Mortal Kombat 11 & Nintendo Switch Kombine to Top April’s U.S. Video Game Sales Report

Lots of fighting game fans exclaimed “Get Over Here!” to NetherRealm Studio’s latest installment in the storied franchise, Mortal Kombat 11. The brutal beat-em-down title, published by Warner Bros Interactive and released on April 23rd, was the best-selling game of last month in the States according to The NPD Group’s latest report.

Mortal Kombat is one of the most well-known gaming series ever, partly due to its controversial graphic violence and propensity to upset pearl-clutching government officials. This most recent game’s predecessor Mortal Kombat X (2015) went on to be the biggest commercial success in franchise history, eclipsing more than 11 million units sold per famed co-creator Ed Boon.

While we don’t know global unit sales for Mortal Kombat 11 just yet, we now know that this latest entry is selling well domestically. It not only topped the April monthly chart, it also instantly entered the year-to-date list as the 2nd best-selling of 2019, second to only Square Enix’s Disney mash-up Kingdom Hearts 3.

Interestingly, it was tops on all four of its platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and even the Nintendo Switch. An impressive result all around, and I expect it will continue to chart at least during a slower summer release calendar.

Second place for April went to open world zombie game Days Gone from Sony Bend Studio, a PlayStation 4 exclusive title. I wrote recently that, despite thinking the title itself was mostly mediocre, I prognosticated that it would have broad market appeal and sell quite well. I even thought it might top the list of best-sellers last month.

While I was too bold in my prediction, arriving at #2 is a very good result. Namely since it’s limited to just the one platform. Days Gone also had the 7th best launch month for a Sony-published game in NPD’s tracking history, plus became Bend’s top-selling game ever after being on sale less than a full month.

A quiet success story unfolding as we approach mid-year is the solid momentum of another title only available on PlayStation 4, that being MLB The Show 19 from Sony San Diego. The baseball sim has achieved the #3 spot during the past two months of charts since its release on March 26th. It’s also moved up into the Top 10 of the year so far, hitting exactly #10.

MLB The Show 19 is currently the best-selling sports title of the year to date, and it’s still the fastest launch for a game in the franchise when lining up all the relevant launches. I bet the development team is.. having a ball!

Rounding out the Top 5 respectively are Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, the shared world military RPG that was last month’s best-seller, then Nintendo’s ever-present party fighter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The latter of which recently eclipsed a crazy 13.81 million units sold globally.

And of course, Rockstar Games continues to live up to its moniker by having not one but two of its works present on April’s list. Grand Theft Auto V being the leading one, coming in at #6 despite releasing all the way back in 2013. It’s a theme we’ve seen in most monthly charts, and I’ve continually stated it will be this way until its successor is out.

Below are April’s main software charts, which focus on strictly the U.S. market:

Top-Selling Games of April 2019 (Includes Physical & Digital Sales):

  1. Mortal Kombat 11
  2. Days Gone
  3. MLB The Show 19
  4. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  5. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  6. Grand Theft Auto V
  7. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice^
  8. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4^
  9. NBA 2K19
  10. Yoshi’s Crafted World*
  11. Red Dead Redemption 2
  12. Mario Kart 8*
  13. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  14. Minecraft#
  15. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  16. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD
  17. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  18. Jump Force
  19. Battlefield V*
  20. Borderlands

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. Kingdom Hearts 3
  2. Mortal Kombat 11
  3. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  4. Anthem^
  5. Resident Evil 2 Remake 2019
  6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  7. Red Dead Redemption 2
  8. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice^
  9. Jump Force
  10. MLB The Show 19

^PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on XB1 & PS4 Included

Flipping over to consoles, Nintendo Switch saw its 5th consecutive month atop the hardware chart as measured by both dollar sales and units. It’s still the best-selling console of the year, as well. The last time it was outpaced by Sony’s PlayStation 4 was during the pre-holiday rush of November. Even then, Switch generated more revenue. PS4 just happened to see higher unit sales because of heavy discounting.

Consumer spending on games in the States crept up 1% in April, to $842 million overall. This was driven by PC and console software, up 15% to $427 million, and the Accessories segment as it bumped 5% to $256 million on the strength of Amiibo and DualShock 4 sales. These two segments offset a 29% decline in hardware, which fell to $160 million.

For 2019 so far, consumer spending in the games market totals $4 billion. A figure that’s down 2% when compared to the same time period last year. Out of that, software has contributed almost half with roughly $1.9 billion in dollar sales.

My read overall on April is that the top three sellers in particular are impressive, even though I was wrong about which would be first. Especially Mortal Kombat 11.. fighting its way to the second spot on the year-to-date list. That indicates to me that early demand is strong. I’m not sure it can reach the lofty heights of its predecessor, though I’m confident it will carve up a good chunk of commercial success before we see what NetherRealm does next.

