Nope, we’re not done adding phones to our buyer’s guide. Hot on the heels of inducting the new iPhones (and before that, the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10), we’re tossing in both of the new Google phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL. While we’re at it, we decided the PlayStation VR deserved a spot in our gaming section right alongside other premium virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. At the opposite end of the price spectrum, the $50 Amazon Echo Dot is a great value at that price. Lastly, GoPro — a staple company in this list — earns a spot for its newest flagship action camera, the Hero5 Black. Find all that in more in our buyer’s guide, and stay tuned for our next round of additions, likely sometime after CES.
Source: Engadget Buyer’s Guide
After surpassing 40 million sales back in May, Sony has now sold 50 million PlayStation 4s. That figure includes PS4, PS4 Pro and the new slim version of the console, and represents sales to customers, rather than shipments to stores.
The 50 million milestone took just over three years for Sony to reach. For comparison, the PlayStation 3 was on sale for four and a half years before Sony had shipped the same number.
Software sales have also been fairly strong. Sony says that, as of December 4th, it’s sold 369.6 million games across retail and digital downloads. That means that roughly seven games have been purchased for every one console.
As Sony’s announcement gives only a grouped figure for console sales, it’s impossible to know exactly how many of the 10 million PS4s sold since May were the “Pro” edition. Similarly, there have been absolutely no firm figures for PlayStation VR sales. The headset came out back in October, and at the time SCEE president Jim Ryan said launch sales were expected to be “many hundreds of thousands.” Analytics firm SuperData projects that total sales of the headset in 2016 will be less than 750,000.
Microsoft stopped reporting figures some time ago. The launch of the smaller Xbox One S has revitalized sales somewhat, with the Xbox One outselling Sony’s console for several months in a row this year. Third-party estimates suggest that Microsoft has sold between 25-30 million Xbox Ones, giving Sony close to a two-to-one sales lead.
Hot on the heels of PlayStation Experience, Sony has announced the first smartphone games developed under its new “ForwardWorks” banner. The roster includes a new Everybody’s Golf title (known as Hot Shots Golf in the US), which is due to come out in spring 2017. The company is also working on a new Wild Arms game, an adaption of Arc the Lad and What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord? Looking further ahead, ForwardWorks has confirmed it’ll be working on a new Parappa the Rapper game, as well as apps based on Doko Demo Issho and Boku no Natsuyasumi.
It’s a sizeable list, though one clearly geared towards the Japanese market. While some of its chosen franchises have a fanbase in the West — Parappa and Everybody’s Golf, for instance — most are considered niche or long abandoned. Reviving them as smartphone apps is an intriguing way to measure fan interest. If the games are free, and more importantly good, it could spur demand for new, higher budget console and portable titles. Sony is taking a similar approach on the PS4 right now, having confirmed HD remakes for Parappa the Rapper, Crash Bandicoot and Wipeout.
Sony has tried to make smartphone games before. PlayStation Mobile was an abject failure, however, producing few titles with lasting appeal. It shuttered the project in 2015 and shifted focus to the PlayStation 4, a wildly successful console, and the PlayStation Vita, a brilliant but unpopular handheld. With ForwardWorks, Sony will be hoping to re-assert itself in the mobile market. That’s easier said than done, given the cut-throat competition on iOS and Android. A broad line-up could work in Sony’s favor — effectively spreading its bets — while contrasting Nintendo’s smaller, more cautious portfolio of smartphone games.
Source: Sony (Blog Post)
Sony is set to release up to six games for iOS in the financial year starting April in the hope of replicating Nintendo’s phenomenal success with Pokémon Go (via Reuters).
The upcoming titles will bring popular Sony franchises such as Everybody’s Golf to iOS devices for the first time, said the company. Previously Sony has only launched a few games for smartphones through its music entertainment division, but the new games will be “mobile designated” and be produced through its PlayStation business.
