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MCV 929

THE 16TH ANNUAL

CELEBRATING EXCELLENCE IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES

THURSDAY, 8TH MARCH 2018, THE BREWERY, LONDON

ENTRIES NOW OPEN!

WWW.MCVAWARDS.COM ...AND A BRAND NEW ENTRY PROCESS! SEE INSIDE FOR DETAILS @MCVONLINE #MCVAWARDS 10.11.17

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THE 16TH ANNUAL

CELEBRATING EXCELLENCE IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY

WE ARE DELIGHTED TO DECLARE THE 2018 AWARDS NOW OPEN FOR ENTRY! At MCV we believe that the video games industry in the UK is one of the most exciting and innovative markets in the world. Now in their 16th successful year, the MCV Awards are the UK’s only computer and video games awards that recognise games publishing, retail, distribution, marketing, PR, events and media – all essential sectors. Each year these prestigious awards are free-to-enter for all qualifying teams and businesses, and they are firmly established as the unrivalled badge of excellence for the games sector. The awards are presented at a stylish ceremony with over 600 of the industry’s leading figures in attendance, all to celebrate the achievements of the finest teams and individuals.

This year there’s a brand new entry process... The MCV Awards are changing for the better. This year, in consultation with the industry, we’ve redesigned the categories, criteria, entry system and judging process to enable us to be more transparent and open about the way things are done, so the industry can trust that the MCV Awards really are the mark of business excellence in video games. The entry process for the awards is your opportunity to put forward your best work for the year and highlight your company to the industry! This is your chance to shout about your organisation, and get recognition and reward from your peers.

HEAD OVER TO MCVAWARDS.COM TODAY TO CHECK OUT THE NEW CRITERIA & ENTRY PROCESS!

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Welcome to BlizzardWorld We talk to Activision Blizzard about the almost limitless opportunities to build franchises around its biggest titles

10/11/17

Features

Doubling down on Europe

10

Bandai Namco on how it’s putting European games at the core of its publishing strategy

EA talks EU

24

We talk to EA about the wider issues challenging the UK games industry

Gift box

26

In the ‘engagement’ era, is the Xbox One X just what the industry ordered?

Page 5 The Editor • Page 6 On the Radar – all the upcoming events • Page 8 Opinions from the industry • Page 40 Sales analysis • Page 42 Big releases • Page 48 End Game – community and events November 10 MCV 929 | 03

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“With my eyeballs hungry for stimulation, I undertook a visual banquet.”

TheEditor Looking good The last couple of weeks have been retina-searingly good. It started with me buying a shiny new pair of trendy spectacles, turns out my old lenses weren’t really up to scratch, or rather they were completely covered in tiny scratches. So I’m now seeing the world with greater clarity than I have in ages – a 4K upgrade for my peepers. With my eyeballs hungry for stimulation, I undertook a visual banquet – courtesy of the Xbox One X. The enhanced titles on offer wowed me over-and-over again and HDR support is now a key requirement for me when choosing a game. It’s incredible just how much difference that extra contrast makes to the presentation. Still even a HDR TV can’t compete with the real thing, and so onto our family fireworks night, in which my dad unleashes some huge pyrotechnics in his not-sohuge garden. He’s been doing this for about 30 years, with no serious injuries to date, or at least none that have prevented anyone from enjoying the food and booze after. Fireworks night for me marks the beginning of the Christmas season, which means I’m now willing to think about where I’m going, what I’m eating and what I’m buying for people. And Christmas shopping means it’s time to think about Black Friday again. Our next issue will land squarely on the now-established shopping event, which was widely blamed for some of the failings of last year’s triple-A releases. Most of these have shifted away from late November this year, except for Star Wars Battlefront II, which presumably is more concerned with The Last Jedi’s release date. And speaking of retail, what a difference a year makes. Big congratulations to Activision on Call of Duty’s sales figures (see page 18 for its franchise plans) and to Xbox for the impressive rollout of the One X (see page 26 for more on that). And all that comes on top of strong Q2 figures for Ubisoft, Nintendo and Take-Two. So it’s looking like a happier Christmas run-in for everyone this year. Finally, thanks for all your 30 Under 30 nominations, which are up hugely on last year, making it highly competitive. We’ve thought long and hard about the winners and will announce them in the next issue, like Father Christmas come early.

TheTeam

Seth Barton sbarton@nbmedia.com

Marie Dealessandri Senior Staff Writer

mdealessandri@nbmedia.com

Sam Richwood Designer

srichwood@nbmedia.com

James Marinos Production Executive jmarinos@nbmedia.com

Sophia Jaques Games Sales Manager sjaques@nbmedia.com

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ontheradar

Golden Joystick Awards 2017 November 17th, London The 35th Golden Joystick Awards takes place next week at London’s Bloomsbury Big Top, with comedian Danny Wallace making a return to hosting duties. Over 25 award categories will be up for grabs this year, as voted for by the global gaming public, including Best Multiplayer Game, Game of the Year, and Most Wanted Game. On the night of the awards, viewers will also be able to tune-in on Twitch, where the whole event will be livestreamed.

Ukie Christmas Drinks December 4th, London

Children’s Media Summit 2017 December 5th-7th, Manchester

Celebrating the best content, entertainment and innovation and tackling the importance of education, freedom and empowerment, this year’s Children’s Media Summit promises to be crucial for anyone involved in children’s media. Speakers include Mojang’s COO Vu Bui, YouTube’s global head of family and learning Malik Ducard and Twitch’s senior directorship of partnerships for EMEA Chris Mead to name just a few. Trade tickets are available now.

Ukie’s annual Christmas drinks will take place at the beginning of December. Supported by Jagex, all members are invited to partake in guaranteed “fun festivities” at Ukie’s offices, where there will be Christmas tunes, festive treats, free drinks and almost certainly some great games to play on the side. We look forward to seeing you there.

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Star Wars Battlefront II lands on shelves November 17th

Conveniently timed to launch just before The Last Jedi appears in cinemas, EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II should help rally fans itching to get another slice of Star Wars action before Christmas. It should be a winner at retail. See page 44 for more info.

Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon hit retail

Slush 2017

November 17th

Yorkshire Games Festival November 8th-12th, Bradford

The Yorkshire Games Festival finishes this weekend. Taking place at Bradford’s Science and Media Museum, this weekend will feature regular Minecraft workshops across the two days, as well as free interactive sessions for children aged 14 and over and live action role-playing games around the city of Bradford.

November 29th December 2nd

The world’s leading start-up event returns to Helsinki at the end of the month, and this year, Games London will be taking five Londonbased games companies to the event. Last year’s delegation resulted in a $10m investment for Bossa Studios, and this year’s event looks set to be even bigger, with over 2,300 start-ups and 1,100 venture capitalists set to attend.

Last year’s Pokémon Sun and Moon were a huge success, and these new Ultra versions should be no different. Game Freak hinted these may be the last games in the series to appear on 3DS, so Pokémon is set to go out with a bang. If you’d like your product, event or upcoming news to appear in On the Radar, email Marie on mdealessandri@ nbmedia.com

SPONSORED BY

PRE ORDER TOP 5 TW TITLE 01 02 03 04 05

Publisher

Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4) Ni No Kuni II Collector Kings Edition (PS4) Days Gone (PS4) Final Fantasy VII (PS4) Star Wars Battlefront II (PS4)

Take-Two Bandai Namco Sony Square Enix EA

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guestopinion

Dan Bergin-Holly - Product Lead, Exient

Is it evil to make your players happy?

A

couple of weeks back consumer games media The player is given a potentially unfair advantage over other broke news about a patent recently awarded to players for the sake of keeping them in the game and playing. Activision. The patent – hotly titled “System Similarly with familiar design tools such as rubber-banding. and method for driving microtransactions in If we accept game balance manipulation as ‘fair’ for these multiplayer video games” – created a predictable furore cases, why not for others? among gaming fans and journalists. Amidst the great wailing Developers spend countless hours trying to work out and gnashing of teeth the patent was described as ‘dastardly’, how best to introduce players to new content. Producers ‘manipulative’, and even ‘evil’. But is it evil to make your and game leads spend days trying to justify prioritisation of players happy? content and features – often asking the question “How many To recap the system as described by the patent – the basic players will see this, and will they care?” So if a developer idea is that a series of analytics creates a new card set, weapon, measures would identify a or cosmetic skin that they player as having a ‘potential If a developer creates a new card think players will really interest’ in a given in-game love – is it evil to use every set, weapon, or cosmetic skin that tool possible to make sure item. The system would then adjust the matchmaking see it? This system gives they think players will really love – is they settings of the game to ensure developers a way to ensure it evil to use every tool possible to players see relevant content in this player was exposed to that in-game item. If the player the game. make sure they see it? does make the purchase, the The follow-on to this is system would then adjust the that a player who has made matchmaking settings again to ensure the next match the a purchase is then matched into a game which affords player enters would maximise the use value of the purchase, opportunity for this purchase to be actually useful or making them feel a strong value return from their actions. satisfying, in theory encouraging future purchases. The While many players focused upon the inherent unfairness nature of this opportunity may require careful design choices of manipulating matchmaking processes to alter player but, to my mind, this is no more unfair than breaking a behaviour – such practices are already commonplace. losing streak for a player. What’s worse than picking up an For example, consider a player currently on a hard losing ace weapon only to never get a chance to actually use it? streak – that player is at risk of churning out of the game in Ultimately the tool comes from the same place, a drive to a rage quit, it would not be unheard of for a developer to make sure the player has fun and stays in the game. You’ve temporarily manipulate the skill matching system so that shown me something cool, I’ve invested in acquiring it, and the player is more likely to get a win in their next round. now you’ll give me a chance to have some fun with it.

Dan is a mobile games producer and product manager with a passion for helping teams excel in making great games. He is currently a product lead in mobile games company Exient, working primarily on Angry Birds Transformers in conjunction with Rovio 08 | MCV 929 November 10

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guestopinion

Simon Fenton - Head of Games, Escape Studios

T

Fuelling education

A report by Newzoo in April 2017 stated that here is currently a wealth of discussion around the approximately 2.2bn people play games worldwide. With this creative industries, from debate on the lack of artsenormous number of people playing games in their spare focused subjects at school, to fewer people taking creative subjects at A-Level. All of which is at odds time, it’s astounding that there isn’t a bigger focus on using with research based on the UK economy. The BFI’s UK Film this platform within our education system. Economy Report estimates the UK film industry is worth a Games can pull us into a learning environment, offering huge £4.3bn to the economy based on figures from 2013the user interactive experiences that are needed to solve 2016, with a further 30,000 job opportunities opening over problems. They engage the user in the process, an aspect the next five years. which couldn’t be more vital in the classroom. With a So, how do we get children into the industry, bring gaming game you have to make choices, and these choices have into schools and ensure consequences. This is a key more children are inspired skill to learn early on in life. to consider a creative career These mistakes provide a To produce future talent with path? Part of the debate is that platform for learning, as each creative flare, it’s important that we mistake is made, you adapt, gaming doesn’t have a place in and get a different the classroom, but at Escape – revisit our approach to learning and change as many in the industry – we result... Traditional classroom use the tools readily available to us learning is very passive, you believe it’s quite the opposite. There are principles that cannot reset and re-try what is to fuel education. are inherent in both playing learnt, most of what is taught a game and teaching. At our is meant to be committed to memory, and tested in an exam-based environment. recent Escape Studios XV panel discussion, industry leader Ian Livingstone CBE commented on learning through At Escape Studios, we believe that bringing the creative gameplay stating that “human beings are playful by nature and industries into the classroom at a much earlier age is key. learn through play... Games resonate with children and are a It’s not just gaming that’s important, it’s also wider subjects contextual hub for learning. Playing a game requires problemsuch as art, which fosters the creativity that’s vital for a solving, decision making, intuitive learning, trial and error, career in the world of games. Within my own career, I logic, analysis, management, communication, risk-taking, specialised in fine art and these skills, combined with my passion for gaming, has fuelled my success. To produce planning, resource management and computational thinking.” For example, Valiant Hearts, Kerbal Space Programme and future talent with creative flare, it’s important that we revisit even Minecraft and The Sims are all great tools for teaching our approach to learning and use the tools readily available to us to fuel education. history, physics and encourage decision making.

