Saturday, November 2, 2013

Weekly Roundup - October 27 - November 2, 2013

With the launch of the Xbox One and Playstation 4 just around the corner, I was surprised to not see any major news coming from Microsoft or Sony this week. Instead, this week was topped by the cancellation of Command & Conquer and the closing of Victory Games citing poor feedback during alpha tests. Also this week, Ubisoft scrapped it's online passes, the WiiU isn't turning a profit (shock!), Steam crossed 65 million users, and apparently Star Trek Online still exists.


Command & Conquer Cancelled
Developer Victory Games announced that they would be cancelling the upcoming Command & Conquer and shortly thereafter EA announced that they would be shutting the studio down. I am a bit sad to hear that the spiritual successor to one of my favourite RTSs of all time, C&C: Generals, was getting the axe but am heartened for the justification. Apparently, feedback during alpha testing demonstrated that the game was falling well short of expectations. While few concrete details were released, I suspect that the game was being developed on a pay-to-win microtransaction model which irked testers. Whatever the reason, I would rather see a game cancelled than shoveled out the door when even the developer knows that it is junk. As for EA shutting the studio down, no surprise there; studios have been closed for worse reasons than lacklustre quality and, in any case, most of the employees will likely be given an option to shift to another team within EA and thus keep their jobs.

Ubisoft Kills Online Passes
Online passes were primarily implemented as a way to mitigate losses due to the used game market. In short, a player who has bought a game second hand is required to pay a fee (usually $10) to use the games multiplayer services. With Ubisoft now joining EA in scrapping this scheme, I am left a bit puzzled. This setup surely must have been a source of additional revenue and neither of these companies has demonstrated that they are willing to shut of a revenue stream unless they are opening the gates for something larger. While online passes don't create a lot of goodwill, they haven't been demonstrated to negatively affect sales. I suspect that one of the numerous legal challenges facing the online pass scheme was approaching a tipping point. Instead of potentially losing a ton in a class action suit, these publishers have decided that it is better to just end the practice and sweep everything under the rug.

Nintendo States WiiU Negatively Impacting Company Profits
In what has to be the biggest 'no duh' story of the week, Nintendo announced during an earnings report that the WiiU was not turning a profit. Given that less than 4 million units have been shipped since launch, the WiiU is not expected to significantly impact demand for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 this holiday season. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this news is that Nintendo intends to move 9 million consoles by the financial end of 2014. This target seems moderately ambitious in the current landscape. Ultimately, Nintendo will need to produce a lot more compelling titles and stop bleeding publisher support if they truly intend to meet this goal. How they expect to do this remains to be seen.

Steam Hits 65 Million Users
Growing by approximately 30% over the past 12 months, Steam is almost certainly the worlds largest digital gaming distribution service. What is perhaps most amazing about Steam is that they have managed to dominate the PC Gaming market through offering a superior product as opposed to cutthroat/malicious business tactics. Gamers overwhelmingly support the platform and routinely sing it's praises. While I think that Steam isn't all roses; outside of sales, they frequently charge more for games than other services and there have been a few reports of draconian treatment of developers, I am generally happy with my experience particularly when compared to the alternatives (I'm looking at you EA). So congratulations Steam, keep up the (mostly) good work and gamers will continue to support you.

Star Trek Online: Sphere of Influence Announced
Finally, in a bit of left-field news. Apparently Star Trek Online is still a thing and apparently it is a big enough thing to warrant more things being added to it. I was genuinely surprised to hear that there was sufficient support to justify an expansion pack for the free-to-play MMO. I guess you can never underestimate the rabid Star Trek fan base. In fairness, the expansion actually looks pretty interesting bringing in a story of Romulan intrigue and prominently featuring Worf voiced by Michael Dorn. I doubt this will be enough to attract many new players but should satiate the existing player base.