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What happened to video game publishers?

For a considerable amount of time major videogame publishers have been a prominent force in the industry, helping to dictate which games get into the hands of players.

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Saints Row IV

For a considerable amount of time major video game publishers have been a prominent force in the industry, helping to dictate which games get into the hands of players.

In recent years however their influence has changed, that is not to say that they no longer have influence, but the way in which they operate has become narrower and this is particularly evident with what they now release.

Publishers are still a dominant force in the industry and are responsible for some of the most successful video game releases. Yet despite releasing highly successful titles they are either another entry to an established franchise, or as seen recently the first in a predetermined new franchise. This is mostly in reference to the “big three” third party publishers; this being Activision-Blizzard, EA, and Ubisoft. With the increased costs associated with AAA development, the number of games released by the big three is noticeably less compared with the output seen in the sixth console generation (PS2, GameCube, Xbox) and the first half of the seventh (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii).

This move towards depending on just a few major releases each year is most notable with Activision-Blizzard. Whilst its Blizzard subsidiary has mostly revolved around releasing very few games, its business model is mostly based on generating revenue via subscriptions for its MMO World of Warcraft and now the addition of micro-transactions from free2play titles like Hearthstone. Although there are also expansions for World of Warcraft and the releases of non-subscription based releases such as Starcraft and Diablo.

Activision meanwhile used to have a fairly diverse catalogue of games from different developers. Yet over the past decade many have been closed down or subsumed into other studios. The result has been that now Activision effectively has three franchises that it is dependent on, those being; the Call of Duty franchise, Skylanders, and the upcoming Destiny franchise by Halo creators Bungie. Although Activision recently announced the revival of Sierra Entertainment hinting at the return of some its adventure style games. Then there is also the forthcoming Legend of Korra game that is being developed by Platinum Games, which is a digital download based on the Nickelodeon TV series. Even with these recent announcements and the forthcoming Destiny, Activision has become far too reliant on too few titles.

EA, in comparison, are not in the same situation as they do have a broader output, in part helped by its sports division. However they have also become reliant on established franchises, although unlike Activision they still have a diverse range of studios creating different titles and so are not as dependent on the absolute success of just a few titles. Nonetheless the continued success of series’ like Battlefield, Madden, and FIFA are very important for EA’s financial health.

Then there is also the exclusive licensing obtained by EA to create Star Wars titles for the ‘core gaming market‘. So far this has only resulted in the announcement of a new Battlefront game that is being developed by Battlefield creators DICE, although this is not scheduled to be released until the third quarter of 2015. There has yet to be any further announcements of future titles that take advantage of the license, although it is quite possible that with the start of the new trilogy in 2015 for new titles to coincide around this.

Ubisoft is the last of the big three, in terms of revenue, but has a large number of diverse franchises that is has developed over the last decade as well as a number of new franchises and smaller individual titles that it has released recently. This year saw the release of their new franchise Watch Dogs which, despite mixed reviews and similarities with other Ubisoft titles, provides another type of open world game to bolster its growing lineup.

However the more interesting releases have been the smaller titles that have utilised the UbiArt engine originally used for Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends. The first was Child of Light which is described as a Western JRPG and the second was Valiant Hearts which is a puzzle adventure set during the Great War. These titles allowed smaller teams at Ubisoft a chance to make single player games that focused more on a straightforward narrative whilst also doing something a little different.

Although despite the willingness of Ubisoft to create such titles, they are by no means a shining example of what a big publisher should be. Neither of the subsequent UbiArt games can be seen as a true experiment, mostly because neither does something truly new. They are in reality an example of a big studio trying to see if they still have the ability to create a new smaller title by a smaller team. Even though they had done so before with the April Fool’s joke that was Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, it was effectively a stand-alone expansion for Far Cry 3, and this concept of a stand-alone expansion was continued with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Even though the big three can be criticised for their reduced output, it can be argued that their actions have been in response to the perceived approach of how best to create and sell AAA titles. The idea of taking a risk is far too financially dangerous for them, for every title they make now has to be a “success”. This is has been cemented in their minds after what they perceived as the cause of THQ’s spectacular implosion, even though this can likely be attributed to poor direction from the top. However there are publisher like Square Enix who struggle to make a profit with a new Tomb Raider title, despite it initially selling around 7 million units, and then having to re-release it on (now) current gen to help generate even more revenue from it. It is then understandable why publishers would want to focus on fewer titles so that they can polish to excess and then provide them with an extravagant marketing budget to help guarantee they become a success.

