’s that Nintendo wants to release it before fiscal year-end in March, before which the company has stated it will ship 2 million units. All hardware launches are messy, granted, but the Switch is being bogged down by a number of concerns: lackluster launch line-up apart from Zelda, technical issues with its “Joy-Con” controllers, no Virtual Console at launch (a service where gamers can download and play classic Nintendo games) and lastly, certain aspects of its online services will not be available right away.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for the console and will personally be a day-one buyer. I just feel that Nintendo is soft-launching the Switch hardware around its financial calendar, which is causing some features to be non-existent and lots of games are still in development. Good news is that I fully expect the console to look a whole lot better come holiday season later this year.

 

 

In very upbeat news, Japanese publisher Koei Tecmo ($3635) shared that its latest samurai action game Nioh has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide in just its first two weeks on sale. This is great news for the publisher of games like Dynasty Warriors and Ninja Gaiden, the latter of which being made by Team Ninja, the same team responsible for Nioh. You’ll also recognize the Tecmo name from classic sports titles like Tecmo Bowl during the late 80’s. Nioh features action and role-playing elements and is lauded (or cursed, by some) for its very challenging difficulty, pitting the main character William against tough human enemies and supernatural bosses during a trek across 1600s war-torn, Sengoku-era Japan.

 

There are a number of reasons I find this number quite impressive. First, the game is a PlayStation 4 exclusive title and a brand new IP for Koei Tecmo in somewhat of a niche genre. Also, the game is almost entirely in Japanese and its story is communicated via subtitles. Lastly and arguably most notably, Koei Tecmo totally underestimated how much demand there would actually be for this game as it based physical shipments on pre-order figures. This is proven by the firm openly acknowledging that retailers do not have stock. Even the game’s Amazon listing has shown a one to two-month shipping target for the past week or so. I can’t recall the last time that’s happened for any game!

 

What that means is this sales figure could have been even higher if more physical copies were available. Especially in Japan, where in a show of goodwill, the company offered a discount on the digital version if you were to purchase it in lieu of a physical disc.

 

 

 

As you can see, it’s quite a busy time for tech and gaming in particular. In other big gaming news, Sony ($SNE) and its internal studio Guerilla Games is releasing sprawling open-world action title Horizon: Zero Dawn next week and it’s been getting rave reviews. Horizon is another PlayStation 4 exclusive title, set in a world where humans have reverted back to tribal ways and now coexist with technologically-advanced animals of all kinds. It features a strong female protagonist named Aloy (not the most “traditional” name, I know) that is trying to find the origins of both her people and the mysterious, mechanical creatures.

 

Reviewers have compared Horizon to games like Tomb Raider, as both star leading ladies with bad-ass bow-and-arrows, or even RPGs like Witcher 3 in that they are set in beautiful, lush open worlds. Friends at Super Data predict that the title could sell around 8 million copies over its life span, but I actually think it could reach almost that amount just this year IF Sony bundles Horizon with a version of its newest console version the PlayStation 4 Pro. Which it would be silly not to, honestly.

 

Think about a triple-A console exclusive such as Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which has sold roughly 8.7 million copies since its release mid-last year. Granted that’s an entry in a well-established series, while Horizon is a new brand, but I still think it proves there is huge upside for a great exclusive within Sony’s ecosystem. Especially since I predict there will be at least 60 million PlayStation 4’s sold by this year’s end, if not more, I believe Horizon can eclipse 7 million in a year’s time implying roughly 11% of PS4 owners have bought the game. Not an unrealistic amount.

 

 

And now to wrap things up, let’s briefly chat on Sony’s main competitor this generation, Microsoft $MSFT. The firm’s Xbox brand has announced its Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) briefing will take place on Sunday, June 11th at 2 pm Pacific/5 pm Eastern. Now, I tend to place less stock in the importance of public press conferences than other gamers, but even I admit it’s a big opportunity for Microsoft to tell us a lot about the future of its Xbox hardware family, Project Scorpio.

