Battlefield 3(60)

The mediocre single player campaign in Battlefield 3 didn’t put off a number of gamers over the weekend who picked up a copy of the game. I’d imagine the reason for this was because very few of those early adopters give two hoots about solo play and were keen to kick some arse online. With marginally more robust service and arguably greater number of shooter fans, the Xbox 360 version dominated UK retail sales gobbling 53 per cent of the delicious money pie. But those players weren’t too pleased when the servers crapped out forcing them to experience the weakest part of Battlefield 3, the single player mode. That is if they felt like sticking with it at all. Not the best start for EA and their desperate (and a little one-sided) battle with Activision to be publisher of the greatest FPS. Still, the sales were positive and from what I hear, all is well when trying to get online so give it a few days and all will be forgotten. Though it does make the online pass packed with nearly all games seem a little ironic.

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest games this year may have sold the best on the Xbox 360 but it’s Sony that is selling more consoles in the European territory. So far, the PS3 has sold around 3.5 million units whereas both Xbox 360 and Wii are hovering at the 2 million mark. Does that mean these kinds of games are more profitable on the Xbox 360? The figures to suggest that’s where publishers should maybe focus their attention when doing timed exclusive DLC – a practice becoming more and more common. Microsoft were smart enough to snatch up all of the Call of Duty DLC packs first until 2012 but Sony are offering patrons the chance to download all the Battlefield 3 DLC a week earlier than the Xbox 360 and PC. In contrast, the fact that Battlefield 3 sold better on Microsoft’s format may also suggest gamers are getting tired of such exclusivity deals and will buy a game for whatever they feel most comfortable on.

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David Cage gets heavy

David Cage, head of Quantic Dream and maker of Heavy Rain doesn’t want your money. That’s not why he got into video game development. He wants to build that brand that is ‘David Cage’ and create brand new IPs rather than revisiting existing ones. In an interview with Develop, Cage spoke of how there definitely won’t be a sequel to Heavy Rain, despite selling so well and being an unlikely poster boy for some of the first Move supported games. He said that he wasn’t in the business to make money and wrote Heavy Rain because he was excited about the idea and wanted to tell a that story. Now the story has been told, Cage sees no reason to go back to it and prefers instead to focus the energy of Quantic Dream into making ground-breaking concepts.

On release, Heavy Rain was a fantastic showcase for Sony and the PS3, with stunning graphics and a story that was truly mature, tackling subject matter that wouldn’t normally be found in a video game. The plan was to support the game with DLC furthering the story and the characters personalities but only one was actually made available as the studio was persuaded to develop Move functionality. Sony didn’t seem to bothered but the halt of Heavy Rain and nor does Cage who once famously said (and now claims he was mis-quoted) that you should only play Heavy Rain once and live the the story and consequences you chose the first time around. As tempted as I have been to go back to it, I’ve only ever played it though the one time and agree with Cage that there really is no reason other than a wallet-padding to go back to that world.

Cage added how he sees himself as more of an author and regardless of him celebrating his 42nd birthday this year, he hasn’t lost the spark or passion for game design and isn’t yet worried about concentrating on making money in order to fund his family. Maybe Cage should have a chat to his colleague Guillaume de Fondaumiere about the money making abilities of Heavy Rain. Just this month, Fondaumiere criticised the second-hand market for losing him and the studio upwards of €10 million in royalties because a rough estimation showed that 2 million people bought Heavy Rain whereas 3 million actually played it. The way I saw it, a further 1 million people were exposed to the work of Quantic Dream, potentially expanding the audience for whatever they make next.

Back in March, Cage’s talk at GDC caused quite a stir when he begged for the industry to make games for adults, not teenagers and forget the preconceived ideas of how to make a game – boss battles, levels, points, shooting, missions etc – and think of games in a totally different way. This latest chat with Develop echoes these sentiments but also adds even more pressure for the next Quantic Dream game to be as forward-thinking as Heavy Rain was. The fact that it’s not Heavy Rain 2 is a very good start.

The PSVita may support older games and last longer than five hours

Back in June, a Japanese research company asked a collection of potential 3DS owners why they weren’t buying the handheld. The number one reason was its cost and now that’s been cut so dramatically, presumably some of those questioned are now owners of Nintendo’s new handheld. That is unless it was the weak battery life which put them off. It was number nine on the list and the actual gameplay time Nintendo say is capable on the 3DS is between three and eight hours.

Not quite the seemingly endless amount previous DS systems could run for but it may just end up being longer than what the PSVita can do. As part of the 2011 Tokyo Game Show, Sony has announced that its new portable machine will last somewhere between three and five hours depending on what you’re doing on it. If you’re offline, have the screen brightness at default, refrain from using Bluetooth and the built-in speakers opting for headphones instead, consumers should expect three to five hour gaming sessions. If you fancy oggling a film or two on the rather nice OLED display, the PSVita tops around five hours and for music alone it’s more like nine hours.

