Games in the media in 2016 – Overwatch comes out on top

To complete the usual series of blog posts reviewing the past year, I present to you 2016 and video games in the media.

Like last year, bear in mind that we are using our internal tool to collect these numbers, and understanding the methodology is important. It is particularly worth mentioning this year Pokemon Go is definitely making things crazy. Or crazier than usual I should say. In order to account for that, a lot of the numbers presented here are limited to video games media. We do have General Interest and Tech media in our tools, but they are not as exhaustively collected on our end.

Games

 

Let’s address Pokemon Go now. I wrote about the game shortly after the launch, and while things have calmed down since July, the game is still receiving an impressive amount of coverage daily, even at times where there is no new update to discuss.

This being said, it wasn’t the number one game mentioned in the games media (important to be specific here), that was Overwatch.

Pokemon Go, while announced in September 2015, received very little coverage until it launched in early July 2016. The amount of coverage collected here is basically only 6 months worth, where Overwatch was already well covered prior to its launch in May.

If we compare these numbers to the ones from last year (which take into account a wider range of types of media), Pokemon Go’s performance is striking as it is a Nintendo game (only Splatoon managed to barely get in the top 15) and a mobile game (there were none in that ranking in 2015).

Overwatch is also impressive as it had 50% more coverage than any game in 2015. The online nature of the game, with its constant updates, coupled with the power of the Blizzard brand, pushed the game to the top here, making it by far the game with the most media presence in 2016.

Overwatch is also striking in the sense that it is one of the only two new IPs in this ranking (The Division being part of the Tom Clancy’s franchise), alongside No Man’s Sky. Many industry commenters pointed to No Man’s Sky’s hype as being the main reason for its fall from grace, and you have to give them credit here, when you see the game is in the top 15 most covered by media game of the year, while coming from a small independent studio. Even the Sony PR machine can’t be the only thing at play here, as many very large productions didn’t manage to make it in these rankings. The game’s hype took on a life of its own, and got big.

For the fans of the respective series, it will interesting to note that Battlefield 1 secured about +40% more coverage than this year’s Call of Duty game. Year-on-year, Call of Duty’s media coverage dropped about -12%.

Monthly Data

For a very long time, we wanted to run these numbers. As ICO is also a PR agency, a lot of the discussions with the studios and the publishers come around to the best timing to do a particular communication. The above is a great way to understand when certain periods are swamped, while some are on the contrary very light.

You’ll see that I removed Pokemon Go from the data. The game was so dominant at its launch that it was skewing the data (more than 7% of the  articles in the games media in July 2016 mentioned Pokemon Go). Removing it is not a perfect solution either, but it draws a slightly better picture.

There are different ways to understand these numbers, but here are my takeaways:

  • You probably want to communicate when the ratio of articles for AAA is lower. It means the coverage is more varied and more likely to be covering your game. From that perspective, November is often deemed a tough month for communications, and both graphs illustrate this well.
  • When there is a lot of coverage, you also have more chances to be covered, however, the communication will also stand out less as higher volume of articles means more noise overall. In that sense, communicating during the E3 period (June) can be a blessing and a curse at the same time.
  • While media coverage does drop during the Christmas period, it is the only time in the year where there is a visible drop in the volume of coverage across all media. It means that any other time, there will always be a minimum number of articles that need to be written, and it can pay off to aim for the periods outside of the AAA games releases, like January or July.

While making these graphs, the question came up about the number of games beyond those top 20 games. The truth is, we don’t know how many games communicate in any given month. We do know how many games are released on Steam on average, and this is where the 500+ number comes from. In reality, you can expect all the games releasing to have some form of communication that month, but you would also need to add all the games that are announced, the games that are communicating about their upcoming release, the released games having some newsworthy announcement, like an expansion, or a DLC release, not to mention the live games with significant updates.

That 500+ figure for games is quite conservative in truth.

Platforms

2016 was interesting as far as platforms are concerned. While there were no new console coming out, there were upgrades, iterations and major accessories announced and released. The Playstation 4 and the Xbox One are hitting their stride while the Wii U is in its last year being the main console for the Nintendo line up, with the Switch being around the corner.

What is interesting in the media coverage is the fact that it was yet again a strong year for the Playstation 4, with even more media coverage than in 2015 (+14%). The console has established its lead, the media follow the trend. The PlayStation VR and the Playstation 4 Pro both helped bring the device in front of the media as well.

For Xbox One, it was also a good year compared to 2015 (+18%), a growth in coverage not necessarily being a given considering the most important announcement, Project Scorpio, related to a new version of the console to be released in 2017.

The Wii U year-on-year numbers see a steep decline overall (-24%). Comparing it to the Oculus Rift, which is a niche platform that had its first release in the year both shows how much Oculus has accomplished, and how much the Wii U has dropped.


Sony’s communication strategy is well established by now, with most of its coverage originating from E3 and a combination of their own events and industry conferences.

gamescom, despite the absence of a press conference, is still an important source of coverage overall, but it does come after the press event ahead of the Tokyo Game Show.

And like last year, the Playstation Experience event in early December was a tremendous success for Sony as far as media coverage is concerned.

The Microsoft coverage over the year has fewer events sparking spikes in coverage. The two most notable ones are the E3 in June, and gamescom in August, even though, like Sony, they didn’t put a press conference together in 2016.

Microsoft seemed to be on the defensive in its communication strategy the whole of 2016 and the fact it still managed to grow the coverage is a good sign. Hopefully they will be more aggressive this year, with the Project Scorpio device coming, to shake things up a bit.

Unabridged Comments – What we can learn from Fable Fortune’s Kickstarter [MCV]

Here is another Unabridged Comments (the fact I contributed to two articles in a short time frame kind of kicked me in doing this section). This time, it was MCV reaching out to me to discuss the unfortunate Kickstarter campaign for Fable Fortune. Like last time, I have fixed a few typos and rephrased some points I was making a bit.

