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WSJ is Breaking Nintendo

Takashi Mochizuki, The Wall Street Journal:

Nintendo Co. plans to bring its videogame franchise “The Legend of Zelda” to smartphones, people familiar with the matter said, the latest step by the Kyoto company to expand its mobile-games lineup.

More often than not, it feels like WSJ — Mochizuki in particular — is breaking Nintendo news these days. At the very least, Mochizuki has a keen eye on the beat. Never have I been so inclined to pay for The Wall Street Journal, which paints a picture of Nintendo’s audience as much as it does The Journal’s.

Here are some other recent scoops from Mochizuki:

5/1: Nintendo Shipped Switch Consoles by Plane to Quickly Meet High Demand

4/27: Nintendo Offers Bright Outlook on Expectations for Switch

3/17: Nintendo to Double Production of Switch Console

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Side-note: I really like how tapping/clicking a WSJ byline reveals the writer’s bio, Twitter handle, and email address — a treatment I’ve never realized I’ve always wanted.

Self-Competing and Time Blocking

Daniel Ahmad, writing on his new ZhugeEX Patreon blog (paywall):

This trend isn’t going anywhere right now but it is important to note that only a set number of service games can be successful each year. There is a danger of over saturation or poorer sales from self-competing games. We’re not quite at the point where this is a real danger but it does mean that games need to have higher production values and enough differentiation within one of the top super genre’s to be successful. This is probably something to watch out for at the end of the generation.

First and foremost, for my dollar, Daniel Ahmad is absolutely crushing video games industry analysis. He’s a great follow on Twitter (@ZhugeEX) and his efforts are well-worth supporting via his Patreon.

Now, I’ve been meaning/trying to write about an idea that self-competing games use game length as a means for competing. That is, the length and release date of a game can block the sale of another similar game with a proximal release date. I’ve struggled to put together a theory that these proposed “time blocking” tactics are meaningful, coincidental, or off-base:

  • Meaningful – Publisher X purposefully schedules release date of Game X against the release date of Game Y. (I find this hard to believe due to the large lead times and estimations required for AAA games.)
  • Coincidental – Publisher X and Publisher Y happen to schedule releases for Game X and Game Y around the same time. (More likely, but rings a bit too innocent.)
  • Off-base – There are so many massive, feature-rich games released that, like TV series and books, there will inevitably be overlap in release dates.

The latest example of this “time blocking” tactic occurred around March 2017. Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were released three days apart (Feb 28 and Mar 3) and clock in at an average of 45.5 and 72.5 hours respectively. (HowLongToBeat.com) Both games were followed up by Mass Effect: Andromeda (61.5 hours) and Persona 5 (102 hours!) within a month’s time.

One could make the observation that the hours necessary to experience these games as intended puts them on a closer par with a modern television series. (As of this post, there are roughly 55 hours of Game of Thrones episodes, 72 hours of Mad Men, etc.) So, with customers’ appetites for feature-rich gameplay experiences, maybe my concept of “time blocking” is off-base. However, I like to believe that this “appetite” doesn’t actually exist.

I’m currently 50+ hours into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and only 3/5 of the way through the main quest. No doubt that it’s an incredible experience with it’s unparalleled physics-based sandbox, wide-open exploration, and stunning art style. But for me, 50+ hours is an immense amount of a time to spend with a single game. Unlike a TV series, most of the 50+ hours I’ve spent with Breath of the Wild have consisted of wandering a vast landscape, retracing my steps, or banging my head against puzzles. It’s a fantastic escape of exploration, but I can’t help but think 30 or 40 hours to complete would have felt sufficient.

As a developer, I would certainly want my audience to experience my art and efforts for as long as possible. And as a publisher, I would want to players to adopt an affinity for my franchise over another. But as a player, it’s hard not to feel that the release dates of similarly massive titles, or “self-competing” games, are beginning to overlap. And this overlap has reached a point that players must now choose which experience will block another.

‘The schoolyard is the entirety of the internet’

Ben Kuchera, Polygon:

Breath of the Wild feels like a return of the schoolyard culture, where friends meet to discuss the latest things they’ve found in a Nintendo game and share rumors of even bigger possible secrets, except now the schoolyard is the entirety of the internet. It’s comfortable with assuming that you’re smart enough to figure things out, and it knows that it’s not going to be ultimately responsible for everything you miss or even built-in frustration. The answer to every puzzle is a quick Google away, and the game’s design seems comfortable with that option being a viable path to moving forward.

I completely agree.

Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Breath of the Wild Game Director, on designing Breath of the Wild’s open gameplay at GDC:

Let’s not forget the fact that all the solutions to all the puzzles that we’ve painstakingly prepared for a dungeon are made available on the internet.

Great design decision by Fujibayasha and team. Breath of the Wild is clearly not their first rodeo, but this strikes me as forward thinking for Nintendo.

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Phil Collins: Crash Bandicoot man

A fun tidbit from Phil Collins’ memoir “Not Dead Yet”:

Somewhat dazed, I go back to the hotel, the Peninsula Beverly Hills. Lily, now aged nine, is waiting for me, which brightens things up no end. She and I start playing Spyro the Dragon—computer games are one of our new shared passions. I love them, and I love Spyro, although if push comes to shove, I’ll declare myself a Crash Bandicoot man. As if by magic, the hearing in my left ear roars back. It’s like I’ve been underwater, but the blockage is suddenly gone. Thank God for that.

