Deanbeat News

22 Mar 19
VentureBeat
Google is finally taking the game business seriously. Not satisfied with its role as owner of Android and the operator of the Google Play store, the company announced Stadia at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. It was one of the most ambitious announcements of the last decade — a full declaration that Google cares about games. And it was the talk of the show. Stadia is a cloud gaming platform that resides in Google’s data centers, which compute the graphics and actions in a game and then send the results in the form of a video to the player, regardless of which machine the player is on. It lets gamers play high-end games on low-end machines, including TVs, smartphones, tablets, PCs, and lightweight laptops. It will be able to run single-player games like Doom Eternal at 60 frames per second in 4K resolution with HDR (or high-dynamic range). It comes with a controller that has a button that lets you capture your gameplay and share it directly to YouTube. Fans who watch the YouTube video can click on a link and immediately go into a game to try it out, or even join a streamer in a match. The controller will connect to WiFi networking that will lead you to Google’s backbone network that will minimize interaction delays, or latency. Stadia will also be able to play games in a split-screen mode. To lead the business, Google turned to an industry operator who has a lot of cred. Phil Harrison ran Sony’s worldwide game studios and served as an executive at Microsoft’s Xbox game business. And this week, he made his first public appearance onstage as a vice president and general manager in charge of Google’s Stadia business. I’ve known Harrison for years, and I was able to sit down with him and quiz him about the big questions of the Stadia business. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. Stadia is the plural of stadium, in case you were wondering. GamesBeat: I get the feeling that Google and Stadia have been the talk of the show. Phil Harrison: That’s kind of intentional. [laughs] But it’s nice to know it was all worthwhile. GamesBeat: What convinced you to sign up with Google in the first place? Harrison: I wouldn’t say I was done, but I was as far away from corporate life as you could possibly imagine. I got a call — long story short, I said, “No, I’m not looking for a position, but let me see if I can be helpful to you in maybe finding the right person.” But I was convinced to take a phone call, which turned into a video call, and I said, “Oh, that’s kind of interesting.” I met with Sundar and Rick and Ruth, and I started to understand not just the vision that Google had, but also the constellation of capabilities that Google had. If we could line up the planets properly, it would be, no pun intended, a game-changer. I decided that I was so excited by that that I would move from the U.K. to the U.S. and bring my family. You can get a sense of my commitment. GamesBeat: Somewhere there they convinced you that the cloud for games was going to work. Harrison: My analysis was that cloud streaming, the math and the science of cloud streaming, was proven. It was more the scale of infrastructure required. It’s all very well doing it in a test or a trial or a regional basis, but to get to the kind of scale takes a Google. I think you run out of companies before you run out of fingers on one hand, that can do this on a global scale. Nobody else has YouTube. Nobody else has the investment in the fundamental hardware architecture fabric inside the data center, which we don’t actually talk about publicly as to what is. But the level of innovation and hardware that Google has been investing in for 20 years is extraordinary. Coupled with — Google likes hard problems. We like to go for the difficult things that will transform an industry and take it to a completely different level. GamesBeat: Very quickly, what are all the questions you’re not answering right now? Nothing about business model, nothing about subscriptions, nothing about launch dates. What else? Harrison: We did have a launch date. We’re launching 2019. GamesBeat: That’s a bit of a vague one. Harrison: I’ll give you more specificity. It’s going to be closer to the end of 2019 than the middle of 2019. [laughs] Google’s Stadia game controller. GamesBeat: One thing I heard when talking to people was, “Oh, there’s a gotcha here. They never mentioned the actual latency.” But I thought that if you could play Doom Eternal to the satisfaction of people like id, you must have solved that. Harrison: We believe we have solved it. While we objectively have solved it with Doom Eternal, and we’ll encourage you to form your own opinions, we also would point you to a very technically astute, deep editorial on Digital Foundry. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Digital Foundry. They had a chance to look deeply into our latency, and they said that it was — I’m summarizing, but basically the same as an Xbox One X locally. Completely independently. We will continue to make investments on our codecs, on the hardware inside our data centers, and on the intelligent networking traffic that we’ll build on top of that. We’re not done. We’ll continue to innovate on that. Then the final piece of the puzzle is the proximity of our data centers to the general population. The 7,500 edge node locations around the world we talked about yesterday, that’s a very significant capital investment, which allows us to get close and cheat the speed of light as much as we can. GamesBeat: The controller had a clever thing in it that shaves some milliseconds off? Harrison: Yeah, quite a significant amount of time. It’s WiFi directly to the data center in the cloud. It does not pair at all locally with your device. GamesBeat: How is it making that hop? Harrison: It’s effectively a computer inside it that talks directly to your WiFi network, and then connects directly to the game instance in the cloud. GamesBeat: Is it okay to have this be wireless, then, and to have it communicate? Harrison: It’s absolutely wireless, yeah. We showed it connecting to the TV yesterday for purely presentation reasons. You invite 1,500 people into a room full of WiFi, you can cause some unintentional consequences. That’s why we started with it being wired. But it’s a wireless controller. GamesBeat: I’ve been talking to more people about data centers recently. I talked to Equinix, and they said they can get 60 milliseconds anywhere in the country. The crucial thing for them is to have the handoffs between different parties, like AT&T to Comcast or whatever it is. I’ve heard other people also talk about that, saying you can get delays in the last mile of some kind. How do you help solve that part? Harrison: It’s two parts to that equation. One is what I call the pairing relationships that you have with the ISPs, and the other is the distribution of your physical infrastructure. Crucially for Google is the fact that all of our data centers are then connected together by our own proprietary backend, hundreds of thousands of miles of fiber-optic cable. Google was all over GDC 2019. GamesBeat: Less handing off or no handing off. Harrison: Almost no handing off in many cases. That means that across the country, New York to San Francisco, for us, is 20 milliseconds. GamesBeat: Valve said their network needs to do 30 to 60 milliseconds in response time in order to run Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and DOTA 2. That’s the way they do it, not as a cloud game. But if you have that, then players are happy. Harrison: Sure, that makes sense. GamesBeat: Does it mean you guys have to operate in that sort of realm, under 60 milliseconds? Harrison: Some games are very latency-dependent. That’s why we showcased Doom Eternal. Talk to Martin and the team at id and they will tell you what their experience was like. They were satisfied, and they were rightly a tough customer, a tough partner to bring to our platform, because they were skeptical, as Marty said on stage yesterday. They didn’t think it would be possible, but when they understand exactly how it works, they said, “Okay, we’re all in.” Other games are much more latency-insensitive. By demonstrating an action FPS with a very high framerate requirement, then all the other games that you can imagine go from there. GamesBeat: As far as convincing the triple-A game companies, what part of that is difficult? How are you accomplishing that? Harrison: I’m not going to answer the question in the way that you would hope, but you’ll see in the summer what our launch lineup and beyond looks like. We should have that conversation again. I think you’ll be impressed with the partners that we have brought to the table, brought to the party so to speak. I would point you to what we did with Project Stream back in October of last year. We landed, day and date, with Ubisoft, the latest version of their most successful franchise. That should give you a sense of the direction of travel