[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from curator/video game industry veteran Simon Carless, rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend. Some of the highlights include the state of HDR in gaming, behind the scenes on new RTS Tooth & Tail, and stories from some key Nintendo indies.
End of week, and what were my most notable conversations over the last seven days? Had some interesting BUSINESS discussions with my No More Robots publishing partner Mike Rose about the latest SteamSpy data. Of course, the overall trend is 'many more games on Steam, so average revenue is down', which is a) true and b) not news.
But lots more things to discuss in there - is 'price x owners' really a fair indicator of revenue? (It's definitely not over time, but arguable OK-ish in the first month if there weren't Kickstarter keys or massive initial discounts. But you still have to take 30% Steam cut & taxes into account.) And then there's mean vs. median - the median (50th percentile) game sold just 155 copies in its first month, wow, vs a mean (average) of 2,500 copies. Those numbers are quite different - which should you pay attention to?
Conclusion? Well, it all comes down to whether you think massively caveat-ed data with some semblance of accuracy is better than no data at all. Gamasutra stopped covering NPD results 4 years ago because Kris Graft came to the conclusion the latter was true. Mike is correctly skeptical, but for me, SteamSpy has enough usefulness to peruse for general trends. But goodness, you'd better look carefully at the paid Steam review totals & understand the effects on revenue of bundles & flash sales on 'units owned' - otherwise you're in business plan-related trouble.
Until next time...
- Simon, curator.]
Stormlands and the million-man raid: Obsidian's cancelled Xbox One exclusive (Robert Purchese / Eurogamer)
"Throw your mind back to Microsoft sharing a dream of an infinitely powerful Xbox One cloud, a box under your TV able to suck an almost mystical power into your living room, transforming games as we know them. The vision wouldn't quite materialise, but while Microsoft was hallucinating over the cauldron it was also throwing money around - throwing money at Xbox One exclusives to embody this future, and Obsidian Entertainment was spinning in its pot."
Study: Young Men In the U.S. Watch More Esports Than Regular Sports (Blake Hester / Glixel)
"Surveying a total of 4,000 people of different ages, genders and education levels from countries like France, Germany, India, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, United Kingdom, and United States, Limelight found that while esports are at the bottom of the list when it comes to global viewership, 22 percent of "American millennials," out of 500 Americans polled, say they regularly watch competitive gaming."
Game Design Deep Dive: The asymmetric multiplayer of Rising Storm 2: Vietnam(Jack Hackett / Gamasutra)
"The US had access to an outrageously dangerous flamethrower, whilst their opposing forces relied on tools like an indirect fire ‘Knee Mortar’ to counteract them. The result was a game in which playing as each team felt very different, and where we had to design maps with the differing tools of each army’s troops carefully in mind. We wanted to ground every feature and weapon in reality, so because the Japanese had inferior, more dated armaments in the history books, they did in the game, too."
Forget Protagonists: Writing NPCs with Agency for 80 Days and Beyond (Meg Jayanth / GDC / YouTube)
"In this 2016 GDC session, 80 Days writer Meg Jayanth explores best practices around writing three-dimensional, engaging NPCs to enliven game narratives."
Fixing overwork isn’t easy, but it’s the best investment we can make (Keith Fuller / Polygon)
"This sentence is the only time I’ll use the word crunch. I’m going to say “overwork,” for the rest of this article, because that’s what it is. You — a very specific person, not The Industry As A Whole, but you — are very likely working too much."
The making of System Shock 2's best level (Rick Lane / Eurogamer)
"It's one of gaming's most terrifying introductions. You awake in a cryotube on the medical deck of the spaceship Von Braun. Illegal cybernetics have been implanted into your brain, and your memory has been wiped like a hard-drive. You're contacted by Dr. Janice Polito, who summarises the situation."
The Witcher's video game history (arhn.eu / YouTube)
"The original "Witcher" PC game was released ten years ago. We present our humble summary of Geralt's long journey from the pages of his books to computer screens. Today "The Witcher" is a world famous series. But at the time no one expected it to have such a great impact on the Polish video game market as well as worldwide. [SIMON'S NOTE: Polish documentary with English subtitles & LOTS of rare insight...]"
Why it's a damn miracle any video game gets made (Joshua Rivera / GQ)
"How much do you know about how your favorite entertainment was made? Movies get behind-the-scenes features, authors talk about where and why they write books, and musicians publish liner notes—but if you're a fan of video games, you're often left in the dark."
The Mega Builder of Garry's Mod (Craig Pearson / Garry's Mod)
"“How did they do that?” isn’t something you often ask yourself when looking at a Garry’s Mod screenshot. It’s generally obvious how it's done when you can see the joins. But I asked myself that when I came across Vioxtar’s work, because he doesn't build typical Garry's Mod contraptions. He builds worlds."
How EVE Players Pulled Off The Biggest Betrayal In Its History (Lee Yancy / Kotaku)
"EVE Online is infamous for its scammers, pirates, and ne’er-do-wells, but this week all their scams were put to shame. A member of the game’s Council of Stellar Management and head diplomat of the Circle of Two alliance named The Judge stole all of the holdings of the 4,000-person alliance for himself."
