Microsoft Stops Reporting Xbox Sales

Want to know how well the Xbox One is selling?  How many Xbox consoles have been shipped to various stores each quarter?

Well if so, it seems like you’re out of luck.  Because as of today, Microsoft have announced that they’ll stop reporting the console shipment counts every quarter, and will instead focus on Xbox Live usership as its main statistic.  For example, the company said that Xbox Live active users were up 28 percent year on year yesterday (for a total of 39 million of them).

XBOX ONE

Above: Xbox One sales are not going to be released on a quarterly basis any more.

So that’s certainly something.  It’s not technically the end of all sales reports for the system (the active users count acts as a very loose proxy, and hardware sales figures might be released every now and again (maybe yearly or biyearly), but we won’t be seeing Microsoft releasing actual sales figures for the system on a regular basis from here on out.

What do you think?  Are you happy that Microsoft has stopped actually reporting sales for their consoles?  And is this whole ‘active Xbox Live users’ thing a good replacement or not?

Source:

Microsoft Stops Reporting Console Sales – GamesIndustry.biz

Call of Duty Black Ops III Lets You Play Levels in any Order

Usually, video games tend to be played in a somewhat linear fashion.  You beat one level, you unlock another one, and this continues til you get to the end of the story.

But surprisingly, the next Call of Duty game won’t do this!  Instead, every single level will be immediately available to play from the start, and you’ll be able to tackle missions in any order you feel like.  Want to tackle the last ‘boss’ or mission right away?  Go ahead, no one’s gonna stop you.  In fact, you could theoretically play the entire game in reverse if you’re so inclined.

Call of Duty Black Ops III Mission

Above: Want to play this mission? You can choose do so right from the start of the game.

So why is this the case?  Why is a video game letting you tackle the levels in any order rather than forcing you to unlock stuff to continue?  Well, as said by campaign director Jason Blundell:

It gives them the flexibility to consume the content how they want, the unlocking level system is an archaic mentality we’ve had since we did bedroom development back in the day – you do this, then go on to the next one.

Consumers and game players in general are far more mature these days. There are so many things vying for our interests today. It’s about, how do they want to consume it? Maybe they put it down on level two, and then they’re in work the next day, and some guy says, “dude, you’ve got to check out level four!” And he’s like, “okay, I’ll have a quick look.” That’s totally fine. I think it’s their choice.

Sure, people will jump on and play the last level. Okay. Cool. That’s up to them. The way the story is constructed, it’s more than just the end moment. I’m sure there are many films and other media types where you could read the last page, or see the last minutes, but really you’ve got to experience all of the other stuff to truly enjoy it.

It’s apparently supposed to be like how a film or book works; you can immediately skip to the last page or use a scene select menu to watch parts you want in any order.

But what do I think?  Well to be honest… I’m not actually against this idea.  Call of Duty is (for the most part) a multiplayer centric title. People tend to see the campaign as mostly disposable when spending most of their time in online death matches.  And given that the entirety of the single player is already basically a barely interactive Hollywood movie as it is, I don’t really see any reason to keep the linear level progression in place.  No one cares much for the campaign, and those that do care mostly care about the various setpieces and other big moments that happen at different points in the story.
What do you think about Call of Duty Black Ops III and its new level/mission progression system?
Source:
Black Ops III’s campaign lets you skip to any level immediately – Gamnesia

The Video Game Voice Actor Strike; Our Thoughts

Over the last few weeks, there has been… a bit of tension between voice actors and the video game companies that hire them.  Basically, the actors (under the union SAG-AFTRA) want more transparency (knowing what game they’ll be working on), residual pay for when a game is successful (so a bonus for every 2 million copies sold), stunt coordinators at sessions for motion and performance capture and ‘stunt pay’ for vocally stressful roles.  Meanwhile, the companies themselves are less keen, with the likes of EA, Activision, Disney and Warner Bros (among others) not being able to come to an agreement on that stuff.

So there has been talk of these actors going on strike.  Apparently they’re opening the votes until October 4th, and have gotten quite a bit of support for it on Twitter:

But while in principle I do agree with the SAG-AFTRA and their demands for both transparency and better pay, I have to wonder how much power these guys actually have here.

For one thing, how relevant is voice acting to many games? I mean, it’s certainly important for your big triple A Hollywood blockbuster style games and script heavy ones like Metal Gear Solid, but for various others? To be honest, probably not that important. What does a platformer need for voices? A couple of grunts when the character jumps off the ground or dies? The most voice acting a Mario game has ever got has been the intro letter in Super Mario 64:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLA30ii-DTQ

Freemium mobile games? Yeah, as if Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga needs much of a voice acting team.

And puzzle games? The only thing Tetris needs is an iconic soundtrack:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmCCQxVBfyM&gl=GB&hl=en-GB

Even story driven stuff like RPGs doesn’t usually need a lot of voice acting, depending on the direction. On the one hand you have stuff like Final Fantasy and Xenoblade, on the other hand… how much voice acting exists in Pokemon?

Either way, video games are not like film or television. Acting is important in some cases, but is honestly completely irrelevant in many others.

So perhaps on that note, any strike might actually get us more platformers and less first person shooters and ‘movie’ style games. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all…

But even for those games that do need voice acting, there’s one other issue that people seem to forget…

Most companies do not use ‘professional’ voice actors.