that we have for the kind of partners and the kind of games that we’ll be bringing to Stadia. Crowd Play through YouTube and Stadia. GamesBeat: Did you ever have any temptation to do a console because that was what people expected of you? Harrison: None whatsoever. GamesBeat: That defeats the purpose of it. Harrison: Correct. Not only does it defeat the purpose, it would hold back our vision of the data center being your platform. It sounds like a buzzword, but it’s very intentional that we describe ourselves as a new generation for the 21st century. We have got to this inflection point in the industry where — let’s say, for argument’s sake, the industry is 40 years old. For the last 40 years, games have all been device-centric, meaning as a developer I build for the capability of the box. They’ve been package-centric, meaning a floppy disc, a cartridge, a cassette in some cases, an optical disc, or more recently a downloadable package. But still, those two philosophies have constrained the development process and the design thinking of games. Now games are network-centric, completely network-centric and device-independent. The industry won’t transition from one state to another overnight, but we hope that Stadia becomes the tipping point, the fulcrum that helps that transition begin. GamesBeat: The things that seem fairly brilliant — this controller, with the faster speed, and the YouTube integration — it looks like you can do that without hardly any bandwidth costs. You already have that stream in the data center. You know what the player is doing. All you really need to know is what the player said, or a little video of the player saying it, going back up from the user’s home to the cloud. Harrison: Actually, it’s even more impressive than what you just described. Our technology is so capable that we actually have two simultaneous 4K streams coming out of our platform. Let me qualify that. One which is up to 4K, depending on the bandwidth you have into your home. If you have slightly lower bandwidth, we’ll bring that resolution down to 1080p. But there is always a second stream available which you can send to YouTube, which is always 4K, 60 frames per second, HDR. Jade Raymond at Stadia launch. GamesBeat: I get 200 megabits a second downstream, but only five going back up. It sounds like that would be a challenge to deal with. Whatever you’re sending back up, is it not that much? Harrison: It’s just joystick commands. It’s tiny. It’s bits. GamesBeat: I guess what I’m not understanding is voice. If you’re talking on a stream, the voice originates in the home and has to go up. Harrison: But still, it’s compressed. It’s a few hundred kilobytes. We’ve put in some redundant data to do error correction and stuff like that. GamesBeat: I may have the wrong impression, but when you’re playing something like Apex Legends and all of a sudden everyone stops talking, you wonder if the game was able to handle that. Harrison: The contention issue you describe in a multiplayer game is probably not a function of your upload speed. It would be a function of the way that voice is matched and multiplexed at the server level. GamesBeat: But the point is, you don’t have to send up a ton of stuff. Harrison: Yes, it’s tiny. It’s kilobits per second, not even megabits per second. GamesBeat: The split-screen feature was also unexpected. I didn’t realize that this was the reason it disappeared from games, that they’re so networked now that they can’t afford to be sending this stuff. Harrison: It’s also because of the complexity of the visuals. For a game, within its engine, to divide the resources in half and give you two separate views of the world — particularly games that are using internal streaming, meaning streaming from a disc or from memory — it’s really hard to do. It’s almost the first design feature to get cut. But now, with Stadia, that comes back, and not just two, but four or eight. We can internally stream from game to game. We showed that in the demo yesterday. Developers are very excited about that. Phil Harrison shows the Stadia controller. GamesBeat: Google likes to think long term. I’ve heard some long term concerns that people have. One was, if we’re going to have a trillion things connected on the internet, according to Masayoshi Son — there’s a lot of AI there. But there’s so much data that a lot of the processing in the future is expected to go to the edge, and not to centralize in the data centers. And they’re saying that’s because there’s too much data to send. You have to look at the data, process it, and figure out what you want at the edge. That’s a whole shift of computing from an assumption of data centers centralizing it to everything computing in all locations. You might have a lot of traffic on the internet in the future that you have to contend with, as both Google and Google the game company. Is that something to worry about? Harrison: No, it’s not something to worry about. I agree with the trend, that there is going to be more data and more demands on our infrastructure, but that’s exactly why we have made those fundamental investments in our own backbone that connects all of our data centers together. We’re not touching the public internet. I agree with you, but it’s not something to be concerned about. That’s one of the long term investments that Google continues to make. GamesBeat: The other thing that’s come up is that data centers are going to melt the polar ice caps if you’re successful. Harrison: Well, actually, that’s a very easy question to answer. All of Google’s data centers run on green energy today. There’s a great blog post on Google which will give you details about how we do that. GamesBeat: As far as how much content and how many games you have to make, what have you thought about that? Harrison: I don’t know that it’s the volume of games. We’ve had conversations over the years many times about what it means to be a first party. A first party studio is the studio that can help bring the platform to life in a unique and exclusive way that helps raise the bar for everybody. What Jay talked about quite right was not only are we going to do that, but to every extent possible we will share those learnings back with all developers on our platform, so that everybody benefits. That got a cheer, quite rightly, because I think that is a philosophical shift that the industry needed. We want to make sure our studio, internally and externally, create those beacon, lighthouse experiences that demonstrate–”Oh, that’s what it means when the data center is your platform. That’s what it means when ML and AI become part of games. That’s what it means when conversational understanding and natural language processing from the Stadia controller to the game allow you to chat with an NPC in a believable way.” There are things we can push on that are going to help the industry. GamesBeat: You see those as things that will make your games different. There was that mention of thousands of people in a battle royale game, instead of just 100. Harrison: Yes. Now, whether it’s fun to have a 1,000-player battle royale was not the point. It’s more about the technical capability of it. GamesBeat: How do you succeed in getting good people like that to work on this? Harrison: I’ve been really happy with the team I’ve been building. More than half of my leadership team now comes from the game industry. We have some very seasoned talent. We have some great new passionate thinkers. It’s fun seeing the inside of Google that Sundar alluded to yesterday. There are a lot of passionate gamers who got into tech because of games. They work at Google. They’re now able to bring their talents to a game platform. It’s a win-win. It’s not just about hiring people from outside of Google. It’s also about finding those talents from inside. The Stadia controller from Google. GamesBeat: As a game executive, do you feel like you need a certain amount of autonomy from the top? Sony managed, over many years, to have games as an island of executives, it seems, free from the interests of the other parts of the company. I heard someone at Amazon asked if they would set up their game business that way, and the response was, “No, we would not. We would operate as one company.” That person turned down the job, because they believed that in some ways, the game executives needed autonomy. Harrison: Google has, rightly or wrongly, trusted me with a huge amount of autonomy to build this vision and tell this story. But I can’t do this on my own. What I love about Google is the collaborative nature of the company and the fact that I have partnerships all across the company, from YouTube to our technical infrastructure to Google Cloud to our hardware business, who are participating and partnering with us to make Stadia real. It’s not just my team. It’s a much broader team. You saw, with Sundar as part of our presentation yesterday, that we have the support and investment from the top. But we do have the autonomy when we need it.
