This week was actually a bit quiet from an industry news perspective, with the biggest news being Nintendo finally unveiling its Super Mario Bros. 35th anniversary lineup and answering some lingering questions people had about the company's upcoming slate of releases.
The unveiling came in the form of a Nintendo Direct video unceremoniously dropped Thursday morning with no marketing lead-up to build hype, even though it contained the reveal of five new Mario products: Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury, an online 35-player Super Mario Bros. remix in the mold of Tetris 99, an augmented reality Mario Kart toy, and a Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. handheld.
The abrupt announcement doesn't seem to have hurt anticipation for the games, either.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars launches in two weeks. Surprise launches have become an increasingly common thing in games in recent years, but I honestly can't remember a full price physical game being announced two weeks before launch. It simply isn't done.
And in any normal year, I'm pretty sure Nintendo wouldn't be doing it now, either. But 2020 is most definitely not a normal year. There's a pandemic going on, and many of the things that the industry had grown accustomed to relying on—live events, distribution channels, any kind of certainty about being able to hit release dates, conventional wisdom about how early to start a marketing campaign—have gone out the window. And everyone's just playing it by ear.
There was no E3 this year, so companies experimented with a number of digital alternatives. They've spammed the calendar with live streams. They've taken news that would ordinarily have been compressed into a few days in Los Angeles in June and stretched it out into an interminable gauntlet of game reveals. We're still not done with it, as Ubisoft is doing their second Forward event in next week.
Then there are the console launches. Microsoft and Sony are committed to launching this year, but the launch lineups, prices, and exact release dates are still unknown just two months away from their presumed debuts. Microsoft might even have an Xbox Series S console launching this year and they haven't even announced it. I promise you, this is not how Sony and Microsoft envisioned their launches going.
A few years ago, these marketing and launch decisions would have been far too risky to consider. To resort to them when you don't need to would run counter to some of the most fervently held beliefs and fundamental assumptions the industry has about the best way to do business. But now, because of the pandemic, companies are by necessity challenging those beliefs and assumptions.
And the surprising thing is that so far, none of this really seems to be hurting the industry. Analysts are still expecting the PS5 and Xbox Series X to sell out on the strength of early adopters with deep pockets. The games of the E3 replacement events seem to be drawing just as much attention as their predecessors did in LA last year, if not more. Game sales continue to be up significantly year-over-year.
Obviously this isn't a controlled experiment or even particularly useful as an apples-to-apples comparison. The pandemic has just added too many new variables to the equation, from the boost of people having fewer entertainment options like movies or live sports available to the detrimental impact of an upended global economy and skyrocketing unemployment.
But this pandemic is forcing the industry to re-evaluate some things it long took for granted.
This week may not seem that significant right now, but what's actually happening in the industry this week—from the way games are marketed to how they're purchased to how companies are working around the next-gen launches—has massive implications for the way the industry ultimately operates. We just can't see exactly what the impact will be yet.
QUOTE | "It comes up time and time again. Issues of crunch, sexism, work-life balance. Even the stories [about these issues] cause a certain level of stress when we're working in an industry like this, which is under a lot of dynamic change. There is a cost to this. And that cost is the mental health of the people doing the work, which is all of us." - Former IGDA head and Global Game Jam executive director Kate Edwards ties together a number of problems facing the games industry, and suggests ways to fix them.
QUOTE | "Did those six million people get a good experience of the game? If not—if they instead got a shallow, vacuous and repetitive slice of an experience that loses much of its enjoyment once shorn from its wider context—then six million players in your beta isn't an achievement, it's a mountain of negative public sentiment you're going to have to climb just to get back to level ground." - GamesIndustry.biz's Rob Fahey makes the case that the Marvel's Avengers beta test did more harm than good.
QUOTE | "Perhaps the lesson learned here is to never enter a gaming business deal with a person who has had more lawsuits than shipped games." - From our 10 Years Ago This Month column, a Gearbox official said this in 2013, in response to the first of numerous lawsuits Gearbox has been involved in since its ill-fated decision to revive Duke Nukem Forever.
QUOTE | "We are temporarily pausing the sale of Oculus devices to consumers in Germany. We will continue supporting users who already own an Oculus device and we're looking forward to resuming sales in Germany soon." - An Oculus representative talks about pulling VR headsets from shelves because regulators are looking into whether the company's recently announced requirement to use a Facebook account to log in is a violation of German laws.
QUOTE | "Consumers are learning that the value of access to all music is $9.99, and the value of access to all videos is $14.99 or $20 or whatever it might be. The super premium you're only going to reach if you're going to be able to tap into consumers' emotions." - In a panel discussion about the rise of subscription services in gaming, Midia Research senior analyst Karol Severin gives a glimpse of the dystopian future (and present, honestly) of monetizing fandom.
QUOTE | "We will reduce certain costs, but saving money is not a primary driver behind the changes. Rather, our goal is to be a more effective and customer-centric organization." - Big Fish Games explains why it laid off 250 people this week.
STAT | $4.5 million - The funding total for the Eiyuden Chronicles Kickstarter campaign, the third-highest total ever for a video game on the crowdfunding site. The spiritual successor to Suikoden from key developers on the series trailed only Shenmue 3's $6.3 million and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night's $5.5 million.
QUOTE | "Imagery that appeared in the opening video sequence of Tom Clancy's Elite Squad featuring a 'raised fist' was insensitive and harmful in both its inclusion and how it was portrayed." - Ubisoft, apologizing for one small aspect of a Tom Clancy crossover game that features the stars of its many series teaming up with the terrorist organizations they normally fight in order to put down a greater threat, a populist protest movement fueled by outrage over endless wars, corruption, and poverty.
QUOTE | "If you look at the history of the games industry, so much of it for the past 30 to 40 years has been centered on selling violent games to young boys, and young white boys in particular. And you run into a feedback loop, because that's what we've invested in in the first place. That's what our research has gone into—how to make games for this audience, and how to sell games to this audience. And when they are justifying what to invest in, they'll say we'll invest [in that type of game] because it's more of a sure thing." - Wholesome Games Direct organizer James Tillman details a self-perpetuating cycle at the heart of the traditional games industry.
QUOTE | "We had a beautiful run, made incredible games, and worked with amazing people, but it is time for new things. So we're announcing the end of Vlambeer." - Jan Willem Nijman and Rami Ismail call an end to their partnership, which produced indie hits like Nuclear Throne and Ridiculous Fishing.
QUOTE | "Any decisions stemming from the Epic Games vs. Apple lawsuit—no matter which side the decisions favor—will certainly have epic effects on the future of apps and in-app purchases." - Gamma Law managing partner David B. Hoppe examines the legal issues in the current stand-off between Apple and Epic.