Another story that I think warrants more attention is BioWare’s Anthem, published by Electronic Arts, maintaining the 4th spot of 2019 so far. Granted, it’s way early. Then EA said during its Q4 earnings call recently that the game’s early sales came in below the company’s targets. It’s worth seeing if it maintains this position as the year progresses, with more major releases scheduled for the late part of the summer into the autumn rush.

Hardware sales are going to be uneventful until, honestly, holiday season at the earliest. If not next year, when I’ve been saying that the next generation of consoles will start during the second half.

Additional details on individual platform results can be found at the linked video above, from NPD Analyst and friend of the site, Mat Piscatella.

So. How did your predictions go? Any big surprises? Please share in the comments or let’s catch up on Twitter! Thanks for stopping by, as always.

Sources: The NPD Group, NetherRealm Studios, Sony Bend Studio, Sony San Diego, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Wikipedia.

-Dom

Days Gone Is Mostly Mediocre, Morbidly Mundane And Will Still Sell Better Than Many PS4 Exclusives

Disclaimer: This is not a review, as I have not completed the game yet. It’s a series of impressions and sales predictions. Minor spoilers follow.

I went into Days Gone, the latest in post-apocalyptic PlayStation 4 exclusives, mostly curious. Minimal expectations, hoping to be surprised. I’ve felt this way since Sony revealed it back during 2016, when it was featured prominently during its E3 stage show.

Turns out that the open world biker game did in fact surprise me. Just, not in a good way.

Made by Sony’s Bend Studio out of Bend, Oregon, a team known for the Syphon Filter series and handheld Uncharted titles, Days Gone checks all the boxes for features in a standard “AAA open world” game, though fails to deliver anything extraordinary with any one of them.

The third-person game opens on the semi-ridiculous premise that the protagonist, Deacon Saint John, leaves his wounded wife Sarah to fly away to a government camp while a mysterious outbreak occurs around him, to stay behind with his best bro Boozer. I appreciate the “no man left behind” mentality, though couldn’t help feel both contempt and indifference towards Deacon after seeing him abandon his helpless lover. A main character doesn’t have to be likeable (see: Joel from The Last of Us, Nico Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV), though I should at least give a damn about him.

Fast forward a couple years, the Pacific Northwest setting is overrun by infected (I refuse to call them Freakers and I’m mad that I just did), scumbags, settlers, wildlife and “drifters” like Deacon, who considers himself honorable because of an ambiguous code which I gather is mostly that he doesn’t kill women. Unless he has to, of course.

What follows is a classic example of bloated modern game design, flooding the player with crafting, skills and systems to satisfy the endorphin rush of seeing an experience bar increase or watching numbers go up.

Within the first half hour, I was forced to smash infected children (who Deacon specifically said would mind their own business if I left them alone), because they were in my way to an objective. The game said I could avoid them then put them right in my path, overwhelming me with enemies. In fact, main missions so far have been overly restrictive to the point of “Leaving Area” signals alerting you incessantly if you stray too far.

Movement is rigid, which means Deacon is occasionally difficult to control, especially when enemies are off-screen and the camera can’t quite catch up to controller inputs.

Driving the bike is mostly competent, though the gas mileage is unforgiving early on. Who wants to stop constantly in a video game to fill up their virtual gas tank, when we do that enough as it is in real life?

Thing is, I’d be mostly forgiving of flaws if the actual content was fun. Turns out, there’s not much to it outside of the campaign. See that infected nest? Throw a molotov cocktail into it. See that outpost? Murder everyone. See that government checkpoint? Cut down the speakers, fill the generator with gas and open its doors. Then do it again. And again. Until you find another one, where you can do it all over again.


Then there’s the camp system. One of the early camps is run by a freedom fighting gun nut, whose worst offense is that he feeds obnoxious radio blasts into your ear. Which you can thankfully skip.

It’s the other camp that bothers me. It’s run by effectively a slaver operating a “labor camp.” You’d think Deacon would want to capture this camp and free its prisoners, based on his apparent moral compass, but I don’t think the game allows for that decision. You can, however, gain access to new guns when you help its leader by doing jobs or sending random survivors to work in the digging fields. And from what I can tell, there’s no consequence of choosing to work with one group over another. So morality be damned, in the name of sweet guns and bike upgrades!

I haven’t even mentioned the technical issues I’ve faced or heard from impressions online. From enemies disappearing, characters and the bike getting stuck on geometry or falling through the world, slow loading times and severe audio glitches, it’s not deal-breaking though can be annoying when considering the game’s other flaws. (Fingers crossed for more patches, since the game was already updated multiple times in classic day-one tradition.)

I’d be remiss to mention that there are certain aspects I’m enjoying, or at least aren’t interfering with my progress. It isn’t all negative, I want to make this absolutely clear.

It’s mostly stunning when it comes to visuals and art design. The setting is picturesque, and the attention to detail in parts of the world is exceptional. The artists and animators at Bend did a heck of a job. Tire treads kick up mud with a slogging sound. Light shines through tree branches before glinting off water. A foreboding sky reveals infinite stars as dusk approaches. For a dreary game, it can be remarkably majestic.

