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2017 Year-in-Review: Dom’s Top 10 Video Games of the Year

Here we go!

 

Since it’s been one of the best years for video games this generation, it was almost impossible to (1) rank my favorite games and (2) make sure that I include as many as possible that deserve recognition during such a competitive time. It was difficult, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to a ranked list of my top ten favorite titles then a five honorable mentions for your reading pleasure (or disdain, if you happen to disagree.)

 

One disclaimer of course is that I will be sharing screenshots and exposition that may contain spoilers. If you haven’t finished your most-anticipated games of 2017 then.. wait, why haven’t you finished them if they were your most-anticipated? Seriously though, fair warning that there may be spoilers starting.. Now.

 

1. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch.

Estimated Sales: At least 5 million units, based on around half of Switch owners purchasing it (there are 10 million consoles sold to date).

 

During a year in which Nintendo rebounded to achieve an array of accomplishments, its most relevant to me is fully rejuvenating the Mario franchise with this magical, exploratory open world 3D platformer. Super Mario Odyssey is a sprawling adventure of our favorite Italian plumber along with his new sidekick Cappy, and is a pure joy to play while “Cap-turing” enemies to take over their abilities and grabbing each one of its hundreds of collectibles. I’m left with the closest feeling possible to how I felt playing Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo Entertainment System during Christmas Day when I was little more than a toddler. Especially during a sequence in the city-themed Metro Kingdom that hearkens back to a timeless arcade title from the Japanese company.

 

It’s a game successfully split in two parts: The first tailored to a more casual audience wanting to experience the story of Mario attempting to save Peach from Bowser’s slimy grasp, this time under the guise of the villain kidnapping the Princess and planning their wedding on the Moon. Though by the end, I’d argue this is a distinctly clever take on the “traditional” Mario story. Princess Peach ends up dismissing the advances of both Mario and Bowser, in a wink-and-nod moment from the designers. Instead, she takes a trip of her own alongside Cappy’s sister Tiara, smartly bucking the tired trope of the damsel-in-distress we’ve seen her play since the 80s.

 

Then, the 2nd part is a surprising post-credits sequence targeting the most die-hard of completionists with brand new kingdoms plus a ton of puzzles and collectibles in existing areas. I’m treated to playing as Yoshi in the iconic Mushroom Kingdom, finding a theater in the Metro Kingdom with a playable version of the aforementioned Super Mario Bros and ended up conquering one of the most difficult levels in the franchise’s history. This final endeavor is a true delight, as it incorporates both platforming elements and the “Cap-turing” mechanic in fun, impressive ways.

 

If a video game that both tickles my nostalgia bone and stands as the pinnacle of its genre with new gameplay hooks, an unrivaled attention to detail and extreme polish doesn’t top my list, then I don’t know what does. It’s hard for me to find a glaring flaw with, except maybe that I wish Nintendo would hurry up and announce new future content (maybe a kingdom or two..) so I never have to leave the world of Super Mario Odyssey.

 

 

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Wii U.

Estimated Sales: Similar to above, more than 5 million units. Likely even more than Odyssey because of Breath of the Wild releasing earlier.

 

Nintendo’s rebound began in March with the release of its Switch console and *probably* my 2nd favorite mainline Zelda game ever behind Ocarina of Time. Breath of the Wild is an action-adventure starring familiar characters like the timeless hero Link and Princess Zelda is the epitome of the “emergent storytelling” buzzword, a label often bestowed but rarely achieved. It’s set in the fantastical world of Hyrule, again haunted by the dark force Ganon, and the wonderful part is the world is wide open after a brief tutorial area for the player to run, explore and (most importantly) climb everywhere they can see. It features beloved areas like Goron City, Rito Village, The Lost Woods and countless others complete with their respective cultures and characters.

 

Now it doesn’t have the most engaging story, and lacks traditional “dungeons” that certain fans will miss. But I believe it MORE than makes up for this with intricate gameplay systems and an array of puzzles (i.e. shrines, mazes and collectibles) that allow for personal, powerful moments. If I thought I could do something, I could. Like of course a metal object conducted electricity. Absolutely it’s hard to climb when it’s raining. See that snowy mountain? Better bundle up before scaling it! Plus I’d often be rewarded with a useful in-game item, and ultimately a feeling of child-like awe inspired by so few games these days.

 

Admittedly, I was skeptical of Breath of the Wild prior to release. I was hesitant on weapon degradation, limited stamina and the necessity to prepare for the weather or elements. But I ended up actually really enjoying these systems within the broader world because each forced me to try new things, improvise under duress and consider a variety of factors when fighting, exploring or facing puzzles. The game is downright magical, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

3. Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft Entertainment, Ubisoft Montreal)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: Hard to say. Launch sales were twice as much as 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, but that title had soft figures compared to others in history. It has almost 500K owners on Steam, but without specific console numbers I won’t speculate.

 

Ubisoft is another company that had a stellar year, and its best 2017 game is also its most important since it signaled a new direction for the decade-old Assassin’s Creed series. Set in Egypt around 50 BC during the occupation of Greek and Roman forces, Origins is hands-down the most beautiful game I played this year in terms of technical accomplishment and general art direction. (Note I played the Xbox One X Enhanced version. 4K, High Dynamic Range, all that). Not only that but it also implements a loot system where I’m constantly earning new gear with which to experiment, and its upgrade options allow me to spec my character in a way that aligned with my intended play style and equipment load-out.

 

Speaking of character, I appreciate that it leans into original ones more than historical figures this time. Though Cleopatra is a key part of the overarching narrative. The protagonist Bayek is a kind of super-cop of his era, while his wife Aya is more of a freedom fighter. Its characters are enriched by the story and especially its vastly improved side quests that build out Bayek’s legend. Mini-stories remind me of games like The Witcher 3 and Fallout in both their world-building and character development. In one such quest, an older man begs Bayek find a very important book that will allow his wife to pass safely into the afterlife. But when Bayek returns, the man has since passed away. Bayek is left to find the gentleman receiving last rites and in a bittersweet moment, he leaves the book alongside his body in hopes that it allows both him and his wife to rejoin each other in the world beyond.

 

My only knocks against the game is that the modern day sequences are not very engaging, and its huge map is daunting when you first enter the world. Even so, Origins has vaulted ahead of great entries such as the aforementioned Syndicate and even 2013’s Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag to settle as one of my top picks in the entire franchise, because it takes risks and distinguishes itself as being able to stand on its own merits while also connecting with the underlying lore.

 

 

 

4. Horizon Zero Dawn (Sony Interactive Entertainment, Guerilla Games)

Platforms: PlayStation 4.

Estimated Sales: At least 3.4 million units, near launch. I’d wager close to 4.5 – 5 million by now based on the PS4’s user base rocketing above 70 million consoles.

 

Horizon Zero Dawn is the first “brand new” game on my list, as Guerilla Games creates a post post-apocalyptic world in which a small group of people has reestablished tribal communities after barely surviving a major calamity. Cool twist is in the 31st century, the main relics of the past are actually massive, mysterious robot creatures that resemble real-life animals or dinosaurs and are super hostile to humans.

 

But alas, Aloy is the playable character here and she’s a bad-ass, bow-wielding hunter-gatherer with an ability to combat these crazy mechs and even interface with them using technology from millennia past. After her mentor is tragically killed, she sets out on a quest to see why she’s so special and what actually happened to humankind. It’s a gorgeous, majestic open world action game with a gripping narrative and varied combat encounters as enemies require different tactics to outsmart and overcome.

