Archive for the ‘Opinion Piece’ Category

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by Dave Smith via Business Insider

The PlayStation 4 is the market leader in terms of game consoles sold this generation, by a long shot. With sales so gargantuan — 79 million PS4s sold, and 80 million monthly active users on the PlayStation Network — you’d think Sony would be confident about the PlayStation 4.

But Sony’s stance on cross-play between the PS4 and rival consoles, like the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, is not only backward, it’s downright cynical, and it makes the company look more vulnerable than it really is.

This isn’t a new stance on Sony’s part, but as more and more games are made for multiple platforms, like “Fortnite,” it’s become increasingly obvious that keeping players from being able to access their accounts on multiple consoles, or letting people play with their friends on different consoles, only makes Sony look borderline fearful.

In contrast, Nintendo and Microsoft come off looking nice and open when it comes to issues of cross-play. Their actions obviously speak volumes — “Minecraft” players on Xbox can play with their Nintendo Switch brethren, and so forth. But while neither company’s statements have called out Sony by name, it’s quite obvious who they’re talking about.

Just listen to what Xbox chief Phil Spencer told Business Insider correspondent Ben Gilbert this week at E3, when asked about cross-play (emphasis mine):

“Say you’re not into gaming, and it’s your kid’s birthday. You buy them a console. I buy my kid a console. We happen to buy consoles of different colors — you bought the blue one, I bought the green one. Now those kids want to play a game together and they can’t because their parents bought different consoles.

I don’t know who that helps. It doesn’t help the developer. The developer just wants more people to play their game. It doesn’t help the player. The players just want to play with their friends who also play games on console. So, I just get stuck in who this is helping.”

Obviously, if you don’t consider what people actually want and only the sales numbers, you can see why Sony doesn’t want cross-play. Right now, if you want to play games with your friends that own a PlayStation 4, you have to go out and buy a PlayStation 4 yourself. If you could play those same games with your friends on a more affordable console, like a Nintendo Switch or Xbox One, that’s one less reason for people to buy a PS4. So, Microsoft and Nintendo have much to gain from cross-play being a thing, if you look at it that way.

But to only consider console sales — a single metric — is a cynical and short-sighted attitude, especially since Sony’s stance on cross-play doesn’t necessarily make PlayStation 4 owners happy either. I own a PlayStation 4 and a Nintendo Switch, for example, and I was really bummed to learn this week that I couldn’t play “Fortnite” on my Switch unless I created a new account specifically for the Switch.

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Considering how so many of the 2+ million people who downloaded “Fortnite” for Switch in its first 24 hours of availability had the same issues I did, and reacted over social media in kind, Sony was forced to release a statement addressing the cross-play furor on Thursday. But the statement itself was carefully worded so as to not mention the millions of Nintendo Switch and Xbox One customers frustrated by Sony’s decision.

“We offer ‘Fortnite’ cross-play support with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, expanding the opportunity for ‘Fortnite’ fans on PS4 to play with even more gamers on other platforms,” Sony told the BBC.

If Sony were smart, it would at least allow cross-play for certain titles, where it has less to gain from being restrictive. The case of “Fortnite” is less about cross-play and more about letting one access an account on multiple game consoles, but “Fortnite” is a game that millions of people play every day, even on smartphones; cross-play should be allowed there. Similarly, millions of people — especially little kids — play “Minecraft” every single day, and I bet they would be very happy if they could all play together whether they own a PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch or Xbox One.

Sony is the clear market leader in game consoles this generation, and its future looks bright with so many excellent games coming from Sony-backed studios over the next several years. Those games can only be played on the PlayStation 4, and Sony should be confident in those titles, and the other features that set PlayStation apart. But for customers’ sake, and for the company’s own PR, it should learn that there are occasions where it makes sense to play nice with others.

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by Dave Thier via Forbes

As far as announcements go, it barely qualified. Microsoft’s head of Xbox Phil Spencer was giving his standard end of E3 press conference talk about the state of gaming and the passion of the Xbox teams. The hardware team, he mentioned, was hard at work on the next Xbox. This is something we all assume, of course, just like we assume that their counterparts at Sony are doing the same thing on the PlayStation 5. And yet it’s still uncommon to make any mention of the next generation outside of a tightly choreographed reveal much closer to launch, mostly because it makes people look forward when you want them buying your hardware now. For Spencer, it made sense to mention it now. Just you wait, he seemed to be saying.