Deep Silver appear to be one of the few publishers that understands how to create and market a AAA game in a manner that does not require unrealistic sales numbers in order to break even. This was evident with the transition of ownership of the Saints Row series that was previously owned by THQ. Saints Row: The Third sold well, but struggled to break even, whereas Saints Row IV managed to achieve higher sales earlier on even though Deep Silver at the time were not a big player in comparison to other publishers, nor were they of the scale of THQ before its demise, making the subsequent achievements by the German publisher more impressive. Regardless of the more efficient actions of Deep Silver, it can still be argued that on the whole their titles are fairly conservative and are not experimenting with new ideas, for there is still an overabundance of guns and violence among their titles.

This is not an insight into the operations of every video game publisher, although with the current number operating it is possible, but with the start of this console generation the impact of indie developers is already being felt. The first year of a new console is usually quiet as there are only a few developers that get the opportunity and/or are able to create a brand new video game in time for the launch window. This time has seemed to have struggled with a dearth of content just as much (or possibly more so) than previous generation beginnings, and even then there have been a number of “next gen” versions and re-releases.

However during this time, especially on PS4 (and to a lesser extent on Xbox One), indie titles have neatly filled the gap due to the absence of AAA games. Whilst they may not be utilising the power of these consoles to their full potential, the ease of which they can be accessed and their prominence on the store fronts is notable. They have helped to make the PS4 have an active and diverse catalogue of titles from such an early stage, potentially helping the console to achieve 10 million sales in less than one year.

Whilst many indie games are self-published, a number of the prominent titles, such as Hohokum, are published by the system owner, in this case Sony. Both Sony and Microsoft have a number of internal studios creating first party software exclusive for their consoles, but the approach of funding smaller diverse titles is becoming a more essential component to the software lineup found on their consoles.

The downside to this is of course the demise of the AA game, for the market seems to be unable to accommodate them. Whilst some of the blame can lie with publishers not supporting these titles properly, it also has to be recognised that games of this nature are a much harder sell. They often lack the polish and the size of the AAA games, and they are not as experimental and/or unique as the indie titles. In addition, in the highly commercialised world that we live, AA games now struggle to justify their price; as AAA are seen to offer lengthy playtime (such as the Assassin’s Creed series) worthy of their higher price, whereas indie games have a much lower price and therefore if the player does not like it they have not parted with as much money.

Publishers once dominated the video games industry, but that is no longer the case. They are still influential, and their impact will continue to be felt, but with the rise of independent developers and with it digital distribution and self-publishing, players now have more choice than they have ever had and no longer rely on what is provided by publishers. Publishers are in a delicate situation and they have to carefully manage how they operate otherwise the house of cards could collapse around them resulting in another THQ situation; one which the likes of Crytek is still struggling to deal with after absorbing many previous THQ studios and IP.

Although ultimately the actions of the publishers are a response to the market; millions of people buy a new Call of Duty game every year, so why wouldn’t Activision continue to produce new titles. The video game audience is still fickle in deciding what it wants, but comparing the current titles available now to when the seventh generation started highlights how far the medium has come during the past decade. Hopefully the medium continues to grow over the coming decade. Where that leaves the current publishers, we’ll have to wait and see.

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Despite studying Politics at Undergrad and then War Studies at Master's level, James managed to write multiple essays relating to technology and more importantly video games.

Features

How much will the PlayStation 5 cost?

Details of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are slowly filtering out, but how much will they cost?

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PlayStation 5 cost
Sony / Thumbsticks

A new video game generation begins later this year with the release of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Details of both consoles are slowly filtering out but how much will they cost?

Microsoft revealed the Xbox Series X at The Game Awards 2020 and has been drip-feeding information ever since. Sony has been more tight-lipped about its new games system, the PlayStation 5. We have a general understanding of the console’s technical capabilities. We’ve glimpsed the potential new DualShock controller. We’ve even seen the rather funky devkit, but that’s about it. The only official information has come via exclusive reports from Wired, a logo reveal, and the tantalising empty official PlayStation 5 website.

All of this means that it’s hard to determine exactly how much the PlayStation 5 will cost at launch. We’ll keep this page up to date with the latest official information, but here’s what we know so far, and what we can infer.

In a statement from Sony’s Q3 FY2019 Consolidated Financial Results briefing, chief financial officer Hiroki Totoki has given the clearest indication yet to Sony’s approach in pricing the PlayStation 5. Speaking via translation, he said:

“What is not very clear or visible is because we are competing in the space,” Totoki says, “so it’s very difficult to discuss anything about the price at this point of time and depending upon the price level, we may have to determine the promotion that we are going to deploy and how much costs we are prepared to pay. So it’s a question of balance, and because it’s a balancing act it’s very difficult to say anything concrete at this point of time, but when I said smooth transition, we mean that we will definitely choose the optimal approach and that we will try to have the best balance so that we will be profitable in the life, during the life of this product.”

