Tag Archives: microsoft

Sold on Cross-Network Play

During the Nintendo Spotlight: E3 2017, cult favorite Rocket League was announced for the Switch. The announcement included the bullet point “Cross-Network play”, officially detailed on RocketLeague.com, emphasis my own:

Rocket League will also support all of Nintendo Switch’s play modes, including TV Mode (docked), Tabletop Mode, Handheld Mode, and both Online and Local Multiplayer. Online Multiplayer supports up to eight players, and Cross-Network play will be supported as well, allowing Switch players to hit the field with players on Steam and Xbox One.

The idea that I can play the exact same game with a friend on a different console should not be novel. It is a future I’ve been hoping for, and honestly, a no brainer from a consumer’s perspective.

For non-exclusives, I don’t want to have think about shutting out some of my friends based on a console decision. A handful of my friends prefer playing on Xbox One. Another handful prefer playing on PlayStation 4. I’m caught in the middle and certainly don’t want to purchase the game twice. (Nor should I be expected to own both consoles!)

Without the knowledge of different online communities, buying a game as a gift can be a tremulous experience for family and friends. Confusion exists for the non-gaming community. There are horror stories of purchasing Wii U games for Wii owners. Hell, there was confusion between NES and SNES games back in the ’90s. I would argue that purchasing a game for the correct console, but being locked out of playing with friends simply because they own a different console sounds like lunacy to those without gaming knowledge.

However, as Myke Hurley on the Remaster podcast points out, PlayStation will not be partaking.:

It’s very awesome that [Rocket League] has Cross-Network play. You’ll be able to play against players on other platforms. This is just PC and Xbox right now, which is the same for Minecraft. With the new Minecraft, you will sign in with an Xbox Live account to play on the Switch. So this is something it seems like a bunch of different game companies are getting together with one notable absent platform which is PlayStation.

This is not a technical limitation. It is political.

Jeremy Dunham, VP of publishing at Psyonix, in an interview with Polygon:

“It’s literally something we could do with a push of a button, metaphorically,” Dunham told Polygon. “In reality it’s a web page with a checkbox on it. All we have to do is check that box and it would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world. That’s all we need to do.”

As an owner of all three consoles, the gesture of Cross-Network play between Xbox One and Switch — even between two games, Rocket League and Minecraft — is enough to push me over the edge of purchasing and playing third-party titles available for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Xbox One.

Cross-Network play is the future for third-party titles and I have faith Sony will follow suit. Until then, whenever I’m debating which “HD twin” to play third-party multiplayer experiences on, Xbox One gets my money, simply on the potential that their willingness will bring more shared Cross-Network play experiences. (Come on, Overwatch!)

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More Battletoads

During today’s Windows 10 event, head of Xbox division and Microsoft Studios Phil Spencer was unabashedly sporting a Battletoads t-shirt. Polygon followed up:

When asked, Spencer told Polygon, “I don’t think I’ve ever worn a t-shirt that’s been a complete head fake. I don’t think I have … have I? I wouldn’t do that.” So if it’s not a “head fake,” we’ll consider it a confirmation of more Battletoads.

Rare games could be system sellers in my book. Relinking to last year’s post, Xbox One: Swinging for the Franchise Fences with Rare IP?

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Xbox One’s 7th Core

A very interesting read from Richard Leadbetter at Eurogamer:

Up until recently, both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have reserved two entire CPU cores (out of eight available) in order to run the background operating system in parallel with games. Since October, Microsoft has allowed developers access to 50 to 80 per cent of a seventh processing core – which may partly explain why a small amount of multi-platform titles released during Q4 2014 may have possessed performance advantages over their PS4 counterparts in certain scenarios.

However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the additional CPU power comes with conditions and trades attached – however, there is the potential for many games to benefit. Firstly, developers need to give up custom, game-specific voice commands in order to access the seventh core at all, while Kinect’s infra-red and depth functionality is also disabled. Secondly, the amount of CPU time available to developers varies at any given moment – system-related voice commands (“Xbox record that”, “Xbox go to friends”) automatically see CPU usage for the seventh core rise to 50 per cent. At the moment, the operating system does not inform the developer how much CPU time is available, so scheduling tasks will be troublesome. This is quite important – voice commands during gameplay will be few and far between, meaning that 80 per cent of the core should be available most of the time. However, right now, developers won’t know if and when that allocation will drop. It’s a limitation recognised in the documentation, with Microsoft set to address that in a future SDK update.

The concessions Microsoft has been making to the Xbox One (revised DRM model, “dis-Kinect”, price-drop, bundles, and now opening the seventh processing core) are admirable, and considering the recent spike in sales, certainly make for an interesting future for the console war. However, these are just that — concessions. Sony has continued to stay the course with compelling hardware and a simple story. Not to mention this is another hit against Kinect and the original vision of Xbox One.

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‘Everything is going to be OK. <3'

Mojang.com, regarding Microsoft’s Minecraft acquisition:

It was reassuring to see how many of your opinions mirrored those of the Mojangstas when we heard the news. Change is scary, and this is a big change for all of us. It’s going to be good though. Everything is going to be OK. <3

If I were a Minecraft player, these words would not bode well with me.