15 Mar 19
VentureBeat
The Game Developers Conference will draw more than 20,000 people to San Francisco next week, and it will be like dropping another quarter in the arcade machine to play games like Platform Wars and Battle of the Game Engines. With so many developers attending, the platform, tool, and engine companies are jockeying to be noticed. They want the developers to use their stuff, and not the others, because it will bring great games and tons of users to their platforms. This battle for the hearts and minds of developers is bigger now. “We saw a bit of that creeping in last year, and we’re seeing it in full force this year,” said Katie Stern, director of GDC Events, in an interview with me. “It’s exciting that they think of GDC as a place where they want to get their message out — that we have the right audience for them, and it’s where they want to make their big splash. We’ve heard from a few folks that they use GDC strategically as a launch site for new campaigns for whatever they’re announcing.” The biggest news coming next week is a sponsored talk by Phil Harrison, vice president at Google and former bigwig at Microsoft and Sony, about Google’s plans for the game business. Google even teased the event on YouTube to make sure developers show up. Hoping to head that off, Microsoft this week demoed its Project xCloud, which uses the Azure cloud to enable players to play high-end games on any device. At the actual event, Microsoft will be throwing a number of parties and receptions touting its love for diversity, accessibility via the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and other underrepresented communities in game development. Valve also announced a beta of its Steam Link Anywhere technology in advance of its own disclosures next week. In another sponsored session, Amazon’s Rich Hilleman will talk about the company’s vision for games at 10 a.m. on Monday. Facebook and its Oculus division will be out in force pushing their news. Tim Sweeney of Epic Games will once again tout the Unreal Engine and its progress in creating digital humans, or animated people who are so real you can’t tell them apart from real people. Down the street, in a less expensive venue outside of GDC, Unity John Riccitiello will show off his company’s latest Unity game engine technology — in competition with Epic. And Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, maker of SpatialOS, will tout tools that enable small developers to make massive online worlds. Narula recently had a spat with Unity, but things are said to be patched up. Nintendo will show off some indie games, but Sony seems particularly quiet in terms of a presence at GDC, beyond a number of celebratory God of War talks. Perhaps Sony is plotting the revelation of the PlayStation 5 at some other place, later in the year. Who can forget that GDC was once the place where Bill Gates unveiled the original Xbox design (2000) or that former Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata talked about the Wii or Brain Games in keynote speeches? Now, the GDC lets the platform companies duke it out in sponsored sessions. “As we see more and more of these big players have their own user conferences and things along those lines, they’re used to having their own crafted, curated experiences to create these kinds of messages,” Stern said. “It made more sense for us as a show to allow them a platform to do that in their own way. That’s why we don’t do the keynotes and product announcements. As part of the show content, they can be considerably more meaningful. We can allow them the opportunity and space to do it in a way that’s unique to their brand and their voice and how it fits within the broader GDC context.” While GDC is where the platforms and tool makers win over the allegiance of game developers, it’s not so much a place where the big games of the year are revealed. There are some secret briefing sessions, of course, but the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3, in June in Los Angeles) remains the place for big game revelations. With all this jockeying, it’s easy for press people like me to forget about the sessions. I had to look through 400 sessions to see which ones I had to attend. But it was a little pointless because so much of my time will be taken up covering the game engine wars, the platform wars, doing interviews, and seeing game demos. If you see some great sessions, please flag them for me. I am looking forward to seeing some games for the first time and doing interviews with a number of interesting people in the industry. I’ll be excited to see who gets some special recognition at the Game Developers Choice Awards on Wednesday night, where we’ll see a replay of the Red Dead Redemption 2 versus God of War awards battle. Rami Ismail at the #1ReasonToBe at GDC 2018. But in the past few years, I have always enjoyed the #1ReasonToBe panel. It started as a women’s panel, and it has evolved into a global diversity session where developers give their existential reasons for being game developers. It’s always moving and generates standing ovations. Rami Ismail, the cofounder of Vlambeer, organized the session once again this year, but he once again had trouble getting visas for his panelists to come to the U.S. This is yet again a direct result of President Donald Trump’s tight immigration policies. Ismail has been so fed up with this process that this year he created the GameDev.World event, which will be an online-only conference in June that will feature game developer talks translated in real time into eight languages. I’ll sit in Ismail’s session again, shed some tears, and get my fill of immersion in gaming culture at GDC 2019. While I’m sure that one day I’ll be able to watch it all online, I wouldn’t miss attending this event in person for the world.
01 Mar 19
VentureBeat
Against all odds, Respawn Entertainment‘s Apex Legends has become one of the most popular games in the world. It had a surprise launch just 25 days ago, but it surpassed 25 million users in its first week. It was late in the crowded first-person shooter battle royale genre, which boasts titles like Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Call of Duty: Blacks Ops 4’s Blackout. Last week, analyst Colin Sebastian of Baird Research noted that Apex Legends had surpassed 100 million hours of streaming on Twitch, beating Fortnite during the same period. Engagement has slipped slightly to No. 2, behind Fortnite, in recent days, according to social analytics firm Spiketrap. But it is still highly successful, and today, Gen.G announced it would even form an esports team for Apex Legends. People have taken to call the game the “Fortnite killer.” Fortnite itself was dubbed the PUBG killer before that, and PUBG had knocked out H1Z1. Perhaps we are in a cycle, with very little visibility into what comes next in battle royale. I think it was so smart of Epic Games to raise $1.25 billion while Fortnite was on top. Because right now, it looks like Fortnite has some serious competition. I have been playing a lot of Apex Legends, and I’ll relate my feelings below about why it’s such a great game. The success of Apex Legends should surprise no one. It comes from the team that made Titanfall and Titanfall 2, and before that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Vince Zampella, CEO of Respawn Entertainment, leads the team and he deftly engineered the sale of Respawn to Electronic Arts for $455 million in November 2017. Apex Legends didn’t come from creative copycats. It came from a seasoned team that jumped on the hot trend of 2017: battle royale. Zampella, who has kindly agreed to speak at our GamesBeat Summit 2019 event on April 23-24 in Los Angeles, told me in an interview that the small team that created Apex Legends was simply told to “chase the fun.” Vince Zampella is CEO and cofounder of Respawn Entertainment, maker of Apex Legends. “We kind of set out to find the fun. This is what became the fun and the focus of the team,” Zampella said. “It’s a new, emerging mode. For us, it’s about mixing it up. We try to never do the same thing too many times in a row. This was about, how do we as a team and a company grow? This was something that resonated so well that it had to be the focus of what we do. We needed to get this out.” Mackey McCandlish, design director, said in an interview the team began before Titanfall 2 shipped in the fall of 2016. They prototyped early games and decided whether