Simon Fenton has 23 years of industry experience. including ten years at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Escape Studios, part of Pearson College London, teaches students Game Art, VFX and Animation November 10 MCV 929 | 09

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Pictured left: Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares, which was the first step in Bandai Namco’s European strategy

Bandai Namco:

Doubling down on Europe Fresh off the success of Little Nightmares and a brand-new partnership with Life is Strange studio Dontnod, Bandai Namco is now putting European games at the core of its publishing strategy. Katharine Byrne sits down with European VP of marketing and digital Hervé Hoerdt to find out how these titles will help double the size of the company and make Bandai Namco a global powerhouse

T

his August, MCV revealed that publisher Bandai Namco had struck up a new strategic partnership with Life is Strange studio Dontnod. Details about the game are still thin on the ground, but we do know it will be a brand-new IP focused on a new kind of narrative adventure set in a fictional US town. Of course, given Bandai Namco’s recent release schedule, the news shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In this year alone, the firm has published the likes of Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares, The Farm 51’s Get Even, Mojo Bones’ Impact Winter and Slightly Mad Studios’ Project CARS 2, to name just a few of its European-led titles. Its partnership with Dontnod, however, represents the next stage of its diversification strategy, so we sat down with Bandai Namco’s European VP of marketing and digital Hervé Hoerdt to find out more about how these titles will transform the publisher into a more global company and why its ultimate goal is to end up “somewhere between Nintendo and Disney.” GAME PLAN It all began in 2014, Hoerdt tells MCV. “Our strategy in Europe isn’t new,” he says. “We’ve been working on this for the last three years, but it’s only now starting to become visible. The first part of this was Little Nightmares, which we’ve been incredibly happy with, but

it’s just the start. Now we’re very happy to partner with Dontnod.” Naturally, Hoerdt’s ambitions for Bandai Namco’s European programme are high, as he wants titles like Little Nightmares to form 50 per cent of its publishing output going forward. “We’re a Japanese-centric company and most of our content right now is coming from Japan,” he continues. “We know that, as great as this content is, we’ve been targeting the same audience for years, so we want to double the size of our business, and we’re going to do it through more platforms, more localisation and more IPs. “Japanese companies mostly develop on Nintendo and PlayStation [platforms], but more and more we have the Xbox, especially for the UK market, and PC. We also want our fans to enjoy localised games, so we’re doing more games in languages like Polish, Russian and Arabic. “Last but not least, it’s about the IPs. We think about the big anime IPs like One Piece, Naruto and Dragonball, but our Japanese content is only addressing a limited part of the market segment. We’ve also been working with studios in Europe and we’ve been going back to Japan saying, ‘Okay, these are the hottest ones and we’ll bring these new IPs to market over the next five years’. That’s a pillar of our company, and we’re going to use it to double our business.” To achieve this, Bandai Namco has been busy developing long-term partnerships with a handful of key

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Pictured above: Bandai Namco’s European VP of marketing and digital Hervé Hoerdt

studios, creating “a broad ecosystem” with the potential for “several iterations,” Hoerdt explains. “This might be one or two games, or one title as a game-as-a-service, but also – and I think this is more important as an entertainment company – to put it beyond video games and look at it in 360-degrees,” he says. “This means things like comics, toys, plush, board games, movies, series and so on. We’ve already been talking to Hollywood studios at E3 for some IPs, so this is the kind of vision we have.” Bandai Namco is still being cautious about how it develops its European portfolio though, as Hoerdt says it’s very much looking for quality over quantity. Indeed, the publisher is aiming for just three to five narrative adventure IPs like Little Nightmares over the next five years. “You can’t market ten IPs,” Hoerdt laughs. “Usually, when you run a new IP, you’re not making any profit. Most barely break even, so you create a new universe and then it becomes understood and starts making a profit, allowing you to reinvest in that content. You also can’t do one-shots if you want to take a 360-degree approach. “Our competitors are now doing fewer, bigger titles, which I understand from a PR perspective, but from a consumer perspective, video games have to be diverse, so we’ll be somewhere in the middle. Ideally, we’d have two or three big titles in various ranges and genres appealing

to various audiences in our top tier, and then in tier two, you can have three to five Little Nightmares-type games, for instance. In this portfolio content strategy, we want to bring a cluster of IPs that work well together, so Little Nightmares is there, Get Even is there, and the one we’re working on with Dontnod sits in another direction.” Of course, this isn’t the first time a Japanese publisher has branched out to court western developers, and Hoerdt points to the efforts of Square Enix as a source of inspiration. “We’ve been a Japanese company, there’s no doubt about that,” he says. “But the shift we want to make is to move from a Japanese-centric company to a more global company with a Japanese DNA. I think Square Enix, for example, has actually done this quite well through its mergers and acquisitions, and as a competitor, I kind of admire the way they’ve balanced their portfolio. If we could achieve something in that direction, with our own DNA, I’d say we’d sit somewhere between Nintendo and Disney. We’re really proud and excited to work on this as a company.” EVERY LITTLE HELPS Hoerdt has reason to be excited, too, as April’s release of Little Nightmares was the first sign that its European strategy was starting to bear fruit. It’s been such a hit, in

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fact, that Hoerdt predicts it might even be considered a ‘top tier’ title one day if the game continues to grow at its current pace. “Recently, we reached the milestone of half a million units for Little Nightmares, which is good,” Hoerdt enthuses. “If you compare it to our benchmark, EA’s Unravel, they had a different strategy where they went for the digital-only road, whereas because we have this unique strength to have all territories everywhere, we went for the digital plus boxed road. If we look at digitalonly sales, we are below Unravel, but if you combine this with the boxed sales at retail, we are far above, so that’s part of the success. “Another part of its success is the fan feedback that we’ve received, and the user-generated content, such as the papercraft and the community activities. It’s only the start of it. So, yes, Little Nightmares is obviously one of the franchises we discussed with our Hollywood partners, so in that sense, it’s been successful. From a purely financial view, I don’t think we made a super amount of money, but in the end, we have half a million fans as of today, and it will definitely go above one million as we manage the life cycle. Think about it – one million people are happily entertained – that’s our reason to be.” Tarsier Studios’ upcoming programme of DLC for Little Nightmares, the second chapter of which is due for release imminently, should certainly help in this respect. But Hoerdt points out there’s still more work to be done when it comes to raising the game’s profile overseas. “Little Nightmares and the rest of our European portfolio are definitely more popular in Europe, but still, it’s a good start,” he says. “To enter those markets, you either have to have a big IP like Call of Duty, or you need to start from scratch like we’ve been doing. Our Japanese colleagues were very happy with Project CARS, Get Even and specifically Little Nightmares. “For instance, Little Nightmares has sold over 20,000 units in Japan, more than 10,000 units of Project CARS, and they’re really interested in the new IPs we presented to them at the end of July that I can’t talk about yet.” Of course, not all of Bandai Namco’s European titles have seen the same success as Little Nightmares. Get Even, for instance, failed to generate the same kind of response, and Hoerdt admits it was “difficult in many respects.” “First of all, we decided to postpone the game because of the [Manchester bombing] in the UK,” he explains. “I don’t know how much that impacted the sales, but it’s true we had a campaign targeted around May 23rd and we had to postpone everything last minute. We thought that, as much as we’re here to entertain, it wasn’t the right

moment to bring this game to market, so this may have affected some of the sales. “I cannot say the sales are super exciting,” he continues. “But I can’t say they’re a big disappointment either. It sits somewhere in the middle. Farm 51 did a huge job, so they deserve that we do our best, and we did do our best, but overall it was average – average, but in exceptional circumstances. “Again, we want to do more and reward the studio that has made such a brave choice. It’s easy to enter the market with something that has a recipe that’s easy to sell, but I think our obligation is beyond that – it’s about bringing added value. In that sense, Get Even is really unique.” GIVING THE NOD Speaking more specifically about its partnership with Dontnod, Hoerdt tells us the studio is very much one of the “rising stars” of the industry. “Dontnod was a kind of rough diamond,” he says. “With the success of Life is Strange, it’s the first big player in terms of its quality, business model and vision, and we think it’s a good strategy that fits. It was the right moment, so we decided to partner with them.” Indeed, Hoerdt sees no reason why the partnership couldn’t lead to further collaboration between the two companies in the future if the relationship proves productive. “When you’re building a new franchise, a new partnership usually takes around two years, even thirty months, to go to market,” he says. “We’ve been working with Dontnod on this project for around 12-18 months, but it takes time. We’ll focus on this and do everything we can to make it successful, and if it is successful, I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t generate a wider partnership. It’s far too early to foresee, but I would love to. For me, it’s a really good studio.” We’ll have to wait until next year before we find out more details about the game – including its name, platforms and release date – but Hoerdt was keen to elaborate on the importance of its US setting. “In order to establish a new brand with a western audience, we think locating the game in a fictional place in the US helps to win over the US partners. Part of this choice comes from having this global, worldwide audience in mind. “We’re still working on things like story and the characters, but with a studio like Dontnod, you can expect triple-A quality,” he continues. “You can expect very emotional experiences and this is what we’re looking for, with some kind of investigation and going deep into the psychology of the characters, and giving emotion to the player. This is what we’re aiming for with this partnership.”

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“We’ve been targeting the same audience for years, so we want to double the size of our business, and we’re going to do it through more platforms, more localisation and more IPs.”

CONTINENTAL DRIFT With its eyes set firmly on the west, Bandai Namco looks to be well on its way to achieving its goal of global diversification. While some of its European titles have proven more popular than others over the past six months, partnering with up and coming studios like Dontnod shows there’s still plenty more to come – especially if its new game can replicate even a fraction of the success of its three million sales smash, Life is Strange. What’s more, it will be Bandai Namco’s European division leading the charge, as Hoerdt concludes our chat by telling us that Bandai Namco Europe now sits at the heart of the company’s future business plans. “I see more opportunities than ever,” he says. “We are building Bandai Namco Europe as the lead company in the group when it comes to creative innovation. Two years ago, we started an innovation process with a small team of around 15 people, and we will extend this to all employees very soon, where we can talk about business opportunities beyond video games. “We’re in the entertainment business – we’re even contemplating pet entertainment, as crazy as it seems – so there are many projects in the pipeline. If tomorrow there are 200 million coffee machines that are able to provide an experience, we’ll go for that. “We see untapped markets everywhere, and even from the simplest business perspective, you want to find something new. We have the legacy, the creativity and the DNA to achieve that.”