You could see the next Xbox make its appearances elsewhere, as well. Those who don’t work in video games probably didn’t pay much attention to the tech giant’s studio acquisitions, but those in the industry saw them as big moves by a company that’s far from given up on exclusive games. No, those announcements didn’t come with shiny trailers or 2019 release dates, but they were the company’s way of signaling that it doesn’t want to be caught in this exclusive drought ever again.

And when a Microsoft engineer told us about how the company was using machine learning to improve Game Pass performance it felt like a strange, technical detail to include as an announcement on an E3 stage. But the message there felt the same: that Xbox is working on developing backend technologies designed to make games load and play quicker, the sort of thing that likely has lots of applications beyond Game Pass. Again, the spotlight seemed to be shining on a not-so-distant future.

At a certain point, Spencer and co. must have realized that there was no “winning” this console generation, certainly not in terms of sales. Xbox One got off on the wrong foot and never recovered, PlayStation 4 rocketed out of the gate and only accelerated from there. You didn’t need Microsft’s internal analytics to see that. And so Spencer smartly pivoted to building out services like backwards compatibility, cross-play, cross-buy and Game Pass, things that were unlikely to shift the tide in the current generation but could set up the next machine for genuine differentiation from the competition while repairing the company’s tattered reputation with gamers.

The next console generation may well be the last, as Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot predicted the other day: Spencer made another mention of the sort of streaming services that we’ve been talking about for years but could still render local game computing irrelevant at some point in the distant future. For right now, however, it’s clear that Microsoft is biding its time and gathering its resources to avoid losing the next generation the way it lost this one.

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by Dave Thier via Forbes

You’ve got to feel for Bethesda Game Studios. It’s a big developer that’s only growing, with a clear ambition to make new, interesting experiences both in the genres and worlds that have defined it in the past and outside of them. It’s got plans for the future that we’re going to start seeing more of this year at E3. And yet fans are basically here shouting “Freebird!” from the back of the venue, Freebird in this instance being The Elder Scrolls 6. Such is the way when you’re in the studio that makes Elder Scrolls games. Though I suppose the studio sort of brings it on itself by releasing Skyrim for every platform known to man.

In previous years, Bethesda has gone out of its way to get us to stop asking about The Elder Scrolls 6, and I don’t expect things to be that different at E3 this year. Last year, the line was that Bethesda Game Studios was working on two big AAA scale games to announce before it would even start thinking about The Elder Scrolls 6, and at least one of those games is clearly Fallout 76, currently headlining Bethesda’s E3 this year. I’m not sure if Rage 2 counts because it’s being developed by Id and Avalanche, but there are also rumors about this project Starfield, a Bethesda-style open world RPG in an entirely new setting. Regardless, the message in the past few years has been clear: there are other projects coming up before The Elder Scrolls 6, and we’ll be excited to talk about those.

That being said, The Elder Scrolls 6 is somewhat confirmed, in the sense that Bethesda tends to talk about it as an inevitability, albeit an inevitability that the studio expects to be informed by the work it’s doing on more proximal titles. I still don’t expect it to show up at the show this year.

Is it possible that we’ll see some sort of official confirmation of The Elder Scrolls 6, with maybe with a setting? Sure, it’s possible. We have no clue if Bethesda is far along enough to even have a confirmed location, but again, not impossible. It’s a longshot, however.

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by Dave Thier via Forbes

Microsoft is on the back foot as far as E3 is concerned, or as far as console gaming, in general, is concerned. E3 is all about showing off new games, but the company has struggled with its exclusive library for a few years even as Sony has entered a kind of golden age and as Nintendo has come roaring back onto the scene with the Switch. Microsoft hasn’t had much to show off in recent years, and this year at E3 it’s expecting to bring some of its biggest names in an effort to pull attention and re-assert itself. And Microsoft has no bigger exclusive than Halo. Halo 6 is still unconfirmed, but there are rumors that we may be getting our first glimpse of the game at Microsoft’s showcase on Sunday, June 10.