John Gruber after Apple’s September 2014 Special Event (iPhone 6, Apple Watch):

Believe it or not, this might be the biggest tech news of the day in the Gruber household.

I believe it.

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The Return of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro?

Andrew House on Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, as quoted by Telegraph:

In concept, it is something we’ve been thinking about and discussing, and this is a shift for us. We’ve started to say that maybe there isn’t anything wrong with going back and looking at characters that people still talk about, that were a big part of their childhood or their youth. I definitely wouldn’t close the door on that.

I’ve mentioned before that Microsoft needs to invest in aged Rare IP such as Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, and Conker (now coming to Project Spark). Blinded by their “success,” I however neglected Sony’s need to do the same.

It goes without saying that Nintendo is on the upswing. The value of their family friendly franchises are at the heart of why you can never count them out of the console race.

Mascots are identity. At the very least, Microsoft can lean on Master Chief but that only scores them a slice of the audience. (Granted a very big slice.) Sony has… Nathan Drake? Kratos? Sackboy and Sly Cooper are nice and all but hardly recognizable outside of Sony diehards. This all became very apparent with the release of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale.

Nintendo’s franchises, like Disney’s, are approaching timelessness. As the HD Twins continue to struggle in setting themselves apart, Nintendo is only going to gain foothold with releases that focus on familiar faces. Microsoft and Sony need to adopt color and a little family franchise flair.

I’m sad to hear that working with Crash Bandicoot and Spyro would be “a shift” for Sony, but good on House for acknowledging this question. Great on Telegraph for asking.

Update: Prior to the launch of Sonic The Hedgehog 2 ,circa 1992, as excerpted from “Console Wars” by Blake J, Harris:

According to a recent national survey, Sonic was now a more recognizable American icon than Mario, MC Hammer, and even Mickey Mouse.

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Console Love?

Keith Stuart, The Gaurdian:

Perhaps the newfound respect is a sign that the industry has matured. The average age of a gamer now is 35, and you can’t refuse to talk to the marketing executive at your firm because they own an Xbox One not a PlayStation 4 so they smell. At the same time, consoles are no longer the kings of the gaming block. Smartphones have created a massive new audience of casual players, and the PC has had something of a renaissance thanks to the Steam digital games service and the rise of indie developments like Minecraft. It’s not me v you in consoles anymore, it’s us v them.

In some ways it’s a shame. Great game design, great art even (OK, let’s not go there right now), is born from conflict and chaos, not from cosy chats and shared admiration. Grudging respect is fine, but I half yearn for the days when we spent so long with our consoles of choice that they became part of our identity, and identity is always forged in opposition.

I don’t think we can be so naïve to think that the “console war” discussions of old are not still happening behind closed doors. I believe the PR for both companies are wise to the impact of negative, name-calling campaigns under the magnifying glass of social media. They are also likely to avoid the same negative lambasting mirrored in online communities, a now infamous trait of the video game industry.

Perhaps the biggest reason the battle has turned into “us v them” goes back to the HD Twins conversation. Both consoles are so strikingly similar (especially now, with the removal of DRM and Kinect from Xbox One) that there isn’t much weight behind console v console jabs. If anything, this argument now lives on in the HD Twins v Wii U conversation.

To add, the 2014 E3 press conferences for both Sony and Microsoft appeared to mirror the other’s message from the previous year. In 2013, Sony was heavy handed on games. In 2014, that message was delivered by Microsoft. Likewise, Microsoft’s 2013 E3 messaging was miscellaneous media services such as all-in-one entertainment and exclusive TV shows. This appeared to be the underlying message in Sony’s 2014 conference.

Lastly, as if I haven’t spoken of it enough, Console Wars by Blake J. Harris is an entertaining read about the Nintendo v Sega console wars during the late ’80s / early ’90s. Worth your while.

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Rare and Lionhead are Crown Jewels

Phil Harrison, Microsoft Studios Europe, in an interview with Eurogamer:

We are very fortunate in having Rare and Lionhead in the UK as crown jewels of Microsoft Studios.

Rare is working on a couple of things at the moment, which we will announce at the right time. But I’m really excited by the things they’re doing and I believe you will be as well when you hear about them.

At E3 2014, Nintendo won over the hearts and respect of longtime fans by investing in first-party favorites, doubling-down on the Mushroom Kingdom, and acknowledging classic IP. Microsoft is not blind to the effectiveness of this move.

Killer Instinct was rebooted last year and Conker is making his way into Project Spark. My suspicions still lie here.

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Fanboy Wars

Forbes writer Paul Tassi’s Fanboy Wars focuses on the fifteen-year span between the early 2000s and today’s gaming empire and the intense impact “fanboys” have had. It details the beginning of the Sony and Microsoft living room war to Facebook’s $2 billion Oculus acquisition. This quick 70-odd page read acts as a great refresher for those with interest in the space and a primer for those looking to familiarize themselves with the modern industry while trimming the fat of history.