Everybody’s Golf on PlayStation 4
Sony also revealed on Wednesday that it is working on 10 mobile gaming titles, including those to be released next year. The 10 titles include PaRappa the Rapper and Arc The Lad. Japan will be first to get the games, before rollout to other Asian countries and eventually likely elsewhere, depending on initial success.
Despite its huge success in the console market worldwide, Sony is facing increasing heat from mobile in countries such as Japan, the world’s third largest game market where mobile gaming accounts for more than half of the $12.4 billion market, according to games research firm Newzoo.
The announcement comes just a week before Nintendo debuts Super Mario Run on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The endless runner game goes live on the App Store on December 15 for $9.99.
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From Skylanders to Amiibo, “Toys to life” have been a pretty lucrative way for video game companies to make money. Sony has been more-or-less absent from the field, but today it’s announcing something not too dissimilar: Project Field.
The company is showing off dedicated smart pads that pair with a phone or tablet to bring card games to life. Imagine a game like Hearthstone, for instance, but with physical cards that you buy in store. Or the physical and digital versions of Pokémon Trading Card Game fused together.
When a user places a card on one of the pads, it’s identified using an NFC-like wireless technology. The pad then sends the card’s exact position to the phone or tablet using Bluetooth. Once the card is in the game, the pad is able to detect movement — if you slide a card to another position, for example. The cards will be both readable and writable, meaning in-game status changes can be saved. Depending on the game, players will also be able to “grow” a character, with stats stored on the card.
Sony announced Project Field today as part of a broader push to get PlayStation games onto mobile phones, and says it has “multiple” projects planned for the platform. The first title to be announced is based on Yokai Watch, the hugely popular Level-5 RPG.
This isn’t a drastically new idea — Sengoku Taisen, Kantai Collection and other Japanese arcade games already blend collectible cards with video games. Nintendo’s Amiibo cards for Animal Crossing also have built-in NFC chips. Where Project Field differs is in portability, and potential reach. If the pads are sold at a reasonable rate, players will be able to get an arcade experience anywhere they can bring a tablet.
While Project Field is only slated for release in Japan, the worldwide appeal of Skylanders and Amiibo means an international release doesn’t seem impossible.
Source: PlayStation Japan
Yay, it’s Monday morning!
As we wonder where the heck we packed our touchscreen-friendly gloves, last weekend was brought to you by Virgin’s new spaceship, NFL deciding to go easy on GIFs and a whole bunch of new PlayStation games we didn’t even know about.
SpaceShipTwo spreads its wings
Virgin Galactic tests its new spacecraft
Virgin Galactic’s resurrected dreams of private spaceflight following the crash in 2014 centers around SpaceShipTwo. The company has successfully conducted the first glide test flight for the craft. However, it flew on its own power for just 10 minutes and never traveled faster than Mach 0.6. It’s a start, though.
Sony’s PlayStation Experience had a few surprises
‘The Last of Us’ has a sequel
Surprising everyone, The Last of Us: Part II was revealed in a somber-looking trailer at PlayStation Experience. The sequel to Naughty Dog’s breakout 2013 action-adventure (which also picked up a PS4 update over the years) will feature major characters from the original game, now older and apparently filled with a desire for vengeance. Which is always a delightful video-game cocktail. Let’s pray the controls aren’t as awful.
Still no sweet GIF replays.
NFL loosens its policies on teams posting GIFs and videos
The NFL’s current creaky social media rules look set to loosen up soon. A leaked memo outlines how the NFL will allow teams to post non-highlight GIFs and videos up to doubled limit of 16 clips. If they want to celebrate fans or the halftime show, they don’t have to wait for the NFL to act first. The football organization is trying to balance those lucrative viewer eyeballs with the realities of, you know, the world wide web. The memo added that a “test agreement” will have Giphy serve as a source of “ancillary game and historical/iconic” GIFs, making it easier to surface embarrassing GIFs of your team’s most passionate fans.
