THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
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We talk to retailers about the current state of the sector
Gamescom: record breaker
2017 had a record attendance, with the event dominated by Xbox, video and community
We ﬁnd out what’s in store for this year’s 35th Golden Joystick Awards
Merge’s landmark year
MD Luke Keighran discusses Merge Games’ winning strategy and what’s next for the ﬁrm
Page 5 The Editor • Page 6 On the Radar • Page 8 Opinions from the industry • Page 36 Margin Makers • Page 38 Big releases • Page 44 Sales analysis • Page 46 End Game – community and events September 1 MCV 924 | 03
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“I never really warmed to Drake.”
Fifteen months after the barnstorming release of Uncharted 4 comes The Lost Legacy, an Uncharted game without Nathan Drake. So can the franchise thrive without him? I never really warmed to Drake. Yes, he’s likeable, well-acted and well-scripted, but he’s also (maybe intentionally) a bit of a stereotypical action hero. That Naughty Dog breathed so much life into the character is a testament to its storytelling skills. Now, like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, it must let the core brand do the heavy lifting. hile we can’t talk e act n m ers, we can say that in its first week The Lost Legacy sold around 40 per cent at retail as its bigger sibling did back in May 2016. But considering the circ mstances, that’s still a great per ormance rom the series spin-o Cons mers waited five years or Uncharted 4, which was oth the series’ first on PS4 and the last in Drake’s narrative. The combination drove a sales and critical smash By comparison, the spin-o was always going to e on the ack oot, launching just over a year later with no new big features or graphical upgrades. Then there’s the added complication that this is a much-enlarged piece of DLC. It was included in the Season Pass for Uncharted 4, which means that many hardcore ans will already own it digitally, which r stratingly we don’t have fig res or iven all these di erences, it’s incredi ly di c lt to compare the two titles directly and have a stab at simply analysing the loss of its cover star. However, it certainly looks as though the franchise has legs beyond Drake. Whether the new cover stars stay, or Uncharted switches between leads, Sony should look to continue to develop the wider world of the series. Following the Marvel model with interlinking titles, all under the Uncharted brand, is a potentially massive seller, and it co ld throw in a movie and a et i series or good meas re ter all, finding a new killer ranchise is never as easy as ’ marks the spot
Seth Barton email@example.com
Katharine Byrne News Editor
Marie Dealessandri Senior Staff Writer
Sam Richwood Designer
James Marinos Production Executive firstname.lastname@example.org
Sophia Jaques Games Sales Manager email@example.com
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EGX 2017 September 21st-24th, Birmingham The UK’s biggest consumer games show returns to Birmingham’s NEC later this month for its tenth edition, giving gamers the opportunity to go hands-on with all the latest triple-A titles, as well as get involved with live esports and developer sessions, including XCOM creator Julian Gollop's talk on his brand-new strategy game Phoenix Point. Ukie’s Careers Bar will also be returning as part of the career fair with informal drop-in sessions, talks and one-to-one careers advice workshops. Tickets and industry passes are available now.
Ukie AGM 2017 September 21st, Birmingham
European Women in Games Conference September 5th-6th, London
The seventh edition of the European Women in Games Conference is taking place next week at the East London Arts and Music Academy. Over 40 speakers and panellists are due to attend, including keynote speakers Anita Sarkeesian and Brie Code, who will both be appearing in the or the first time thanks to the s pport o the ma on AppStore. Tickets are available now for all industry members.
All Ukie members are invited to its annual general meeting at EGX in Birmingham. The AGM will feature the election of the new board members, an update on Ukie’s yearly activities and presentations on Ukie’s Digital Schoolhouse initiative, its work on building a nationwide support programme and a panel session on how to survive and thrive as a UK games business. There will also be a drinks reception taking place immediately afterwards.
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Destiny 2 lands on consoles September 6th
The sequel to Activision’s epic online S finally hits shelves next week, although PC players will have to wait just a little bit longer before they can oin the fight See page 38 for more information
Inside and Limbo head to retail
VR Awards 2017 September 23rd, London
Hosted by virtual reality comparison site VR Bound and presented by AMD, the inaugural VR Awards 2017 is being held in central London later this month. The international awards ceremony aims to celebrate outstanding achievement in the VR industry, with 12 categories up for grabs, including best headset, best VR game and est interactive V media and film o the year ickets and ta les are available now.
WIG Mobile Games Awards September 6th, London
ot- or-profit organisation omen in ames is holding the first edition o the omen in Games Mobile Awards next Wednesday, where it will be showcasing some of the best published mobile games in Europe created by female-led teams. Endorsed by the International Mobile Gaming Awards, the new competition will ro nd o the ropean Women in Games Conference, which starts a day earlier on September 5th.
Playdead’s awardwinning indie platformers Limbo and Inside are heading to retail in a special double pack release for PS4 and Xbox One in a couple of weeks, courtesy of 505 Games. Priced at £19.99, the pack will include a copy of each game plus various collector’s items, such as a limited run of posters and art cards.
If you’d like your product, event or upcoming news to appear in On the Radar, email Katharine on kbyrne@ nbmedia.com
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Destiny 2 (PS4) South Park The Fractured But Whole (PS4) Call of Duty: WWII inc. Beta Gear Set (PS4) Super Mario Odyssey (NS) Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4)
Activision Ubisoft Activision Nintendo Rockstar
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Nikki Lannen - CEO, WarDucks
Moving from mobile to console VR
however, an advantage to this scenario. Consumers who irtual reality is the future. That looks pretty invest a lot into their hardware are also usually willing to certain. The hardware is evolving, and invest in their games and experiences to get the most value adoption will almost certainly continue to from their hardware. increase. I work in a virtual reality studio While the price point is a significant difference, there’s based in Dublin. We began our journey into VR about also a large difference in quality. With Sneaky Bears, we two years ago. It’s an exciting space, and one that I believe will grow significantly in the coming years. We started developed the same basic idea for console and PC VR as building for mobile VR devices initially, in particular the we did for mobile, but the game is very, very different. Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard. Gameplay is expanded, the art is higher quality, and overall Sneaky Bears and Sneaky Bears Rollercoaster were both it is a much more in-depth and enjoyable game. Touch and released on these devices in November 2016 and March motion-tracking makes shooting more realistic, too, which 2017. Both were successful in their own right, and we’re is lacking in mobile VR. excited about our new release of a much more in-depth All of these improvements and expanded gameplay also version of Sneaky Bears on came with challenges. We PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift The reason we see more users on were essentially developing and HTC Vive. for completely new platforms, mobile VR than on console and PC but wanted to use a lot of the The transition from building for mobile VR VR is the cost of entry for users. same assets. We found that the versus console and PC VR existing assets did not hold up has been an interesting and challenging one. One in within console and PC VR. This caused the development particular is the monetisation strategy. People are used to process to take a little longer than expected. We ran into free-to-play models on mobile. Games like Candy Crush challenges with the new art as well, some of which was too Saga are geniuses at making this work, generating money intricate to work within a VR setting. This caused a lot of from the scale of users making in-app purchases and going back and forth to find the right combination that allowing plenty of time to serve those precious ads. worked and looked the best with the headset on. Mobile VR is very different. VR works off a premium Overcoming these problems allowed us to make a great model and users generally need to pay upfront. Most game out of Sneaky Bears. We think of our mobile VR hardware providers are not allowing ads to be served development process like a test ground for what we have as it’s still early days and they don’t want to ruin that now finally built. We are excited to be at the forefront of immersive experience. this industry and are happy to contribute to the expanding The reason we see more users on mobile VR than on content for VR. Sneaky Bears is available for purchase now console and PC VR is the cost of entry for users. There is, on PS VR and Oculus Rift, with HTC Vive coming soon.
Nikki Lannen is a leader in Ireland’s virtual reality space. She is the founder and CEO of WarDucks, and has also spent over four years at Facebook, where she founded the games team and worked closely with executives from the top games businesses in EMEA 08 | MCV 924 September 1
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Lizzie Wilding - VP Publishing, Dovetail Games
Turning communities into developers
lot gets written about game communities. There are many reasons why offering publishing deals There is excellent advice on how to listen, how to your content creators can be complex, but once you are to empower and entertain your audiences, the through any early teething troubles and into a pattern of huge value modding can offer, and when you releases, modders and creators get an agile way of being should deliver updates and new content that will keep your formally paid for their work. We’ve paid some of Dovetail community supported and your game successful. Games’ incredible community of developers six figures plus However, an area not often discussed is what’s beyond for their sales of add-on content. Content that players love. that. What’s past the Steam Workshop and modding Obviously, long-term thinking is key. Try and apply any communities? If your community really love a game, of your usual calculations to this content at your peril. The shouldn’t you open your doors and invite a deeper developers (rightly) own their own timeline for delivery involvement with your business? and what sort of content arrives, but respect their work and I believe the next step is working directly with your these ever-growing collections of content are valuable for a own community modders and creators to formally long time, with a very long tail. Does opening up your titles publish and sell add-on with this kind of publishing If your community love a game, content together. Given the activity keep both your right tools, your creators and your products shouldn’t you open your doors and company are development specialists honest? I think the short invite a deeper involvement with answer is yes. Your add-on already, crafting content that is personal to them and also developers will tell you where your business? highly appealing to a section you need to work on your of your audience. tools, game and process; while your players will selectively Give their work the status, scale of awareness and choose what content they do and don’t want. recognition it deserves. They will quickly become thirdSo, what could you get for this? Your community will party developers and gain strong financial reward for demonstrate their talent as creators, with good financial that work. Your players can become collectors of that reward. Players get choice and expansions beyond your huge range of content, broadening their hobby. You are own internal limits. Everyone gets the benefit. And it won’t introducing new developers to the industry. Your titles stop you from adding your own first party content. become boundless. Everyone wins. As indie publishing ramps up once again in this latest Now this is easier in some genres than others. Working phase of our industry, everyone is digging for more. I with simulation titles does mean that even one person at believe some companies are digging in the wrong place. home can work on a new train route, while larger teams can Look inwards as well as outwards for your next big thing. effectively operate as small development companies. It’s the future of community.
