The crowd

Atomp Discusses: Crowdfunding, Early Access and Gaming Part 2

Tom Hooper aka Atomp
This is the concluding half of a two part article discussing the current significant trends in gaming of early access and crowdfunding and the changes these are having upon the industry. We are now seeing shifts that would previously have been unimaginable as new tools and models are being used to make the games that people want to play and not the games that the publishers want to sell. Recent events involving the failure of Yogventures have placed Kickstarters in the spotlight and drawn the sceptics and idiots out of the woodwork. the situation has shown that crowdfunding always carries a risk and that it is most certainly not an investment, there is always the risk that you will see no return on your donation whatsoever. The cries of foul play in the mismanagement are somewhat redundant  in terms of crowdfunding because whilst the project did fail and it was due to mismanagement, there is no need within the terms and conditions for refunds. Despite this failure I stand by my generally positive view on crowdfunding although this really highlights the need to be a sensible consumer who is willing to research before buying. Certain sanitised stores like the App Store have spoiled consumers ability to actually purchase sensibly and if such individuals begin crowdfunding with the impression of getting an exceptional return 100% of the time then there could be a whole slew of complaints. Crowdfunding is not a pre-order, crowdfunding is not a financial investment. Crowdfunding is a voluntary donation to a person or persons that want to do something cool. You may get returns from that voluntary donation, but you are not legally entitled to the reward in the same way you are entitled to a pre-ordered product or an investment. Anyway, picking up where we left off:
Following the very visible success stories of non-Kickstarter projects like Minecraft and the successful Kickstarter projects like Double Fine Adventure and Wasteland 2 there was something of a gold rush towards crowdfunding. This has led to some fatigue among gamers as around this time projects began appearing in various states of planning and/or completion. With the Double Fine Adventure issues engraved in the collective consciousness and the confidence in the solidity and potential returns somewhat shaken crowdfunding became significantly more difficult. The likes of Sir You Are Being Hunted, Planetary Annihilation, Divinity: Original Sin were spawned around this era however they each had immensely strong pitches, with Divinity: Original Sin probably being one of the strongest. It is in this gold rush era that pitch quality had to really improve and whilst some might argue that the inundation of Kickstarter games was a bad thing that meant nothing got enough attention to get fully funded I’d argue that what it did was improve the quality of the pitches that did get funded.
The gold rush also has its own lessons to teach, primarily with the likes of Godus. Now I’m not big on bashing stuff but my Godus preview was one of the most negative pieces I’ve ever written and it deserved it at the time. Godus was meant to be a new god-game from the father of all God-games; Peter Molyneux. The pitch actually seemed very strong as it had to be in order to stand out in a now saturated crowdfunding market. They had an industry veteran leading a team creating a iteration of an old classic… the Wasteland 2 model. The problem lies in the fact that Peter Molyneux can sometimes make grandiose claims at the best of times and in the Kickstarter environment that’s possibly not the best trait to have. Communication was actually well handled by the Godus team and the project got well funded, but the early releases just seemed weak and really not much fun on the PC. They have since worked on changing and improving the game although I feel like this is damage control of what was a bad first impression. There aren’t a huge number of negative crowdfunded stories, and really the likes of Godus and Double Fine Adventure where expectation were not met appear to be something of a rarity, however they are high profile rarities and have merged in the minds of many with the saturated crowdfunding market to place a stigma on the whole concept regardless of the reality.
Related to the development of crowdfunded games is the appearance of early access. Many crowdfunded games actually use early access as I have mentioned before with the big early successes of community and crowdfunded projects being based around early access (Minecraft for example). In general most crowdfunded games included early access to development and testing builds in their funding tiers, meaning that in addition to the early access based early crowd funding projects there was now a whole host of backer specific early access builds floating around. The concept of early access was introduced wholesale first by Desura with the likes of Project Zomboid among others and then the idea was essentially formalised and popularised when Valve introduced Steam Early Access (capitalised here to distinguish from the general concept). This allowed developers to place in-development games on Steam for purchase with the express caveat that the games were not complete. Early