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So much more than war...
By shandog137
Posted on 04/18/14
The recent blog, Peace in the Era of Call of Duty  really made me think about war games that dig deeper than simply a kill streak reward. The first game that came to mind was Spec-Ops: The Line and although I haven’t played it, I began to wonder if it did the war genre as...

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Kickstarter: The Cheapest Money a Company Can Raise
Posted on Friday, April 4 2014 @ 11:29:31 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
There is a fair bit of anger over the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus by Facebook. A large amount of that anger is misplaced in the idea that Oculus is performing an about-face and betraying core gamers by selling out to a social company. This is silly: Oculus CEO and co-founder (think Sean Napster in The Social Network) Brendan Iribe was trying to distance his product from “just a fun alternative game console” as early as a December 2013 interview with Techcrunch.

Kickstarter backers, on the other hand, saw the potential of Oculus's product almost before there was a product to see. Months ahead of the very first venture capitalist and over a year before Marc Andreessen's vaunted technology investment firm caught wind, crowdfunders saw the potential in Palmer Luckey's innovations and put up $2.4 million to support his dream. Now, after the $2 billion validation of their intuition and savvy, Kickstarter backers are left holding a pair of prototype goggles that were outdated before they shipped while the 'real' investors race their yachts into the sunset.

Legally, Kickstarter backers have no leg to stand on—but do they lack even a conceptual kick-stand on which to prop themselves up? How much would the $2.4 million Oculus raised from Kickstarter be worth if it had come instead from an early investor?

Let's build the world's simplest model:
  [Click to embiggen. ~Ed]
As a regular equity investment, the $2.4 million Kickstarter donation would be worth $281 million dollars today, or a one-hundred sixteen (117 – 1) times return on investment over two years. Put another way, the average Kickstarter participant who pledged $300 was actually donating a potential $35,100 in 2014 dollars. Minecraft creator Markus Persson's $10,000 donation would be worth $11.7 million.

We can also look at this from the perspective of Oculus’s founders. Had they gone the traditional start-up funding route of angel investors and seed funds, $2.4 million in capital would have cost them $281 million of their current ownership of the company. And what did that capital ‘cost’ when it was raised through Kickstarter?

Nothing.

It’s well understood (and if not here you go) that because Kickstarter treats all funds submitted as a donation, backers have no claim to any equity ownership of the company or product they back. In fact, Kickstarter backers barely even have a claim to the rewards at the tier they pledge at (as if to prove this point, Oculus was late on backer reward fulfillment with absolutely no penalty imposed upon them).

What was NOT considered until the sale of Oculus was the true value of the capital being donated. Nearly every Kickstarter project positions itself as a single transaction proposition: Backers pre-pay for a product, the company delivers the product, and both parties walk away in a state very similar to the one they began in. Sure, some noted that Double Fine had a completed video game that they could sell to everyone who DIDN’T back the project and reap 100% of those profits, but until Oculus there wasn’t a clear, well-publicized example of an entire company being built on the back of donations that at first blush appeared to be simple manufacturing costs. R&D, headcount, marketing--all of the vital functions for large-scale startup growth were funded at no equity cost to the owners.

Every product-based company with early-stage capital needs should be on Kickstarter. There is no more cost-efficient way to raise capital, and no other alternative for non-millionaire funders . Equity crowdfunding, in which a backer receives ownership in a company rather than in a product (or the non-contractual promise of a product, as in Kickstarter’s case), is slowly being written into law and regulation. For now, the only way early Rift adopters will see any of their $281 million contribution to Oculus's founders is to put on their pair of outdated, prototype goggles.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted originally on February 5, 2014, has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Daniel Bischoff

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Steam Holiday Sale generated over $340M in game sales--it’s a SWAG, baby!
Posted on Wednesday, February 5 2014 @ 02:15:39 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
What was PC gaming worth in 2013? It depends on who you ask.

Ask DFC Intelligence, and they’ll estimate the 2013 PC gaming market at $21.4 billion. Ask Gartner, and you’ll be shaving a whopping $4 billion from that initial estimate—they peg 2013 PC gaming at $17.7 billion, crossing the $20 billion mark in 2014 and finally reaching parity with DFC’s 2013 estimate with a 2015 target of $21.6 billion.