The infected horde tech is impressive, showing dozens upon dozens of distinct enemy bodies all at once that flow together like rainwater down a drainpipe. Bike customization is cool, though I wish there were more stimulating visual options. There’s a good variety of weaponry, throwables and traps for your forays into the wilderness, and shooting is competent enough. Crossbow bolts that cause enemies to turn on one another is an especially fun toy.

Survival elements aren’t overly difficult or constrictive, though it involves searching. A lot of searching. And holding down the search button. Which can break up the pacing of the game, especially when running low on materials. This was one of the main critiques of Red Dead Redemption 2, and it’s just as bad here.

Excitingly, I finally hit a narrative beat that opened up a level of intrigue. Enough so that I will be playing more to see where it goes and if the game can change my mind at all.

Here’s the thing. I’m fine being an outlier when it comes to my tastes or experiences. This time, I’m far from the only one who feels this way. Consensus on review aggregator OpenCritic is sitting at “Fair,” with less than half of the 90 critics recommending it.

One particular piece that expresses my overall hesitation is authored by Patrick Klepek at Waypoint. He writes:


Days Gone refuses to settle on what it wants to be or what it wants to say. Rather than settling on a direction, it proceeds in all directions, hoping a more-is-better philosophy will prove blinding. This is true of both the clumsy mechanics, which are ever present and impossible to ignore, and its story, following the boring moral compass of biker Deacon St. John, who roams the world in the years after an event turned the whole world to shit, claiming to operate by a “code” but refusing to allow said code to operationally manifest into action.

Marvel’s Spider-Man is currently the fastest-selling PS4 exclusive.

Mine and Patrick’s thoughts aside, where does this leave us in terms of commercial potential?

I’ve joked about it in the past, and said that I started tepid on its sales prospects. The irony is that, despite my impressions and the average critical assessments, I now actually think it will sell relatively well. Better than many games exclusive to the platform, if not becoming one of the three fastest-selling to date.

This distinction currently belongs to 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War, which sold 3.3 million and 3.1 million units respectively during their first three days on market. These are excellent figures, though I wrote last year that I expected a licensed property like Spidey to perform that way.

Next up, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End moved 2.7 million units in a single week during 2016. Ever so slightly behind that was 2017’s Horizon: Zero Dawn at 2.6 million copies, though it was across two weeks.

Right about here is where I expect Days Gone to settle at launch. Between 2.5 and 3 million units, within say the next two weeks. Which means it will beat out games like Killzone Shadow Fall (2013), Bloodborne (2015), Detroit: Become Human (2017) and Nioh (2017), which all saw a million units near launch except for Killzone, which hit 2.1 million within a couple months on sale. (Detroit and Nioh are no longer platform exclusive, though were near launch.)

Sony has intensified its marketing push lately, not just in retail but also online and traditional media. Big networks like ESPN have been steadily running promos. Plus if there’s one thing that people like these days, it’s post apocalypses and zombies. Early rumblings are positive in terms of shipments from Sony, according to my bud Benji. And I expect demand especially from casual buyers will be enough to purchase most of those inventories going to retailers.

Similarly, I predict it will be the best-selling game of April in the United States, when NPD Group reports sales results next month.

After this mostly successful launch, how will it sell longer term? I can see it maybe settling right at the bottom of 2019’s Top 10 sellers, though as an exclusive it’s already at a disadvantage compared with multi-platform titles. The more titles hit release dates in this year, the tougher it gets. Lifetime units sales of 7-8 million is feasible, especially as the console’s user base approaches 100 million.

It’s always a question if single-player games can maintain strong momentum over time. At least out of the gate, I think Days Gone is more likely to.. accelerate to success than not.

All this said, should you play it? (I know many of you will, just look at my sales prediction.) Well, depends on what you like. The ultimate problem with Days Gone is that it tries to do so many things, then loses any semblance of focus. Maybe it suffered from feature creep, trying to do much more than originally intended. Or it bolted on too much close to launch. Perhaps a lack of decisive leadership during its earlier stages. What’s clear is there are other games that do these things, and do them very well, that I’d rather play.

Do you like a massive, beautiful world to explore? Play Red Dead Redemption 2.

Want stealth action and engaging character arcs? Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

Like storming enemy encampments and taking over areas? Pick a Far Cry.

Zombies and crafting with a dynamic night-and-day cycle? Dying Light.

A sprawling world with expertly-written side quests? The Witcher 3.

Ranged combat encounters with unique enemies? Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Cinematic narrative in a post-apocalypse: The Last of Us. (Seriously if you haven’t played it, you should be doing so instead of reading this.)

Technical hiccups, repetitive side content, stiff movement, serviceable shooting, laughable enemy AI plus lots and lots of rifling through cars or houses to find crafting materials? Which are used to get caught in a tailspin of monotonous gameplay loops which serve only to make experience bars fill up, all the while questioning why you should empathize with its characters?

Shoot. Then I’d still probably play something else.