 

The reason Horizon is so good is it borrows elements from a variety of games within the 3rd person action and open world genres then integrates them into a setting that is pure eye candy. For instance, take “Cauldrons.” These are cool-looking underground areas featuring light puzzles and tough combat engagements. Picture lots of neon lighting and man-made structures combined with natural formations. Emerging victorious from each Cauldron allows Aloy the ability to control a new set of machines, tying back into the lore of the world while also advancing the player’s set of powers.

 

In the end, Horizon features two parallel story lines: A brewing tribal war, and Aloy’s search for her past and discovery of the ultimate fate of ancient humans. These both pay-off in a big way, marking one of the most memorable blends of gameplay and narrative of 2017.

 

 

5. Destiny 2 (Activision Blizzard, Bungie)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: Well over 6.3 million units, based on Activision announcing it has outsold its predecessor. Activision also noted it’s the 2nd highest-selling console game in North America this year based on dollar sales, behind only Call of Duty: WWII.

 

Rounding out my Top 5 is what began as my most-anticipated game of 2017, the sequel to Bungie’s 2014 shared world, multiplayer shooter Destiny. Let’s be frank: Anyone that knows me or reads my Twitter timeline already knows how much I love this sci-fi franchise, so it shouldn’t be a shock that this ranks as high as it does despite mixed reactions from critics and community alike.

 

Destiny 2 is not a perfect game. But it is among the best in the business at what it does well. It has a most amazing art design, especially its wonderful sky-boxes and stunning color pallet, which players can now enjoy in 4K on premium platforms and an uncapped frame rate on PC. It has an intense, entertaining campaign that vastly improved on the original game. Its character customization and equipment options are varied so that no two players look the same, and the feeling of snagging that one piece of loot you’ve been hoping for is always triumphant.  Its co-op activities, especially the high-level “strike” missions and its difficult six-person raid, are unlike anything you’ll see in a modern first-person shooter.

 

Though what really stands out and keeps me coming back is its stellar gameplay. Its moment-to-moment mechanics of moving through environments to encounter and take out enemies is the best of any shooter maybe of all time. I argue this is its most important feature, outweighing any trouble it has with stagnant progression, end-game incentives and weak player-vs-player competitive play in the “Crucible” game mode. Like I said, Destiny 2 has its fair share of issues, but it’s still my favorite game to play alongside friends and I keep returning to it months after initial release.

 

 

6. NieR: Automata (Square Enix, Platinum Games)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4.

Estimated Sales: 2 million units.

 

I didn’t expect to even play Platinum Games’ follow-up to its cult hit NieR until I tried its short demo, available shortly before release. But this odd, way out-there action game with elements of JRPGs, arcade shooters and bullet hell genres stands out in a competitive year mostly because of its magnificent soundtrack, unique structure and absolutely outrageous story that forced me to contemplate the very nature of existence and what it means to be “alive.”

 

Deep stuff, I know. But when a game takes place in a distant future where androids, created by humans, are locked in a perpetual battle with machines, created by ancient aliens, you know it’s going to go places. And go places it does. I don’t want spoil too much, but what NieR: Automata does so well is it tells its overarching story from the perspective of multiple protagonists: Androids with “designations” like 2B, 9S and A2 instead of actual names. The androids and machines of this future world are mostly fighting each other, true, but are also learning about themselves and the world as this fight wages on. It shows how the created begin to take on characteristics of their creators, and what happens when these artificial intelligences begin to discover what, and eventually “who,” they actually are.

 

Some of the knocks against the game are it isn’t the prettiest-looking (and it ain’t), its map is a jumbled mess, its systems are opaque and the second “act” drags on because the player is revisiting a major story line from the first but in a slightly different way. This is why it’s not higher on my list. And it’s so difficult to talk about the genius of NieR: Automata without doing a full analysis of its story and themes, but suffice to say that if you are into games with killer soundtracks or narratives that weave themes of philosophy, science, AI and existentialism, then you will dig the heck out of this one.

 

 

7. Cuphead (Studio MDHR)

Platforms: PC, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: 2 million units.

 

Since Cuphead’s reveal during E3 of 2014, I had been using the same (bad) running joke: Whenever someone brought up the game, I’d say “Believe it when I see it. And I don’t think I’ll ever see it.” Think about it: A super ambitious, hand-drawn title using the animation style of a 1930’s cartoon being developed by a tiny studio run by a family that had never commercially released a game. A niche Microsoft exclusive showed at every trade show for years, rumored as nothing but an onslaught of very challenging boss fights in a two-dimensional play area. Then, it was updated to include platforming levels that felt “tacked on” by those that saw them behind closed doors. Plus, for a long while, there was no release date in sight.

 

Boy am I glad that I was wrong, as were those that previewed those early builds, now that it’s hit the market. Sibling tag-team of Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, along with help from Chad’s wife Maja and others at Studio MDHR, have made one of the most extraordinary video games I’ve ever played. A run-and-gun platformer that literally looks and feels like a cartoon made during the time between the Great Depression and World War II. Yes, it’s still mostly an onslaught of bosses with a handful of collectible platforming levels scattered between. But it *works*. Each foes is expertly-crafted and animated with such nuance and skill that I’m still in awe it exists. Plus it has a snappy overworld, a multitude of weapon types and purchasable power-ups allowing different styles depending if a player wants more health or the ability to teleport. And it’s music.. Spectacular. Imagine an epic boss battle amidst a backdrop of an iconic jazz or bouncy swing tunes playing live as you methodically dismantle your opponent.

 

Its main downside is the barrier to entry is high, as many players will be turned off by its difficulty including an especially frustrating sequence right before the final encounter. However for those that are fine failing over and over again just to experience that one moment of monumental triumph, Cuphead is best-in-class.

 

 

 

8. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (Bluehole/PUBG Corporation, Microsoft Studios, Tencent)

Platforms: Mobile, PC, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: 30 million units. (And it will probably be, like, at least a million more by the time you read this.)

 

Here it is. Better or worse, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG for short) is the biggest story in gaming this year. And it wasn’t even a full commercial release until just a week ago, spending the bulk of 2017 in a preview mode on PC. It’s even still an “early access” title on Xbox One. The battle royale, Hunger Games-style multiplayer game that started as a mod for survival games is a phenomenon because of its simple yet elegant premise: One hundred players parachute out of an airplane onto an island full of weapons and armor, and the last person standing wins.

 

You might say: “That’s not original! I’ve seen this before!” And you’d be right. It’s one of many in the battle royale, last man standing genre. But I’d argue why PUBG is so beloved (and hated, by its detractors) and ultimately successful is a much more nuanced discussion. It’s a game going for realism, but its charm actually lies in its rough edges and “jank.” Its natural pacing is impeccable, as players experience the endorphin rush of a good loot game every single match between moments of high intensity and much-needed recovery. Its combat is very difficult to master, which means every successful kill feels like a victory in and of itself and an actual victory feels like bliss.

 

Similarly, every mode echoes a different genre: Solo play is a stealth-action horror game, where death can be behind any corner.. or bathroom door. Duos becomes an intricate, technical tango between two players calling out drops and enemy locations. And squads mode is a frantic, fast-paced feud of four-person teams. PUBG offers something for every type of competitive player, and its “circle” mechanic where the map slowly shrinks forces the action no matter the mode, resulting in memories and YouTube videos galore.

 

From a technical standpoint, PUBG has a long way to go. It only has two maps on PC, and just one on Xbox. It crashes and drops connections regularly on console, to a maddening effect. Though it has a solid foundation in place, and an addictive gameplay loop can hold players over until its tech is cleaned up and more variety is offered in terms of map locations. Here’s to your next Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!

 

 

 

9. What Remains of Edith Finch (Annapurna Interactive, Giant Sparrow)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimate Sales: Yet another one where it’s hard to tell. Almost 120K owners on PC, but indie publishers often don’t disclose exact overall sales figures.