Access provides some significant advantages to developers and potentially for the players, developers get a pre-release income stream and gamers are able to try out early versions of the game they want. There’s a great deal of scepticism among certain loud members of the PC gaming crowd towards early access and Steam Early Access, although much of it could just be their arrogant refusal to accept any form of change despite much of the AAA and traditional models being far from ideal (for example EA). There are some valid concerns over Steam Early Access and how it alters the hoops that developers must jump through to get a game on Steam but that’s not so much a problem with Early Access as it is a general problem with the whole idea of a curated Steam store. Personally I feel that if people really want a curated store they should sell their PCs, abandon openness and choice and buy iPads, but that’s just me.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are early access projects that are not related directly to Steam or Kickstarter specifically and instead rely on their own systems to manage things and their own momentum for publicity. Star Citizen for example, the reawakening of the Wing Commander style of games by Chris Roberts began as a Kickstarter campaign and has expanded massively from their using their own home-built crowdfunding and early access systems. This has been so successful that the project has raised $48 million through the various channels in order to fund continued development. There is also Planetary Annihilation, a game meant to be in the same vein as the Total Annihilation RTS which was a successfully funded Kickstarter and continues to raise funds through other crowdfunding and early access. Planetary Annihilation actually raised some concerns over the convergence points of crowdfunding and early access when their Steam Early Access release was priced according to the appropriate stage of funding tier, placing the price very high in comparison to even a regular AAA title.
The key response to early access complainers is that no-one is forced to buy a game early and it’s nice to have the option available if you want it. From a consumer perspective early access is far preferable to pre-ordering as there is already a tangible return on your payment, you have a far better idea of what you’re getting and you get the satisfying feeling of knowing you’ve helped something get created. For a developer it’s a great way of either funding future development or merely gaining the funding required to finish the project. In much the same way as crowdfunding in general, early access has its problems but ultimately it helps to alleviate the reliance of developers on publishers, which means that we’re more likely to get the game that the developer wanted to make or the community wanted to play and not the game that some misogynist suit-clad market analyst executive thinks would sell best to his imagined demographic of gamers. I know it’s a different discussion but many of the problems involving the portrayal of gender in games can be traced to publishers forcing their imagined gamer demographic on developers. That really is the key to the whole idea, it is stripping the middle man out of the equation and putting the money and communication on a direct channel between the people making the game and the people playing the game. This was possible when games were very small and the community less disparate, then there was the time of the publisher where the community had grown beyond the realms of developer level management however now that time is coming to an end as the internet is providing tools that allow that direct communication to occur again. I will still play some large games made by big studios, a Dishonoured 2 for example would be seriously cool to have but the idea of not having the publisher in the middle screwing things up by injecting their own particular brand of bullshit is very nice to me.
Conclusions are already fairly well drawn by this point; the crowdfunding explosion has calmed somewhat now that the gold rush has raised the standards required in order to make a successful pitch. There has been as reasonable stream of attempted crowdfunding campaigns with some good failing and many bad… well, failing. If an idea sparks the interest of the press it is likely to get funded but that’s far from a sure thing. In terms of early access; with many of the best selling titles available right now being early access (see DayZ) there is not likely to be any significant buck in that trend. If this produces better games, gives the developers the funds they need and gives gamers the chance to try out a game and help in its development then it could prove to be a positive trend in gaming. The whole idea of phasing out publishers is very attractive as it means phasing out the suits that alter the course of gaming in unproductive ways. The idea of linking gamers and game developers (also see ‘gamers’) in a direct communicative and financial channel can only be a good as only the people passionate about games are involved in the creation process, phasing out those who are passionate about other things; money, boats, expensive suits, etc.
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Week In Game News, 23rd May 2014