Article premise – Here is the frame provided for the article:
  • The piece is centred around Fable Fortune on Kickstarter
  • The wider topic is why crowdfunding doesn’t really work for free-to-play titles
  • The request came with a series of questions I have reproduced below to frame the discussion
And these are my unabridged comments:

Were you surprised [Fable Fortune campaign failed]?

Well – whenever you set rules, [like the “Free-To-Play games don’t get crowd funded” rule], you always have exceptions to prove them wrong. I would have thought the Fable brand to be strong enough to invalidate this one.

There were other things at play, [and] without going too much into it right now, one comment that came back a lot was on the fact that Fable is an Xbox franchise at its heart, and the campaign was addressing the PC audience first and the Xbox audience (in appearance) only after a certain very high stretch goal was reached.

How would you assess Fable Fortune’s Kickstarter campaign? 

The Fable Fortune campaign was a surprise to me, and it didn’t unfold how I would have expected. The most important component to any campaign is to make sure you have an existing audience that you bring with you in the campaign, and Fable certainly  has that. The franchise is incredibly strong. Another key component is to be able to show the game, and certainly Fable Fortune fit the bill there again. And while Free-to-Play games tend to have a very hard time getting funded, the few notable exceptions are all CCGs, which made me optimistic for Fable Fortune.

As far as campaigns go, I think Fable Fortune did a lot of things right, I suspect they failed (or more precisely they would have failed as they cancelled the campaign before the end and secured funding with a 3rd party) due to the change in the video landscape. With Hearthstone dominating the CCG genre at the moment, they don’t fill a niche that is in strong demand. They also diluted their message by announcing their Stretch Goals from the beginning, something that is really not recommended.

Do you think that free-to-play games can be successfully crowdfunded?
Free-to-Play games are historically incredibly hard to get crowdfunded. The most notable exception is probably Hex Shards of Fate, a free-to-play CCG, that raised more than $2m three years ago. From the top of my head, I think I can count less than 20 successfully funded (free to play) video games on Kickstarter, and I would certainly advise [strongly] against trying to fund this type of game this way.
What challenges do you think free-to-play games face on Kickstarter?

The inherent promise of a Free-to-Play game is that you can try it for free, with no commitment, and as you play it, you may feel like putting your money into it. This is the opposite of what happens with a game that you crowdfund, where you build a promise that the game will be so interesting to you before you can play it, that you can safely put your money into it, months or years before you actually put your hands on it.

It makes funding a Free-to-Play game incredibly counter-intuitive. There are other principles at play too here. One of them is the fact that F2P games have offerings with a very large variance. You can spend a lot or you can spend a little. It might seem like it is the case for games funded on Kickstarter, where you can pledge at very different levels, but actually, the core experience offered is usually at one fixed price point (the price of the game), and everything else is additional perks on top of that core offering. This is not how most F2P games operate, and it makes it difficult for the potential backer to project how satisfying certain rewards will be.

And lastly, and it probably plays a role too, the profile of the most frequent backers for video games is certainly close to the profile of the players that are defiant of the F2P model: older, hardcore PC gamers.

What tips would you offer someone attempting to crowdfund a free-to-play game?
I would seriously advise against it first. And in case the project has some strong community that would help compensate the F2P handicap, I would suggest to create the rewards as much as possible around perks or content that are very easy to understand for the player before they even play the game. Imagine a World of Tanks-style game on Kickstarter. Imagine it has a reward at $10 that gives you a free tank. How good is this? Will the tank be useless after 2-3h in the game, or will it be valuable throughout the life of the game? If you can explain what is the value of what you offer in a clear and simple way, then you make one of the core challenges easier to surpass.
How would you assess the launch of Mighty No.9? 
Mighty No.9 ran a fantastic campaign. Maybe too good. I think it is very tempting when you run a campaign to get taken by the momentum and make too many promises, or present the project a certain way, before doing a proper assessment about its feasibility. It seems to me that it happened here.
The launch itself, I don’t have much to add to what many have said already. The expectations were high, and the game didn’t meet them, unfortunately.
I’ve seen some people saying that [Mighty No. 9] may have damaged consumer faith in crowdfunded games. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t believe in these kind of statements. There has been many badly managed campaigns in the past, some of them with more dire results than Mighty No.9 (Clang comes to mind), and the number of

projects that get funded [every month] on Kickstarter is stable.

If anything, each campaign exists in its own set of communities, and one poor game, even very well covered by the media, won’t have much of an impact on other projects.
What we observe is that the euphorical enthusiasm for crowdfunding is gone. Projects that are funded don’t tend to go beyond their initial objectives as much as a couple of years ago.
Anything else I haven’t touched upon that you feel is worth mentioning? 
Nothing coming to mind,

 

Unabridged Comments – Are Digital Cards Games a Bubble? [Gamasutra]

From time to time, I get requests from publications to comment on specific topics. It is quite common for these comments to be cut or summarised to fit with the way the article is written, but it also means that some things are not said. However, as the time to write those comments has been spent, I feel like they should be shared. The original articles are interesting in their own rights as usually multiple persons are weighing in the topic, so it seems quite complementary. It can also be an opportunity for me to add to the comments, in light of the other contributions.
I want to kick off this practice by sharing the whole of my comments done for the Gamasutra article on Digital Collectible Card games (I am sharing my full comments with their blessing).
Article premise – Here is the frame provided for the article:
  • There has been a rise of digital collectible card games for the past couple of years (and a recent acceleration)
  • Specific question – Why is the trend is exploding now (and if I’ve seen a rise in crowdfunded CCG projects, both physical and digital)?
  • Specific question – Do I think this will be a short term fad/bubble, or do I think CCGs have staying power on these platforms?
  • Specific question – What’s the draw for developers and publishers to push so aggressively into this space?
And these are my unabridged comments:

Specifically looking at CCG that were crowdfunded, I think there are very interesting trends that many can learn from. CCG on Kickstarter have done historically incredibly well.

First, you can consider SolForge, a free-to-play CCG that raised $429,000 on Kickstarter in September 2012 ) – when free-to-play games are notoriously difficult to fund on the platform. That in itself was a sign of a real hunger for this type of game at the time.