 

Indie studio Giant Sparrow’s spiritual successor to The Unfinished Swan is a masterwork in storytelling and world-building, and an emotional journey into one family’s tragic history. It follows Edith Finch, the last remaining survivor of her family, returning to her childhood home in the Pacific Northwest to delve deep into the memories of her deceased relatives. As the player, I walked and explored this makeshift house that seemed to reach into the heavens, climbing until I reached its pinnacle which both physically and figuratively acted as the climax of the overall narrative.

 

Its story is told via a sprinkling of vignettes showing each relative’s last moments, from a food-poisoned young woman who believes she is transforming into animals to an infant playing gleefully in a bathtub to a grieving uncle who opted to live in secrecy in a bunker underneath the property. In its most poignant mini-story from both a gameplay and story perspective, Edith’s brother Lewis is a drug user and cannery worker who daydreams of being a prince in a fantasy world. The game sees you controlling Lewis cutting fish with one hand while simultaneously moving about through his fantasy world with the other. The scene plays out as him traversing mythical lands to find his true love, the princess, all the while conducting the mundane task of his day job. It’s bittersweet in its message, and flawless in its execution.

 

Some of What Remains of Edith Finch is predictable because of its linear nature, and it’s a dreary game in terms of its overall look, but its unconventional story and final payoff outweigh these flaws to become one of my major indie recommendations for 2017. Its vignettes perfectly encapsulate snapshots in time, right before tragedy strikes. Moments that the main character, and I, end up cherishing.

 

 

 

10. Nioh (Sony Interactive Entertainment, Koei Tecmo, Team Ninja)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC.

Estimated Sales: Over 1 million units. Likely more, since that was a figure based on the weeks after release way back in February.

 

Rounding out my personal “Top 10” is Team Ninja’s challenging, hack-and-slash RPG Nioh. Set in feudal Japan, the protagonist is an Irish sailor turned samurai (yes, you read that right) named William who embarks on a quest to take down a devious villain with supernatural powers. One twist is this dark version of Japan is infested with not just human warriors but otherworldly foes called “yokai,” some of which tower over William in foreboding fashion or evolve into different forms. Upside is William can also call one of a number of spirit animals to his aid, and he builds an arsenal of melee and ranged weapons to support his effort.

 

Nioh is far from an easy game, especially early on when you have limited options in terms of armor, skills and upgrades. Many enemies can take out William in one or two swings of their weapon or a well-timed elemental attack, so cunning and timing are essential in combat. I needed to carefully consider my path through each level, unearthing shortcuts along the way that help when I respawn after my inevitable demise. But its epic boss fights are the real treat: Beating adversaries like a former mentor turned massive, pipe-smoking toad, or a hybrid lion-dragon chimaera monster or even a gigantic multi-headed sea snake is akin to the ecstasy felt if succeeding in games like Dark Souls or Battletoads.

 

Another draw of Nioh is it’s extremely rewarding in terms of loot and currency, seeing each battle result in a literal explosion of items to pick up from the ground. It also integrates a number of smart systems. When you die, a version of your character can then be summoned in other players’ games as a ghostly “Revenant.” You can also summon co-op partners to support in your current mission, or even have the ability to run most missions with a friend. Lastly, it offers higher-level versions of its missions that reward the most coveted gear. It’s this cross section of rewarding gameplay, intricate systems and the jubilant feeling after each encounter that makes Nioh so special.

 

Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical Order):

 

Call of Duty: WWII (Activision Blizzard, Sledgehammer Games)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: Best-selling console game of the year globally, and has generated over a billion dollars in revenue. Quick calculation leads to around 16-17 million units assuming it sells most of its copies at full-price. But if we assume discounts & exchange rate conversions etc, I’d wager 14-15 million already.

 

 

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4.

Estimated Sales: Over 500K units. Ninja Theory disclosed that the game has exceeded expectations and is now profitable.

 

 

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: 4.1 million units.

 

 

 

Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch.

Estimated Sales: 3.61 million units.

 

 

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Bethesda Softworks, MachineGames)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: Unfortunately not a huge commercial success. Just above 370K owners on Steam. No word on exact overall or console sales.

 

 

There you have it! What a year. I hope you gamers out there were able to play some of these titles, and got as much enjoyment out of them as I did. Thanks so much for making it this far, and let me know how you feel about these in the comments or on Twitter! Here’s hoping 2018 can live up to its incredible predecessor.

 

 

Sources: All screen caps taken by yours truly on one of the listed platforms, usually Xbox One for multi-platform titles. Estimated sales from an amalgamation of sources, including company announcements, financial statements, NPD Group, GfK/UKIE, equity analysts, social media posts etc. If you are interested in details behind sales stats, please drop me a line.

 

-Dom

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Earnings Calendar Jul & Aug 2017: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

 

Welcome back friends! Time to get excited for numbers, and charts, and graphs. Lots of ’em.

 

This post is a little later than usual as the “quarterly earnings season” is already well underway, but there’s still plenty of companies within tech and gaming that have yet to announce how their business have been faring during the past few months.

 

Per usual, above you’ll see a full calendar of public companies and the dates on which earnings results are posted. Then below is a link to a Google Doc containing this same information for easy access to investor relations websites for your viewing pleasure.

 

Working Casual Earnings Calendar Jul & Aug 2017: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

 

Some companies on my radar this quarter are as follows:

 

Amazon $AMZN: The massive online retailer based in the States announced its whopping $13.7 billion acquisition of grocer Whole Foods $WFM in June, so it may provide some sort of update on the status of this deal when it reports this Thursday, July 27th. The deal itself is a key development in the retail space as it cross over between digital and brick-and-mortar sellers, however that’s part of the reason it’s under continued scrutiny from the U.S. government and no formal approval has been given thus far.

 

 

Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. $TTWO: The owner of studios Rockstar and 2K Games has seen growth lately based on the ongoing success of Grand Theft Auto V, in particular its online component. However, GTAV released all the way back in 2013, plus Take-Two doesn’t have any triple-AAA game releases this year now that Rockstar’s widely-anticipated Western Red Dead Redemption 2 was delayed. In an interview recently with GamesIndustry Biz, CEO Strauss Zelnick acknowledged the thin release schedule and commented that ideally the company would release more big titles on a regular basis. I don’t think we’ll hear much in terms of RDR2 status other than it’s still in the development phase, but the company needs to reassure investors that its line-up can support big gaps between Rockstar’s heavy-hitting games.

 

 

Activision Blizzard $ATVI: Activision Blizzard reports on Thursday, August 3rd and is in arguably the best position this year of all the major worldwide video game publishers. Blizzard’s multiplayer hero shooter Overwatch continues its widespread appeal more than a year after release, surpassing 30 million registered players and transitioning to a viable eSports franchise with the announcement of the Overwatch League this month. The company’s Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, released in late June, is vastly exceeding expectations as it was the best-selling game in the world during its release month. Not to mention upcoming releases, where Activision boasts two games with huge upside that I believe will end up in the Top 5, if not Top 3, games by sales this year: (the Game of the Year contender and what might be the best game this generation if it was up to me, hah) Destiny 2, out September 6th, and Call of Duty: WWII, releasing on November 3rd. Oh, and it also now has fully integrated King Digital into its structure so it has significant mobile exposure too.

 

 

Vivendi SA $VIV: Lastly, as I’ve noted in the past, whenever French media firm Vivendi reports, there’s the potential it could formally announce a bid to purchase Ubisoft Entertainment SA $UBI, which has already reported stellar results itself for its last fiscal year. As of Vivendi’s latest annual report, it now owns 26.8% of Ubisoft’s outstanding shares, meaning that my prediction the acquisition will not happen anytime soon less and less likely by the quarter.

