Wednesday, 7 March 2012

UK Retail: GAME

Disclaimer: I am not a Retail analyst or a businessman, I do my best to quote facts rather than speculation in this piece, though it's worth mentioning that this is partially my opinion and if you take any offence or wish to question me, you are free to comment below. This post was made on the 7th of March 2012, using all the information available at the time.

Since the start of the year GAME have been having what you might describe as financial difficulties. They reported a huge loss at the end of the year but were fortunate enough to still retain the financial backing they needed to survive. They then spent the next month and a half speaking at length about their plans to innovate and pull things back, so that they could once again start making a profit.

It appeared as though their luck was changing when they secured the PlayStation Vita launch, but this was offset by their inability to stock any Ubisoft titles for the Vita until a full week after the Console had been released, including the excellent Rayman Origins. Also missing from shelves were Namco's latest Tekken Title and Mario Party 9, both anticipated releases.

And then the big news came; GAME would be unable to stock any EA title past SSX for an indefinite period of time, including the highly anticipated Mass Effect 3. This is a two-fold problem, firstly they're losing a lot of money due to these stocking issues, but the other comes in the form of outcry due to them dropping the pre-orders, leaving a league of angry gamers in their wake.

From there on things just seem to get worse and worse, Capcom announced their intentions to follow in EA's footsteps and Paradox spoke out calling GAME bullies, and stating that what's happening now is just karma as far as they're concerned.

This is causing a snowball effect as more and more publishers pull out, confidence in GAME drops even more and more publishers pull out as a result. Without a way to solve this problem, GAME have a slow descent into bankruptcy on their hand.

So that's that, normally at the end of these articles I like to talk about how their miserable fortunes could be turned around or how their competitors are doing. That would work, except their main competitor is HMV (in terms of bricks and mortar retail), who aren't faring much better in the long term, and I frankly have no idea how GAME could turn this around at this point.

This leads me to what has become the general consensus at the moment, the best outcome for this whole thing is that GAME goes into administration and Gamestop make a bid to take over their operations in Europe.

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Friday, 17 February 2012

Sony: The Playstation Division

Sony as a Business are having a lot of issues right now, after the Vita's sales dropped in Japan there hasn't been much good news for them but in theory that could all change now that Kaz Hirai has taken the helm. Now i'm not gonna talk about the whole SCE business because... well I don't know enough about the other departments beyond their Playstation business, so i'm gonna go over what I feel are their major issues there right now.

The Vita is in major trouble in Japan right now, not even outselling it's predecessor, so the logical solution would be a price cut right? Well, not entirely for two outstanding reasons.

Currently the Vita doesn't sell well in Japan because among other things, it doesn't have the games that they want to see, even the old favourite Monster Hunter is no longer exclusive to Sony's consoles, which is one of the greatest battles Nintendo ever won out there frankly. There's no short term solution to that really, and even a price drop won't solve the issue in the long term.

Sony could do a price drop regardless, I mean they haven't got many options besides cramming money into marketing but the current issue is that a price drop would completely undermine their position all over the world, showing a complete lack of confidence in their sales, which they still maintain are to their projections (presumably buoyed by day 1 sales). Any cut they make would most likely have to be implemented worldwide, and until they see how sales are gonna pan out elsewhere, cutting the price would in their eyes just be losing them money.

But Sony have one other problem, and this one is to do with their public awareness. Did you know that Sony have an entire suite of devices running on the Playstation OS? All of which designed to be able to communicate with each other to create a dynamic and connected media experience. Sounds ideal doesn't it?

Except neither the Xperia or their Tablet sold anywhere near what they were hoping and as far as I'm aware here in the UK, that seems to come down to a complete lack of marketing, I mean I only know about the Xperia because they got that Minecraft deal and I can't even remember the name of their Tablet (I could look it up but it would probably undermine my point.).

