For Microsoft $MSFT, having one’s head in the Cloud is turning out to be a smart decision.
According to the company’s fiscal 2019 3rd quarter earnings results today, it reported revenue of $30.6 billion. An increase of 14% compared to the prior year, and a figure that comes in above analyst expectations. Operating profit jumped 25% to over $10 billion. Growth is mainly attributed to the firm’s cloud offerings and productivity suite.
Going further, how did the Xbox gaming division fare? The answer is that it broke yet another record.
As you’ll see in the above chart, Xbox gaming revenue exceeded $11.6 billion for the trailing 12-month period for the first time since the company began reporting this specific metric. This breaks the record of $11.5 billion set last quarter. In fact, revenue has been steadily growing for the Xbox business during the later part of the Xbox One generation of hardware, which began in late 2013.
Quarterly gaming sales eclipsed $2.36 billion, up 5% since this time last year. Attributed to 12% increase in Xbox software and services, which offset a drop in hardware likely due to both market saturation and discounting. Microsoft notes that software and service results were boosted by “third party monetization” and “subscriptions growth.”
Edit: While profit metrics aren’t shared for gaming itself, there is a small comment giving a bit of insight:
“Gross margin percentage increased due to sales mix shifts to higher margin businesses in Gaming and Windows.”
Translation: Gaming is shifting to higher margin businesses, which benefits profitability. Unfortunately, I don’t see much else on the profit side.
Allow me to translate that last part for you:
Xbox Live monthly active users totaled 63 million compared to 59 million last year. The more people subscribe, the more they become embedded in the ecosystem and purchase content on the digital store. Each online buy provides a revenue slice for Xbox.
Then, like so many parties involved, it’s making a boatload of cash as its players spend in online battle royale games Fortnite and now Apex Legends. This phenomenon is not only keeping players around, but more importantly attracting new ones. Which is especially key as the current hardware generation ages.
So. How is Xbox achieving milestones when it’s not selling Xboxes?
It’s the renewed focus on expanding player services and reinforcing customer goodwill. Xbox has fully established its Game Pass offering, where players pay a monthly fee for access to a library of digital titles. It’s attracting major publishers to participate, grabbing games like Capcom’s Monster Hunter: World and Square Enix’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider. While we don’t have statistics on how Game Pass did this quarter, there’s no doubt it’s bolstering the service side.
Another attractive offering is backwards compatibility, where titles from prior generations work on the Xbox One family of devices. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker or a system-seller, though it’s still a distinguishing feature.
Oh. And did I mention battle royale?
Now don’t get me wrong. The hardware decline is a moderate concern. However it’s not uncommon that a downturn happens when a console is approaching its seventh year on market. And revenue growth is still happening despite lackluster hardware results. I fully anticipate middling hardware sales in the foreseeable future, until next generation. The good news is that both battle royale and these various services aren’t going anywhere.
With all-but-confirmed rumors that the firm is building its next generation of gaming hardware for a potential 2020 launch, Microsoft’s gaming division is using services as a way to generate business and maintain its user base for the time being. And based on today’s report, it’s working.
Source: Microsoft Investor Relations & Press Resources. Xbox.com. Windows Central.
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.
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)
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)
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.
The second press conference of this E3 season is now over, as Microsoft $MSFT just wrapped up its Xbox 2017 E3 Briefing. And it was a good one!
What It Showed:
Xbox One X
After its chest-bumping viral marketing campaign for “Most Powerful Console Ever” Project Scorpio, Microsoft finally shared exactly what the hardware is all about. It’s new iteration in the Xbox One family is called Xbox One X, releases on November 7th and it will cost $499. The above videos will give you an overview, and head to this link if you want the nitty-gritty of the tech specs in comparison to the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro.
But let’s get to the fun stuff. Microsoft featured 44 games at its show, 22 of which had some sort of console exclusivity which means either the game itself or some of its content will only be available on the Xbox platform, forever or for a certain amount of time. I’ve gathered up trailers and my quick impressions below.
Lastly, in a fan-friendly announcement, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer revealed that Original Xbox games will soon be added to the backwards compatibility library. He pointed out a game like Crimson Skies will be available to play on the current generation of consoles, and it will be available later this year along with “other titles.”
Forza Motorsport 7: First game featured in the show, as car games are technical showpieces. Developed by Turn 10 Studios, it was introduced by showing off a new Porsche 911 GT2RS on stage. The game boasts more dynamic racing and will be out on October 3rd for base Xbox One models but no word on Xbox One X version.
Metro Exodus: This new entry in the Metro series of shooters was the first “brand new” game unveiled at the show. Speculation is that it’s open world. 2018 release.