Lizzie Wilding is VP of Publishing at Dovetail Games and has a 20-year games career managing publishing, marketing and live service teams. She strives to be a perpetual champion of online communities September 1 MCV 924 | 09
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Andy Brown - Director, Replay Events
Old games, new revenue
Manchester’s EventCity. Last year saw 25,000 gamers flock to hen it comes to the games industry, they our show and this year’s demand is already proving higher. say everything is cyclical. Every few years, To satisfy the thirst for nostalgia, we’re bringing in the three major first party players seem to hundreds of pieces of consoles, arcades and pinball swap roles, changing face from industry machines from all over the UK, providing the largest darling to outcast in a heartbeat. Genres swing in and collection of hardware and retro games anywhere in the out of fashion, with toys-to-life adorning every UK living Europe (we’ll have over 500 retro consoles to play). We room one Christmas, then serving as landfill the next. The get visitors from all over the world flocking to our colossal classics however, well, they never really go out of fashion. collection of arcades (Space Harrier anyone?), all of which Retro gaming has been a ‘thing’ since computers and consoles began to advance enough to show dramatic delight the dads and enthral today’s generation who has improvement on previous generations. We’re all drawn to never seen an old school cab in the wild. reliving our youth via the warm glow of a CRT screen. The Play Expo is a unique experience and one we’re keen for retro community cares not if their hobby is fashionable; the whole industry to get involved with. We’re a friendly collectors will collect regardless. event, ideally suited for But nevertheless, retro has indie publishers, so if you’re The latest wave of microconsoles is working on a new (or old) finally made it mainstream. What’s old is brand-new again. proof positive on how lucractive the indie game, get in touch, Replay Events has been we’d love to have you there. retro sector can be. serving the retro community If you’re a retailer with retro for some nine years now. We merch, apparel or services, take the retro experience seriously. The latest wave of then jump on board (we have a gigantic hall dedicated to microconsoles and emulators are proof positive on how retailers) and we’re not all about retro either – everything lucrative the sector can be, but, good though they are, from cosplay, tabletop gaming, education, esports and, of nothing beats the real experience of age old hardware course, triple-A is catered for. running on genuine CRT screens. In the quest to PR and market a game, the north of So, how do we make retro work for us all? As well as England often gets forgotten. Play Expo is something running a host of trading markets and corporate events up and different – a safe place for the industry to gather, get down the country, we provide all the retro gaming for EGX involved, reach a sector of the country often overlooked and Showmasters’ events. Nothing attracts the crowds like a and where real results are achieved year in, year out. set of Samba Da Amigo maracas or a Quickshot joystick. If you’re interested in seeing how retro can drive your This October, for the sixth consecutive year, we’ll be business, then reach on out and get in touch. We think we might just surprise you. running our flagship event, Play Expo Manchester, at
Andy Brown is director of Replay Events, a leading UK events company specialising in retro gaming. Replay Events stage many UK based consumer events including their flagship Play Expo range of shows. To get in touch, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org 10 | MCV 924 September 1
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THE NORTHâ€™S BIGGEST VIDEO GAME EXPO IS BACK
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Gamescom Gamescom 2017 had a record attendance. Seth Barton reports and looks at the core drivers of its success: Xbox, video content and community engagement
CV pounded the halls of Gamescom once again this year, producing our daily MCV@ gamescom issues to help both inform and direct the many trade visitors around the show’s highlights. In fact, there were slightly more trade visitors than ever before, with 30,700 industry members attending the show. We didn’t quite get round to talking to them all, but we did speak to a lot of people from every sector of the gaming industry. You’ll be able to read many of those interviews over the coming weeks, but there were three topics that kept on coming up at the show: the potential
resurgence of Xbox, the importance of video, and using events to strengthen community relations. On the community side, Gamescom set a new visitor record this year, with more than 350,000 fans passing through its halls – that’s a lot of serious gamers. Beyond that, millions also viewed content online related to the show. This came from a myriad of outlets and influencers, and covered every major publisher and platform holder, but Xbox stood head-and-shoulders above the rest, with several announcements leading up to its Xbox One X launch this November. Here’s our take on the show, with a little help from our friends in the industry.
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XBOX BOSSES GAMESCOM
“Events for One X are more important than ever; you have to see and experience what true 4K looks like.”
WHATEVER the reasons behind the split, we’re keen on Xbox and PlayStation not duking it out for attention at Gamescom. With Sony having moved its attention elsewhere in recent years, Microsoft benefited from the open playing field. With a big quarter coming up, that space was most welcome. We caught up with Aaron Greenberg, head of Xbox games marketing, to talk Xbox One X and more. We asked if the One X is a different marketing challenge to an entirely new platform. “It’s totally different, because we’ve never done this before,” Greenberg said. “We’re not sacrificing compatibility, so we have to think about how to let people know it’s one product family, one game disc on the shelves at retail, and that the game disc works across all Xbox One consoles.” It’s the huge catalogue of titles that Greenberg feels is the key point. “When the Xbox One X launches, it will have a larger games library than any new console launch in history,” he said. “That’s over 1,000 games.” Many of those titles will be enhanced for the new console as well. “We’re close to 120 today,” he said, and that figure is growing all the time, so it’s certain to dwarf the 40-odd games that were optimised for the PS4 Pro launch. Getting those enhanced 4K games into the hands of consumers is key, too, which is where Gamescom comes in. “Events for this console are more important than ever, you have to see and experience what true 4K looks like, you can’t get that watching a YouTube video on your mobile phone. So we have 70 playable stations here at Gamescom running games on Xbox One X.” CHOOSING A BATTLEGROUND One Xbox title that stands out is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). “What we’re doing is bringing tech, sales and marketing benefits to the
table. That allows [developer Bluehole] to focus on the PC and Xbox versions of the game, bring the game faster to Xbox fans, and for us we’re going to publish the title, so it just steps up our commitment,” said Greenberg of the partnership with Bluehole. It’s a big win for Microsoft, and one that looks better every day: “When we announced our partnership at E3, Bluehole had sold 2m units of the game. Today, just five months since release, it’s 8m units,” Greenberg enthused. “It’s the number one most-watched game, it’s the perfect fit for Xbox, for Xbox Live and the integration of being able to stream and do stuff on Mixer is a natural fit as well. “We’re excited. They’re a great team and the only console you’ll be able to play PUBG on this holiday will be on Xbox One,” he said, though the exact details of its exclusivity end there. Finally, we came around to talking about the toga which Greenberg wore for the Age of Empires livestream. He’s obviously a huge fan of the game: “We all grew up on Age of Empires and I’ve been at Microsoft for 20 years, and I was there when the first Age launched.” So why bring it back now? “We went and looked at how many are playing Age on their PC and there are millions of people, it’s super active,” Greenberd said. So Microsoft is remastering the first three games in 4K, with some “thoughtful modernisations.” The new title is in a great position, too: “With Age 4, we wanted to find the right developer to do it right. And with Relic we’ve got our dream partner. “It’s great to be able to invest and innovate both on the console and in the PC space”, Greenberg concluded, and it certainly looks like Microsoft has lined up all the right elements for a great year ahead. Additional reporting by Jake Tucker
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TORRENTS OF VIDEO VIDEO is now the lingua franca of gaming coverage – and even at Gamescom it comes in a myriad of forms and styles, including studio-style news coverage and interviews, game preview footage, live gameplay streams, esports coverage, or the numerous chattier, personality-driven formats that proliferate on YouTube and Twitch. Of course, while E3, or at least the press conferences that run in advance of the actual show, may rule the roost when it comes to the big new trailers and corresponding viewing figures, Gamescom is generating increasingly large audiences. We visited IGN’s quiet and dark studio space up above the trade halls, where a full studio setup dominates for interviews, generating streamed and VoD content from the show while an army of staff are busy capturing the latest gameplay from the showfloor to complement the studio shoot. There, chief content officer Peer Schneider told us how IGN is a “video-first business” and that “there will be millions of consumers engaging with Gamescom content on IGN, whether on our website, our Facebook page, YouTube or Snapchat.” That’s pretty big, but it still doesn’t have the same commercial reach as other events: “Gamescom, even though it’s a huge event online, may not be as familiar to advertisers in the United States, especially outside of gaming, so it’s a little more difficult to sign on a larger consumer sponsor,” Schneider told us.
