My senior year in graduate school at Shippensburg I took a course that had each student update a chapter in our text book. I chose to update the video game chapter.
Video Game Update
Zeb Carbaugh, Shippensburg University
COM 526: Emerging Mass Media Technology
June 18, 2017
The gaming world is evolving and a lot has changed since last year. Sony’s PS4 Pro was released in November of 2016 and in response Microsoft just premiered their Xbox One X at the 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known as E3). Gaming consoles and PC gaming have been out shined by mobile gaming in terms of revenue for 2016. On March 3rd, 2017 Nintendo released their seventh console to the world, the Nintendo Switch. There is enough going on in the gaming world to keep players entertained for quite sometime.
To catch you up to speed here are a few interesting gaming statistics and events as of early 2017: The top game revenue country is China at about $24.3 billion which is almost $1 billion over the US gaming revenue (Lofgren, 2017). The world average gamer is male (59 male to 41 female), 35 years of age (with an average 13 years of gaming experience), and playing on a PC (56% PC, 53% dedicated console, 36% smartphone, 31% wireless device, and 17% handheld system) with friends (54% of most frequent players play with others) (Lofgren, 2017). In 2016 almost 30 and a half billion dollars in revenue was generated by the United States computer and video game industry, which is an increase from $30.2 billion the previous year (Entertainment Software Association, 2017). The quickly evaporating trend of Pokemon Go became a cultural phenomenon virtually overnight with the help of mobile technology and helped springboard Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon on portable gaming devices to the “highest launch month consumer spend in the history of the franchise” (Entertainment Software Association, 2017). And at the start of 2017, virtual reality (VR) gaming hadn’t yet reached its projected potential in performance nor commercial success (Lofgren, 2017).
In 2016 the gaming console giant Sony released the 2.0 version of their 2013 success, the PlayStation 4 and it is called the PlayStation 4 Pro. To be clear, there was another version of the PS4 released in 2016 and it is called the PS4 slim. The PS4 slim has almost the same performance as the launched version of the PS4, but with a smaller and sleeker look. However, the PS4 Pro is much different than the PS4 in terms of performance. The PS4 Pro has over double the GPU (graphics processor) power and operates with 4.2 teraflops compared to the standard PS4’s 1.84 teraflops (Vandervell, 2017). The pro also allows gamers to enjoy 4K resolution (3,840 by 2,160 lines pixels) and HDR (high dynamic range) which allow visuals to appear brighter and with more vibrant colors (Vandervell, 2017). With the PS4 Pro’s 4K capabilities, it is strongly recommended that it is operated on a 4K compatible television. The PS4 Pro will operate on a non-4K television, but it won’t be used to its potential.
Figure 1: Standard PS4 (Vandervell, 2017)
Figure 2: PS4 Pro’s HDR adding texture to the shot (Vandervell, 2017)
Table 1: Launched PS4, PS4 Slim, and PS4 Pro (Vandervell, 2017)
In response to Sony’s PS4 Pro, Microsoft recently showcased their XBOX One X at 2017’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. Project Scorpio was the One X’s secret name before being revealed to the public. It, like the PS4 Pro, has 4K HDR capabilities to allow for superior graphics in games and video. The One X has 1.17 GHz 6 Teraflop GPU compared to the Pro’s 4.2 Teraflop GPU. Not many reviews have come out since the One X isn’t meant to be released to the public until November 2017, but it is clear that Microsoft is still playing their part in the PlayStation and XBOX rivalry.
Table 2: XBOX One, XBOX One S, and XBOX One X (Naudus, 2017)
While consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One created 6.6 billion dollars in revenue in 2016, PC gaming generated 34 billion dollars for the same year. But neither console nor PC could top the mobile gaming industry which in 2015 made up 85 percent of all mobile app revenue with 34.8 billion dollars (Takahashi, 2016). Not to mention, the mobile games created 41 billion dollars in revenue for the 2016 year (Om, 2017). Freemium games such as SuperCell’s Clash of Clans (released in 2012) and Clash Royale (released March 2016) are free to play, but make the vast majority of their income on in-app purchases and advertising. These freemium games allow the player to download the game for free from the Apple App Store or Android’s Google Play, but in order to progress through the game without waiting for months in real time, the player can use real world money to advance their experience. SuperCell saw a flat sales growth of 2.3 billion dollars in 2016 and had 10 billion dollars worth of shares bought by the Chinese company Tencent Holdings (Takahashi, 2017).
