Real money or digital currency?

With online gaming becoming an evermore-prevalent cornerstone of the games market, many developers are also turning to the Internet for publishing. As mentioned previously in this blog it’s Valve and their online digital distribution service Steam that are the current masters of this art – you pay your money you get your game.

Now many other developers are seriously looking at the prospect of online only publishing and this includes Realtime Worlds, the developer behind Crackdown and APB. The latter is an action orientated MMO which when purchased comes with 50 free hours of online play. After this, 20 more hours can be bought for £5.59 or if the player prefers they can buy a 30 day unlimited package for £7.99.

It’ll also be possible to buy this extra play time using an in game currency, RTW points, which can be bought in large amounts with real money or made through selling custom items to other players. In an interview with Develop, APB Lead Designer EJ Moreland said it’s a system that’ll also be implemented in the developers’ future titles.

““Realtime Worlds is transitioning from being a developer to being an online publisher, [and] RTW Points is going to be the currency for all of our games in the future.”

One of those games is a yet unannounced title and Moreland’s comments seem to suggest that the Dundee-based studio will be producing another online title.  Of course, through self-publishing a title online the Games Developers, Games Designers, and Games Artists cut out the middle man in the form of needing to cover the costs of physical discs and retail. This may very well be appealing to Train2Game students looking to break into the market.

However, one has to wonder if people will use the currency to buy extra playtime. Paying for RTW points with a debit card will take some time, then will the whole process have to be repeated in order to pay for the actual product? Though perhaps the use of RTW points will strengthen the APB community, and ultimately encourage them to play for longer – and thus pay for more content. Maybe players with large amounts of RTW points will play future titles too, seeing as they’ve already stocked up on the currency needed to buy it. We’ll see.

What do you think is the best system for a developer to use when publishing a game online? Real money or a specific type of in-game currency?

Ubisoft eye up 3D games

As recently as six months ago, not a lot of people had an interest in 3D television. Then, on December 17 2009 a certain film called Avatar was released and suddenly 3D became the next big thing in the world of looking at screens.

Now it seems most big films that are released come with an option of seeing them in 3D and now you can even watch football in 3D if your local is one of the handful of pubs that are equipped to do this. As of last month, 3D televisions are now available to the average consumer…if they have £1,799 to spare that is.

Of course, the games industry was never going to pass up this growing opportunity, and now Ubisoft chief executive officer Yves Guillemot predicts that between 15 and 20 per cent of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games will support 3D in the next year. Ubisoft have already committed themselves to 3D with their release of Avatar: The Game which included optional 3D support. Other games including Batman: Arkham Asylum have had a 3D release, and even the upcoming 3DS will have a 3D function so it does indeed look like 3D will be the next ‘big thing’ Why, even just last week, Sony announced they’ll be releasing 3D patches for several PlayStation 3 games.

This makes the games industry an exciting place to be working right now and Train2Game student’s must be rubbing their hands with glee at all of the exciting gaming innovations, such as 3D,  they’ll be working on in the future. Perhaps one of them could go onto produce 4D games? Well, maybe …but the point is that the games industry is always changing, adapting and the prospect of entering it now as a Games Designer, Games Developer or Games Artist must be mouth-watering. Are you interested in going onto produce 3D games? Or would you rather stick to the conventional ‘2D’ versions?

Someone do me a favour though would you, and figure out a way to play 3D games without the need for the 3D glasses. I already have big enough spectacles of my own thanks.

Square Enix show even struggling developers can become hugely successful

Square Enix must be a very happy publisher. Why? Only because their sales increased by 41.7% in the fiscal year ending in March 2010 compared to 2008-2009. The Japanese giant’s sales total for the 12 month period came to £1.5 billion, or 192.3 billion yen if you think that sounds more impressive.

Of course, the release of Final Fantasy XIII – the first game in the series for current generation of consoles – was a huge boost for Square Enix as millions of copies have been sold worldwide and it’s still performing strongly in the charts. The companies’ acquisition of British publisher Eidos last year also means that Square Enix will have taken a slice of the profits from the hugely successful Batman: Arkham Asylum along with a number of other titles.