Following the likes of Jane McGonigal, Tassi needs face-time to preach the power behind fanboyism. His ideas are a realization that today there exists a single community manifesting great power in an unlikely place; a community that can course correct multi-billion dollar companies yet heartless enough to lay waste to its own kind. While only the tip of the iceberg, I fear that the book will only fall on a choir of gaming peace-keepers and business types rolling their eyes at the idealism found in the pages.

My one large critique of Fanboy Wars is Tassi’s neglect to mention the seemingly poisoned and downtrodden heart of the industry: Developers. While he spend much time lamenting over harsh criticism developers receive from fanboys, he skips over the harsh reality developers face in studio turnover. His miss at the potential upside of Xbox One’s DRM for industry devs leaves his argument a bit unbalanced. Whether or not Microsoft’s original DRM strategy would have been a boon against the industry’s continuous and tragic staff up/layoff pattern remains to be seen, but even a brief adage about the potential benefits to a new console experience would have been refreshing. Hopefully this insight will be saved for Tassi’s next piece.

All told, Tassi mustered up a quick, easy-to-digest summary of today’s gaming world. While his grander message is a realization of the incredible power in oft-scorned fanboyism, Fanboy Wars doesn’t offer much depth for those already harboring intense focus on the industry; however, the book works as a great catch-up for new comers to the industry. Here’s to hoping that Fanboy Wars is a prelude to a something greater.

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Microsoft at E3

Keith Stuart, The Guardian:

Broadcast live over the internet to millions of viewers the world over, the message couldn’t be more clear: last year’s emphasis on the strength of the Xbox One as a multimedia and live TV platform was a mistake. This is a games machine that also does other stuff that no one here really wants to hear about.

At the end of a pummeling 90 minutes of game announcements and confirmations, Spencer took to the stage again and said, “thank you for making your voice heard, thank you for helping us shape the future of the new Xbox.” Basically, it’s what Microsoft has been saying for the last six months – we listened, we changed, now eat this.

The 2014 Microsoft sounded a lot like the 2013 Sony. I would have loved for Microsoft to double-down on their original DRM and Kinect strategy, offering up an entertainment ecosystem that could have set Xbox One outside of the HD Twins comparison. Alas, their indie games showcase offered up impressive tiny titles that could end up system sellers, and that says a lot.

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Pipe Dream

Ben Kuchera, Polygon:

Mario Kart 8’s sales numbers are amazing. The attach rate between the game and the console is something that every console holder should envy, but the problem is that with so few consoles there is a ceiling to the total number of sales Mario Kart 8 can do. Even assuming the game will cause systems to move, it’s likely to be the worst-selling game in the existence of the series.

On the other hand, Watch Dogs is now the best selling new IP in the history of the video game business. It’s very hard to find any apples to match with these oranges; Ubisoft matched a game that was announced in near-perfect fashion with a huge marketing spend and a release that spanned five consoles. The news would be more interesting if the sales didn’t break records.

These two events tell us much about the opportunities in the video game industry right now.

I am a huge fan of Ben Kuchera and his opinions. While I usually agree (at least somewhat), I cannot help but find this one extremely impractical. Though Nintendo is filling a bathtub with buckets rather than a lake with flood-gates, what happened to the argument that software sells hardware?

Global Hardware Totals (in millions) via VGChartz:

Wii U: 6.21
Xbox One: 4.57
Xbox 360: 81.33
PS4: 7.82
PS3: 82.82

To evaluate the total Watch_Dogs market, let’s use the delta between current and prev-gen consoles + countless PCs. That is 151.76+ marketable machines. If this is the case, Ubisoft has successfully sold 4 million units of Watch_Dogs to an install-base of 151.76 million consoles + countless PCs. Nintendo has successfully sold 1.12 millions units of Mario Kart 8 to an install-base of 6.21. That is less-than 2% vs. 18% attach rate.

I actively applaud Ubisoft’s impressive figures but I see the success of Mario Kart 8 greater. Regardless of release date, Wii U unit numbers fall between Xbox One and PS4; Mario Kart 8’s success is only going to grow that number. How quickly that number grows remains to be seen, but early reports are positive.

To add, Ben’s dream of a multi-platform Mario collection release to third-party consoles seems appetizing albeit backwards. We will eventually see the release of the Mario catalog on the Wii U (and possibly 3DS) via the virtual console with added community support with the possibility of updated visuals (don’t cross your fingers). And, assuming Nintendo does not release Mario to third-party consoles, rather than release in a single bulk collection, the fan-base will continue to salivate at the trickling of legacy releases. To be completely forthright, I can’t remember a legacy release that I continued to play after 5-10 hours. Nintendo would be shooting themselves in the foot by releasing an HD legacy collection to Wii U owners let alone third-parties.

Though Nintendo admits they are already looking to the Wii U’s successor, any viable company should have a road map. Giving up the ghost only perpetuates the idea that Nintendo is weak. Instead, Nintendo’s ability to rebound a dire situation” with Mario Kart 8’s abundance of positive press and a phenomenal attach-rate (low install-base aside) should be considered an extremely gargantuan feat, offering a positive outlook on the future of Wii U.

My dream is that Nintendo 180s this dire situation with an impressive uptick in Wii U numbers and continued IP prominence.

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