So let’s unpack this statement a little. Totoki-san’s opening line refers to the competitive space the PlayStation 5 will be part of, and by that, he means the next Xbox. It’s a clear statement that Sony is watching how Microsoft will position and price the next Xbox (or Xboxes) Indeed, it could be that Sony is waiting for Microsoft to make the first move and set the ballpark price range. (Just like Microsoft did with the Xbox One X, a mid-generation refresh that, with the benefit of going second, is more powerful than Sony’s PS4 Pro.)

Sony is surely keen to repeat the mistakes of the past and avoid a price variance similar to that between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 launched with two models, priced at $299 and $399, in 2005. A year later, the launch PS3 models were priced at an eye-watering $499 and $599. Shuhei Yoshida – previously Sony Worldwide Studios President – admits this price disparity was a huge mistake, calling it horrifying. It certainly contributed to the PS3’s sluggish launch in the West.

Sony had greater success with the PlayStation 4, mostly by having a clearer consumer proposition, but also by undercutting the price of Microsoft’s Xbox One – which bundled a Kinect sensor nobody really wanted – by $100.

When Totoki speaks about a “smooth transition” he’s likely referring to making customers comfortable, by aligning with the PS5’s price to existing hardware – namely the PlayStation 4 Pro, which launched at $399 in the US. This certainly fits in line with PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan’s comments about the desire to transfer customers from the PS4 to the PS5 “at a scale and pace that we’ve never delivered on before.”

PlayStation 5 system architect Mark Cerny is on the same page. Following the console’s 2019 announcement in Wired, reporter Peter Rubin confirmed via Twitter that Cerny said: “I believe that we will be able to release it at an SRP that will be appealing to gamers in light of its advanced feature set.”

Totoki also speaks about the PS5’s profitability, which is an indication that the console’s price will – initially, at least – start at the higher end. After all, Sony can always reduce the price to stimulate sales, but can’t go in the other direction.

So based on what we know so far, we predict the PS5 will cost more than the PS4 Pro and will be released at $499 in the US and £449 in the UK.

For one thing, this is bang in the middle of Sony’s historic pricing strategy for PlayStation consoles, when adjusted for inflation. The original PlayStation, costing $299 in 1995, would cost $500 in today’s money. The PS2, also priced at $299 in 2000, would be a bargain $445 in today’s money. The PS3 is the outlier – its $499 price tag in 2006 translates to $630 in today’s money – with the PS4’s 2013 price of $399 translating to around $435 in 2020.

The PlayStation 5 coming in around $500 makes sense, both in terms of its position in the market above the mid-generation, transitional PS4 Pro, and with respect to Sony’s pricing history for PlayStation consoles.

PlayStation 5 at a glance

  • Release date: Holiday 2020
  • Estimated Price: $499 / £449
  • Specifications: 8-core AMD Zen CPU, AMD Navi GPU, custom SSD, 4K Blu-ray player
  • Features: Improved loading times, ray tracing, 4K performance at 120Hz, haptic DualShock controller

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10 essential Nintendo Switch accessories everyone must own

The Nintendo Switch is an amazing combination of handheld and console. Here are the extra accessories and bits of kit that you’ll need to make it perfect.

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dangerous to go alone nintendo switch accessories sandisk
Nintendo / Thumbsticks

The Nintendo Switch is an amazing combination of handheld and console. Here are the extra accessories and bits of kit that you’ll need to make it perfect.

1. A really big memory card

Remember when the Nintendo Switch launched, and people were worried about the number of games available? Firstly, that’s true of all consoles. And secondly, that seems a little redundant now there are over a trillion games on the eShop.

The Nintendo Switch comes with a modest 32GB of internal storage, and not every game comes on a cartridge. (Even some games sold in boxed, retail format still just include a code to redeem and download the game.)

So if you want to buy download, store, and play all of those lovely games, you’re going to need a really big micro SD memory card. Now take the size you’ve got in your head, and go bigger. Then go bigger again, just to be on the safe side.

You can buy micro SD cards that are specifically designed for Nintendo Switch, but really, just make sure you get one with high-speed access. The minimum you’ll want is 10MB/s sequential write speed, so that’s Class 10 (C10) in standard SDHC/SDXC cards, or Class 1 (U1) or better in UHS cards.

2. A quality case

One of the joys of the Nintendo Switch – and even more so its smaller sibling, the Nintendo Switch Lite – is that you can play it anywhere. On the sofa. In bed. On the toilet. In the garden. The opportunities around the home are excellent.

