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CURRENTS
Issue #153
March 31, 2014
Down With the Sickness
Front Page

Welcome to another issue of Currents, where video game industry headlines are broken down and editorialized. I'm sick with what currently feels like the plague, but that's no excuse for a lack of a currents article. Well wishes are welcomed, and I'd hardily respect you if you had any known cold remedies. Regardless, some things, like this relaxing and nostalgic overview of Chrono Cross, are helping me pull through:

Clumsy transitions aside, we have a week full of business-y jargon and corporate escapades. Hopefully, you'll still find it entertaining and my writing makes sense in spite of my crippling pneumonia.

If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:

  • What games do you play when you're sick?

  • Do you have any home remedies for illness?

The Oculus Rift is an interesting piece of technology for a few reasons. Ignoring the fact that the service offering is nigh identical to that of the VR devices of the late 90s (with significantly improved graphics), the devices has attracted numerous outspoken developers and industry legends. There have also been a metric ton of funky-looking peripherals and reinterpretations of classic games, such as the original Legend of Zelda in first-person perspective, to attract positive PR and new investors to the table. Why, the concept's high-profile identity was so impressive that Facebook just picked up Oculus for $2 Billion in cash and stock.

There have been a wide variety of opinions on this acquisition, and likely the strongest has been that of Markus "Notch" Persson of Minecraft fame. "Facebook is not a game tech company," Notch wrote in a public statement while also announcing the cancellation of Minecraft for Oculus. "Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build." Of course, there have also been those in the development space that feel validated by this acquisition.

"I decided to get into this space because I believe VR has huge potential to redefine gaming, entertainment, and communication. It is something I have been saying since the start of the Oculus Kickstarter. With the acquisition by Facebook, I feel very validated. [...] Now we are starting to seem a little less crazy," said Forest Gibson, an Oculus Developer working on a game titled Giant vs. Horde, in an interview with Mashable.

Of course, none of this takes into account the opinions of the initial supporters of Oculus Rift. It's important to remember that this concept never would have gotten off the ground had it not been for the $2.4 Million raised on Kickstarter. Many of those crowd funders are beginning to feel a little sour about the Facebook acquisition — mostly because most of them won't receive anything other than a poster. Some speculate now that a $300 investment into Oculous would have earned the investor dozens of thousands of dollars; sadly Kickstarter supporters, by nature, aren't investors.

Kickstarter has always maintained that it isn't a place to buy or invest in things — rather the purpose is to connect fans/funders with artists they love to produce projects everyone will enjoy. "Kickstarter won't switch to an equity-based model," CEO Yancey Strickler told Popular Science in 2013. "We believe the real disruption comes from people supporting things because they like them, rather than finding things that produce a good return on investment." Regardless, it's clear based on internet dialogue that there are some sour faces.

Mo Koyfman, a partner at Spark Capital, which led Oculus's first round of investment, believes the idea that Kickstarter backers could have or should have made money off of the Oculus acquisition to be ridiculous. The successful campaign validated that premise, and made it much easier for Oculus to raise money from venture capitalists, he says — but there was no incentive for them to offer equity at that time.

I believe this is an important lesson for the future. If you want to actually invest in what appears to be a good premise, like the Oculus Rift, there likely are ways to go about this. I know that the relationship between crowd funder and company is muddled, as there are rewards in place to incentivize financial support, but you should never assume that you're an investor in a technology or piece of media because you've thrown a few bucks at an idea in its infancy. Kickstarter is essentially a donation-based platform, and you'll never have control over the product's direction or equity in its success.

Sources: Mashable, Notch's Blog, Spark Capital, Kickstarter, Popular Science

King Digital finally made an attempt at an IPO last week, but Candy Crush's success alone couldn't save the British company's shares from tumbling 16 percent on their debut. It must have been a nightmare for CEO Riccardo Zacconi and the fruity mascots that joined him at the opening bell. King had suggested that shares would hover or rise from $22.50, but they ended the day at $19 and hasn't done well since (it was hovering around $18.61 as of the morning of 3/31/14). Millions in valuation were lost, and King is now scrambling to improve their standing.