Though not quite the numbers wanted, there’s only so much a humble rechargeable battery can do and the PSVita is certainly a powerful beast. It’s a shame that from what Sony are saying, playing games with a brightened screen and online will lesson the battery life even more but when the PSVita is being touted as a portable PS3, it’s annoying but somewhat understandable.

Much like Sony’s other TGS announcement. It’s been promised that the PSVita will support older PSP titles and those downloaded from PSN will be retrofitted to use the second analog stick. But what of the numerous disc-based UMD games? Some of them never made it to PSN, will PSVita owners be able to get their hands on them too? Sony’s answer: maybe (via Kotaku). As of now, they’re thinking of solutions for gamers with solely UMD collections who want to upgrade to the PSVita but have said little else on the matter. To me, it sounds an awful lot like the promises made around the early days of the PSPgo. Back then we were led to believe a programme would be put in place for a UMD conversion programme however due to legal and technical issues, Sony abandoned the idea. But, as neat as the PSPgo was, it was never at the forefront of Sony’s long term strategies whereas the PSVita is. It’s their next portable, the PSP2 in fact and they want it to be big. So migrating the old audience from PSP to Vita is essential and if it means coming up with some crazy scheme then a crazy scheme we can certainly expect.

That’s a lot of map packs…

Nowadays I often get the feeling that the words Call of Duty are likened to a particularly nasty phrase or that one swearword that everyone feels ashamed to say in public. Most comments and chatter among hardcore enthusiasts is that Battlefield 3 will be superior and the overpriced DLC and exploitation of a franchise has made Call of Duty a place where few wish to tread. However, the fault doesn’t squarely lie at the feet of Activision because it appears no matter how much they charge, people are willing to pay.

At an investors event yesterday, Activision ceo Eric Hirshberg made a lot of attendees smile manically as he revealed a whopping 18 million map packs have been sold for Black Ops making the company a teeny bit richer. The packs sell for around $15 each so times that by 18 million and your calculator just may melt in the process. Compare that to the previous Call of Duty games and it shows how popular Black Ops has become. Treyarch’s World at War sold nine million map packs in the same amount of time as Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 sold eleven million. The former went for $10 a pop whereas from MW2 onwards, packs have become the now standard $15.

Critically, Black Ops wasn’t as loved as Modern Warfare 2 and the fact that Treyarch, thought of as the ‘B-team’ studio, worked on meant those who cared where slightly dubious of its quality. I may not have enjoyed Black Ops as much as MW2 but it was still an enjoyable game and clearly more favoured by the larger mainstream audience. Hirshberg added to his earlier claim saying how consumer engagement is at an all time high, making people think twice about brandishing the franchise as one that is on its way out:

“There are over 30 million unique players of Black Ops who collectively have amassed, incredibly, more than 2.3 billion hours of play. To put that number in perspective, that’s more than a quarter of a million years of play and that means our millions of fans spend more time per day on Black Ops multiplayer than they do on Facebook.”

So where does that leave Call of Duty? With figure like this it certainly isn’t going anywhere soon. The paid-for stat-tracking service, Call of Duty Elite, surpassing two million Beta registrations not to mention pre-orders of Modern Warfare 3 looking to best those of Black Ops, the fall of the FPS may be a little while yet. Not that I’d want it to. Say what you will, there’s still room in the industry for games like Call of Duty and the more choice we have of what to play the better. And if we’re pissed at high prices for DLC map packs unfortunately we only have ourselves to blame. Well, maybe not directly…

Nothing is free, not unless you’re Nintendo

One thing Nintendo needs to focus on the most for this generation and beyond is rallying support from third party developers. They tried and arguably failed to do this right off the bat with the 3DS by withholding the best first party software to allow third party titles a bit of breathing space. A kind and possibly dangerous gesture that makes the recent news all the more odd. According to Nintendo World Report (via My Nintendo News) third party devs aren’t currently able to release free software through the 3DS’s eShop. And no freebies means no demo either or at least not unless you want to pay for them.

At this point in time, anything that appears on the eShop that isn’t by Nintendo must be at least 200 yen which is why Capcom’s demo for Nazo Waku Yakata recently went live on the Japanese store for said price. It was thought that Capcom were just trying to make a quick buck out of the consumer but evidently not.

It’s perplexing why Nintendo aren’t easily allowing demos on the store when they’ve become integral to a lot of smaller games’ success. What better exposure is there than the chance to play a small part of a game for free? It works well for most (i.e good) XBLA titles that must have a demo version and is a method that Nintendo really must accept instead of fighting against on their platforms. Restricting third party content isn’t going to win developers over especially on the 3DS.