Okay, some larger ones have huge budgets and hire Hollywood type talent to voice their characters. Like say, the Arkham series. But a lot of other games have a couple of other options, ones that don’t really involve the SAG-AFTRA in any way whatsoever. Namely…

1. Using their localisation/development staff as voice actors

It’s certainly the standard practice in Nintendo and Rare after all. Ever wonder why the WarioWare voice actors don’t seem to show up outside of Nintendo games, like most voice actors? Because they’re not professional actors, they’re members of Nintendo’s in house staff. Same deal is true of the Star Fox series, with recently fired localisation member Chris Pranger having lent his voice to the first boss in the upcoming Star Fox Zero game.

Above: It can work quite well.

And sometimes, even the game’s producers and directors are involved in this. Like how Masahiro Sakurai voices King Dedede in the Kirby and Super Smash Bros series. Or how for a Rare example, the voice of Conker the Squirrel is provided by Chris Seavour, the project lead and game designer for the entire Conker series (he also voiced many of the other characters in the games).

Now admittedly, this doesn’t always work. Sometimes, we have companies who cut costs so badly that they literally hire anyone they can to voice the cast, ending up with something like Chaos Wars.

Yes, the publishing company’s CEO got his kids to voice the main characters (presumably because of the shoestring budget the game was localised on), ending up with some of the most hilarious voice acting this site of Mega Man 8.

But it still provides at least one route a company could go if they don’t care to provide what the SAG-AFTRA demands. And given that it could sometimes lead to worse quality voice acting… do we really want to give the companies an incentive to do this?

And even if they want something a bit more professional than the WarioWare method of voice acting, there’s still an alternative there, because…

2. They can use non-union actors and actresses

Which unfortunately for anyone in the voice acting world, is much easier in video games than it is in Hollywood. Many video game voice actors don’t belong to any unions, and it’s not particularly hard to find an equivalent if the actor in question is part of one.

Or to quote a Simpsons joke:

Mr. Burns: Get me Steven Spielberg!

Smithers: He’s unavailable.

Mr. Burns: Then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!

*cut to Señor Spielbergo*

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWxcnl8PL_o

Above: Joke from A Star is Burns

But there’s also another source of labour out there…

  1. They can use the fanbase

Seriously. It sounds a bit silly given that you’re asking people on the internet to do stuff for free (or out of their own pocket). But look at recent history. Games are being funded on sites like Kickstarter, by the fans and buyers. News is being written and distributed for free by bloggers and people on social networking sites.

People are queuing up round the block to go for talent shows and to submit their works to sleazy self-publishing houses.

Now imagine if voice acting also gets out sourced to the fanbase. There are certainly enough great voice actors out there willing to provide their talents for free (just see the efforts provided for various game based cartoons, machinimas, fan games, etc).

It would be all too easy to skip the ‘professionals’ and the pesky ‘wage’ thing and just get people from sites like Youtube to voice the cast.

But even without that, there’s the question of whether voice acting will even be relevant in the future. Why? Well, in one word:

Computers

Computer generated speech is only getting better with time, and given that video games are already a near 100% computer generated medium, replacing the human voices with artificial ones doesn’t seem like a hugely futuristic thing.

And even before that’s possible, something like Vocaloid could work well too. Take a few voice actors, record a bunch of samples, then robotically string them together when you want the character to say something. It’s not perfect yet, but give a few years or so, and it seems possible that many characters (especially ones of few words like Mario) could be entirely voiced by archived samples and speech generation.

So while we do sympathise with these people and see their attempts to get pay and working conditions as admirable, we also wonder how much of a future the whole profession even has, or whether any union conditions will just be avoided by out sourcing and finding people with less of a need to make money.

And all bets are off when automation and AI comes in.

But what do you think? Do you agree with our thoughts on voice actors, strikes and unions, and the future of the profession as a whole? Or do you think they could completely succeed with their goals?

Source:

Voice Actors Voting on Strike Action – Gamesindustry.biz

Minecraft Story Mode; First Footage

Here it is:

As you can see, the quality is… debatable to say the least.  I mean, it looks like Minecraft, I’ll give them that.  It’s got the characters and enemies from Minecraft and plays them in a ‘threatening’ way.

But to be honest?  I don’t think Minecraft really works as a linear, story driven experience.  The above looks and feels like a poor Youtube machinima series rather than something you’d release professionally, and it just doesn’t work.

Still, what do you think about this Minecraft spinoff?  Do you think Minecraft Story Mode could be a good game, or do you think the concept might just be too flawed to really work out as the type of game shown in the video?

Konami Ceases Triple A Game Production

With the possible exception of Pro Evolution Soccer, according to a report on French gaming site Gameblog.  How bad is this?

Well, they currently have a blank slate as far as triple A game plans go.  Apparently, beyond Metal Gear Online (which is really an additional part of Metal Gear Solid 5 rather than a unique game) and Pro Evolution Soccer, the company has absolutely nothing lined up for 2016.  What’s more, technology director Julien Merceron has left the company over the move to mobile game development.

Konami-Logo

Above: The logo from when Konami used to have a future in AAA game development/production.

Admittedly, the writing was on the wall earlier, when Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima left the company.  Or perhaps when working conditions literally fell to pieces to the point of restricted communications with outsiders and ‘monitored’ lunch breaks.

But now it’s seemingly official.  Unless Konami can come up with something out of the blue within the few few months or year, the company is basically done with console game production.  Perhaps this could be a worrying omen of the industry’s future and the possible paths ahead for other large Japanese video game developers like Capcom and Square Enix.

Above: Is the Metal Gear series in jeopardy?

What do you think about Konami seemingly ceasing triple A game production?

Source:

Konami Ceases Triple A console production on all but PES – Eurogamer