Posts by tag: opinion
Despite having access to just about any tablet game via the Google Play Store and an iPad, there are still some games, great ones, that slip past me. I try to get to everything that looks as if it has potential, on top of everything people are talking about, but usually it’s games from this second group that makes my ‘pile of shame’ a high-quality one. This week, I was reminded that the critically-acclaimed iOS game Badland is (eventually) coming to Android, so I decided to finally make time for it, after moths of it sitting on the iPad, waiting for me. The most addictive and exciting few hours of gaming I’ve ever had on a tablet followed that wonderful decision. Badland is a 2D, side-scrolling adventure game- an oddly beautiful and extremely inventive one. This is the kind of game I would tell people to buy a tablet for.
From the silhouetted, dangerous objects that make up the foreground to the Burton-esque story-book backgrounds, the world doesn’t make that much sense, but you’re mostly running through the beautiful environments, anyway. In Badland, you guide a black ball of fluff with wings that changes in size, shape, speed, stickiness and other attributes depending on what power-ups it grabs. Some of these modifiers even make it spin quickly in one direction, completely changing how it moves, while others create a bunch of clones, so that many of the little creature can do what one could not. At times, you need to tap the screen (yes, it’s a one button game) to make all your creatures fly up and avoid the deadly obstacles below, while other times you’ll have to resist touching anything so the fast-spinning fluff can roll on through an area quickly. Quick decisions must be made depending on the current surroundings as powerups are constantly changing everything from the speed of the game to the capabilities of the character.
This isn’t a review, or preview, but just know that Badland is awesome. Its inventive design in the classic 2D side-scroller (almost platformer) genre is an important step for tablet gaming. The care that clearly went into every aspect of the game from the physics to the art are second to none on mobile hardware. I don’t hesitate at all in saying that Badland is so excellently crafted, and so much fun, that it is a game as quintesential to tablets as the original Mario was to the NES, not mention their mechanical similarities. Unfortunately, it won’t mean anything to mobile gaming in comparison to what Nintendo’s flagship series meant for their consoles.
Back in the day, you either spent a lot of time at arcades or you didn’t. You either had a PC powerful enough to handle some really obscure games or you didn’t. You either had a home console or you didn’t. Three yes or no questions decided whether you were a ‘gamer’ or not and the few options you had if you were trying to get into video games were clear. The definition of both ‘game’ and ‘gamer’ have widened by now, allowing everyone to decide what level of time, money, and commitment they want to put into the hobby. A ton of content is available to consumers with every level of involvement in gaming. In the mid-to-late 80′s, if you played games, you didn’t miss Super Mario Bros.. Today, you might just play whatever Facebook time-sink your friends are into or your Xbox might only ever contain the disc of the newest Call of Duty. Or you might grab everything thing you have time for on a tablet, spending only a few dollars and a few hours at a time. If you’re reading this, you probably cast a wider net than that, but no matter how much you love gaming, you no longer play everything. A game like Badland could easily fly under the radar of anyone anywhere along the scale of casual to hardcore.
Roughly 40 million copies of Super Mario bros have been sold world-wide. That was bundled with the NES itself, so let’s use Super Mario Bros. 3 as an example. Never packed in with any hardware, it sold over 17 million cartridges. Granted, it has had a long time to hit that number, but that makes Badland’s 7 million players (some of which received the game for free) seem like a small club. More to the point, there are a lot more iPads out there than there ever were NES or SNES systems, and there are a lot more people playing games now than there were in the eighties, so the percentage of the potential market that’s downloading this game is pretty small in comparison. Even as the amount of content in the game grows post-release, and even with it hitting Android soon, it seems unlikely it will sell as well as a game of its importance should. As crazy as it is to pit Nintendo numbers against an indie game, I don’t feel bad about comparing these two. I honestly think that, with Badland, Frogmind have created a gaming experience on par with some of the greatest this medium has ever seen. Supply is higher than demand, so some great games have to suffer at least a little bit. Unfortunately, no matter how much praise critics (or Apple themselves, for that matter) give to Badland, it can’t possibly be as big as it deserves, and it can’t assist the growth of tablet gaming as much as it should.