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“So far, Gamescom has been very much endemics – games companies that understand what it is. I think that a lot of other brands have a little bit of a blindspot to the sheer size of the event here – this is the biggest gaming event in the world – and how big the event is online. Consumers know the event and our traffic spikes during this week, but advertisers have not yet discovered it to the same extent.” Twitch branding was also highly prevalent at the show. While Facebook and YouTube had presences in the trade halls, it was Twitch that had sealed the deals to make its brand near omnipresent. Another well-represented brand was German esports outfit ESL, which was running numerous tournaments at the show, most notably an invitational for the ‘not-yet-an-esport’ PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Looking very much like an esport at the show, the tournament generated massive traffic and attention online. DIVERSE PLATFORMS You might have loads of great footage, but turning it into content that works for today’s platforms and today’s consumers is just as importnat – especially if you need to monetise that content as well, either directly as the creator, or via your chosen platform. Facebook is trying to grow its share of the video gaming market, with many firms we talked to having deals with the company to provide video content, including IGN, Battlegrounds and Wargaming.net. Franco de Desare, head of console and online gaming at Facebook, told us simply that “video is the currency of the gaming market” whether it’s content or placing marketing around that content. And it’s not just all pre-roll video, either: “The placement of the video and the opportunity are very varied, and allow you to actually customise the video and your messaging to the way in which consumers in our community, mostly on their mobile phones, consume that content,” he added. While Gamescom remains an event that prides itself on hard attendance figures, its global audience and reach is growing even quicker than the numbers at the Koelnmesse. It may not have the same wealth of big, slick trailers as E3, but this community-driven event is arguably a better place to generate a more diverse range of highly-marketable video content.
“Gamescom suits our model – going direct to gamers and interacting with them, with no middle people.” WHILE E3 has been experimenting with letting consumers onto its show floor, with inevitable teething problems around the most popular stands, Gamescom has long had a model that works well – giving trade a dedicated space to strike deals, while allowing game creators to really get to grips with their communities of fans. GETTING IN EARLY Gamescom’s success as a consumer event is undoubted, though, with record numbers packing the cavernous consumer halls and patiently queuing for hours at a time to get their hands on their favourite games – often for just a few
“It’s nice to have feedback in person – people tend to be nicer in person than they are online. And the problem online is a small number of people overamplify their voice, which can distort the feedback, as they trample over other people’s opinions.” Also at the show, Ubisoft took the opportunity to launch new strategy title Anno 1800 – an announcement that’s come a year earlier than usual, in order to garner the maximum community feedback. Nils Ehlert, international product manager at developer Blue Byte, told us that Gamescom was a great place to launch and to “get our fans into the game, give them the chance to play the game early, and give them the chance
COMMUNITY CENTRE minutes. Such queues are great for publishers, who love to shoot footage of adoring fans lining up. But surely a more efficient system could be devised, so that more consumers are seeing more games, and spending more money on merchandise, rather than simply queuing half their day away? Almost everyone we talked to at the show was keen on getting closer to their community – to see how they react to their new game, or new content, first hand. Chris Roberts, CEO at Roberts Space Industries, was using the event for the fifth year to connect to his Star Citizen backers. “We’re focused on events where we can interact with the community. That’s one of the reasons we come here, or to PAX, instead of going to E3. It’s much more gaming-driven, which suits our model – going direct to the gamers and interacting with them, with no middle people at all,” he told us.
to actually change something. Otherwise, the game launches a few months after the announcement, and some balancing stuff can change, but nothing major.” A LARGE PINOT PLEASE One of the great successes of Gamescom is its strong international flavour, with attendees and exhibitors from all over Europe and all over the world. The trade halls have national stands from most of the big European countries and beyond. Our team, naturally, spent a lot of its time on the pub-themed Ukie stand (see pictures on page 48). For while Gamescom is a great place to meet those from around Europe, it’s also a great place to catch up with the UK contingent, too. Though, we admit to regular visits to the Italian stand after hours – they did have free wine, after all.
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Resilient retail Marie Dealessandri talks to Amazon, Games Centre, GameSeek, Green Man Gaming and ShopTo about the state of the UK retail landscape post-Brexit, the impact of the Switch, why bricks-and-mortar shops are still relevant and how stock shortages continue to affect games retail
his year has already brought a few shocks and surprises to retail. The first few months of 2017 had its usual new entries in best-selling franchises such as Resident Evil 7 and Mass Effect Andromeda, some big new IP releases including Horizon Zero Dawn, and, of course, there’s Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, which has been consistently selling well throughout the summer. But the biggest event at retail this year has undoubtedly been Nintendo’s long-awaited launch of the Switch, with GameSeek’s CEO Stephen Staley saying that 2017 has been “excellent” so far, with “the Switch launch being the [main] highlight.” It’s the same story at online retailer ShopTo: “After a strong first quarter for new releases, the typical summer months are quieter,” head of commercial Alison Fraser tells MCV. “However, Switch new releases and consoles have been a welcomed revenue driver over the past couple of months.” For Robert Lindsay, managing director at Games Centre, this year has been “better than expected” so far, with the High Street retailer’s strategy of product diversification “starting to bear fruit.” But, again, he
singles out a “surprisingly strong performance from Switch despite relative shortages.” Lindsay pinpoints here what has been the bane of retail during the first half of the year: hardware shortages. After encountering similar problems at the end of 2016 for products such as PS VR and the NES Mini, 2017 has seen retailers facing Switch shortages since its launch in March. That led retailer giant GAME to issue a profit warning to its investors in June, due to the Switch’s “level of supply to the UK market [being] lower than expected.” Nintendo even had to clarify that the Switch shortages were not strategic, insisting it was doing everything it could to ramp up production in time for the Christmas holiday season. The situation forced retailers to adapt and change how they communicate with their customers in order to handle the crisis. “Our customer service department are aware of the shortages and the delivery dates, so they keep our customers informed on a regular basis,” ShopTo’s Fraser explains. “Social media has been a useful tool to inform customers when the stock arrives.” Overall, however, Fraser says the new console has had a positive impact on business. “Switch has been a good news
“Switch has provided a most unexpected shot in the arm for retail this year. here is a definite consumer buzz around the console.”
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Pictured above, from top to bottom: ShopTo’s Alison Fraser and Green Man Gaming’s Paul Sulyok
story on a whole. Yes, stock has been short and we – along with the rest of retail – could have sold more units, but the sales have continued with every stock drop. It seems like many third-party publishers have been wary to launch new releases until the success was gauged over the first six months of the console. “The titles that have launched have generally been short of stock, so builds must start to increase through Q4. There does still seem to be a shortage of Christmas launches, although the titles that are coming are top titles that should be very successful.” Meanwhile, Staley tells us he has been handling hardware shortages “with difficulty.” “It seems there are communication issues with Nintendo Europe and the UK distributors,” says Staley. “I feel like we should be trading direct, in all honesty. We got many more Wii consoles ten years ago; yet there are far more Switch consoles on the market.” However, Lindsay thinks the Switch has managed to revitalise the UK market: “Switch has provided a most unexpected shot in the arm for retail this year. Software support has been good after a meagre launch, and there is a definite consumer buzz around the console.” THE SWITCH EFFECT The Switch stock shortage might just be the first of 2017, though, with retailers now telling MCV they fear a similar situation with the upcoming launches of Nintendo’s Classic Mini: SNES and the Xbox One X. Microsoft marketing VP Mike Nichols announced last week that the platform holder “saw record-setting sellout times and are currently sold out in many countries around the world” and that “fans have pre-ordered more Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition consoles in the first five days than any Xbox ever.” Even Amazon UK is sold out at time of writing, which doesn’t bode well for UK retailers – especially indie stores, says Robert Lindsay: “Shortages on Xbox One X are a particular concern, as historically Microsoft has been very supportive of a few key national retailers, but not so good at filtering the stock through the chain to the independent sector. Hopefully, Nintendo will have learned from the surprise of the Mini NES performance and have increased stock available [for the SNES].” Staley voices a similar concern and fears stock for the Xbox One X will go to online giants and supermarkets: “I am concerned that the likes of Amazon and Asda will get more stock than games companies like us,” he says. “But we have had these conversations now for the last 15 years. Nothing changes. It’s pretty sad, to be honest. The games customers are at our website. I will try and work with Microsoft, but at present it seems
only interested in the revenue we are doing and not our potential. We don’t sell books, we don’t sell clothes and we don’t sell groceries. If we were, we would be doing ten times as much. Something is clearly wrong. The manufacturers of games consoles should supply the games companies.” What’s more, the Xbox One X will set consumers back £449.99, which is “too high” according to Staley. Alison Fraser adds: “[£449] was very much expected, however it will out price a lot of consumers. The console is very much for the elite gamer, which is, of course, its purpose.” THE PRICE IS RIGHT Pricing is an increasing issue for retail in the UK as well, particularly with Brexit looming over the country. For Staley, however, it “made little difference to the retailers as we had to all put our prices up together, [but] Brexit certainly didn’t help the consumer. They are now being ripped off on software prices, but we will do our best to continue to be the absolute cheapest [retailer] in the UK for gamers.” Meanwhile, CEO and founder of publisher and online retailer Green Man Gaming Paul Sulyok believes Brexit is and will remain an issue for the industry due to the absence of a clear strategy from Government. “As a British entrepreneur with a business headquartered in the UK, I am unsettled by the current uncertainty businesses are facing in the country when it comes to what the future holds post Brexit,” says Sulyok. “Any changes to the freedom of movement for EU citizens will, in my opinion, block talent from coming to the country, and this could impact our business and industry directly. At Green Man Gaming, 50 per cent of our engineering team and 35 per cent of the company overall are from the EU, and we want to ensure that both our staff and the business are prepared for any changes to the current arrangements.” He continues: “As an ecommerce business, technology is of utmost importance and without a team of talented engineers, the core of our business will be impacted. This is the reason why we hope that there will be a reasonable agreement between the UK Government and the EU on this topic, and that businesses are given some warning if changes are made so we can plan accordingly.” ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL Brexit is not the only thing threatening to change the UK retail landscape. While its latest financial results showed improvement year-on-year, share prices of UK retailer GAME have been consistently dropping this year. UK sporting retailer Sports Direct has also now acquired a 25.75% stake of the struggling firm, which provokes mixed reactions among the retailers we spoke to.