 

It’s no secret Xbox One is not selling as well as the PlayStation 4 this generation. Or that gaming revenues have declined recently for the firm overall. But I still think there is a lot of brand recognition and confidence behind Xbox, and it’s crucial to maintain healthy competition in the console gaming market. Microsoft’s online gaming service Xbox Live user base is up 15% since mid-2015 to 55 million active players despite being the lagging console in terms of hardware sales. Plus, sales are gaining within gaming software and services businesses, with digital game transactions hitting $1 billion for the first time in its history during 2016’s second financial quarter.

 

Additionally, the Xbox division under Phil Spencer’s leadership has placed user-friendly efforts of backwards compatibility (where you can play older games on the Xbox One) and cross-play across console and PC in the forefront. Sure, these types of features don’t necessarily sell consoles, but it’s crucial for Xbox to continue providing fan service in the interim before its (expected) big reveal of Scorpio in June at this E3 presentation. And I think it will be just that: a big reveal that will reinforce my confidence that Xbox can remain a viable competitor in the console space.

 

What are your thoughts on upcoming gaming hardware in Nintendo Switch or Project Scorpio? Have you played Nioh? Do you plan on trying out Horizon: Zero Dawn? Feel free to comment or chat on Twitter, and enjoy your weekend!

 

-Dom

 

Sources: Nintendo, Koei Tecmo Twitter, Sony, Open Critic, Super Data, Microsoft, Xbox Twitter

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Casual Friday: August 19th, 2016

IntelIntel-ligent Virtual Reality Move

 

To kick off this week’s Casual Friday, Intel Corporation (INTC) has announced it is working on a virtual reality device called Project Alloy. “Sigh, another VR device” you might say. But the intelligent part is that Project Alloy is an all-in-one VR platform, wireless and standalone as opposed to most other devices on the market or in concept today that require wired connections to a separate computer. Above is a shot of INTC’s Craig Raymond debuting the company’s brainchild at a conference it hosted this week.

You can find full details at the link above, but the reason I want to share is that I’m a known skeptic on the mainstream appeal of traditional VR especially for gaming applications. I don’t think it will be popular until it can be self-contained, compact and wireless. Even a sort of Augmented Reality (AR)/VR hybrid that resembles a pair of goggles or glasses. This is a long way off, I understand, but Project Alloy is the direction in which VR needs to move if it wants to be sustainable as a mass market product. Whether it will emerge as the leader in the VR space, I cannot say, but I like what INTC is doing here.

 

MH GenerationsNintendo’s Monstrous Month

 

Nintendo Co Ltd (7974), a regular at Working Casual, had a great July. On the back of Pokemon Go fever here in the States, Nintendo announced that its 3DS handheld was the top-selling gaming system last month and also 5 of the top 11 best-selling games are playable on the company’s platforms, including the top-selling Monster Hunter: Generations (featured in the artwork above) developed by Capcom Co Ltd (9697). This was according to the NPD Group, the foremost authority on the U.S. games market and sales.

The 3DS family of handhelds sold 80% more this year than the same time last year, an impressive stat given the latest installment was released in early 2015 in this region. I will note that the summer is an especially slow time for the gaming industry, and this past July was no exception as there were no notable blockbuster games released. Still, it’s a good sign for Nintendo that it can release a mobile game based on one of its storied franchises and sell other products to consumers as a result.

 

Metal Gear SurviveThis Is How Metal Gear Survives?

 

In other Japanese gaming company news, Konami Holdings Corp (9766) has revealed the next installment in the long-running Metal Gear franchise and the first to be released after the departure of series creator Hideo Kojima. It’s called Metal Gear Survives, and it’s a.. science-fiction cooperative stealth spin-off game with zombies?

I don’t know what else to say, really. The series is a legendary part of gaming history, love it or hate it, and fans and critics alike had their doubts about how it would *survive* without Kojima’s oversight. But I don’t think anyone predicted this direction of a multiplayer-only spin-off game. I assume it will be priced more like say Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which cost $30 at release, but then again knowing Konami, I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if it was stubborn enough to charge full price. Cost aside, I don’t think it’s a make-or-break for the Metal Gear franchise, but it’s a telling sign of the direction the games will take now.

 

FFXVWill This Be The Final Delay?

 

The focus on Asian companies in this week’s Casual Friday continues, as Square Enix Holdings Co (9684) announced yet another delay of its decade-in-the-making game Final Fantasy XV. Originally slated for a September 30th release, the firm said the latest release in its Final Fantasy series will come out on November 29th.