The reason again most likely stems from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata’s fear of low budget and free-to-play games devaluing the software and even developers themselves which I tend to agree with. But demos don’t fit into either of these categories and should be viewed differently. Hopefully they will be too what with the eShop being so young and Nintendo showing they are willing to conform, albeit slowly, to current online video game practices.

The highs and lows of Nintendo’s digital service

When you have to slash the price of a brand new piece of hardware and your managerial staff take considerable pay cuts to make up for losses, you would have thought Nintendo would be upping their game when it comes to 3DS releases, especially via the eShop. The DSi was and still is littered with low-tier titles through DSiWare and the hope was the eShop would begin a new period of higher quality digital downloadable games from the Japanese giant. However, coming this week is the GameBoy version of Pac-Man. For £3.70 (€4).

Now Pac-Man maybe one of the all time classics video games but the very week after pretty much admitting your new handheld has a problem with generating interest and consumers, isn’t the time to trawl through the back catalogue of over-played hits. I don’t doubt the release date has been around longer than the idea to cut the price of the 3DS but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been pushed back to make way for one of the many more exciting classic GameBoy titles. Furthermore, charging £3.70 is baffling when you can buy newer versions with more features for much less on competing platforms. The mind boggles as to what’s going on at Nintendo HQ.

That being said, news that Nintendo is currently working on a transaction system enabling the 3DS and next year’s Wii U to receive premium DLC is also hitting the internet, lifting spirits dampened by silly eShop titles. In an investors meeting on Friday (via Andriasang) president Satoru Iwata said feature will be made available to developers by the end of the year allowing them to begin pumping out chunks of content presumably in-game for new titles and via the eShop for older ones. But we all know the shadiness of existing DLC services with things like unlock keys and purchasable stat increases and Iwata said these won’t be making an appearance on their platforms. Both he and Shigeru Miyamoto said they want to see content that will extend the life of a game – like new levels for example. Anything less than that they believe will damage any possibility of solidifying long term relationships with consumers and fans (ironic after the first two paragraphs of this post…)

Don’t expect to see free-to-play games appear on the 3DS anytime soon though as Iwata again down-played their importance. To him, a platform like that would undermine the premium value of Nintendo’s content. To everyone else, it starts to look like backward thinking from a company with massive potential to once again dominate the handheld space. I don’t go for free-to-play games myself but do understand their relevance in todays market and think that if Nintendo cherry picked the best ones for the 3DS and Wii U, it would do more good than not having them at all.

Media Molecule sets sights on new ground

Media Molecule are a development team relatively small in number but considerably vast in originality. They’ve gone from being a fairly unknown studio to one of the most admired within the industry and created arguably Sony’s biggest new IP, LittelBigPlanet. It’s already graced the PS3, twice, as well as the PSP and will soon be available on the PSVita when that itself is released. In between these big titles are the numerous DLC packs with another added Move support to LBP2, the name Media Molecule could easily be a prefix for name LittleBigPlanet.

A gambling man could be tempted into betting the next game from the Guilford based studio would be another LBP but director Siobhan Reddy has been quoted by Edge saying “We’re stepping away from LittleBigPlanet to focus on some new ideas,” at Gamelab 2011 in Barcelona recently. Being a huge fan of the create-em-up, the idea that the minds behind such a creative franchise are broadening their portfolio is great news. Media Molecule took the idea of a sandbox experience, mixed it with platformer and then furthered that concept in LBP2 by adding pretty much every genre imaginable into the game. Some of the levels were steeped in traditional gameplay mechanics but felt fresh nonetheless so it’s clear they understand what makes a game good, regardless of genre.

Another reason why Media Molecule’s move away from LittleBigPlanet is a good one stems from one of the most problematic issues in gaming; over saturation. With Sony claiming the star of LBP, the Sackboy, as a part-time mascot for the company, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a multitude of spin-off games and needless titles dirtying up an awesome franchise. The get out clause of course is how LBP2 can be used to create any kind of game so even if MM were asked to make, say, a Sackboy kart racer, they kind of already have or at least given others the tools to do so themselves. Right now, Sony and MM are treating the franchise respectfully and allowing it some breathing space while they go off and spread the talent onto something new is pretty much just what this fan (both thumbs are pointing towards myself right now) wants to see.

Of course that’s not to say Media Molecule are abandoning LittleBigPlanet. There is still the aforementioned Move support DLC as well as some undoubtably more unannounced packs but it’s with great anticipation that I’ll await the reveal of the next Media Molecule game. I’m sure whenever they do it’ll be rightly or wrongly compared the LBP and even expected to live up to its genius but the jump from LBP1 to 2 was really quite substantial so who says the leap to their next game won’t be just as impressive?