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Pictured above, from top to bottom: Games Centre’s Robert Lindsay, Amazon UK’s Russell Jones and GameSeek’s Stephen Staley
“I think it’s a mistake,” Staley says bluntly. “I was expecting GAME to go bust within three years. If [Sports Direct founder and CEO Mike Ashley] had waited, maybe he could have picked them up for next to nothing. However, he obviously is a clever guy – he will have something planned.” Lindsay says he’s “intrigued” by Ashley’s move. “Like many others, I can’t quite see what his objective is with GAME. Customer demographic? Esports? Asset stripping?” When asked what the impact would be on his business if GAME went under, Lindsay’s answer is cautious: “In the short term, there would be a healthy uplift in sales as the High Street would be void of its main player. Ultimately, though, we lose relevance as a specialist sector, which can never be a good thing.” Paul Sulyok echoes this sentiment and highlights the importance of bricks-and-mortar retail, even though Green Man Gaming is digital only: “As one of the last dedicated physical game stores on the High Street, GAME plays a very important role in the gaming ecosystem. In order to keep the gaming industry both competitive and wide-ranging, games need to be made available easily to meet every customer’s needs and preferences. There are still some customers that have the instant gratification of being able to immediately take
their items home with them after paying and others that like shopping for physical games as gifts. “Of course, digital retail is growing significantly in the gaming industry and publishers are moving towards ramping up their digital stock, but I believe that bricksand-mortar still have a place in the market. However, customers are changing, and physical stores need to be able to adapt to their shopping habits and current trends, as well as provide high quality customer service in store.” MIXING IT UP Adapting to a changing retail landscape is a number one priority for retailers, and product diversification is a key to this issue. ShopTo, for instance, launched a new marketplace at the beginning of the year, with Fraser saying: “We have been diversifying for some time now and, with our marketplace, this will only increase.” GameSeek also launched a similar platform in July. This trend has become increasingly important for online retailers ever since GAME launched its own marketplace in 2015, as it allows digital stores to compete with bricksand-mortar shops’ trade-in services. Staley doesn’t even rule out the possibility of selling books and even groceries “one day,” so the “big gaming manufacturers take notice of us.”
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However, even High Street stores need to diversify their product range in order to remain competitive. “Our key areas of diversification has been technology, merchandise and trading cards,” Lindsay says of Games Centre. “After a few years of hard work and mistakes, both areas are starting to pay dividends and have become a significant percentage of our business.” Some areas of gaming being neglected by publishers is another reason why retailers feel the need to diversify. Family-friendly titles, for instance, are something the market needs more of, retailers tell us. “There’s definitely a lack of family and kids titles,” says Fraser. “The genre has decreased over the past few years, but there should still be an offering to younger gamers.” However, Amazon’s leader of entertainment media Russell Jones believes things have started to change in the last couple of months: “Our best-sellers for 2017 so far show a great breadth of genre – Crash Bandicoot, Horizon Zero Dawn, Mario Kart 8, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Ghost Recon Wildlands, GTA V, Mass Effect Andromeda, Overwatch, Resident Evil 7, and Rocket League all represent a wide range of genres and price points, as well as strong selling titles for Switch and VR. “What’s been noticeable in the last six months, and is visible in the rankings, is a range of titles on offer below PEGI 18, which is really important if we are to get more families gaming on home consoles.” Green Man Gaming’s Paul Sulyok is optimistic as well, and believes the industry now provides broader gaming options than ever before: “There’s never been a better time to buy and play video games than right
“A range of titles are now on offer below PEGI 18, which is important if we are to get more families gaming.” now with the widest range of games in the market made available thanks to an influx of independent developers and triple-A studios investing big budgets in classic and new IPs. “Games have also become more accessible due to the wide variety of gaming hardware available, and different price points catering to every gamer’s budget.” Sulyok also notes that big releases coming later this year and in early 2018 should further boost pre-orders and the retail sector as a whole, saying there’s been “high demand in our store and from our community for upcoming releases such as Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Far Cry 5, Anthem and Metro Exodus.” In the meantime, however, retailers eagerly await Q4, which should be bigger than ever again this year, according to Sulyok: “We’re looking forward to the later part of the year where we’ll see sales pick up again for the store after the summer break when games such as Destiny 2, Call of Duty: WWII and The Evil Within 2 get released. “Overall, the quality of game releases so far this year has been strong, and this is looking to continue for the next half of the year, which should be positive news for gamers as well as the retail sector.”
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standard The 35th Golden Joystick Awards returns this November. Katharine Byrne speaks to Future Publishing’s Dan Dawkins to find out what’s in store for this year’s instalment
“One of our focuses this year is to make the room really he Golden Joystick Awards is among the most fun again, from all the little details to all the reasons respected gaming events of the year. Not only people attend, but also strike a better balance for those is it the biggest publicly-voted awards show on watching the livestream. We want to use more pre-created the planet, peaking at a massive nine million video that’s short and sharp, which will play out well in votes in 2016, but it also acts as an important touchstone the room and on the stream. When we talked about Lara for the industry, marking the key trends and games that Croft being inducted into our Hall of Fame last year and are pushing us all forward. This year, the Golden Joysticks we did a celebration of her legacy, that video really united celebrates its 35th anniversary, and event organiser and everyone in just talking about Lara Croft, which was great, GamesRadar+’s global editor-in-chief Dan Dawkins so we’re going to put the focus on delivering a little bit tells us there are plenty of surprises in store to make this more video like that.” year’s show bigger and better Another top priority this than ever. We’re trying to find the right way to strike year is giving developers “Because it’s the 35th a balance between a great day in the the space to talk about their anniversary, we want to theme the event around a room and a good broadcast experience. games on stage. “It’s the gamer’s chance to sense of looking back and say thank you for all these looking forward, and it seems brilliant games they’ve played all year, and I think seeing like a good moment to do that,” says Dawkins. “Increasingly the people who made the games talking about what it’s in the industry itself, there’s a sense of looking to the past, taken to produce them, and for them to be rewarded for and quite often HD-updating the past, so I’m not saying it’s that, is really powerful,” says Dawkins. “For me, that’s a the HD-updated Golden Joystick Awards, but we’ve set off really big drive. I want to see developers on stage and, on a different path this year and we’re shaking it up a bit.” subject to event coordination and so on, I’d like to give That means an all-new venue, the Bloomsbury Big them the latitude to talk about their games.” Top, and more bespoke content to suit those attending in To that effect, the number of awards has actually been person as well as those tuning in from around the world reduced this year, but that doesn’t mean the range of on the Golden Joystick livestream. categories will be any less diverse. “In terms of the actual day, we’re trying to find the right “For some of the awards we’re dialling back on, way to strike a balance between a great day in the room we’re either turning them into essentially short video and a good broadcast experience,” Dawkins continues.
