Weekly Business Report: Nexon’s Internal Restructuring, Ninja’s Leaving Twitch, and More

MMOGames Business Weekly Report is back to take a look at mobile gamer preferences for free to play games in China, the latest news from Nexon, Ninja leaving Twitch, and a few other topics relevant to the business side of making online games.

 

Automaton Games Shuts Down

Mavericks: Proving Grounds

Automaton Games, the folks who were behind the unreleased 1,000 man Battle Royale Mavericks: Proving Grounds, has shut down and in the process the game has died. In the announcement on their website, they cited a lack of funding as the reason for their sudden closure. Thankfully Improbable, the makers of SpatialOS, have said they will be trying to find places for Automaton employees in their company. Mavericks: Proving Grounds is actually the second SpatialOS game to meet its end in recent months leaving some to speculate that SpatialOS falling out with Unity earlier this year may have played a role. If that’s true, this might only be the beginning of SpatialOS related sunsets. MMOGames staff will be watching and will continue to bring updates in our weekly business report.

 

Source: MMOGames

 

Chinese Consumer Preferences

According to recently released research, over half of Chinese consumers prefer free to play or ad monetized games over premium titles. In fact, the research found that 61% of people prefer non-premium games. 85% reported they spend money on mobile games with 3% spending more than $50 (¥330) a month. In contrast, the average spending is just $5.80 a month. Those interviewed between the ages of 26 and 30 had the highest average spending at $10 a month.

The research also showed there is a high level of brand loyalty. 92% of respondents said they stick with a game for more than a week and 87% say they’ve played fewer than 5 different games in the previous month.

One challenge that developers face is how well divided the market’s stores are. In China, 30% of the market is using the App Store, 29% are using Tencent’s MyApp, and 26% use the Huawei app store. In the West we really only have Google Play or the App Store for mobile games.

It would be really interesting to see this same research completed in a few different Western countries to see how our views differ. I would personally much prefer to pay for a game or even pay a subscription for a game over being nickel and dimed to death by an in-game shop.

 

Source: Games Industry

 

Nexon Internal Merger Incoming

The last few months have been a wild ride for Nexon. First, their founder and CEO was putting the family’s stake in the business up for sale, worth between 9 to 11 billion dollars. After months of speculation that everyone from Disney to EA were interested in buying, it seems Kim Jung-ju may have simply decided not to sell. Of course, I’m sure a decision like that wasn’t made lightly. Following the release of this rumor, Nexon’s stock dropped resulting in a loss of up to 5%. Now we know that Nexon is reorganizing and merging their two core business units. No jobs are going to be lost in this internal restructuring, but the company is looking at getting rid of projects with low commercial value. They also hope that the restructuring will improve the company’s operating profits and increase its stock value. News of this restructuring started out as a rumor but was quickly confirmed by Nexon. It is set to take place sometime in August.

 

Source: MMOCulture

 

Ninja Leaves Twitch for Mixer

Ninja Fortnite

Ninja has announced that he will no longer be streaming on Twitch and is instead switching over to Microsoft’s Mixer platform. The specifics on this particular deal haven’t been released but last year he was making $500,000 a month streaming Fortnite on Twitch and a paid promotion deal with EA for Apex Legends got him $1 million, so it is safe to assume he got a pretty sweet deal. This marks a major shift for Twitch which has been seeing its growth slow over the last year.

Mixer has always been playing third fiddle to Twitch and Youtube but has also seen consistent growth. Last quarter it saw 119 million hours watched, an increase of 37% year on year. Ninja’s move to Mixer might be exactly the sort of push the platform needs to catch up to its two bigger competitors. However, Fortnite’s popularity, especially in streaming, has been on the decline. It is also possible that many of Ninja’s fans wont follow him to this different platform because they prefer Twitch. We can see an example of this in the industry already looking at people who refuse to play a game that hasn’t been released on Steam. Only time will tell how this transition actually goes.

 

Source: Games Industry

 

 

Zynga Eyes China

At one point in time just a few years ago Zynga was dominating the games industry. They were all we ever talked about it seemed like. Of course the days of Facebook games are long gone now, but that doesn’t mean Zynga is gone or that they’ve even slowed down. Zynga has been transitioning to a mobile game developer and having great success with it. They recently released Empires and Puzzles in Japan and Korea, the beginning of their strategy for expansion into the Asian market. Now they’re eyeing China.