Reasoning given was that it needs extra polish and Square Enix wants to avoid the need for a large day-one update to put features in late. Still, it’s absolutely astounding that a game announced way back in 2006 is still not ready. Square Enix also said in an official statement that the delay would not impact its financial year ending next March, so it maintains its current estimates of $2.5 to 2.7 billion in revenue and $270 – 330 million in operating profit for 2017.

 

(Disclosure: I own INTC stock. But as always, my articles are not investment advice nor should be used in investment decisions.)

-Dom

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Casual Friday: August 12th, 2016

No Man's Sky Art

It’s Lonely Out There For No Man’s Sky

I would be remiss to not start this week’s installment of Casual Friday without first mentioning the game that every tech nerd and casual gamer alike is talking about: Hello Games’ space exploration survival-epic No Man’s Sky. It launched this past Tuesday on Sony Corp (6758)’s PlayStation 4 (PS4), and on PC today, to a variety of opinions after a crazy amount of hype since its reveal back at the VGX Awards in 2013.

Now I’m no reviewer, but I admit I’ve been playing and generally enjoying my time in the vast universe of No Man’s Sky. It’s not a game for everyone, though. Which is why it’s suffered from mixed messaging about its nature as a single-player vs multi-player experience (apparently it’s only the former), Sony throwing huge marketing power behind it then not offering advanced review copies for media outlets, its full-price tag despite being a game developed by a smaller indie studio and many gamers expecting it to be the “only game you’ll ever buy again” based on its promise of offering the ability to explore a world with 18 quintillion planets filled with wildlife and resources galore.

Time will tell how successful it will be, both critically and financially. The initial indication is that reviews are skewing toward the negative, but so many people are playing it that I can’t help but think my sales estimate of 1.5 to 1.75 million units sold is ultimately attainable.

Xbox One

Xbox (Is Number) One!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Microsoft Corp (MSFT)’s Xbox business. Last week, the tech giant released a slimmer, updated version of its latest console dubbed the Xbox One S after cutting the price of its original Xbox One model to $249 (the console launched in 2013 at a cost twice that amount). It seems this aggressive price cut has impacted sales, as the Xbox One became the best-selling home console in the U.S. during July 2016 based on a report by the NPD Group. This is the first month that the Xbox One has led its major competitor, Sony’s PS4, since its win in October 2015 around the launch of Halo 5.

 

Sony Invite

PlayStation Meeting.. PS4 Neo Reveal?

Speaking of home consoles and updated versions, news dropped this week by way of VICE Gaming and Gameblog that Sony Corp is to reveal a new iteration of its industry-leading PS4 home console next month. The company has sent invitations to a PlayStation event taking place at its PlayStation Theater in New York City on September 7th. The project, nicknamed “Neo,” will be featured at this event and is expected to have upgraded specifications and enable 4K gaming.

Note there are 43.5 million PS4’s in the wild as of the end of this past June.

NVIDIA

NVIDIA Is Stackin’ Chips

Semiconductor manufacturer NVIDIA Corporation (NVDA) reported record quarterly sales of $1.43 billion this week, beating analyst expectations on a 9% jump since last quarter and 24% increase since last year. The firm, whose chips are widely used in gaming applications in addition to Artificial Intelligence and self-driving cars, showed profit growth of 29% since last quarter and triple-digits since last year! Gaming makes up a little more than half of its overall sales, and the company’s results were driven by its new “Pascal” chip series released this year as part of its future road map.

The company’s stock is the 2nd-best performing within the U.S. market benchmark S&P 500 index over the past year, growing 166% over this time frame as of last night’s price. Not a bad investment, I’d say!

 

DeNA

Nintendo LogoDeNA & Nintendo Sittin’ In A Tree..

Japanese mobile and social media company DeNA Co Ltd (2432) divulged some details of its partnership with Nintendo Co Ltd (7974) during the former’s earnings this week. DeNA said that mobile titles in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem game series are expected to release this upcoming fall, and that in total the firms have five different mobile games planned to release before May 2017 in hopes of creating medium-to-long term sustainable profits.