Pictured above: Little Nightmares sold 500k units and “will definitely go above one million as [Bandai Namco] manages the life cycle,” Hoerdt says

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WELCOME TO...

Will Overwatch’s newest map become a full blown reality one day? Seth Barton talks to Activision Blizzard’s Tim Kilpin about the almost limitless opportunities to build franchises around the publisher’s biggest titles

L

ast week was Activision Blizzard’s biggest of the year. Its annual Call of Duty behemoth was launched at retail to strong sales figures, while BlizzCon gathered tens of thousands of the company’s most faithful fans together. One big announcement was for a Disneyland-esque Overwatch map, celebrating the company’s biggest titles in a virtual themepark: BlizzardWorld. It may be little more than a coincidence, but only a few weeks beforehand we sat down with Tim Kilpin, an ex-Disney executive, who is now president and CEO of Activision Blizzard’s new consumer products group. We discussed the unique strengths that gaming franchises have over their non-gaming competition and the new division’s ambitious plans for some of the most revered names in gaming today, including the Call of Duty movie and Overwatch’s esports expansion.

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FRANCHISES ASSEMBLE! Of course, Activision and Blizzard have long extended their brands beyond the games themselves, into merchandise for instance, but the companies felt a more integrated approach was needed to get the best from these IPs. “What we’re building now is not game title, game title, game title,” explains Kilpin, gesticulating a series of boxes. “We’re truly starting to think about these as franchises and recognise that [they] have the potential to reach across a multiplicity of platforms. “It’s working in gaming, of course, but it can also work in linear content, so we set up a studio to do that,” Kilpin says, referring to Activision Blizzard Studios, which is producing Skylanders Academy and the upcoming Call of Duty movies. “It can also work more strongly than it’s worked in consumer products,” Kilpin continues. “Our challenge to

some degree has been a disjointed approach across the divisions, it was buried in each of the divisions up to that point, it was a little bit ancillary.” The new division will function across Activision, Blizzard and King as well. “We wanted to level it up, pull it up into a division of its own, which gave it visibility internally, gave it visibility with our licensing partners and also with retailers.”

Pictured above: Activision Blizzard just unveiled a new Overwatch map called BlizzardWorld, featuring the firm’s biggest IPs in a virtual themepark

THE GAMING EDGE That visibility allows the division to better explain the potential strength of its franchises. Kilpin has been talking to partners at BLE, telling them “we’re a platform and a portfolio, these franchises exist across multiple platforms. So it’s not just the game as a driver, but it’s linear content as a way to expand the audience and expand the opportunity. And then esports [too], because

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LESS IS MORE This big brand, franchise approach, looks to be a great fit with Activision’s shift to a smaller number of tentpole titles, rather than targeting numerous genre staples. “We’re prioritising strategically, stepping back and saying Call of Duty has a specific kind of player, and so we want to maximise the opportunity with that audience, through the game, through linear media, through esports,” Kilpin says agreeably. “Same thing with Overwatch. It has a different set of characteristics, the affinity for the characters themselves in that game is very strong, it’s to some degree a different audience, so we bring that in, and then we bring the opportunity for new content, for new storytelling. We’ve had over a quarter of a billion views of our short-form story-telling on Overwatch, so people are engaging with the world. “The other thing I’m excited about is that there’s more planning going into that process, so there’s more thought about how these characters enter the universe. They can enter through gameplay, they can enter through storytelling, they can enter through merchandising. When we bring in the new [Overwatch] Junkertown Map, for example, there’s a level of coordination across all these elements that adds up cumulatively to a richer engagement. And that to us is new territory, and that’s where we think we can play and compete very effectively with the more traditional types of franchises.”

Pictured above: Tim Kilpin, president and CEO of Activision Blizzard’s new consumer products group

pull all that together and you’re talking about franchises that are frankly like no other.” Activision’s ambition then is nothing less than a big console game, attached to a Marvel-style cinematic universe, which also doubles up as the NBA: “We call it ‘the franchises of the future’ because we actually believe that’s a fair way to describe it,” Kilpin says. “Because of the way our audience has evolved digitally, and the level of engagement with these franchises, now they’ll play the game for hours upon hours upon hours and go back into it for the seasonal content, downloadable content, microtransactions. They are living inside that ecosystem for years, and just today Overwatch players are playing an average of two hours a day.” That’s the equivalent of watching a franchise movie everyday, and even with 17 movies in the ‘Marvel cinematic universe’ that would still get tired pretty quickly.

POPCORN TIME One of the most traditional starts for a big franchise is the blockbuster movie. But now it’s Activision that’s making the movie too. Films based on games don’t have the best reputation, so does the movie risk damaging Call of Duty’s wider reputation? “Anytime you take a franchise as storied as this, with this kind of legacy, and expand it into a new form factor you have to be really careful, you’re absolutely right,” agrees Kilpin. “So frankly, if the script and the story isn’t right we won’t do it, it’s not one of those situations where someone is saying ‘I don’t care, just get it made’. That’s not what’s happening. We do think that if it’s done well it has the opportunity to expand the base audience beyond the traditional foundation that the game appeals to.” Of course, expanding the audience of arguably the biggest gaming franchise on the planet is no small task: “As an M-rated game it’s a core audience and we do think there’s an opportunity to reach a little more broadly than that, if the storytelling is done well. That’s the key.” Looking to this year’s highly-successful outing, we wonder if the historical setting means that commercial activity around the game, such as merchandise, has be dealt with more sensitively.

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“We ended up putting together a programme around Call of Duty that is more thoughtful, more curated, to celebrate what the title is about, and there is some apparel that goes along with that, and we’ll do some accessories but it’s relatively limited,” Kilpin says. “We’re doing a really nice strategy guide with Prima that’s not just a guide itself, it’s a footlocker that has some other collectibles with it. It honours what we’re trying to do with WWII without being overly crass about it.” So while this year is somewhat limited by its subject matter, Kilpin feels there’s plenty of space to grow over the next couple of years. “There’s a lot on the horizon that we’re excited about in terms of the new storytelling, the new titles, and the live action feature film in 2019. We think there’s a lot more opportunity to expand what we’re doing. This year, we’re being thoughtful and curative. The next couple of years beyond this will really be opportunities for us to expand.” Coming back to films, we wonder if an Overwatch movie is a possibility. The franchise is still growing obviously, but the strength of the game’s characters and style makes it a mouth-watering possibility. Kilpin smiles and only says: “We would like that very much.” OVERPOWERED But Overwatch has other ambitions for now. Barely a day goes by recently without a new announcement concerning the upcoming Overwatch World League. The league is Blizzard’s brave top-down attempt to create a highly organised, franchised esport in the mould of today’s NBA or NFL. A far cry from the more typical organic, grassroots model that most take.

That level of organisation gives the publisher many advantages, compared to most esports outfits. “It’s an ecosystem,” Kilpin says. “We’re creating the events, obviously we created the game, we’re creating the sponsorship opportunities, creating the media opportunities, streaming the games, telling stories about the characters and then we’re merchandising around it. So when you connect all those dots, you can keep someone who’s a fan in that ecosystem all the way through the process, and that’s exciting.” That effectively means that Activision is acting as apparel-provider, Nike or Puma for example, to all twelve teams in the fledgling league. “We’re creating all the products that will support this, particularly at launch, which as you might expect are the traditional kinds of things. We’re going to outfit the players, then we’re going to outfit the fans with some similar things, hats, tees, jerseys, etc. At the outset, we’ll make that stuff available ourselves and sell it through our online store, make it available in the arena. We believe over time that we’ll start to bring more licensees into that. Activision isn’t just in control of the team’s real-world apparel though, it’s also outfitting the teams in the game, to tie in with their franchise colours. “When the Shanghai Dragons and the Dallas Fuel face off, not only will the teams be in their home and away looks, but the characters in the game will reflect that. It opens up this whole new opportunity, particularly as people build affinity with those teams.” ACTIVISION ACTIVATION Browsing to the Overwatch YouTube channel while writing this article, the video pinned to autoplay at the top of the

Pictured below: The company’s lineup of products for this year’s game has been sensitively curated to the seriousness of the subject matter

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Pictured above: Candy Crush ice cream from UK brand Rossi was available to try at Activision’s BLE stand and MCV can report that all three flavours are delicious

page isn’t about a new game feature, an update or even the near-endless announcements for Overwatch’s World League, instead it’s an advert for a new 12in statuette of the popular Genji character, which costs $150 dollars direct from Blizzard. The video has 185,000 views to date. It’s the kind of joined-up thinking that Activision Blizzard, and many other companies, need to show if they’re to make the most of their franchises, and Kilpin agrees. “We have a gear store that’s active today and we’re about to launch a version of that in Europe. There is a link to move from Battle.net today to that, though I’d say it’s not yet optimised, there’s a recognition on all our parts that it’s good to keep those consumers in the ecosystem if you can. So what you’ll see is us getting more direct about that, so you’re not just shopping for digital merchandise, you’re shopping for physical merchandise as well.” The possibilities are pretty clear. For example Blizzard knows which character a given player is keen on at any given time, and it should be able to target them with appropriate products to match.

“Yes, we’re not there yet, but strategically that’s part of the plan.The consumer is very comfortable living in that digital ecosystem and staying in that ecosystem, so we want to serve up the opportunity to that consumer. We have some work to do, but we’re on our way.” However, Activision is drawing the line at making players earn the right to buy certain items in-game before offering them in the store, as mobile titles have experimented with. “We’ve talked about that, but our point of view is that the people creating the game want to create the best possible game experience, they are wary, and so are we frankly, of creating that barrier. If someone wants to go and get the T-shirt, mug or figurine, you don’t really want to put a hurdle in the way. We haven’t found a solution to that which is elegant and fan friendly.” No sign yet of a Blizzard theme park then, but the ex-Disney man certainly isn’t excluding anything in his efforts to build the company’s games into world-beating franchises and with an enviable mix of engagement, characters, storytelling and esports, it looks like he’s got something potentially very special.