they were fun or not. In early 2017, PUBG exploded and Respawn paid attention. It was working on other games at the time — including Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a title that is expected to be launched next month. To the dismay of fans, Respawn even decided to postpone Titanfall 3 in favor of Apex Legends, though Zampella noted that no one should make assumptions about whether Respawn has had to make tough tradeoffs. As the team kept going, it committed the sacrilege of jettisoning Titans. That was harsh, considering the game takes place in the Titanfall universe. Titans, which are giant mech suits piloted by humans, are beloved by fans of the franchise. The Titans can do enormous damage in the Titanfall games, but the Apex Legends team couldn’t figure out how to make battle royale matches with Titans fair. After all, if one player gets into a Titan in such a match, he or she could lay waste to everyone else. One by one, the assumptions about how to do a battle royale game were tested. If they were fun, the conventions stayed in the game. If they weren’t, then they got booted. There was, for instance, no point in gathering everyone in a pre-game arena before the match, as they only delayed the launch of a relatively short game. They got rid of the 100-player roster, falling upon 60 as a more manageable yet sizable number. They went with a smaller, more densely packed map. Teams consisted of three players, instead of four. They also added communications mechanics that allowed players to signal the finding and precise location of cool loot without having to say so using the microphone. You could use the same kind of communication to indicate the location of an enemy you spotted. Players were also encouraged to stick together, revive injured players, and even bring fallen comrades back from the dead. “It’s a young genre. It has conventions,” McCandlish said. “But since it’s a young genre, you have to look at each convention from first principles and say, ‘Is that just because it happened to be that way? Or is that the best way?'” Chasing the fun Dean Takahashi pumps lead into someone who is already dead, as his partners have enabled him to win an Apex Legends round. I’ve chased the fun myself, sticking with Apex Legends even as other big titles like EA/BioWare’s Anthem and 4A’s Metro Exodus games came out. All three of the games have small problems with bugs that have been annoying, and I hit a major one that stalled my progress in the PC version of Metro Exodus. So I’ve been playing Apex Legends exclusively, trying to get better at the game. One day, I’ll return to those other games, hopefully. That’s hard for me, as anyone with knowledge of my game skills can tell you. I play shooters more than any other game genre, but in competitive matches, I always get killed more than I score. But this game is accessible. It rewards you for being persistent and learning how to play any of the eight different characters. I’ve stuck with Lifeline, the medic, and she has served me well. I am playing it on a Windows PC with an AMD Threadripper processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics card. It runs smoothly, but the game still crashes now and then. I found that my mouse and keyboard skill had atrophied quite a bit. I would shoot well if I was standing still. Or move well if I wasn’t shooting. But I had trouble doing both, and I was getting eviscerated in gun battles as I moved in predictable ways. I went six days without a kill at the start. But then I switched to a USB-connected Xbox One controller. With the two sticks, I found it was easier to move fluidly and aim at the same time. My kills have now shot up to 35, and I’ve reached level 25. Once I solved that aiming and moving problem, I worked on other skills like playing with different characters or reviving teammates. Like Call of Duty’s Blackout battle royale mode, the guns feel good in Apex Legends. If you’re standing at the correct range, you can generally hit a target that you’re aiming at. The weapons run out of ammo fast, so you have to hope to get extended clips as you gather loot. My favorite weapon combo is a Spitfire machine gun and a EVA-8 shotgun. The victors: Dean is the one on the right, with zero kills in the match. I love the small nuances of Apex Legends. As in any battle royale game, you are vulnerable when reviewing the gear of someone who has been gunned down. While looting, the smart communications system tells you that if you pick up a new gun, it should automatically equip that gun with compatible attachments that you already have. Half the time, my microphone doesn’t work. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had troubles with it on my Windows machine. I think I’ll have to find friends on Discord and communicate that way instead. But you don’t always need the microphone, as noted earlier. Often, I’ll play with people who have hundreds of kills. But I’ll also play randomly with people who have no kills. I defer to the veterans on where to land, but I notice they are invariably overconfident. They land in the zones where there are lots of enemies, and they wind up getting us all killed quickly. I like to land far away from the crowd, but I have trouble getting us to those locations upon jumping out of the spacecraft. Sometimes the veterans are harsh, criticizing me for failing to keep up with them or hit my targets. But others offer good advice. I tag along with them and on two occasions, they have carried me to victory. That’s a nice feeling, and it’s not as rare as with other matches. In Blackout, for instance, you have a one in 25 chance of winning. With Apex’s three-player teams and 60-player roster, you have a one in 20 chance of winning. That has happened for me twice now, and you can see one of the matches in the video embedded in this game. Hilariously, at least to me, my comrades both got nine kills each in the match, while I got zero. But hey, at least I didn’t get myself killed in this match. Other times, I get to play the veteran and lead our team so we don’t get shot early or caught outside the shrinking circle. At some point, I may get tired of the map. But so far, I’m enjoying myself. And I can see the infinite ways that Respawn can iterate and improve the game. They can, for instance, add new maps, new weapons, and new characters. I realize that we’re on the ground floor of what could be a very long game. But Respawn should enjoy it while they can. After all, at this rate, somebody else could come out with a new battle royale game and knock out Apex Legends. But I have to say. Apex Legends is such a breath of fresh air. It restores my faith that creativity and fun always come out on top. Respawn chased the fun, and it caught it.
22 Feb 19
VentureBeat
It surprised me yesterday when Reggie Fils-Aime, the longtime president of Nintendo of America, announced he was going to retire on April 15 and not just so he could pay his takes. We’ve been saying goodbye to a lot of old friends lately, and it’s making us, or at least me, feel old. But Reggie, as everyone called him, was an original. He shook up stodgy Nintendo by giving it some edgy personality. Who can forget his memorable monologues at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3)? At his first E3 in 2004, he took the stage and said, “My name is Reggie. I’m about kickin’ ass, I’m about takin’ names, and we’re about makin’ games.” I remember doing a double-take because no Nintendo executive had ever spoken that way. And what about, “My body is ready,” when Reggie was introducing the Wii Fit fitness game accessory. It turned into a huge internet meme. Among the leaders who recently left their longtime jobs are Mike Morhaime, cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment; Eric Hirshberg, former CEO of Activision; and former Sony leaders Kaz Hirai, Jack Tretton, and Andrew House. I’ve done so many homages to long careers lately, I feel like I’m on the retirement beat. So it’s only proper for me to give a proper homage to Reggie. “Reggie was the only remaining board member who was on the search committee when I was hired,” said Mike Gallagher, the former CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, in an interview with GamesBeat. “Reggie was one of the most consistent people in the industry. Relentlessly positive. A big enthusiast for E3. And for the industry. Showing the world what the future of entertainment looks like. He was also someone who