Sources: Sony Interactive Entertainment. Internet Games Database. Bend Studio. Quantic Dream. Insomniac Games. Team Ninja. From Software. Waypoint. Open Critic. Benji-Sales.

-Dom

Sony Reveals Record Gaming Sales But No New PlayStation Release Just Yet

If we learned anything from Sony Corp $SNE earlier today, it’s that it isn’t playing around when it comes to games.

The Japanese megacorp released its 2018 results, where it revealed solid overall stats and especially positive numbers within its Gaming & Network Services (G&NS) division. This includes PlayStation, downloads and related services i.e. PlayStation Plus.

Its PlayStation 4 console, released way back in 2013, has eclipsed 96.8 million in lifetime units shipped. It’s the 6th best-selling gaming platform ever, approaching the 101.63 million of the mighty popular Nintendo Wii. (Yes, the one that your grandparents even bought. To play virtual bowling.)

Quick rundown is that Sony’s total sales moved up slightly to $78 billion, while operating profit boosted 22% to over $8 billion. Sales for the final quarter came in above analyst forecast, while full-year outpaced Sony’s internal guidance.

Chart above focuses in on the gaming division, which generated a whopping $20.8 billion in sales and an increase of 75% in operating profit. This shows growth over time, using quarterly metrics, to put this record result in context.

A decline in hardware sales for the aging PlayStation 4 was offset by growth in software and subscription revenue, as PlayStation Plus members rose 6% to 36.4 million. You’ll see above that this is the best result for the “Network Services” part of this business unit, and that software is still as healthy as it’s ever been. Popular catalog titles like God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man seem to be maintaining momentum, however Sony did not share updated individual stats on its major games.

On the hardware side, PS4 shipments were lower than the prior year however this was expected as we come up on next generation. The 17.8 million units came in above the firm’s estimate, and is helping to drive toward the lifetime 100 million threshold as mentioned before.

However, there’s an important flip side to the stellar numbers that causes me to have some hesitation for its short term prospects. (Despite remaining way optimistic longer term.)

While Sony tends to provide conservative forward-looking guidance, it’s especially the case this time. Even more so than expected, given how late in the console cycle its PlayStation business is plus unevenness in other units such as Xperia mobile phones. Operating income is expected to decline to $7.3 billion, on a 10% reduction in gaming profits. According to Bloomberg, this is below analyst consensus.

Even further, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, executives stated definitively that there will be no new PlayStation hardware released until at least a year from now. Effectively, it will go the entire next fiscal year without a new console. While it’s still projecting modest PlayStation 4 units, 16 million to be exact, this revelation along with weaker-than-expected financial forecasts and uncertainty with its games software lineup, is why I’m tepid on Sony’s short-term prospects.

It does have major games in the pipeline, including The Last of Us: Part II from Naughty Dog, Death Stranding from Hideo Kojima’s new studio and Ghost of Tsushima from Sucker Punch. Though we don’t know when any of these will be out. There’s even the possibility that one or more will be saved for next generation’s launch later in 2020. Combine this with no new console, it’s clear why Sony is being conservative.

Ultimately, while I applaud the absolutely stellar results, I’m somewhat hesitant shorter term. I don’t believe it can meet its gaming unit forecast without at least two of the three aforementioned titles, as the boost from the usual multi-platform games will exist regardless.

Thus, what will be the driving factor without new hardware or multiple flagship games? Which of its major titles will release in the next year? Upside is that we’ll know soon, one way or another.

Sources: Sony Investor Relations. Wall Street Journal. Bloomberg.

-Dom

2018 Year-in-Review: Dom’s Top 10 Games of the Year

Hi all. It has certainly been a slow writing year for me here at the blog, though I try to maintain activity on Twitter as much as I can! With this last post of the year, I wanted to celebrate all the great times I had with notable games that so many dedicated development teams worked on during the past 12 months.

Let’s get right to it. Here are my Top 10 Games of 2018, in descending order. Plus, some bonus mentions at the bottom. Each is listed alongside developer, publisher, platforms and sales.

Which of these did you check out? Did any of these make your list? I certainly hope so!

10. Florence (Mountains, Annapurna Interactive)

Platforms: Mobile. Android & iOS.

Sales: Was tracking well early according to lead designer Ken Wong. Over 10K downloads on Android, 5K ratings on iOS.

Mountains’ Florence is nowhere near a typical mobile game. More of an interactive visual novel. Though it’s the type of game that wouldn’t work nearly as well on a platform *other than* mobile. It uses its platform masterfully to tell the tale of a couple in their 20s, from random encounter to honeymoon period to an inevitable rough patch. Its main mechanic is using the touch screen to literally piece things together (or attempt to do so) as an emotional narrative plays out. One that comes to an unconventional conclusion, and leaves a lasting impression as a result.

9. Celeste (Matt Makes Games)

Platforms: Everything, except mobile.

Sales: At least 500K units, according to the game’s creator Matt Thorson. Hugely successful for a smaller-sized indie team!