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EA talks

EU Seth Barton catches up with EA’s Shaun Campbell at the Houses of Parliament to talk about the wider issues challenging the UK games industry

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kie’s biennial Westminster Games Day is a great opportunity for the industry to join forces and make sure our parliamentarians are aware of the importance of the industry and the issues it’s facing. While there, we took the opportunity to have a quick chat with Shaun Campbell, EA’s country manager for UK and Ireland, about the issues of the day: Brexit, Bazalgette and loot crates. Have you started planning for the most likely Brexit outcomes? We started working on and thinking about Brexit before the vote. Similar to a lot of publishers, our physical goods are manufactured in Europe – Sony, Technicolour, pretty much all the big manufacturers are Europe-based. So you have to start getting your head around what the worst case scenario looks like if we end up with customs barriers back in place. We keep on reminding ourselves that it’s not new to us, we [already] export into the Middle East and Turkey and even into Russia, we have the mechanisms in place. All of those are distributed out of Europe. You have to start thinking of the impact in terms of shipping physical goods, but it’s obviously much bigger than that. You’ll just be able to drive them over the Irish border from what I hear? We’ll see where that ends up! But it is much bigger than that, there’s work happening on the data protection side and that comes into play next year in May. But then what happens when the UK leaves? Then we’ll have data we have to think about both from a UK and from a European perspective. Then we have a number of people working out of our Guildford office who are EU nationals, so what does that mean for them? We’re continuing to try and attract talent, and Criterion Studios are a good case in point, they have a number of people who are EU nationals and for them to continue to try and attract talent, what does that look like? For the bigger companies, with bigger resources, we certainly have the ability to do some of that work ourselves, while Ukie is really important in representing the voice of the industry. We’ve all very much aligned behind the position that Ukie is talking about: how we make sure we have access to the best possible people, what does it mean from a data perspective, what does the customs thing look like? They’re certainly all the things we need to work through, but from our perspective it hasn’t been a case of sitting on our hands and waiting until 2019. You have to be proactive.

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How are EA’s operations structured across Europe at present? Our two main operations offices for the whole of Europe are Geneva and Guildford. In Guildford, beyond the UK publishing business that I run, and Criterion and Ghost Studios, we have a number of people who work across operations, IT, HR, business affairs, legal and all those areas service not just our European business but our international business. The rest of that, call it the ‘international base’, are in Geneva. So it’s across those two businesses that we manage it. Particularly on the operations side, there’s a big group of people based in the UK office that manage operations for the whole of Europe. Where does the revenue go when European consumers buy digital product? We work closely, and are in regular discussions with HMRC, with tax authorities here, in Switzerland and in all the countries to ensure that we’re compliant with the tax provisions. We’re managing it in a way that we believe is fair and compliant. But leaving the EU would then require some changes? Yes. I think there are those challenges, in how we manage the business and structure the business. As with every company that is international, we’re going to have to come up with solutions, depending on what [Brexit] looks like. Coming back to the UK, we recently received the Bazalgette Report, are you happy with what this government is doing for the industry? I think the recommendations in the Bazalgette report were really positive, and the recommendation is for more investment in this industry, and you can see, from a relatively small cross-section at today’s event, the creative and commercial power of the industry. Commensurate to other industries I think there’s a huge opportunity to develop the games industry, but this is not about saying ‘stop funding them and start funding us’. It’s tough for government to make the right decisions, but I think we’ve shown that investing in technology is a good idea, in terms of what it can deliver. And that’s not just within this industry but also the flow-on effect from here into a whole bunch of other sectors, such as VR, which have huge applications more broadly.

Have the moral crusades from parliament against games finally come to an end? I understand the concerns that people have when you look within video games. There are ratings in place and it’s important that they are followed, and that everyone is compliant with them to ensure the right age groups are playing the right games. I understand that people have concerns, and we must be responsible in terms of how we approach these things. But it’s not just about that, it’s a question of balance. Again, our position is that playing games should just be one part of what kids do when they are growing up. We love that we have lots of people playing FIFA, but we also want them to be playing football out in the park. We also know there are lots of studies that talk about how playing video games can actually help, in terms of developing reasoning, decision making skills, motor skills. I think that while we haven’t seen any for a couple of years, we can’t be complacent, we need to make sure that we continue to do the right thing in terms of how we think about games, how we make sure the ratings are followed, pushing the message about balance, and all the great things about the industry, helping people develop skills and get jobs.

Picture above: Shaun Campbell, EA’s country manager for UK and Ireland

Finally, a little off topic, but loot crates have come in for a lot of stick lately, what are your thoughts? We’re very much aligned with Ukie’s statement that Jo [Twist] made on behalf of the industry. I think there are key differences. It’s a financial transaction where you get content every time and the key is whether you can trade that in for cash, and in the game environment you can’t. DICE has responded directly to some of the questions raised by players in Battlefront 2, clarifying what it is, and it’s not about giving players an easy leg up.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity to develop the games industry, but this is not about saying ‘stop funding them and start funding us’. I think we’ve shown that investing in technology is a good idea.”

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GIFT BOX

Is the Xbox One X just what the industry ordered? Seth Barton reports

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Pictured left: Xbox set a new world record for the ‘World’s Largest Unboxing’ at a launch event for the Xbox One X in Germany

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’ve spent the last week or so living with the Xbox One X and it’s an utterly brilliant piece of engineering that Microsoft should be hugely proud of. I’ll get round to some more outright adoration of this mini-monolith later, instead looking at the wider impact of the new Xbox. Console generations have long brought us refined designs – but usually slimmer, cheaper and shorn of unwanted features. I remember being particularly scornful of the Mega Drive 2 almost 25 years ago, for instance, when removing the headphone port was about as radical as it got. However, these new mid-generation upgrades are a completely different beast – one made possible as much by the flexibility of modern development platforms as by advances in silicon. Last year’s PS4 Pro, despite having come along first, simply wasn’t as needed by Sony as this new, more powerful, Xbox is by Microsoft. That said, I don’t want to be drawn into a reductive argument of one box versus the other. Instead, let’s take a look at what Microsoft specifically is trying to achieve with this generation-lengthening hardware, how I think that will play out for the company and what impact it will have on the broader industry.

ONE POINT FIVE? So why release a new console apparently halfway through the current generation and how does such a new device help increase revenue for Microsoft? Most immediately, it will improve the margins on hardware sales. Its relatively high £450 price means the immensely powerful Xbox One X probably isn’t being sold at a loss, though Phil Spencer refused to be drawn on whether it was making any profit, saying to Business Insider: “In aggregate, you should think about the hardware part of the console business [as] not the money-making part of the business.” It will however “mitigate the fall in Xbox One S hardware average sales price,” said Piers Harding-Rolls at IHS Markit. Something that’s been very apparent at retail of late, with some keenly priced Xbox One S bundles helping sales. Of course, the One X will be making money for retailers, and at a considerably better margin than the One S, we’re led to believe. Those retailers are delighted to have high-end hardware on both sides of the divide to upsell to potential customers – if they can get stock of the new devices of course. With the console’s initial allocation having sold out, and consumers now having to potentially wait weeks for the new console, it looks like Microsoft has a sales success on its hands and that can also create problems. IHS Markit has upgraded the firm’s 2017 forecast from 500,000 to 900,000 units in response, with the biggest impact being in the US and UK markets – where Xbox has always been strongest. The Xbox One’s high-end specification means Microsoft might struggle to manufacture those numbers, as Xbox’s Albert Penello told us earlier in the year: “Yield is an issue as we’re pushing the envelope

when it comes to clock speed, and computing units on the chip. [Yield] is better than a typical new console launch, though.” And it will need to be, as Microsoft stated that the Xbox One X was ahead of the original Xbox One in terms of pre-orders. Sony’s Jim Ryan has stated that its PS4 Pro makes up around a fifth of all PS4s sold. I’d expect Microsoft to surpass that figure for two reasons. On the positive side, as Penello told MCV: “Xbox gamers have always gravitated towards high-end – when we did the Elite Controller it exceeded our expectations. Xbox people tend to like tech, they tend to like gadgets.” Then there’s the original Xbox One’s technical limitations compared to its main rival, which means there’s a bigger and clearer gap between One and One X, than there is between PS4 and Pro. With the PS4 Pro model to base predictions on, and with a strong initial response, we can be confident that the One X will be a boon for retailers. Publishers should also see an uplift in their Xbox sales figures over the coming months as owners look to make the most of their new devices. And all that shiny new hardware in homes should also work for Microsoft’s long-term strategy. WE GOT A LIVE ONE! While the One X is an exciting piece of kit, hardware remains a means-to-an-end for Microsoft – as it always has to a degree – to increase consumer engagement both in gaming and across its services. As CEO Satya Nadella said in the company’s recent earnings call: “We will continue to connect our gaming assets across PC, console and mobile, and work to grow and engage the more than 53 million Xbox Live member network more deeply and frequently.” Growth of Xbox Live subscribers was already at 13 per cent in Q2, and the new hardware should bring yet more subscribers, largely by tempting back lapsed Xbox users. Now the hardware is launched, one immediate indicator of success the industry can track is whether we see a significant swing to Xbox in terms of the split of multiplatform sales or, better still, an outright rise in overall games sales thanks to the invigorating effect of the new hardware. Though the latter will be far harder to attribute to the new device, unless Microsoft speaks out to publishers on the relative digital sales performance of different hardware. Harding-Rolls commented: “A small share of PS4 Pro gamers that are keen to have the most powerful hardware for playing third-party published games are likely to shift their usage across to the new console, which may moderately shift the sales share of games between the two competing platforms.” Another market segment that will be interested are hardware fetishists, those with high-end 4K TVs who are always looking for the best possible kit to hook up. They may have already bought a PS4 Pro, but the installed base of 4K TVs has grown considerably last year, as the major manufacturers have moved almost entirely away from 1080p screens in the current cycle. By upgrading to 4K, consoles are better placed to compete with other media formats too. While the industry sees it hardest-fought

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Pictured above: IHS Markit’s director of research and analysis games, Piers Harding-Rolls

Pictured below, from left to right: Xbox’s Albert Penello, Harvey Eagle, Phil Spencer and Aaron Greenberg

battles internally, it also has external foes, battling with the likes of Netflix for the attention span of its users, especially the increasing numbers of older, time-poor, cash-rich gamers. Having Netflix shows in 4K and HDR – but not Xbox games – wasn’t a great look for a hightech industry, but that’s now fixed. From Microsoft’s point of view, the Xbox One X’s success will undoubtedly be measured in increased engagement with games-as-a-service and greater uptake of subscription services, such as Live and Game Pass. Though it will be some time before we see that play out in the company’s results. NEXT GENERATION Development could be the one area where the new hardware isn’t quite so welcome. While the biggest and best-funded studios will be happy to flex their highend PC assets on the new box (see opposite), smaller developers might balk at having yet another hardware specification to target. Presuming the assets are high-quality enough, and with modern development tools, the increase in detail and resolution shouldn’t be a big problem for most. However, we’re already seeing that getting the best from HDR lighting is a trickier challenge, both for new games and updated titles. Speaking of which, Microsoft looks to be keeping to its promise of wide support, just. Aaron Greenberg told MCV back at Gamescom that “we’re close to 120 today and who knows what that list will look like by launch.” It looks to be just sneaking over that line, with 50 titles enhanced for launch and 70 coming shortly. The degree of enhancements varies, again it’s HDR that’s the sticking point, but many titles should see renewed interest thanks to their graphical updates – another boon for publishers.