Then, less than a year later, in June 2013, you have Hex that managed to raise more than $2.2m , again on a free-to-play promise, using the Magic the Gathering nostalgia (or enthusiasm as Magic is still around I guess) as well as the promise of an MMO experience alongside the card game elements.

[For reference, the two campaigns mentioned]

 

Kickstarter has always been a good place to get interest for games in an under served niche. At the moment, I think the niche is no longer under served, Hearthstone has taken care of this. The way I look at it is the way the Fable Fortune Kickstarter campaign went – it had a very strong IP behind it, it had excellent media coverage and reach, but it didn’t transform into a home run, far from it. Before it got cancelled, the campaigned had raised £58k ($76k ) in 20 days. That’s a lot less than SolForge did, and I don’t believe this is due to crowdfunding being past its prime. There are still many projects funded every month. Fable Fortune was unfortunate to be in a segment where there doesn’t seem to be an unfulfilled promise. The fact that the Fable brand is not particularly associated with this type of gameplay didn’t help, but I am certain than had it been released prior to Hearthstone, it would have found an audience.

That’s the risk I see in the current CCG craze – like when WOW released and brought the MMO genre to the forefront, I am afraid that the actual demand for this type of game is mostly fulfilled by Hearthstone. I personally am not very fond of it, and find Magic more appealing, but Magic, while having a dedicated audience, has always had a weak presence on the digital front – Hearthstone is showing the potential that was untapped (and yes, hearthstone is also a much more accessible game, widening even further the reach it has and its audience).

CCGs will stay, and I think there are room for multiple titles that will garner more diversity than in the MMO genres for instance, but we are not in a space where there will be a lot of titles either. I think like in the MOBA space, you will have 3 to 4 strong titles doing very well, half a dozen being profitable and having a sustainable presence, but beyond that, I have a hard time seeing this being a genre that has slew of new titles cycling every year.

I see the draw for publishers and studios – these games are less costly to put together initially, with the promise of very high returns, but there are also very dependent on building a sustainable audience. To anyone keen on tackling this kind of game, I would encourage them to look at the waves of CCGs that sprung from the Magic the Gathering success back in the 90s, and to consider how many (or how few) of them have actually had any enduring existence.

Pokémon Go media coverage is truly insane – analysis

 

Currently there is no way to miss Pokémon Go. In its short lifetime, the game is breaking records left and right like being the biggest mobile game in the US ever or attracting more users than services like Twitter or Tinder.

We looked into our coverage tracking tool (more info on the tracking method here) to see how well Pokémon Go is doing in terms of press coverage. To make the coverage of the only recently released title comparable to other games we looked at data from the last three years and picked the highest performing week in terms of number of articles for each title (technically, the best 7 consecutive days).

In the graph below you can see that Pokémon Go managed to get by far the most articles on it’s highest performing week.
graph_01 One of the main reasons Pokémon Go was able to achieve such a high amount of coverage is the fact that many general interest websites and gaming websites currently cover the game with several articles a day.

This makes sense as the appetite for Pokémon Go coverage is remarkable at the moment. For instance, Game Network (a publishing house hosting some of the biggest gaming sites in the world including Eurogamer, VG247 and Rock Paper Shotgun) noted that they had their biggest traffic day so far thanks to Pokémon Go:

And Kotaku’s Keza MacDonald stated that Pokémon Go articles see outstanding traffic numbers, with over half a million clicks at least per article, making it “considerably bigger than E3”:

In short: there seems to be no game in the last three years that managed to generate nearly as many articles per day as Pokémon Go.

Of course this only shows a snapshot of the media coverage for the games listed. While Pokémon Go had an impressive start, games like Overwatch manage to keep up media buzz over a long period of time.

Even so, looking at the coverage from Pokémon Go, Fallout 4, Overwatch and Zelda: Breath of the Wild over a longer period of time (June 2015 to July 2016) it became apparent that Pokémon Go has an impressive head start. It even even stacks up well against Fallout 4 which saw outstanding coverage numbers and is internally our benchmark to see how much coverage it is possible for a game to get. For the overview graph we also highlighted the biggest news beats where possible. Some titles like Overwatch didn’t see one particularly strong communication topic but rather saw a very high amount of coverage from a mix of sources.

graph_02

What makes the extremely high number of Pokémon Go articles even more impressive is the setup of the game: Whereas Fallout 4 perfectly orchestrated a genius PR coup last year by revealing and extensively showing the game just a day before E3 started, with press and players already eager for news, Pokémon Go was simply released in a few countries without any event, fancy videos or much fanfare.

I will offer some extra food for thoughts for you as you ponder the cheer scale of the coverage that Pokémon Go has received recently. The below graphs shows the repartition of the recent coverage for both Overwatch and Pokémon Go based on the type of media:

graph_03

graph_04

Our tools have been built around media outlets that cover video games. In terms of the media that we properly track, I am very confident in regards to what we consider “games” media. However, there are plenty of “general interest” media that we are missing, because they focus much more on local news and have historically mentioned video games only anecdotally (if ever). I believe that what we see in our tools, while probably fairly accurate and representative for most video games, is missing many of those media from our data set.

This would mean that despite being so overwhelmingly dominant already, it is actually strongly under-representing the actual media coverage of Pokémon Go.

While it’s hard to predict how the Pokémon Go hype will develop over the next couple of days, it is already clear that it’s the strongest covered Nintendo title in years and it will almost certainly be the most covered game of 2016.

 

Nota bene: many thanks to Thomas Reisenegger for putting together most of the elements of the article.

Stretch Goals – Best Practices for video games crowdfunding [Part 2]

Last time, I went over how a campaign should plan its stretch goals and communicate about them, but I didn’t say much about the nature of stretch goals themselves. So it is time to discuss that.