The PC Gaming Alliance thinks Gartner is full of ****. According to their research, PC gaming already broke $20 billion back in 2012, when it made up 38% of the gaming market. Gartner has PC gaming at $14.4 billion during the same timeframe with only half the market share.

So how can these research firms, with all of their proprietary information and rock-solid sales figures, be so far apart on historical estimates of the same market? Simple—they’re SWAGing.


A SWAG is a Scientific Wild-Ass Guess--a combination of rough partial data, approximated calculations, and general historical experience. Exact definitions vary, but a SWAG can generally be differentiated from a forecast or a financial report by the amount of assumptions and rules of thumb that are applied to patch up holes in the available data. Almost all proprietary third-party estimates are, at least in part, SWAGs.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a SWAG; a good one will get you within an order of magnitude of the truth and will be used for business decisions like market entry. The problem arises when firm XYZ spits out a number with three trailing decimal places and zero error, and then that amorphous specter, ‘the press’, picks it up as THE number without questioning methodology or motivation. The PC Gaming Alliance commissioned a gaming study and found out that all evidence pointed towards PC Gaming as the single most dominant market force? Gee.

When Gabe Newell says that Steam has over 75 million active users, that’s a fact—he’s got one hundred percent of the data, and even then we could still argue over the definition of ‘active user’. But when IHS Screen Digest says Valve made $1.1 billion in revenue during 2012? They can call it “a deep understanding of market dynamics and technological developments [with] support from the most comprehensive, accurate and detailed database of global media and technology statistics available anywhere in the world”, but, at the heart of it… they’re SWAGing.

So, to understand just how much uncertainty can sit behind a seemingly solid number, let’s go through a simple SWAG together by estimating the total size of the 2013 Steam Winter Sale.

The 2013 Steam Winter Sale ran from December 19th to January 3rd and featured over 150 games deeply discounted, sometimes up to 80% off. For the first time, Valve also introduced a system to craft in-game items by participating in the sale and published the total count of items created. This public data will be the cornerstone of our SWAG.

As of about one hour prior to the close of the sale, 1,681,565 items had been crafted by Steam users. These items were crafted by creating Snow Globe badges, which were created by combining Snow Globe trading cards, which were earned for every $10 spent during the sale (see where this is going?). To make things even more complicated, there were both normal and foil trading cards whose badges created different amount of items, and there were trading cards that were created--but not combined into badges--hosted for sale on the Community Market.

So, first problem: How many total trading cards are there?


16,632,476 trading cards. If we felt like being simple, we could multiply by $10 and come to a sum of around $166 million dollars, which is, like, damn. But Valve, benevolent benefactor that it is, added multiple ways for a user to have created a trading card:


Somehow, we need to sample the population of Steam users and figure out how frequently members both crafted non-Snow Globe badges during the valid period and voted in the Community Choice sales.

A few fun facts about Steam: Steam Community can be accessed from a web browser, which means public user data can be web scraped. The majority of user profiles are public There is an official Steam Holiday Sale group with over one million members that we can sample from. So, all we need to do is program a web scraper in Python, grab a random sample of 100,000 profiles from the Steam Holiday Sale group, attempt to scrape user profile data from each of them, and then aggregate the results. We can then generalize the data across the entire Steam population by weighting up by the number of Snow Globe badges earned.


So with all our assumptions laid out, we have 16,632,476 total trading cards, 3,014,667 of which came from badge crafting and 5,551,586 of which came from voting for the community choice sales. This leaves us with a grand total of 8,066,223 cards coming from game purchases, for a total of $80,662,228 spent.

But… If we ‘1 to 43’ the 75,000 users we scraped all that data from, we end up with just shy of 3.2 million users. Just after the 2013 Holiday Sale ended, Gabe Newell announced that Steam had broken 75 million users. If we’re attributing $80 million in sales to just 3.2 million users, how do we account for the behavior of the other 71.8 million?

One way would be to true-up with straight line multiplication, making Valve’s 16 day sale worth approximately $80 * 75 / 3.2 = ~$1.9 billion dollars. That estimate seems… ambitious.