BOXING DAY I promised a little bit more praise for the One X to add to the chorus already out there. Physically it’s the best console ever, incredibly small yet not too loud, even when working flat out. Plus it has power and eject controls that actually work when I press them. Onscreen, it’s a revelation with properly optimised titles, such as Gears of War 4 and Forza Motorsport 7, looking simply sublime – presuming you have a 4K HDR TV. It’s good enough to qualify as a next-generation device in my eyes, though there are clear business reasons of continuity to maintain the current generation and promote compatibility for both software and accessories. It seems unlikely that we’ll ever again see an Xbox that is truly a next-generation device in the traditional sense of a ‘year zero’ line in the sand, but that’s a far bigger discussion for the future. Hardware alone rarely wins console wars, but it can certainly lose them. The original Xbox One was less powerful than its Sony counterpart and the marketing message was a mess – and that’s hopefully the last time we’ll ever have to mention that. The new Xbox One X is exactly what the industry wants from its hardware: powerful, sleek and entirely focused on gaming (at least when it comes to the core marketing message). It’s everything the original Xbox One should have been, and that’s a good thing for everyone. However, with its talk concentrated on engagement and services, Microsoft itself is tacitly acknowledging that hardware launches like this aren’t the big turning points they used to be, and they might never be again. The Xbox One X then is Microsoft’s best ever console, a near-perfect device launched with precision timing for 4K TVs. But these days it’s going to take a lot more than that to put Xbox back on top.

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A PC IN CONSOLE CLOTHING? smaller form factors, reducing the need to have a hulking box in your lounge. But despite all that, Valve’s Steam Machines and its mini-PC brethren have failed to gain traction in consumer’s living rooms. That was partly due to immersive, competitive and communitycentred nature of many PC games, which doesn’t gel well with a display that others might want to watch Bake Off on come 8pm. But it’s that kind of lengthy player engagement that Microsoft wants from its Xbox players, so it’s made sure it’s natively supporting common monitor resolutions, such 2,560x1,440 on the new box. So if you want to take it off to another room and pop it down beside your gaming monitor, it will look great onscreen and you won’t be disturbed. It was also partly because core PC titles are designed to be played with mouse and keyboard, a problem that Valve’s Steam Controller failed to solve successfully and prevents competitive play at the highest level on a console. Ever since the original Xbox, Microsoft has adamantly stayed away from allowing a keyboard and mouse to be used with its console, presumably for fear of muddying the waters between its ‘cool’ console brand and the work-like perceptions of Microsoft itself. However, with ‘desktop’ gamers on PC being highly-engaged and the growth of esports, Microsoft is finally supporting the control setup on Xbox One. Last month we asked Harvey Eagle, head of Xbox for UK and Ireland, why it was providing support now: “Keyboard and mouse is one of the most requested features. It’s definitely coming, but you have to be smart in giving gamers the insurance that there will be fairness of play between those on a controller and those on a mouse and keyboard. Ultimately that comes down to the developer, to make that balance work.”

After years of making sure that no one mistook the Xbox for a PC, Microsoft is finally coming around to the idea that a little gaming PC DNA in no bad thing FOR many years after 2002’s Windows XP Media Center Edition, the goal of getting Windows closer to the family TV was long cherished by Microsoft. It was undoubtedly part of what motivated the company to create the first Xbox, and then arguably a part of why the Xbox One struggled at launch – weighed down by a lot of talk about its additional TV capabilities. But what if instead of trying to put the PC under the TV in the guise of a games console, Microsoft switched directions and tried putting the console under the PC monitor? The gaming PC’s ongoing success is something of an outlier when it comes to technology trends. While the general-purpose desktop PC hasn’t quite become extinct in consumer’s homes, it’s certainly been largely replaced by mobile phones, tablets and laptops. However, its gaming-focused desktop brethren have flourished in recent times, sitting at the core of boom areas such as esports and live streaming. CAT AND MOUSE So, what’s the big deal you’re thinking? Console games and PC games have had increasing crossover for many years now. Long-gone are the days when you couldn’t play a decent version of Street Fighter on a PC, or find a decent RTS on a console. And PCs now come in

A NEW BATTLEGROUND And that developer is undoubtedly Brendan Greene, with exclusive title PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds looking to be the test case for this more PC-like Xbox experience. “We want the ability for both platforms to play against each other,” he told MCV. “We love that idea, but we have to do it in a fair way, we’re maybe looking at keyboard and mouse versus keyboard and mouse, or controller vs controller. We don’t know yet, we’re still discussing it, we’re talking to Microsoft, we’d like to do it but we need to find the fairest way to do it.” So while the battle to put a PC in the living room has been largely superseded by streaming services and more capable games consoles, the crossover of PC and console is seeing a new twist, with Microsoft taking its knowledge of creating a great desktop gaming device and letting the Xbox get in on the action, at long last.

While the battle to put a PC in the living room has been largely superseded by streaming services and more capable games consoles, the crossover of PC and console is seeing a new twist.

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Saving the

JRPG The Japanese market is shrinking, according to the presidents of NIS America and Nihon Falcom, so what can developers do to ensure the future of their business? Katharine Byrne reports

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Pictured opposite, from left to right: Nihon Falcom’s Toshihiro Kondo and NIS America’s Takuro Yamashita

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hen Nihon Falcom’s Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana ended Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s monthlong reign at the top of the Japanese charts back in May, president Toshihiro Kondo was both surprised and impressed by the title’s performance. According to Famitsu, the RPG sold over 30,000 copies in just four days, marking the first time the series had risen so high up the Japanese rankings. “We never expected to beat Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, so we were really happy,” Kondo tells MCV. “Usually, our Trails of Cold Steel series is the one to take the top spot, and Ys had never done that before, so this time we were really surprised and pleased. “We took a lot of chances with it and changed a lot of things compared to previous titles in the series. The user reaction has been very good and it’s definitely paid off on the sales side, as both versions of the game on PS4 and Vita met and exceeded what we were expecting.” When it came to bringing the title to the US and Europe, Nihon Falcom chose to work with NIS America instead of its usual publishing partner XSeed – and with good reason, too: “Actually, NIS America has approached us for several years now on various different titles, always with an enthusiastic proposal,” Kondo continues. “This time, of course, another enthusiastic proposal was received. However, within that, some of the key features were the French localisation – this was something that had never been proposed before – and the very detailed idea and plan for both marketing and for sales. This impressed us very much, so much so that we decided to go with NIS America this time.” Indeed, NIS America president and CEO Takuro Yamashita confirms that France is now the company’s “biggest market” in Europe, making its localisation a highly profitable venture. “To speak very honestly, the [pre-order] numbers for Ys VIII actually reached 2.5x more in France than the UK,” he explains. “However, I’m very much convinced that the UK will catch up as well over time as people learn about the game and see the reviews.” It’s not just Ys VIII that’s more popular in France, as NIS America saw the same thing happen in May with the Switch version of its own tactical RPG, Disgaea 5 Complete. The game hit 36,000 pre-orders in Europe, with France once again taking the biggest slice of the sales pie. As Yamashita told us at the time, it was the French localisation that sealed the deal. “To do translations into EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German and Spanish), we need to sell at least 10,000 units in

the language that it’s been localised into,” Yamashita reveals. “So if that’s French, you need to sell 10,000 French units, if it’s German, you need to sell 10,000 German units. “Only Square Enix really does that for its big titles. 15 years ago, when it was simply known as Square, they were the only ones willing to take a chance on the localisation of RPGs because of the volume of text. Obviously, because of that, the market was very small at the time. But with NIS America, we now want to take our larger titles like Ys and translate them into other languages.” NIS America’s publishing partnership with Nihon Falcom may well continue beyond the release of Ys VIII, too, as Kondo says he “would love to continue working with NIS America on a broader front globally going forward.” He himself admits that while “we as a company are very good at making games, we’re not very good at PR for ourselves,” making it “necessary” to have a partner like NIS America when promoting their titles overseas. Since the interview was conducted, issues have arisen with Ys VIII’s localisation. NIS America has recognised this, Yamashita apologised personally, and the company is working to fix the issue with a full review and revision of the translation, which should be available early next year. SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE Japanese developers are going to need all the help they can get publishing their games overseas, according to Kondo and Yamashita, as both feel their home market is only going to get smaller over the coming years. “In the west, the market is definitely increasing,” says Yamashita. “With giants like Square Enix and games like Persona 5, Disgaea 5, and of course Ys VIII and the Trails of Cold Steel games, it’s only getting bigger on this side of the western market. “However, and I probably shouldn’t be the one saying this, but I do feel the Japanese market has become very insular, and going forward Japanese companies really need to look outward in order to grow. On the localisation side, English is obviously a must, and French as well. Ideally, EFIGS languages will do the best to help build up JRPGs again.” Kondo agrees: “The Japanese market is exactly as Mr Yamashita described. Right now, there’s an issue with the lack of growth within the Japanese market, and the situation is such that to grow the current sales numbers by 1.5x or 2x, for example, is a very difficult task. It’s not simply a matter of improving the quality of the games to make them better, either. Even with that, it’s still very difficult to meet that financial or numerical goal.”

“I feel the Japanese market has become very insular and Japanese companies really need to look outward in order to grow.”

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“There’s an issue with the lack of growth within the Japanese market, and the situation is such that to grow the current sales numbers by 1.5x or 2x is a very difficult task. It’s not simply a matter of improving the quality of the games. Even with that, it’s still very difficult to meet that financial or numerical goal.”

Pictured above: At launch, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana took Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s top spot in the Japanese charts

For Nihon Falcom, one solution has been to start selling physical PC versions of its games in China. “From there, it’s kind of spread throughout the rest of Asia, and that’s been a market for us for several years now,” Kondo explains. “At the moment, Asian sales reach about half of what happens in Japan for any given title. So, as a company, one of our focuses going forward is to, of course, continue cultivating this market that’s emerged for us in Asia, as well as continue to cultivate and grow the markets that are emerging in North America and Europe. “I feel that, in the future, it might become the case where foreign sales are 1:1 with Japan, and beyond that may even begin to exceed sales in Japan. So rather than have just a negative outlook on the Japanese market, Nihon Falcom wants to look forward and continue to find partners like NIS America to work with to continue to grow their brands, not only in Japan, but globally as well.” Yamashita is confident Kondo will be able to achieve this, too: “In Japan, Nihon Falcom’s titles are incredibly strong. Through the help of Sega, Atlus is perhaps thought of as No.2 after Square Enix in terms of the Japanese RPG market, but in Japan, Nihon Falcom is definitely the No.2 JRPG maker. “In contrast, if you look at NISA titles, for example, it’s usually 4:1 on the side of foreign sales compared to Japan. It’s a general tendency. So the fact that Falcom sells much

more in Japan shows there’s still a huge opportunity for Falcom in the west. Falcom is incredibly underrated in the west through a lack of knowledge from users, so our goal as NIS America and through our partnership with Falcom is to raise the awareness of their brands, so they easily come in right after Square Enix and to give them that global recognition that they deserve for their games.” SWITCHING TO DIGITAL That’s not to say NIS America isn’t looking after its own success, though. Despite having previously told MCV at Gamescom that it’s not a company that’s able to take a lot of risks, its bold decision to support the Nintendo Switch with Disgaea 5 Complete within months of the console’s launch has certainly paid off for the publisher. “Disgaea 5 originally came out on PS4 and then a year and a half later it came out on Switch and did very, very well,” says Yamashita. “Right now in the market, the PS Vita is obviously on its way out, but Switch is very strong. One thing in particular that makes it so strong is that it has that handheld function, so going forward as a company, we want to target PS4, Steam and Switch, because over the next two years, the Switch market is only going to grow and become stronger. “There’s definitely a feeling that Nintendo doesn’t want to lose to Sony. They’ve really changed their attitude, so

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I think the market will become very interesting going forward. We’ll continue to support the Vita digitally, but there’s a very strong chance the last physical title from us for it will be Ys VIII and Danganronpa V3.” The publisher’s digital sales have been particularly strong since the launch of its online store, Yamashita continues. “Generally speaking, digital is about 30 per cent of all sales revenue,” he says. “But, and this is just the American numbers, around 25 per cent of sales revenue comes from our online store. Therefore, the combined total revenue share of sales is 55 per cent when you add the online store and digital together.” In Japan, digital sales are growing but are less pronounced than they are in the west, as according to Kondo: “Japanese people still have a tendency to prefer physical goods.” As a result, he says, physical sales generally account “for more than 70 per cent of [Nihon Falcom’s] total sales.” Despite this, releasing games on digital platforms like Steam continues to be a major pillar of both company’s publishing strategies. “If a game has already been a success on console or handheld, it stands to reason that it’s going to be a success on Steam as well,” says Yamashita. “That’s because you’ve already formed a bond of trust with the user.”