In a call with GamesIndustry.biz Zynga COO Matt Bromberg said, “We are beginning to look at China for Empires & Puzzles as well, and as our portfolio continues to develop we have both Star Wars and the Harry Potter game on our slate for the future. When there are big global pieces of IP like that, which we think will resonate across Asia, we’re hopeful that will also help us expand there. We’re trying to take a measured approach to it, and learn as we go and make sure we have the right match of game and personnel on the ground and marketing strategy. When you get those lined up it can be terrific, but it is a complicated market and we’re still in learning mode.”

A complicated market is putting it lightly. Still, if they are successful in their push into China, they’ll be tapping into a mobile games industry with an estimated 586 million gamers.

 

Source: Games Industry

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Bernie Sanders Supports Game Developer Unions on Twitter

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the troubles that game developers are facing in the industry that are leading many to burn out and sometimes leave completely. Now we have more fuel to the fire as presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders supports game developer unions on Twitter.

Archeage

In a tweet yesterday Sanders said, “The video game industry made $43 billion in revenue last year. The workers responsible for that profit deserve to collectively bargain as part of a union. I’m glad to see unions like @IATSE and the broader @GameWorkers movement organizing such workers.” Included with the tweet was a recent article on Time magazine that highlights just some of the issues the industry is currently facing that should be required reading for all gamers.

For those outside of the United States, this may seem like it is coming out of nowhere, but in fact, this is a very well timed tweet from Senator Sanders. As we approach the 2020 Presidential Election the candidates, of which there are 39 at the moment, are all doing their best to stand out by declaring where they stand on various issues. Admittedly, no one expected gaming to be an issue that a Presidential candidate would take a stance on. But, with nearly 70% of Americans playing video games, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that this is a topic that is attracting attention in the political world. In comparison, 47% of America attends church services, and 68% of houses have dogs.

Will we see more presidential hopefuls discussing gaming this election season? It is actually quite likely, especially with the lootbox issue still unresolved. Still, getting out there and being the first was a good move for Sanders, though totally unexpected.

 

 

Source: Twitter

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Wargaming Snaps Up Fractured Space Devs for New MMO

Whenever we hear about an MMO game dev studio being shuttered, we always hope that they’ll find new work soon. In the case of the Fractured Space devs, that wish has certainly come true, as the studio has been picked up by the folks at Wargaming to help in the creation of an unannounced MMO title.

fractured space devs

Edge Case Games, who brought their online spaceship multiplayer title into maintenance mode, are now a part of Wargaming’s new UK office in Guildford. This move brings the total number of devs at this new location to 55, all of whom will be put to work on a new title for the publisher.

While information on what this new game is has not been revealed, Wargaming UK’s product director Sean Decker has cited Edge Case Games’ ability to “run free-to-play, vehicle-based MMOs, built on the Unreal tech stack” as a benefit to the studio’s efforts.

“We plan to grow the team over the next year to the size needed to build and run a world class F2P MMO, while continuing to work with other Wargaming teams, such as our Sydney studio,” said Decker.

Our Thoughts

We’d love to see Wargaming do something truly different with this new MMO of theirs, but something tells us it’s going to be another team-based vehicular combat affair. Then again why break what’s working, right? So with that in mind, here’s hoping that Edge Case Games’ vision of sci-fi makes this vehicular MMO something truly different.

Source: GamesIndustry

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Cliff Bleszinski Quits the Gaming Industry via Twitter

Some folks seem to build their entire existence through Twitter, so perhaps the end of CliffyB’s career via the social media platform isn’t a huge surprise. However, Bleszinski appears to have indeed confirmed that he is out of the gaming business, so this certainly doesn’t seem like a hyperbolic eruption.

cliffyb's career

The entire matter kicked off when a newly-created Twitter account issued a tweet to voice their dismay that the FPS LawBreakers had not refunded their money. Bleszinski replied to the tweet directly in a pretty frustrated manner.

“I paid my employees, their 401ks, and their health care – even months after the studio folded. I didn’t take a salary myself for two years,” wrote Bleszinski. “I get you’re sad, but god, this kinda s**t is another reason I am NEVER making another game.”

When asked by GamesIndustry whether or not this was a simply heated moment or if he was genuinely finished with game dev, Bleszinski simply replied with “I’m done.”

Our Thoughts

If nothing else, this should provide some interesting fodder for Bleszinski’s current book. In all seriousness, though, we do feel bad for Bleszinski a bit. While it still seems like this is a moment of hot-headedness, it also does seem pretty earnest and conclusive.

