EA Makes More Money through Apple’s App Store than Origin

Jeffrey Grubb reports for VentureBeat:

The mobile-based future is here, and publisher Electronic Arts is reaping the rewards. EA reported today that it made more money through Apple’s App Store than any other retail distributor. That includes its own Origin digital-download service.

When the consoles die, what comes next? Mobile. Some of the numbers are very impressive:

Real Racing 3 also continues to generate revenue for the publisher. The racing game reached 45 million downloads and averages around 2 million daily active users.

That’s a lot of racers. EA’s chief operating officer Peter Moore comments on the strength of Apple’s App Store:

“Apple was EA’s biggest retail partner as measured by sales. That is a first.”

A first indeed.

Antichamber for PC Might be My Next Portal

I started playing Antichamber last night with a friend. It’s quite possibly the most mind-expanding experience I’ve had since I played Portal for the first time.

Whilst infuriating and difficult at times, the game itself isn’t the challenge presented. The mind of the player is the challenge; your brain must be wired a certain way in order to complete the game.

Absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to finish it.

From its Steam Store page:

Antichamber is a mind-bending psychological exploration game where nothing can be taken for granted. Discover an Escher-like world where hallways wrap around upon each other, spaces reconfigure themselves, and accomplishing the impossible may just be the only way forward.

Several years in the making, Antichamber received over 25 awards and honors throughout its development, in major competitions including the Independent Games Festival, the PAX10, IndieCade and Make Something Unreal.

This quote from Rock, Paper, Shotgun nails it:

“Even as the developer told me what the game was doing to mess with my brain while I was playing it, it still succeeded in messing with my brain.”

The Verge’s Review of the Ouya Gaming Console

For once, a Verge review has the balls to give a product a 3.5/10 score. The video review is (as usual) the best part of this one.

Looks like my initial impressions of the Ouya were spot on: a pretty “cool” device, but only really relevant for developers and nerds. Looks very half-baked. Not for me.

Give me a cheap Steam Box over this any day.

More on Apple, Valve and Gaming

Kyle Orland writes a piece for Ars which I think has a few flaws, but is interesting to think about: Apple, the living room and gaming.

Kyle states:

Apple has now sold more than 10 million Apple TVs, but the 5-year-old streaming box has often been referred to as a "hobby" inside Cupertino.

I am reminded of this recent Tim Cook quote:

“When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years,” Cook told Williams. “It’s an area of intense interest. I can’t say more than that.”

So the Apple TV has *recently gone from a “hobby” to an “area of intense interest”. Things are warming up.

Back to Kyle:

There are some things you can always seem to count on in the video game industry. Activision is always working on a new Call of Duty game. Ubisoft's Beyond Good and Evil sequel is always "just around the corner." The PlayStation 3 is constantly hitting its stride. And Apple is perpetually on the verge of releasing a living room video game console that will revolutionize everything.

I don’t think Apple is going to enter the console market in the same way Sony and Microsoft did. Apple is more of a general computing company: people can work and play games on their Macs, iPads and iPhones. Why would Apple restrict a living room product to just gaming? If the Apple TV sees an update soon (which seems likely), I see apps as the future.

I think what Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve, is trying to get at with the quote included in Kyle’s piece, is exactly that: imagine the effects apps had on the smartphone business happening to the living room. It would be huge.

Here’s Gabe’s exact quote:

“The threat right now is that Apple has gained a huge amount of market share and has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform. I think that there's a scenario where we see sort of a dumbed-down living room platform emerging—I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily. The question is can we make enough progress in the PC space to establish ourselves there and also figure out better ways of addressing mobile before Apple takes over the living room?”

I think Valve has a chance to do well in the living room, but Gabe is just concerned Apple will take all the pie.

Nintendo Announces Crippling Wii U Numbers

Speaking of gaming’s future, it’s starting to look dubious whether Nintendo’s hardware division will be a part of it. Some tough numbers were announced recently:

Nintendo sold 3.06 million Wii U units worldwide from its November launch through the end of 2012. That's nearly as much as the 3.19 million units of the original Wii Nintendo sold back in the 2006 holiday season.

Less Wii U units sold, but six years later. So much for growth.

How and Why Consoles Will Die

This is a great article over at Kotaku, echoing the talk the author, Ben Cousins, gave back in March 2012.

I’ve viewed Ben’s presentation many times since March last year and every prediction and assumption made, as far as I’m concerned, is accurate. I see the mainstream future of gaming as mobile, with Valve taking up what’s left. And I like how the future looks.

The Living Room is a Huge Opportunity for Valve: They Know It

I’ve said many times before that I think Valve has a huge potential to win the living room gaming market. Gabe Newell, Valve’s CEO, seems to share a similar opinion.

He acknowledges Apple TV’s threat, but I agree with him — if Valve makes some smart decisions, the living room could be a huge win for the company, taking them from hardcore gamers to the exploding casual market.

Nvidia’s Project Shield and the First Steam Box…

Nvidia announced their Project Shield portable gaming device at CES on Monday, with no details on price. Or availability. Or battery life.