challenged everyone around him to reach higher.” Shawn Layden (left) of Sony, Phil Spencer of Xbox, and Reggie Fils-Aime of Nintendo at The Game Awards. More recently, Reggie appeared onstage at The Game Awards with Sony leader Shawn Layden and Phil Spencer, head of Xbox of Microsoft. They extended a message of togetherness and unity in fun. That was the first time I’d see the leaders of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo together on stage since one of my first E3 events in the early 2000s. That simple act was a sign of respect for gamers, and it had taken show organizer Geoff Keighley five years to make that happen. Spencer tweeted his own farewell to Reggie yesterday. All the best to Reggie Fils-Aime on the next phase of his life and career. Great leader, industry partner and friend. — Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) February 21, 2019 I think of Reggie as one of the best ambassadors that Nintendo ever had. He took what could be the clumsy communications from a Japanese company and made them accessible on a global level. He helped humanize Nintendo and make it seem like it was cool. Gallagher said that behind the scenes, Reggie was able to positively impact government leaders’ views of the industry. And he behaved in a presidential way, trying to bridge to the mainstream. Criticizing the industry in 2014, he said, “I have to say, I see a lot of me-too content. I see a lot of shooters that don’t seem very differentiated. I see a lot of zombie games that don’t feel very differentiated. I see games utilizing gore and violence for the sake of gore and violence. I see things that trouble me. I don’t like the concept of a game where you’re shooting at policemen. I think that’s bad for our industry.” I didn’t get any chances to interview Reggie recently, which has been a sore point for me. But I enjoyed the time I had with him. When I saw him last year at the Game Developers Conference, I asked him if he was ready to turn down the offer I made to have him speak at our conference. He said, “But you haven’t asked me yet.” The destructive power of the Fils-A-Mech, masquerading as Nintendo of America’s president. He liked to banter. He wouldn’t go off script or share many secrets, and he had fun holding things back. The executives back home in Japan were never good about disclosing a lot of information, but Reggie turned that into a kind of mystique, rather than offering boring “no comments.” In 2008, I mentioned he didn’t say how much memory was in the new DSi handheld onstage. I brought that up, and he laughed and replied, “And I won’t in this conversation.” He was personable, and he made Nintendo seem like the most important company in the world. In that same interview, he said, “For me, when someone sees the Nintendo tag on my bag, they react with enthusiasm. I never played video games for a long time. But I love the Wii. I love Wii Fit. I love Mario Kart. I love Wii Sports. I love Guitar Hero on the Wii. To me, that’s the personal side of how we have expanded the market.” I found that Reggie was a formidable Wii Tennis player. He destroyed me with serves that were extremely fast, yet seemed to be made with a minimal expenditure of energy. “He was very engaged in the brand,” Gallagher said. “He was the face of the brand for so long. He’s leaving at a high point.” Wii Sports Tennis. Reggie was good with the put-downs when they were called for. In 2009, OnLive made its case for cloud gaming. In our interview that year, he replied, “As far as the home console market goes, I’m not sure there is anything they have shown that solves a consumer need. What’s the better experience in what they have described?” I replied, “I think much of their argument is economic.” He responded, “So did they disclose pricing?” I also asked him about used games. He replied, “We believe used games aren’t in the consumer’s best interest.” I asked, “Because?” He said, “Describe another form of entertainment that has a vibrant used goods market. Used books have never taken off. You don’t see businesses selling used music CDs or used DVDs. Why? The consumer likes having a brand-new experience and reliving it over and over again. If you create the right type of experience, that also happens in a video game.” We went on like this for a while. Eventually, I asked him a tough one. “What’s the toughest question I could ask you in this interview?” He laughed and said, “So you want me to do your job for you?” During the dark days of the Wii U, Nintendo’s consoles sold poorly and the company had to reinvent itself once again. Nintendo Switch. Back in 2014, I asked him about what Nintendo was doing to make a comeback, and how it was going to change itself before it successfully launched its Nintendo Switch console. He said, “You’re talking about a 120-plus-year-old company that started by selling paper playing cards. We know all about change. We know all about evolving our entertainment capabilities for the current marketplace. I would argue that we have changed and we’ll continue to change….We’re not so arrogant to believe that we have all of the answers. That’s why, at an event like this, Mr. [Shigeru] Miyamoto and the key developers walk the floor. They see interesting examples of what people are doing. That’s why I walk the floor, to see what others are doing that’s interesting. It’s a very fast-moving category. We have to be smart in looking at what others do.” And since the Switch has become so successful, Reggie can retire with his held up high, after one of the greatest runs and greatest comebacks in video game history. We can only hope that Reggie’s replacement, the aptly named Doug Bowser, will be as entertaining.
15 Feb 19
VentureBeat
Shawn Layden led off this week’s DICE Summit with an inspirational speech about the need to focus on quality games, the rise of accessibility for all players, and a celebration of the diverse teams making video games. Layden is in charge of 13 studios that Sony owns, and he has to greenlight games that are very risky but potentially deliver huge rewards, like Sony’s stand-out hits of 2018, God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man. Sony’s studios lead the way at what Layden referred to as the industry’s inflection point, where games are “shedding their youth” and becoming a cultural lodestone. With great power to move billions of people comes great responsibility, Layden said. Above all, he said, quality matters. “Our fans trust us to make amazing game experiences for them,” he said. “If this takes more time, we have to give it more time.” And he said, “New [intellectual property] isn’t always easy, but it’s always necessary. We can’t predict how people will play, but play they will.” The industry needs to strike a balance between fostering creativity and monetization — and eventually shipping its masterpieces to consumers. Shawn Layden has to decide on greenlighting titles like God of War. That was nice for Layden to say. But then he truly became inspiring as he credited Microsoft for its expansion of the Minecraft franchise and Nintendo for selling so many Switch hybrid consoles. He said one should never underestimate Nintendo. Layden pointed to Sony’s own fumbles with the PlayStation 3, which he described as “a stark moment of hubris, our Icarus moment.” That turned to a time of inspiration and listening to game developers like Mark Cerny, who went on to help design the PlayStation 4, which has sold 91 million consoles and put Sony back in a leadership position in the industry. He also praised Microsoft for its Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is designed for people with limited mobility and was featured in an inspiring Super Bowl commercial with the message, “When everyone can play, we all win.” He also talked about how Sony invited Nintendo and Microsoft representatives to come to Sony’s campus in San Mateo, California, where the company celebrated young game developers who were being trained by the nonprofit Girls Make Games. He closed by saying, “We don’t compete against one another. We craft art, and art is founded on the creative, not the competitive.” It was a wonderful way to start a few days of inspiration in Las Vegas, where 700 of the world’s elite video game creators come to celebrate their craft. I came upon Phil Spencer, head of Xbox at Microsoft, who spoke similarly last year and appreciated the praise from Sony. He, too, wanted to see where this era of mutual praise and cooperation