Other mobile games such as the international sensation Pokemon Go have created huge bursts of initial buzz, but then fade out of relevancy rather quickly. Because the freemium style app is popular, mobile gamers can download many apps at a time with little to no cost to themselves. This means that most mobile gamers will download a game onto their phone whether they plan to engage with the game app on a regular basis or not. On top of that, there is an abundance of gaming apps available to users. If a player doesn’t like a certain popular mobile game, there are dozens of very similar knockoff versions to choose from. Once Clash of Clans started to receive a lot of attention (enough attention to buy a 9 million dollar commercial during Super Bowl 49 starring Liam Neeson) there were dozens of poorly developed knockoffs that showed up in the App Store and Google Play. Another reason why mobile games don’t tend to last long is because unlimited mobile data plans have become common place in the developed world. So not only are the apps themselves free, but the data necessary to download and play the apps isn’t costing the user any more than if he or she didn’t download and play the game (Herman, 2017). Mobile games seem to have a quantity over quality reputation compared to console and PC games. Most are free-to-play games, there are millions of them, and they typically don’t stay relevant as long as other video games, but that doesn’t mean mobile games should be regarded with any less respect.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo failed to give the 40 billion dollar mobile gaming industry its well-deserved spotlight once again in 2017, but why? Vlad Savov from TheVerge.com writes “I recall an old Malcolm Gladwell talk where he recounted some unintuitive statistical findings by researchers. If you ask people what type of coffee they favor, he pointed out, and they all say something along the lines of a dark, rich, hearty roast. When you look at what they actually buy and prefer, however, it turns out the answer is a weak and milky coffee. Without wishing to offend mobile game makers, that’s where we are today: with mobile games being the mild and milky coffee we actually consume but don’t feel exceedingly proud to admit to liking. E3 still thinks all we’re after is the glitz and violence of AAA console titles, and the real world is instead tapping away in Clash of Clans” (Savov, 2017). So maybe it isn’t cool to like mobile games just yet, and maybe mobile games don’t get the respect they deserve at expo’s, but one corporation seems to have gotten the 40 billion dollar memo to switch to mobile gaming.
Looking to get ahead of the success in mobile gaming, Nintendo released the Nintendo Switch in March of 2017. The Switch allows gamers to “switch” from console to mobile in seconds. The Switch is a home console, hand-held gaming device, and a touch screen tablet all in one device. It is basically the Swiss Army knife of gaming. The Switch has a 6.2-inch 720p LCD tablet that they call the console (Ingenito, 2017). The console can be equipped with the left and right Joy-Cons to be turned into a handheld gaming device, or it can be placed in the Nintendo Switch Dock to be played on a larger screen, preferably a TV. When the console is being played on a TV, the Joy-Cons can be placed into the Joy-Con Grip piece to function more like a home console controller.
Figure 3: Nintendo Switch Contents (Burke, 2017)
As for problems with the Switch, reviews have come in saying that it isn’t everything they were hoping it would be. Apparently the left Joy-Con has signal issues where the player’s hand blocks the signal to the console causing in-game problems (Ingenito, 2017). Also, in trying to be a handheld and console, the Switch lacks certain qualities that its competitors have thrived on. The Switch runs on a customized Nvidia Tegra X1 chipset (Ingenito, 2017). This means that the horsepower behind the switch is miles ahead of most mobile games, but isn’t up to par with the PS4 and XBOX One consoles. Compared to Nintendo’s last console, the Wii U, the Switch has double the RAM at 4GB, but has a very similar GPU and CPU (Ingenito, 2017). Which basically means the Switch has a better ability to function in real time compared to the Wii U, but its graphics (or visuals) don’t appear to be any more spectacular than the Wii U. None the less, old-school Nintendo fans are enjoying The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which was made for the Wii U and the Switch at the same time. All in all, the Switch is absolutely amazing by most handheld gaming standards, but it isn’t up to snuff when it is used a console.
Mobile games have made quite a splash into the gaming pool, although most people and expos don’t want to admit it. Nintendo has created a bumpy bridge between home consoles and handheld gaming devices. And the PlayStation 4 Pro has spurred enough buzz to get Microsoft make a roided version of their latest console. But what will be the next big craze in gaming? What will the gaming industry come up with next to keep players hooked?