But it’s the opportunity to take your Switch further afield – on the bus, on the subway, on a plane – that’s really exciting. But that’s also where your console faces the most risk.

You might scratch the screen taking it in and out of your bag. You’re more likely to get bumped and drop it on public transport. You don’t (well, most sane people don’t) take their mobile phone out without a case and a screen protector, so why would you do the same with your Switch?

Get a good quality case – Nintendo makes official ones, but Hori stuff is also great – to keep your Switch safe. You’ll often get a screen protector included, so it makes sense to use one of those, too.

3. A Flip Grip

One of the neat things about the Nintendo Switch’s handheld form factor is that, unlike TV-only consoles, you can play games in portrait mode. (Or as Nintendo calls it, Tate Mode.)

From Zen’s brilliant pinball tables to Ojiro Fumoto’s Downwell, there are loads of games that make use of Tate Mode. But if a game isn’t playable with touchscreen, then playing in Tate Mode with Joy-Con controllers can be more difficult. Some games will allow you to play with a single, docked Joy-Con, while others will require you to stand the Switch on its end and used detached controllers.

With the Flip Grip, an accessory from Fangamer and notable video game historian, Jeremy Parish, this is no longer an issue. The Flip Grip features a pair of rails to attach a pair of Joy-Con, and allows you to safely position your Nintendo Switch between them in Tate Mode. It’s so simple, it’s a wonder Nintendo didn’t think of it.

4. A power bank (and a good quality USB-C cable)

If we have one criticism of the Nintendo Switch, it’s that battery life in handheld mode can be a little short. (Though this is slightly improved in the Nintendo Switch Lite.)

What’s noticeable is that games which particularly tax the hardware – everything from Skyrim and Doom to Nintendo’s own Breath of the Wild – cause the battery to deplete even faster.

If you’re within reach of a plug socket – or at least, a USB port – then that’s not such a big deal. Grab a long USB-C cable, plug your Switch in, and keep going. But if you’re on the move and your battery runs low, then you’ll need a power bank to keep playing.

But the Nintendo Switch is finicky about which power sources it will use. Finding the right gear can be a costly game of trial and error. As featured in our list of essential video game websites, Switch Chargers will help you find power banks and cables that are compatible with your Switch.

5. Extra Joy-Con controllers

It seems counter-intuitive, given the Switch’s handheld form factor, but some of the most fun you’ll have with Nintendo’s latest console is with family and friends.

The design of the Switch and its pair of Joy-Con means you can easily enjoy two-player games with no extra hardware. This was illustrated beautifully with launch title, Snipperclips, and games like Yoshi’s Crafted World, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pikniku have driven the point home.

But things are even better with four players. (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Party, and Smash Bros. Ultimate, Overcooked and Overcooked 2, Kirby Star Allies, Party Golf… the list is extensive.)

To do that, you’re going to need extra Joy-Con controllers. That is an extra cost, but it has the added bonus that you can add more beautifully-coloured controllers to your collection.

6. A Joy-Con charging station

If you’ve got more than one set of Joy-Con controllers, but only one Nintendo Switch console, you’re going to run into a charging problem. To try and make sure your Joy-Con are all charged, you’ll need to implement some sort of charging schedule. Maybe a rota? Take it in turns to swap the controllers around, treat it like another household chore?

(That problem is exacerbated if you’ve only got a Nintendo Switch Lite, whose “Joy-Con” aren’t detachable, so there’s no way to directly charge additional sets.)

Or you could buy a Joy-Con charging station. You can get them in different sizes, depending on the number of Joy-Con you need to charge – and if you’ve only got two, you can get a charging grip that also doubles as a controller – but it’s a really simple and tidy way of keeping on top of your battery problem.

7. A Nintendo Switch Pro controller

The Nintendo Switch Joy-Con grip is a simple solution to a simple problem: How does one use both JoyCon as a single controller if their Switch is docked?

It’s also a simple solution ergonomically speaking, however. It’s not the most natural size or shape for a controller. It feels weird for a short time, and can lead to fatigue during longer sessions. But it comes bundled with your console so it’s basically free. Can’t argue with the price tag.

Nintendo’s even more simple (but predictably, quite expensive) solution is the Nintendo Switch Pro controller. It’s basically a standalone Switch controller, modelled after the Xbox layout – sorry, Sony, but even Nintendo agrees that your thumbstick position is inferior – but it’s an essential purchase if you’re going to be playing in docked mode a lot.

8. A decent stand

The kickstand on the back of the Nintendo Switch is a little flimsy, to say the least. For something that’s designed to be a road warrior, it’s a surprisingly feeble piece of plastic. (And yet another reason why you want a good quality case.)