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Eurogamer: ‘Docked Zelda Stutters in Places Where the Mobile Experience Does Not’

Richard Leadbetter, Eurogamer:

In terms of performance, it’s immediately clear to the naked eye that the docked Zelda stutters in places where the mobile experience does not – and to confirm this, we manually counted frames by eye based on our camera shots to ensure accuracy in producing the performance test below. It’s really easy to isolate this issue as it occurs frequently in the open world, right from the beginning of the game. In some places, we see the smooth 30fps update while docked drop down to a momentary 20fps – confirming a basic double-buffer v-sync implementation.

Home console?

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GameStop Announces Midnight Switch Launch

GameStop press release:

This just in: GameStop, a family of specialty retail brands that makes the most popular technologies affordable and simple, announced stores will have a limited supply of Nintendo Switch systems available for walk-in customers on the March 3 launch day. Customers who were not able to pre-order the system are encouraged to attend GameStop’s midnight launch events held at stores across the nation for an opportunity to purchase Nintendo’s revolutionary new home gaming system.

A few thoughts:

  1. I’m screwed. Fat chance I’ll make a midnight launch. Fatter chance there’ll be any Switch(es) left around noon in Tahoe. Fattest chance there’ll be Switch(es) days/weeks later.
  2. Five out of the six sites I found reporting this news did not source GameStop’s press release. Not Polygon. Not GameStop. Not USA TODAY. Not BGR. Not SlashGear. However, Tom’s Hardware did. Pitiful.
  3. “Simple” is the last word I would use to describe GameStop.
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Humble Freedom Bundle

Humble Bundle:

Take a stand for freedom. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door. – “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, from an engraving on the Statue of Liberty.

We humbly remember that the United States is a nation of immigrants, and we proudly stand with developers, authors, and charities that champion liberty and justice for all.

This special one-week bundle features over $600 in incredible games and books for just $30. 100% of your payments will go to the American Civil Liberties Union, the International Rescue Committee, and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Humble Bundle will proudly match your contributions up to $300,000.

We chose these three organizations because of the inspiring work they do in providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced people as well as in defense of justice, human rights, and civil rights:

Humble Bundles are a fantastic way to spend your hard earned cash. Here’s the deal: you give your money to Humble Bundle and they give you great games, donate your money to amazing charities, and match your donation up to a particular amount. Win, win, win.

I’ve contributed to a handful of Humble Bundles and I can say the Humble Freedom Bundle is the greatest yet. It includes some of the best games released over the past 10 years for $30 and matches donations to three phenomenal charities. If you need more convincing, here’s my review of The Witness. Also, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is incredible (and has one of the greatest soundtracks ever!), and boy oh boy I can’t wait to play Stardew Valley, Polygon’s #8 Game of the Year 2016.

Do this. Do this now. Do this for many reasons. But do this now.

(The irony of a charitable organization contributing to your pile of shame!)

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‘Metacritic’ Still Matters, But For How Long?

Chris Baker, Glixel:

The hue and cry around that score is the best evidence that Metacritic deeply matters to many people. And not just fans – the bonus payments that game makers receive from their publishing companies is often tied to the Metascore and those same publishers spend a great deal of time and effort trying to predict the number as it could affect everything from retail orders to returns.

But the games business, and games themselves, are changing. In many ways, a snapshot of what the critical consensus is at the time of launch does not reflect the ultimate nature of a game. Is Metacritic still relevant in this new climate?

A great insight to the inner workings of Metacritic. Must read.

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Takahashi: ‘reach that broader smart device audience and entice them to move towards Nintendo Switch’

Nintendo’s Yoshiaki Koizumi and Shinya Takahashi were interviewed by The Telegraph. There’s not much new in here, other than confirmation of developing for 3DS through 2018, which also plays into a now confirmed mobile strategy:

Is it more to drive that smartphone audience into buying a Switch? 

Takahashi: Certainly one of our goals in releasing software for smart devices that features Nintendo IP is to reach that broader smart device audience and entice them to move towards Nintendo Switch.

By 2018, assuming the Switch can hold its own, I believe price drops will squeeze out a new Nintendo handheld console. (Maybe a mini-Switch is a possibility?)

On possible supply constraints:

Finally as we head toward launch there has been some reports of stock shortages. Are you confident that anyone that wants a Switch will be able to buy one?

Takahashi: Maybe within the first few days! It does sound like there might be a few shortages here and there, but once you get past that I think we’ll have a very steady flow. Some of our employees are worried about getting one… but we are making a lot!

I’m really hoping this is true.

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‘On the internet, no one still knows you’re a dog’

John Markoff,  former technology reporter for the New York Times, in an interview on Kara Swisher’s Recode Decode podcast:

On the internet, no one still knows you’re a dog. I think identity and the fact that you disconnect [real] identity from your internet identity has proved incredibly vexing for society. It played out in this election. It played out in Brexit. (It was a factor in both—I don’t know if it was a deciding factor—but I actually do blame the internet.)

I grew up with John Perry Barlow and his manifesto in WIRED in which he argued that cyberspace would be this “Socratian” abode above the grimy politics of the world. Then I realized I was wrong.

The internet is simply a reflection of all the good and the evil in the world.

[…]

What’s striking to me is that what the science-fiction world saw in the ’80s and ’90s has actually come to pass; the cyberpunk sensibility. There was a book written by Vernor Vinge in the early 1980s called True Names. The basic premise of that was you had to basically hide your true name at all costs. It was an insight into the world we’re living in today.

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