If you can convince someone to spend a couple bucks on a game for the device that’s already with them all the time, it’s still going to be tough to get them to spend time playing it. Even if we only consider games, there’s so many different platforms offering so many possible experiences (and so many of high quality), that Badland alone will probably never sell an iPad, or Android tablet either, once it makes it onto the Google Play Store. Even gushing about how awesome it is to your friends who own tablets won’t sell that many on it, considering that mobile gamers tend to have an abundance of apps and don’t like to pay for any of them. As much as it moves one-touch gameplay forward, this 2D sidescrolling mix of Mario’s physics, Sonic’s speed, and Lemmings’ puzzles won’t turn Frogmind into a Nintendo-sized developer and it won’t make tablets as important to gaming as a hobby as the NES and SNES certainly were. However, the creativity of this game could similarly spawn decades of other amazing gaming experiences, the same way Mario did. Badland, and great tablet games like it, might even do that better. Next week, I’ll explain why it’s not so bad that such an amazing game can’t affect the landcape of gaming as much as game of similar quality would have thirty years ago.
When it comes to gaming, what is the distinction between a tablet and a handheld console? Nintendo’s 3DS has two screens and a few buttons, while Sony’s Vita has dual analogue sticks, and a tablet with its one big touchscreen is obviously a different beast, altogether. The hardware and control capabilities aren’t exactly one-to-one between all the gaming apparatus one could travel with, but the gulf seperating the most common types of game on each platform is still surprisingly large, even considering the difference in in hardware. What we usually call ‘mobile’ games are the simple, cheap, and short-and-sweet type, while the most popular games on Vita emulate console experiences and Nintendo’s best sellers deliver lengthy adventures through open worlds not found on their home consoles.
Bite-sized games have been hitting the Playstation Store more frequently these days and Nintendo’s E-Shop is delivering pocket games for pocket change, as well. So why haven’t we seen much growth in the other direction on the Google Play Store? Some recent titles have got me thinking more time-consuming, expensive experiences could thrive on tablets just as well as on any other handheld system. The game that got my mind going? Layton Brothers: Mystery Room. It’s not exactly a follow-up to the popular DS series by Level-5, but the transfer of the Layton IP from ‘handheld’ to ‘mobile’ pretty well proves that many games could easily cross the blurred lines between the two gaming landscapes.
Mystery Room doesn’t follow the same Layton as the adventurous, puzzle-solving professor that the DS games center around, just as it doesn’t share the traditional structure. Alfendi Layton, son of Hershel Layton, is a criminal investigator at Scotland Yard. He has a recently hired the player-controlled character and police rookie, Lucy Baker, as an assistant. Just as Alfendi has clearly taken on a lot of his father’s traits, he has also taken on a a similar cohort. Lucy’s demeanor copies little Luke’s to a tee. Just as Professor Layton always had the answers to the game’s many puzzles, but asked his young friend to come up with the correct conclusion, his son always seems to know the truth, but challenges Lucy, and the player, to keep up. Instead of encountering puzzle after puzzle and quickly piling up the Picarets (or points), this crime-solving adventure involves nine distinct murder cases, during which the larger mystery of Alfendi himself is also explored.
Though the characters and world are similar, the mood of Layton Brothers differs a lot from the other series. Obviously, murder is a constant focus and more adult themes are explored in all the involved character, as well. They don’t shy away from violence or sexual innuendo, though these things are always suggested more than they are put on display. All of this grown-up stuff isn’t to be taken all that seriously, either, since most side characters are jokes in everything from their dialogue to their names. Even when things seem like they should be serious, it all comes across pretty silly. I explain all these differences because it’s important to note that this isn’t just another Layton game, now appearing on one screen instead of a system with two. On top of all this other stuff, the modern setting, improved art, jazzy tunes and long-form puzzles make this work extremely well on a tablet.
What’s really interesting to consider is the history of Mystery Room. It was in development for years as an original series not involving any Layton characters at all. Not only that, but it was originally planned for release on DS. Almost exactly two years ago, after a long silence had made the game’s fate uncertain, the platform change and new title were announced. Of course, releasing on iOS and Android, especially at the low cost of $5, this was a bit of a risky move. Going for a known IP on new hardware asking for only a fraction of the usual money for something almost as long as the previous adventures isn’t a guaranteed recipe for success by any stretch of the imagination. Risks notwithstanding, I think this provides a good example for other devs making ‘handheld’ games who are unsure about working with tablets.
Maybe making huge changes and trying something new is the best way to make a series work on a different platform. If this had been a traditional Layton experience, Level-5 might upset fans who feel the series is deeply connected to their dual-screen handheld. So, they branched off the story and gameplay a bit, and gave it a different mood, as well. The new platform meant the game was already going to serve a somewhat different audience, so they took this as an invitation to shun the kiddish coating, keeping this adventure light and fun but not shying away from darker subject matter. Regardless of the many other changes, Level-5 didn’t really shrink or dumb things down for the switch to ‘mobile’ and I think it’s better for it.