And before I go into my thoughts on the topic, I think this requires an extra disclaimer. While I have a strong opinion about how stretch goals should be planned and announced, the nature of stretch goals is a much more complex topic, one where the nature of the game, the profile of its communities, the capabilities of the studio play such big roles that it would be hard for me to establish rules the way I did in the previous piece. For this reason, take all of the below as general guidelines and if anything feels inappropriate or odd for your own project, it is probably because it is and you should ignore what I say. On with it.

Read more

E3 2015 Media Coverage Analysis – aka “Who won the E3 media battle?”

A year ago, I did a pretty extensive analysis of the media coverage around E3. Well, I have done it again, and it now benefits from the added experience of data tracking for the past 12 months.

As usual, if you are not familiar with the way the data is collected, I invite you to read the blog post on the topic. For the purpose of this article, I have only looked at the data from articles published during the week of E3 (from Sunday to Saturday).

Last disclaimer: of all the games that were featured in the main press conference, we have one that is problematic to track with our current tools and which has been excluded from all the data below: Just Cause 3. Just keep this in mind, we haven’t ignored it, it is just a slightly problematic game for us at the moment.

 

Platforms

To get started, I wanted to get advantage of some information I didn’t have last year: the data from the previous year.

Comparing the coverage year-on-year is an important indicator, one I wanted to check first. It is important to note that the number of media we properly track is constantly evolving – some websites die, some news ones emerge, and sometimes the websites break the way we track them, so the system for tracking articles is consistently improved upon. Overall, I think the pure volume of media we track is increasing overtime, but it is a rather slow increase.

E3 - Platforms in the media - number of articles

In terms of number of articles, we can see a decline for both Sony and Nintendo, while Microsoft has a significant increase in the media coverage. This might come from a stronger line up on Microsoft’s part or weaker showing from their competitors. We shall see later, but it might also come from a more clever selection of the multiformat titles featured for the respective conferences (well, between Sony and Microsoft as Nintendo is not invited to play that game).

* The following graph requires some pre-explanation. In order to measure the magnitude of an article, with have created a formula based on the websites’ Alexa ranking to give their articles different “weight”. The more popular the website, the more weight we give to their article. This value is called Reach in our tools and range from 0.1 to 10. For example, currently, Eurogamer.net has a reach of 10, Gamasutra.com has a reach of 9, MondesPersistants.com has a reach of 2. So what you see below, is a chart of the total reach of all the articles showed above. We refresh the reach values constantly.

E3 - Platforms in the media - Total Reach

The graph shows an interesting pattern. It shows that the media coverage might have reduced in volume, but the media covering the event have grown. It could be the websites have a better penetration than last year, or it could be more general interest media (that tend to have a much better reach) are taking a bigger interest in the video games news.

It also shows this year wasn’t a Nintendo year, hardly maintaining its reach from last year when both Microsoft and Sony expanded.

Looking more at the specific platforms more specifically:

E3 2015 - Platforms - number of articles

Leading the pack, the Playstation 4 has roughly the same volume of articles as last year. Xbox One saw a 25% increase in the number of articles mentioning it. The Wii U, the PS3 and the Xbox 360 are all seeing a decline. That’s understandable for the two “old gen” machines, but more concerning for Nintendo.

On the front of the new technology, Oculus Rift (which had its own media conference the week before), Morpheus and Hololens are all holding up nicely in the same range.

I added StarVR, newcomer to the VR scene, as they had just announced their existence and had a presence at E3. With 264 articles, and considering their lower profile, I think this is a good performance.

Games

I have kept things a bit simpler this year and avoided looking at the games as mentioned during the console makers’ conferences. They tend to bleed over the conference of the publishers and not provide much insight. I am going to experiment with the publishers conferences instead – especially as this year two new companies are trying themselves at this perilous exercise with Bethesda and Square Enix joining EA and Ubisoft.

But, first, just looking at all the games we track, here are the top 15 games the most mentioned during E3:

E3 2015 - Top 15 Games

First thing to mention, all the games making the top 15 were featured during one or more of the media conference.

Second thing to mention, FALLOUT 4!!! I have meant to write an article on the media coverage the announcement for the game had but couldn’t make it happen pre-E3. From the current research I made for that article, Fallout 4 announcement is the most covered game announcement since we track these data. By a large margin. But even with such a strong sign of the franchise power, I didn’t expect Fallout 4 to dominate by that much, especially after the storm of coverage that FF7 and Shenmue created.

Bethesda had a brilliant timing and this helps a lot for their presence in that chart (Fallout 4; DOOM; Dishonored 2). By going first on the Sunday, with journalists all already present in LA and with nothing to do for a whole news cycle but write about their games, Bethesda snatched a great spot. Fallout also got double featured, at the Bethesda event as well as the Microsoft briefing.

Sony, despite losing ground to Microsoft year-on-year, still has the knack to bring topics that make the buzz going: Final Fantasy 7; Shenmue on Kickstarter; The Last Guardian. They certainly won’t be able to use a similar trick for next year – unless they can convince Ubisoft to announce Beyond Good and Evil 2 at their press conference that is…

Comparing the publishers’ conferences

E3 2015 - Publishers compared

[click to enlarge]

Looking at publishers one by one, Electronic Arts looks a bit underwhelming. Arguably, Battlefront did very well, considering how loved the franchise is (the movies and the games), it is a bit surprising it didn’t perform even better. It didn’t pass on the coverage Battlefield Hardline received the previous year, a surprising fact. Mirror’s Edge coming as the 2nd game of the publisher is more surprising. While critically acclaimed, Mirror’s Edge wasn’t a big hit. Few details were available ahead of the show (and seemingly not in a controlled fashion that might have compromised the potential) possibly making it a hot topic for journalists on site last week. Interestingly, FIFA 16 has about 20% fewer articles this E3 than what FIFA 15 had last year. Pelé didn’t make up for it.