The drone is still off the shelves.GoPro sells the Karma’s stabilizer grip by itself for $300
While the Karma drone itself is still in the workshop, GoPro has started selling the Karma Grip separately for $300. The stabilization wand takes the jitters out of your Hero5 Black or (with a $30 harness) Hero4 Black/Silver camera footage.
But wait, there’s more…
- Watch: Our quick verdict on the NES Classic Edition
- Fresh Parappa! Watch all the goodness from PlayStation Experience 2016
- ‘Luke Cage’ gets a second Netflix series
- NBA broadcast its first 4K match
Join Ben as he leaves the workshop behind and goes on a journey to Portland’s Retro Gaming Expo. There’s little Ben loves more, and this time he’s on the hunt for a copy of Road Rash for the Sega Genesis / Megadrive! With some happy distractions, Ben gets another chance at the Nintendo Playstation console and discusses the Commodore 64, Nintendo 64 disk drive and the collecting of retro hardware and games with fellow YouTubers. Will Ben manage to repair the Nintendo PlayStation and play Super Boss Gaiden? Does he manage to find a copy of Road Rash? You’ll have to watch and find out. What’s your favorite retro gaming console, or game? Let Ben and the team know over on the element14 Community.
It definitely feels like Sony showed off more games during the PlayStation Experience keynote today than it did at E3. Which is pretty impressive, when you think about it. The show started out with a glimpse at the next chapter of the Uncharted saga and ended with, well, the next chapter in the The Last of Us.
Both were extremely unexpected treats from developer Naughty Dog, but in between those bookends were a ton of other teases and announcements from the company’s 20-plus years of gaming history. If you wanted fresh versions of Parappa the Rapper and WipeOut, or even an updated take on the obscure Windjammers, you’re all set. Oh, and how about the next game from Housemarque, the Robotron-esque Nex Machina? Now, let’s get to the videos.
Sony closed out its PlayStation Experience keynote with the first trailer for The Last of Us: Part II, the sequel to Naughty Dog’s breakout 2013 shooter. The stars of the original game, Joel and Ellie, return in Part II, older and apparently filled with a desire for vengeance. In the trailer, after strumming a guitar and singing for a while, Ellie tells Joel, “I’m gonna find, and I’m gonna kill, every last one of them.” And it looks like she means it.
There’s no word on an expected release date or any more details for the new game, but fans have been clamoring for a sequel since The Last of Us debuted three years ago and won all of the awards.
Housemarque, the Finnish developer behind Resogun and Dead Nation, hasn’t had the best year.
I visited its Helsinki headquarters back in September to see how the studio was following up Resogun, the surprise hit of the PlayStation 4 launch. What I found was a unique company struggling to hold on to the identity it believes in.
Housemarque made its name with Stardust. Originally released for the Amiga in the early ’90s, the series rose to prominence with the digital release of Super Stardust HD on the PlayStation 3. The studio has since become a specialist in digital-only games, almost all of which can trace their lineage back to the arcade.
The isometric shooter Dead Nation was the studio’s next big hit, going on to become one of the bestselling digital-only titles for PlayStation 3, while the Ikaruga-meets-Metroid platformer Outland was critically acclaimed. But it was during the launch of the PlayStation 4 that Housemarque would make the biggest impact.
Resogun took the basic premise behind the arcade classic Defender and turned it into a modern shooter. With cylindrical stages and a custom voxel-based engine, the game was by far the strongest PlayStation 4 exclusive of its time, and one of scant few highlights of the console’s November 2013 launch.
Sony clearly knew as much: It made Resogun free to all members of its PlayStation Plus subscription service, and as a result the game was downloaded by millions of PlayStation 4 owners. It remained the console’s highest-rated exclusive until the release of Bloodborne in March 2015. That’s 16 months at the top of Metacritic — impressive for a studio with just a few dozen employees.
“Resogun” was the highest-rated PS4 exclusive for 16 months.