Spoilers for Halo 5

Halo 6 is expected to be a direct sequel to Halo 5, and so we can expect it to pick up where the older game left off. Cortana has reasserted herself as the new villain of the series, leading an AI rebellion in an attempt to reclaim the galaxy from the clutches of unreliable biological life. Halo 6 can be expected to be the final game in a trilogy that began with Halo 4, so hopefully we’ll get something a little more satisfying then the cliffhanger ending from the last game. If we’re being honest, however, Halo hasn’t been doing great on story recently.

The Halo franchise isn’t in a great spot, overall. Neither Halo 4 nor Halo 5 were universally well-received, and the overall perception is that the series has struggled under 343 industries and it hasn’t commanded primacy in the shooter world for years. The current battle royale trend doesn’t really help that: there was a time when Halo was the game that dominated the online multiplayer conversation, but that was a long time ago. Halo 6 has its work cut out for it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t succeed. Microsoft needs a win on this one.

I wouldn’t expect to see Halo 6 this year, but 2019 isn’t out of the question. When it does arrive it will release on both PC and Game Pass, like all other Xbox exclusives going forward. This will mark the first mainline Halo game on PC since Halo 2. I’d also hope to see the return of split-screen multiplayer, the absence of which was heavily criticized with Halo 5.

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by Paul Tassi via Forbes

Microsoft does not have all that many Xbox One (and now PC) exclusives out in 2018, but so far, two of its most high-profile ones would seem to be failing to impress critics.

Sea of Thieves current sits at a 66 and 69 on Opencritic and Metacritic respectively, which Opencritic notes is in the bottom 30% of all releases on its site, given that games are rarely given below a 6/10 in our current industry climate.

State of Decay 2 is…not faring much better. It’s currently at a 68 and 72 on Open and Meta, the bottom 37.5% of game’s reviewed, though with less reviews in on embargo day here. The game itself will be out May 22nd, and unlike the $60 Sea of Thieves, is only $30. But it is also included in Microosft’s Game Pass as part of the subscription, as all new Xbox One exclusives are (though so far that hasn’t been terribly appealing).

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Like Sea of Thieves, perhaps State of Decay 2 will attract its own share of fans who don’t care at all what critics are saying. But, if you want to look at what critics are saying, here’s a sampling:

Metro (4/10):

The State of Decay concept still holds plenty of promise but this sequel is so broken that laughing at its bugs and glitches becomes its primary source of entertainment.

GamingBolt (6/10):

State of Decay 2 isn’t a bad game but it doubles down on too much of the first game’s failings. For newcomers, the repetitive combat and mission variety, glitches and lack of polish can be a turnoff but the base-building and survivor management manage to shine.

But some are more positive:

PC Gamer (8/10):

A solid survival game vastly improved by putting the focus on people, not zombies.

IGN (7.5/10):

State of Decay 2‘s zombie-infested maps are good places to scavenge, fight, and survive in. Combat is satisfyingly brutal and the special zombies inspire some real fear of permanent death, even though the Blood Plague turns out to be more of a sniffle. But the bugs are just as persistent as the zombies, and after a dozen or so hours the repetition of both eventually take their toll, making the appeal of replaying feel more limited than I’d expected for a sandbox RPG.

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And finally, Polygon’s score-less review headline: “State of Decay 2 made me sad, but mostly bored.”

While State of Decay 2 was never meant to be some sort of AAA blockbuster, I’m sure everyone at Microsoft was hoping for a clear win here after mixed reactions to Sea of Thieves, but that just does not seem to be the case.

This is also a tough situation because A) Sony has been drowning in praise for the seemingly inevitable GOTY, God of War, for the past month, its crown jewel exclusive. B) The next biggest Xbox One exclusive that (supposedly) releases this year is Crackdown 3, which has had an exceptionally troubled production and has yet to look terribly good in any previews.

Microsoft understands this problem. It’s been very vocal about the fact that it knows it needs to invest more in its own studios and creating quality exclusives, but the problem is that is going to be a very long process if they’ve just started recently. The first step in that direction could be the upcoming Fable 4 created by the Forza Horizon team, but again, we’ll be lucky if we see that game by what, 2020-2021? So it seems like next gen is where Microsoft has the potetial to start turning this narrative around, even if I and others have been deeply satisfied with their recent hardware (Xbox One X) and program (Game Pass) offerings.