Bethesda is the clear “winner” this year. They didn’t have many games at the show, but they got the interest of the media. While Fallout and DOOM are strong and well established franchises that haven’t been seen in a while, Dishonored 2 has done very well for itself. For the second title of a new IP, it received 50% more coverage than this year’s Assassin’s Creed. Quite the performance. The other surprise is Fallout Shelter. While Fallout is obviously a strong brand, mobile games are generally not as well covered as PC/Console titles by a very significant margin. Fallout Shelter is not only the 4th Bethesda most talked about game (coming before The Elder Scrolls titles as well as Battlecry), but it received coverage comparable to Ubisoft’s key titles. My theory is that it benefitted from a number of things: the Fallout brand; the 1st game on mobile for Bethesda; being available “right now”; the excellent Bethesda timing mentioned earlier. If you are a journalist in LA on the Sunday before E3, waiting for the big event to start the following day, why not download this now to give it a spin?

I have already mentioned Ubisoft twice in this section, not in a very positive manner. What happened? To be honest, I like Ubisoft’s conferences. But maybe the formula is a bit too established? The Division‘s very decent performance is the saving grace, and a surprising one to me: this is not the first time the game is presented at E3. But it managed to garner more coverage than last year (about 10% more). Possibly, the fact it got featured during 2 of the conferences helped significantly? I imagine the game was playable on the show floor and that, along with a release date, was a contributing factor. Rainbow 6 Siege was also present at last year E3, and it also received more coverage this time around. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the disappointing element of the Ubisoft line up. Assassin’s Creed Unity had about 2,300 articles during last year show – compared to this, Syndicate doesn’t even reach the 1,000 articles threshold. I found the trailer quite compelling, I suspect something different happening in the strategy for the game this time around: looking at the daily data for the two games, it is obvious there was significantly more coverage on the days after the conference for Unity than for Syndicate. Overall, a weak media presence, especially considering that last year, Ubisoft had Assassin’s Creed Unity as the most covered game of E3 and Far Cry 4 as the 3rd most covered game of E3.

To conclude this section, Square Enix returned as a publisher hosting a conference. It wasn’t an easy ride for them – they had to postpone their conference after realizing they would collide with Nintendo’s; and the conference itself was… let’s say there is a huge margin for them to improve for next year. But beyond those considerations, the numbers are showing up. Even if you are ready to consider the Final Fantasy VII as a unique anomaly (how often will you be able to reboot one of the most well-loved games in the world?), the Hitman announcement has been very well received (arguably, I think the Deus Ex announcement in April was a better announcement, but that will be for its own case study). Deus Ex Mankind Divided did very well. It was supported massively by the 20 minutes demo on the show floor – a video of which was shared later in the week, leading to a lot of additional coverage for the game. Tomb Raider is getting a very decent amount of coverage, but maybe not to the extent I would have expected for the franchise. Overall, Square Enix did incredibly well (and that’s without being able to properly track Just Cause 3). Not sure how much more coverage they got through this though – a lot of their coverage was supported by console makers conferences (FF7 with Sony and Tomb Raider with Microsoft).

 

It is fascinating to see the two publishers that aren’t traditionally seen hosting an E3 conference performing so well in comparison to EA and Ubisoft. I am pretty sure the devil is in the details, and the fact they elected to have a conference this year of all years was also driven by the strength of their announcements. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t have predicted such an outcome.

 

Mobile titles

This segment is a bit of a stretch as they aren’t many mobile titles that are part of the E3 line-ups, but it is the opportunity for me to make a point that I already discussing on the Goat Simulator case study.

E3 2015 - Mobile titles - number of articles

A quick overview of the games, from the publicly available information:

Fallout Shelter (Bethesda) – a management game, set in the Fallout universe, revealed at the conference and available to all at the same time.

The Elder Scrolls Legends (Bethesda) – a CCG set in Tamriel, the universe of The Elder Scrolls series. Revealed at the conference, it will be available on iPad and PC but no release date for now.

Lara Croft Go (Square Enix) – a turn-based puzzle adventure game, based on the Tomb Raider franchise. Announced at the conference, nothing specific on devices required and no release date announced yet.

Minions Paradise (EA) – a management game, set in the Despicable Me universe. I am a bit confused on the whole announcement, trying to do some quick fact checks, it seems the app is already on the different stores, since end of April, but the conference presented it as an upcoming game, the host even stating “later this year”. So, go figure. Not sure it would have made a massive difference for the media present.

Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes (EA) – a CCG set in the Star Wars universe. Announced at the EA conference, no release dates and no devices specified.

Kingdom Hearts Unchained Key (Square Enix) – an adventure game (I think) set in the Kingdom Hearts universe (now, that’s the easy way out for me to avoid explaining that setting). Announced at the Square Enix press conference, with no release date.

 

Here are my takeaways (based on a very small sample, so it might not be worth much):

  • I don’t understand how the Elder Scrolls CCG got so well covered. It might be the brand; it might be the fact it was announced as coming to PC; it might be because Sunday was a pretty boring day in LA.
  • Minions Paradise had a whole part of the EA conference presentation dedicated to itself. With a trailer followed by a gameplay demo. Nobody cared. Planning your communication for your mobile title like a console or a PC game seems like a bad idea.
  • But not as bad an idea as just announcing “a Star Wars CCG with all the characters of the franchise you love”. I don’t think you can make it sound more generic and bland. At least, the Elder Scrolls CCG had a trailer of sort.
  • Lara Croft Go was very well covered all things considered. I suspect Hitman Go and the relatively good feedback it received helped, along with a peek at the art direction and the game style.
  • Nobody cared about Kingdom Hearts Unchained Key, despite providing a (cryptic, I admit) gameplay video.
  • Announcing your mobile game as it becomes available seems like a good idea. The brand is a multiplier if you have one.

 

Non-AAA titles

Finally, I wanted to also provide a sample of smaller titles, across the board from the games presented at E3, to provide some benchmark materials beyond the big titles. Here is the selection with some context:

American Truck Simulator (Excalibur Publishing) – announced during the PC games conference. A simulator where you drive trucks in America.

Beyond Eyes (Team17) – announced during the Xbox conference and featured during the PC games conference. A game where you play as a blind girl named Rae in search for her missing cat.

Crossing Souls (Devolver) – featured during the Sony conference. An action-adventure game in pixel art and with a goonies vibe to it.