The making of Fallout 1 & 2: Tales from the early days of Black Isle Studios(Eurogamer / YouTube)
"Chris Bratt sits down with Feargus Urquhart, Leonard Boyarsky and Tim Cain to talk about their work on the original Fallout 1 & 2."
Crafting Tooth & Tail, a gamepad RTS that aims 'to Hearthstone StarCraft' (Alex Wawro / Gamasutra)
"It’s been roughly four years since Pocketwatch Games made waves with the release of the award-winning Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine. Now the studio is shipping its next game, the anthropomorphic animal RTS Tooth & Tail, but Pocketwatch chief Andy Schatz traces the genesis of the project back over twenty years."
Doublefine’s Tim Schafer: Does your dream job have to cost your personal life?(Lattice / Medium)
"Tim Schafer was only 22 when he walked through the doors of Skywalker Ranch to start his new job at George Lucas’s thriving video games division. Fresh out of college and with a computer science degree, he couldn’t believe his luck — being paid to make video games at the headquarters of the Star Wars empire, 30 miles north of San Francisco."
HDR's promise is stunted by reluctant developer support (Phil Iwaniuck / PC Gamer)
"We’ve broken down what HDR actually is for you already, but there’s one question that remains unanswered: is it actually worth it? Does HDR really make our games and movies better? [SIMON'S NOTE: interesting piece on a technological advance which is out there but somewhat underdiscussed.]"
How Tacoma tells a non-linear story with ghosts (Alex Wiltshire / RockPaperShotgun)
"Fullbright is running out of things to steal from the Shock series. “Like, we made a game that is basically about audio diaries for Gone Home, and now we’ve made a game that’s basically about the ghost sequences in System Shock 2 and BioShock with Tacoma,” co-founder Steve Gaynor tells me. “We’re running out of things to rip! What are we doing next?”"
The Making Of Carmen Sandiego (David L. Craddock / Kotaku)
"Like so many of his peers in the nascent games industry, Bigham had been both captivated and frustrated by Colossal Cave Adventure. Because the game’s thesaurus was so limited, players had to rack their brains to come up with the exact synonym the game was looking for. The problem, as Bigham saw it, was that Colossal Cave’s authors had been constrained by the technology of the day."
Why I love video games (Chris Plante / Polygon)
"'Why do you hate games?' That’s the question I’ve received the most as a video game critic. Of course, no video game critic hates games. If not for a love of games, a bottomless, nagging, nonnegotiable sort of love, no one would become a professional video game critic — or any critic, for that matter."
How Stick Figures and Absurdism Power One of the Year's Best Games (Steven T. Wright / Glixel)
"Many quests start with a simple gift: a mystical ring bequeathed by the hazy ancients, a wooden sword given by a harrowed old man. In Asymmetric Publication’s West of Loathing, the closest thing I got was a briefcase full of snakes that - according to my literal stick-figure of a mother - belonged to my grandmother."
Game: Interrupted (Mina Kimes / ESPN)
"It took less than two seconds to change Kim Se-hyeon's life. In June 2016, Kim, who plays under the gamer tag "Geguri," was competing in an amateur Overwatch tournament from her parents' house outside Seoul. Her team, UW Artisan, had come out firing."
What Is 'Marketing First' Game Development (Ben Wasser / Patreon)
"Most of the gamedevs I’ve spoken to seem to see marketing as this secondary element of releasing a game, like QA or localization. They’ll ask questions like “when is a good time to start marketing our game?”. To me, what they’re describing is “sales”, not marketing."
How Two Developers Dealt With the Shitty, Racist Parts of Their Community (Patrick Klepek / Waypoint)
"When I asked developers for stories of how dealing with toxic elements of communities impeding their ability to work on the game itself, I heard from a former developer of Blizzard, who pointed me towards a wild moment from the early days of World of Warcraft, as Blizzard was still getting their feet wet with with the MMO."
The Legacy Behind The Internet's Most Important Abandonware Site (Alex Walker / Kotaku AU)
"Today, gamers are blessed with a wealth of choices when it comes to buying games. There's storefronts for new games, old games, indie games, imported games. Choice is everywhere. But that wasn't always the case. At the turn of the millennium, if you couldn't find a game in a local retailer, it basically didn't exist. So if a game went off sale, or you lived in a rural area, or it simply wasn't popular, then you were out of luck."
Rise of the Nindies? Indie devs discuss porting to the Switch (Thomas Faust / Gamasutra)
"Considering that Nintendo's previous home console, the Wii U, had the reputation of being somewhat difficult to port for, a certain hesitation is understandable. With that in mind, I reached out to a couple of indie developers who have recently released a game or who are close to wrapping up development for the hot new console in town."
Star Citizen 3.0 update "akin to Early Access" launch (Tom Philips / Eurogamer)
"There are two schools of thought on the long, long-in-development Star Citizen. For fans, it is an in-development wonder, a work-in-progress promise of a bright, stellar future. It's a game in which people have already invested significant amounts of money."
[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend at tinyletter.com/vgdeepcuts - we crosspost to Gamasutra later on Sunday, but get it first via newsletter! Story tips and comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. MINI-DISCLOSURE: Simon is one of the organizers of GDC and Gamasutra & an advisor to indie publisher No More Robots, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]