At about 10 hours for all the content currently available, Layton Brothers is still a larger experience than what post people think of as a tablet or phone game. The lack of a physical product going through the rigorous cert process, the ESRB, and retail stores means the cost to get such a game out there (to a larger install base, to boot) isn’t as high, so they don’t have to charge tablet gamers so much. If they wanted to ask more, I think Mystery Room could have easily gone for twice the price and still felt like a deal for this type of game, but the low cost does mean more people will pick it up and hopefully start to think of ‘mobile’ as a platform capable of much more than what we’ve seen up to this point.
I don’t mean to hate on handheld consoles at all; I still pull out my 3DS, even if it’s not as often as I do my Android devices. Playing the new Pokemon X and Y, for instance, now has me thinking about whether or not those games work without two screens. Hit indies like Hotline Miami and Proteus hitting the Vita have me wondering what kind of games could survive the loss of analog sticks and transfer to tablets. Other handhelds are powerful machines and some experiences would work on Android, but I think a lot more games could make it over to tablets, just another handheld console, without removing what makes them the ‘handheld’ games we think of them as.
There’s no question that the Android Platform hosts many of the best mobile games you could possibly play. As a gamer, you’ll never go hungry on a Google Play diet. However, I still look over at the App Store every once in a while, and I get a little jealous. I can’t help my envy at a few of the titles on iOS that developers have just been too stubborn to bring over. Every time a port is no promised, excuses such as piracy or compatibility issues are given, and most of the time I just shrug it off. Here are a handful of the best games, though, that I still can’t believe haven’t found their way over to Android tablets, no matter what the devs behind them say.
Over the last few months, I’ve been playing a lot of DotA 2 on Steam. Like a lot a lot. Having tried League of Legends a couple years prior and found myself unable to break into the genre through the most popular game it had to offer, I’m still surprised at how quickly I fell head over heals for Valve’s version of the old Warcraft mod that started this whole MOBA craze.
In case you aren’t familiar with the abbreviation, MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena and describes a competitive type of game in which two teams of five players choose one hero from a large pool of playable characters, hoping to use the unique abilities of each to push through the enemy’s army and other defenses, eventually destroying the base on the opponent’s side of the map. These are also sometimes called ARTS (Arena Real Time Strategy) games or LOMA (Lords Management) games, and they all started on PC, but they’re popping up on mobile devices as well.
Of course, LoL and the like stick to the PC platform, but Gameloft’s Heroes of Order & Chaos, Monstro’s Legendary Heroes, and Gamevil’s Plants War are all trying to make it big on mobile. Despite Paul giving the latter of these a great score, I have to say, none of them are doing what a MOBA on tablets and phones needs to do to deliver a fun, streamlined, competitive RPG/RTS experience in the mobile space. I’m no game developer, but I do have a few ideas about what would make a mobile MOBA experience that would bring new people in and keep them playing.
Whether it’s LoL, Heroes of Newerth, or DotA, the mechanics are pretty much the same. Endless streams of weak AI units, or creeps, spawn from your base and charge down three different lanes, past defensive towers, toward the enemy base. The creeps clash in the middle and heroes try to kill these creeps to gain experience and gold while not doing too much damage so that the battle line doesn’t push to a point where you’re all fighting under the enemy towers. Players level up and put points into their hero’s different skills and stats, also spending gold on items that give them even more active and passive abilities. This makes each match, or at least the first part, a war of attrition. It’s called the ‘laning phase’ and it needs to go, along with everything else that requires patience, for a MOBA to work in the mobile space.
When gamers have 30 minutes or an hour to play a competitive game, they don’t pick up their tablet or pull out their phone. If they already like MOBAs, they won’t ever prefer a tablet version over a similar experience controlled by a keyboard and mouse. If they are new to the genre, you won’t get them to sit down and learn the intricacies of your game by demanding so much of their time with each match. A lot of PC gamers already don’t get into MOBAs for that reason.
Cut down on the farming and level progression. Create less characters, abilities and items. Place all this on a smaller map characters can move across much more quickly. Balance it such that matches last just a few minutes, with high intensity throughout. The MOBA design in small scale might look really different, but that’s what works best on mobile devices.
Simple Visual Design
I don’t doubt the hardware capabilities of tablets at all. They can produce some impressive visuals both in 2D or polygonal graphics. However, there are too many any other ways MOBAS on tablets would benefit from a toned-down art style. The 3D world of Heroes of Order & Chaos certainly looks good on a 7-inch screen, but the processing power required helps to drain the battery even quicker than the required internet connection is already doing. The game doesn’t stutter too often as is, but I would imagine cutting things back graphically would also further reduce the likelihood of hardware impeding gameplay. Even if all the technical issues disappeared, simple art on a 2d plane makes the process of learning and understanding the game a shorter one.