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Pictured below: NIS America started supporting the Switch by releasing Disgaea 5 Complete a couple of months after the console’s launch

08/11/2017 16:35


Kondo agrees: “For the Japanese market, at least, the fact that the games are on Steam isn’t really a big thing because there’s not really a market yet on Steam in Japan. “However, I’m definitely aware that at least in North America, the percentage of people who play games on Steam and PC is very high. Originally, we would take our back catalogue from ten and twenty years ago and put them on Steam, but now it’s got to the point where we’re putting our new titles on Steam as well when they come out. Again, because of that really positive response we’ve had from the foreign market, especially in North America, it’s definitely changed our thinking and why we want to do more on Steam now. It’s only logical to continue to put more games on there.” As for Switch, Kondo is taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. “Traditionally, Nihon Falcom’s always been a PC developer that doesn’t really create games for the casual market, but for the really hardcore gamers. Where is that market today? The answer to that is PS4,” he says. “The Switch is very successful right now, but there’s still no positive guarantee that the fan base that would play Falcom games are on the Switch yet. It’s always been very important to look and see where our users are, so while we thought it was more than likely that many of our fans actually owned a 3DS, one of the trends of PC users is that they prefer gadgets and machines with a higher spec, which is obviously something that Sony was offering. So after a really careful consideration of both sides, we decided it was more likely that the people who wanted to play the types of games we made would want to play them on a PlayStation platform. “Things have been very strong for the Japanese handheld market recently, but even that market has shrunk drastically as well. Our strategy is to go forward on PS4, and then wait and see if fans want a handheld version.” Pictured below: Trails of Cold Steel is one of Nihon Falcom’s most popular franchises

A BIG SEA CHANGE One of the main forces behind Japan’s shrinking console market is, of course, the unstoppable rise of mobile.

“One thing you can point to, of course, is smartphones,” says Yamashita. “Obviously because of that, you can see the sales of consoles, and games on consoles, are much less than they were prior to the advent of smartphones as a gaming platform. “Interestingly, if you look at the financial situation for most people in Asia, they might not necessarily have a big disposal income, but they do purchase more PS4 units than in Japan. So it seems the Japanese as a market are going more for these easy to pick-up-and-play-type games rather than traditional style games.” For Kondo, however, there’s still a lot of merit in sticking to a slightly more old-fashioned way of making games: “Falcom has existed for 40 years now, and we’re called something of a traditional company,” he says. “But there’s a positive quality to tradition and to continue the quality of that tradition is important. The game industry as a whole has improved by having companies like Falcom carry on these traditions in JRPGs, because if you don’t maintain the quality of your games, no one is going to buy them.” It seems to be working, too, as this year alone we’ve seen critically-acclaimed titles such as Persona 5, Nier: Automata and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild all create a surge of new interest in Japanese games in the west, with each of them selling well over a million around the world just days after release. Kondo is confident this trend will continue as well. “The very core of the JRPG comes from Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy,” he says. “For 20 years, JRPGs continued in a very positive direction. But for the last ten years, there have been a lot of voices in Japan saying that these games aren’t as good as they used to be. “The situation has improved in the last five years with games like Persona, but having seen the games that have succeeded, it’s because the companies did only something they could do. You’ll notice that everyone else has faded into the periphery, so now you just have these developers who are very good at one particular thing that really shines through in the games that they make, and I think these creators are finally starting to recognise that. “Because of that, we’re right before something really great in terms of the revival of JRPGs. There’s still a lot of room for JRPGs to evolve, but I think we’re right before a big sea change, both in the quality of JRPGs and the reception of them. If you look carefully from the Nintendo Famicom days all the way up to the PS2 generation, you’ll see lots of really good, high quality, unique JRPGs, so the point is to go back to that again and revisit that, taking a stance that says ‘We’re going to make games that only we can make, just like we made in that time, and that could only have come from Japan.’ This will allow us to continue to fight on a global front and bring back JRPGs.”

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Untitled-1 1

10/23/2017 11:19:55 AM


MAKING

DADC is diversifying and has chosen a Brit to head up its latest division. Seth Barton talks to Chris Spearing about the company’s enviable reach

EUROPE H SIMPLE

ow much do you know about Sony DADC? Did you know that it stands for Digital Audio Disc Corporation? Or that its first work was on Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. in 1983, or that its distribution centre in Enfield was destroyed during the 2011 riots? Maybe not, but the chances are you do know that Sony DADC makes discs. Lots and lots of discs. Now unless you’ve been living in a cave since the 2011 riots, and who could blame you, then you’ll probably be aware that physical disc sales of games, movies and music don’t have a clear future. So DADC is expanding its business, starting with video game peripherals, and it’s got industry veteran Chris Spearing, previously at PDP and Logitech, among others, to

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head-up its new consumer sales division as vice president. We sit down for tea with him to have to talk about the company’s new direction and how it can offer pan-European services that other distributors simply can’t. Why has a disc manufacturer decided to expand into other areas? Sony DADC is a huge distributor that offers lots of services across Europe. It’s the disc replicator for PlayStation games, DVDs and music CDs, for which it provides packaging and logistics. They get shipped to retailers all over Europe, that’s the core business. But as you’re aware the physical disc business is a little more challenging these days, so what else can you do with all these physical distribution services? If you’re already shipping PlayStation games to large retailers then why not add other things in there as well, such as video game accessories? So the company is diversifying into new areas? I’m starting the new consumer sales division. It’s a startup within a large company, which is wonderful. I’m having huge support, everyone is excited about something new. There’s a lot of diversification conversations going on at the moment and this is the first one that’s real. I’ve turned up, I’m hiring people, and everyone is saying: ‘this is wonderful, what do we need to do, how can we help you?’. Dreamgear is the first company onboard, how did that deal happen? Dreamgear is a North American business, it’s a big player in the market there, and its new accessories brand, Bionik, is now coming to market for the first time globally. It’s transforming its business from what was Dreamgear packaged product into this more premium Bionik brand. I’ve seen the product, it looks high quality, and Switch is obviously a big opportunity for peripheral and accessories manufacturers... Switch is a great opportunity, and we’re working with PlayStation as well. We want to support Sony companies obviously, but we’re also carrying products for other consoles. We’re starting with Dreamgear as it didn’t have a big presence in Europe. It had taken some orders and products were going into market from its MyArcade brand, but that was it. We’ll start picking up some of that and with the new Data East license that’s getting quite serious now, retro is growing and becoming its own category. We’ll play a part in that. So you’re helping a US company crack the European market, rather than the other way around? It’s very, very difficult for a US company to say ‘we want to get into Europe.’ What do you do? There’s the UK, France, Germany, all big markets, you can go and hire some people and start it, but you’ve got to talk to a hell of a lot of distributors. They’ll always tell you they can do lots of things. Whether they’ll do it or not is another thing. Can you manage that from the US? No you can’t. It’s very, very complicated. Different cultures, different languages, different relationships. Business is all about relationships and you can’t do that if you’re on a different continent and time zone.

“We’ll start with a smaller product offering and grow fast. We are looking for other brands as well. We want a nice offering that fits together well.” So this is more than just logistics then? This is the first time Sony DADC is having a direct to retail sales team essentially, because all the sales of all the products that Sony DADC distributes are being sold by Sony Music, by EA, by numerous publishers. DADC has been doing all the heavy lifting in the background, but now we can really offer a end-to-end full solution. That’s pretty amazing, no one else can do that anyway, let alone pan-European. This is the difference. The potential is massive then? Yes, huge. I’m in a startup phase, I’m staffing up, we’re bringing these brands to market, and we’ve talked to huge retailers across Europe. And they have been very positive. Everything we had coming in for Christmas was pre-sold. How many countries are you starting out in? Our original plan was a UK and Spain launch, but we’ve got people from all the other countries around that want to buy now. We can’t do everything in one go, so we’re spreading the product a bit thinner, but we want to get into those markets as quickly as we can. Get established and grow out from there. We’ll start with a smaller product offering and grow fast. Starting with Dreamgear, we are looking for other brands as well. It doesn’t just have to be in the games accessories space. We don’t want conflicting brands, we want a nice offering that fits together well. We’re talking to some brands in the video game space, talking to some brands outside of that space as well, consumer electronics, collectible figures. If we’re shipping PlayStation games for publishers, or DVDs or music, into those retailers then what else can we ship? So what kind of deals are you looking to make? What I really want is pan-European, to take over representing those brands in Europe. That’s warehousing, logistics, sales, PR, the full package, all in one. That sets us apart from the local distributors in most cases, the fact that we are talking so broad across Europe. I was speaking to a large US brand, who asked: ‘With the business we’re doing in the US, what should be the split between US and Europe?’ I said they should be looking more at 50/50 though it takes time to build that. And their European business is significantly smaller than that, so they know they are under indexing. It’s those relationships, you can’t sit in the US and UK and say ‘we’re going to conquer France tomorrow’, it doesn’t work like that, you have to have local people who can do those deals. I want to make it easy for brands. We know that Europe is complicated, whether you’re in it or not, you just want to be successful. How do you do it? You can only talk to me.

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Can you tell us a bit more about UIG for those who are unfamiliar with your work? United Independent Entertainment (UIG) is a German-based distributor, publisher and developer founded in 2005. After a long time successfully publishing and developing PC games, we decided to start creating our own games for multiplatform release. For more than a year now we’ve been releasing games for console and PC and are happy to say that our new distribution strategy works out very well. UIG owns many successful brands like the internationally beloved Giant brand, most recently seen in Industry Giant 2, as well as Realms of Arkania, which is very well known since the 90s. We are also specialised in releasing simulator games to the worldwide market – Professional Farmer, or the Agricultural Simulator, sold more than 500,000 units just on PC alone. The key for us is to develop good quality games and release them for a fair price, on all platforms.