Housemarque has yet to repeat that success. After a PS4 port for Dead Nation and PS3 and Vita versions of Resogun came a new game: Alienation, a kind of spiritual sequel to Dead Nation. Released earlier this year, it garnered positive reviews from press and fans, but few actually bought it. Timing may have had something to do with that: The game was released almost equidistantly between Dark Souls III and Uncharted 4, drowning out any positive press for Housemarque.
The day after I arrived in Helsinki, I sat outside the studio while four employees were let go. That’s just a reality of the game industry: When not enough money is coming in, tough decisions have to be made, and Alienation’s poor performance had consequences.
The slightly downsized company now officially has two games in development. There’s Matterfall, a Sony-produced PS4 exclusive, which is far from ready for release, and not something its spokespeople are allowed to talk about. Then there’s the reason for my trip to Helsinki: Nex Machina, the spiritual sequel to Resogun announced as a PS4 exclusive at PlayStation Experience today.
Resogun was an ode to Defender, and Nex Machina is an ode to another classic — the twin-stick shooter Robotron: 2048. All the core elements of Robotron are here. Played at breakneck pace, Nex Machina tasks you with clearing room after room of enemy hordes, while saving humans along the way.
“We’re largely inspired by Robotron,” said lead designer Harry Krueger, who previously led programming on Resogun. “[But] we don’t want to just copy it — we want to capture a bit of its magic.” While we talked, he showed off an alpha build of the game, deftly navigating a host of enemies, dashing, shooting and activating secrets. This was two months ago, when the game was just stand-in backgrounds and character models, glitchy lighting, placeholder sound effects, frame-rate dips and difficulty spikes. Despite this catalog of errors, the action unfolding was stunning.
Balancing a few simple mechanics is trickier than it looks.
To Krueger and his team, capturing Robotron‘s magic meant taking the basic formula — frantic, short levels, filled with challenge — and building on it. At any given second, you’re choosing between rescuing humans, gunning down enemies or making a break for a power-up. With enough skill, you’ll learn how to achieve all three, but If you’ve ever played Robotron or its ’90s successor Smash TV, you’ll know that balancing a few simple mechanics is trickier than it looks.
After playing through the first world, Krueger handed me the pad. The first thing I noticed was how fast this game is. Enemies are relentless, and Nex Machina throws dozens at you at a time, each with their own attack patterns. At one point during my playthrough, there were probably 80 on-screen, although I was too busy trying not to die to be sure. At the end of each room, there are no “congratulations.” You just dive headfirst into the next mob of deadly robots.
Concept art for the game’s “Harvester” enemy.
Rather than the square, lifeless rooms of Robotron, there are gorgeous, three-dimensional environments for you to journey through, with cinematic swooping transitions. As you move from area to area, a timing-based mini-game rewards you with even flashier transitions. Succeed and you’ll get a burst of speed and power to help chase that high score. The journey you make isn’t on a two-dimensional plane — each “world” is in fact a complex polygon, and you’ll be making your way across its many faces. Sometimes you’ll be fighting on its side and gravity will be, for lack of a better term, wrong. While this doesn’t affect you so much, it will make saving humans harder.
“[We] connect them in ways that give the impression of a much larger, interconnected world,” Krueger said. “Each room is individually crafted — it needs to have a beginning, an end and some kind of flow — but there is some extra consideration there to give the impression that you’re on this kind of journey.” You might see a secret area during a transition (there are many, many secrets in the game) and realize you’ve missed it just a second too late.
Throughout my playthrough, I felt like every decision mattered. If I went too long without shooting someone, a rage meter rapidly filled up, highlighting my inadequacies. If it fills up, the enemies will get mad — they want you to try and kill them. “Time is running out,” Krueger said. “You need to do it all fast.”