As much as I love the look of DotA 2, its learning curve is only made steeper by the wide range of visual effects. Each character has a unique character model, most of which are customizable with different items that make your Phantom Lancer, Skeleton King, or Mirana stand out. Every character also has at least four different abilities, many of which are active powers that fire off a different animation upon use. Then there’s items and their special effects, too. Even though my gameclock shows I have several hundreds of hours under my belt on ‘The Lord’s Pitch’ I still find myself asking my friends and other players why my hero’s hands are glowing blue or what that glowing orange and black circle on the ground does, only making teamfights including all ten players and the use of their many spells that much more confusing. Of course, having so many different powers is the first barrier to learning the game, but intricate graphics that look like a bedazzling firework show when used in quick succession, while aesthetically appealing, are a close second. Cut back on the art and, even with a wide array of items, powers, buffs, and debuffs, players will percieve it better and then learn to understand it all faster.
Imagine a mobile MOBA in which the view is of a small map, looking from above. If it’s a simplistic 2D world, using touch controls to move your character is easier, even if the action is faster to keep matches shorter. It could look like a Pac-Man version of the old three-lane map and still feel rooted in the MOBA tradition. Characters could be separated by slight differences of color and shape while still providing enough variation to keep each match feeling fresh. Every one of the best qualities of this competitive gametype can transfer to a tablet version if a developer is willing to make a MOBA that cuts out the fluff for the mobile crowd.
Meaningful Solo Play
Scaling back complication in both mechanics and visuals would go a long way in translating this genre from PC to phones and tablets, but once that’s done, there’s a couple necessary steps that must be taken to ensure that game would keep up with existing MOBA games on the Google Play Store. The first of these is an interesting single-player mode or well-crafted AI players. As compelling as competitive multiplayer is, most shooters, RTS games, and other multiplayer-focused games still have a way to ease players into the action. Narrative-based campaigns roll out new characters and abilities in these other genres and bots provide a way to practice in the same arena that matches against real enemies are also fought on. This is an issue even the best MOBAs on PC struggle with.
Teaching players the nuance of the systems while getting them to understand the overall team-based tactics is obviously challenging for developers. This hurdle is even more important for a mobile developer to pass because most players on Android and iOS will demand a way to play when they can’t connect to real opponents for a live match, even once they’re comfortable with the game’s systems. Good matchmaking, ranking, and other multiplayer-related features are important, but solo-only MOBA-likes such as Plants War and Royal Revolt prove single player functionality would go further to support the competitive mode on mobile than on other platforms.
Constant Additional Content
Lastly, MOBAs are ever-evolving, so any dev wanting to tackle this challenge must also be willing to keep working on the same game for the length of its (hopefully) long life. I don’t just mean edits to the abilities and statistics of existing heroes to fix issues of balance. I mean additional content. Like, all the time. Financially speaking, this has proven the most successful model for the most popular MOBAs, but even if this mobile game wouldn’t want to go the risky free-to-play route, they would need to keep bringing players back with new stuff to keep the competitive community alive. Cosmetic items, new heroes, fresh gametypes, and special events. Whatever it is, something has to keep players curious about what might change with the next update. They’ll want to play until that update is released to maintain their skill level and they’ll want to keep playing after to experience the additional content. The first truly big mobile MOBA will only keep its player base around if they promise dessert will come after the initial meal and they keep piling on the sweets after that.
Of course, the largest chunk of the MOBA audience will stick with the titles on PC. The communities have been established and the Esports scene will keep the heaviest competition on that platform. However, gamers in this crowd will spend their on-the-go time playing something on their tablets and phones. If a mobile developer wants to own that time, they just have to do what they do best and cut back the fluff that usually pad these games out to deliver a competitive, easy-to-learn, fast-action MOBA that will grab the large MOBA crowd and keep them playing.
Very few console game franchises have an installment on mobile platforms, but EA’s IPs make up most of the small group that do make it over. Most other publishers would just get a quick and simple puzzle game done up and just connect it to the lore and economy of the main game, but that’s not EA’s style. With Mirror’s Edge, they took what was great about the first-person runner/shooter and tried to evoke a similar feeling with the tablet game. Both place you in the shoes of Faith, a messenger who sprints across rooftops and other nearly empty areas of a futuristic, dystopian city, delivering messages secretly and illegally. Both require quick reaction times to get past a ton of obstacles. Only one, I felt, truly put me into a world I wanted to explore and gave me the tools to dos so. Maybe the overall quality of each Mirror’s Edge game wasn’t quite what it could have been but both titles certainly strike a chord that isn’t just moment-to-moment freerunning action, a chord I think the tablet version manages to hit harder.