Source: GamesIndustry

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Gamigo Acquires Trion Worlds and Guts its Staff

Free-to-play publisher Gamgio has made a rather large purchase in the form of a Trion Worlds buyout, which also reportedly heralded the end of many employee jobs. The business deal apparently cleared yesterday and reports have since been rolling in about the initial fallout after the event.

trion worlds buyout

In an official statement from Trion, it was confirmed that the company’s studios will remain during the transition but “others will not be making the journey.” While the official statement is mum on the specifics of how many will not join “the journey”, an anonymous source has told Gamasutra that only 25 employees remain of the studio’s original 200+ staffers.

On the subject of those employees, CEO Scott Hartsman has sent out a tweet asking hiring manager friends to reach out to him directly for contact information in an effort to help those who have been displaced get new jobs in tech and gaming.

As for the MMOs under Trion’s banner, the same statement about the buyout confirms that “the games will go on.” In the case of ArcheAge its 5.0 update will release as scheduled.

Our Thoughts

We first want to extend our well-wishes to all of those who have been affected by these layoffs and hope they find new work sooner rather than later. Second, it’s hard to believe that “the games will go on” unimpeded after such a massive cut to Trion’s workforce, but all that can be done at this point is to wait and see what happens.

Sources: Gamasutra, Eurogamer, Twitter, ArcheAge forums

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Rockstar Staffers Speak Out Against RDR 2 Crunch Backlash

If our Twitter feed is any indication, the arguments on both sides of the Red Dead Redemption 2 crunch argument are pretty heated. Now, a number of Rockstar employees have stepped forward with their own experiences about working for the developer in an apparent attempt to provide more context to how things are done.

rockstar employees

A couple of anonymous Rockstar staffers have reached out to VG24/7 with private messages of their experiences at the studio. One dev admitted to only doing “minor crunch” to see RDR 2 released and expressed annoyance at the general public’s view of the studio.

“It’s been pretty frustrating seeing it portrayed as a hellish place to work – it’s really not,” reads the message. “We’re rewarded very well and crunch is never mandatory.”

Another employee has gone on official record on Twitter with their two cents.

“During the dev. of RDR I sometimes worked 50 hours during the week. This was on and off for a few months. And by on and off I really do mean off. Some weeks I just worked a flat 40 and there was zero issues with this.

“I’ve been at R* for 6 years and I have never worked, or been asked to work, anywhere remotely close to 100 hours in a week.”

Still another anonymous Rockstar employee’s message suggests that this experience seems to vary from department to department.

“Not every studio gets paid overtime. We certainly don’t. The average from all departments makes OT not look too bad but I’ve done 50+ hour weeks as standard since I started. Even if there is now work, we are told to come in every weekend anyway.”

The influx of first-hand accounts comes by way of a newly relaxed social media policy enacted by Rockstar, which now lets employees talk about their time in the studio. As for Red Dead Redemption 2 itself, the game’s launch trailer has just gone live, which you can see below.

Our Thoughts

Considering the amount of opinions that read like they came from flies inside the walls of Rockstar itself, it’s good to have a bit more context from the people who are actually, literally working there. We do hope that this quells some of the rage but also doesn’t stop the push against exploitative working practices. Especially for an industry that doesn’t have a proper union.

Sources: VG247, press release

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Rockstar Attempts to Clarify “100-Hour Week” Remarks

If you your gaming feed is anything like mine, then you were made well aware of Rockstar’s remarks yesterday about its crunch development for the upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2. As a result of the blowback from this particular quote, however, co-founder Dan Houser tried to ease the RDR 2 development cycle concerns and provide context to the interview.

rdr 2 development

According to a statement from Houser, who talked about the long work weeks in the original piece, the 100-hour week crunch was mostly undertaken by the senior writing staff. “The point I was trying to make in the article was related to how the narrative and dialogue in the game was crafted, which was mostly what we talked about, not about the different processes of the wider team,” it reads.

Houser also went on to explain that this sort of work week isn’t expected of the wider members of the dev studio.

“Across the whole company, we have some senior people who work very hard purely because they’re passionate about a project, or their particular work, and we believe that passion shows in the games we release. But that additional effort is a choice, and we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this.

“I believe we go to great lengths to run a business that cares about its people, and to make the company a great place for them to work.”

Our Thoughts

It’s still a bit hard not to think that the efforts of the senior writing staff don’t ultimately translate to more overtime and work for the devs below them, but that’s more supposition than anything else. Regardless, we stand firm in the belief that the culture of crunch needs to go. There just aren’t any video game features or dialogue worth putting people through that much.