Aside from adapting its gameplay, Nex Machina also riffs on Robotron‘s dystopia-focused plot. While Robotron was essentially 1984 a century on, Nex Machina is set in a future where humans are enslaved by machines. All humans live alongside a “lifeline” of sorts, a giant cable that snakes the land, providing the bare essentials for life: food, drink and WiFi access.
Essentially zombified by their addiction to technology, the denizens of Nex Machina‘s myriad landscapes shuffle around focused on their phones and tablets, oblivious to both their plight and the chaos around them. It’s a bit on the nose, sure, but it’s a fitting throwback to the frantic naïvete of ’80s sci-fi.
Despite the issues that came with playing a game in an extreme alpha state, Nex Machina still felt just right. The controls were tight, the level layouts imaginative, and the destruction truly satisfying.
This is faster, meaner and downright prettier than anything Housemarque has made before.
Two months on, and at its PlayStation Experience debut the game is looking drop-dead gorgeous. It’s faster, meaner and downright prettier than anything Housemarque has made before. The art style — a darker take on the cyberpunk climes of Akira and Ghost in the Shell, which the studio is calling “cablepunk” — has now taken shape, and the in-game world is bustling with life.
Nex Machina uses some of the voxel tech introduced in Resogun, but turned up to eleven, blending polygonal models with voxel meshes, creating an utterly destructible world, with enemies falling to pieces and explosions sending voxelized shockwaves throughout the environments. There’s so much going on it’s almost impossible to take it all in, but every moment is a thing of beauty.
With lead designer Harry Krueger
“In the upper-right corner, you can see the remnants (blue particles) of a pillar that has just been destroyed.
“Each of these individual volumetric cube particles has its own material, receives its own lighting and casts its own shadow. It also has its own physics and collides accurately with our voxel-based environment.”
“When the explosion is triggered, you also notice a ‘shockwave’ rippling outwards from the center of impact, converting the environment to rounded cubes.
“This shockwave is just one of the many ‘morphing’ effects you will see in the game: The surface geometry of the blocks is actually modified in real time, and materials, lighting and shadows are updated accordingly.
“Blowing things up is a huge part of the core Nex Machina gameplay, so expect to see lots of these destruction particles (and not only cubes) flying around pretty much constantly.”
“In the center is the Beamtron.
“This is one of the first (and easiest) Minibosses the player will encounter.
“It’s intended to function as a basic introduction to the beams, beam dodging and bullet-hell gameplay.”
“Here you see a circle of enemies spawning around the Beamtron.
“The spawn effect (enemies being ‘beamed down’) helps communicate that the enemies are arriving.
“The player’s attention is a very valuable commodity (and in such a fast-paced game, very limited), so we need to be very careful on how we utilize it.
“Each effect in the game needs to be very carefully crafted to achieve a balance between spectacle and readability.”
“This clip is one example of progressive challenge ‘layering.’
“First we introduce the gameplay of the rotating beam. Once the player gets comfortable with that, we add an extra challenge on top (in this case the circle of spawning enemies).
“This keeps players on their toes and keeps the intensity up, while also giving the player a clear indication of progress.”
So there’s a link between Defender, Robotron and Smash TV: game designer Eugene Jarvis. Together with Larry DeMar, Jarvis created Defender for Williams in 1980. It was one of the highest-grossing arcade games of its time. The duo then started their own company, and made Stargate the next year (called Defender 2 for some home releases), following it up with Robotron in ’82. Their final game together was Blaster, a trippy first-person take on Robotron released in ’83.
A Raw Thrills “Batman” cabinet.
Jarvis continued to work on games directly for another decade or so, creating Smash TV and Total Carnage as well as the arcade racer Cruis’n USA. More recently, he’s been running Raw Thrills, a company that develops arcade games and cabinets, keeping the dream alive. In early 2014, he was honored at the DICE Awards with an Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Pioneer Award for his contributions to the industry. At the same ceremony, Resogun was up for Best Action Game. It lost to Bioshock: Infinite, but a chance meeting would help bring Nex Machina to life.
