The Biggest Stories Of The Week (July 27, 2013)
This was a busy week, with Microsoft's shift in self-publishing policy, Activision's newfound parentless existence, and a report about the PlayStation 4 that has some gamers concerned that the system isn't as powerful as once thought (hint: both next-gen consoles are going to blow you away). Before we get to any of that, I want to draw your attention to something special that Mechwarrior Online developer Piranha Games and Infinite Game Publishing are doing in memory of one of the game's youngest fans.
Sarah Marie Alida Parries passed away at the age of five after a fight with cancer. In her memory, the MechWarrior Online team has designed a special Mech, Sarah's Jenner. It's currently being sold for $10 and it's usable in game. All of the proceeds (net credit card fees and taxes) are being donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. The story has caught international attention, with the campaign at over $60,000 so far. If you are interested in learning more and contributing, you can see the mech and read the story on the official site.
Microsoft opens its arms for indie development.
It's getting to the point where I feel a little bad for Microsoft. It's not because they've made so many communications errors. That was the company's own doing. No, it's because no matter what announcements are made, the house of Xbox can't seem to catch a break with gamers.
On Wednesday we broke the story that Microsoft would not only be shifting gears on its long-held stance on independent developer self-publishing, but a lot of other changes were coming down the line. The Xbox One can be configured as a devkit (via hardware provisioning), beta tests would be streamlined through this same method, and the lengthy certification process facing developers would be boiled down to something akin to Apple's App Store (with a 14-day turnaround).
This is all good news (even if we don't know the details). Even if there are strings attached (aren't there always?), this is a major improvement from the current policy that requires a publisher to get in front of gamers. Furthermore, we understand that developers will be able to set their own release dates and prices. This will do much to reduce the craziness of the Xbox Marketplace release schedule (as detailed by editor Joe Juba recently).
The fact that some gamers are laughing and deriding Microsoft for this move (regardless of whether it was planned or reactionary) is petty. We should want companies to be responsive to the consumer base. How about we cut Microsoft a break on this one and just celebrate that more indie developers (and their games) will be appearing on the Xbox One. We'll know more about how this is all going to work next month at Gamescom in Germany.
Activision leverages debt to free itself from an abusive parent.
Early in the week, we ran a report that Activision Blizzard parent Vivendi was about to make its expected move to use the publisher to pay down some of its enormous debt. The plan was to force a "special dividend" through Vivendi's 60 percent control of the company that would have bled $3 billion, $2 billion of which would have gone to Vivendi. Vivendi has been trying to sell its shares of Activision for a while now, but with the success of the company, the asking price was simply too high for most. So, CEO Bobby Kotick did the only thing he could to prevent the parent company from raiding Activision's rich coffers. He bought them out himself.
Pulling together about $8 billion ($5.83 billion from Activision itself financed through domestic cash and a number of major banks, $2.34 billion from independent investors led by Kotick and co-chairman Brian Kelly), Kotick orchestrated a sale of Vivendi's majority stake. The former parent still controls about 12 percent of the company, but it's not enough to pull a move like it was planning.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about what this means for Activision, so let's run down what's happened financially (so far). Early yesterday morning, Activision held a special conference call to discuss the buyout. We'll know the full details on August 1, when the publisher holds its second quarter earnings call, but right now, the outlook for the remainder of the year is up. Stock prices, likewise, are up at this time (more than 15 percent). Why?
The CEO of the company has made possible a scenario in which the publisher doesn't lose $3 billion with nothing in return. That same CEO has put up a significant amount of his own money (he and Kelly combined spent $100 million) evidencing confidence in the corporation. The company's offshore money was untouched, which means it still hasn't been subject to taxes (there is still about $3 billion or so in cash overseas). And the debt they've now incurred from three major banks is leveraged well. It's all good news for Activision.
Let's be clear, though. Activision has secured its independence from Vivendi. It is not an "indie." Activision is still a publicly traded company with a multitude of investors (now including Tencent, which owns 40 percent of Epic, and partnered with Activision on Call of Duty Online in China). The next Call of Duty game will not feature voxels. It will not be quirky or charming. It will not turn its nose up at Call of Duty and tell you that Call of Duty is ruining the game industry because ludonarrative dissonance.
That would be pretty funny though... right?