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presentations, or we’re going to make them criticallyvoted, as we think that’s a good way to get more of a rounded picture [of the industry],” says Dawkins. “It’s the industry’s and the gamer’s awards, and I want a show that reflects that. We had one esports category last year, but I think we’re going to have two this year, and we’re also going to introduce an Outstanding Achievement award for the UK games industry. That might be anyone from a developer to someone more in publishing, and we’d really like someone else of equal standing to give that award to them. “Then the other big award we’re looking at introducing is a kind of Still Playing Award, which is increasingly in trend with the way people play games. Loads of my friends are still playing Destiny, Overwatch, FIFA, Hearthstone and League of Legends, but these aren’t games that are out this year or fall into the
Pictured above: The 35th Golden Joystick Awards will take place at a new venue, the Bloomsbury Big Top. Pictured right: 2015’s host Danny Wallace is returning this year.
traditional Golden Joysticks voting period, so I think it’s only right to recognise where people’s time and attention is actually placed. Another award we’re introducing is a Community Creation award, celebrating things like the best YouTube video series around a game, or a user mod that’s blown up and done amazingly – anything that celebrates the amazing things people are achieving in video games that those who made the games probably never thought would happen.” To help broaden the awards’ audience even further, Dawkins says his team will be utilising all manner of social channels as well as other gaming publications to get the message out. “We’re looking to broaden the entrance to voting this year,” he tells us. “For example, using social networks as voting mechanisms as well as driving people to the [GamesRadar+] site. If you can make that process really
quick and friction free, it’s more inclusive, so we’re definitely looking at ways to expand the ability to get involved, so you’re not just visiting GamesRadar+ or chasing social links through its various social channels. “As part of the spirit of working a bit more agnostically with the industry, we’re also going to be working with Eurogamer this year to announce voting going live, and to do the final shortlist of the categories. We’re going to do a drinks mixer at the Eurogamer Expo, invite people in and announce a countdown to voting. I want that to be a kickoff for a more inclusive, exciting Golden Joysticks.” Returning to host this year’s event is none other than Danny Wallace, who made a big impression when he last hosted the awards back in 2015. “I thought he was a brilliant host two years ago, he knows his stuff, and he’s really accomplished,” Dawkins enthuses. “Just to work with him was great. He really engaged with the material and he really cared about what he said to the audience. He also did it in the year where the industry had gone mad and it was the year of Gamergate, so he did it in the most contentious year. I thought he did a brilliant job straddling that, so we’re really excited to have him back on board.” Ultimately, Dawkins’ biggest ambition for the awards is to commemorate what makes games great, and “the more we can make it a celebration of those games and that talent, the more we’ll be able to create a forum for pushing excellence and pushing the industry forward,” he says. “It puts you in a different space to, say, the BAFTAs. That’s very critical; it’s black tie, more formal, that sort of thing. Then, you’ve got something like [Geoff Keighley’s] Game Awards, which is definitely all about the broadcast and big premieres. I don’t really think that’s the space we’re in. It’s about the gamers, and that’s what we want to celebrate. We want to celebrate game creators, the people in the room, we want videos to be made by people in the community, because we want to celebrate that side of the culture. And that’s the Joystick’s focus – it’s for the gamers.”
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Touch down As Oculusâ€™ Summer of Rift sale comes to a close, Katharine Byrne talks to VP of content Jason Rubin about price cuts, Touch adoption and what needs to happen next before VR can hit the mass market
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hen Oculus temporarily dropped the price of its Rift + Touch bundle to £399 to kick off its Summer of Rift sale at the start of July, there were plenty of critics who saw it as another desperate attempt to drum up sales. After all, it had only been four months since the virtual reality headset maker had announced its first major price cut – bringing the bundle down from £799 to £599 – and according to the latest worldwide shipment data, the headset was still lagging behind its main competitors. According to a recent IDC report, the Rift shifted approximately 99,300 units in Q1, making up just 4.4 per cent of the world’s total VR and AR headset shipments. The Vive, meanwhile, had managed to ship 190,900 units (8.4 per cent), while Sony’s PlayStation VR stood at around 429,000 units (18.8 per cent). Admittedly, all three major headsets were outshipped by Samsung’s mobile-based Gear VR with 21.5 per cent of Q1’s total, though that’s a very different proposition. Oculus’ VP of content Jason Rubin remains unfazed by the Rift’s performance. “It’s been a great first half of the year for us,” he tells MCV. “Our confidence in our content is way up, and the entire organisation really believes that content is what’s going to drive VR into homes and into the mass market. “We’ve been kind of tepid up until now, because when we launched VR, there was no content at all. But we recently launched an open beta of Echo Arena, which has probably had the best reception of any title we’ve launched to date in the community. So we’re really feeling that our content is hitting at full cylinders, and because of that, we feel very confident that we can move past the early adopters and lower the barrier to entry so a more casual audience can come in.” Indeed, Rubin tells us the Summer of Rift sale has been a great success for Oculus so far, both in terms of hardware shipments and overall software sales. “Our hardware sales are strong after the last price drop. Every dollar isn’t an equal dollar. This $200 drop is a bigger deal than the last $200 drop. It’s not a linear progression down to zero. You end up at a place where people say ‘Oh, this is something I can totally afford,’ as opposed to ‘I’m [still] thinking about this because it’s a large purchase’.” He continues: “VR usage over the summer has gone up. The video game industry generally tends to be in somewhat of a doldrums [in the summer], but we haven’t found that in VR. We’ve found a lot of people are buying multiple pieces of software, and that’s yet
another reason to throw the hardware out there at a very reasonable price and bring in even more people. “We think that [a £399] price point is very mass market. It’s been proven on other high-end VR systems that are succeeding right now, and we think with the best library in the business, that now’s the time to do this and really drive people into high-end VR.” Rubin notes he’s also seen an “extremely tight” adoption for Oculus’ Touch controllers. “Touch is catching up with the Rifts that didn’t have Touch going in, and engagement – how much usage people have, how much they spend in the store, how many times they come back each week to VR – increases with Touch,” he says. “Touch, and your hand presence, is a kind of magic piece of the formula for VR, so going forward we really think of ourselves as Rift+Touch, it’s all one word.” MAKING A MOVE Multiplayer games in particular are key to growing a successful user base, says Rubin, but that doesn’t mean current hits like Overwatch or Call of Duty would necessarily translate into instant VR success stories. “Competitive titles are so important because they have that infinite gameplay that can occupy hundreds of hours of
“Now’s the time to drive people into high-end VR.”
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Pictured above: Oculus’ VP of content Jason Rubin
somebody’s entertainment time. However, there are limitations, locomotion for example, that a lot of TV-based multiplayer games rely on, but which we can’t simply port over into VR. “As we’ve gone through time, though, we’ve learned how to have locomotion and do things in VR that are working, and I think Lone Echo [the single player version of Echo Arena] is a perfect example of that. It’s a title that let’s you move around, but in a very specific manner. Zero gravity allows you to pull yourself through using your arms, which tends to mitigate the locomotion challenges of VR, and we’ve found anecdotally as we were testing that people are really comfortable in there and are really enjoying the title. So Lone Echo is a big win for us from a technology and learning standpoint.” Simply creating accessible titles isn’t enough, though, as consumers also need to know whether they can actually tolerate virtual reality before they buy a headset, regardless of how much it costs. For Rubin, this means that locationbased VR centres are now more important than ever. “It is a big part of the way that people experience and understand VR for the first time,” he says. “It’s very hard to explain to someone who hasn’t put on a VR headset what immersion really means, because it sounds like one of those buzzwords like ‘extreme’ that you just throw out there and it doesn’t really have anything behind it. But immersion is a big part of VR, and you have to see it in person.
“Even at $399 [£308], people aren’t likely to go out and purchase something they don’t understand, so allowing people to test it in the marketplace in short bursts is a big part of how VR’s going to move into the future. We’ve been very aggressive, especially in North America, in doing that on our own in retail locations – for example, in Best Buy, we have a demo that’s free – and we’ve found that the intent to purchase VR coming out of one of those demos is definitely higher than it was going in. So arcades are going to be a big part of VR’s long-term adoption.” There are still a few hurdles that location VR centres need to overcome, however, with Rubin noting the demand of getting users in and out of the headset quickly as being of paramount importance. “Many of the titles that we have now work perfectly well and will really excite people at location-based theatres. The challenge is that, unlike the home user, the location-based user can’t have a long training sequence, because effectively they’re then spending a good deal of their money training themselves for something they never get to do. There are a lot of VR games spending ten to 15 minutes easing you into the gameplay before they actually throw you into the game, and that doesn’t work if you’re renting for half an hour, because you feel like you didn’t really get there. So the games themselves work, but we probably want to modify parameters around it, so that you can get into and out of it more easily.
“Allowing people to test it in the marketplace in short bursts is a big part of how VR’s going to move into the future.”
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Pictured above: Lone Echo was “big win from a technology and learning standpoint,” Rubin says
“Staying in [a game’s ecosystem] becomes a big question. Each arcade has a different way of handling it. Do you create a user account to travel with you throughout the Oculus community? Do you set up a user account before going into an arcade? “There are challenges, but the fundamental gameplay of the titles that we are creating is fine for the arcade. The hardware works; it’s getting the things round the edges to work for our community.” CLOSING THE SALE Summer of Rift has clearly been a success for Oculus, then, and Rubin tells us it’s likely we’ll be seeing more of these sales events from the company going forward. “We, as a Facebook company, are experimenters,” he explains. “We believe in learning through data, and we believe in learning through testing and seeing what works. “We’ve always known, and we’ve been very clear, that VR was going to be a challenge to get into the mass market, but that it was inevitably going to succeed in the mass market. So, as a company, we tend to test the waters with sales.