“Harri and Ilari [Tikkanen and Kuittinen, co-founders of Housemarque] were drinking, 4 AM at the Hard Rock Cafe lobby,” said Mikael Haveri, head of self-publishing at the company. “They were just a couple of Finns being loud, and then they noticed Eugene.” Together with a board member, they went to congratulate Jarvis on his award, but as they were approaching him, that somehow morphed into asking if he wanted to collaborate on a project.
“I’m very impressed. Let’s fucking do it.”
“The conversation was ‘Hey, congratulations! We ripped off Defender — do you want to make a new game with us?’” Haveri said. “They had a good conversation, he went home and bought a PS4 and Resogun and wrote us back saying it was awesome.” After some back-and-forth, and an explanation of the core concept of Nex Machina, Housemarque received a simple e-mail from Jarvis: “I’m very impressed. Let’s fucking do it.”
There’s a real reverence for Jarvis’ work within Housemarque. While Tikkanen and Kuittinen, both with decades of experience, probably see him more as a peer, there’s definitely some idolatry from the fresher faces. “We were instantly pretty hyped,” recalled Krueger. “No matter what game we’re making, we just keep going back to Robotron, because I think it’s the gold standard in terms of pacing in an action game … Getting to work with this kind of legend in the game industry, when we both have similar design sensibilities, was a dream come true.”
Jarvis is a special character, with a lot of opinions and a shedload of insight. His role in the development of Nex Machina is as a creative consultant. He’s offered input and guidance along the way, some of it invaluable, but the real reason he’s working with Housemarque is larger than the game itself. He’s also involved because Housemarque wants to make Nex Machina an arcade game, complete with its own cabinet, built by Raw Thrills.
A very early sketch by Mikael Haveri, head of self-publishing at Housemarque.
It almost makes perfect sense: Housemarque, a company that built its reputation on fast-paced action games, will build an arcade cabinet for its new arcade-inspired game. But then you take a step back, remind yourself of the world and realize just how batshit crazy the idea is.
Arcades are, for the most part, dead. The multi-billion-dollar industry of the ’80s is long gone, and the Sega-led surge of the ’90s, with games like Daytona USA, didn’t last. Consoles and PCs got more and more capable, and now, outside of Japan and China, at least, it’s tough to find a classic arcade.
You can run a successful arcade if you have alcohol to bring in the real money.
Arcade cabinets are still alluring, though. For those of us old enough to have seen their heyday, that’s probably down to nostalgia, but a new generation is being introduced to retro cabinets through venues like Barcade. Turns out that you can run a successful arcade if you have other things — like alcohol — that bring in the real money.
Jarvis’ Raw Thrills isn’t refurbishing the retro cabinets that fill arcade-themed bars, though; it’s making fresh, bespoke arcade experiences. Over the past decade, it’s released new games like Moto GP, Jurassic Park Arcade, Batman and Snocross. But while beautifully crafted, its roster isn’t cutting-edge — the drawback of a limited budget.
With the Housemarque partnership, Raw Thrills is not only getting a game with a medium-size budget; it’s getting a game built from the ground up as an homage to one of the most memorable arcade games of all time. A game that Jarvis created.
The Nex Machina cabinet is not ready, but early concepts look impressive. It’ll have a large LCD monitor, twin sticks and some “cablepunk” dressing. The renders are exciting, and the cabinet will no doubt be an inviting proposition in the corner of a bar.
But this isn’t Millipede or Asteroids; you need a powerful machine to run Nex Machina. One with a solid graphics card, one that’s connected to the internet (for high scores and updates) and one rugged enough to withstand the chaos of an alcohol-fueled arcade. That’s going to make this cabinet expensive. Like $7,500 expensive.
The official line is that Housemarque and Raw Thrills are currently “exploring” bringing a cabinet to market. “We don’t know if we can make one, but we’d like to start a conversation with the crowds to see if it could become a possibility,” Haveri said.