If you’re going to want to use your Switch in tabletop mode, then you can use the built-in stand. If you’re careful. But if you get a separate stand, you’ll not only find it more stable, but you may be able to charge your Switch while you play. (Something that the built-in kickstand doesn’t allow).

Pretty much any mobile phone or tablet stand should do the job, but keep in mind that not everything with a built-in USB-C port will charge your Switch. Some third-party “docks” have also been known to brick consoles, so keep Switch Chargers in mind when you go shopping.

(Nintendo also offers an official adjustable charging stand, while the Wii U gamepad stand can come in handy if you’ve got one kicking around.)

9. A nice case for your games

There’s a real disparity in the size of physical, retail releases of Nintendo Switch games. The box they come in is massive compared to the game cards, for starters. (And that’s if they come with a game card at all and not just a code. Often they don’t come with manuals, either, or anything else to justify the size of the box.)

Other than them fitting nicely onto a bookshelf, there’s no real reason why they should be the size they are. And then, there’s no real reason to keep your cartridges in the boxes.

But they’re small. Easy to lose. Can be trodden on or snapped. Nintendo even had to make them taste foul to try and prevent people from eating them. You can pick up a sturdy little case for peanuts, and they even come in funky designs.

10. Ring Fit

This is a late entry to the list, bumping Nintendo Labo kits off the bottom (sorry, kids!) but the Ring Fit – and its associated game, Ring Fit Adventure – is a genuinely brilliant bit of kit.

Nintendo has long tried to get us to be more active. From walking to hatch Pokémon to Wii Sports to Wii Fit, the oft-wholesome developer and publisher seems to genuinely care about our health.

And with Ring Fit, this is Nintendo’s best effort at video game-powered fitness yet. From Ring Fit Adventure’s main RPG quest to standalone workouts, you’ll always be able to fit in a quick session. The controller might look weird, but the combination of resistance, stretching, and holding positions really works. And as with everything Nintendo, you can start on a super-friendly difficulty, then crank it up to genuinely challenging levels as your fitness improves.


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10 useful video game websites everyone should bookmark

If you play video games, these ten websites will help you get the most out of your favourite pastime.

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10 really useful video game websites
Ubisoft

If you play video games, these ten websites will help you get the most out of your favourite electronic pastime.

Enjoying video games often means more than just playing them. Sometimes you need help choosing a game to play. Sometimes you need assistance if you’re stuck on a tricky boss battle. And sometimes you’re just curious to know how many copies of Wii Music were actually sold.

Here are ten extremely useful websites that every video game enthusiast should bookmark.

1. HowLongToBeat

In these days of digital discounts and continual sales, it’s all too easy to build up a library of unplayed games. HowLongToBeat is a useful tool that tells you how long – on average – a game takes to complete. It’s a genuinely helpful guide in choosing what to play next, particularly if you tend to avoid either very long or very short games.

For example, the completion time for Pokémon Sword and Shield is currently listed as 25 hours for the main story, 36 hours for the main story and extras, and 83.5 hours for full completion. A smaller title, such as Untitled Goose Game, is 3 hours for the main story, 3.5 hours for the main and extras, and 5 hours for full completion. Figures are also broken down by platform and play style. Anyone can submit their play-times and contribute to the site’s database.

Link: https://howlongtobeat.com

2. The Video Game Atlas

The Video Game Atlas is the largest collection of user-submitted screenshot maps on the web. The site’s coverage is heavily skewed towards older games, recalling the good old days of printed maps in magazines. For that reason, it’s a great tool for retro gamers. So, if you’re revisiting Batman Forever on Super NES or Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on Sega Genesis, The Video Game Atlas is the place to visit. A word of warning, however. The site is endearingly old school in design, so it’s best viewed on a desktop.

Link: https://vgmaps.com

3. Games Finder

Games Finder is a recommendation site to help players find games similar to those they like. For example, search for Portal, and you’ll be recommended games like The Stanley Parable, QUBE, Swapper, and Tag, among many others. The site doesn’t cover every game out there, but as its recommendations are curated by a team of editors, the quality is generally high. If you want to match a game on gameplay, mechanics, genre, or narrative theme, it’s worth a visit.

Link: https://gameslikefinder.com

4. VGChartz

VGChartz compiles game and hardware sales data from around the world to create a highly pleasurable numerical rabbit hole. There are regional, weekly, and annual charts to explore, and many games have a detailed sale history breakdown. The site is also a useful source of screenshots and release information. VGChartz is also a reminder of why Nintendo continues to make Kirby games. Kirby Star Allies on Nintendo Switch – a game that literally no one thinks about – has sold over 2.5 million copies since release. Crikey.