 

 

Thanks as always for checking out the calendar and my thoughts on some of the companies on the list. Any announcements you’re looking forward to in particular? Will the publisher of your most-anticipated game this year

 

 

-Dom

 

Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites/Press Releases, MarketWatch, GamesIndustry Biz, Business Wire.

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Companies of E3 2017: What We Know & What They Should Show

 

 

The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is fast-approaching, with the pre-E3 festivities and conferences kicking off this weekend and the show officially running from June 13th to 15th. Organized by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and set in its usual location of Los Angeles, CA, E3 is basically a cherished holiday for gamers, tech fans, enthusiast media and industry folks alike.

 

Now that we’ve “set the stage,” if you will, here’s a list of many companies that we know will be there, what we know about them and what they should show in a perfect world. Some are hosting press conferences. Others will be taking part in various streams or interviews with media members. Then even more will be packing the show-floor to demo or host exhibits featuring new games. No jokes, this is the most exciting time of year for video games and we should expect a ton of new announcements, trailers, gameplay videos and, as always, surprises.

 

 

Saturday, June 10th

Electronic Arts $EA: EA Play, 3pm ET

 

Saturday marks the unofficial start of the festivities, as Electronic Arts hosts its second annual EA Play conference in Hollywood, CA. Starting in the afternoon and running through Tuesday, June 12th, this is mainly a fan event which is a theme of late for many companies.

 

What We Know: In advance, EA has posted a list of games to expect at its event. These of course include its Star Wars and sports titles: Star Wars Battlefront II, FIFA 18, Madden NFL 18, NBA Live 18, EA SPORTS FIFA on Switch in addition to other titles including another entry in its racing series, Need for Speed Payback,  then others like The Sims 4 and some mobile offerings. Note that extra content for its hit shooter Battlefield 1 will also be shown.

 

What It Should Show: Of course both fans and investors would love to hear more about its OTHER Star Wars projects, of which there are two more in development that were revealed at last year’s show. Visceral Games and EA Motive are working on an action adventure game, which has some serious development muscle behind it with industry vets Amy Hennig and Jade Raymond running the studios respectively. Then, Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment’s project is a mysterious 3rd person action game set in a completely different timeline than the company’s other titles.

 

But to be honest, EA’s lineup is super “safe” right now, so I think it should also show off some of its other more interesting future games. Mass Effect Andromeda developer BioWare teased a brand new game recently and I think this is the time to reveal more after the mixed reaction to the latest Mass Effect installment. Then there’s the EA Originals line of smaller titles, which includes studio Hazelight’s unannounced project, Fe by Zoink Games then Sea of Solitude by Berlin’s Jo-Mei Games. I even fully expect another EA Original title to be announced, maybe even Unravel 2?

 

Lastly, might be a long shot based on my last note about BioWare, but I think EA should go even further and give us a glimpse of the studio’s next Dragon Age game. The publisher needs a fantasy RPG to round out its lineup, otherwise it honestly may be the most predictable (some would say “boring”) of all the companies this year.

 

 

Sunday, June 11th

 

Microsoft $MSFT: Live E3 Briefing, 5pm ET

 

What We Know: Isn’t it obvious? In its most important E3 to date, Microsoft will finally reveal Project Scorpio. The upgraded, “most powerful console ever” iteration of the Xbox One was announced at last year’s show and ever since it’s been shrouded in secrecy except for an overview of its specs from Digital Foundry. Microsoft has to show us what it looks like, tell us when it’s coming out, share its price and, most importantly, tell us about some of its freakin’ games! A shiny new piece of hardware is well and good, but without software there’s no way the company can close the gap with Sony’s PlayStation 4 shipments (now standing at 60 million units).

 

What It Should Show: In a conference that will run longer than its usual hour and a half according to head of Xbox Phil Spencer, Microsoft absolutely NEEDS to show us the games that it’s been so quiet about recently. We know a new mainline Forza racing game is in development of course, but it’s time we hear more about titles like Crackdown 3 (which I fully expect to launch alongside Scorpio), Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2, Cuphead and Below. And we need to hear about its new 3rd party partnerships, because right now it’s basically just Middle-Earth Shadow of War published by Warner Bros that we know is coming to Scorpio.

 

The Xbox team is pushing to cultivate developer relationships with Project Scorpio, and they need to prove it by showing us some surprises or at least confirming some rumors. There will be “something” Halo related during its show, though not likely to be Halo 6, but also what about the sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest rumored to be called Ori and the Will of the Wisps? What about utilizing the Fable license again? Maybe Shadow of the Tomb Raider if the relationship with Square Enix is still going? How about a surprise or two or even more, maybe an RPG to round out its portfolio or a story-based single-player experience to rival a huge Sony hit like The Last of Us? Project Scorpio will only be as good as the games it can offer, and it’s not enough to lean solely on major 3rd party titles because is competitor already has a much larger install base of people playing those exact games.

 

Last quick note is that Microsoft said it will not show anything Virtual Reality-related, unfortunately. So those rumors about a collaboration with Oculus Rift are on hold for now.

 

 

Bethesda Softworks: #B3 Showcase, 12 am ET (Monday)

 

What We Know: Private publisher Bethesda has been providing the industry with some gems lately, think new entries in DOOM, Wolfenstein and Dishonored series plus recent release Prey, and I expect its hot streak to continue at this year’s conference. In the above image, it showed off its plan for E3 called “Bethesdaland,” which reveals a lot about what will be at its showcase and on the show floor. Expect to see Elder Scrolls Online/Elder Scrolls Legends, Quake Champions, Fallout 4 VR, then new content for games that are already out: Dishonored 2, Prey plus DOOM 2016 (perhaps a VR mode for that one?).

 

What It Should Show: You’ll notice that Bethesdaland has a couple of areas under construction. In these spots and at its event/show floor exhibit, I think it should absolutely (finally) reveal Wolfenstein The New Colossus. Gamers have been waiting a year since the title was initially teased. So assuming that’s the first area, what about the other one? Realistically, it’s probably something like Evil Within 2. Or maybe related to Skyrim for Nintendo Switch, which was shown off in the initial trailer for the hybrid console?

 

Super long-shot for this conference is the big rumor circulating: a sci-fi, open world project rumored to be called Starfield. It sounds like the type of thing that would fit nicely in the company’s portfolio. We also know that Bethesda Game Studio is working on a couple projects, but I assume those are not far enough along in development to show here.

 

 

Devolver Digital: Press Conference & All-Night Event, 1 am ET (Monday)

 

What We Know: Well, we know that independent game and film publisher Devolver Digital is having an event overnight. But nothing “official” has been announced in terms of exactly which games will be, except that there won’t be any brand new reveals. Though Japanese developer Suda 51 will be!

 

What It Should Should: Some titles that it should likely show are The Swords of Ditto, Crossing Souls, Minit, Ape Out, Eitr and Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour. Admittedly, I don’t know much about these except for Crossing Souls, made by Spanish developer Fourattic.

 

 

Monday, June 12th

 

Ubisoft $UBI: Press Conference, 4 pm ET

 

What We Know: French gaming firm Ubisoft is known for its unique and energized stage shows, though this year it might be toned down a bit with internal developers hosting rather than comedian Aisha Tyler. Still, in the above video, Ubi and its CEO Yves Guillemot have confirmed we will see South Park: The Fractured But Whole and Far Cry 5 in particular. Technically, that’s all we “know” for sure but in reality..

