Demon’s Souls gets UK publisher finally

Demon’s Souls finally gets it’s UK publisher, Namco Bandai will publish in Europe.

Good news for hardcore RPG fans – the acclaimed RPG Demon’s Souls on PS3 will be making its way to UK shores.

Demon’s Souls wasn’t released in the UK when it US retailers last October, and Sony previously admitted this was a “mistake.” The game has also just sold three times as many copies than expected in North America – 280,000.

Now the question is will it be too late, will those European players have already imported from USA? probably not for any of the foreign territories and with RPG’s very popular in the German market I expect Sony will be regretting letting this one go even more soon.

My thought’s back in January on the best game of 2009 – http://www.mrbamber.com/2010/01/30/demons-souls/

How games publishers can make the most of DLC.

In the last 12 months we’ve seen a significant increase in both the amount and quality of DLC available. It’s now expected that every title is followed shortly after launch with further content. It seems that consumers are happy to pay for further content and publishers can benefit.

Episodic content and brand extension.

DLC is a great way to extend the lifecycle of a product. Carefully planned, it can keep consumers playing long after they would normally have abandoned a title. Also, if they know there is further content in the pipeline they may be less likely to trade it in. For a title that releases a new annual version of the game each year it is important to keep the consumers playing every year as long as possible so that they buy into the brand the next time.

I looked recently at how games could be too long, resulting in users becoming bored before finishing them, and potentially harming sales of future sequels. Episodic DLC is the perfect way to combat this by offering extension to titles and extending the product lifecycle. If publishers could also combine this with the title’s achievements (How achievements could be improved) and offer DLC free for time invested in a game then the brand can be extended much further.

Pre-owned and piracy.

If you visit any game store lately you will find an enormous amount of pre-owned titles. They are not just old games with low value, some are only a few weeks old that players have finished with and traded-in for the next big title. Often the pre-owned will be visible in store alongside full-priced games but with a slight price mark-down. The problem with pre-owned games is that all the revenue for these titles is going directly to the retailer and not back to the publishers and developers. With PDLC however, publishers are able to capture some of this revenue. Publishers are offering access to exclusive DLC with new retail purchases, but if a consumer buys a pre-owned copy then they must purchase the DLC seperately. This has worked to great effect in EA’s recent Mass Effect 2’s Cerberus Network and you can expect this method of DLC delivery for all upcoming EA titles.

Mass Effect 2 Free DLC

Mass Effect 2 Free DLC

In a recent interview, EA’s CEO John Riccitello said, “There’s a sizable pirate market and a sizable second sale market and we want to try to generate revenue in that marketplace.”

As well as capturing revenue from the pre-owned market, this ‘free DLC with new titles’ model allows a publisher to generate revenue from pirates. Users who are pirating games on XBox Live would still have to purchase DLC if they want the content and to be part of the XBL community. That is, of course, if Microsoft doesn’t ban those users and lose revenue for everyone.

Better integration.

As the amount of DLC has increased it is now becoming difficult for consumers to find. Both the PlayStation Network and XBL stores were not developed to navigate the large amount of DLC available. To ensure consumers are aware of the DLC it is key that developers integrate it into the game. The recent EA title Dragon Age integrates the DLC by utilising it as optional elements of the storyline. If you want to undertake some missions in the game it will let you know about DLC that you need to purchase. To summarise, DLC cannot be an afterthought buried in amongst the PSN store; users will never find it. For example, to inform players of the upcoming Assassins Creed 2 DLC, Ubisoft actually had a message on the title screen of the game with the release date of the DLC.

Dragon Age integrated DLC

Dragon Age integrated DLC

User-Generated Content.

With good UGC it’s possible to offer DLC to players at no development cost. The best example being Little Big Planet which offers thousands of different levels created and uploaded by players. Perhaps in the future we will see an option to monetise UGC, thereby rewarding gamers who develop good content with achievements and credits for the PSN store.

Little Big Planet UGC DLC

Little Big Planet UGC DLC

Links
Are games too long?
How could achievements in games be improved?
Has the PS3 been hacked?

Are games too long?

Look through anyone’s games collection and I doubt you will find more than 20% of games they have completed. Yet look through the same person’s DVD collection and you won’t find very many films they haven’t watched. It can’t be that games are too easy as we discovered in a recent article. It could be that the titles themselves aren’t as good as they sold themselves to be? However, I’d suggest that 2009 produced some of the highest quality games ever, yet looking through friends’ and colleagues’ gamercards shows even these extremely good titles are going unfinished.

I believe most of these games remain unfinished because they are too long.

How much time do we spend playing games?