Celeste is a 2D platformer about struggle, mental health and attempting to overcome your internal criticisms to achieve an aspiration. As main character Madeline climbs Celeste mountain, the challenging gameplay combines with a suite of characters and a killer soundtrack to reveal it’s ultimately an allegory for setting a goal then dealing with obstacles on the way to fulfilling it. It’s a fine video game, frustrations and all.

8. Marvel’s Spider-Man (Insomniac Games, Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Platforms: PlayStation 4.

Sales: 3.3 million units its first 3 days, an all-time record for a PS4 exclusive. Currently stands as the 6th best-selling game of 2018 in the States.

For a medium that seems a perfect fit for superheros, not many recent games capture the essence of being one quite like Marvel’s Spider-Man. Insomniac stuck what I think is most important for the fantasy of being Spidey: effortless, stylish swinging through Manhattan then kicking the crap out of bad guys. While the game has snoozer side activities, annoying stealth sequences and uneven pacing, its gameplay, stellar 3rd act and surprisingly intimate character moments sling it above many 2018 games.

7. Return of the Obra Dinn (Lucas Pope, 3909)

Platforms: Windows. MacOS.

Sales: At least 100K units in around 2 months, per SteamSpy.

If you said a game made predominantly by one person that’s only available on PC/Mac where you play as an insurance adjuster would make my list, I would’ve looked at you like you were a kraken. But just last week, I finally played the game every critic I respect couldn’t stop talking about since its October ship date. It’s a sort of murder-mystery that tells the story of a doomed East India Company sea vessel called the Obra Dinn, via minimalist art and moment-in-time vignettes. Gameplay consists of navigating these snapshot memories using a magical watch, deducing what happened to crew members and passengers during the ill-fated journey. The sheer triumph of figuring out each fate becomes infectious, all the way through its conclusion and final reveal.

6. Monster Hunter: World (Capcom)

Platforms: Xbox One. PlayStation 4. Windows.

Sales: A whopping 10.7 million units. The best-selling single retail release in Capcom’s storied history, not counting re-releases.

This was the earliest major release of 2018, and the first time Capcom’s popular Monster Hunter franchise hit major consoles after being very popular on handhelds in Japan. A global audience latched onto the quirky, humorous fun of an action role-playing game where you hunt gargantuan wild creatures in a variety of detailed locales. Not only is the combat super satisfying, all of its systems blend to keep players engaged: studying animals, gathering supplies, crafting weapons, purchasing items, upgrading gear and taking on quests. Plus, it has cooperative multiplayer. And you hunt alongside a cat friend. It’s a “Palico.” That calls you Meow-ster. Purr-fect!

5. Yoku’s Island Express (Villa Gorilla, Team17)

Platforms: Xbox One. PlayStation 4. Nintendo Switch. Windows.

Sales: Not available.

I couldn’t write this list without including at least something pinball related. And Yoku’s Island Express isn’t just related, it’s pinball in video game form with a genius twist. Villa Gorilla ingeniously built a 2D world that integrates traditional pinball features like flippers and bumpers that allow for traversal across its environments. The player works toward unlocking areas, discovering secrets, finding collectibles and even fighting bosses using pinball as a means to achieve these goals. The controllable character is Yoku, a cute beetle-turned-postman, who delivers items across a cheerful world that’s unfortunately plagued by a dark curse. It’s the smartest synthesis of pinball and video game that I can remember, plus it features a joyful soundtrack and amusing dialogue. I had a ball!

4. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Ubisoft)

Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (Streaming in Japan Only), Windows.

Sales: Unit sales aren’t explicitly available, as often happens with major publishers. Ubisoft shared that 1st week sales set a record for the franchise on current generation. Currently the 10th best-selling game of 2018 in the States.

It may feel like the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been around for ages, before Assassins and Templars started beefing. Odyssey is nearly its dozenth mainline title, seeing the player take the role of Alexios or Kassandra, a pair of Spartan twins embroiled in political, societal and even mythical battles as mercenaries in ancient Greece. I don’t say it lightly that it’s one of the best entries in the series. (Yes, even after I said the same about Origins last year.) Some argue it’s shifting further from the series’ tradition, with its enhanced role-playing elements, loot system, dialogue trees, romance options and skill trees. I argue that this is progression. Ubisoft is continually expanding on the stealth-action base of its past. Other than a lackluster conclusion for one of the major plot lines, I have very little to complain about for this sharpest of entries.

3. Tetris Effect (Monstars/Resonair, Enhance Inc)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR. (I’d love a Switch version, please!)

Sales: Not available.

You aren’t suffering from seeing things, like you would if you were experiencing The Tetris Effect. There is a new Tetris game in my top three. We all know Tetris is one of the best games ever. I believe that Tetris Effect, produced by Mark MacDonald alongside visionary Japanese designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, is the singular best Tetris game ever since the original.