Cuphead (Studio MDHR) – featured during the Xbox conference (and revealed last year IIRC). A run and gun Platform game drawn in the style of 1930s cartoons. Also, my personal favourite concept (along with SUPERHOT).

Mother Russia Bleeds (Devolver) – featured during the Sony conference. An ultra violent Beat ‘Em Up game set in an alternate 1980s USSR.

No Man’s Sky (Hello games) – featured during the Sony conference and during the PC games conference. A science-fiction game set in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy.

Unravel (EA) – announced during the EA press conference. A physically based platformer with a character made of yarn.

Vampyr (Focus Interactive) – not featured during any of the high profile conference but presented during the show.  An Action RPG set in early 20th Century England.

With the selection I tried to have games with different profiles, that were presented through different medium during the event and with interesting comparison points.

E3 2015 - Non AAA titles - number of articles

 

Crossing Souls and Mother Russia Bleeds are both published by Devolver, they both got the same visibility during the Sony press conference and they were both hands on at the show (from what I could gather). Mother Russia Bleeds also released a trailer later in the week. Ignoring the media that trailer generated, Mother Russia was still getting more media coverage than Crossing Souls. The more immediately understandable gameplay, and the very graphic violence possibly making it an easier story to relay.

Cuphead has received a lot of coverage, thanks to its very unique art direction. Considering that Beyond Eyes was featured at a similar level at the Xbox conference, and was featured again at the PC conference, Cuphead has been resonating better with the media (and makes for very shareable gifs).

No Man’s Sky and Unravel are two games that have been incredibly well covered, while being outside of the AAA norm. No Man’s Sky has been announced in December 2013 and was already featured at E3 2014 (at the Sony conference). Coverage this year has progressed from last year (about 200 more articles). Unravel on the other hand is one of EA’s rare venture into games outside of the AAA formula, and with its reveal garnered almost as much coverage as FIFA 16. What made those two games perform so well? With No Man’s Sky, there is no doubt since its announcement that there is a strong following for the game and media is following suit. The details are quite rare and the E3 demo, while short, illustrated elements of the game never shown before. Unravel on the other hand was an announcement (more case studies on those to come), garnering extra attention thanks to this, and the incredibly emotional designer that presented the character on stage (a real doll made out of yarn) probably resonated well with the audience, while being at odds with the usually dry and corporate image that people have of EA.

Vampyr  finally is very interesting. For not being featured at any of the conference, this game made by Remember Me and Life is Strange developer Don’t Nod, was relatively well covered with its presence at E3, illustrating that the press conference are not necessarily the end all solution for a decent media presence from your E3 show.

 

Closing words

I have tried to keep the size of the article under a manageable size. There are more that could be dug from the data gathered (and I might do some follow ups), but I hope this gives a good view of last week’s E3 and the media outcome from the different announcements.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bethesda is the clear “winner” of this E3. They brilliantly managed the event (from a media presence perspective at least) and I will be very curious to see next year who will try to get the Sunday conference spot. Prior to the event, I was very skeptical about Bethesda decision to do a conference at E3. Those conferences are expensive to set up and a massive burden on your teams to organise properly. I also tend to question the wisdom to share the limelight with your competition during the same week. Sony’s Playstation Experience was a great illustration of how running your own media event could benefit you in a great (better?) way than a shared global event. With Bethesda running Quakecon, I was thinking they would be diluting their effort in an event where it would difficult for them to shine. I was wrong – they did great. Which makes me wonder if the others were not wrong in sharing their audience with them this time around.

 

I will leave you with this comic from @TheMeatly, illustrating nicely those concluding thoughts:

 

Of the importance of the form factor when making games

In a recent article on gamesindustry.biz, Jurie Horneman mentioned a notion I have been discussing on and off when talking (mostly with students) about monetization and business models. That notion is form factor and its role in the process of building a game.

This goes beyond the way you monetize a game, but as this is the core topic I am usually addressing, they are often associated in my past lectures on the topic.

Before Jurie’s article, I had been contemplating putting down a blog post on this topic and its role in the process of building a game. With his article on play context out, I think this is as good a time as any to actually do this.

I’ll try to keep this concise, though might expand on the below some time in the future.

What is the Form Factor?

In the hardware space, the form factor is the shape of a device and what that shape is trying to convey to the users. It can be how the device will be used (one hand versus two hands) or how it will be perceived (luxurious or affordable).

The term is frequently used in the mobile sector to compare different devices – the fact that the shape of the object has a direct impact on usage makes it a core element of their design: you hold it your hand after all, and both input and display are combined.

The notion I am referring to is a bit of an abuse of the term in that sense, but it has felt like the right term when I first used it, and has grown on me since, so I hope you will allow me this xxx to me.

The form factor I am referring to is not specific to a device, but a wider notion across different type of designs. Where game making is concerned, I consider that more or less all touchscreen mobile phones share the same form factor, and the same holds true for all tablets.

But it also goes beyond the physical characteristics of the device and includes what are the input mechanisms, where you sit in the real world when you play the game. The obvious game platforms we can distinguish here are consoles (in the couch with a pad) and PCs (at a desk, with mouse and keyboards). Those would be two fundamentally form factors that would lead to different game design decisions.

But to make it complete on the notion, I need to add a third layer here as well: the software environment. That’s really needed to account for PCs, but there might be other use cases I haven’t thought of. So, in the same way the user behaviour and expectations on a game experience will vary based on the device the player is playing on, the same holds true on whether they play a game from a client on the desktop, or in a browser, or in a browser on Facebook. Playing a game in a browser puts the player in an environment prone to distraction. Many people run live social channels on that same browser – as you play that game you will more than likely see notifications taking you in and out of your game experience. The perception of the value of the game is also going to be different if it runs in a browser or as an independent client. Facebook is just that extra layer on top of the browser, making friends interactions easier, but distractions also more numerous. It dramatically change the game experience.