Assassin’s Creed Origins: One of my most anticipated upcoming games, Ubisoft’s AC Origins was finally confirmed. Set in ancient Egypt, as anticipated. It’s a story about one man, Bayek, who is the protector of his community and fighting local corruption. It marks the start of the Assassin’s brotherhood, so I guess it’s the most prequel of all prequels in the series. Will have more RPG elements and a systemic world.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: Honestly, this was the biggest surprise of the show for me and a HUGE get for Microsoft. The super popular “Battle Royale” game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds PUBG) is launching “later this year as a console launch exclusive.” I assume this means that it will be a part of Xbox preview program, as the game is still technically in early access on PC. Regardless, this game has sold more than 2 million copies just on PC and it’s been one of the biggest stories in gaming this year.
Deep Rock Galactic: Hadn’t heard of this one before, by Ghost Ship Games. Kind of sci-fi first-person action shooter.
State of Decay 2: One of the games we knew would be at the show. Follow-up to the original entry, with new mechanics. It’s also a Play Anywhere title on both Xbox One & PC.
The Darwin Project: This game from Scavengers Studio looks like a cross between a survival game and an online competitive game. Exclusive to the Xbox platform.
Minecraft: More content and improvements for the game that’s bigger than gaming itself. The biggest news being that Microsoft is introducing cross-play across mobile, virtual reality devices, consoles and PCs. Not to mention a “super” 4K update.
Dragonball Fighter Z: As part of an effort to get more Japanese games onto the platform, Microsoft showed this fighting game in the Dragon Ball universe. Early 2018.
Black Desert Online: Fantasy MMORPG game by studio named Pearl Abyss.
The Last Night: Odd Tales’ pixelated noir adventure game that actually originated as a Flash browser game.
The Artful Escape: This one published by Annapurna has an intriguing premise, looks like a rhythm/music platformer.
Code Vein: Bandai Namco’s vampire RPG that was announced recently. Release date in 2018.
Sea of Thieves: Microsoft treated fans to an extended gameplay section from Rare’s upcoming shared-world pirate adventure game. Currently in its technical alpha phase, release window is supposed to be early next year.
Tacoma: Fullbright’s space station exploration game now has a release date, which is August 2nd.
Super Lucky’s Tale: Cute 3D platformer from Playful, based on the virtual reality game Lucky’s Tale.
Cuphead: We finally know when Studio MDHR’s artistic 2D platformer and boss rush will be out along with its cool, classic cartoon stylings: September 29th!
Crackdown 3: In one of the highlights of the show, the latest installment of Sumo Digital‘s open world superhero franchise will be releasing on November 7th.
Above is a sizzle reel of indie games available on the ID@Xbox program. They are: Osiris: New Dawn, Paladins Champions of the Realm, Raiders of the Broken Planet, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Unruly Heroes, Fortnite, Battlerite, Surviving Mars, Robocraft Infinity, The Artful Escape, Astroneer, Observer, We Happy Few, Fable Fortune, Dunk Lords, Minion Masters, Brawlout, Ooblets, The Last Night, Black Desert Online, Hello Neighbor, Path of Exile, Ashen, Ark: Survival Evolved, Riverbond, Dark and Light, The Darwin Project, Strange Brigade, Shift, Conan Exiles.
Ashen: Exclusive RPG looking to be inspired by Dark Souls or Bloodborne, from development studio Aurora 44.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm: The follow-up to time-bending adventure game Life is Strange.
Middle-Earth Shadow of War: Monolith Productions’ sequel to Shadow of Mordor, obviously set in the Lord of the Rings universe, had an extended gameplay segment during Microsoft’s show. Monolith says an important feature is expanding on the Nemesis System introduced in the first game, in which enemies would have distinct traits and remember the player’s actions throughout the story.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps: This is the follow-up to Moon Studios’ exclusive standout Ori and the Blind Forest. Was showcased alongside a beautiful piano melody most likely from the new game’s soundtrack.
Anthem: The very last game shown in an explosive show was BioWare’s Anthem, which was revealed for the first time yesterday during Electronic Arts’ conference. Described as a game in which the player can explore the unknown and protect humanity, it looks to be a co-op third-person game featuring Exosuits (called Javelins) with flying capabilities. BioWare said it has a vast open world with dynamic weather and storms plus loot to find.
What It Didn’t Show (Yet): Capybara’s indie game Below, nothing related to Fable and then my long-shot prediction of Shadow of the Tomb Raider wasn’t present either. Yet.
Whew. There you have it! What do you think of Microsoft’s Xbox One X? Are you planning to buy one? What about one of these 44 games that were featured during its show? I certainly thought it went well with the console reveal right away then a show full of new games, so let me know and feel free to get in touch on Twitter to chat more.
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!
Sources: Nintendo, Koei Tecmo Twitter, Sony, Open Critic, Super Data, Microsoft, Xbox Twitter