Its presentation is flawless. Expertly-crafted backgrounds alone would be an experience in sensory bliss. Then, its sound design is legendary. Blips of auditory delights trigger with every tetromino spin, placement and drop, accentuating its uplifting, modern new age soundtrack. It’s not without innovations, either. Players can trigger Zone, a slow motion mechanic that provides for crazy combos. There’s Journey, a curated experience through many of its levels. Its Effect mode allows players to level up and compete on leader boards. Not to mention, it’s fully playable in virtual reality. Moments of synesthesia aplenty, Tetris Effect is borderline transcendental.

2. God of War (Sony Santa Monica Studio, Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Platforms: PlayStation 4.

Sales: 3.1 million units at launch, a record for a PS4 exclusive game until Marvel’s Spider-Man released. Currently at least 5 million copies.

It’s very telling that Sony’s God of War is this high on my list, as I have little nostalgia for the over-the-top action franchise. Its main character, the rage-filled god Kratos, carries over from the earlier trilogy. Though it’s effectively a brand new game set within a gorgeous world crafted this time around Norse mythology rather than Greek. It’s a technical marvel, with game director Cory Barlog and team achieving a single camera cut for the entire duration. Positively stunning visuals, though uneven performance at times. Combat with the new Leviathan Axe is wholly satisfying, especially throwing it at a group of enemies and recalling it. Admittedly, the base combat can be repetitive but each skill unlock reveals the true depth of its systems.

With this said, the game truly shines in its story, character moments and monumental boss sequences. It’s hard to think I’m actually describing a God of War game in this way, but it’s all true and that’s why it’s this high on my list. The plot revolves around an older Kratos attempting to fulfill his wife’s dying wish of spreading her ashes, now accompanied by his half divine son and combat partner Atreus (whom the player can direct during combat and puzzle sequences). Certain Norse figures show up, including Baldur, Freya and the prolific, hilarious storyteller Mimir. The father-son dynamic drives this epic quest along, which ends in an unexpected place and surprisingly captivated me with its narrative elements above all else.

1. Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar Games, Take-Two Interactive)

Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4.

Sales: $725 million in dollar sales during its first weekend. 17 million units in its initial two weeks. The second best-selling game of 2018 in the States. Not too shabby, partner.

This year, Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar Games returned to the Western setting with the spectacular Red Dead Redemption 2. As a prequel to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, one of my favorite games of last generation, I was both extremely excited and cautiously optimistic when it was announced. I’m happy to report it vastly exceeded any expectations I had, however lofty. This open world action game’s primary storyline delves into the gang formed by eloquent criminal Dutch Van der Linde, with the player controlling the crew’s second-in-command named Arthur Morgan. He’s a flawed man, loyal to a fault yet still shows the capacity for good deeds and compassion. The game allows you to interact with every character in the world, and ultimately decide what “your Arthur” becomes via a morality scale. The voice acting and motion capture across the board here, for all characters though especially gang members, is extraordinary. Additionally, we see appearances from a variety of familiar faces from the original game: namely John Marston, Javier Escuella and Bill Williamson. Each of them alongside a myriad of new characters makes it feel more like a bustling settlement than many others I’ve seen within the genre.

I can’t understate how visually beautiful and detail complete RDR2 is. Every biome across its world, from snowy mountains to desolate plains to swampy bogs, is populated with fauna, animals, random characters and places to explore. Many games boast what’s called “emergent storytelling,” as in moments that a player will experience individually, separate of the curated quests or story beats. Few deliver on this promise as much as Rockstar does here. It rewards you for going out on your own, talking to people, finding strangers and helping them with their requests. Hunting, fishing, playing cards and more activities open up and each is masterfully executed. Some of them could be games on their own. In fact, these emergent moments are just as memorable if not more so than the game’s missions for me.

Speaking of missions, its overarching narrative is a standout especially in terms of the manner in which it’s conveyed. It’s obvious Rockstar is telling a certain story here, with cutscenes and cinematics interwoven to rival modern films. Sure, its mission design isn’t necessarily innovative. And it doesn’t allow for much player choice during said missions. But that’s by design! There’s freedom in every other aspect that more than makes up for this curation. Missions are usually tense and engaging, especially “major” events like heists or gang endeavors. Arthur and his fellow crew members are constantly on the run from the law or engaging with rivals, not to mention their Western dream of freedom is slowly dying to the progression ushered in by industrialism. There’s plenty of weight to the campaign, especially in later chapters as relationships clash or unravel, and Rockstar weaves moments of fan service with surprising twists to tie the game and its predecessor together.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect game, or even a game for everyone. Some of its menu and UI design is dated. It’s deliberate. Its “feel” can be sluggish until you get the hang of it. You don’t speed through its open world, you mosey. You savor it, as exhibited by Arthur’s movement as he skins each animal, loots each drawer and chats with each gang member or passerby. You hear their stories. And then, you make your own stories that exist alongside Rockstar’s.

I loved this pacing. I loved exploring, finding oddities and secrets that felt like only I had ever seen them before even though I know that’s not true. I virtually *became* a character in America during the late 1800s. I lived in Rockstar’s hyper-realistic, beautiful yet dangerous world for hours and hours, and savored every moment as much as Arthur did.