I am not shoe-horning an extra level – the usage pattern differences are the same and it belongs to that Form Factor notion. And I have a great example illustrating all those principles very elegantly:

supercell_logo_black_on_white

 

Supercell

Supercell, makers of Hay Day, Clash of Clans and Boom Beach is (rightfully) seen as the epitome of the successful mobile developer. They have been valued at over $3bn and have run ads during the Superbowl, but what do they have to do with form factor and video games?

I am a big believer in understanding companies through their history and what is in their DNA. To me Supercell is the epitome of a business built around the understanding of form factors and video games.

So, let’s go back in time a bit. Diane and I met Ilkka Paananen for the first time in 2011, in the early days of Supercell. At the time, Ilkka was presenting Supercell as “the next generation’s Bigpoint”. The company strategy was to build very high production value browser based games, trying to replicate Bigpoint success story, still on the browser, but with high quality, real-time, 3d looking games.

At the time, I was very convinced with the validity of the idea. There was a lot of discussion about 3D in the browser, Unity was on the rise making this easier, and you could do a lot of things with flash (which was Supercell’s approach) that looked 3D and polished. Plus there was this feeling that browser based games were ready for real time gameplay.

Supercell’s very first game was Gunshine. Imagine a diablo-like game, real time, top down 3D, set in a post-apocalyptic world, running in flash and our browser.

Or have a look at the trailer:

 

 

The game was incredibly polished and smooth for a flash game. The production value was through the roof, the code behind was incredibly robust (never seen a flash game that complex run that smoothly), the gameplay was decent with a few genuine nuggets of brilliance here and there. And a commercial failure.

And it wasn’t a matter of a bad launch and Supercell moving on. The launch failed, then the re-launch (with much improved onboarding, and reworked gameplay) failed, and the re-branded launch (under the much easier to remember and much more explicit title Zombie Online) failed.

 

And they went back to the drawing board. The core concept didn’t change, but they shifted the interpretation of it. They still went to build the “next generation’s Bigpoint”, but rather than looking at what the current browser could do that the old one couldn’t, they went to what is essentially the next generation’s equivalent platform: the tablet.

Not the mobile phone, the tablet. The early days of Supercell after that pivot was very very focused on game for tablets. All their marketing and communication was focused on the fact that their games were iPad games, not mobile games.

The other thing that changed was instead to try to graduate “browser games” to “proper games”, taking a 3D real time Hack & Slash game to the browser. Supercell went to take “browser games” to the new casual ultra accessible platform. Hayday is Farmville. Clash of Clans is Travian. They are very different executions of those games (especially Clash of Clans from Travian), but they are the same core games. And the same core games properly executed for the form factor of the tablet: the real estate of the screen is really optimised for a tablet; the orientation is landscape rather than portrait.

 

 

 

But those games also benefitted from that tablet-first approach from the fact that players play differently on those devices. The better battery life means longer game sessions. The perceived value of the games played on a larger screen (compared to phones) makes the payment process more acceptable.

Had Supercell used a mobile-first approach, which at the time was much more the norm, I believed they would not have had the same success.

They have now transitioned from that position, and the market has evolved as well. What was considered high production value back then is not the same; the acceptance of the Free-to-Play model has grown significantly over the years; and those aspects are part of that notion of the form factor: users expectations and perception related to the devices and platforms they use need to be part of the design process of the games.

 

Another anecdote to close this example section, a few years back, Diane did a mission for a company running a game in a browser. During the mission, they extended the game to mobile as well. The game was cross platform between its iOS version and its browser version. This was the exact same game, with mostly the same audience (at the time). They suddenly monetized better. From one version to another, users felt that now, the game was 1/ worthy of their investment; 2/ said investment was way easier to perform through the App Store in-app purchases. Payment integration, as part of the user experience, is part of the form factor considerations.

 

Concluding thoughts

I could write a lot about designing game for the form factor, there is a lot to say. I will leave you with a few thoughts on platforms beyond the mobile/PC/Consoles triptych, and how we need to integrate their form factor when designing games for them:

  • Coin-op. How much of the design of those games were based on the fact that you were playing the game in a social environment; you needed short sessions, that were fulfilling but would leave you with a will to get more. How would you design a coin-op game, in 2015?
  • So many things we don’t know yet on how games in VR will be played. Session length for instance? There are a lot discussion around making session short, but do we really know. Input devices? Valve and Sony have ones, but are they ideal, what do they imply when they haven’t been used them by large groups? Price points? If there is some truth in the idea that the smaller the screen, the cheaper people expect the game to be, would that mean that VR games could be accepted at a higher price point?
  • Smart watches. What is a good game experience with those? Will they be relegated to notifications from your mobile games, or can they build their own genres of games?

PR Monitor – 2014 in review [updated]

While I missed the traditional January window to do a “Year in Review” – I thought I should do one as the information should still have value. As usual, I encourage you to check the previous blog post explaining how the monitoring tool works. This time though, I have a couple of things to further add. First, there was a lot that has been added to the tool in February last year. Most AAA games and key platforms were already properly tracked (and had been for a few months prior) so I don’t think it should massively impact what I am going to share today.

[Update] Why the hell are the Nintendo consoles missing? Short version: I didn’t track Nintendo consoles properly until after a few months in 2014. It didn’t seem fair to compare incomplete data.  Read more

How Sony Stole Christmas – PlayStation Experience Won December’s Gaming Media

With two major events debuting this month, December was exciting, and busy, period for gaming media. These two events were Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards 2014 on the 5 December and the PlayStation Experience in Las Vegas to celebrate the 20th birthday of Sony’s console from 6-7 December.

The Game Awards seemed to have worked out pretty well in terms of viewers. However, just one day later the PlayStation Experience came along, producing an impressive amount of new announcements and earning praise in the gaming media from the likes of Polygon or Alist. The question is: How did the numbers for the PlayStation Experience add up?

Fortunately, ICO Partners has specialised in tracking the European gaming media landscape with several in-house developed tools (for more details how the tools works click here). This way we could take a closer look on how the PlayStation Experience was picked up by European media.