 

Super Smash Bros. Wii U” Gets Figures:

Stephan Bole, the managing director of Nintendo France, has stated that the latest release of the “Super Smash Bros.” series will use ‘near field communication’ (NFC) toys. Nintendo said that they were considering using the technology earlier in the year but this is the first conformed use of the technology. Not much has been conformed on how the figures will be used but “E3 will be an opportunity to show the use of NFC technology on Nintendo consoles,” Bole reported to French newspaper, La Figaro.

A Wii U GameCube Controller:

Staying with Nintendo, Nintendo will be releasing a licenced “GameCube inspired” controller for the Wii U. The original GameCube controller was backward combatable with the Wii but that all stopped with the Wii U. This adds to the pile of controllers that are now out for the console which includes the wiimotes, game pads and their classic controller range.

“Minecraft” Comes To New Consoles In August:

It was revealed last year the popular game “Minecraft” will being coming to the Xbox One, the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. This will add to the plethora of devices were the game can be played which includes the PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and mobile devices. The versions will be released at the same time in August, and those who have already brought the 360 and PS3 version can get a discount when they upgrade to their next console generation counterparts ($4.99 instead of the usual $19.99 price tag), and those who have the PlayStation 3 version can get the PlayStation Vita version for free and vice versa. Although, those who brought the game via Blu-Ray disk are not legible for the discount with Mojang, the games developer, stating:

We are working closely with Sony Computer Entertainment to look into ways to enable upgrade from the Blu-ray disc version of Minecraft: Playstation 3 Edition to Minecraft: Playstation 3 and Vita. We’ll have more info on this closer to release.

Save files from the older consoles will also be transferable to the newer counterparts.

The “Metro” Series Get A Make-Over:

Metro: 2033” and “Metro: Last Light” will be getting a re-release for the current generation consoles. They will be available separately for $24.99 or as season pass pack, which includes both games and all the DLC, costing $49.99. The games will be re-made with the latest engine from 4A Games and as well as having a Ranger and Survival mode on top a long list of updates to the AI, interface and animations that uses the additional power the new consoles have over the previous generation.

The First Xbox One June Update:

The Xbox One June update will see the Microsoft console be able to use external hard-drives. Once the update is installed, any USB 3.0 hard-drive can be connected and formatted for use with the console. Additional to this, your real name can be displayed in your friend groups instead of whatever you made for your Live name. You real name will never appear in game. The update is the first of two updates in June, the second being the much anticipated Xbox Live network and app changes.

YouTube Reportedly Buying Twitch:

Early in the week, the entertainment group “Variety” reported that YouTube Google was going to buy the stream service Twitch for a reported $1 billion. The Wall Street Journal later in the week then reported that they are in early talks. The deal will be facing a backlash from the US Justice Department over competition rules as they are both the undisputed number one in their respective internet video fields.

ZeniMax Media Sues Oculus VR:

The big story of the week is that ZeniMax Media, the developers behind “Skyrim” and “Fallout 3”, in tandem with Id Software, the developers behind “DOOM”, are suing Oculus VR. ZeniMax are accusing Oculus VR of making unauthorized use of their proprietary technology in the Oculus Rift, which Oculus denies.

The lawsuit says that ZeniMax have been researching VR technology since the 1990’s and that they created a prototype for some of the early ‘Elder Scrolls’ games. It also says that John Carmack, who formally worked for Id Software but now works for Oculus VR as chief technical officer, was doing work on the Rift when he was working at Id. It is also revealed that the Rift Kickstarter promotional video that used footage from “DOOM 3: BFG Edition” used the footage without the permission of Id Software.

Torch Top 5

The Torch Top 5 – April 21st

5) Heroes reboot announced

The producers behind hit-and-miss TV show Heroes have announced they want to try again. The show hit good ratings in its first season, but when the writer’s strike of 2007 hit, the ratings plummeted. They now feel the show did not get the chance it deserved and are working on making a reboot of the series to correct all wrongs.
If this comes to be, we can expect to see the familiar everyday-men turned supermen on the TV-screens in mid-2016.