According to the NPD 2009 Gamer Segmentation Report, 169.9 million Americans play games in one form or another. They break the US gaming population down into seven groups including PC gamers, secondary gamers, console gamers and extreme gamers. From their data it shows 67% of gamers play up to 6 hours a week, 20% play 12 hrs/week, 10% play on average 23hrs/week, and finally with 3% of extreme gamers playing a whopping 40hrs a week. Although a large portion of these reported games players are classed as secondary gamers – mostly female gamers who play less than four hours a week and don’t own a console – it still shows that only a fraction of gamers actually dedicate enough hours to the games that demand the play-time required to finish them.

NPD 2009 Software Sales

NPD 2009 Software Sales

Perhaps game length is one reason that seven of the top ten selling titles from sales are Nintendo titles. Games on the Wii such as Wii Fit, Sports and Play fit perfectly into the majority of gamers allotted game time i.e. you can play and enjoy them in very short bursts. On top of this if you think about the titles that the secondary gamers will play, such as Farmville, iPhone games and other free-to-play titles, it becomes even more apparent that a massive portion of gamers don’t have the time required to finish games. If games want to capture more market they need to reduce the time they demand from players.

Is a longer game better value?

I think we have a misconception that the longer a game takes to complete, the better a game it is. If a game only takes 10 hours to complete you might feel short-changed on your investment. Modern Warfare 2 is the biggest-selling title of 2009 but is also one of the shorter games; the main story weighs in at approximately five hours long. With a shorter time to complete I expect more players to have finished this game comparatively to any others this year. At the same time, a game such as Assassins Creed 2 – stretching over 20 hours – leaves players exhausted and bored, abandoning the game before completion.

Modern Warfare 2 campaign is only 5 hours long.

Modern Warfare 2 campaign is only 5 hours long.

In the old arcade days, gameplay was balanced in such a way as to keep punters feeding money into the slot; nowadays we try to offer a player several hours worth of gameplay for their money. This results in high price points and balanced gameplay with inflated development budgets. In other words, a game that costs $30 and takes you 30 hours to complete is damn good value for money compared to a movie, theatre or sports event.

If developers could reduce the length of the games they could reduce development budgets and in turn lower costs while still giving the player a very good play-time to cost ratio.

Episodic content and DLC

So far episodic content has not been hugely succesful at retail; one reason for this I think is the cost and time consumed for the development of the initial engine and the subsequent development per episode versus the profit. However, content delivered in bite-size chunks fits perfectly into the allotted gaming time available to most players. If developers could navigate around the high costs involved with engine development and deliver a successful model, we could see much shorter games at lower price points.

Mass Effect 2 makes great use of episodic DLC

Mass Effect 2 makes great use of  DLC

If an initial episode of a title could be delivered with only one or two hours of gaming time required on a regular basis, then it’s clear that the huge percentage of gamers – namely the secondary category – would have time to play. Shorter games could compete with movies and TV for entertainment time. Farmville has over 70 million players at the moment, with its free-to-play combined with optional payments model; perhaps this could be replicated on consoles.

If players do have the time to finish a game, and indeed unlock all achievements, would they be more likely to purchase further DLC? Maybe a title such as Modern Warfare 2 with its shorter game time and higher completion ratio will see a rise in add-on sales.

One thing is certain: while we continue to make games that require more time to complete than gamers actually have, more games will continue to go unfinished and the more achievements that will remain unlocked.

Related Articles

Those wishing to purchase NPD’s 2009 Gamer Segmentation Report can find out how on the company’s official web site.

Are games too easy?

How can achievements in games be improved?

How could achievements in games be improved?

A couple of months ago I set out to revisit a whole load of games I never got around to finishing, with a mind to collecting as many trophies as possible. Although achievements in games have not been something I’ve ever bothered with before, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Why are some players so obsessed with collecting these virtual rewards – even resorting to titles they aren’t interested in – to collect these achievements?

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 achievement unlocked

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 achievement unlocked

What kind of achievements are there?
Story Goals
Almost all games have a basic selection of trophies that you are rewarded with as you complete the main chapters and check-points throughout the main game, often concluding with a major one for completing it. These appear to take up around 50% of most games’ achievements and encourage the player to complete the game at least once.

Repeated Tasks
Grinding through a repetitive task, such as collecting 10,000 coins or killing 5,000 enemies, are often the hardest achievements to attain and usually require many hours of play. These are the kind which add very little to a game for me personally; perhaps making these goals more attainable with one good play-through of the main story would be an improvement.