So, 2009-2010 was a highly successful year for Square Enix, who with the Final Fantasy series have a history of well selling, successful games. However, things weren’t always so rosy for Square – as the developer was known before the merger with Enix in 2003.

Back in 1987 Square was still a small developer and despite some moderate success with previous titles, the company was flirting with bankruptcy.  They thought the game they had in production would be their last, so they called it Final Fantasy. Fortunately for Square this ‘Final’ Fantasy was a massive it and went onto spawn one of the biggest franchises in gaming – big enough to help contribute to making £1.5 billion!

Train2Game students can definitely take something from this tale. After all, the games industry can be a tough environment to forge a career in – just travel back in time and ask someone from Square Enix circa 1987! But perseverance is the key, keep pushing and keep doing the right things and it’s possible to overcome even the most daunting barriers. Do you think you can help produce the next massive franchise? Does your current project have that potential? Let us know.

Developers, players, the ever closing gap between them… and hats.

In the old days, the world of video games was an ever so simple place. The Games Developers, Games Designers and Games Artists made the games whilst we, the consumers bought and played them. The growing influence of the Internet in the 1990’s started to change this traditional pattern, and creating mods of existing games became popular among PC gamers. For example Counter-Strike is one of the most popular shooters in the history of online gaming, yet it started life as a modification for Half-Life. It went on to spawn numerous other incarnations including Counter Strike: Source and has sold very successfully since its release in 2004.

So, we’ve established that it’s possible for modders to use existing engines to produce extremely successful games. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or indeed the know how needed to build games (Naturally, a Train2Game course can help you work around these barriers.) However, now in 2010, it’s never been easier for a budding Games Designer, Games Developer or Games Artist to get involved with the production of a big name title, and Team Fortress 2 is the best example of this.

“Why is that?” I hear you ask. Well, the guys at Valve are extremely keen for the Team Fortress 2 community to get involved with the ongoing development of the game – for those unfamiliar with TF2 it has received free rolling updates since its release at the end of 2007. Hats for the in-game characters were introduced in 2009, and in March this year, Valve asked players to contribute their own ideas for in-game items. They received a massive response and shortly afterwards several budding designers were rewarded by seeing their work (re: mostly designs for hats) become part of official Team Fortress 2 universe. A second round of community updates has been applied today too!

So now you might be saying “Hats are silly, why do people care so much about them?” Well they don’t want them to give them an in game advantage that’s for sure; the hats are purely there for aesthetic reasons. But these comic creations allow players to add an aspect of individuality to themselves in-game and as a result are highly desired. The community I play with probably talk about hats as much as they do about the actual game they’re playing in!

With these hats being regarded so highly, the lucky few people who’ve had their designs adopted officially by Valve for Team Fortress 2 will have been seen – and perhaps fetchingly sported – by millions of players.

One TF2 fan called Mister Royzo has gone so far as to release his own (for now) unofficial update containing new skins for a number of the current in-game hats and weapons.  So as of yet, these aren’t hats in their own right but just replace others. BUT apparently Valve have taken a liking to what they’ve seen, so is it possible we could soon end up with the first fan-made official Team Fortress 2 update? Possibly…after all with Valve (hopefully!) soon to be releasing the long awaited Engineer update, all of the games nine classes will have been covered so perhaps fans will be invited to submit their own suggestions for entire updates.

If this does indeed happen, the gap between developers and players will be even further reduced and there arguably will have never been a better time anyone, including T2G students, to get their first big break in the industry.

A PSN ‘Gold Service’ could benefit indie developers (like Train2Game students…)

With the E3 expo just around the corner, it’s now that time of year when games industry rumours are appearing thick and fast. We’ve already heard that GTA V might be making an appearance, but E3 isn’t just an event for developers to show off their shiny new games…they also use it to reveal a variety of other games related innovations.  The Project Natal and PlayStation Move control systems are probably going to be the headliners in this department, but there are reports that an announcement about a Premium Service for the PlayStation Network will prominent on the undercard.