When I first played Mirror’s Edge on the Xbox 360 years ago, I wasn’t able to enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I should. I got quite a rush going when I was able to keep a flow of impressive parkour moves coming out of the main character in perfect sequence. The problem came when objectives were unclear and keeping fluid motion became impossible. The world needed to feel natural, so some areas had to be open. When this created several possible paths, or perceived ones, it either paralyzed me or sent me into a frenzied search. Neither was conducive to me feeling like a runner or experiencing the stark white world they had crafted.
Of course, the architecture in this sandbox only needed to be white so that the guiding path could be made to stand out from the backdrop. As Faith runs, objects she should climb or jump on turn red as she approaches them. The Android game titles this Runner’s Sense, explaining these quick-footed messengers are skilled at identifying the best route through any area fraught with obstacles. Whether the path is wide or narrow, the rose-red highlights focus you on the goal and your momentum assisting you to it, but this trail of breadcrumbs also distracts from the world surrounding the action. The tunnel vision aids in keeping the speed and intensity up, something necessary for someone to actually do such a dangerous job, but it impedes exploration and makes the rest of the world mean almost nothing.
In the tablet version of Mirror’s Edge, this future city you climb around in is also bathed in white paint, but it doesn’t feel quite as blank. Certain objects are still made red here, giving hints at the direction you should go, but it isn’t a constant effect. You’d think they would have designed the levels smaller to compensate, but they really don’t feel that way at all. Unlike any other 2D platformer I’ve ever played, there were times where I didn’t know whether I needed to go right or left. Just when I’d finally made up my mind, vertical and horizontal paths would pop up as well, each visually convincing me that it could lead to my ultimate goal. Faith’s freerunning abilities keep the winding paths from feeling like a maze, even when she might have to backtrack after a dead end. What got me is not that the world seemed larger, but that Mirror’s Edge on tablet invited me to explore and find out just how big it is.
Obviously, the first-person aspect of the parkour sim isn’t something a mobile version of the same nature could pull off. On tablets, the view is from the side, so you can see several meters around the main character in every direction. This wider angle obviously sends more of the bright, unnamed city to your eyes at once.
Visibility isn’t everything, but in the case of Mirror’s Edge, it helps with more than just knowledge of upcoming obstacles. When Faith wall-runs along a billboard, you can read the political message it shouts in bright orange as your run by, getting a view similar to what a pedestrian under the heavy hand of the authoritarian government would see. Just as in the console version, hidden collectibles are scattered around the world too, but they manage to be more than an afterthought in only the 2D game by appearing just at the edge of the screen and making you wonder what path might lead there.
The side view also means there’s no gun combat in the mobile Mirror’s Edge, so arguably the worst part of the original game is gone. Guards still litter parts of almost every level, ready to shoot you if they can, but disarming these armed troops is the best you can do to stop them. They never pop out from around a corner Faith is approaching in this game, though. Since the camera shows anyone coming up before they can see you, the momentum you’ve built need not be halted by enemies or obstacles.
I don’t mean to say that the tablet version of Mirror’s Edge is perfect. The scope had to be a lot smaller for this one, so everything from assets to character animations looks low-budget at best and the swiping controls don’t yield results with quite the accuracy one would hope for from such a high-speed game. Some levels even have you taking down other runners, or some of them coming for you, and these encounters never feel well-thought-out. The tablet game is not on the same level of quality as its console cousin; it just isn’t nearly as polished, though I still think it held more promise. As excited as I am about a sequel to the parkour platformer, I can’t help but wish it was a follow-up to the tablet game.
I was quite thrilled at the announcement of a Mirror’s Edge 2 at E3 this year, I can’t help but wish this was a franchise that made the jump to tablets. I enjoy the thrill of first-person parkour, but the rush it gives is over quickly and does not promote any digging into Faith’s story or the world that I was so intrigued by. Sure, almost every surface of the city is white, but I want to know what’s happening on the other side of all those bleached panels, something I could see more of in the mobile version. The political power struggle narrative from the first installment gained nothing from its home on console, so mobile devices would work just as well for that, too. Faith and her city could feel much less like a blank slate if they invited us to explore a bit more and got a larger view of things, anyway. The action of a fast freerunning platformer might excel on a box with better hardware specs and a controller, but I’d rather have the whole package (speed, story, and everything else the Mirror’s Edge franchise offers) on my mobile console- the tablet.
Remember when you were a kid and you had that friend, the one who had eight arcade machines in his basement, whose dad worked for the CIA, and who went on multiple cruises with his family every summer? Of course, you never could go in his basement, question his father, or see so much as a photo from one of his bragged-about vacations, but you were supposed to trust him. Of course. Why couldn’t he and his life actually be that awesome?