 

What It Should Show: .. We probably already know most of its show. I’m fairly confident that based on recent leaks, we can guess the “Conference Exclusives” and “New IP Saved for Conference” referenced in the video. One of them has to be Assassin’s Creed Origins, all but confirmed to be the official title of a new game in the series set in Ancient Egypt. Another should be social racing game The Crew 2. And that new IP? I’d wager it’s the Nintendo crossover called Mario x Rabbids Kingdom Battle. There’s also a good chance it features next year’s Just Dance title, or some new content for this year’s version.

 

If it’s not those titles, then what if Ubi goes ahead and treats us to the new triple AAA online multiplayer game it mentioned in its last earnings call? Or the space simulation game, code-name Pioneer, with a trailer in Watch Dogs 2? Or a brand new smaller or indie type of game from UbiArt engine? Or even a Splinter Cell title (however unlikely)? Ultimate long-shot is that it announces some sort of brand new project exclusive to Nintendo Switch, but that’s probably not feasible at this point in the hardware’s life cycle.

 

 

Sony $SNE: PlayStation Live from E3, 9pm ET

 

What We Know: Closing out the last day before E3 technically begins is current console market leader Sony with its PlayStation Live event. And we know it’s had some heavy-hitting conferences lately, despite some of the games featured being early in development or delayed when all is said and done. Be that as it may, Sony shows a ton of games at its show from both internal studios and external partners, so we know games like God of War, Uncharted The Lost Legacy, Spider-Man, Days Gone and Grand Turismo Sport will be shown off. Not to mention those 3rd party games where Sony has established marketing deals, including (my most-anticipated game of all time) Destiny 2, Call of Duty WWII, Far Cry 5, Star Wars Battlefront II and fighting game Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

 

What It Should Show: Knowing that Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding project will not be making an appearance, that leaves Sony’s biggest game remaining that I believe it should absolutely show as The Last of Us 2. I know it’s early in development. I know creator Naughty Dog’s leadership team has said it takes a lot of effort to create teasers. I know that the studio is showing off its upcoming Uncharted game already. But wouldn’t a Sony show feel empty now that everyone knows TLoU2 is a real thing instead of a pipe dream? It would at least to me.

 

Otherwise, Sony should really show off what studio Sucker Punch has been working on all these years after PS4 launch title Infamous Second Son. Then round out its show or exhibits with Knack 2 (yes, really), Detroit: Become Human, Housemarq’s in-development title Matterfall, Media Molecule’s Dreams (if it still exists) and Michel Ancel’s WiLD (if it also still exists). Sony also said recently that it has some news surrounding unannounced Japanese games, which have done well for the platform lately. Separately, if Sony is serious about PlayStation VR, it should really show people why they should pony up hundreds of dollars to buy one. The device has been “virtually” non-existent at its last couple of press events. (Apologies, it was too tempting.)

 

Lastly, is it finally time for From Software to reveal Bloodborne 2? Might be wishful thinking, but crazier things have happened at E3.

 

 

Tuesday, June 13th

 

Nintendo $NTDOY: Nintendo Spotlight E3 2017, 12pm ET

Nintendo Treehouse Live, Tuesday, June 13th, 12:30 pm ET & Wednesday, June 14th, 1pm ET

 

What We Know: On the morning of the first official day of E3, Nintendo will have a half-hour long recorded “Spotlight” event. During this show, we know for sure that (my second-most anticipated game of all time) Super Mario Odyssey will be heavily featured. It’s a given that Nintendo’s event and show-floor exhibit will be centered around its most iconic character returning in a 3D platforming game later this year. It even appears Nintendo is creating a real-life version of the location New Donk City featured in the original Odyssey trailer. We also know that the company will be delving deeper into Switch games releasing this year, which are ARMS, Splatoon 2 and Pokken Tournament. In fact, Nintendo is hosting tournaments for all three of three games at E3.

 

What It Should Show: Stuff for Switch, then some more, then even MORE. This is prime time for its hot new console. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild DLC. Fire Emblem Warriors. Super Smash Bros (if a version is coming to Switch). Xenoblade 2. The aforementioned Mario x Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Capcom’s Monster Hunter XX, releasing in Japan during August. Platinum Games’ unannounced title. Skyrim for Switch. FIFA for Switch. Anything for Switch that is new and fresh and keeps its sales momentum going strong. Maybe even news on its online service, voice chat phone app, classic games lineup or, gasp, Virtual Console.

 

Oh, there will be a 3DS and maybe even a mobile presence as well, but the focus HAS to be on Switch’s software and services.

 

 

The Show Floor!

Los Angeles Convention Center, Tuesday, June 13th to Thursday, June 15th

 

Finally, after all that, the show itself will take place across three long but fun days! See the map above for exact locations of big company booths, or the floor plan link here from the ESA which gives every location throughout the convention center.

 

Here’s a quick, general run-down of companies that will have some sort of presence:

 

Activision Blizzard $ATVI

What We Know: Destiny 2, Call of Duty WWII multiplayer reveal, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy.

 

What It Should Show: Future Overwatch or Hearthstone plans. Maybe Call of Duty mobile. Next Skylanders. But really, exactly what it’s showing will be sweet!

 

Bandai Namco

What We Know: Code Vein, its vampire RPG Souls-like, which looks very cool.

 

What It Should Show: Is there any future for the Dark Souls series in light of a new game like Code Vein? Is it making any Switch games? Or just bringing classic games to the platform? Also, more information on Ni No Kuni II.

 

Capcom

What We Know: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

 

What It Should Show: Street Fighter “surprises.” Monster Hunter XX for Nintendo Switch should be there, would be nice to even get a release date for the Western version.

 

Sega/Atlus

What We Know: We actually know everything that Sega and Atlus will have on the show floor this year. Total War: Warhammer 2, Total War: Arena, Sonic Mania, Sonic Forces, Yakuza 6, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. Then some Nintendo 3DS titles: Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux.

 

What It Should Show: Whatever it shows of Sonic Mania, it should show more, because it could be the best Sonic game in years.

 

Square Enix

What We Know: Per its blog, Square will have “developer interviews, announcements, gameplay sessions” and more. These include content for games including Final Fantasy (both new and old), Agents of Mayhem, F1 2017, Kingdom Come Deliverance, Lost Sphear, Flame vs Blaze, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT and even a concert featuring NieR.

 

What It Should Show: Shadow of the Tomb Raider? The next installment of Life is Strange.

 

Take-Two Interactive $TTWO

What We Know: Take-Two has already said it’s not showing any brand new games, so basically its existing franchises will be there: NBA2K 18 (probably even its Nintendo Switch version), WWE 2K18. Definitely some Mafia III extra content. GTA Online in some fashion.

 

What It Should Show: Red Dead Redemption 2. Borderlands 3. But these won’t. Don’t even get your hopes up.

 

THQ Nordic

What We Know: That the renamed studio will be on the show floor showing its games, both present and future. Presumably..

 

What It Should Show: Darksiders 3, Battle Chasers: Nightwar. Aquanox Deep Descent, Victor Vran.

 

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

What We Know: Five games will be on display from its studios. These are Middle-Earth Shadow of War, Injustice 2, LEGO Dimensions, LEGO Worlds, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2.

 

What It Should Show: I mean, the obvious answer is what the next Batman game looks like especially now that Rocksteady is no longer the development studio. But that doesn’t seem likely given WB has already told us what it’s showing.

 

 

Miscellaneous

 

E3 Coliseum: Tuesday, June 13th to Wednesday, June 14th

 

What We Know: E3 Coliseum is a really cool event at LA Live organized by The Game Awards’ Geoff Keighley, featuring interviews, demos and panels. Games featured include God of War, Destiny 2, Assassin’s Creed, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, Spider-Man, Sea of Thieves, Mortal Kombat, Far Cry 5 and Call of Duty WWII but more interestingly, the people that make them. I’m looking forward to a number of these, namely the conversation with Bungie, creators of Destiny, plus of course legendary Japanese developer Hideo Kojima himself will be making an appearance (of course!).