Now, usually rumours about this sort of thing can be labelled under the banner of ‘wild speculation’ However, this information has originated from the well-respected VG247, and as a result has been taken very seriously by the video games press. So, what’s actually going on with this story?

Well, VG247 claim that a ‘highly placed source’ says Sony is set to unveil a premium subscription gold service for the PlayStation network that will cost “less than £50 per year”.

Cynics may suggest that Sony are merely attempting to imitate the success of Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold service, while some PlayStation gamers will no doubt have concerns that they’ll have to play for the privilege of playing their favourite games online.  Well, it seems that PS3 users have nothing to fear in that department as the report says

“Nothing planned will impact the service’s current free aspects.”

Or to put it bluntly, you’ll still be able to play, say Modern Warfare 2, online without having to pay extra. (Unless you’re happy to give Activision money for extra DLC maps anyway)

Of course, details of what this proposed Premium Service would involve are sketchy at the moment, but it’s likely Sony has something up their sleeves.

What we do know is that according to VG247, the PSN Gold subscribers would get one free PSN game a month from a choice of “two to four” every month. Their source adds:

“If you work it out, PSN games cost an average of £6-9 each, so over a year you’re basically going to be breaking even,”

For those unfamiliar with PSN games, they’re games that are bought and downloaded from the online PlayStation Store for both the PS3 and PSP consoles.  These games started out as mainly re-releases of classics from the original PlayStation, but now there are more and more independent games available from the online store. Independent games available include the highly successful Flower which has won varies titles including Best Independent Game at the 2009 Video Game Awards.

Now, with the prospect of Sony offering a ‘set menu’ of PSN games for Gold subscribers, it’s entirely possible that some of these will be independent games. So, with these games being available for ‘free’ as part of the subscription fee, we could see PlayStation users take chances on buying independent games rather than just going for something they already played and finished ten years ago.

Essentially, it’s unlikely there has been a better time for a Train2Game student to try and get into the industry. Digital downloads are getting more and more popular and with innovations like Steam, Indie Bundles and the possibility of independent games being heavily pushed on the PlayStation Network, it means there are plenty of places available for Games designers, developers and artists to demonstrate and distribute their work.

Of course, we’ll need to wait until E3 to see what Sony actually reveal, but if free independent games are part of any package then excellent news. If they aren’t then fine, it’s not a massive problem because plenty of independent games sell well on the PlayStation store. Whatever happens, the future seems very bright for the games industry and who knows, maybe in the future a Train2Game graduate will make a huge announcement at the biggest games expo of them all.

Nintendo 3DS to have ‘enhanced anti-piracy measures’

So, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has confirmed that the new 3D visuals of the upcoming 3DS handheld console will in fact be able to be turned off if the owner so desires. Apparently, the reasoning behind this is due to concerns the 3DS could have on people’s eyesight! Now, as someone who already has terrible eye’s this is somewhat of a relief, as is the fact the 3DS won’t actually require the user to wear special 3D glasses. Spectacle wearers are kind of shunned by 3D films and television aren’t they? As if the lives of the visually challenged aren’t hard enough with THAT crushing disappointment too.

But being able to easily turn off 3D wasn’t the only thing that was revealed by Mr Iwata, oh no… there’s more! He also revealed that the new machine will include enhanced anti-piracy measures, in order to combat the harmful effect illegal copies can have on software sales.  Now, I’m sure games developers, designers and artists worldwide are more interested in this little announcement than the being able to turn the 3D off thing.

Games piracy is more common than you’d think with millions of people illegally downloading games that the majority of us are more than happy to pay for. Unfortunately it costs the games industry billions a year. As a Train2Game student you wouldn’t want to work hard but then miss out on reaping the rewards of all your efforts now, would you? You’ll also need to make sure you copyright your work for a little bit of extra protection. Of course you may be more than happy to give away some of your games for free but only as a legal download in order to help you gain a foothold in the industry.