I will probably be skipping State of Decay 2 for now with so much else to play, but if you think it’s your bag, don’t let pesky critics stop you from giving it a shot.

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by Rob Thubron via TechSpot

Could the PlayStation 5 be here sooner than expected? That’s what several reports are stating, including one from SemiAccurate, which also claims to have some details about Sony’s new console.

The publication’s article is behind a $1000 paywall, but a summary has appeared on ResetEra. The report says the PlayStation 5, which might not be its final name, will upgrade the Jaguar CPUs found in the PS4 and PS4 Pro in favor of a more powerful Zen-based CPU, previously reported as being an 8 core variety. As for the graphics, the machine is said to use a custom GPU based on AMD’s upcoming Navi architecture.

The new console is also said to come with VR features implemented at the silicon level, suggesting that Sony still believes in its PlayStation VR headsets, which recently received a permanent price decrease.

One thing missing from the report is any mention of backward compatibility with the PS4, which is a feature many are expecting.

The reported specs do sound convincing, especially the use of Zen and Navi—some of AMD’s Vega features appeared in the PlayStation 4 Pro long before they made their way onto the PC via the Radeon line.

The article adds that a large number of PlayStation 5 dev kits are already in the hands of developers, backing up a similar claim made by industry insider Marcus Sellars early last month. SemiAccurate believes this means a 2018 release for the console isn’t totally out of the question, though a 2019 launch seems much more likely. By then, technology such as GDDR6, which is rumored to appear in Nvidia’s next line of GPUs, should be widely available.

Marcus Sellars@Marcus_Sellars

PS5 dev kits went out early this year to third party developers.

SemiAccurate is confident that the “real info” in its report is accurate. The site points out that it correctly revealed the specs of the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch ahead of their release, while it also predicted the console mid-cycle refresh machines: the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro.

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by Dave Thier via Forbes

Sea of Thieves, Microsoft and Rare’s long-teased, long-questioned pirate MMO, hasn’t made the sort of splash its creators were hoping it would. It’s working with a nasty 67 on Metacritic, and writers like Forbes’ Paul Tassi are almost mystified by how the game made it this far without so many of the basic structural elements that have guided gamers through MMOs and other games for decades. The consensus is that there’s just not enough to do — a vast empty ocean populated by repetitive islands and fetch quests. We had a feeling this would happen, and now we know.

Because this is 2018, release is merely one of many punctuation marks in the lifespan of any given game, whether you think that’s a good idea or not. And so we’ve got the standard apology/promise/hope when it comes to Sea of Thieves: this is a game intended to evolve over time, expect exciting things, we’re working on it, etc. It’s a frustrating thing to hear, mostly because of the way that it elides the fact that people pay $60 expecting a finished product, and because of the number of times we’ve heard it over the past year or two. No Man’s Sky may be a much better game now than it was at launch, but that doesn’t excuse the game it was at launch.

Sea of Thieves, however, is a little different than other games as service, mostly because an untold number of gamers didn’t pay the $60 purchase price. Sea of Thieves is included in Xbox Game Pass, and so those who already have Xbox Live Gold can pick it up for a free trial, for a $10 one-month subscription, or for free if they’re already Game Pass subscribers. And even those that pay the $10 to check it out aren’t just getting Sea of Thieves, they’re also getting a boatload of other games. It takes the pressure off, to a certain degree.

I hope that what this means is that the game can get a little room to breathe. The game has a million or so players, many of which might have signed up in a lower-pressure, Game Pass situation. Just as importantly, the game could have as many potential customers as there are game pass subscribers, and if Rare manages to fill things out down the road there are a ton of players that can just sort of sign in to see what it’s like. The lower barrier to entry means that it stands a better chance if — that’s a big if — the developer manages to deliver on its promises, even a year or so down the road.

Sea of Thieves is the first new release to debut on Game Pass, marking the beginning of an interesting new experiment from Redmond. And while I assume Microsoft would have preferred to have done this with a better-received game, Sea of Thieves is perfect for it in a strange sort of way. It’s a flawed game with some genuinely interesting parts, and I have a feeling it’s going to be interesting to watch. It seems pretty impossible to recommend it at a full freight of $60. But for $10 or free, it’s most certainly worth a look, whether that’s now or next year.

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