Factors to Watch
Virtual reality gaming seems to be the future, and one console released a working VR system already, the PlayStation VR is here. What will be Microsoft’s answer to the PlayStation 4 VR? Some think the future of gaming IS in virtual reality, but NOT in your living room. There are a lot of good ideas and competition coming out of this new virtual reality technology, but it seems clear that there is no single application of VR that shines above the rest.
PlayStation released their VR headset in October of 2016, and some think it is ahead of its time. The PlayStation VR has a price tag of $399, but that is just for the basic VR package. In order to get the full use of the VR you need a full package including the PlayStation camera and the Move controllers. Buying all the necessary bells and whistles will cost around $499. Without the camera your VR is pretty much useless, but the Move controllers can be substituted for a more clumsy experience with just your standard PS4 controller (Stapleton, 2016). The light on the PS4 controller can be picked up by the camera and used to track your movements (Stapleton, 2016). Once you get past the price tag, the first thing you see is the hardware, which looks pretty cool. The cushions in the headset makes it super comfortable and the look of the headset has been compared to most science fiction movie helmets. Setting up everything to get the VR working is a bit of pain. If you are a stickler for good wire maintenance on you home entertainment center than you have a bit of a nightmare on your hands with the PlayStation VR. The picture doesn’t have as high of resolution as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but it isn’t bad enough to take away from the game play (Stapleton, 2016). Another thing that may bother gamers is the limited viewing angle. Because the VR depends on the camera to track the light on controllers, the player cannot look behind themselves, so they are limited to a 180 degree view (Stapleton, 2016). A basic review of the PlayStation VR is that it is somewhere in between the superior Oculus Rift type VR sets and the more modest smartphone based VR sets. That being said, early technology adopters have been baffled by the PlayStation VR’s performance and it is the first VR compatible console available, at least until Microsoft’s XBOX One X is released.
Microsoft’s XBOX One X (to be released in Fall 2017) has a lot of buzz going around it. At 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo Microsoft didn’t say a whole lot about VR in connection with the One X. However, Microsoft’s Alex Kipman did say “We’re also excited to share that Windows Mixed Reality experiences will light up on other devices over time, beyond desktop and Microsoft HoloLens. Our plan is to bring mixed reality content to the Xbox One family of devices, including Project Scorpio, in 2018” (Lamkin, 2017). That didn’t reveal a whole lot. Project Scorpio was the code name for the One X when it was still in development. Since the One X is supposed to be released in Fall of 2017, Kipman may have meant that VR will be added to the One X sometime after it has been released to the public. This may be a smart move. Virtual reality, which is gathering a lot of hype in the tech world, still has a lot of kinks to work out before it can be totally integrated to complex gaming. Sony released the PlayStation VR to get a head of the game, but Microsoft may be able to develop a superior model a bit further down the road.
Down the road under may be where you have to go to experience the newest trend in virtual reality experience. One of the main problems with VR gaming is the confining environment that is your living room. While regular console gaming can be performed in any place with a TV and a wall outlet, VR gaming needs a spatially feasible area. Zero Latency is looking to solve your spatial problems. The company is based out of Melbourne Australia and they are a virtual reality gaming company that has 2,000- to 4,000-square-foot warehouse arenas for the public to play their VR games in. “As far as business models go, this one is pretty simple. All that’s needed by Zero Latency (the origin of which dates back to the founders’ fascination with the idea of using a custom tracking system to play VR games in a big, empty warehouse-like space) is a room with basically nothing in it (other than the dozens of cameras tracking players’ movements, but you get the idea). The company already has rigs for players to use, which include an Alienware gaming computer and a custom backpack, and gaming content that Zero Latency has developed in-house” (Meek, 2017). Zero Latency charges 88 Australian dollars for an approximate 40 minute experience. Six players can play at a time, and they can choose from just a few of Zero Latency’s own games, one of which is a first-person-shooter zombie game titled Outbreak. Zero Latency hopes to take away the isolated reputation of gaming and VR and turn them into a social event like going to the movies or miniature golf. It is a concept that is exciting gamers, but according to Andy Meek from BGR.com Zero Latency gets a mixed and “not a purely gamer crowd” (Meek, 2017).
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