We don’t yet actually know what Nintendo will be doing to improve the anti-piracy capabilities of the 3DS and to be honest, nobody outside the company may ever find out. Mr Iwata didn’t explain any specifics, saying that by doing so he’d give “hints” to pirates…which is fair enough I suppose!

There’s no specific release date for the 3DS yet, but we can probably expect more to be revealed at next month’s E3 expo.

Will the future come in small episodic chunks?

In a world where we’re seeing digital distribution becoming an increasingly popular way to buy video games, some developers are already altering the way they produce titles.  But firstly, what is an episodic game? Well, it’s a video game produced and sold in small units that build into a recognizable series as opposed to a single massive game. Basically a game could be released over five instalments with each one of these costing say between £5 and £10. Eventually, and when the gamer buys the episodes, they’ll end up with the full game.

Ok, so some of you are probably now saying ‘What’s the point of that? I want to play full games, not just little instalments of them!” And yes that’s a very valid point, after all Modern Warfare 2 wouldn’t have been as successful if it was released with an unfinished campaign mode right? But, episodic content does offer advantages! For a start it provides people with cheap games….you’re more likely to buy a game for under a tenner on impulse than a £40 one, yeah? It also makes things easier for developers and designers, providing them with deadlines in small manageable chunks! Though someone try telling that to Valve…can we have Half Life 2: Episode 3 yet please?

There have been a number of successful – mainly digitally downloadable – episodic games in recent years with Tales of Monkey Island featuring prominently among them. We also five episodes of an episodic Sam & Max title scheduled for release this year from Telltale Games who are well known for producing quality titles that come in little monthly chunks.

Now Telltale have revealed a new scheme which could both further develop the concept of episodic gaming via digital download and benefit Train2Game students aspiring to get their first big break in the industry. The developers will soon be using their skills to create pilots which if sell successfully could be made into full games.

Telltale’s CEO, Dan Connors says this concept is ““excellent way to expand the boundaries of interactive entertainment and gaming by bringing audiences unique and interesting content they might not see otherwise.”

Ok so you Train2Game students may not work for a developer yet, but the concept of episodic gaming could very well provide you with your first role in the industry.  Of course, you’re bound to be a very busy person but if you could produce say a pilot that was a few hours long then get it out there on the internet…and someone likes it, it could very well be the catalyst you need to start your career. There’s never been an easier time to get something out there, especially through the use of digital distribution.

And the use of digital distribution is bound to only get bigger, especially with a certain free and episodic Doctor Who adventure game on the horizon. Yes, it’s going to be free but it could also be the most popular episodic game to date!

So, what do you think? Is episodic gaming the way forward?

Starcraft II release date revealed.

Activision Blizzard have confirmed that their long delayed RTS Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty will finally be released on July 27th. The game will be released both as a digital download and on the stores of your local games retailer.

The first full sequel to the original Starcraft has been a long time coming; after all it was released 12 years ago. That’s during the last millennium for crying out loud! That was back in the day before Blizzard became a part of Activision too so, you know, ages ago.

Starcraft II was originally scheduled to be released last year but a statement was released in August saying it would arrive in the “First half of 2010” Well…I suppose July isn’t that far into the second half of the year. So, why such a long delay?

Well, the simple answer is that it takes a long time to properly develop a game to perfection, something that all Train2Game students I’m sure know already! None of you would want to release an unfinished, buggy game on the world now would you? No, you’re all of course aware that games development takes a long, long time.

At least the delay meant that Activision Blizzard, along with some lucky gamers, had plenty of time to test Starcraft II in a closed Beta, allowing them to refine many aspects of the game. There have been plenty of Starcraft II previews which have generally been positive so all this extra testing due to the delay can only have made it better right? Blizzard have also upgraded their Battle.net online gaming service to include new features such as voice chat, cloud file storage and stat-tracking.