 

There you have it. Thanks if you made it this far, or are using this as a reference to see when each company is having its event. And to those attending the show, have fun and know I’m quite jealous. Am I missing anything that you think should be shown by one of these companies? What are you most anticipating at this year’s show? It’s an exciting time, I’ll have more comments on Twitter and some sort of post mortem once the dust settles as well.

 

Sources: ESA, Company Websites/YouTube, NeoGAF, Geoff Keighley, Gamasutra

 

-Dom

1

Bungie Reveals Destiny Sequel Via Images On Social Media

 

Hi folks!

 

As you’ll notice, this is going to be a bit of a different post in that it’s mostly news. I just am excited to share that game developer Bungie, the Washington-based studio behind early games in the Halo franchise, has posted the above image on its Twitter account. This tweet officially announces the sequel to its 2014’s shared-world shooter Destiny, simply entitled: Destiny 2. Like the original, it will be published by Activision Blizzard $ATVI.

 

Two more images below were posted almost simultaneously on Destiny’s Facebook page, showing a variation on the above image then a more detailed look at the bottom half of the area featured in the other two shots.

 

 

 

 

Humor me for a moment, as these are exciting times. Astute Destiny fans will notice that these imagines actually tell us a bit more than it may seem at first glance. The Last City is depicted as being on fire and burning to the ground, assumingly from some sort of attack from an enemy faction. In the original game, The Last City is the only remaining area populated by humans but it was in-tact and not under siege. I can only presume that the player character will be the one responsible for defending The Last City from these evil-doers, or maybe bringing the fight to them in order to take revenge in the name of humanity!

 

These photos also show the Traveler, that mysterious spherical body above The Last City, is essentially unharmed at least for now and it still resides above The Last City in its usual spot. Many in the Destiny universe revere the Traveler as being a “protector” over the last inhabited city on Earth, and it seems humanity desperately needs both it and the player to defend it in the upcoming sequel.

 

 

As for more details on the game itself, no further information from Activision Blizzard or Bungie was shared. So we don’t know anything formally yet on release date, new content, trailers etc. But the indication from the leaked poster above, which surfaced last week after being allegedly leaked by a GameStop Italy employee, is that that Destiny 2 will release on Friday, September 8th later this year. This would be almost exactly 3 years after the original, and for big fans like me, a perfect opportunity for Bungie to expand on the universe it established in the first game while also enhancing all of its aspects including narrative, exploration and of course, my favorite part, its “raids” which are six-person mega-missions that usually feature puzzles, unique enemies and big bosses to overcome.

 

 

 

Lastly, another interesting part of the timing in that it’s right before Bungie kicks off the last live event in the original game’s life span: Age of Triumph. This event is basically the ultimate fan service, where the developer is offering some new quests, bringing older content up-to-date then offering new, remixed versions of gear from the early days of the game which is something players have been requesting for a while. Age of Triumph begins tomorrow, Tuesday, March 28th.

 

What about you? Did you play the original, and if so what was your final verdict on it? Are you excited for Destiny 2 or will you be passing on the game? Feel free to leave a comment, or reach out on Twitter with your thoughts.

 

Sources: Bungie, Activision, Lega Network

 

-Dom

0

2016 Year-In-Review: Top 3 Impactful Deals of the Year

During this Year-In-Review post, I wanted to acknowledge some of the merger and acquisition activity impacting the sectors I cover.

 

The following are three of the most “impactful” deals of 2016, which will lead the involved companies into growth areas for 2017 and beyond. Two of them revolve around mobile gaming companies and the last involves a major wireless firm with a media conglomerate in one of the largest mergers announced last year.

 

In chronological order, here are three of the deals that impacted gaming, media and technology markets in 2016:

 

 

February: Activision Blizzard completes its purchase of King Digital Entertainment PLC for $5.9 billion, allowing the major game and software publisher exposure to the ever-growing mobile market via the Candy Crush series in particular.

 

 

June: Chinese tech giant Tencent announced it is set to purchase Supercell for $8.6 billion, further strengthening its mobile dominance and expanding to markets outside of Asia with the Clash of Clans franchise among others.

 

 

October: AT&T agrees to purchase Time Warner Inc for a monumental $85.4 billion, establishing the wireless giant as a gargantuan media conglomerate with not only ownership of physical and digital distribution channels but content creators themselves such as CNN, HBO and Warner Bros.

 

Sources: King Digital Entertainment PLC, Supercell, Time Warner Inc, Wall Street Journal

 

-Dom

0

2016 Year-In-Review: Top 5 Influential Gaming Companies of the Year

Back again with another 2016 Year-In-Review post!

This time, let’s keep it a bit free form. I wanted to post about some of the companies that have influenced my gaming habits this year, or those that have had significant impact on the industry as a whole.

So, in alphabetical order, here are five of the most influential companies in gaming for 2016 and a quick note about each. Which companies, developers or publishers influenced your habits this year?

 

 

Activision Blizzard, Inc.

Annual Revenue: $4.6 billion

Major public publisher produced some of the year’s most recognizable and top-selling games, including Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, World of Warcraft: Legion expansion and newcomer Overwatch.

 

 

Bethesda Softworks (Subsidiary of ZeniMax Media)

Annual Revenue: $89.2 million (Parent Company)

Independent, private publisher responsible for various notable titles in 2016, in particular: id Software’s DOOM and Arkane Studios’ Dishonored 2.

 

 

Electronic Arts

Annual Revenue: $4.4 billion

Along with its usual annual sports titles, which it continues to support with “Ultimate Team” fantasy-type modes, EA produced a pair of notable FPS games: the resurgent title in the Battlefield series, Battlefield 1, and critical darling Titanfall 2.

 

 

Sony Corp

Annual Revenue: $72.1 billion

Sony manufactures what continues to be the highest-selling console this generation, the PlayStation 4, which saw an upgraded “Pro” version in 2016 plus the firm launched its foray into virtual reality with the PlayStation VR headset.

 

 

The Pokémon Company & Niantic, Inc.

Annual Revenue: NA

TPC and Niantic were responsible for the year’s biggest gaming phenomenon in Pokémon GO, not to mention the former published two new entries in the Pokemon handheld franchise late in 2016 in Pokémon Sun and Moon.

 

 

-Dom

0

Analysis of Destiny’s Release Timeline, And How Will Rise of Iron Fare?

destiny-cover

 

Publisher Activision-Blizzard ($ATVI) released its shared-world space shooter Destiny back in September 2014, and the game has been on an interesting timeline ever since.

Developed by Bungie, best known for creating the early games in the Halo series, the genre-bending title started strong out of the gate by racking up around $325 million in sales (sold-through to consumers) in its first week. It overcame a well-documented difficult development cycle and mixed critical reception to become one of the most financially successful launches in the history of gaming.

In the two years since, it has garnered both praise and critique from critics and gamers alike for its mix of online elements, top-rate FPS mechanics and (most recently) cosmetic micro-transations in which players can buy in-game items for real-world dollars. Also, Activision has offered incremental paid expansions in the form of “content drops” by the names of The Dark Below, House of Wolves, The Taken King and finally Rise of Iron which is slated for release tomorrow.

 

dstny_roi_horizontal

 

Each of these expansions built on (lots would say improved) the original game as Bungie updated its economy and systems plus offered new missions and raids (multi-person, complex quests with big rewards), but also costs consumers money as gamers were charged an additional fee on top of the base game. Whether you are a fan of this trajectory or not, the game has amassed a huge following with around 30 million registered users who spend an average of 3 hours playing even years later.