Sometimes, I kinda feel like Ouya is exactly that BS’ing friend from your youth. You wanted to be able to believe all of what he said and none of it at the same time. Some of what came from his mouth was probably true, but the rest of his tall tales poisoned the well of his many words. Let’s look at a few of the numbers Julie Uhrman and crew have been bragging about recently and talk about why they make me nervous, factual or not.
27% of Users Have Made a Software Purchase
Is it just me or does it seem odd that just over a quarter of a console’s install base spending any money at all is being considered a win here? What about the other 73%? I assume some are developers and a few are just people who only wanted a cheap XBMC box, but if the majority of Ouya owners aren’t even spending a few bucks on some very cheap games in the Ouya store, that’s gotta be a bit scary.
Of course, the infancy of the free-to-try model that makes demos of games mandatory could be blamed for this issue. Developers haven’t yet had time to figure out the best way of getting players to spend a buck or two on a better experience while still offering a compelling chunk of gameplay upfront. If/when they do, maybe things will pick up. Or maybe the fact that players will be able to continue gaming (albeit on a limited level) for free on Ouya will continue to harm the console’s ecosystem overall.
8% Demo-to-sale Conversion Rate
Another statistic being proclaimed is that 13 of the top 20 games on Ouya have a conversion rate of 8%, meaning 2 out of every 25 people who download the demo actually purchase the game. It’s tough to tell whether these numbers are impressive or not. Supposedly, PC games are lucky to get higher than 2% conversion from their demos while XBLA games average around 18% and are actually in danger of being removed if they don’t get a purchase from at least 6% of their players.
To complicate things further, some Ouya devs of high profile games have shared sales figures, showing conversion rates well below 8%. Some still show enthusiasm about Ouya and how their games have sold on the system, but the figures aren’t great. Of course, the Android console is still only a few weeks old, but sales figures, even for a brand new box, should be showing that its early adopters want to buy games for it.
$1 Million For Kickstarters of Ouya Exclusives
While I’m excited to see Ouya finally commit some cash to locking in some Ouya exclusives, it seems this Free The Games Fund might be too little too late. Where was this money when they were gearing up for launch? Where was their commitment to exclusive content months ago? Honestly, promising $50,000 and $250,000 in matching funds to devs who keep their game only on Ouya for at least six months tells me they probably had trouble even getting developers to take their calls about exclusivity.
I like to see money going to Kickstarter campaigns, but promising all this money to only that process could create some issues too. If a Kickstarter campaign must be for an Ouya exclusive to have its promised funds matched by the Free The Games Fund, and we know Ouya owners have been slow to fork over dough for anything but the console so far, won’t it likely be difficult for devs to meet their funding goals if the only people they can ask money from are Ouya owners? I hate to say it, but there might not be any money for this $1 Mil fund to match.
$1 Mil Made By Several Ouya Devs This Year
On top of all these other claims, Julie Uhrman says she honestly believes we will see Ouya developers making millions this year. Whether she means calendar or fiscal 2013, the notion that we might see that much money being made on this console by the year’s end is almost laughable. I mean, anything can happen, but lets be realistic. Even if Towerfall (Ouya’s most expensive game, to my knowledge) were to begin selling well beyond what it is now, at $15 a pop, it would have to get to nearly 70,000 purchases to make that much. And that’s if we’re not taking into account Ouya’s cut. Once their 30% is factored in, Matt Thorson would have to sell over 95,000 copies of his game, which is being considered a hit at roughly 2,000 downloads as of a few days ago.
As much as I’d love to see such an awesome game rake in so much for its developer, that just doesn’t seem like a possibility in the next few months. The install base is likely too small and the economy of the store is too unsure to allow that kinda of growth.
____ Ouyas Sold
Possibly the most worrying figure is the one we don’t yet have: sales figures for the Android console itself. NPD figures aren’t in (nor will they reflect backer units or boxes sold directly through the website), but a representative did describe the sales as, ”relatively light for a new console.” An estiemated 58,000 boxes went out to backers of the console’s Kickstarter campaign, but beyond that not much is actually known about the size of the Ouya’s install base.
Julie Uhrman has said that they’ve been “chasing demand” ever since selling out during launch week, but if they don’t manage to get a even more systems into living rooms soon, the release of major consoles this fall may keep Ouyas from flying off shelves or halt spending on games from the few active users the console does seem to have.
As much as I love my Ouya, I can’t pretend, as Uhrman and her people seem to be doing, that these numbers don’t look bad. I’m hoping things will turn around for the open platform, but I’m not going to pretend everything is going fine until they do.