So, the wait that spanned over two millennia is now almost over. Do you think it’s going to be worth it?

Are indie developers leading the way when it comes to combating piracy?

Gaming is an expensive pastime and almost always has been.  One of the first commercially available 3D release was Virtua Racing, which may have looked awful by today’s standards but in 1994 it was the height of technology and cost almost £50. Nowadays, if you look in the right places, you can pick up new releases for around £35, although some games will still get you back over £50 – Call of Duty: Black Ops has apparently got an RRP of £54.99.

Of course, there are those among us who don’t pay for games… the pirates but not ones with eye patches and swords, oh no, but the people who download brand new games illegally without paying for them. Ideas like DRM or even the Digital Economy Bill are being implemented in an attempt to crackdown on piracy but will it ever be stopped once and for all? Unlikely. A worrying prospect for Train2Game students who no doubt would much rather receive royalties for their games rather than have them downloaded illegally and receive nothing!

Now, legendary developer Charles Cecil – who’s currently working on free Doctor Who adventure games for the BBC – says piracy is “nature’s way of turning around and saying games are too expensive and the way that they are distributed is not ideal.” He suggests that an iTunes style of digital distribution could work in the future for games developers and go someway to preventing illegal downloads. Steam has gone some way towards this, but Cecil is correct about the simplicity of iTunes.

Meanwhile, Indie developers Wolfire, are currently allowing you to buy five games, including the highly acclaimed World of Goo for…get this, any price you want to pay! If you really wanted, you could give humble 1p, you could give them a grand if you so desired. The current average contribution people are handing over at the time of writing is $7.90 or about £5.20 in the Queen’s Stirling. Sure it may not be that much but the game’s are being distributed to a wide audience and the developer’s are at least getting some cash for all their hard work.

Sure, you probably won’t get major multinational developers like Activision or Square-Enix giving away the next Modern Warfare or Final Fantasy for whatever price you’re willing to pay, but this system could provide dividends for the indie developers of the future, today’s current Train2Game students. There will still be people who will pay as little as possible for their games for sure, but on the other hand there will always be more generous people who’ll hand over larger amounts for the products.

With digital distribution becoming more and more popular there’s now more scope than ever for an independent developer to get their work out there and have it played by thousands, or hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of people! So not only could creating a highly popular indie game provide you with enough money to pay the rent, it’ll also look excellent in any developer’s portfolio.

So go on my fellow gamers, support indie developers! Not only can you help stop the pirates, but you’ll also get a nice warm fuzzy feeling inside when you do.

World Cup fever: Good for EA

The FIFA World Cup is now just 37 days away and football fans are no doubt gearing up for one of the biggest sporting spectacles on the planet. Supporters in the UK –  or at least in England, the only home nation to feature in the tournament – appear to be feeling the buzz already if the latest game charts are anything to go by, with 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa storming to the top of the UK charts in it’s first week. It’s an impressive feat in itself but perhaps even more so when you consider that it’s beaten off competition from Super Street Fighter IV which is certainly no pushover.

It’s the third time this year EA have topped the all format charts this year having already done so with Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Mass Effect 2. Naturally successful sequels are big success stories, and can often be bigger than the originals, which isn’t only good news for companies such as EA, but also any of you on the Train2Game courses. Successful games generally mean big sequels with bigger budgets and therefore potentially new opportunities to ply your trade in the industry. Good ay?

EA say they’ve made hundred’s of improvements with FIFA World Cup looking better than FIFA 10 and apparently plays better too. It certainly sends a message to long time EA rivals Konami, who announced PES 2011 today. Imagine what EA can do with the time they still have available to produce FIFA 2011. You have to wonder how much more realistic both gameplay and graphics can get…the sky might very well be the limit for anyone looking at breaking into the games industry right about now. Things have come a long way in the next five years, and who knows what the next five will hold?

Well, no doubt there will be another FIFA World Cup game that could top the charts…roll on Brazil 2014!