“We’re constantly updating our core experiences, our core apps, everything else, on a monthly cadence, and it really is an experimentation process. Unlike the eighth, ninth, tenth iteration of a cell phone, we don’t have that base understanding of what the average mass market user’s going to do with it, so we have to keep experimenting. We know we will get there. We are 100 per cent confident VR is part of the psychological entertainment future. We just don’t know what exact road we take to get there, so these experiments are a big part of what we do.” For now, though, Oculus is still seeing the biggest amount of growth in the US. Europe, however, is “quickly becoming a massive part of our business,” says Rubin. “Europe has been a big market for us. We started stronger in the United States, because we’re a US-based company, but Europe is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our business going forward. “The price drop [happened] simultaneously around the world for all of our retail partners and online partners internationally, including Europe, so we really do consider [the region] to be a core part of our business.”
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INNOVATION, INNOVATION, TRANSFORMATION TRANSFORMATION & EVOLUTION & EVOLUTION
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30/08/2017 10:54 10:50 03/08/2017 17:06 03/08/2017 617:06 0:7015:0171701
Pictured right: Merge Games’ founder and MD Luke Keighran
Merge Games’ Landmark year Marie Dealessandri catches up with founder and managing director Luke Keighran to talk about how Merge Games embraced the Switch, why special editions of PC titles are still relevant and why indie games saturation is a double-edged sword What’s your overarching strategy and how has it evolved over the past few years? When I started Merge Games, the business’ focus was primarily on distribution. I had built up a large network of contacts in territories across Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia. I used this network to introduce boxed product into the markets; collector’s editions such as Limbo and Terraria were particularly successful. Following that, Merge moved into publishing, initially into the digital PC marketplace and then onto console. We’ve started console retail in 2016 with Aragami on PS4, and in 2017 we added full US distribution. So in just a few short years, we’ve grown into a major indie publisher that offers digital and retail solutions globally. Tell us more about your US distribution activity. Our first PlayStation 4 retail offering was Aragami, a ninja stealth game from Spanish developers Linceworks. At the time, we decided to licence the game to sell into North America. While it was a good solution, it was obvious that we would benefit from handling the process ourselves. We now manufacture and distribute directly into the US into the likes of GameStop, EB Canada, Walmart and Target as well as looking after the indies. There’s definite risk involved and we are careful which titles to put into the market; but we felt the rewards were there if we got it right. The first game we manufactured, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles on PS4, has already performed well and we are already looking at re-orders after initial sell-in. Looking at the size of the North American market in relation to our business, it was certainly the right move.
So 2017 is shaping up quite nicely for you, then? Since we started back in 2012, we’ve seen constant yearon-year growth. 2017, however, has been something of a landmark year in which we have managed to more than double our sales revenue from 2016. What’s more, with a couple of months still to go before year-end, we’ve still got two of our biggest projects to get out the door – The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ on Nintendo Switch and Riot: Civil Unrest on PC. What other projects do you currently have in the works? We’re currently very excited by the Nintendo Switch and have half a dozen titles lined up for digital and retail release in 2017. The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ on September 7th will be one the most important distribution releases in Merge’s history. We’re going to bring it to PlayStation 4 by the end of the year, too. I think we have a great mix of titles, ranging from known IPs to hidden gems we manage to uncover, such as The Long Reach. Developed by Painted Black Games, a Russian/Ukrainian team, it’s a thrilling horror story, flavoured with sci-fi ideology, psychological context and a sceptical view on the human psyche. Finally, we’re set to release Riot: Civil Unrest onto PC, billed as part RTS and part simulator. The game places you in some of the world’s most fractious disputes. As civil crisis deepens and inequality tears the very fabric of society, the discontentment of the masses manifests itself in violent public disturbances and civil disorder.
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Pictured above: Merge Games will be bringing Riot: Civil Unrest to PC later this year
How has the Switch impacted your business and what are your plans for this platform? We’ve embraced the launch of the Nintendo Switch and plan to have a growing portfolio of titles on the platform, starting next month with The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ and soon after Unbox: Newbies Adventure. I foresee the platform becoming a cornerstone of Merge’s business with titles launched digitally and into retail. It’s still early days and the platform is still finding its place in the market, but Nintendo’s approach is welcoming and inclusive and we are big supporters of Nintendo Switch. You also specialise in special editions with your Signature Edition Games – how did this come about and is it growing? Special editions of PC titles are something we hit upon quite early on. We’d seen success with titles such as Limbo, Space Engineers, Terraria and Gone Home. As our catalogue grew, it seemed a natural progression to move onto console, offering a quality package that collectors desired. We started with titles on the PlayStation 4 and soon discovered that there’s a vibrant fanbase of Vita owners out there. Our first title on both formats was Slain: Back from Hell, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good the Vita numbers have been – we’ve got two more Vita projects rolling out before the end of the year. So, the Signature Edition side of the business is developing nicely. We’re being conservative with it, though. Rather than just release a slew of titles, we look to offer the consumer a level of quality with bonus collectibles that add value.
Is the indie games market getting increasingly competitive, both in terms of signing and then selling titles? Absolutely, and it’s a double-edged sword for indie developers and publishers. Once upon a time, there were plenty of barriers to entry for smaller indie devs. As those have fallen by the wayside, we’ve started to see a real kaleidoscope of projects. One thing’s for certain – the overall quality of games we get sent has risen each year. The downside is that the market is saturated with content – there are some fabulous titles out there that would have been huge hits three or four years ago. Now they struggle, which is a terrible shame, and this is mainly due to saturation. As a publisher, we’re not immune from the effects of the deluge of titles, either. There are so many factors to consider when we sign a title; the dev’s experience and track record, our commercial knowledge, the state of the marketplace and trends within it and so on. Even if you can get close to ticking all the boxes, there’s no sure fire guarantee that a game’s going to be a success. Do you think Steam is improving as a platform, and have you benefited from recent changes? As the premier store for home computer titles, it’s our role to embrace the platform and work with them. Sure, we might sometimes question why the platform has changed, but it’s too easy to criticise Steam. It may be over simplifying things, but quality titles win on Steam. The platform thrives because of its community. Regular interaction with the userbase is the key and I believe Steam is working hard to maintain a strong connection with its customers. What are the challenges (and advantages) of being a publisher, a distributor and a retailer? We’re in a unique position where we can offer a comprehensive suite of solutions. We’re constantly adding to our list of services; distribution into North America being a recent example. The gap between the triple-A titles and indies is widening and we find ourselves sat somewhere between the two camps. The saturation of the marketplace can open opportunities, and although life moves very, very quickly, having an agile team and being able to react quickly is a big bonus. What are your ambitions in the long run? I see Merge Games here for the long term. We’re aiming to maintain the growth of the business, focusing on working with great developers and interacting closely with consumers. By understanding what the market demands, we can deliver better services, products and results.
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ROCK SOLID RELEASES – Q4
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Euro Truck Simulator 2: Cargo Edition This fully updated version of ETS2 comes with a new set of heavy haul cargo and other accessories to expand your truck driving experience.
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gaming merchandise uk
With Destiny 2 launching next week, Marie Dealessandri selects some of the merchandise releasing alongside Bungie’s long-awaited sequel
Destiny 2 Collector’s Edition Strategy Guide Prima will launch this beautiful collector’s edition strategy guide alongside Destiny 2 on September 6th. The book covers everything there is to know and achieve in Destiny 2, with a foreword written by game director Luke Smith. Fans can choose etween three di erent collecti le covers SRP: £16.99 Manufacturer: Prima Games Distributor: DK Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Destiny 2 Hardcover Ruled Journal
KontrolFreek Destiny 2 range
This 192-page journal created by high-end publisher Insight Editions features exclusive images and concept art from Destiny 2. It also includes a ribbon placeholder and a back pocket.
Designed in collaboration with Bungie, KontrolFreek created a Destiny 2 collection of thumbsticks for both PS4 and Xbox One. There’s a CQC Signature Edition and a Ghost Edition.
SRP: £13 Manufacturer: Insight Editions Distributor: Insight Editions Contact: email@example.com
SRP: £14.99 (Signature Edition), £17.99 (Ghost Edition) Manufacturer: KontrolFreek Distributor: Lime Distribution Contact: 01622 845 161
Official Destiny Ghost Candle Holder and Planet Scented Candles his host candle holder and its five candles inspired y Destiny’s universe of planets are part of Numskull’s new Destiny 2 merchandise range. Among its other unusual tie-in items, Numskull has created a bathrobe, a onesie, an ice cube tray and even Christmas baubles.
Destiny 2 3D Ghost Keychain This keyring is part of Numskull’s new range, launching alongside Destiny 2 next week. Other products include mugs, caps, wallets, magnets and more. They’re all available to pre-order from distributor Rubber Road.
SRP: £39.99 Manufacturer: Numskull Distributor: Rubber Road Contact: 01707 800 881
SRP: £9.99 Manufacturer: Numskull Distributor: Rubber Road Contact: 01707 800 881
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Developer: Bungie • Publisher: Activision Blizzard • Distributor: CentreSoft • Platform(s): PS4, XO • Price: £59.99
Destiny 2 will be "more accessible to all di erent kinds o players.