Nintendo will of course handle development and marketing of these games, while DeNA will handle infrastructure and back-end support services. Nintendo will cover all marketing costs. As a result, the firms will split revenue from these releases but we don’t know what the split will be just yet. DeNA expects contributions from this alliance during its 2016 fiscal year, which ends next May, so we can safely expect the same for Nintendo.

Alibaba

Alibaba vs SEC: Fight!

Lastly, yesterday Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba Group (BABA) had its best quarterly sales growth since its public listing back in September 2014 on $4.84 billion in revenue and operating income of $1.3 billion. This resulted in its stock price soaring 7% in trading today, leading to a 20% increase year-to-date.

Still, there’s a dark cloud hanging over the company’s earnings in that the U.S. financial regulatory body the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating its accounting practices when it comes to reporting of one of its sales metrics, called Gross Merchandise Volume. Admittedly, I’m not quite sure exactly what this metric is, but Alibaba itself did not address the investigation so we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds.

Have a great weekend, folks!

-Dom

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Introducing: Casual Friday, August 5th, 2016

Casual Friday

 

Isn’t Friday just the best?

 

In honor of the greatest day of the week, I am happy to introduce a new weekly article series dubbed Casual Friday (of course)! During Casual Friday, I’ll make a few notes about items or stats or really just anything around the industries I cover that we might have missed during the busy week. I often post such tidbits on Twitter, but this is the best place to view them as it will be in a round-up fashion.

 

With that said, the highlights this week are as follows:

 

Titanfall Art

 

Electronic Arts (EA) CFO Blake Jorgensen said on the company’s earnings call this week that the original Titanfall game, released in 2014 on Xbox platforms, sold 7 million units. This sales figure was previously (incorrectly) reported as 10 million based on a tweet by Vince Zampella, studio head of developer Respawn Entertainment. Many like me had been waiting for a clarification on this number, especially leading into this fall when the sequel Titanfall 2 is set to release but this time on both Xbox and PlayStation platforms. Jorgensen says the firm expects 9-10 million units sold for the sequel.

 

Game of Thrones Poster

 

Time Warner (TWX) reported that Season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which debuted back in April, averaged 25 million viewers per episode. This is a record number for the show. For perspective, the company also said that Game 7 of the NBA Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder, which aired on their TNT network, was the most-viewed NBA telecast of all time on cable. It had 16 million viewers.

 

Overwatch Artwork

 

Activision Blizzard (ATVI) revealed what most industry followers and regular gamers already assumed: Blizzard’s new hero shooter Overwatch is a huge commercial success. Since its release only three months ago, the game has amassed 15 million players, which is the earliest that any Blizzard game has hit this milestone. These players have devoted around 500 million hours to the game, and the company estimates the game has raked in a half billion dollars so far.

 

Take Two Logo

 

In an interview with GameIndustry.biz, Take-Two Interactive Software (TTWO) CEO Strauss Zelnick said that the company’s guidance for 2017 does not include any contribution from Nintendo (7978)’s upcoming hardware, code-name “NX.” This implies that the company is not developing any launch titles for NX, as the console’s release date of March 2017 corresponds to the end of TTWO’s fiscal year. No mention of NX games in the pipeline beyond next March, either.

 

Total War Warhammer Art

 

Sega Sammy Holdings (6460) announced its Total War strategy game series has sold more than 20 million copies over its 16-year history. The latest title is this year’s Total War: Warhammer. And yes, it should have been called Total Warhammer, I agree. Golden opportunity, missed.

 

Pokemon Go SurveyMonkey Intelligence

 

And finally, it wouldn’t be an article in the summer of 2016 if I didn’t mention Pokemon GO! According to SurveyMonkey Intelligence, 63% of Pokemon GO players are women. Niantic & The Pokemon Company’s super-duper-megahit is most popular among folks ages 18-29, which comprise 46% of the game’s overall player base. Oh, and a Japanese Olympian racked up around $5,000 in data charges playing the game in Brazil. Now that’s addictive!

 

Any tidbits or topics that caught your eye this week? Leave a comment if so, and as a reminder you can now subscribe to email alerts by signing up in the sidebar to the right.

 

-Dom