could go. Greg Broadmore of Weta Workshop at DICE 2019. Greg Broadmore, creative director of Weta Workshop, also talked onstage about how he worked with Magic Leap’s Rony Abovitz and his team to build a game that took advantage of augmented reality. The result, after seven years of iteration and two solid years of development with a team of 50 people, was Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders, which was one of my favorite 10 games of 2018. When he started, he didn’t know how to make a game and he didn’t know what kind of platform Magic Leap was going to make. But he said, “F*** it,” and just did it. Crushing inspiration J. Allen Brack is the new president of Blizzard Entertainment. But it’s so easy to crush inspiration. Through no fault of its own, though, this year’s summit was the place where people heard about the layoffs at Activision Blizzard. During a funny session between Double Fine CEO Tim Schafer and Uncharted co-creator Amy Hennig, Activision Blizzard held its earnings call. Only about half way through the call did the company tell the world that it was laying off 8 percent of its 9,600 employees. That amounted to more than 800 jobs. Coddy Johnson, president and chief operating officer, read the announcement without emotion, “Our restructuring plan sheds investment and less productive non-strategic areas of our business and will result in a net headcount reduction of approximately 8 percent while also driving a significant increase in investment, focus and capabilities around our biggest franchises.” Later on in the call, after Bobby Kotick had celebrated the “record performance in 2018,” J. Allen Brack, the new president of Blizzard Entertainment, expressed some humanity and emotion about the layoffs. “This was a very, very difficult decision. I’d say it’s a top five career difficult moment for me personally, but we’re committed to doing everything that we can to help get us into a good position going forward,” Brack said. “We really want to serve our players and we want to serve our communities in the best possible way and be a great creative organization. As difficult as kind of all this is, I think we’re happy about the things that we’re working on. We’re working very hard to live up to our mission and we really look forward to the community and you all seeing the results of this increased development work over time.” It was among the lowest of the low points for the game industry in the U.S., and the layoffs dominated the conversations in the hallways of Aria, the hotel where the DICE Summit took place. It is a reminder that video games are business, with winners and losers. And you’ll have to face the consequences if someone else figures out how to deliver a quality game to the masses that is better than yours. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 held its own, but titles like Destiny, Overwatch, and Hearthstone slipped as fans shifted toward games like Fortnite. Paying your dues and your taxes Ilkka Paananen, CEO of Supercell, believes in small cells of developers. By way of digression, it was interesting to hear (via lawmaker Alexandria Ocasion-Cortez) that Amazon made a profit of $11 billion and paid no taxes in 2018, and it was preparing to build (and then canceled) a headquarters in New York with $3 billion in tax subsidies. During the week, Supercell reported that it made $635 million on $1.6 billion in revenue — making it one of the best-performing companies in gaming even in an off-year. And it proudly paid Finland $122 million in taxes. The CEO, Ilkka Paananen, wrote an extraordinary letter for someone who was a superb capitalist. He said, “Well, sure, of course, it would be great if the numbers always grew from the previous year. But, focusing on short-term financial metrics has never been the most important thing for me or for us as a company. Our concern is that if you start to be driven by short-term financials, you may be tempted to release average quality games too early or be overly focused on monetization.” Paananen said the company does not try to “optimize” its taxes. Speaking of Supercell’s newest game, he said, “Given such a long gap, everyone was very eager to get Brawl out. I guess there was even some self-imposed pressure within Supercell to do so. This is precisely why I am so proud that the Brawl Stars team took all the time they needed to get the game to where they wanted it to be quality-wise. This is how we all want Supercell to operate: we should only release games that are the best possible experiences for our players; games that we ourselves are proud of. If this takes time, then so be it.” It seemed like such a different way of looking at games than the corporate view of Activision Blizzard. Overcoming hatred and finding the road to greatness Christopher Judge (left), Sunny Suljic, and Cory Barlog at the DICE Awards. Onstage, during the DICE Awards on Wednesday night, one of the award winners referenced the “hard day” that the industry had the day before. But early on, we were transported beyond all that with an acceptance speech by Christopher Judge, the actor who played the voice of Kratos, the hero of Sony’s God of War. From the voice of Kratos came such gentle words. “It was such a treat to play this character,” he said. “I told my boss Shannon — I’m so proud that a woman is the head of our studio — that playing this character changed me. I was very much a child of the 60s and 70s. It gave me a skewed perception of what determined your worth as a man. And none of it was predicated on being open, honest, being loving. I would like to think I was on my way there. But with this, I kind of got on the Love Express….Not many of you were privy to the intense pressure Cory was under. He never brought it to set. He showed an old man, what being a man is. You listen to people. And you hear them. You listen to people’s suggestions. He taught me more about being a man than I had learned in 51 years. I watched how he nurtured. He made everyone feel more powerful than they were. He made you feel you were part of the process. He talked with you. Not at you.  And that is what being a man is. You empower the people around you. You support people around you. You foster a loving environment.” Bonnie Ross and Phil Spencer at the DICE Awards. At the close of the show, co-host Greg Miller, an influencer at KindaFunny, said, “Remember the people who want to be assholes and dickheads on the internet are a vocal minority. There is an overwhelming silent majority playing through your work, and they love it.” He drew applause from the developers in the audience, as I suspect all of them have felt the sting of internet haters. God of War swept nine of 23 awards that night. Cory Barlog, the creative director of God of War, took the stage one final time to claim the ninth award of the night for his game, which won Game of the Year. He said developers can take two paths: the one of cynicism or the desire to do something great. At Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, he said so many were inspired by their relationships with their own sons in building God of War’s story. Haters on the internet don’t realize that “every single one of us sets out on the path to make something great,” Barlog said. “Somewhere along the way, the schedule gets shortened and the budget gets cut.” But he added, “I see so much amazing work, work that inspires me, work that prevents me from doing work because I am playing your work. I want to thank everybody here for all of the work that you do because we are walking down that path of great. We easily sucked in by the path of cynicism, but I absolutely believe from all the work I have seen that we are all inspired to do something more than just things jumping on a screen. It makes me f****** proud of all of you.” Bonnie Ross, winner of the AIAS Hall of Fame Award for 2019. Earlier in the evening, Bonnie Ross, a corporate vice president at Microsoft and head of Halo maker 343 Industries, thanked everyone for the Hall of Fame Award and noted that the pillars of the Halo universe are hope, wonder, humanity, and heroism. Afterward, Spencer gave a toast to Ross, surrounded by her family. It was a heartwarming scene, like bearing witness to the celebration of a full career of greatness. She said Master Chief may have been so beloved because our own world is so desperately in need of heroes of “all shapes, of all sizes, of all abilities, of all colors, and of all genders.”
