Earlier this week I tweeted out the fact that over the month, Microsoft will roll out the Xbox One to an additional 28 markets across the globe, for a total of 41 markets by the end. This is the last major excuse that Xbox fans have at this point, long since disposing of the potential blockbuster of Titanfall and unbundling of Kinect. Alex is talking more about the potential impact that Destiny might have, as arguably the most important title this year. Of course, one could split hairs and note that the PS4 has been in around 50 markets for the better part of the year, but in all honesty if the Xbox were as compelling an offering as Microsoft believed it was, then this shouldn't be nearly as big a problem as it is. This offer is essentially a Destiny bundle in everything but name, and I believe it represents Xbox's last, best shot at making this year not a total wipe.
You have to think the timing of this is interesting. Just like an ex-boyfriend who happens to be around when a girl he still loves fights with her current flame, Microsoft has this deal placed squarely around the Destiny launch window. Not to over-hype an already ridiculously over-hyped game, but if it is good Destiny could be the third-party game that makes a difference in the early console wars of this generation. Simon likes to talk about network externality (how having a network of people builds a bigger network by having those people already in it bring in their friends) and seizing the early initiative with a heavily multiplayer game like Destiny could cause a big wave of people to chose one new console or the other.
Also, the Xbox 360 is still an extremely popular console, and with the Xbox One's not-as-great sales numbers you might think that means there are still quite a few people with the 360 as their main console. This deal from Bungie (where a purchase on a last-gen system nets you a free upgrade to the game on the current gen) may help facilitate the jump to the next console generation, and seems in character with this year's push to try and upgrade as many gamers as possible. I'm also interested to see new sales numbers for the Xbox One sans Kinect, as we haven't seen anything since the accessory was dropped. How that move and these new deals affect sales will be a big determiner of whether or not 2014, which started off relatively strong for Microsoft, finishes as such.
Lately for Microsoft, it has gotten to a point where the Xbox One is considered to be a joke in the industry. With a disastrous launch in Japan and negative criticism following their exclusivity rights for Rise of the Tomb Raider, it's quite clear that Microsoft is trying their best to stay afloat in such a difficult environment. People shouldn't really see this free games promotion as a desperate sales tactic; rather they should see it as an opportunity to get in on a decent games console prior to the November sales rush. That said, you could expect sales to improve come November when Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare comes out.
I feel like the Elder Scrolls is just too large a brand to not succeed in the MMO world, but then I look at Star Trek and Lord of The Rings Online and I see far bigger names then theirs fallen by the wayside. However, ZeniMax says they are still strongly committed to the game, and it is not impossible to believe them. Their explanation for the layoffs is not improbable, as launching a game takes far more people than just maintaining it once it is live, but the word "layoff" is always bad to see connected to a brand no matter what the circumstances. Conceptually I love the Elder Scrolls Online, but in practice taking a game that has only ever been single-player, with a fan base that is quite happy with that fact, and turning it into an MMO will invariably land you in some trouble. How it gets on in its first year will pretty much determine if it can maintain a paid subscription plan or if it will have to switch to F2P, and the delay in console release isn't a great indicator of the game's strengths. Hopefully, for their sake, they can capitalize on WoW being the weakest it's ever been and break out of the miniscule segment of market share reserved for all MMOs not called World of Warcraft.
Layoffs are always a concern, especially only six months after launch. This may end up moving towards the route that The Old Republic took, with an initial paid period moving to free-to-play to maintain an audience, but we will have to watch carefully as the MMO evolves as it moves into a year or so of service. It's far too early to write it off, but the indications are not promising, and the MMO landscape is, of course, littered with the remains of all those games that attempted to compete with the WoW colossus and failed, such as the Star Trek MMO.