To track its progress individually and overall within Activision as a whole, below I’ll offer a handful of indicators. First is an overview of the firm’s stock price since Destiny’s original release two years back. You’ll see its price in September 2014 was $23.73, and it’s now grown to around $44 per share this week. During this time, the publisher’s market value has increased by $10.9 billion.

 

activision-blizzard-stock-price-20160916

 

It’s true that there are a variety of factors that go into a firm’s share price, among them the broader economy, performance of additional products (Activision-Blizzard also publishes popular games such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Overwatch), mergers such as the acquisition of King Digital and general investor sentiment, but Destiny is a key part of the publisher’s portfolio especially when it comes to generating recurring revenue. The content packs I mentioned before create a revenue stream similar to a subscription-based title like WoW, as opposed to say Overwatch where new characters and maps are offered for free and the only additional revenue comes from cosmetic items.

 

Speaking of recurring revenue, Activision as a business unit within the overall company has found a way to generate ongoing sales via its continued updates for Destiny. A snapshot below shows the unit’s revenue numbers alongside each corresponding Destiny release. General theme is that other than the year-end holidays, a Destiny release over the past two years has meant slightly more revenue than “non-Destiny” quarters. Again, caveat is that the publisher produces other games, of course, but it’s interesting to see sales aligned with an estimate time frame of when each expansion came out.

 

activision-revenue-destiny-timeline-final

 

Lastly, I’ve tracked results in the U.S. games market of the title and its expansions according to the NPD Group, a data provider for the games industry. Upon release, it was the #1 selling game in September 2014 followed by #5 in October 2014. During some of its expansions, it reemerged in the Top 10 especially during Destiny: The Taken King, as this was billed as the largest expansion yet and had the most content. Note that this only tracks the U.S. physical games market prior to a couple months back, but it gives a good sense for how games perform at release and with updated content throughout their life cycles. Destiny is one of the few titles in recent memory that has been a Top Ten regular on-and-off since late 2014.

 

destiny-npd-trend

 

With Destiny: Rise of Iron expansion planned for release tomorrow, how will it fare? Can it again capture lapsed players (including myself) and provide revenue stability? When it comes to Rise of Iron, its content is more aligned more with The Taken King than some of the smaller ones, as it offers multiple missions and the first brand new raid activity in a year. With that comes a higher price tag ($29.99) than the smaller releases of course, but this also provides upside for its sales potential.

 

In the absence of a sequel to Destiny, which isn’t expected until next year, and a release date prior to the big blockbuster releases in the same genre like Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, I think that Rise of Iron will perform about as well as The Taken King, with a Top 5 showing in NPD for September and Top 10 for October, and sales momentum into the 3rd quarter plus holidays that will support Activision’s segment revenue. However, I do not expect Rise of Iron to have the legs of The Taken King, as the aforementioned blockbuster titles will take gamers away and then early 2017 titles such as Horizon: Zero Dawn should overshadow it.

 

Do you think that Destiny: Rise of Iron will sell as well as Destiny: The Taken King or somehow the original game? Are you a lapsed player than plans on jumping back into the game this week? I’m interested to hear! Shoot me a note or comment here.

 

Sources: Activision-Blizzard, Bungie, NASDAQ, NPD Group

 

-Dom

 

 

 

1

Bottom Line: What is Activision Blizzard’s Actual Business Mix After KING Acquisition?

KING-NYSE

 

Now that Activision Blizzard, Inc. (ATVI) today has reported its first quarterly earnings since its acquisition of King Digital Entertainment PLC (KING) in February, how does its business mix actually look now and does this indicate potential upside going forward?

I predicted a few weeks back that based on KING’s financials, the combined firm’s Mobile segment would now comprise approximately a third of revenue, operating income and distribution channels (latter of which is the means by which customers purchase its products). This would mean that after Activision Publishing, Inc., the firm’s interactive entertainment and games segment that produces titles like Call of Duty and Skylanders, its new KING unit would be the next-largest contributor to overall business. Note that KING is the maker of mobile games like Candy Crush and Farm Heroes. I wasn’t exactly right about this, yet, but keep reading below to see details.

Additionally, I noted that the post-acquisition geographical breakdown would be interesting to see as the two companies presented these classifications differently. After looking at operating units, we will peek at what locales are driving the firm’s new business structure as well.

The results are in for this past quarter, and revenue plus income figures across its units are as follows:

 

ATVI Segmented Revenue & Income 2016Q1

 

For context, I have tabled these actual numbers against my predictions and earlier years below. Note that the earlier figures are fiscal, and they account for KING’s earlier financials inserted alongside ATVI’s original businesses, so focus on the percentages instead of the totals as a comparison:

 

ATVI Actual Revenue & Income 2016Q1 Table

 

You’ll see that my estimates were a bit high, at least for now, as actual revenue contribution by KING is 23% while it accounts for almost 27% of income. I still think that over the next three quarters, this could increase to a third of ATVI’s overall business as mobile grows and Blizzard potentially stagnates. Unless Blizzard’s online FPS Overwatch (releasing 5/24) performs extremely well, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

Now I will present the same exact values as charts showing the percent of each in the context of the overall business. Again, everything prior to 2016Q1 is an illustration using KING’s financials inserted, as was done above:

 

ATVI Actual Revenue 2016Q1 Chart

ATVI Actual Income 2016Q1 Chart

 

The next shot is an overview of Distribution Channels from the earnings report. Quick reminder that this is how consumers purchase content and services provided by ATVI:

 

ATVI Distribution Channels 2016Q1

 

Below are these actual distribution numbers compared with  earlier fiscal numbers. Basically, these are as expected though I believe Mobile is now included in Digital which accounts for the bump:

 

ATVI Actual Distribution Channels 2016Q1 Table

One more perspective which I did not have in my earlier article is revenue by platform. I think it’s especially relevant now after KING’s contribution. You’ll see console is still the dominant platform at 53% of sales:

ATVI Revenue by Platform 2016Q1

 

As for geographical profile, a quick snapshot shows that North America is still the main contributor followed by Europe:

 

ATVI Geographical Segments 2016Q1

 

My last comparison across years, this time for percentages from different geographies:

 

ATVI Actual Geographical Segments 2016Q1 Chart

 

What these figures tell me overall is that despite KING/Mobile still being a smaller contributor than I initially anticipated, I still think it’s a key strategy going forward as its upside is more than Blizzard’s. Digital is already the main means by which consumers purchase the publisher’s games and services, so its diversification into Mobile as an additional revenue source and channel is a natural progression of its business model as a broad software publisher. This is especially relevant given my expected future decline of Blizzard subscriptions and traditional physical retail sales of ATVI’s games and software. And based on its stock price movement since the acquisition’s February close, where its shares are up more than 10%, investors seem mostly positive on this move as well.

 

ATVI Google Finance

 

In my opinion, the $5.9 billion bet on an expansion into mobile via KING is a crucial one despite its high cost. At the current rate of earnings (around $270 million per year, given this quarter’s performance), the breakeven on its KING investment is something like 22 years. However, this is conservatively assuming mobile does not grow; I think it will, which will move up that breakeven point. It will still be well worth it in the long-run. as the company diversifies its revenue streams and continues to finance more traditional projects such as console games (for instance new Call of Duty, Destiny titles) and full-price or subscription-based Blizzard entries (Overwatch, potentially new World of Warcraft content) to keep its core fanbase intact.

(Note that I do not know about any new Call of Duty, Destiny, Overwatch or World of Warcraft content other than what’s already been publicly announced. I’m just stating that new projects can be financed through sales of mobile games now that KING is assimilated into the ATVI structure.)