06 Feb 19
VentureBeat
Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games announced that Red Dead Redemption 2 sold through more than 23 million copies in the third fiscal quarter ended December 31. At $60 each at retail, that means the Wild West game that took nearly eight years to make generated $1.38 billion in revenues in its first quarter, not counting any money made from Red Dead Online. That blows some of the estimates on sales out of the water, but Take-Two’s stock price has fallen 13 percent today ($93.72 a share at this writing) because the company warned the current quarter could be weak. Take-Two also said it sold-in more units in its first eight days than its predecessor, Red Dead Redemption of 2011, sold in its first eight years. And Red Dead Redemption 2 was the best-selling game in the U.S. in 2018, according to market researcher NPD. Red Dead Redemption 2 got a 97-out-of-100 on review aggregator Metacritic, tying the score for Rockstar’s previous giant hit, Grand Theft Auto V. Grand Theft Auto Online continues to generate revenue more than five years after its launch. The numbers are “sell-in” numbers to retailers, as opposed to “sold-through” numbers where retailers sell to consumers. But that difference is increasingly narrow as more games are sold directly through digital downloads now. But the stock fell in part because of a mix up in interpreting the numbers and because Take-Two said it expects fiscal fourth-quarter earnings of 67 cents to 77 cents a share on net revenue of $530 million to $580 million. Analysts were looking for profit of 84 cents a share on sales of $609 million. The new guidance was above Take-Two’s previous guidance, but investors were expecting more. Fix the economy, or I shoot! During the days after Red Redemption 2 launched on October 26, Take-Two had previously said that Red Dead Redemption 2 had sold $725 million worth in its first three days of sales. That indicated roughly 10 million copies sold at the outset (and if you consider average game prices, 12 million units at $60 each), according to analyst Ben Schachter at Macquarie Research. And it means that game sales could have hit 15 million or 20 million copies sold by the end of the holidays, he said. I previously did some calculations that suggested the game could be profitable in its first quarter. (The company itself doesn’t disclose these kinds of details). The company reported overall GAAP net income of $179.9 million, or $1.57 a share, on revenues of $1.25 billion. “Take-Two delivered better-than-expected results in the fiscal third quarter,” said Strauss Zelnick, chairman and CEO of Take-Two, in a statement. “Our outperformance was driven primarily by the record-breaking launch of Red Dead Redemption 2 along with strong results from NBA 2K19. In addition, consumers engaged significantly with our offerings, and recurrent consumer spending grew 31 percent to a new record. We generated strong cash flow and ended the period with $1.6 billion in cash and short-term investments, after deploying $109 million to repurchase 1 million shares of our stock.” He added, “As a result of our outstanding third quarter performance, we are raising our outlook for fiscal 2019, which is poised to be a record year for Net Bookings and Adjusted Operating Cash Flow. Looking ahead, as our industry continues to embrace new technologies that enhance consumers’ experience with, and access to interactive entertainment, we remain focused on broadening the reach of our content and expanding further globally. Take-Two is exceedingly well-positioned – creatively, strategically and financially — to capitalize on the vast opportunities that will shape the future of our business, and to deliver long-term growth and margin expansion.” John Marston was the hero of Red Dead Redemption, and he is back in Red Dead Redemption 2. Given where the sales are, Red Dead Redemption 2 could keep pushing onward. But it’s a long game, with one report saying only 22 percent of players had finished the entire game’s 105 missions in the single-player campaign. (I am one of those who finished it). Even so, as I noted, the stock price fell. In an email, analyst Michael Pachter (a speaker at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2019) at Wedbush Securities said today, “Sympathy with EA [which missed earnings targets] is the biggest reason. I think that expectations for RDR2 were higher, and they said that they had shipped 23 million and didn’t expect a large number of reorders this quarter, so people spooked that overall number not higher.” Now we can come to some of my own analysis. With a $60 price, about $43 (based on an estimate from Baird Research’s Colin Sebastian) comes back to the publisher Take-Two Interactive and its studio Rockstar Games. That’s because digital stores take a chunk of revenue, and retail distributors also take their share. At 23 million copies sold, overall revenue for Rockstar Games would be $989 million in revenues. As for costs, most of it is related to how many developers worked on it and for how long. Rockstar listed more than 2,800 contributors to the game in its thank-you note, but obviously it was only handful at the beginning of the project more than eight years ago. Take-Two’s capitalized software costs — the measure of how much it has invested in software that hasn’t launched yet — gave us a clue in the previous quarter. Take-Two’s balance for those costs is $733 million. That’s the amount invested in all software at the company, which has about 4,200 employees across 17 studios, according to Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two. If Red Dead Redemption 2 only had a 17th share of the costs, that would be $43 million. But we know that’s impossible for a game this big, with 2,800 contributors and an eight-year development span. Last fall, Pachter previously said that a good rule of thumb to use is about 200 people working for 8.5 years, at maybe $100,000 in cost per person. That equals about $170 million in development costs, or about 23 percent of the overall costs of games in development at Take-Two. We know, however, that Rockstar’s costs were probably higher. Rockstar shared some details as it tried to defend itself from allegations that it forced employees to work overtime in order to finish the game. Jennifer Kolbe, head of publishing at Rockstar, said in a statement to GamesBeat last quarter that the company logged 67,000 employee weeks this year, and only 20 percent of the people had to work more than 60 hours in a week, and only 0.4 percent of the time was for people who worked more than 80 hour weeks. This is basically like where I live. So 67,000 divided by 52 weeks leaves us with 1,288 employee years worked on Red Dead Redemption 2 during 2018. That sounds reasonably accurate, as Rockstar has said it doubled the size of its previous team and the number was over 1,000 people, or double the size of the 2010 original game, Red Dead Redemption. That gibes well with the notion there were 2,800 contributors. But, obviously based on the fairly low capitalized software costs, that Rockstar doesn’t spend a ton on its people and it also didn’t have them working for a full eight years. So I’ll take Pachter’s estimate and beef it up some, so that maybe 300 people worked for eight years at $100,000, on average. That gets us to $240 million in development costs for the game. (Here’s something that muddies the picture: Companies can decide what software development costs to capitalize, or take out of expenses, and which costs to simply expense). I’ve also heard different estimates as well on the marketing costs for the game, which could run $200 million to $300 million. Let’s take $300 million, giving us a total cost of $540 million, which is lower than my previous estimate in the DeanBeat column by a large margin. So we take revenue estimated at $989 million, and then costs of $540 million, and this game itself could have had a profit of $449 million by December 31. Add to that revenues from Red Dead Online, which are likely to be good. The breakeven point would be about 12.5 million games sold, and clearly Take-Two nearly doubled that target. Pachter estimated that Take-Two gets $100 million in revenue per quarter from GTA Online, which has been out for five years. That’s been a huge success, with the peak quarter at maybe $125 million. It will take Red Dead Online some time to ramp up its revenues. But it’s a conservative bet to say it could generate $50 million per quarter for Take-Two, or an additional $200 million a year. It will have costs as well, but not nearly as much as it took to create the game.