UIG

Beyond simulation Stefan Berger, head of business development at UIG, tells MCV about the state of the simulation genre, the company’s shift from PC to consoles and its distribution partnership with Austrian publisher Toplitz Productions

You’ve been focusing more and more on multiplatform releases – what was the thinking behind this shift in strategy? There are a lot of gamers around the world who are looking for new good content for various genres. We are aware that we are focusing on a niche market when developing our simulation games for consoles but there is still a market for those games. They are very family friendly, non-violent and offer good quality gameplay and graphics. The fair price point strategy, combined with the niche topics, sold very successfully. Now that we’ve gained experience in releasing games on console, we are planning to release games in other genres too. Would you say that PC games are still UIG’s main activity? We deliver on all platforms. PC is still part of our strategy but our focus lies for sure on the various console platforms. So I would say we still work on our solid PC business but are extending the console business every day. So in the next few months a lot of new console games will hit stores. How would you assess the current state of the simulation genre? This market is still a strong niche yet it offers a huge potential to us as a publisher to meet the growing expectations of the community. Simulator fans are very

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loyal and they are a very active community. If they like your games, they will stay with you and play as long as their expectations are satisfied. There are such a lot of different topics we are working on for sims on PC and console currently. So we offer new settings, topics and gameplay to our fans. But next to the standard simulation games we are more than proud to be the distributor for our new partner Toplitz Productions. They are working on an amazing and unique mix of driving simulation and life simulation with Farmer’s Dynasty (pictured left). It offers a totally new gaming experience. The player takes over the role of a young man who inherits a farm from his grandpa in a very poor shape. It’s his challenge to build it up, repair things, build up social connections to the neighbours, find a wife and start a family life and, of course, take care of the fields, animals and crops to earn money. An amazing concept, which offers more than any other simulation. Can you tell us a bit more about how this partnership with Toplitz came to be and what we can expect from it? Toplitz Productions is a new publisher based in Austria, in Irdning. It focuses on the creation of games with “heart and soul” and are working on some amazing products such as Farmer’s Dynasty and a family game called My little Riding Champion as well as an amazing simulation series called City Patrol, in which the player takes on the role of a police officer and has to banish crime from the city streets. High quality graphics and long-term fun promise a huge success for this brand as well. We are very proud to be their exclusive retail partner and are convinced that these unique products will do very well in worldwide retail stores.

“Professional Farmer, or the Agricultural Simulator, sold more than 500,000 units just on PC alone. The key for us is to develop good quality games and release them for a fair price, on all platforms.” What are your ambitions in the long run? We are enforcing our multiplatform strategy for PS4 and Xbox One and will start on games for Switch. There are a lot of new concepts coming up, which we are working on currently, and we are convinced about the success of our strategy. We will definitely focus on the simulation genre but plan to develop and publish different games and different genres. The key for us is to keep an attractive price point, which makes our brands and games unique in the console market.

Pictured below: Stefan Berger, head of business development at UIG

What are your expectations for Q4 and Christmas? Well, this is the first Christmas period in which we have a lot of console products out in stores, so it’s very exciting for us to see the products on the shelves of international retailers. In some territories we are placing our products directly into stores, in others we are working with very experienced partners like CentreSoft in the UK. This cooperation makes us certain that our products are placed perfectly and will be noticed by the target group. We expect a strong Q4 at retail and are convinced that our quality/price policy will work out very well worldwide.

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chartanalysis

Autumnal falls

FIFA 18 remained at No.1 in October, despite Assassin’s Creed and Mario’s impressive performances

D

espite the wealth of new titles hitting shelves this October, FIFA 18 held on to No.1 in the monthly physical charts. Overall sales for EA’s title were down 40 per cent month-on-month, but last-gen versions saw their sales increase: Switch’s units were up ten per cent, Xbox 360’s sales gained 12 per cent and PS3 saw a 25 per cent boost in sales. Debuting at No.2 is Middle-earth: Shadow of War, which landed in a similar position to its predecessor, 2014’s Shadow of Mordor. Physical Month One sales for the sequel were down 36 per cent compared to Shadow of Mordor, but the latter spent a full month on shelves before GfK closed its report in October 2014, against a couple of weeks only for Shadow of War.

Revenue for October is down 15 per cent, while unit sales have also decreased 15 per cent month-on-month. Sony’s Gran Turismo Sport debuted at No.3, to decent sales if you compare them to recent struggling racing titles, but still below previous entries in the franchise. Month One sales for GT Sport were down 24 per cent compared to Gran Turismo 6 and a whopping 57 per cent compared to 2010’s smash hit Gran Turismo 5. Meanwhile, Assassin’s Creed made an impressive comeback, landing at No.4 after only two days on shelves. Month One unit sales for Origins were only down one per cent compared to 2015’s Syndicate but revenue is higher due to its Gold and Gods editions. Super Mario Odyssey managed to achieve a similar performance, debuting at No.5 in the monthly charts after spending only two days on shelves and becoming the biggest ever launch for a Switch game. Sales for Nintendo’s Q4 flagship title were up ten per cent compared to March’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. GfK also pointed out in its weekly report that Odyssey is also “considerably bigger than any Wii U title’s debut, recording Nintendo’s sixth biggest launch ever.” Elsewhere, Ubisoft’s South Park: The Fractured But Whole entered the monthly charts at No.6 with sales down 40 per cent compared to 2014’s The Stick of Truth, while WWE 2K18 took No.7 with a 26 per cent decrease in sales compared to last year’s entry.

UK MONTHLY PHYSICAL CHART OCTOBER

Title

Format

Publisher

01 FIFA 18 PS4, XO, PS3, 360, NS 02 Middle-earth: Shadow of War NEW PS4, XO 03 Gran Turismo: Sport NEW PS4 04 Assassin’s Creed Origins NEW PS4, XO 05 Super Mario Odyssey NEW NS 06 SP: The Fractured But Whole NEW PS4, XO 07 WWE 2K18 NEW PS4, XO 08 Forza Motorsport 7 NEW XO 09 Destiny 2 PS4, XO, PC 10 Forza Horizon 3 XO

EA Warner Bros Sony Ubisoft Nintendo Ubisoft 2K Microsoft Activision Microsoft

Source: Ukie/GfK, Period: October 1st - October 28th

The last new entry in the Top Ten was Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 7. Its Month One sales were down 27 per cent compared to the previous instalment in the Forza franchise, Forza Horizon 3, which released in September 2016 and was still at No.10 last month. There were still five new entries outside of the Top Ten last month, with The Evil Within 2 debuting at No.13, The Lego Ninjago Movie Video Game taking No.17, the boxed release of Minecraft: Story Mode – Season 2 landing at No.42, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions charting at No.45, and Fire Emblem Warriors debuting at No.46. Despite the wealth of new releases, the market was down month-on-month, as September was boosted by FIFA 18’s incredible launch figures. Revenue for October is down 15 per cent, while unit sales have also decreased 15 per cent month-on-month. With Call of Duty: WWII having released strongly, it’s likely that November will look far brighter, and kickstart a good Christmas at retail.

Super Mario Odyssey was the biggest ever launch for a Switch game

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Untitled-1 1

10/23/2017 2:33:10 PM


biggamereleases

Release date:

14/11

L.A. Noire

Developer: Team Bondi • Publisher: Rockstar • Distributor: Exertis • Platform(s): PS4, XO, NS • Price: £34.99, £44.99 (NS)

L.A. Noire's "enhanced versions are a perfect opportunity to experience this richly detailed world in a whole new way."

The publisher says...

The press say...

How well will it do?

L.A. Noire is not only coming back to PS4 and Xbox One this November but also making the leap to VR on HTC Vive and landing on the Switch, making it the first title from Rockstar on a Nintendo platform since 2009's GTA: Chinatown Wars. Rockstar's founder Sam Houser said: "We’re excited to bring L.A. Noire’s unique mix of real detective work, classic Hollywood atmosphere and thrilling action to these new platforms. Now with a choice of spectacular virtual reality, stunning 4K, or the freedom of portable play, these enhanced versions are a perfect opportunity to experience this richly detailed world in a whole new way." n

L.A. Noire garnered very good reviews back in 2011, and was praised for being a pioneer in motion capture technology. The Guardian's Steve Boxer said back then that the title had "more convincing facial animation than we have ever seen in a game." He added: "Couple that with the obsessive attention to detail for which Rockstar's existing games are famed, and the end result rings true to a greater extent than anything that has gone before." Now 4K compatible, L.A Noire should impress once again, with Videogamer's Chris Hallam saying it "succeeds in retaining your memories of how the game looked with a helpful boost from modern tech." n

Back in 2011, L.A Noire debuted comfortably at No.1 in the UK weekly charts. While this remastered version is unlikely to hit No.1, the Rockstar brand always sells well and we'd expect it to have a strong reception at retail. The fact it's been enhanced for both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X should boost sales for hardcore gamers, and the Switch version could attract newcomers to the title. The publisher will be pushing it hard too, as with Red Dead Redemption 2 being delayed, L.A. Noire's re-release is one of the very few titles coming from Rockstar's Take-Two parent company this year. n

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biggamereleases

Release date:

Star Wars: Battlefront II

17/11

Developer: EA DICE, Criterion, Motive • Publisher: EA • Distributor: CentreSoft • Platform(s): PS4, XO, PC • Price: £59.99, £54.99 (PC)

Star Wars Battlefront II "looks, sounds, and feels like a Star Wars movie."

The publisher says...

The press say...

How well will it do?