Multiplayer
Achievements requiring either co-op play with friends or on-line play are often combined with repeated tasks or hi-score goals and appeal to the competitive player. The success of these will depend on whether the player actually participates in on-line play, which overall is still only a minority, and the strength of the on-line element of the game itself.

Uncharted Trophy Unlocked

Uncharted Trophy Unlocked

New Ways to Play
Forcing the player to change the way he approaches the game, perhaps playing without shooting in a game that normally involves all-out action, can show a different angle of gameplay i.e. stealth. This is probably the best example of how achievements can potentially extend the life of a game, albeit if implemented well. The reason there are few examples of these types of achievements is simple: if a developer actually comes up with a fun/challenging alternative approach to the game then why not have it as a main element?

Hidden & Bonus Achievements
These are secret achievements that either don’t appear in the list or only become visible once you’ve reached a particular point in the game. They can also be hidden to avoid spoiling any of the plot and are often the result of developers’ in-game jokes. Bonuses like these can be rewarded for doing something silly e.g. pinning an enemy to the wall with a crossbow. Depending on the type of the game and player these can be quite ingenious. If you’re the kind of player who likes to explore the boundaries of the game; discovering that a developer has already thought of what you might like to do next can be rewarding. The problem with achievements like this is that many players will never find them without the aid of guides and lists, thereby spoiling their suprise.

What have I actually achieved collecting all these trophies?
As I played through these titles I discovered some reasons why well-crafted achievements can make a difference to a game. Firstly I finished several games I hadn’t had chance to play through thoroughly. I believe that the majority of players will never finish a huge percentage of the games they buy. How to remedy this? If setting good story-based achievements with suitably staggered checkpoints pushes a player through the main game, encouraging them to complete it, then that player achieves satisfaction, and not just virtual rewards. If players don’t complete a game, they are less likely to purchase a sequel, but if you can encourage a player to not only invest more gaming hours but also to try alternative methods of play then surely you increase the chance of a them buying into your brand long-term.

Saying that, I have also wasted a lot of time on futile tasks, and gave in, frustrated with several achievements after being asked to collect 5,000 inane objects or play numerous death-match games against 12 year old brats.

Noby Noby Boy 100% achievements

Noby Noby Boy 100% achievements

How do we make players care?
For many players a virtual ‘gamer score’ isn’t a good enough incentive to try and attain achievements. So I suggest developers introduce some further incentives such as:

Unlockables – Don’t just give the player a trophy, give them a new addition to the game, be it a new character, costume, or even a wallpaper for their desktop.

Points – Give players XBLA/PSN points to purchase more content – trade gamerscore for cash.

DLC (Downloadable Content) – If a player puts in the hours and plays all the way through your game then what better way to reward them than to give them a further piece of content. Players who don’t want to play every aspect of the game can still buy it but if you encourage players to be playing your game to get it for free you get immense player satisfaction, and thus brand loyalty.

Early access – Give players exclusive previews to games, DLC and betas before other players. Who better to have playing and talking about your new titles than the people who have loved your previous games so much that they’ve completed it all. Nobody knows your games as well as those fans, so get them involved in your beta tests.

Above all, a good achievement encourages a player to complete and play a game, and if a player buys into a brand and dedicates their time then they should be rewarded for that loyalty.

DJ Hero Achievement

DJ Hero Achievement

How can developers improve achievements?
Achievements should not be an afterthought; if they are all story-based or consist of too many repeated tasks then it’s a wasted opportunity. It’s clear to me that too many developers are not even play-testing their achievement goals. If they are asking players to undertake repeated boring tasks then they risk turning players away from their game.

Track the progress of achievements for players, informing them how close they are to attaining their goals. If a player doesn’t know about an achievement they can’t attempt it. If a developer can’t be bothered to tell a player how many more kills they need and that it will take 5 solid hours, why should a player give up their valuable time?

Create dynamic achievements, basing them on players’ gaming habits and abilities. If a player is easily beating a game, encourage them to increase the difficulty and award them the ‘didn’t die in 3 levels’ trophy. Cater for various demographics- if a player only gets to play an hour or so a week, don’t set him a task of achieving 100 kills, lower it to something feasible for that player. Intuitive achievements would allow advanced players’ goals to be set differently to that of a novice’s.

Introduce more goals after title launch by studying the community and reacting to how they approach the game. For instance, if players are in need of further challenges then introduce more; conversely, if they are struggling with some then tweak them accordingly. Let players set goals for others, and show them their friends achievements mid-game. There’s nothing as satisfying as being informed you just bettered your friend’s score, and more importantly, a target set by a friend may be better than any developer set task.

Interact with players by competing online. To a player there can be nothing more rewarding than beating the people who actually made the game, people who lived and breathed every pixel of it, knowing that they should be that much more proficient at it.