By now, it’s pretty common news that Activision has purchased a majority of the shares from French media company and parent company Vivendi, essentially allowing Activision to go out on its own. But what most people aren’t talking about is the Chinese company who helped out Activision – Tencent.
Tencent, who, along with other investors, purchased 172 million shares – equating to $2.3 billion worth of Activision stock – is a massive mobile development company in China. They’ve already been behind many of the major mobile booms in China, releasing the largest Chinese social networking site, a huge Chinese microblogging site (similar to Twitter), their own version of Ebay, and are even minority owners in other gaming companies, including Riot Games and Epic Games. Tencent has also dabbled in video games before, creating games for PC and are currently in development of their own microtransaction-powered mobile games.
Activision is already partnering with Tencent to bring their popular Call of Duty franchise to China; Tencent is handling the online servers and marketing for Call of Duty in China, allowing Activison to tap into a highly populated market.
But what does it mean when a company who is massively into the mobile gaming market purchases one of the world’s biggest gaming companies who makes ridiculous amounts of money off probably the world’s biggest video game franchises?
It’s all purely speculation at this point, but there are a couple of points to consider when thinking about how this could affect Activision’s mobile presence.
EA just reported massive earnings in the mobile department, primarily off of the success of The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Real Racing 3. These sales were so big that it turns out Apple is EA’s biggest retail partner, beating out the likes of Steam, Gamestop, and even their own service – Origin – to the tune of $90 million. While this is the first time that an AAA game company has posted massive earnings in the mobile market over the console or PC markets, this could be the event that not only signifies that mobile gaming is to be taken seriously, but may lure other big name developers into the mobile market as well.
Activision doesn’t currently have a great presence on the Google Play store. In terms of AAA companies, EA dominates the market with 34 apps. Chief amongst those are family favorite board games as well as the aforementioned money making games like Tapped Out and Real Racing 3. Other companies such as Ubisoft, Sega, and a couple of others, also have a presence in the Android marketplace, while Activision only has a measly 6 Android apps under their belt. Out of those, only 3 are games, 1 is an old school Activision anthology, and the other two – wallpaper apps.
Clearly with the competition between EA and Activision reaching almost “cold war of video games” status, Activision has to be setting its sites towards the mobile markets. In Tencent’s homeland of China, the Android market share exceeds 70% in ratio to Apple. As of April 2013, the market share was still hovering at around 52% in the United States in favor of Android over Apple. Activision could utilize the higher market share to control a battleground that EA excels in, but hasn’t completely dominated like they have with iOS (or at least EA isn’t telling us what their Android profits have been).Activision also holds the license for a metric ton of IPs that could very well make a seamless transition to mobile gaming in one form or another.
While we probably wouldn’t see a Call of Duty mobile anytime soon, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to think we could see franchises like Tony Hawk, MechWarrior, Guitar Hero or any number of their titles see their way in some form come to Android devices. If you look through the Google Play library deep enough, there are many attempts to either copy those games or make direct ports of them as well (Like Doom and Wolfenstein) But with a whole array of new technologies for Activision to explore with their new multi-leveled partnership with Tencent, the sky’s the limit. Tencent holds a multitude of patents in technologies utilizing instant messaging within games. While Activision could potentially utilize those technologies within their MMO empire (World of Warcraft), this technology could very well revolutionize mobile multiplayer gaming as well, putting the experience on a more level playing field with that of console gaming.
At this time, there’s no evidence saying that Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, will usher his company into the battlegrounds of mobile gaming. Heck, for all we know, Bobby may sit on his piles of cash and ignore mobile gaming completely while riding the wave of yet another military shooter that ultimately will sell billions of copies. But with EA already having solid footing in mobile gaming, combined with Activision’s competitive nature against their gaming foes (as well as a partnership with an Asian mobile giant), who knows if we will see the Call of Duty puppy on an Android device near you.
Ouya does all types of games. You’d think a wide variety of experiences, everything from pinball sims to third-person shooters, would be enough for me, but all I’ve been thinking about this week is what’s missing from the store. I can see little holes not being filled or big ones with only a few games where plenty could fit. I’ve got enough 2D platformers and puzzle games, thanks, but there are a few other genres I’d like to see more of on this console.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve been playing nothing but DotA 2 (outside of Android and Ouya games) recently, but I hope Ouya gets in on this MOBA craze. So far, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games have really only hit the PC hard, but the craze is sure to reach more platforms, considering how many swimming pools Riot Games could fill with their League of Legends money. The five-on-five matches tend to take a while, but the competitive nature of these games, their high skill ceilings, and the promise of new content make playing hours and hours of the same game on the same map easy to get sucked into. If you aren’t careful, a good free-to-play MOBA will steal your life away and take your wallet with it.