Here’s where we can apply some industry experience. In most mass consumer businesses, customer contribution follows a negative exponential function, meaning that the ‘best’ customers contribute a disproportionately large amount of value relative to the majority. The general form of a negative exponential function is as follows:



Don’t believe that happens in real life? Take a look at the game ownership data we scraped from those 75,000 Steam users:


$340 million. Woo! Done! Or not.

Now, we have to digest all the gristle we ground into that sausage of a number. Think of this as a sanity check: What does $340 million actually imply?


So, what do you think—is $340 million a reasonable revenue number to attribute to the 2013 Steam Winter Sale period? Even when the entire analysis hinges on a single public statistic, 76.3% of the revenue is based on one assumption, and the methodology we used would produce a lower estimate if we scraped a larger user population? How far off are we? One million dollars? Ten million? One hundred?

In fairness to professional analysts, most published estimates aren’t quite so haphazard. Sizing a market generally starts with a summation of all available public revenue, which grounds the final number in more or less reality, depending on the industry. For example, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are all public companies, so sizing the total value of the console market for hardware producers should be relatively consistent outside of future growth assumptions.

Even for our analysis of Steam, there were more accurate methods we could have used to estimate total Winter Sale revenue—imagine if we had scraped all the games owned by our 100k users at the very start of the sale, scraped the same users again at the end, and then looked at what new games those users had gained multiplied out by the sale prices and total active users. We’d probably get a bit closer to the truth. Maybe.

But at the end of the day, we’d still be SWAGing.

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Game Length and Completion Rate: Is Shorter Really Sweeter?
Posted on Tuesday, October 15 2013 @ 09:35:48 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
It is a statement that carries the inevitability of climate change in Winterfell: “Games are getting shorter.” Despite a startling lack of popular data-driven analysis on the topic, you would be hard-pressed to find a gamer that disagrees. Shorter games are just fine, as the argument goes, because with work, family, and a myriad of other entertainment options available, the average person does not have time to complete longer games in the first place.

But why theorize when all the information we need to address the question is publically available? Are longer games less likely to be completed than shorter games? Join me on a data adventure!

Declining single-player game length has been analytically argued with modest frequency throughout the seventh console generation, but never more than when this article from Ars Technica surfaced with quotes from developers, whom cited two main reasons they anticipated a decline in average game length: Games are more expensive Players don’t complete long games When the article ran in 2011, a wealth of data already existed to back up the expense assertion, but almost no information existed on game completion beyond the occasional single-game blurb. To these disparate data points, Ars Technica added—via achievement tracker Raptr—the single graph that would come to define the discussion around game completion vs. game length:



The article commented on the graph data, saying, “According to achievement tracking service Raptr, only 7 percent of registered users on the Xbox 360 version of Red Dead Redemption finished the last campaign mission.”

Fair enough. But Mass Effect 2 was certainly no slouch, time-wise, and that game has the highest completion rate out of any on the chart. And while Raptr’s user base is sizeable, it might not be representative of the average gamer from title to title. To properly compare completion rate and game length, we need global completion statistics (or at least a representative sample) and an estimate of not just average hours played—the other graph in the Ars Technica article—but average game completion time.

Conveniently, both completion rate and completion time are freely available online, albeit with some limitations. Steam offers access to global achievement stats for any game that has Steam achievements, and the fantastic website HowLongToBeat provides average user-submitted completion times, with a special statistic for main campaign completion.

Unfortunately, as with any data source, there are caveats. Using Steam achievements limits us to PC-only or multiplatform games—and to be truly fair, we can only use multiplatform games that released simultaneously on PC and consoles, lest we find ourselves comparing PC-only gamers for one title against multiplatform owners for another. We lose all recent EA games, which are not available on Steam, and we lose all Ubisoft games, which do not appear to share their achievement data with Steam.

Furthermore, to keep our player base and ‘type’ of game as consistent as possible, we limit ourselves to only high-profile retail releases with a substantial single-player component, cutting out all indies (and feeling the pain of the missing EA and Ubisoft data). Because we are tracking game progress through achievements, we ALSO lose any game that does not have a single achievement for game completion on any ending at normal difficulty or lower. Sorry, Saints Row: The Third.