I really enjoyed The Guardians of the Galaxy. It was funny, well acted, and amazingly stuck more or less to the source material while still being original. Go back more than ten years and this would have been impossible, a successful adaption of something more or less meant for kids being the biggest movie of the summer (beating out another entry in its own genre.) And yet we have seen an amazing explosion of adaptions in films in the last ten years. The downside of this, as Simon and I have talked about, is a massive increase in sequels and a lack of new IP. However, slightly alleviating this is the fact that some of this non-new IP comes from another medium. Young adult books and comics have seen incredibly, wildly successful adaptions on the big screen thanks to the film industry taking the projects seriously and not phoning them in for the cash grab. Hopefully, with major backing and legitimate studios' ability to draw in big names and talented actors, video games might get the same proper chance, something that has been denied the cash grab and second priority films we have gotten from the genre so far.
Call me an optimist, but this may be the dawn of acclaimed (read: not panned) video game film adaptations. Need for Speed wasn't a good sign, but with this film and Assassin's Creed already well into development there's still hope yet. The Last of Us is yet another very promising indication, and this may be very well be the start of a new model of major adaptations ... by Sony at least. Microsoft appears to be taking the shotgun approach with many small short films, mostly concentrated on Halo. Sony, however, has the benefit of having an entire film studio at their disposal, and while they've made absolute howlers such as After Earth, they've also made pretty big successes such as 21 and 22 Jump Street. Sony Pictures Entertainment's backing of this venture will lend it credibility and probably allow it to attract top talent for a game that is venerable, but not a unit mover in the same way Call of Duty is.
Jonathan has the headlining remarks on this, as our investigative journalist behind GameStop's Doritogate, but my thoughts are as follows: while the vast majority of gamers are simply trying to enjoy these experiences, there is a very small minority whose behavior is so egregious that it is inflicting significant self-damage to the gaming community. This is causing gaming companies to see them as a liability and instead work on catering towards a more general and casual audience, and therein lies the standard YouTuber with a thumbnail of a really weird expression on his face, bright color swatches, and big blocky text. He will then proceed to talk into his webcam with hard cuts between the various segments of his rant/rave. There is the small problem, however, of difficulty in digital monetization. It is nearly impossible to get very far without biting the hand that feeds, AKA advertisers. The public, especially the newer, younger demographic, also don't show the slightest inclination of paying for much these days, leaving these gaming journalists in a big conundrum.
By now some of you might be wondering about this nonsense going on regarding something called #GamerGate. To put it simply, it is a protest against corruption in game journalism, a touchy subject that I covered about a year ago in one of my very first Mindshares. This is based on a series of accusations regarding a certain indie developer and her multiple relationships and ties to various personalities in the games industry. Needless to say, it had pretty much snowballed into a massive Internet fight. That being said, I don't really see the future of games journalism in the form of YouTubers and Twitch streamers. Much like the journalists of before, they will be bought out by corporations, forced to play the latest titles and positive remarks, all for some incentive in the end, mainly in the form of cash. This will be a pattern that will repeat for years to come, and honestly, I don't really see it ending anytime soon.
I agree with my colleagues that there are some disturbing trends in our industry, as there are in all journalism, as the line between the financial and objective reporting sides of news outlets fades away. But I disagree in saying there is nothing we can do about it. That, to me, sums up the greatest danger to gaming. It's not corporations buying out every mouthpiece of the gaming world, or every developer sleeping with everyone in the industry, it's apathy. By sitting by and letting a small, vocally abusive minority and a selection of sites with corporate backers duke it out, we all lose as we allow this to be the only image of gaming. We need to find a way to support gaming journalism (which may exist on Twitch and YouTube as part of a larger whole, though never, in my opinion, as its sole form) without condoning blatant advertising in reporting. I'm not sure if that means we institute some sort of comic's code like the comic book industry where every gaming news outlet promises not to advertise with games but instead gets deals with Doritos or whatever else that is not in there reporting domain, but we need to do something. We, as gamers, cannot let ourselves be defined by a small minority, and we can't let our gaming media become the pawns of corporations. We just can't.