Source: Kotaku

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100-Hour Work Weeks for Red Dead Redemption 2 Raise Concerns

Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser’s detail of how much work is going into Red Dead Redemption 2 could be backfiring in a spectacular way. Word of 100-hour work weeks for Red Dead Redemption 2 development has set off a number of alarms for many in the games industry.

red dead redemption 2 development

According to a piece from Vulture, the dev team behind the open world game has been putting in 100-hour weeks several times over the course of 2018, creating 300,000 animations and recording 500,000 lines of dialogue.

According to Houser, this results in a game that’s “a vast four-dimensional mosaic in which the fourth dimension is time, in which the world unfolds around you, dependent on what you do.”

However, people are focusing less on the creation of a digital fourth dimension and narrowing down on the crunch that Rockstar is putting the team through. “Survivor of GTA V crunch here. It was hell,” reads a tweet from a former dev. “Survivor of COD, KONAMI, DISNEY etc crunch. It’s ALWAYS hell,” agreed another. “Time for a fundamental change.”

The issues of crunch were examined by Game Informer early this year, and the practice is one that clearly falls under the umbrella of labor exploitation for efforts like Game Workers Unite to unionize the games industry.

This, incidentally, is not the first time Rockstar has apparently put its devs through the ringer. In 2010, Rockstar San Diego was accused in an open letter allegedly written by the wives of the development team of forcing 12-hour-long work days. The accusations came to little, with Rockstar retorting that the letter was merely a collection of opinions from “anonymous posters on message boards” being spun as fact.

Our Thoughts

We’re hard-pressed to think of any game feature that’s worth that much development time. Considering that RDR2 has already been delayed a few times before, hearing that the team is being put through those kinds of working conditions is disheartening, to say the absolute least.

Sources: Vulture via GamesIndustry, Twitter

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SpatialOS Unveils a Dev Kit for Unity

The SpatialOS platform, which provides cloud services to a number of online worlds like Worlds Adrift and Fractured, is branching out once again. A new SpatialOS Unity dev kit has been introduced, allowing game developers the ability to make their own large-scale online titles with the Unity engine.

spatialos unity dev kit

The new dev kit offers the same features for managing and hosting large online play spaces for games, but also comes with modular game features to create a variety of online games and performance improvements to SpatialOS overall. There’s even an open source FPS Starter Project module that lets Unity developers create an online shooter that can handle as many as 200 players at once right out of the box.

“Fast iteration means you can focus on what’s most important – finding the fun in your game,” remarks Improbable’s global marketing head Paul Thomas. “Improbable’s focus with the SpatialOS GDK (game developer kit) for Unity is allowing developers to create unique content faster than ever.”

Those who are interested in finding out more about SpatialOS for Unity can get the details and download here.

Our Thoughts

Well, this most definitely opens things up! There are quite a few game dev studios out there that prefer to work in Unity, so offering them the chance to make their own MMOs and large-scale online games is extremely exciting to us to say the least!

Source: press release

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Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime Steps Down

There’s a changing of the guard over at Blizzard HQ. Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime, who has been a part of the game developer and publisher for over 27 years, is officially stepping down from his position and entering a new advisory role.

blizzard ceo mike morhaime

The announcement was made on Blizzard’s central site, with some parting words from Mr. Morhaime and confirmation that his duties will be turned over to World of Warcraft’s J. Allen Brack. The announcement also features some words from Brack as he humbly takes his spot in the big chair.

“When we started Blizzard we just wanted to make great games. What we realized is that the games we create are really just a framework for communities and human interaction,” reads Morhaime’s farewell. “You have given me the inspiration and drive to pour my heart and life into what I do. I literally couldn’t have done any of it without you.”

“To be chosen to lead Blizzard into the future is both a huge honor, and a tremendous responsibility,” reads Brack’s statement. “I feel a deep sense of gratitude to Mike. His work on some of our industry’s most iconic games is the reason I came to Blizzard.”

On the subject of Blizzard employees, the company announced that it will be removing the Blizzard Holiday Plan, an end-of-year bonus program that would have seen Morhaime earn over $360k additionally. Instead, participating employees in this bonus program will see their salaries adjusted to reflect the amount this bonus would normally provide. Additionally, a “Morhaime Profit Sharing Plan” is in place that will grant Morhaime a bonus based on Blizzard’s overall profits.

Our Thoughts

So fiscally speaking, Mike will be just fine. Moving away from that, we’d like to thank Mr. Morhaime for his leadership of Blizzard and his hand in seeing the studio’s games come to life. We also would like to congratulate Mr. Brack on his promotion and look forward to seeing where the company goes from here.

Sources: Blizzard website, Gamespot

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