Following all of the data cleanses, we are left with a sample of 37 games over the past few years. Not nearly as much data as I’d like in order to draw a generalized conclusion, but when does one ever have enough data in their life, am I right?

Eh?

In speaking of data, let’s hop to it:


 
At first glance, it looks like the Ars Technica article was spot-on. These games have an average completion rate of 38%, and there appears to be a cloudy but present negative exponential relationship between completion time and completion rate. In fact, let’s go ahead and draw that exponential line of best fit into the chart:



Done! Longer games get completed less, the end.

Buuuuuut… If we take a second look, that data is very cloudy, indeed. The R-square for the line we just drew is only 32%, meaning that 68% of the variability in completion rate from game to game cannot be explained by the average completion times for each game. In fact, if we were to cluster the data into quadrants, we would have groups of completion rate data with almost ZERO relationship to completion time:


 
Well, that puts things into a different light! We have three distinct clusters with no relationship to completion time, and a fourth that does appear to be linear. We can see a sharp overall drop in completion rate right around the 15-hour mark, which leads me to believe that completion time is a factor in completion rate mainly at larger magnitudes—all else being equal, a 25-hour game is nearly half as likely to be completed as a 10-hour game. But surprisingly, the difference between 6 hours and 12 hours is almost non-existent, despite that maximum being double the minimum. It seems that, in the same way that moviegoers might consider any movie under 2 hours to be ‘normal’ and any movie over 2 hours to be ‘long’, gamers also have very stark completion breakpoints in single-player campaign length.

But how do we explain the differences in completion rate within each time band? In both the 6-8 hour and the 10-12 hour bands, we have games pushing 60% completion and games below 40% completion. If campaign length differences aren’t driving that variance, what is?

Why, the quality of your gaming experience, of course! Let’s add the Metacritic score of each game to the graph:


 
Happily, we see that consumers will not, in fact, wantonly devour whatever product is shoveled beneath their noses: on average, critically successful games have higher completion rates. Of course, much as with completion time, Metascore does not necessarily have a strong linear relationship with completion rate. Rather, completion likelihood can again be bucketed into a binary ‘high’ and ‘low’ probability—the 85 Metascore standard adopted by the game industry seems to be a fine quality benchmark for this break point.

To summarize thus far, single-player game completion rate is dependent on both campaign length and game quality, but the relationships are based not on continuous linearity, but binary breakpoints: around 15 hours length and 85 Metacritic score. What explains the variability within these quadrants? We don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to be campaign length, and it doesn’t seem to be overall game quality.

In its closing paragraphs, the Ars Technica article makes a second argument about shrinking game length: “If only ten percent of a game's player base sees a game to the end, and 90 percent makes it over 60 percent of the way there, of course games are going to keep getting smaller—it's a matter of efficiency for developers.”

I am fairly confident that the author pulled that statistic straight out of thin air, but the question is valid. We know our average game completion is 38%, but what the heck are the other 62% of players doing? Do they play for five minutes and quit, or are they slogging through 60% of a campaign before losing interest?

We can answer this question by further analyzing Steam achievements. Many games have not only a campaign completion achievement, but campaign progress achievements at fixed intervals throughout the game. As a gamer, I hate these achievements because they rip me out of the story, but as a fake statistician, I love them because I can infer that anyone who has completed a later progress achievement has also completed the prior ones. We can map the % of campaign completion to each achievement based on where in the campaign it is awarded and then chart the percentage of players who have reached each milestone. This will effectively show us the player drop-off over the course of a game’s content:



(Note: 14 games dropped out of our sample due to the lack of progress achievements)

How incredible is that? The steep decline doesn’t occur after 60% of a game is completed—it occurs after only 5-10% completion! Nearly everyone makes it through this first 5-10% of content, there is a massive drop-off between 10% and 40%, and then past 40% there is a shallow, linear decline all the way down to the campaign completion.