Before I wrap up, I would like to mention that Rockstar has been criticized for its demanding work practices. Many team members work long hours, especially right before release. This dedication absolutely shows in the final product. And there are those that expressed how much they love working for the studio. Either way, I am hopeful that every single person is compensated fairly for their efforts. Labor practices and company culture is way too big of an issue to discuss here, so I’ll end with saying that no one should have to suffer mentally or with their family just to produce a video game.

Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical Order)

Dead Cells (Motion Twin)

Platforms: Everything, except mobile.

Sales: Upwards of 2 million owners on PC alone per SteamSpy. Not available for console versions.

Dead Cells is the type of game that I shouldn’t have enjoyed, with its roguelike elements including permadeath and losing gear after every “run,” however it ended up being one of my favorite 2D action games of the year almost on feel alone. It’s at its best when you have a run during which you build a sweet load-out and slice through opponents like butter. Though I never actually beat the final boss because of the difficulty spike, which I mark as a knock against it even if you might disagree.

Destiny 2: Forsaken (Bungie, Activision Blizzard)

Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows.

Sales: The only official numbers we heard were for the original Destiny 2 launch in 2017, which was above 6.3 million units. Well beyond that by now, especially after sales and promotions, however exact figures are not available.

We all know I couldn’t end this post without at least mentioning Destiny. Bungie put out its major Forsaken expansion this September, marking the one year anniversary of Destiny 2’s initial release. And it’s excellent, featuring a campaign where lovable, witty robot Cayde-6 is murdered and the player must hunt down his killers. Plus, there’s a brand new raid, tons of new gear, secrets galore and a variety of quality-of-life updates. Bungie has kept up with maintaining Destiny 2 since launch, however this is the best it’s been. It’s as fun as ever to team up with friends and fight the galaxy’s most threatening enemies, while naturally looking pretty cool all the while.

Donut County (Ben Esposito, Annapurna Interactive)

Platforms: Everything.

Sales: At least 50K on PC, per SteamSpy. Otherwise, not available.

Have you ever dreamed of controlling a hole in the ground that swallows up entire towns? No? Creator Ben Esposito fulfills a desire that no one knew they had, crafting a fun-loving game with a simple mechanic. You move a hole around a map, growing with every item it swallows up until literally nothing remains. Its plot is actually solid, as friends Mina (a human) and BK (a racoon) work at a doughnut shop. BK plays a mobile game where he “delivers doughnuts” to people by sending them holes in the ground. It’s simple and funny, with slight undertones of a commentary on gentrification. The humor shines especially in its glossary, where each item is documented as it’s gobbled up. It’s also an accessible, easy to control game.

Hollow Knight (Team Cherry)

Platforms: Everything, except mobile.

Sales: Approximately 1.25 million units, when aggregating available PC and Nintendo Switch figures.

This entry is technically cheating, as Hollow Knight originally released in 2017. Its Switch launch happened this year, so that’s when I played it, and it’s sincerely excellent. The dark, dreary 2D action platformer stands out not just because of its challenging combat but because of its unique lore and creative world-building. It’s all about a lost kingdom of bugs, and those creatures that inhabit it. The player learns about secrets and mini-stories via exploration. Each time you proceed to a new area, you feel equal parts wonder and dread. It also has some of the most memorable boss sequences I’ve played the past couple of years.

Pokemon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokemon Let’s Go, Eevee! (Game Freak, The Pokemon Company, Nintendo)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch.

Sales: In the two months since release, over 3 million units worldwide. The highest first week sales for a Switch title, until Super Smash Bros Ultimate hit 5 million at launch in December.

My final honorable mention is the latest set of adorable entries in the Pokemon franchise, which I’ll just call Let’s Go! because it’s a lot to type every time. These are re-made versions of 1998’s classic Pokemon Yellow featuring updating trappings inspired by 2016’s mobile phenomenon Pokemon Go. I grabbed the Pikachu version of Let’s Go!, of course, and loved building up my team of pocket monsters within the colorful world of Kanto, then using them to battle trainers and gym leaders. Favorite of my current squad? Arcanine. You can ride on its back, with Pikachu on your shoulder. That’s worth the price of entry alone!

There you have it. All the 2018 games worth playing! Well, there are other good games out there, but these are my selections for the best of the best. Thank you as always for reading, here’s wishing you all the best in the new year.

Sources: Photos are screenshots from my time with these games. Sales info as linked. Other information from company media and investor relations websites, Wikipedia, Venture Beat and NPD Group.

-Dom

Earnings Calendar Oct & Nov 2018: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

 

As the weather here in the States gets colder, the last earnings season of 2018 is heating up. Which can mean only one thing of course: It’s calendar time!

 

See image above for a snapshot of the public companies planning on releasing results during the next couple of months, and below you can access in Google Doc form complete with investor relations links for further details.