The follow-up to 2015's rebooted Star Wars Battlefront is coming exactly two years after its predecessor. But this time around, EA has decided to drop the Season Pass for the title, making all DLC free. EA's EVP of global publishing Laura Miele told MCV earlier this year: "Our goal and motivation is to keep the community together on the same maps as much as possible." Douglas Reilly, senior director of digital and franchise management at Lucasfilm, said: "Battlefront II will offer everything players loved about the last instalment, and adds new modes that we know the fans want, including an entirely new story developed in partnership with Lucasfilm." n

In his preview, Trusted Reviews' Jordan King said Battlefront II "is shaping up to be a significant improvement over its predecessor." He added: "Battlefront II contains locations, characters and narrative strokes from every major Star Wars movie," which made the experience "fascinating" and "could be one of the standout scifi shooters in recent memory." IGN's Tom Marks said Battlefront 2 "looks, sounds, and feels like a Star Wars movie, but from a unique perspective we haven’t seen much of since the likes of 1994’s Star Wars: TIE Fighter." He added that it's a "strong start" to a story he's "excited to finish." n

2015's Star Wars Battlefront was the biggest launch ever for a game based on the Star Wars franchise, taking No.1 in the UK charts and shifting 117 per cent more units on Week One than the previous record holder, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. With the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, on the horizon, Battlefront 2 is benefitting from unrivalled exposure. If Week One sales do not beat its predecessor's performance, the title's figures will inevitably be boosted closer to the film's release date, on December 15th. Meanwhile, the PS4 version is likely to sell better than the Xbox One, as Sony will be releasing two PS4 bundles with the title. n

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biggamereleases

Release date:

17/11

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2

Developer: Traveller's Tales • Publisher: Warner Bros • Distributor: CentreSoft • Platform(s): PS4, XO • Price: £49.99

Talking to MCV earlier this year, Warner Bros' SVP international for games Olivier Wolff said Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 will "really impress a lot of people." He added: "It's really building on the first Lego Marvel Super Heroes, taking the story from when the first one finished, and featuring lots of different Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 will "impress mechanics, including time a lot of people," travel that allows for a lot of Warner Bros believes new types of adventures." Building on everyone's appetite for both the Marvel universe and Lego titles, this sequel to 2013's Lego Marvel

Super Heroes should do really well at retail, especially around Christmas. In his preview, IGN's Ryan McCaffrey wrote that with "Traveller's Tales' leaving last-gen behind (while also adding a Switch version), LMSH 2 looks fantastic, especially in cutscenes. Here's hoping the Lego games can continue to rewrite our expectations for licensed tie-ins." GameZone's Thomas Caswell added that "the respect for all of these characters from the developers really shines through." n

Release date:

17/11 Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon Developer: Game Freak • Publisher: Nintendo • Distributor: Open • Platform(s): 3DS • Price: £39.99

Exactly one year after the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon, the titles are coming back in two new, updated versions, just in time for Christmas. The originals sold extremely well due to the branding effect of Pokémon Go the previous summer, so it's unlikely these new versions will perform quite as strongly. But there's still a lot of new content for fans to enjoy. For instance, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon will introduce new Ultra Beasts, revamped island challenges, some new

story arcs and characters, new forms for legendary Pokémon Necrozma, a new photo club and brand new minigames, including a surf one. In the official blurb, Nintendo further said: "More than 400 Pokémon will be discoverable in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon, many of which were not available in Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon. Some of these Pokémon will only appear depending on which version of the game is played." n

More than 400 Pokémon will be discoverable in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon, Nintendo said

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biggamereleases

Digital releases The pick of the crop from upcoming digital downloads League of War: VR Arena Developer: MunkyFun Publisher: MunkyFun Platforms: PS VR Price: £15.99 Release date: Out now OUT NOW

Oh My Godheads

OUT NOW

Developer: Titutitech Publisher: Square Enix Collective Platforms: PS4, XO, PC Price: £10.99 Release date: December 5th

Hand of Fate 2

Developer: Defiant Development Publisher: Defiant Development Platforms: PS4, XO, PC Price: $29.99 (£22) Release date: Out now

Unveiled at Paris Games Week and released on November 7th, PS VR exclusive League of War: VR Arena "will turn your living room into an intense virtual battlefield that combines the immersion of VR with the immediacy of head-to-head competition,” said MunkyFun's CEO Nick Pavis.

Launched a couple of days ago to match the Xbox One X's release date, as the title supports 4K, the sequel to 2015's RPG hit Hands of Fate will once again let players battle against each other, combining roguelike and deckbuilding elements. This new entry introduces companions, who offer support in battle.

Release schedule

05 12

05 12

Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris

The latest game from Square Enix Collective is launching at the very beginning of December. Oh My Godheads has been described by Titutitech's co-CEO Federico Sauret as "a game about recapturing that sense of fun so many couch based multiplayer games pulled off in the 1990s."

The first expansion for Destiny 2 was unveiled during PlayStation's Media Showcase at Paris Games Week. Curse of Osiris begins right after the end of the campaign. It introduces a brand new cinematic story, new characters, missions, maps, raid content, and a new social space to visit called the Lighthouse.

Developer: Bungie Publisher: Activision Platforms: PS4, XO, PC Price: TBC Release date: December 5th

Title

Format

Genre

Publisher

Telephone

Distributor

November 10th Ben 10 Cat Quest Circuit Breakers Doom Football Manager 2018 Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Need for Speed Payback Snipperclips Plus - Cut it out, together! Surf World Series The Sims 4 Cats and Dogs

PS4, XO, NS PS4 PS4 NS PC PS4 PS4, XO, PC NS PS4 PC

Adventure RPG Action FPS Simulation Platformer Racing Puzzle Sports Simulation

Outright Games PQube Excalibur Bethesda Sega Wired Productions EA Nintendo Vision Games EA

020 8563 4440 01462 677 844 01869 338 833 01564 330607 01216 253 388 01923 211238 01216 253 388 01753 483700 01923 211238 01216 253 388

Bandai Namco Open Contact Sales Advantage CentreSoft Open CentreSoft Open Wired CentreSoft

November 14th Cartoon Network Battle Crashers L.A. Noire Monster Jam: Crush It! Road Rage

NS PS4, XO, NS NS PS4, XO, PC

Beat 'em up Action Racing Action

Maximum Games Rockstar Maximum Games Maximum Games

01480 359 403 01279 822 800 01480 359 403 01480 359 403

Open Exertis Open Open

November 16th Ashes Cricket

PS4, XO

Sports

Big Ant Studios

01256 385 200

Koch Media

November 17th Star Wars: Battlefront II

PS4, XO, PC

Shooter

EA

01216 253 388

CentreSoft

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endgame

This issue, we look back at our very successful Future Games Summit, share some memories from PGW and celebrate Loading Bar’s new location

“Future Games Summit was a fantastic way to re-connect with old faces and make new connections too. The topics were very relevant and full of insight for those looking to improve their games and businesses.” Gavin Price, studio director, Playtonic

“Future Games Summit proved to be a fantastic event for networking. NewBay did a fantastic job at creating a hub where companies and talent from all across the games industry sector could come together.” Jonathan Ridgway, chief executive and creative director, Rebourne Studios

“Future Games Summit is a condensed event with some interesting talks, good networking opportunities and most importantly, an excellent food buffet.” Dan Da Rocha, managing director, Toxic Games

“I honestly have never seen such a good collection of people from the esports industry at a conference in the UK – undoubtedly it’ll be a permanent fixture in the diaries of many in future.” James Dean, managing director, ESL UK

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Paris Games Week Paris Games Week returned last week, kicking off with the PlayStation Media Showcase on Monday, where we witnessed the PlayStation Access team hard at work during the pre-show. Back on the show floor, we battled against a horde of consumers to make our way through the massive merchandise stalls, joined Just Dance 2018 fans at the Ubisoft booth and had a dose of nostalgia, celebrating Final Fantasy’s 30th anniversary.

thedraft industry appointments MCV’s news editor KATHARINE BYRNE (left) has been appointed as hardware editor at Rock Paper Shotgun, while the publication also hired former freelancer MATT COX (left) as a full-time staff writer. Editor-in-chief Graham Smith commented: “RPS has been dabbling in PC hardware for years but Katharine’s considerable experience will allow us to tackle the subject matter wholeheartedly for the first time. Matt brings expertise in all the biggest multiplayer games and as a freelancer has already been producing great writing. Their appointments point to an exciting year ahead as we continue to expand RPS into new areas and increase our involvement with events such as EGX Rezzed.” Hot on the heels of the launch of PCGames Insider.biz in August, Steel Media has launched a new B2B website, InfluencerUpdate. biz, dedicated to influencer marketing. Former Pocket Gamer’s freelance writer and Arcanity’s PR manager DANIELLE PARTIS has been appointed as editor. The website is overseen by Pocket Gamer’s Craig Chapple, who’s recently been promoted to senior editor. Meanwhile, Pocket Gamer’s news editor Ric Cowley has been promoted to deputy editor. Steel Media CEO Chris James said: “InfluencerUpdate.biz will educate and inform professionals about the new breed of social and video thought leaders, demystifying the landscape for those intending to get involved and providing useful insight and reference to those who already are.”

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Uni Sans SemiBold

endgame

Who’s who? Seth Barton Editor sbarton@nbmedia.com Katharine Byrne Contributor Marie Dealessandri Senior Staff Writer mdealessandri@nbmedia.com Sam Richwood Designer srichwood@nbmedia.com James Marinos Production Executive jmarinos@nbmedia.com Sophia Jaques Games Sales Manager sjaques@nbmedia.com Charlie Gibbon Account Manager cgibbon@nbmedia.com Caroline Hicks Events Director chicks@nbmedia.com

Brighton rocks

Mark Burton Managing Director mburton@nbmedia.com

Loading Bar now has a new venue in sunny Brighton. Called C:\ Side Quest, it opened at the very end of October and, much like its London counterparts, has board and video games (retro and brand new) on offer; as well as its usual craft beers, Loading Cocktails and an exclusive blend of coffee. Here’s the address, as now is definitely the right time to spend a weekend in Brighton: 11 Lower Promenade, Madiera Drive, BN2 1ET.

Presents

FIVE SECOND FACTS

85m

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65.7%

NewBay Subscriptions: The Emerson Building 4-8 Emerson Street London - SE1 9DU e: subs@mcvuk.com www.mcvuk.com MCV has an exclusive media partnership with Famitsu – Japan’s leading video games analyst and news source

191.5%

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ISSN: 1469-4832 Copyright 2017

Grand Theft Auto V has now sold 85m units worldwide, Take Two announced in its latest financial results

Analyst IHS Markit predicts the Xbox One X will sell 900k units by the end of the year

Super Mario Odyssey sold 512k copies in its first three days on shelves in Japan

Ubisoft’s sales have increased 65.7 per cent year-on-year, the company announced last Wednesday

Capcom has reported a 191.5 per cent increase in operating income for the first half of its current fiscal year

MCV is published 24 times a year by NewBay Media Europe Ltd, The Emerson Building, 4th Floor, 4-8 Emerson Street, London SE1 9DU

The Emerson Building, 4th Floor 4-8 Emerson Street. London, SE1 9DU All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system without the express prior written consent of the publisher. The contents of MCV are subject to reproduction in information storage and retrieval systems. Printed by Pensord Press Ltd, NP12 2YA

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THE 2018 CATEGORIES PUBLISHER AWARDS Sales Team of the Year Marketing Team of the Year In-House PR Team of the Year Community Management of the Year Major Games Publisher of the Year Indie Games Publisher of the Year Gaming Campaign of the Year (under £500k budget) Gaming Campaign of the Year (over £500k budget) New Games IP of the Year MEDIA AND AGENCY AWARDS PR Agency of the Year Creative Agency of the Year Media Planning Team of the Year Media Sales Team of the Year Games Event of the Year RETAILER AND DISTRIBUTOR AWARDS Distributor of the Year Major Retailer of the Year Indie Retailer of the Year INDIVIDUAL AWARDS Industry Hero MCV Person of the Year

ENTRY DEADLINE: 15TH DECEMBER! MCVAWARDS.COM

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MCV 929

THE 16TH ANNUAL

THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES

CELEBRATING EXCELLENCE IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY

THURSDAY, 8TH MARCH THE BREWERY, LONDON

FOR MORE DETAILS ON SPONSORSHIP OR ENTRY PLEASE CONTACT SOPHIA JAQUES | SJAQUES@NBMEDIA.COM | 02073546020

10.11.17

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MCV929 10th November