Two things strike me:

1) From a data perspective, it is shocking how players all follow an identical relative distribution curve, despite differences in campaign length and quality from game to game—giant drop off up front, slow decay in the back. Now THAT is a negative exponential trend we can believe in.

2) From a game development and publishing perspective, this data suggests that it is most prudent to front-load with awesome set pieces and gripping story beats, rather than pushing development work into an ‘epic’ finale at expense of earlier content. This data isn’t only arguing for shrinking game length, it is arguing that the best content a game has to offer should be available immediately to all players and not hidden away as a ‘reward’ for clearing earlier content.

Of course, there is a fundamental assumption driving all of this analysis: gamers aren’t basing purchasing decisions on campaign length. If gamers who would never complete a 12-hour campaign don’t purchase 12-hour long games, then the completion rates of those games are biased upwards and are not representative of the negative effect of a longer campaign.

As mentioned earlier, I attempted to control for this by only including high-profile releases in my sample. But in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll let you all decide how heavily self-selection has biased our data—here is the original data chart with all games revealed:


 
With regards to completion rate, we’ve seen that campaign length matters broadly, as does quality. But all games, long and short, good and bad, suffer a major engagement decline barely 30 minutes in. That is where many gamers make the decision to invest the rest of their time, and if game completion is an objective, that is where developers need to invest in continuing to hook players along.

There’s plenty more to discuss (is a high early-game progress rate reflective of the ‘God of War’ school of design, which dictates building the first level last to make it the best? Is it reflective of early-game hand-holding?), but this article is long enough as is. I’ll leave you with a question: Why are most Hardest modes largely thoughtless, imbalanced damage increases and health decreases rather than intelligent remixes of enemies, engagements, and combat conditions?

Answer: Because no one ****ing plays on Hardest.



The opinions expressed here does not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted originally on October 5, 2013 at 3:04pm PST, has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan

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​The Great Price Guarantee
Posted on Wednesday, September 18 2013 @ 13:32:00 Eastern

Recently, Origin introduced the Great Game Guarantee, allowing any EA-published game to be returned for a full refund within the shorter of 7 days after purchase or 24 hours after playing. In their press release, EA suggested two reasons that one mig...   read more...

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The Public Financial Rise and Fall of THQ
Posted on Sunday, November 25 2012 @ 01:14:41 Eastern

After THQ dined and dashed out of its most recent earnings call and then defaulted (technically) on its credit facility with Wells Fargo, I became interested in the strategies and leadership that plummeted the former multi-billion dollar company down...   read more...

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Black Mesa is the Best Remake of Anything, Ever (and You Will Love It)
Posted on Friday, October 19 2012 @ 14:26:46 Eastern

Black Mesa, the Source remake of the original Half-Life, has been out for just under a month at the time of this writing. This game (and it is that: a full, triple-A, capital ‘G’ Game) is everything a remake should be: It captures the sou...   read more...

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Did Game Revolution Kill The Secret World?
Posted on Saturday, July 14 2012 @ 02:13:36 Eastern

If you aren’t familiar with The Secret Worldcom scandal, the story unfolds as follows: Game Revolution reviewer Jonathan_Leack, in a manner that can only be described as “horribly underprepared for the consequences,” posts a review ...   read more...

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The Death of 'Teen'
Posted on Friday, February 3 2012 @ 08:48:29 Eastern

One brisk August day in 1992, a former amusement park manufacturer turned game publisher rolled a brand new cabinet into video arcades across America. It was a two-player black upright, bound with bright red bordering and sporting a generic combat gr...   read more...

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One Score to Rule Them All
Posted on Friday, December 9 2011 @ 11:53:32 Eastern

Sit down and grab some popcorn: this is a long one.

(Thanks to Bras for the article suggestion.)
 
Have I ever told you the story of Metacritic? Let me tell you the story of Metacritic.
 
Once upon...   read more...

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Why Does the Video Game Industry Hate Used Game Sales?
Posted on Saturday, September 17 2011 @ 16:38:49 Eastern

Seriously. What is the Big Fucking Deal?

Video game publishers (and by extension, video game developers) sell millions of copies of their games, and they have the audacity to complain about a few units lost to second-hand sales? Some p...   read more...

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