Link: http://www.vgchartz.com

5. Switch Chargers

There’s a place at the top table reserved for the folks that run Switch Chargers. The Nintendo Switch is a console that is easy to love, but its highly-specific requirements regarding power and charging can cause headaches. Switch Chargers breaks everything down into simple guides that cover everything from Power Banks and USB chargers to cables and car adapters. It also features useful explainers on how Switch consoles are actually powered, and on how to avoid bricking your system. It’s an essential site for Switch owners.

Link: https://switchchargers.com

6. Gamefaqs

Gamefaqs has been running for 25 years and needs little introduction. It remains the go-to destination for text FAQs, cheats, and achievement listings. The message boards are also worth visiting if you have a specific question about a particular game, with assistance offered by a remarkably polite and friendly community of contributors.

Link: http://www.gamefaqs.com

7. Achievements and Trophies

Speaking of achievements and trophies, here are two sites for the price of one. If you care about earning magical meaningless numbers on Xbox and PlayStation consoles, the long-running XboxAchievements and PlayStationTrophies have all you need to know. Don’t let that 2018 copyright date – or the intrusive ads – put you off, both sites are frequently updated with the latest achievements and trophy information.

Links: https://www.xboxachievements.com / https://www.playstationtrophies.org

8. OpenCritic

Everyone’s a critic nowadays, so the saying goes. Review aggregation sites are nothing new, but our pick for the best goes to OpenCritic. As well as aggregated ratings, OpenCritic lets users interrogate its game review data with score distribution charts and other useful filters. You can also look at particular publication – like Thumbsticks, for example – and see the titles it has reviewed, the average and median scores, and the percentage of games it recommends. It’s also well presented and easy to use. Hardly a given for sites of this nature.

Link: OpenCritic

9. Virtual Gaming Library

The Virtual Gaming Library (VGL) is probably the most impressive database of video games on YouTube. The channel features playlists for all major platforms and a variety of game genres. Most impressive – and almost hypnotic – are the  VGL ‘Project’ videos. Each one features a 10-second clip from every title released on a particular gaming platform. It’s a sublime work of effort and execution.

Link: VGL on YouTube

10. ESRB Game Ratings Search

Clear your throat, lower your voice, and all together now: “M for Mature.”

Knowing more about the content of a game you are playing is important, particularly if you have younger family members. The ESRB issues video game ratings in North America and has a comprehensive database of every title released on major platforms. Each title is listed with an age rating, content descriptor, and a breakdown of interactive elements such as online gameplay. For example, the listing for Teen-rated Astral Chain says:

“In some areas, characters drink alcohol and weave/stumble with slurred speech; one mission requires players’ character find liquor to obtain information from a drunk character. Characters use the word “drugs” in dialogue. The words “sh*t,” “b*tch,” and “a*s” also appear in dialogue.”

The database can be accessed worldwide and is full of useful information. There’s also an app available on iOS and Android. European readers can also access the PEGI ratings database.

Link: ESRB / PEGI


Of course, the secret best video games website is Thumbsticks, so thank you for reading our news, features, guides and reviews. Please stay in touch by following us on Flipboard, Facebook, Google News, and Twitter.

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Large, open-world video games are a sprint, not a marathon

If you can get to the end of a long video game with the wind in your sails and enthusiasm still in your heart, then that’s an achievement in itself. But it shouldn’t be so difficult. Games shouldn’t feel like work.

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Bilbo Baggins going on an adventure
New Line Cinema

“I’m going on an adventure!” Shouts a young, excited Bilbo Baggins, running down the path from Bag End into Hobbiton village and beyond.

He, a homebody hobbit who has never left the Shire, has been recruited by a wizard to serve as the rogue in a party of warrior dwarves. It’s literally the most exciting thing that has happened in his life and – down to the Dungeons & Dragons party composition – is a stirring setup for the main questline of an RPG.

Fast forward six months and Bilbo has walked almost 1,000 miles in a little under six months. He’s been starved, weather-beaten, and exhausted. Over the course of the journey, Bilbo is attacked by wolves, goblins, a giant spider, a corrupted hobbit with an evil MacGuffin, and a literal dragon. And he’s nearly eaten by trolls.

Bilbo is, understandably, worse for wear from the experience. The enthusiasm he held at the start wanes quickly, and often, he wishes he could quit, or had never started the journey at all. But he trudges on because he’s made the commitment. The investment. He’s already wasted so much time on it. He wants to see it through.

The Hobbit, then, is the perfect metaphor for large, often open-world video games.