I can see quite a few ways that might happen — partnering with a chain like Barcade, heading to Kickstarter or just selling direct. “Basically if we know people will buy it, we will make it,” Krueger said. If no routes prove viable, Housemarque may end up just building a few as a showcase for the game — it really loves arcade cabinets.
A more advanced (but nowhere near final) “Nex Machina” cabinet concept.
No matter what route is chosen, it’s fair to say that neither company will get rich from these cabinets. Obviously, they’re hoping they can make a profit, but they’re not expecting to sell tens of thousands of them.
The same can’t be said of Nex Machina itself. After the somewhat inexplicable failure of Alienation, Housemarque needs a hit.
Nex Machina is the company’s first self-published game. Over the past two decades it’s partnered with companies like Take-Two, Activision, Ubisoft and Sony to release its games. The benefits of working with a publisher are pretty simple: developers get money up front to help cover costs, and support for marketing and logistics. In exchange for these perks, however, they need to give up a percentage of the game’s revenues.
Of course, no one aside from publishers and developers knows exactly what that cut is — and it changes from game to game — but it’s obviously not insignificant. Often the initial split is more heavily skewed toward the publisher as it seeks a return on its initial investment. After the publisher recoups the up-front payment, terms can be more favorable for developers. Essentially, working with a publisher is lower-risk, lower-reward.
Housemarque has worked almost exclusively with Sony over the past five years. While no one at the company would speak ill of that partnership — indeed, it’s working with Sony right now on Matterfall — it hasn’t always been smooth. Resogun may be installed on millions of PlayStation 4s, but a majority of those downloads were “free” to gamers as part of PlayStation Plus. Housemarque wouldn’t discuss any figures, but from off-the-record talks with other developers, it’s likely that revenues per PS Plus download are better counted in cents than dollars.
PS Plus is fantastic for a game’s “tail,” bringing in additional revenues when sales are drying up, just like Humble Bundle’s pay-what-you-want model, Xbox’s Games with Gold program or Steam sales. For a game’s launch, though, it essentially puts a hard cap on profits: Your game will be successful, but you’re unlikely to make millions.
Haveri put it to me that if Resogun hadn’t been on PS Plus, I wouldn’t have even visited Finland to discuss Nex Machina. “You might have bought it, yeah, but the popularity of Resogun wouldn’t be nearly to the level it was. It would’ve been one of those off-brand, niche games.” That’s perhaps true, and it’s impossible to call Resogun anything but a success. But this partnership with Sony clearly didn’t work for Alienation. It was buried between huge AAA games, and, although no one would say as much, that has to have been Sony’s decision.
Its core strategy is to make the best game it can.
Self-publishing is, in some ways, liberating. Housemarque has more creative control over the game, when it’s released and how it’s marketed. But it’s also perilous. The company has chosen to focus on technology and gameplay over marketing. Its core strategy is to make the best game it can, and hope that enough press, streamers and fans pick it up and enjoy it to help make it a hit.
Of course, there will be other efforts. It’s partnered with a video team to produce a “making of” documentary in the vein of Indie Game: The Movie. It’s signed a deal with Sony to make the game a PlayStation 4 exclusive, which assumedly comes with a financial reward, and the chance to showcase the game to a captive audience at PlayStation Experience. Nonetheless, the press team for Nex Machina is essentially a guy with a desk, and its marketing budget is pretty much paying that guy’s wage. I’ve seen how one person can help make a game a success, but I’ve also seen that same person fail to persuade gamers to care about another.
Housemarque co-founder Ilari Kuittinen plays “Nex Machina” after hours.
With Nex Machina, Housemarque is going high-risk, high-reward, and not just by self-publishing. There are a lot of conversations happening at the studio about its future. Usually, when a company asks a question like “What game would you like us to make next?” I take it as insincere flattery: Sega isn’t about to make Burning Rangers 2 because I told them to. When Housemarque asked, it felt like a genuine question.