Are games too easy?

Recently I’ve been playing Demon’s souls, which compared to many games nowadays is actually a very difficult game. Difficult in that you will die lots, and difficult in that you need a fair amount of dexterity to proceed. However I think it’s because of this difficulty level that the game to me is just so bloody good. Unlike most games that challenge creates a satisfaction level from accomplishing quests far higher than other gaming achievements.

Games nowadays spoon feed players with constant hints and directional indicators to try and push the player forward through the quest. Assassins Creed 2 is one  game that is so incredibly easy requiring little to no thought in terms of understanding the story, choosing your path or even any gaming dexterity. When a game is as easy as AC2 it becomes boring, it’s only a matter of how many hours a player puts into the game as to if they will complete it. Play the necessary 15 hours or so following the plot indicators and you will finish the game, you don’t need any gaming skills. Of course there’s a whole manner of side quests to extend the life of your game and the obligatory achievement whoring but really it’s a completely linear quest with the entire path laid out in front of you.

Is Assassins Creed 2 too easy?

Is Assassins Creed 2 too easy?

Assassins Creed 2 is a good game by current gaming standards, it’s not its fault that games are too easy that players are demanding to be spoon fed in this way. Perhaps it’s the rise in the number of casual gamers (Wii players being the best example) that their time and desires for games isn’t the same as players who grew up on Elite and Manic Miner. Perhaps gamers nowadays want to be entertained in the same way a movie entertains. They want a couple of hours of short action, where the challenge isn’t can I defeat this game, it’s when will I defeat it; show me the next part of the action. They want an interactive movie, the kind of game 15 years ago we ridiculed as a game.

In the early days of gaming, games were designed around one simple premise, get the girl, kill the baddies and save the entire planet. You played the same challenge over and over until you mastered it. The challenge arose by increasing difficulty of the main concept via speed, enemies and so on. Game technology was not advanced enough to represent real life, you had to suspend belief and imagine you’re a space ship pilot. The very best games and the games with the most lifespan were often the games with the most difficulty. The games that you would play again and again were the games you couldn’t master quickly. Satisfaction in games was based on beating a high score.

What can we do to improve difficulty?
Clearly everybody’s gaming ability is different, one players ‘easy’ mode might be another players ‘expert’. The challenge for developers is testing all players in such a way that they are entertained and excited without getting frustrated or bored. One idea that does work is adjusting difficulty as the player plays. Uncharted 2 probably the best game of 2009 adjusted its difficulty by monitoring player ability. If you die repeatedly at the same point it brings a check point further forward. If you’re crushing the game it adds more enemies to a section to test you, at the same time if you’re constantly dieing at a point it removes some. It tries to make sure you don’t get bored & stuck on one section by identifying where you’re struggling and tweaking the game for you. Perhaps this is where games need to explore further. Don’t ask a player to decide do you want to play on Normal or Easy, test them and decide for them. This is how Modern Warfare 2 selected its difficulty level for the player through its training mission. Games need to determine a player’s skill and continually test that skill and adjust the difficulty to keep that satisfaction. The really hard part is knowing at what point a player is getting bored. Going back to Demon’s Souls, I’m enjoying the challenge of playing a section over and over as it tests my gaming dexterity. It hits my personal sweet spot for a good challenge, however I can imagine a less skilled gamer would have given up and got bored hours ago. How can a game identify is a player enjoying this experience?

Uncharted 2 adjusts difficulty as you play

Uncharted 2 adjusts difficulty as you play

Player ability and feedback could be tested in several ways.
Through training and introductory levels as already mentioned, but how about through gamer score and achievements based on other titles. If a player has already completed a previous game and has the most difficult achievements from that game, surely you can determine various things about his skills. Taking this further, players could be profiled through XBL and PSN. Overall gamer score and achievements in other games, hours spent playing, game completion even a survey or two could all help build a gaming profile to aid developers in optimally tweaking their game to the player.

MW2 uses training missions to set your difficulty level

MW2 uses training missions to set your difficulty level

Completing games
I would guess that 90% of games go unfinished by players in terms of the main storyline (I’m not referring to all the ridiculous life extended padding that is in many games). Yet surely these games aren’t going unfinished because they are too hard? Quite the opposite I think these games are left uncompleted because players are getting bored before they’ve got to the end of the quest possibly because they are too long. So that leads me on to another topic to review soon… Are games too long?