The Witcher 3 Geralt Roach dragons

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to love about labyrinthine RPGs and expansive open-world adventures. They are one of the most popular genres of video game. The Netflix-powered resurgence of The Witcher 3, four years after its original release, just shows how much the audience love any big games it can get its hands on. Perhaps it’s a value for money thing, or just the desire to eke as much play-time as possible out of each world.

It’s also this desire for more content that has led to the proliferation of repetitive radiant quests, and ultimately, the live service model that is so prevalent. The result is that large, open-world video games are not great respecters of our time. The games themselves can take hundreds of hours to complete, while quests last as long as (and feel akin to) a full day at work. Trying to arrange a group of working adults for regular co-op stints is an exercise in futility.

The net consequence is that players often run out of steam, and bounce off big video games, before completing them.

The “shame pile”

People refer to it as the “shame pile”. It’s quite different from the more shame-neutral “backlog”, which consists of games you’re yet to play (but you totally intend to). The “shame pile” is filled with the games you’ve started but never finished. But we shouldn’t feel ashamed! Not finishing video games is nothing to be ashamed of.

In some cases, I’ve deliberately left games unfinished. My Courier, for instance, is entombed on an Xbox 360 in my garage. He waits, stoic, at the Hoover Dam. Yes Man is at his disposal. All the Courier must do is instruct Mr House’s AI servant on how best to clean up the Nevada Wasteland. But I don’t want him to. I love the world of Fallout: New Vegas so much that I don’t want it to end.

That sort of thing is the exception, however. Most of the games on my “shame pile” are unfinished simply because I’ve run out of steam.

Sometimes, you can pinpoint the precise moment it happens. (Hello, Grand Theft Auto V’s spectacularly underwhelming submarine heist.) Occasionally, you can look at a calendar and see at a glance which shiny new game displaced the incumbent. But more often than not, it’s a combination of repetition, lack of forward momentum, and length of time played.

GTA V submarine

Fallout 4. Final Fantasy XII through XV. Grand Theft Autos IV and V. All of the Elder Scrolls games, from Daggerfall to Skyrim. A bunch of Assassin’s Creeds. And all the rest that don’t immediately come to mind. That’s thousands of hours invested into games that would probably take thousands more to actually complete. And none of them will be.

Some games – either helpfully or mockingly, depending on your point of view – provide a completion percentage to let you know how close you got. Or didn’t get. I can see at a glance that I am 37% of the way through Red Dead Redemption 2, for instance. That’s probably still 40-50 hours of solid effort over the span of a couple of weeks, roaming around a remarkable frontier at a languid pace, but at this moment in time, I can’t see myself going back.

Enthusiasm has waned. The memory falters. Even if I did go back, at this stage I’d have no idea what I was doing, or why.

The antidote

If you can get to the end of a long video game with the wind in your sails and enthusiasm still in your heart, then that’s an achievement in itself. For my part, it’s a madcap dash to complete before I hit the wall. But it shouldn’t be so difficult. So exhausting. Playing games shouldn’t feel like running a marathon.

You could avoid playing long games, for one thing. It wasn’t a conscious decision that I can recall making, but I’ve become aware that I do tend towards shorter games now, in my dotage. I let the younger members of the team take the review codes for big games, preferring to spend three hours with an indie gem than 30 with an RPG. That’s not to say long games don’t come into rotation, but I don’t gravitate towards them as I once did.

And not every big game is off the menu. There are some games that, with a few quality of life improvements and a little bit of respect for your time, are accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Even tired old folk with no energy and no free time. (Like yours truly.)

The Witcher 3, for instance, offers handy plot recaps when you load the game. (Hello, Netflix recap.) You could have spent hours, days, weeks, months away from Geralt and his adventures. In other games, this is fatal to continuity. I’ve started Final Fantasy XIII three times. Not because I particularly loved it, you understand, but because I wanted to try and finish it. However, each time I came back to it, I could not for the life of me remember what was going on. It’s all just a confusing mess of crystals and people and crystals that used to be people. The Witcher 3 is no less complex a tale, but the bard’s recaps make returning to the game after a break a realistic possibility.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, gets around the problem by not really having a story at all. That’s not to say there isn’t an overarching plot – recover memories, release the Divine Beasts, defeat Ganon, free Princess Zelda – but it’s not central to actually playing the game. You can skip it altogether if you’re good enough. It’s possible to walk straight to Hyrule Castle in your underpants and beat Calamity Ganon with just three hearts.