Now, Arena of Heroes is coming to Ouya yet this summer, but it’s turn-based, which completely changes things. Even if the slower pace doesn’t ruin it, the game just doesn’t look very good, to be honest. Whether I have to plug in a keyboard and mouse or use a gamepad for direct control, I would love to get into a real MOBA on Ouya.
I remember a time when you couldn’t throw a rock without accidentally hitting a game console that was running Mario Kart, or a clone thereof, at that very moment. Kart racers used to be what Angry Birds is now, only they worked really well as drinking games too. Nowadays, a racing game of this kind only comes out every time Nintendo wants to make another safe bet on a new piece of hardware. Ouya seems like the perfect home for a goofy racing game, though, considering how great a party game box it is.
Of course, any kart racer on Ouya would have to be a new IP. I’m pretty sure Nintendo is still screening their calls for Android numbers and Activision seems to be pretending Crash Bandicoot died after his first appearance on mobile, so any of the classics are out of the question, when it comes to official releases. With virtually no competition, though, maybe it’s time for another developer to take a crack at the sillier side of racing on this console.
There’s really only one word you need if you want to make an argument for a good turn-based tactics game on Ouya: XCOM. Firaxis proved slow, punishing, and outdated mechanics are still way more fun than they should be. Of course, XCOM: Enemy Unknown did more right than just the strategic, squad-based combat, but that part was amazing and I want more of it.
I find it quite surprising that we haven’t seen other developers, on mobile or anywhere else, capitalizing on this recent craze. I’d love a new strategy game, but rather than a complete absence of this on the Ouya store, I’d take even a re-release of Final Fantasy Tactics. Square has already given the console a nod with Final Fantasy III, so why not. Again, Nintendo is obviously throwing away invitations to any Android parties, but what if someone just completely ripped off Fire Emblem? Seriously, I’d take just about anything.
Okay, so maybe this is more of a concept or feature than a genre all its own, but I think Ouya is seriously lacking on the open-world front. It doesn’t need to be a crime game like GTA or a first-person adventure like Far Cry, but I’d love to have unhindered exploration in some of my Android console experiences.
Same of my favorite gaming experiences come from wandering into new areas off the beaten path and finding myself in situations my character is not prepared for. RPG, shooter, adventure, whatever. I just want to run around in spaces that feel more like a living world than one long hallway.
This is more of a focus in design than a genre, but it’s an important distinction in video games. While most video games out there are designed around the amorphous quality of fun, there are other games (ones that probably shouldn’t be titled games) that are supposed to make feel something else. Maybe it’s a tale of morality, an educational experience, or interaction with systems that make you feel one emotion or another, but games that have a serious message are really important.
Interactivity means video games are in a unique position, when it comes to th kind of stories they tell. Whereas movies and books can only let you sympathize with a character on screen or follow from page to page, games allow players to place themselves in a situation and make decisions themselves, feeling real consequences that come with those choices. Cart Life and Papers Please are great examples of the kinda of serious experiences that I’d love to see Ouya welcome to its store. I love having fun with games as much as the next guy, but Ouya is in a unique position to bring these deeper experiences into the living room and the hands of more gamers.
Did I leave anything out? What kinds of games do you want to see on Ouya?
If you’re willing to spend some time on some sketchy stuff, there are a lot of games from the Google Play Store that will run on Ouya. Even when they’re functional, none of these side-loaded games run all that great. Even if you can get these games to respond to controller inputs, features are often missing, since these pirated games cannot access leaderboards, servers, or in-app purchases. Instead of hijacking games and forcing them onto this new console, why don’t we take a moment and put out a request for games we’d like too see, games we’d pay for, on the Ouya store?
Sure, Ouya already has its share of ports. Mobile games that migrate onto the TV certainly aren’t the most exciting thing the console has to offer, but some of the titles that have made the jump seem born for the Android box. As much as I’ve enjoyed playing Nimble Quest on my phone, it looks great on the big screen and d-pad makes controlling the queue of heroes a cinch. If that hadn’t already hit the store this week, it would have been first on my list of requested ports, but let me take a moment to shout into the uncaring void about five other games that need to follow suit and come over to Ouya already.
Last week, we went over the first five things you should download for your Ouya. There were several awesome games and a couple really useful apps on my list, only one of which took much work to set up. I’ve done a lot of fiddling with my new console this week and I have more suggestions for you Ouya owners, but these aren’t downloads you can get from the Ouya Store. If you’re thinking about doing the work to improve your Ouya’s functionality by sideloading some mobile apps, I’ve got five suggestions for what you might start with.