There were a few factors working against King last week. Firstly, King didn't play it safe in valuating stock. The company expected shares to go between $21 to 24 on the first day. It was pretty clear that it likely wouldn't happen too, as several analysts had begun comparing the King's potential to that of the disastrous Zynga — whose share are currently worth half of what they were in 2011. Others made the point that Candy Crush was the only success the company currently boasted, and while it was a great success, there was question as to whether King could repeat it.

If you ask me, King is currently being bit by karma. After several bully-tactic oriented lawsuits aimed and indie developers and the outright plagiarism of competing titles, King Digital appears to finally be feeling the repercussions. That being said, there is still a chance for King to improve their standing through innovation. I'm not sold that it can happen, but there is a chance.

Source: GamesIndustry

It's no secret that Square Enix has been focusing a lot of its energy on free-to-play and mobile titles recently. In fact, some would say that the former RPG power-house is nigh unrecognizable. Thankfully, it would appear that the times are changing — and it's all thanks to you. Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda recently spoke to Nikkei Trendy on the matter, and I have to say that the dialogue seemed fairly promising.

"Not just limited to games for smartphone or console, but we do have some global titles lined up," said Matsuda. "However, regardless of whether they're for smartphone or console, there's a difficult element to developing global titles, so we'll be making them without focusing too much on the 'global' aspect."

Matsuda continues, "On the other hand, there are games like the JRPG we made for the Japanese audience with the proper elements, Bravely Default, which ended up selling well all around the world."

"Due to having split [the development mindset] according to regions around the world, we weren't able to see this clearly up until now, but fans of JRPGs are really spread around the world," emphasizes Matsuda. "Through the means of various networks, the latest information that is announced in Japan is instantaneously being spread across fans throughout the world. Whether it's North America, Europe, or South America. There really isn't much of a gap [in the relay of information]."

"With that in mind, and all of the collective fans, there's a sense of mass, which loses the image of a niche market," continues Matsuda. "For the new games we'll be developing from this point on, while this may sound a bit extreme, we've been talking about making them as heavy JRPGs. I believe that way, we can better focus on our target, which will also bring better results."

Promising news about upcoming releases, for sure. I should also mention that the interview — which I suggest you gloss through using Google Translate — has a few tidbits on Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III. Apparently, fans of these AAA JRPG franchises can expect some new information soon, perhaps at E3.

Source: Nikkei Trendy

Phoenix Interactive has failed, for a second time, in raising development funds for their proposed religious title Bible Chronicles: The Call of Abraham. I wish that were the only story attached to this title, but the tale of Abraham gets more ridiculous than you would expect: the co-founders of the studio maintain that Satan was literally working to ruin this game's success.

"I believe that, 100 percent," said Richard Gaeta, a co-founder of Phoenix Interactive, to Polygon. He maintains that trouble has come into all their lives since the instance they published their campaign on Kickstarter.

"It's very tangible," said his business partner Martin Bertram. "From projects falling through and people that were lined up to help us make this a success falling through. Lots of factors raining down on us like fire and brimstone."

"If Satan is rallying some of his resources to forestall, delay, or kill this project, I think, this must be a perceived threat to his kingdom," adds Ken Frech, who is apparently a religious mentor to the project. "I fully would expect something like this to have spiritual warfare. Look at the gospel accounts of demons and so forth. That's reality. Many Americans don't believe it anymore. That doesn't change reality."

The game's Kickstarter only raised about $19,000 of its $100,000 target, and is now seeking alternative fund-raising efforts. Most criticisms levied at the game's campaign were directed at the extremely low-budget presentation values. There was also question as to whether it might have been a scam after the second campaign launched with the same perks and a smaller budget. I'd likely attribute those reasons along with the general distaste of religious games by the public as to why the titles failed, but what do I know? I am an Atheist.

Source: Polygon

That's it for this issue of Currents. Shout out to Sarah McGarr for the new 'Currents' icon. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.

Your dork from the Great North,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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