 

Working Casual Earnings Calendar Oct & Nov 2018: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

 

Among the biggest story lines during this busy pre-holiday season include:

 

 

Hearing from Sony Corp $SNE on how Marvel’s Spider-Man, its fastest-selling exclusive game of the year with over 3.3 million units moved at launch in September, has impacted its gaming division and overall profitability.

 

 

Perhaps a hint from Take-Two Interactive $TTWO on early sales for Red Dead Redemption 2, hands down its largest and most important release from its flagship studio Rockstar Games, makers of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

 

 

Contributions to Apple Inc $AAPL results from its latest iPhone models, XS and XS Max, perhaps even an early indication of consumer demand for the iPhone XR, which went up for pre-order last week.

 

 

As you’ll see, there are some companies that haven’t revealed dates yet so please check back soon for updates on the remaining names. Thanks for stopping by!

 

-Dom

 

Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites/Press Releases, MarketWatch, NASDAQ.

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

Companies of E3: Sony PlayStation Media Showcase

 

It’s Monday night. E3 proper is set to begin tomorrow morning in Los Angeles. However, right now, it’s all about Sony Corp $SNE and its PlayStation Media Showcase. The current console market leader is known for having lots and lots of games in its shows, with little regard for release window of said games, and tonight’s show was no different.

 

Was a decent show, with highs and lows, but overall I definitely think you’ll be able to find a game that appeals to you on this list. Below are those featured at the media showcase, including details on my most-anticipated game.. Destiny 2!

 

 

Grand Turismo Sport: During Sony’s pre-show, it revealed that the latest installment in the GT racing franchise is out this fall.

 

 

Knack 2: Yes. Sony is actually releasing a sequel to the launch game that turned into an ongoing internet joke and meme. And it’s out September 5th. Honestly, it looks MUCH improved!

 

 

PlayLink for PS4 collection: Two games in this collection were announced: Hidden Agenda, where you use a smart phone as a controller, and That’s You, which looks like a social party game.

 

 

Matterfall: Housemarq indie game, releasing on August 15th.

 

 

Everybody’s Golf: Arcade golf game.

 

 

PlayStation VR Games: Super Hot, Summer 2017. Sparc. Tropico. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Star Child by Playful and published by GameTrust. The Inpatient. Final Fantasy XV fishing. Bravo Team. Moss.

 

 

Undertale: Popular indie PC hit coming to PS4 this summer.

 

 

Ni No Kuni II: Japanese RPG by Bandai Namco now has a release date of November 10th.

 

 

Uncharted The Lost Legacy: This standalone story in the Uncharted series started the show proper with a new trailer, it’s out August 22nd.

 

 

Horizon The Frozen Wilds: Summer 2017 for the first expansion of Guerilla Games’ excellent open world game that released in February.

 

 

Days Gone: We see more from this post-apocalyptic zombie game from Sony Bend where you fight hordes of undead and survivors. Never seen that before. (Sorry, it’s just not doing it for me. I’d rather play The Last of Us.)

 

 

Monster Hunter World: We heard rumblings of this title recently, looks like Capcom is finally officially bringing its beloved franchise to PS4 and Xbox One in the form of an open world game this time. Out in early 2018.

 

 

Shadow of the Colossus: Early 2018. Looks like an HD remake of the 2005 game from Team Ico.

 

 

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite: Out September 19th, story demo is actually available today.

 

 

Call of Duty WWII: This game again looks like a Call of Duty game set in World War II. And it’s out in early November.

 

 

God of War: I admit, every time I see this new God of War game, I care more about playing it despite not playing any of the earlier games. Releasing early 2018. No exact release date.

 

 

Detroit: Become Human: Quantic Dream’s futuristic, narrative adventure game featuring androids in an uprising looks very intriguing again as it did last year. Though, no release window revealed.

 

 

Destiny 2: Finally! My favorite franchise of this generation is getting a sequel, and Sony has a marketing deal with Activision/Bungie so (better or worse) it has access to exclusive content: missions and gear, plus a multiplayer map. But the good news is that the release date is now moved up to Wednesday, September 6th on consoles. And October 24th on PC. Bungie will host a beta testing period that begins on July 19th on PS4 and July 19th on Xbox One (for those that pre-ordered) and then July 21st for everyone.

 

Can you tell I’m excited?

 

 

Spider-Man: Insomniac’s take on the  Marvel superhero franchise is out next year. I know lots are excited for it!

 

What It Didn’t Show (Yet): The Last of Us 2, which feels odd because it’s the biggest game Sony has. But it’s also nowhere near done and I guess not ready to show just yet. Media Molecule’s Dreams, Michel Ancel’s WiLD (especially now that he showed Beyond Good & Evil 2 at the Ubisoft show I wrote about earlier). Oh, and Bloodborne 2. I guess none of my long shots are panning out.

 

That’s okay, we still are seeing some really cool games! What did you think of Sony’s briefing? Will you be buying any of these games when they release? Why aren’t you as exicted about Destiny 2 as I am?!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

-Dom

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

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

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