We’d just moved from the confines of the Housemarque office to a nearby bar. It was me, Haveri, Krueger and Tommaso De Benetti, the company’s long-serving community manager — one of the employees made redundant the following day. (De Benetti was already aware of this; the coming announcement was to inform other employees.)
“We’re known as the twin-stick-shooter company pretty much,” said De Benetti. “We’ve been discussing if twin-stick is our future or if this is the last twin-stick shooter we’re doing. When you look at the market, there aren’t many twin-stick shooters that are multi-million-sellers, y’know.”
“I’d argue that’s true for arcade games in general,” Krueger said. “Outside of games like Dark Souls that have that arcade spirit in the AAA space, there’s this huge divide now … medium-to-large-budget games need to have a return on their investment, so they go to safer, cinematic experiences.”
“This is the day-to-day that we deal with,” Haveri said. “It’s not like we can say, ‘This is our dream project’ and people will understand that and it’ll sell well. Reality hits in and it’s like, ‘Well, fuck, maybe people don’t really feel the same way we do [about twin-stick shooters].’”
I’ve heard similar stories, off the record, from many developers. Making a $1 million game, or even a $10 million game, is very difficult in 2016. Either you throw enough money at a game to almost guarantee a success — Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Far Cry and so on — or you make one small enough to mitigate the risks of commercial failure. It’s an industry-wide problem, but one that particularly affects a studio the size of Housemarque. It can’t afford to make low-budget, low-reward games without making layoffs. It can’t afford to make high-budget games, period. The middle ground is where the real problems are, and there’s no clear solution in sight.
This is the day-to-day that we deal with. It’s not like we can say, ‘This is our dream project’ and people will understand that and it’ll sell well. Reality hits in and it’s like, ‘Well, fuck, maybe people don’t really feel the same way we do [about twin-stick shooters].’
Chances are, if Resogun scored even five points lower in reviews, it wouldn’t have seen half the success. “All three of us are there at the US launch of the PlayStation 4,” Haveri said. “We have all these big games around like Killzone and the whole hotel is bought out by Sony. We’ve got our Resogun T-shirts on and nobody gives a fuck about us.”
That only changed, he recalled, when the first reviews started coming in, and it became clear that Resogun was getting far better ratings than Knack and Killzone, the two big exclusive launch games. “I remember the moment we got off the elevator into the lobby, and people saw those same T-shirts with Resogun on. Then it was like, ‘Oh, these guys, hey let’s check it out.’”
If Nex Machina lives up to its promise, if it’s lauded as the best of its kind and it still doesn’t sell, what then? “We’re sort of trying to understand where can we go, what can we do,” De Benetti said. “What could be enough for us to get a budget but still fulfill creatively and gameplay-wise what we want to be and do?”
Haveri pondered whether a Dark Souls–like title might be a good fit — Krueger loves the games, in particular Demon’s Souls. I suggested maybe something closer to Platinum Games’ superb Bayonetta series, given its faster pace and hidden complexities. “I like Bayonetta, but those games are not selling very much,” De Benetti said. “Sometimes we wonder: Do we keep doing what we’re good at, or do we try something new?”
“Dark Souls gave AAA titles their balls back,” Krueger said. “It proved you don’t have to sacrifice challenge, that it can be a positive and addictive thing for an audience that doesn’t even realize that they like it.”
The problem with making a game like Dark Souls is it requires a lot of money. “We don’t have, business-wise, the opportunity to pursue these things to the ends that we’d love to. There are compromises to be made,” Haveri said. “Sadly, it comes at the cost of losing great people and friends. That’s the reality of every single gaming business out there. In the end it is a business; it’s a tightrope of walking that path to keep it going while still being artistic and following a vision. In the end, it has to be a compromise.”
“That’s the biggest predicament,” he continued. “It’s not just ‘Can we keep doing what we love to do?’ It’s ‘How many people can we feed while keeping that dream alive?’”