4) Boys don’t read

According to OnePoll, men don’t read as much as they used to while women read more than ever. The same poll revealed that men are more likely to wait for a televised version of a book, even if they are interested in the premise.
The most common cause given by men is lack of time or difficulty to enjoy written words.

It was also revealed that 20% of those who did say they read books did this to appear more intelligent.

3) Top 40 of 2013 revealed

The Official Charts Company has revealed the 40 best selling albums of last year. Surprisingly Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’ placed second and Robbie Williams’ comeback came third.
The top seller of last year was ‘AM’ by Arctic Monkeys.
The chart only looks at physical discs sold in record stores, which could explain the lower numbers on last year’s most talked about album, ‘Time’ by Rod Stewart, which came in at number 7. Continue reading

Torch Top 5

The Torch Top 5 – April 14th

5) Mysterious bank shutdown

On Thursday evening, all of Swedish bank Swedbank’s systems were mysteriously shut off. Neither customers nor employees could access anything that had to do with the bank for 5 hours, starting at 9pm local time. This included bank withdrawals, credit card services, the telephone services and even the website.

An investigation has been launched to find out the reason why all the backup systems failed at once, but so far no cause has been stated.

4) Peaches Geldof dies, aged 25

Actress Peaches Geldof, daughter of music legend Bob Geldof, was found dead of a brain aneurysm in her apartment in Kent.
Geldof is survived by her husband, Thomas Cohen, her father and her daughter.

3) GWAR raises monument

Thrash band GWAR will raise a permanent monument to the late lead singer Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus. Brockie passed away earlier this year, aged 50.
The statue will be accompanied by a foundation, the Dave Brockie Foundation, to promote advancement of music, images, letters and performances in arts as well as preserving the legacy of Dave’s works.
The foundation will mainly target struggling artists who, like GWAR themselves, have found it hard to survive through “mainstream channels”.

2) Kick-ass director remakes He-Man

The cinematic bomb that is Masters Of The Universe, the live action film about Mattel toy He-Man, has been cleared for a remake. Sony has been toying with the idea since 2009 and on the Wednesday it was announced that it will be done.
There were several writers in line to take on this project. Among them were Jon Chu from G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But it was Jeff Wadlow, most known for the Kick-Ass series, that managed to land the contract.

Masters Of The Universe is scheduled for a 2016 release.

1) Ultimate Warrior dies, aged 54

WWE wrestler Ultimate Warrior, iconic for being the only wrestler who ever beat Hulk Hogan in a fair match, passed away on Tuesday evening. The cause of death has not yet been released.
The energetic wrestler legally changed his name from James Hellwig in 1993. He had just been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Ultimate Warrior is survived by his wife, Dana, and his two daughters.

Torch Top 5

The Torch Top 5 – April 4th

5) “TV-licence” extends in many countries

Sweden was one of the first countries to do it and now more countries follow. UK is about to do it as well.
We’re talking about extending the “TV-licence”, the fee put on every television owner in a country to fund the public service TV and radio stations, to include other devices as well. More and more public service stations have taken the leap into an online environment and with this, they feel that computers should be included as well.
Certain countries even include smartphones and game consoles into the licensable devices.

This is a sign that the world is going more and more into the virtual environment of the Internet for every day.

4) Bionic animatronic

German scientists have produced the first ever bionic animal, an entirely mechanical animal. The biomechanical leap was taken quite literally as the team at Festo created a mechanical kangaroo, capable of not only jumping and then recovering its balance, but also to store the energy recovered when landing for its next jump. This mimics the function of a real kangaroo perfectly.

The mechanical animal has no commercial use, but it instead used as an example to get more aspiring students interested in biomimetics, the study of mechanical applications of designs in nature.