01 Feb 19
VentureBeat
The life of a journalist is complicated. It’s a craft with many ways to ply it. When we don’t do our jobs right, critics view us as paid shills for the industry. When we do our jobs well, we find out secrets and publish them, regardless of whether the companies sanction these “scoops” or not. Much of the time, we get manufactured news from PR people who create events or press releases where we only learn what they want us to learn. In that kind of world, we fail our readers, and we might as well live in a place with no free press, with blinders covering our eyes. Dean Takahashi at a GamesBeat conference. Doing the job right will sometimes mean getting access to the right people. And if you work at a big outlet like the New York Times, you can get access to the CEO of Sony a lot more easily than I can. In that case, I’m not entirely helpless. I can say in my own pitch to the PR people that I will cover the company thoroughly on a regular basis, long after the big media are gone. That may get me some measure of access — at least enough to do my job. I certainly wish that Reggie Fils-Aime, the president of Nintendo of America, would do interviews with me, as he once did. But he has chosen not to do that for some time, perhaps because he’s not only judging me but also my outlet, VentureBeat, in comparison to some other outlet. Because we have no media monopoly, highly sought after sources can often play the media off against each other. Maybe one day he’ll come around. But I can talk to other company leaders, like Tim Sweeney at Epic Games. That doesn’t mean I favor Tim in my stories, but it does mean I understand Tim’s views better. As a journalist, you fight for access all the time, because it can result in you getting the right story to tell. Once in a while, companies may discover who your secret source might be. The consequences for that person can be pretty severe. Companies can fire employees for revealing secrets or bring litigation against them. Once, a source of mine decided that he wanted to name himself in a story. He fully knew the consequences of sharing insider information about the company, but he believed that the information should be shared and in a public way to establish credibility. As expected, he got fired. I had mixed feelings about writing that story, but I did. The spotlight of the press is a very powerful thing, and it can take a toll on people who are in the spotlight. Is the story that you have to tell worth risking your livelihood over? Some companies make you sign non-disclosure agreements before you can get into their preview events. Journalists generally hate NDAs because they can be abused with legal ramifications. But company lawyers often see them as the only recourse if a journalist betrays a company and publishes ahead of time in the name of getting a scoop. Other companies will make you abide by an embargo, which is a promise not to publish until a certain time. If you agree to such agreements, they better be worth it. Because these deals put journalists in the business of keeping secrets. These journalists have to worry about whether other enterprising journalists, who make no such binding agreements, can find out about the news and publish it earlier. I find myself in this position when I’m writing about an acquisition. I may agree to an embargo because I can interview the CEOs of the two companies doing the deal and get the inside view. But that represents a bet on my part that no journalist will find out about the deal. I played a game this week, but I can’t tell you about it yet. To investigate or not The employees of Riot Games . If you find you’re spending too much time writing embargoed stories, you may find that you have no time to do real investigative work. I admire the journalists that step back and do investigative work. We at GamesBeat and VentureBeat compete with those other journalists, but the others out there do great work that makes us better. Cecelia D’Anastasio wrote a story at Kotaku last year entitled, “Inside the culture of sexism at Riot Games.” It sparked a discussion about “bro culture” at game companies and forced Riot Games to change its ways. The writer interviewed dozens of current and former Riot employees for that story. Was it enough to make a judgment about the thousands of employees at Riot? The editors at Kotaku who oversaw that story had to make that decision. Harold Goldberg wrote a story for Vulture about Red Dead Redemption 2, interviewing co-creator Dan Houser, who almost bragged that people in the company were working 100 weeks as one of the biggest development projects in video game history came down to its final months. That sparked a controversy about forced “crunch,” or unpaid overtime. Blake Harris, an author, spent years of his life telling a single story, the tale of virtual reality pioneer Palmer Luckey and his inspiration for the Oculus Rift. I’m reading Harris’ book, The History of the Future, now. My colleague Jeff Grubb scored a scoop about Battlefield V’s return to World War II before Electronic Arts revealed the news. Getting such scoops are feathers in the caps of these journalists because they tell readers things that they wouldn’t learn, absent the efforts of the journalists. The stories we tell aren’t always pretty. I wrote an exclusive story last year about a Dallas venture capitalist who pleaded guilty to attempted assault and extortion in a case where a woman was severely injured. Months later, he was again arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife. That story had to be told in service of readers, especially anyone who might have considered doing business with such a person. Not everything has to be a scoop about facts. You can also have scoops of perception, where you see something that nobody else sees. When you’re a game critic, for instance, people rely on you for your pattern recognition, or your ability to spot a great game amid the chaff. The investigative work is truly important in an age when journalism is under attack on a daily basis by the White House. I admire the work being done by outlets such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, which are truly protecting our democracy. Game journalism Dean Takahashi holds Cuphead at GamesBeat Summit 2018. But I feel like game journalism has been an honorable pursuit as well, and I enjoy the work that I and my colleagues do. It’s like a daily chronicle of an industry that, at its best, produces a lot of happiness in the world. We recognize it’s not always important who gets a story first, but who tells it best. My colleagues — Jeff Grubb, Mike Minotti, and Jason Wilson — are part of a co-op team of writers and editors who offer smart coverage that explains the business and culture of games and conveys why they matter to sophisticated audiences and an intelligent games community. We are capable of covering everything from moment-to-moment gameplay to the strategic view of the industry as it fits with other technologies (like blockchain) or entertainment media — which gaming’s market value has long surpassed — such as films, books, and music. We are as comfortable interviewing the lone creator of an indie game as we are the CEO of Electronic Arts, as either side of this spectrum can come up with the ideas that can change the entire industry. I have the most experience, but that doesn’t mean my colleagues need to be like me. Our team, like any team of people playing a co-op video game, can be strong because we are different. Minotti plays more games than I do, and that shows when I prove incapable of beating games like Cuphead. Grubb enjoys podcasting and staying in touch with gamers on a grassroots level. Jason Wilson stays at home, reads a lot, plays his favorite games, and oversees us as an editor. Rowan Kaiser edits what other people write for us, such as op-eds. I interview a lot of people — some I know and some I don’t know — from developers to CEOs. That gets me good interviews. But it doesn’t always mean I always get the best stories since those can come from other sources. And if I do too many such stories, I may not get a lot of time to play games. And I try to go to a lot of events so that I can meet people in places where they are able to meet me in person, trust me, and share things they won’t say otherwise. I also create our own events, like the GamesBeat Summit, where they can come to us. I look at the seam between technology and games. But the most accurate information comes from seeing it with your own eyes or hearing it with your own ears. As a journalist, you have to turn down a lot of people pitching stories. But you can’t put too many gates up. As in any co-op game, it pays to have a diversity of members in your squad, rather than the same kind of person. We talk to executives and investors, but we also review games and understand players. We need to cover investment funding, but we also need to understand the indie scene that venture capitalists completely ignore. The lesson we’ve learned is innovation can come from anywhere. On any given day of the week, our different methods for gathering information could pay off with good stories. I strongly believe that my own colleagues are unprofessional and crazy, but on any given day, they may beat me with the best story of the day. Diversity matters. Everybody can be a storyteller. And everybody has a story to tell. You have to live and breathe and practice these ideas as a journalist. Cuphead at the GamesBeat Summit 2018. As we know in other parts of the media business, some people will actively try to stop journalists from finding out secrets. People who mean us ill occasionally attack us. In an age of social media and “corporate journalism,” it’s not easy for our voices to be heard. But it’s not us against them. I wouldn’t say that all PR people are bad. They do their jobs honorably, and some can tell be sources for journalists too. Times change too, and that affects your sources. I remember two people in an organization that banned me from participating in their events. I was patient. Nowadays, I consider them to be confidants. At the risk of oversharing about my profession, I will be talking about this topic of journalism sources in a couple of roundtables at the upcoming DICE Summit in Las Vegas, where gaming’s elite crowd gathers, in a couple of weeks. As a journalist growing older, you have relationships with people who have reached important places in the industry, and they reward your trust with good information. You do not pay them money or do favors for them, but as a journalist, you might one day have to go to jail to protect their identities. The people who trust you can give you so many good stories. But you do have to remember this. You serve no one, except your readers.
04 Jan 19
The Art Of Chart

Tech Show Touts 5G Wireless, 8K TV, Smart Everything – Investor’s Business Daily By Tech Show Touts 5G Wireless, 8K TV, Smart Everything  Investor’s Business Daily CES 2019 Is Coming—Here’s What to Expect  Gizmodo 8 Things to Expect From CES 2019: AI, 5G, 8K, and More  WIRED The DeanBeat: What to expect from CES 2019  VentureBeat What To Expect […]

04 Jan 19
The Art Of Chart

Tech Show Touts 5G Wireless, 8K TV, Smart Everything – Investor’s Business Daily By Tech Show Touts 5G Wireless, 8K TV, Smart Everything  Investor’s Business Daily While we were looking at 3D TVs, CES morphed into an auto show  Engadget CES 2019 Is Coming—Here’s What to Expect  Gizmodo 8 Things to Expect From CES 2019: AI, 5G, 8K, […]