My point being, Sony were poised at least to some degree, to pose some sort of decent threat to Apple and Google's domination of those markets, and this simply hasn't happened, which is remarkable when you consider just how prevalent the Playstation brand is in the minds of the consumer. The question then, is what are Apple and Google doing that Sony aren't? Well, Apple and Google have a good dynamic going on, they both appear to be the alternative to the other and what Google don't have in Apple's User-Friendly Software, they make up for in cheaper more robust Hardware, coupled by aggressive marketing campaigns that keep both them in the public eye, leaving room for Sony as the "Gamer's choice" alternative to them both, but they just don't seem to have managed to make that clear.

For once Sony's Hardware and Pricing aren't their biggest problem, right now they're fighting an issue of sales, and it makes you wonder exactly how hard they've pushed to get them. The Playstation Brand is huge, but it alone can't carry hardware if no one knows about it.

These problems may be linked in retrospect, I saw an ad for the Vita yesterday and it told me absolutely nothing about the Console, it just seemed to be a rehash of that Call of Duty ad, the one with the random civilians going to war (that kind of "there's a hero in all of us" schtick) and honestly that's fine for selling a game concept, but not an entire Console, especially not when your price point is higher than your competitors.

Kaz Hirai was the man in charge of the Playstation Business before his latest appointment, so it'll be interesting to see if he has what it takes to steer Sony out of the troubled waters.

Enjoy reading this? If you would like to hear more you can follow me on Twitter @SeriousSalmaras

Disclaimer: I am not a business analyst, this is all conjecture based on what I've seen and what I know, if you have any issue with it or any corrections, feel free to comment below and we can discuss it.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Minecraft 1.2: Jungle Biome

I'm glad to see that Minecraft hasn't just been abandoned in terms of content patches (Though whatever happened to Adventure Mode?) as it may otherwise stagnate eventually, though with Minecraft that could take a fair while.

I could talk about my opinion of 1.2 but I could basically sum it up with the phrase: Jungles are awesome, OMG Kittehs!!!11!!

So instead I wanted to talk about how these changes affect the Design of Minecraft, and the way we interact with it.


So I like the Jungles simply because they're massive, look stunning and are filled with wood (Though I don't think I'd like to spawn in one) and the changes to vines mean you can climb up to the canopies of those massive trees and have access to a whole other layer.

I'm assuming that the other mobs going in beside the Ocelot are going to be somewhat dangerous to the player during the day, making the jungle a sort of risk/reward type thing, if not it may just seem like a giant cache of free wood.

In terms of what they add, I think it's just nice to have another visually distinctive biome to explore, which was my problem with swamps as they never really felt like much of a change to the forests surrouding them.


These little guys are awesome, and I think I prefer them to wolves on the basis that you can actually go out to intentionally find these. If you wanted a wolf you'd just have to sort of aimlessly wander around the forests they could inhabit, you know Ocelots live in the jungle, so you can just go straight there to find one.

From what I've seen their AI can be a little derpy but, it's still a work in progress so I have no problem with that. Speaking of AI...

New Zombie and Skeleton AI

This is fantastic. It's a small change but now the Skeletons and Zombies will actually try to hide from the sun when it rises. This does mean an increase in danger but it does add another layer to that mechanic in the sense of "All these areas must be well lit, otherwise the enemy will just try and hide" which I think will benefit the survival gameplay in the end. (If your house has a balcony, make sure the area under it is well lit, you'll appreciate it)

Spawning enemies with Dispensers

From my personal perspective as a Map-Maker, this is a fantastic addition, since it allows the spawning of enemies without the use of the somewhat unpredictable spawners. This means that the same lever you pull to open a door to a room, could also fill that room with the undead, adding a new layer of challenge to adventure maps and the like.

It can also just add a visual element to a map. For instance, want your players to free villagers as part of it? Just put a villager egg in a dispenser and have them pull the switch, suddenly the villager is as free as can be.

These changes don't exactly massively change the game (Except perhaps the AI changes) but at the very least they add some interesting content without detracting from what's already there. I'll be interested to see what else they add to the jungle in the coming weeks.

Enjoy reading this? If you would like to hear more you can follow me on Twitter @SeriousSalmaras