3) Marvelous plans

Marvel has high ambition for their current series of superhero movies. The movies that center around the heroes in the team called Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy will be produced for a long time. The current production schedule extends all the way to 2028, according to Marvel Studio president Kevin Feige. Continue reading

Torch Top 5

The Torch Top 5, March 17th

5) Terminator kinda sequel, kinda reboot announced

The next instalment in the Terminator series will begin filming shortly. Terminator: Genesis will take place around the same time as the first two movies and follow Sarah Connor once again, but this time we will get to see things from the other side.
In a style similar to Back To The Future, director Alan Taylor wants to show the original events from a different perspective.

4)  Guitar Hero goes Children’s Author

Rock legend Keith Richards from Rolling Stones has found a new career. In a story inspired by his grandfather and illustrations by his daughter, Richards is about to publish a children’s book.
Richards just became a grandfather himself, for the fifth time, so he really knows what he’s talking about.

3) EU bans phone chargers

On Thursday, EU politicians backed a regulation that will force smartphone makers to only use one type of charger. The bill will help reduce electronic waste and reduces the need for several chargers in the same home.
Apple, one of the few manufacturers that haven’t gone over to the standard mini-USB charger, was surprisingly one of the first backers of the new bill.

2) Lady Gaga accused of fraud

Charity foundation “Born This Way”, started by Lady Gaga, has been accused of squandering away most of its donations to legal fees and promotions. Based on a tax report from the foundations, millions of dollars were spent on promoting and securing the foundation, while only 5000 dollars reached its intended destination.
According to Gaga and her co-founder Cynthia Germanotta, this is just a misunderstanding of the tax report. They both assure their donors that most money reached the intended charities.

1) SL Go met with backlash

SL GO, a mobile client for Second Life, recently went to Open Beta. The viewer looks and performs much like the standard SL Viewer. However, it was met with huge criticism due to its pricing.
Unlike its contenders that either work on a monthly subscription or initial purchase model, SL GO has an hourly rate of as much as 8$ per hour.
You can try the viewer out on any android device for 20 minutes for free on slgo.onlive.com.

Torch Top 5

The Torch Top 5 – 10/3 2014

5) OUYA will come to more devices

OUYA CEO Julie Uhrman announced earlier this week that the storefront, called Discover, will be available to several Android devices. The decision to open it up to more devices than the console itself is inspired by Amazon’s Kindle setup, where you have the Kindle devices, but you can access the books from almost any smart device.

They will put certain hardware requirements on Discover to ensure the customer can play all games offered.

4) Archie is back

The popular 1940′s American Classic comic Archie will be back sometime next year. This is thanks to the star and creator of Girls, Lena Dunham, who has been approved to write a new four-part story about Archie Andrews.
Dunham has been a long-time fan of the series and was sent a box full of Archie comics by the publishers for her research. Within a week she had read them all and pitched a story to the publishers, who approved it right away.

Dunham’s Archie stories will be released sometime in 2015.

3) Power Suit available soon

Italian robotics company Percro has engineered the first publicly available and cost efficient robotic power suit, Continue reading

Torch Top 5

The Torch Top 5 March 3rd 2014

1. Ghostbuster Harold Ramis Passes Away

Actor and Director Harold Ramis passed away at age 69.  Ramis was known  for his portrayal of the character Egon Spengler, one part of the legendary quartet, the Ghostbusters. He was also known for directing classic comedies such as National Lapoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day and Caddyshack. In 2010, Ramis contracted an infection that resulted in Vasculitis, a disorder that affected his blood vessels. He passed away on February 24th 2014 from complications with the disorder. He is survived by his wife and three children.

2. Anne Frank’s Diary Donated to Japan.

The Israeli embassy has donated over  300 copies of Anne Frank’s Diary to Japanese public libraries after it was found that more than 100 of the books were vandalized. 265 books were found to have the pages ripped from the books. It is not clear who was behind the vandelizm.  The Mayor of Tokyo’s Suginami ward, Ryo Tanaka, commented, “Through this incident, I believe that people also learned about the horrid facts about history and of racism.”