 

Graph 1: PlayStation Experience VS gamescom VS Blizzcon

To find an answer to our question we compared the number of published articles by European media for the PlayStation event with two other similar events: Europe’s biggest gaming show gamescom and Blizzard’s Blizzcon. Because the events took place at different times of the year and with different schedules, we decided to only track media coverage for the first three days after the event starter in order to make the data more comparable.

graph_1

While gamescom clearly towers above the other events in coverage, it is interesting to note that PlayStation Experience only talked about a single platform in direct comparison to the varied line-up of developers and manufacturers of gamescom. The PlayStation event also clearly outperformed Blizzcon in terms of number of articles published. Not only that, the PlayStation event coverage was also generated on a weekend.

In numbers our tool tracked 15.720 published articles across all three events over their first three days, with gamescom accounting to 65% of the coverage (10.233 articles), while PlayStation Experience is responsible for 25% (3.862 articles) and Blizzcon for 10% (1.625 articles).

 

Graph 2: PlayStation Experience on a Country Level

graph_2

Zooming in and taking a look at the data on country level over the three days and just comparing gamescom and the PlayStation Experience, gamescom generated 213 articles in the UK and PlayStation Experience respectable 138. That’s about 65% of gamescom’s coverage in the country for a single platform event.

French media also keenly reported on the announcements, with 217 articles for gamescom and 109 for the PlayStation Experience. Meaning, when the two are compared, that Sony’s single event garnered 50% of gamescom’s entire coverage in the country.

In Germany, where gamescom took place, the coverage for the event was stronger with 361 articles, but the PlayStation event numbers were still comparable to other territories with 133 published articles, totalling 42% of gamescom’s coverage.

 

Graph 3: PlayStation Experience Weekend vs Regular Weekends

Another factor we mentioned previously is that the PlayStation Experience took place on a weekend, where the average number of published articles is, traditionally, significantly lower compared to regular week days.

To highlight what happened on the PlayStation Experience weekend we randomly picked 5 major gaming sites across Europe, specifically Kotaku (UK), Eurogamer (UK), Gamer (NL), Gamekult (FR) and Gameblog (FR) and looked into them in more detail.

We tracked the number of published articles from the 12 November to the 12 December to see how the PlayStation Experience weekend held up compared to regular weekdays and weekends. Please note the numbers for the PlayStation Experience weekend may include overlaps from the Game Awards as they took place just one day before the PlayStation event and the data from 5 sites is of course not representative of a whole region. Still, the graph below should give an idea what the PlayStation Experience weekend looked like compared to a regular weekend.

graph3

As you can see in the charts above, the number of articles published on the PlayStation Experience weekend (marked in orange) is drastically higher than on regular weekends. Whereas an average weekend in the tracked period (excluding the PlayStation Event weekend) spawned 55 articles across our 5 sample sites, the PlayStation Experience weekend saw 254 articles. This means in comparison to an average weekend the number of published articles was almost 5 times as much due to the PlayStation event. The Saturday especially saw strong coverage by media, resulting in it even being the single strongest day of the whole tracked period in terms of published articles on 4 of the 5 sites, with Kotaku the exception.

 

Conclusion

Although Sony attended this year’s E3 and gamescom with a host of announcements and received strong media attention, it managed to pull off yet another event of similar impact seemingly out of nowhere. Obviously, that’s impressive from a lineup perspective but the real coup here is the gain in brand value: A massive mindshare grab for the PlayStation brand for a whole weekend and all that without sharing the stage with any of it’s competitors at one of the traditional big events on the calendar.

With refreshed enthusiasm for it’s consoles just before Christmas, surprisingly big announcements and equally large media coverage it could be argued the PlayStation Experience was a better operation than any other gaming event this year. Proving Sony truly knows how to throw a birthday party for itself and its fans.

Sketchfab – a new way to share game assets

Back in February this year, the team at Born Ready Games were in the middle of promoting the new, improved version of their Space Shooter Strike Suit Zero, for release on PS4 And Xbox One. One of the improvements for the new version were greatly improved in-game texture models. The question was posed: How can we best show off these visual improvements?

Obviously, screenshots and videos were created and shared to show the game. But with the new models and textures at the heart of the new version (they revamped the game and the story too, but that’s not easily shown in assets), Jamin, their community manager, experimented with Sketchfab.

 

Sketchfab’s elevator pitch would be the Youtube for 3D assets. You can upload a model and its textures and it will show online on their portal through their webGL viewer and would allow you to embed it on your own website – or any website for that matter.

 

Here is one of the models that were used to promote Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut at the time:

U.N.E. Strike Suit
by BornReadyGames
on Sketchfab

 

What was interesting as well, is that the ICO Media team (the team at ICO that handles the PR operations for our clients) went with it and shared the links with the media as they were promoting the game. Most outlets decided to go with the regular screenshots. But some of them embedded the Sketchfab models: http://kotaku.com/strike-suit-zero-transforms-into-a-ps4-and-xbox-one-gam-1525942124

 

In parallel, the great folks of Allegorithmic, a software company providing tools to create the next generation of textures (and if you follow me on social media, you’ll know I am a big fan of what they do – I even sit as an advisor to the board of the company), mentioned Sketchfab as friendly enterprise and suggested I should meet with them.

 

Fast forward the past few months, I am now talking regularly with them and finding out even more interesting ways they are working on sharing in-game assets. For instance,  “annotations” have been introduced, allowing the camera to be set at a specific angle relative to the model and show some relevant text:

 

HEXO+
by Hexo+
on Sketchfab

 

I can very easily imagine this being used in the context of game – discussing a new element of content and highlighting its in game features that way.

 

Of course, they won’t replace screenshots anytime soon, but there is an opportunity for Sketchfab to carve its own niche and give a way for fans to explore their favourite games in a new way, as well as get an interesting preview of what’s to come. If you want to know more, ping @albn on twitter and say I sent you (he has no idea I am writing this blog post, hopefully it will be a good surprise).

 

Edit: I was pointed at a video game asset (from an artist’s portfolio) using the annotation system

 

Mutant Bug Ride
by reyknow
on Sketchfab