The Shield seems far too bulky and oddly shaped to carry around comfortably. It’s thicker and bulkier than existing portable gaming hardware and even thicker again compared to the average smartphone. Calling it portable is certainly optimistic — can you imagine this being used on public transport? It looks to be clunky and awkward in size, almost certainly too large for an average pocket. It also appears more delicate than a smartphone, with a hinged screen worth protecting. It may well be “portable”, but I can’t see this being used outside of the home to the same degree people use a Nintendo DS.

Fortunately, the Shield isn’t only trying to be a portable console. It has another trick up its sleeve.

Where the announcement gets really interesting is Nvidia’s integration with traditional PCs with Nvidia graphics cards. I’ve already pondered Valve’s interesting position in gaming and how it might create for an interesting future for consoles. Whilst the Shield isn’t a “Steam Box”, it’s possible to use the device as a controller for games on a PC and use the Shield’s screen instead of the PC to view the action. Essentially, the Shield becomes the screen and the controller for some of your PC games — in much the same way the new Wii U’s game pad acts as a screen and controller to the Wii U. Interesting.

Nvidia is presenting a device with two goals: to be a portable gaming system (running Android) and a way to play PC games in a more portable way… when at home. The Shield fails in the first goal — smartphones and existing gaming devices like the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS do far better jobs at either being mobile and ubiquitous (smartphones) or being a “good enough” compromise of mobile and quality gaming (portable consoles). The Shield isn’t mobile when compared to a smartphone and it isn’t better than existing home consoles or PCs for gaming around the house. I don’t even need to mention how short the battery life must be when streaming HD video over Wi-Fi.

If you want a portable gaming device, either use your smartphone or buy an existing console — which will come complete with a rich ecosystem of top-tier gaming titles. If you want a controller experience at home with pleasant HD graphics, either use a cheap Xbox controller with a gaming PC or simply get a full console. They’re cheaper than ever. The Shield is trying to solve problems which have already been solved.

As it stands today — before the Shield even exists — dedicated electronics hardware is in decline. Gaming hardware is dying. I don’t have much hope for existing portable gaming consoles like the DS or PSP, so announcing a brand new device with very few gaming titles in an arguably worse form factor than existing products seems to be a sure failure.

The First Steam Box?

Another related announcement to come out of CES is the “Piston”, the first Steam Box device for use with Valve’s Big Picture mode. As I said over a month ago, whilst speculating about the future for Valve and Steam’s Big Picture mode:

If Valve released moderately powerful hardware, bundled with a “Steam OS” and took away the hassles associated with PC gaming, they could be on to a winner.

I still stand by this. Valve are in a unique position: they create hugely successful games, own an extremely popular gaming distribution platform and have a huge audience: as I write this, nearly four million users are online on Steam. I believe we’ll know much more about Valve’s Big Picture mode when first party hardware is released. Until then, I remain hopeful. As I said back in December:

I wonder if existing console manufacturers even consider Valve a threat to their business today. Perhaps they should.

Valve: an Outside Contender for the Future of “Console” Gaming?

In a somewhat impromptu interview with Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, Gabe Newell, the head of Valve, discussed the next steps for Steam:

Newell said Valve's current goal was to figure out how to make PCs work better in the living room. He said the reaction to Steam's TV-friendly Big Picture interface has been “stronger than expected,” and that their next step is to get Steam Linux out of beta and to get Big Picture on that operating system, which would give Valve more flexibility when developing their own hardware.

Gabe is certainly pushing Linux heavily at the moment. I imagine this must mainly be due to a combination of two things:

  1. Windows 8 is much less friendly to third party game developers and distributors like Valve. The Windows App Store is direct competition to Valve’s Steam Store.

  2. The more control any software company has over hardware, the more tightly integrated the two can become. If Valve controls the hardware and the operating system, it seems logical that the Valve gaming experience could greatly improve. Whether it actually improves is a question of execution.

It makes sense for Valve to design a “Steam OS”, built on Linux and optimised for Steam’s distribution methods and catalogue, with a focus on optimising the entire gaming experience. This seems to be what’s happening:

Newell says that he expects companies to start selling PCs designed for the living room next year — with Steam preloaded — and that Valve will create its own.

Is control over hardware and software important for Gabe? It seems so:

“Well certainly our hardware will be a very controlled environment,”

People no longer want to manage all the cruft which comes along with PC gaming: graphics cards, drivers, updating and worrying about frame rates are nothing but headaches and relics of the past. If Valve released moderately powerful hardware, bundled with a “Steam OS” and took away the hassles associated with PC gaming, they could be on to a winner. Having this level of control over hardware and software would likely give Valve the ability to create a better gaming experience, either in the living room or on a PC device.

Amazon has taken a similar approach with tablets and it seems to be doing quite well for them. Amazon took stock Android as a foundation, designed their own shell and shipped custom hardware running it. Valve will take desktop Linux, customise it as they see fit, and package the software in hardware approved by them.

Existing PC users who are unwilling to lose control of custom hardware would likely be satisfied with the third party hardware Gabe said would be available—although I find it hard to believe that third party hardware will be as well integrated as Valve’s own.

I wonder if existing console manufacturers even consider Valve a threat to their business today. Perhaps they should.