3.  Linden Lab Rethinks Product Offerings

Linden Lab has released a press release announcing their intention to stop development on external projects Creatorverse, dio and Versu. According to the short PR, due to a number of factors a decision was made to cease development on these projects stating, “ We’re grateful for those who took the time to experiment with these products in their early days, but ultimately Continue reading

Torch Top 5

The Torch Top 5 – Feb 24th

5) Crowdfunding site hacked

Fundraising platform Kickstarter was hacked last week. The hackers did not get away with any credit details, as Kickstarter do not store that kind of data. Only two of the hacked accounts show any signs of unauthorized activity. Though the passwords were encrypted, officials still recommend that all users change their passwords, just in case.

4) Olympians failed doping test

The Winter Olympics in Socha, Russia was shaken on friday morning when two cases of doping was revealed. German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle (pron: Saxenbacker Stel) and Italian bobsledder William Frullani both tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.
Frullani admitted to having taken the restricted substance Methylhexanmine while Evi still claims she’s innocent.

This makes the 4th and 5th case of doping in the Winter Olympics. Earlier in the games, two Russian and one Lithuanian biathletes also tested positive for banned substances.

3) Swedish princess born in New York

Princess Madeleine, younger sister of Swedish throne follower Princess Victoria, had her first daughter on the Thursday evening. The royal married the US banker Christopher O’Neill in june 2013 and they did not expect the child to be born for another two weeks. The child is reported to be in perfect health.

The newborn princess will inherit Madeleines title of Dutchess of Halsingland and Gastrikland and is currently fifth in line for the Throne of Sweden.

2) Underground youth hit becomes film

‘The 5th Wave’ has been praised in the UK as a modern sci-fi masterpiece and has been called “The holy grail of publishing” in the US. Last week it got awarded with the Red House Children’s Book Award in the UK, voted for by children.
This surprising hit has been relatively unknown until now, but have already landed a prestigious movie deal. Famed actor and producer Toby Maguire have signed up to transfer the book to the big screen.

‘The 5th Wave’ is inspired by famed physicist Stephen Hawking’s quote “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which did not turn out well for the Native Americans”.

1) Gamer Garry breaks own records

Garry Newman, the lead developer behind the popular sandbox game Garry’s Mod announced that the game broke $30 million in sales early February. The game has been at the top of the Steam selling list for 9 years. However, he also announced his newest game, Rust, that has only been for sale for a few weeks, broke that with $3 400.

Newman said the reason for the huge overtaking by Rust is that they get more royalty for that game and it costs $20 against Garry’s Mod’s $10.

Torch Top 5

The Torch Top 5, week of Feb 15th

5) The original Dune will be released

In the late 60′s, Chilean-born director Alejandro Jodorowsky filmed several scenes based on Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune. He pitched the idea to the Hollywood publishers, but was turned down. Only a few years later, director David Lynch started filming his rendition of the movie. That version went into the history books as a must-see classic.
Jadorowsky, along with fellow filmmakers Nicolas Winding Refn and Richard Stanley have completed scenes from his original version. They will release a documentary style version of the movie in late March this year.

4) Random romance

Poet Nanni Balestrini has created a new kind of romance novel, slightly different for each reader. Through cutting edge digital printing techniques, the publisher has randomized some of the events in each printing of the novel. This creates a coherent, yet different, experience for each reader.
The novel, titled Trsitano, was originally published in the mid 1960′s in Italian. Due to the restrictions in technology at the time, Balestrini had to manually randomize each print. This is no longer any problem and the English translation, that went out into the stores on Valentine’s Day, is now machine printed.

3) Facebook allows more genders

On a trial run, Facebook added more than 50 gender options for their US users. The plans are to take this worldwide in the future.
Up until now you only had two choices, Male or Female. Facebook says “No more” and allows you to select from this massive list, with a promise to add more in the future, should they learn of more gender options.  At the same time, they added more sharing options, so you can tailor who gets to see your gender, in case you only want to share it with some people. Continue reading