This lack of focus on the narrative allows Breath of the Wild to be played in bitesize chunks. To be conquered piecemeal. To be tackled months apart, and all with no ill effects to continuity or your ability to jump back in. It’s surprising more games haven’t followed this example, but there’s a design purity to Breath of the Wild that requires extreme restraint, made evermore rare by the expectation of open worlds stuffed to burst with content.

how long to beat the outer worlds

And if you’re Obsidian – the developer of Fallout: New Vegas who totally didn’t just make their own Fallout game (in SPAAAAAAACE!) without Bethesda’s involvement – you could just buck the trend completely. How did they do that? By making The Outer Worlds really short.

Beautifully short.

Mercifully short.

It’s a revolutionary idea, but it just might work.

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Features

Is Journey to the Savage Planet worth playing?

Journey to the Savage Planet is a comedic sci-fi adventure and the first game from Typhoon Studios. Is the journey as good as the brochure suggests? Here’s what the critics think.

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ourney to the Savage Planet
Typhoon Studios

Comedic sci-fi adventure Journey to the Savage Planet is the first game from Typhoon Studios. Is the trip as spectacular as the brochure suggests? Here’s what the critics think.

Journey to the Savage Planet is a new exploratory action game from Typhoon Studios. With its tongue set firmly in its cheek, the game takes inspiration from all manner of sources, from Metroid and BioShock to the works of Douglas Adams. The end product is a beautiful space adventure with a satirical edge.

Obsidian Entertainment’s recent RPG hit, The Outer Worlds, took a similar approach to some acclaim. Is Typhoon’s debut as successful? Can a video game be funny? Here’s our pick of the game’s reviews.

Journey to the Savage Planet review round-up

Videogamer

“What we have is a first-person sci-fi adventure-platformer, with—but not focussed on—shooting, all about exploration and gathering materials in an open, but manageable, world that lasts under fifteen hours. If we didn’t have the luxury of time, we might call it Every Man’s Sky.”

7/10 – Review by Josh Wise

The Guardian

“One of Savage Planet’s more notable achievements is communicating a sense of scale and freedom in a game that is only a fraction of the size of most open-world contemporaries. It tickles the part of your brain that yearns for distant horizons without demanding a huge chunk of your life, unlike Skyrim or Breath of the Wild.”

3/5 – Review by Rick Lane

Polygon

“The existential void of late capitalism isn’t new thematic ground for games these days, but that hasn’t prevented Journey to the Savage Planet’s creators from finding new angles from which to stare into the abyss. The exploding ugly-cute alien creatures, the interstitial commercials, my AI overseer, or even just the way my character flails his arm around for a slap attack all plant a smile on my face throughout the 15 hours or so it takes me to complete the game.”

Recommended – Review by Jeffrey Perkin

GameSpot

Journey to the Savage Planet adopts the classic Metroidvania formula and executes it wonderfully, presenting you with an ever-growing arsenal of tools that are satisfying to use and feed into the game’s inherent focus on exploration.”

7/10 – Review by Richard Wakeling

RockPaperShotgun

“The Savage Planet is solid. It swooshes you along a parade of poppable aliens, proffering up nooks and crannies to explore along the way. It’s still a pleasure to be in, still sumptuous and appetising. You will see rocky islands floating high above you, and then you’ll be on those rocks, and then you will feel accomplished.”

Not scored – Review by Matt Cox

GamesRadar

“More than anything, Journey to the Savage Planet reminds me of Rare circa Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It’s bright, cute, colorful, and endlessly charming. AR-Y 26 is filled with adorably boggle-eyed creatures as well as ferocious predators, and there’s a dark silliness to it all that plays into its Dr. Seuss aesthetic perfectly.”

4/5 – Review by Austin Wood

PC Gamer

“Humour’s famously subjective, and perhaps your own experiences of the comedy here will be like watching a friend do karaoke while you’re mid-dental examination, but I doubt it. Pitch-perfect live action commercials for sci-fi gubbins punctuate your forays into the planet, aping the frothing sales pitches of ‘80s toy commercials and instructional videos, and I grew to actively look forward to Kindred CEO Martin Tweed’s next video communication with me.”

84/100 – Review by Phil Iwaniuk

Other publications

  • Destructoid – 85
  • Eurogamer – Recommended
  • IGN – 6/10
  • VGC – 4/5
  • USGamer – 2.5/5

Title: Journey to the Savage Planet
Developer: Typhoon Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
Release date: January 28, 2020
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4


Visit our new releases section for more on this week’s new Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch video games.

Thumbsticks needs your support

We hate to ask, but global advertising revenues are the lowest they've ever been. It's killing the online publishing world. If you found this article interesting or entertaining and you want to support quality games writing, then please consider supporting us via Patreon, buying us a coffee, or subscribing to our newsletter.


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