The publisher says...
The press say...
How well will it do?
Destiny is finally coming back to consoles next week, and is also heading to PC for the first time next month. Initially rumoured for a 2016 release, Destiny 2 was officially confirmed in March 2017, after a leak a couple of days before. At the time, Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg said developer Bungie was focusing on making the game "even better" than the first entry, "with state of the art first-person action, an awesome new story, great characters, and thoughtful innovations that make the game more accessible to all different kinds of players." Bungie CEO Pete Parsons added he was looking forward to "sharing a fresh, inviting story." n
In its latest issue, Edge reported there will be "over 80 missions and activities in Destiny 2, and each is substantial – in length, challenge, story and reward." Having played Destiny 2 at its LA reveal event back in May, Eurogamer's Wesley Yin-Poole said it's "a lot of fun to play, but it does feel very familiar." He added: "Bungie is, to my mind, the best in the world when it comes to making satisfying video game shooting." Meanwhile, Gamereactor's Mike Holmes gave his verdict on the beta, saying he was "impressed" with the game so far and that Bungie is "looking to build on what it did right in the post-Taken King era." n
Back in September 2014, Destiny became the UK's biggest new IP launch ever – a title it lost to Ubisoft's The Division in March 2016. Needless to say, expectations are high for Destiny 2, but it's very likely to meet its targets given it's launching during a quiet week at retail. The limited edition of the game is already sold out, too, so it looks like things are shaping up nicely for the title. Activision is also supporting the game in every way possible, including the release of a new merchandise range from Numskull. Destiny 2 should sell particularly well on PS4, too, as this version will feature timed exclusive content. n
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Developer: PES Productions • Publisher: Konami • Distributor: Open • Platform(s): PS4, XO, PS3, 360, PC • Price: £49.99 (PS4, XO), £39.99
Konami wants to cement PES 2018's rep tation as the definiti e ootball title.
The publisher says...
The press say...
How well will it do?
This year's entry in Konami's football series will release with a wealth of novelties and improvements. The developerpublisher even promised "more new additions than any other PES title in the last ten years," as it wants to "cement PES 2018's reputation as the definitive football title." Among these new features, PES 2018 will have "a new strategic dribbling system that offers greater close control" while "all set piece routines have also been totally reworked." Visuals have been upgraded, too, with new "true-to-life lighting across day and night games" among other improvements. n
Having played the beta, GamesRadar+'s Bradley Russell noted that PES 2018's online infrastructure has improved a lot compared to "PES’ previous years of choppy online connections and laggy losses." However, he encountered problems with crossing – "it all just comes out looking like a mess" – and "plenty of keeper issues." He enjoyed the new camera angles, though, praising its "smooth movement" and its "intelligent AI." He concluded that PES 2018 is better than last year's entry, adding: "Konami has got something here that could turn PES from underdogs into [a] title-winning franchise." n
PES has a long way to go before it reaches the heights of its rival and football behemoth FIFA. The 2017 versions of both titles came out last September, and though PES 2017 debuted at No.4 in the UK monthly charts to decent sales, FIFA 17 sold 28 times what PES 2017 shifted to take No.1 – and all this in just three days on shelves, against more than two weeks for PES. That's not to say PES 2018 won't sell well, but Konami's franchise is likely to remain in FIFA's shadow again this year, appealing to players who are already fans of the series. However, Konami's improvements in this year's entry could be a game changer. n
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Developer: SIE Japan Studio • Publisher: Sony • Distributor: CentreSoft • Platform(s): PS4 • Price: £29.99
"With Knack 2, we re st trying to make a highly enjoyable game.
The publisher says...
The press say...
How well will it do?
No one ever thought Sony's ill-fated PS4 launch title Knack would receive a sequel, but this time the platform holder wants to get things right. Talking to US Gamer in May, director Mark Cerny said he viewed the 2013 original as "an opportunity as the lead system architect to understand how what we built could really be used on a day-to-day basis. But with Knack 2, we're just trying to make a highly enjoyable game." He added: "Knack 2's goal was to take all that feedback and make a pretty different game – a lot of variety, combat, platforming and puzzles [with] a bigger focus on fun factor." n
Previews for Knack 2 have been surprisingly positive considering the critical beating the original title got. Polygon's Colin Campbell, for instance, said it all in his preview's headline: "Knack 2 is an atonement." He explained: "Knack 2 is a kind of reply to Knack. Almost everything that the critics – and, I suspect, Cerny too – did not like about the first game has been tossed out or improved. Knack 2 looks to me like everything Knack was not." He concluded: "Based on the evidence so far, Knack 2 looks like it will offer a much more enjoyable, rounded and varied experience than the original." n
Knack was a PS4 launch title and landed at No.13 in the UK charts on Week One. In the monthly charts, the title grabbed No.17 to lacklustre sales. Knack was never a best-seller and it was panned by critics. But this time, previews for Knack 2 have been encouraging and it seems to be living up to its promise of just being a fun, family-friendly action platformer. The simple fact there's a Knack sequel coming may also attract players out of curiosity. With Destiny 2 launching on the same week, though, gamers are likely to be looking elsewhere. Still, there's a real opportunity for Sony to tap into the family audience here. n
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Email: firstname.lastname@example.org September 1 MCV 924 | 41
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Monster Hunter Stories
Developer: Marvelous • Publisher: Nintendo • Distributor: Open • Platform(s): 3DS • Price: £34.99
Monster Hunter Stories is Amiibocompatible for the first time in the series
Having released in Japan in 2016, Capcom's Monster Hunter Stories is finally coming to western markets this month, courtesy of Nintendo. The 3DS title debuted at No.1 in Japan back in October last year, selling over 140,000 copies in Week One. However, it failed to reach the series' sales standards. For instance, Monster Hunter X sold almost 1.5m units during its launch week. However, Stories isn't a typical Monster Hunter game, which may explain its
lacklustre performance in its native Japan. Developed by Marvelous, this spin-off sees players riding monsters and battling alongside them instead of hunting them. Other novelties include being able to hatch eggs and customise monsters, and there's turned-based combat system, too, making it more like Pokémon than traditional Monster Hunter. Stories is also Amiibocompatible for the first time in the franchise's history, with figures unlocking extra monsters and bonuses. n
12/09 Rayman Legends: efinitive dition Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier, Pastagames • Publisher: Ubisoft • Distributor: Exertis • Platform(s): NS • Price: £29.99
Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition was one of the first titles announced for the Switch back in January. Ubisoft's ultimate version of 2013's Rayman Legends (which later released on PS4 and Xbox One in 2014) comes with new features, including an update for its much-loved mini-game, Kung Foot. A demo launched earlier this summer but had some technical issues when the Switch was docked. It was quickly removed from Nintendo's eShop and a new version was released right
before Gamescom, which fixed the issues. If this demo is anything to go by, Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition seems to be running really smoothly on Switch. The original game launched to critical acclaim, with the Wii U version reaching a score of 93 on Metacritic. IGN's Jose Otero said back then that "Rayman Legends is a fantastic example of why platformers will never stop being fun," because it constantly introduces "new and unpredictable ideas." n
Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition comes with new content and features
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Digital releases The pick of the crop from upcoming digital downloads Absolver
Developer: Sloclap Publisher: Devolver Digital Platforms: PS4, XO, PC Price: £22.99 Release date: Out now
Online melee action title Absolver released a couple of days ago, courtesy of Sloclap and Devolver Digital. The latter said it backed the title as its "extensive, international focus groups illustrate that people want to be able to punch faceless, nameless strangers over the internet." So that's Absolver in a nutshell.
Don't Knock Twice
Developer: Wales Interactive Publisher: Wales Interactive Platforms: PS4, XO, PC Price: £15.99 (PS4, PC), £9.99 (XO) Release date: September 5th
Developer: Wizard Fu Games Publisher: Double Eleven Platforms: PS4, XO, PC Price: £14.99 Release date: Out now
Procedurally generated title Songbringer is landing on Xbox One and PC today, with the PS4 version to follow on September 5th. Made by oneman studio Wizard Fu (AKA Nathanael Weiss), it features amazing pixel art and has been "crafted as a sci-fi love letter to old school action RPGs."
Developer: Too Kind Studio Publisher: Playdius Platforms: PS4, XO, PC Price: £8.99 Release date: September 20th
Developed alongside the horror movie of the same name that came out earlier this year, Don't Knock Twice is a first-person VR horror title, coming out on PS VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, with full controller support across all platforms. There's also a non-VR version releasing on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Successfully Kickstarted back in 2015, Pankapu takes place in the dreams of a kid and sees players take on the role a dreamkeeper trying to get rid of nightmares. Three classes are available and can be switched in real time. The prologue released on Steam in 2016 and gathered very positive reviews.