Do you agree that a foray into mobile was essential for ATVI, or should it have built organically from within and focused on core business such as console and subscription-based gaming platforms?

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Inc., Google Finance

-Dom

0

Bottom Line: How Will King Digital Acquisition Impact Activision Blizzard’s Business Mix?

Activision-Blizzard-logoKing Logo (PRNewsFoto/King Digital Entertainment plc)

 

Bottom Line: Activision Blizzard, Inc. (ATVI) derived most of its overall sales and income from its Activition publishing arm prior to its recent acquisition of King Digital Entertainment PLC (KING) in February 2016, while its dominant distribution segment was digital channels and its operations were mainly in North America. Now that the deal is complete, what will be the impact on the business mix of ATVI from both an operational and geographical perspective?

Before the deal, ATVI had two main operating businesses, both well-known as industry leaders in their specific areas, and an additional catch-all category:

Activision Publishing, Inc.: Publishing interactive entertainment software products and downloadable content. Major brands include Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, Destiny and Skylanders.

Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.: Publishing real-time strategy games, role-playing games and online subscription-based games in the MMORPG category. Major brands include World of Warcraft, Diablo, Starcraft and Hearthstone.

Other: Activision Blizzard Media Networks, Activision Blizzard Studios, Activision Blizzard Distribution & Corporate Items.

ATVI Segmented Revenue

 

You’ll see the Activision Publishing arm has been responsible for the most revenue and income for the past three years. This past year it comprised 58% of revenue ($2.7 billion) and 59% of income ($868 million), while Blizzard Entertainment constitutes 34% ($1.57 billion) and 38% ($561 million) respectively. A decline in revenue and income for Blizzard Entertainment was mostly due to bigger releases in 2014 and lower subscriber base for World of Warcraft this past year.

Taking into account KING’s latest statements, my forward-looking estimates for revenue and income including an additional business unit named “King Digital”:

King Digital Entertainment PLC: Developing and publishing mobile games and interactive entertainment, including free-to-play titles and social applications. Major brands include Candy Crush, Farm Heroes, Pet Rescue and Bubble Witch.

KING Revenue

Estimated Revenue Income Post Acquisition 2

 

Using KING’s latest annual figures and aligning them with the other segments within ATVI overall, you’ll see KING could contribute around 33% of sales ($2.26 billion) and 34% of income ($768 million). This indicates that it would move into the second position in terms of contribution, right after Activision Publishing, meaning that ATVI’s mobile business will eclipse its publishing of Blizzard titles and game types. I expect this to fully continue in the future with the increase in popularity of mobile and casual gaming plus the decline in World of Warcraft subscriptions, unless Blizzard releases a new game within one or more of its established franchises.

Digging further, let’s see revenue by distribution channel which is a breakdown of how consumers are purchasing ATVI’s content. The channels before the deal are:

Retail Channels: Physical distribution of games via brick-and-morter and online retail outlets.

Digital Online Channels: Digitally-distributed games and subscriptions, licensing royalties, value-added services, downloadable content (DLC) and related microtransactions.

Other: Same items as above.

 ATVI Distribution Channels

And again, my estimates for after using recent KING reports using a grouping called “Mobile Channels.”

Mobile Channels: Games, services and subscriptions distributed via mobile phones, tablets and other devices.

Estimated Distribution Channels Post Acquisition

 

The trend here first is that last year, Digital Online Channels overtook Retail Channels as the leading distribution type, indicating a more widespread trend toward consumers opting to buy their software digitally. Digital Online Channels contributed 57% of revenue ($2.63 billion). If we insert KING’s revenue under the new Mobile Channels classification, then I estimate it will be the second overall distribution source at 33% of revenue ($2.26 billion). This would be a large shift away from Retail for ATVI, a bet that consumers want to consume their games digitally whether it’s on console, computers or mobile devices.

Lastly, I’ll show a quick glance at which regions are driving ATVI’s business. This is trickier to display as the companies report their geographical breakdowns differently. Before the deal, ATVI reported broad regions:

ATVI Geographic Revenue

While KING classifies according to individual countries:

KING Geographic Revenue

Which leads to a rough estimate, and definitely not a perfect one, because I have to follow KING’s reporting that lumps all countries outside of these three into Rest of World:

Estimated Geographic Revenue Post Acquisition 2

 

Still, it does the job to show that North America will continue to be the driving force behind business operations as half the firm’s sales over the past few years are from this locale.

The highlight overall is that ATVI’s $5.9 billion bet in acquiring KING is a significant shift in the company’s business mix, as its mobile business will overtake Blizzard Entertainment from a games revenue perspective and also will contribute more to revenue than the firm’s retail offerings. Geographic mix for now looks to be unchanged, but that also depends on expansion into new markets and what constitutes the Rest of World classification. By these estimates, it will take around 3 years for ATVI to recoup the almost $6 billion sales price in revenue and even sooner if mobile grows at a faster rate than the firm’s more traditional businesses.

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Inc., King Digital Entertainment PLC, United States Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC)

-Dom

0

Quick Thoughts: How Much Did The Division Actually Sell Day One?

The Division Concept Art

 

Quick Thoughts: Ubisoft Entertainment SA (UBI) announced via its UbiBlog that Tom Clancy’s The Division has broken sales records internally as being the best-selling game in the firm’s history. Based on this, how much in dollars did the game actually sell to consumers? My estimate is below. Would you agree?

After Tom Clancy’s The Division’s release this week on Tues, 3/8, publisher UBI has coyly proclaimed that the third-person online RPG had sold more on its first day than any other game in the publisher’s 30-year history. We saw a similar type of announcement with its last fast-selling title, the open-world hacking game Watch Dogs, in 2014.

Frustratingly, in both cases UBI didn’t initially reveal any sort of sales figures in copies or dollars. I will note it ended up that Watch Dogs sold 4 million copies in its first week, but no dollar amount was ever publicized. First I’ll try to put some perspective around this situation and then I’ll make my best estimate (which, full disclaimer, is completely a personal guess).

As for day-one sales, below are closest estimates in dollars of notable launches based on publisher announcements and industry data.

 

Video Game Day-One Sales Chart

 

Couple important items to note: Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013) sold $1 billion to retailers (sold-in) as opposed to consumers (sold-through). Also, Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2015) figures are for the first 72-hour period. Like everything in life, there’s caveats and exceptions and it’s difficult to get a perfect comparison. Ultimately I’ve charted these both for illustration purposes rather than trying to prove that Call of Duty: Ghosts was the best-selling game ever upon launch.

In addition to the titles above, I mentioned Watch Dogs before. If we try to wrap a dollar amount on its first-week sales, let’s take its 4 million worldwide copies multiplied by the standard $60 price tag which would come to $240 million. Note that this is across the span of a full week, so assuming it was front-loaded on launch day, around $150 million or 2.5 million copies that one day. Again, for comparison purposes.

 

Watch Dogs Art

 

So if The Division has sold more than Watch Dogs on launch day, how much did it actually sell? I don’t think that it has eclipsed any of the other names on the chart above, otherwise UBI would have come out and projected that accordingly. Which means to me, it falls somewhere between $150 million and $310 million of both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) and Grand Theft Auto IV (2008). I’ll bet it ends up being somewhere near the lower band of that range, so my estimate is that The Division may have sold $210 million upon its launch implying around 3.5 million copies, give or take.

Am I overestimating the success of this new franchise? Are my assumptions above completely crazy or perfectly genius? Do you think that The Division sold more than some of the titles in the chart above? Feel free to let me know either way, but until we hear concrete figures from UBI itself, we get to have fun and make bold predictions on our own!

Sources: Ubisoft Entertainment SA, Activision Blizzard, Inc., Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., Bethesda Softworks, NPD

-Dom