Demon’s Souls

I’ve had this one on my release radar for so long, ever since last April when Eurogamer gave it a 9/10.  I waited patiently all year for the UK release and finally 9 months later decided I can’t wait any longer and gave in and imported from USA. Up until now I’ve had no real urge to import any titles but with all PS3 games being region free it really isn’t a concern.  Back in the old days I’d regularly import the latest titles from Japan but in recent years the wait for European releases has become so short I haven’t really thought about it.

So My copy finally arrived this week, curtesy of Axelmusic.com (Who I highly recommend for their excellent Customer Service).  Demon’s Souls is one of the highest rated games of 2009 with reviews as high as 9/10 at Eurogamer and voted Gamespots game of the year. Yet this game still has no UK ship date. Word is that Sony have finally picked it up for distribution in UK, but how has a game this good been left off the shelf for so long in the UK?

The game itself is an RPG in the Oblivion mould but seriously this game blows Oblivion away, from what I’ve played so far this has to be one of the best RPG’s on PS3. Read the Eurogamer review if you want to know more. One word of warning though, this game is tough and I don’t mean Halo legendary tough I mean Trials HD expert makes your shit itch tough! For me though this is where the game is so much more than the ridiculously easy tedious grind of Oblivion.

If a game this good can slip through the net then what other titles are out there also missing from the UK release list?

One that’s been in limbo forever now is the Yakuza series by Sega, with Yakuza 3 set to release in March 2010…can I really wait? Review Here

Has the PS3 been hacked and if so what does it mean to the games industry?

PS3

On Friday the following post appeared on Geohots Blog, this is the same person who has been responsible for many of the iphone hacking and tools.

I have read/write access to the entire system memory, and HV level access to the processor. In other words, I have hacked the PS3. The rest is just software. And reversing. I have a lot of reversing ahead of me, as I now have dumps of LV0 and LV1. I’ve also dumped the NAND without removing it or a modchip.

3 years, 2 months, 11 days…that’s a pretty secure system

Took 5 weeks, 3 in Boston, 2 here, very simple hardware cleverly applied, and some not so simple software.

You can read more on his blog here

He goes on to state that he’s not revealing the exploit yet and is some way from using it for anything useful. He also later posts a further post listing various PS3 function calls.

Now this information could well turn out to be a hoax but the fact that we are 3 years into the PS3 lifespan and the machine still has no piracy issues is very impressive. Its clear that whatever security measures Sony have managed to implement have been successful and hints towards console piracy may soon become a thing of the past for future generations. This can only be a good thing for the video games industry, you only have to compare the sales of any top title this year on 360 and PS3 to see that PS3 games sales are comparatively higher with a lower install base.  Surely the fact that the 360 is relatively easy to pirate games for must be influencing its sales.

So what does this mean to the games industry?
Well if the PS3 has been hacked and the information gets released so users can play pirated games I expect several things will happen.

PS3 hardware sales will increase.
Many game pirates at the moment will solely use the already hacked 360 (why purchase a PS3 when games are free on the 360) but if they can also acquire games for the PS3 I think we will actually see a rise in hardware. So a knock on effect of a hacked PS3 might actually increase Sony’s sales and re-capture some of the market share.

Blu Ray burners and blank blu ray media sales could increase.
Depending on the methods used to pirate the games we could see an increase in people buying blank blu rays to copy the games. Before the 360 was hacked Dual layer DVD9 burners and media were very expensive. But as demand and production for these increased prices fell, pirates help drive media sales.

PS3 software sales will decrease.
If copying the games is easy enough then you would expect software sales to decrease as pirates no longer purchase games legitimately. Of course with an increased install base then there may be opportunities to sell further content to pirates. PSN, DLC or other content might actually see an increase in sales, just because users pirate a game doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be prepared to purchase some more content for it.

360 Piracy
Microsoft’s stance on 360 piracy has always been zero tolerance, any user who modifies their console risks being banned from their Xbox live system. Fair enough but seeing that users must pay to access live I think MS actually cuts their own nose off here, they must lose out on a huge amount of revenue from pirates who would gladly pay for the live system. Not only that but the XBLA games store titles also cannot be purchased from a banned console, again a loss in revenue. With PSN access being free and Microsoft’s paid XBLA a subscription service pirates may well decide to move to PS3 instead totally.

Microsoft’s inability to prevent pirates from copying games for the 360 hurts publishers and lowers sales. As a publisher at the moment I would be considering a delayed release schedule on 360. If sales are higher on PS3 due to a lack of piracy right now then launch games 3-6 months earlier on PS3, that way if the pirates want to play the latest title right now they will be forced to purchase. Of course if the PS3 is also compromised as well now then publishers are going to need to find other methods to capture the pirates revenue and I don’t believe Microsoft’s banning is the answer.