Release schedule Title
September 1st Rabi-Ribi Redout: Lightspeed Edition Warriors All-Stars
PS4, Vita PS4, XO PS4
September 5th Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth
PQube 505 Games Hack and slash Koei Tecmo
01462 677 844 0121 506 9585 01462 476130
Open Advantage Open
01256 385 200
September 6th Destiny 2 Knack 2
PS4, XO PS4
Activision Blizzard 01216 253 388 Sony 01216 253 388
September 7th The Binding of Isaac Afterbirth+
0121 506 9585
September 8th LEGO Worlds Monster Hunter Stories The Pillars of the Earth Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle
NS 3DS PS4, XO, PC PS4
Sandbox RPG Adventure Fighting
Warner Bros Nintendo Daedelic NIS America
01216 253 388 01753 483 700 01902 861 527 020 8664 3485
CentreSoft Open Pavilion Open
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The Uncharted legacy
Some new titles finally hit shelves last week, ending Crash Bandicoot’s seven-week reign at the top
fter seven weeks at No.1, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy’s winning streak has finally ended, as Sony released its new Uncharted spin-off: The Lost Legacy. The title made it straight to No.1 in the UK charts despite having spent only four days on shelves when GfK closed its report for the week. The title is the sixth PS4 exclusive to debut at No.1 this year. That said, its Week One figures are still a far cry from Uncharted 4’s stellar launch numbers, with sales down 138 per cent compared to A Thief ’s End. However, hardcore fans who already own one of the various deluxe editions of Uncharted 4 or its Season
PlayStation 4 software sales were up 123 per cent in units and 143 per cent in value week-on-week. Pass will have received The Lost Legacy for free, which may explain why its sales were so much lower. Either way, The Lost Legacy had a positive impact on A Thief ’s End, which re-entered the charts at No.30 after a growth of 42 per cent week-on-week. There were two other new entries in the Top Five last week as well – Codemasters’ F1 2017, which debuted at No.2 with sales down just two per cent on last year’s entry, and EA’s Madden NFL 18, which entered the charts at No.5 after a sales decrease of barely one per cent compared to the previous entry. Meanwhile, Activision’s Crash Bandicoot was pushed down to No.3 after a ten per cent decline in sales week-on-week. There isn’t much to report in the rest of the Top Ten, as Bethesda’s Fallout 4 and Dishonored 2 (respectively at No.6 and 7) continued to sell well due to previous price drops. Rockstar’s GTA V fell to No.5 despite a 26 per cent sales increase and Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 3 gained two places to No.8 with a 27 per cent boost in sales. Further down the charts, Team17’s The Escapists 2 entered the charts at No.12. Sales were up 379 per cent compared to its predecessor, making it the first title in the series to debut inside the Top 40. There were no other new titles in the charts last week, but we did see a few re-entries, starting with the Game of the Year Edition of Overwatch. The SKU re-entered the listings at No.21 with a 171 per cent sales increase due to retailers’ promotions. Minecraft: Story Mode – The Complete Adventure was also back in the charts
UK WEEKLY PHYSICAL CHART TOP 10 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy NEW F1 2017 NEW Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy Madden NFL 18 NEW Grand Theft Auto V Fallout 4 Dishonored 2 Forza Horizon 3 Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
PS4 PS4, XO, PC PS4 PS4, XO PS4, XO, PS3, 360 PS4, XO PS4, XO, PC XO PS4, XO, PC NS
Sony Codemasters Activision EA Rockstar Bethesda Bethesda Microsoft Ubisoft Nintendo
Source: Ukie/GfK, Period: Week ending August 26th
following the launch of the Switch version. Telltale’s title landed at No.28 with sales increasing 157 per cent weekon-week – 65 per cent of which went to the Switch. Ghost Recon Wildlands also made a return to No.26 after failing to reach the Top 40 the week before last. Here, sales rose 101 per cent week-on-week. Deep Silver’s Agents of Mayhem, which debuted at No.4 the week before, landed at No.13 last week with sales only decreasing 28 per cent week-on-week. Overall, the market was up 67 per cent week-on-week in units, with 316,860 copies sold. Its value increased by 77 per cent, now reaching nearly £9m. The vast majority of this improvement is due to PS4’s sales being up 123 per cent in units and 143 per cent in value, thanks to exclusives like The Lost Legacy, Crash Bandicoot, Horizon Zero Dawn (whose sales were up 14 per cent last week) and Farpoint (back in the charts at No.34 with a sales boost of 357 per cent), and good sales on the console for titles such as Madden NFL 18, which shifted 68 per cent of its copies on Sony’s platform.
F1 2017 debuted at No.2 with sales down two per cent compared to F1 2016
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This week, we braved the sweaty consumer halls of Gamescom to bring you the best highlights from last week’s show
Gamescom 2017 Gamescom saw record numbers of visitors this year, with over 350,000 attendees passing through its halls – which made navigating its epic queues and hordes of merchandise-bearing fans all the more difficult as we headed into the thick of its consumer halls. For those that wisely stuck to the business area, here’s a taste of what you missed – plus a glimpse of Warner Bros’ Shadow of War party (directly below).
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Ukieâ€™s pub-themed Gamescom stand was a welcome haven for UK industry members this year, with two drinks receptions to boot
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thedraft industry appointments
PAUL TURNER has joined Green Man Gaming as its new performance marketing EVP. Previously, Turner headed up online sports gambling site Sporting Index, where he overhauled the company’s marketing strategy. He’s also worked at QVC, where he spent nine years building its digital marketing programme from scratch. Paul Sulyok, CEO and founder of GMG said: “Paul’s 15 years’ experience at the forefront of digital marketing innovation working in forward thinking industries including online gambling and digital retail is a highly valuable addition to our executive team as we ramp up our internationalisation plans.”
Ukie’s former head of public a airs THEO BLACKWELL has been appointed as the Mayor o ondon’s first chie digital o cer n his newlycreated function, Blackwell will play a leading role in realising the Mayor’s ambition to make London the world’s smartest
city. Ukie CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE said she was “delighted that London has committed to an incl sive, innovation-driven digital economy. Theo has a brilliant track record as a leading transformational force in local government. His appointment is critical in reinforcing London’s position as a leader in the digital economy.” Blackwell added: he new chie digital o cer post is an amazing opportunity to make our capital even more open to innovation, support jobs and investment and make our p lic services more e ective
SARAH HOEKSMA has been appointed as Sold Out’s new marketing director. Having previously worked at the likes of ESL, Ubisoft, EA, Eidos and Square Enix Europe, Hoeksma brings a wealth of brand marketing, live marketing and esports experience to the company. CEO Garry Williams said: “Having someone of Sarah’s calibre to lead our marketing e orts in the physical and digital space for our partners will strengthen our publishing o ering across the oard rom working with some of the very biggest brands in gaming to being at the forefront of esports, ’m confident that Sarah’s knowledge and experience will fit per ectly into the tight-knit Sold Out team.” PlayStack has appointed MADS JENSEN as COO and board director. He will be working alongside CEO and founder
Harvey Elliot to guide the company towards bringing even more creative games to market over the next 12 months. Jensen stated: “I believe this business has all the ingredients to be a game changer for the industry. A team with an outstanding CEO, incredible talent, superb track record and a ar-reaching vision in an exciting and rapidly growing market – PlayStack has the potential to be the next London unicorn. This is a very exciting opportunity, and I am delighted to be joining the PlayStack leadership team to help realise the full potential of the business.”
Koch Media’s DAVID SCARBOROUGH has joined Improbable as PR coordinator for games. In his new role, he will be working closely with the company’s studio partners to showcase the games being made using Improbable’s SpatialOS platform. Scarborough commented: “Improbable is one of the most e citing start- ps in the tech world, and its SpatialOS technology has revolutionised the way developers think about game design. It’s an incredible privilege to work alongside our studio partners and the talented team here in the ondon o ce
Ukie has welcomed three new members onto its team. Industry consultants MARIE-CLAIRE ISAAMAN (pictured top) and VANESSA JOYCE (above, middle) will be supporting and scaling Ukie’s overall mission, while LAURA MARTIN (above) has been appointed to Ukie’s Digital Schoolhouse initiative. Ukie CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE said: “I’m pleased we can bring the e pertise o Vanessa and MarieClaire along with their extensive knowledge, ideas and networks, to help scale the ambitions of Ukie on behalf of the UK games industry. Laura’s digital marketing e pertise will e h gely eneficial to the Digital Schoolhouse project at this important nationwide expansion period. They are all talented and their experience will be a critical part of the Ukie team.”
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The 61st Insomnia Festival returned to Birmingham’s NEC last weekend, with 68,230 visitors passing through its doors. As well as featuring the latest games and technology, top YouTubers including Syndicate and DanTDM were in attendance for meet and greet sessions and live sets on the main stage, and i also saw the introd ction o a randnew ‘Head2Head’ zone for competitive gaming.
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ISSN: 1469-4832 Copyright 2017
Gamescom set a new visitor record this year with over 350,000 attendees from over 106 countries
Splatoon 2 became the first Switch title in Japan to cross the one million mark
GAME’s H1 market sales were up 8.8 per cent year-onyear thanks to the launch of the Nintendo Switch
The price of the HTC Vive has now dropped to £599, down from its original price of £759
Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds celebrated 8m sales by having more players on Steam than Dota 2 last weekend
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