- San Diego Comic-Con Coverage
- Telltale reflects on The Walking Dead Season 1
- A host of new characters join the LEGO Marvel Super Heroes cast.
- The Saints Row IV cast opened up about their experiences, with new details coming out. The Enter the Dominatrix DLC is making a comeback as a playable behind the scenes spoof.
- Assassin's Creed IV's Comic-Con panel is available. Settle in, because it's an hour long video.
- Wasteland 2 got a slight delay, with the beta (instead of launch) hitting in October.
- Wargaming and Stardock picked up some franchises from Atari's bankruptcy auction.
- Age of Wonders III has been delayed until next year.
- Sales of Pikmin 3 in Japan were extremely positive in the game's first days.
- Saints Row IV is headed back to the Australian Ratings Board.
- The Xbox One stores five minutes of video on a rolling basis so you won't miss out on capturing exciting moments.
- The exhibitor list, tournaments, and a special John Carmack presentation have been announced for QuakeCon.
- Runescape 3 is now up and running in HTML5.
- MercurySteam is passing the Castlevania series torch to another studio after Lords of Shadow 2.
- Capcom cites poor sales of Darkstalkers Resurrection HD for putting the series back on ice.
- Rockstar refreshed the trademark for open-world title Agent.
- Stellar sales of Animal Crossing: New Leaf in North America have propelled Nintendo's stock to the highest level in two years.
- Indiecade and Oculus Rift are putting on a game jam.
- FIFA and Madden ultimate team progress will carry over across the generation gap. EA and DICE are considering something similar for Battlefield 4.
- News from EA's first quarter earnings call: Digital continues to grow at a staggering rate, FIFA continues to propel profits, Plants vs Zombies 2 is still on track for release before the end of August, and EA is backing away from social and Facebook games.
- Madden creator Robin Antonick won the first phase of his lawsuit against EA for royalties and damages.
- Nintendo is offering free money for loading up your eShop account on Wii U.
- GDC 2014 conference submissions are now open.
- Epic and Nvidia are bringing Unreal Engine 4 to mobile.
- Rekoil, Divekick, and 14 others were approved via Steam Greenlight.
- Former Blizzard and Sony executives open Molten Games.
- Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of Super Smash Bros. is upset about cutscene uploads, and therefore won't be including them in the next title.
- Shadow of the Eternals is back on Kickstarter, and Precursor Games wants its top backers to fly themselves to a convention and work for free.
- CD Projekt Red and Warner Brothers are teaming up again to bring The Witcher to North America.
- Day Z has been modded to work with Arma 3.
- Kinect Sports Rivals got bumped from the Xbox One launch.
- According to a report from Eurogamer's Digital Foundry, the PS4's RAM is allocated in such a way that not all of it is available for game developers.
- World of Warcraft subscriptions have fallen again. Only 7.7 million people are currently active users.
Previews and Reviews
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, and interview with actor Robert Carlysle (Preview)
- Find out why you should be excited for Tales of Xilia. (Preview)
- Mercenary Kings (Video Preview)
- Five things you should know about Pikmin 3 (Preview)
- Trion Worlds is retooling End of Nations as a genre-expanding MOBA. (Preview)
- Shadowrun Returns (Review)
- Towerfall (Review)
Announcements and Release Dates
- Gearbox announced HD remakes of Homeworld and Homeworld 2.
- Borderlands 2 is getting some additional content.
- More Mega Man Gameboy titles are coming to the 3DS Virtual Console.
- The Nvidia Shield has a new release date of July 31, 2013.
- Gamefreak has announced Soriti Horse, a mashup of solitaire and horse racing.
- Gree and Marvel are teaming up for a new free-to-play mobile card game.
- Square Enix unexpectedly released mobile title Chaos Rings for Vita.
- Retro/Grade creator Matt Gilgenbach is working on a horror title called Neverending Nightmares.
- Red Barrel's survival horror title Outlast is coming on September 4.
- Activision confirmed six titles for the Wii U. Yes, Call of Duty: Ghosts is on the list.
- Rayman Legends is coming to PC.
- Author Neil Gaiman is working on a new game called Wayward Manor.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is getting DLC that involves a whale.
- Secret Files: Sam Peters, a spin-off of the Secret Files point-and-click adventure series, is due on September 27.
- F1 2013 arrives on October 8.
- The developers behind Canabalt and Aquaria are teaming up to create a new game called Grave.