Call of Duty will have three-year dev cycles

Activision, Call of Duty

Call of Duty, arguably the most popular first-person shooter franchise (my respects to Counter Strike), has been releasing a game per year since 2005’s Call of Duty 2, alternating among its main labels: “regular” (focused on WWII), Modern Warfare (with current/modern conflicts and technology), Black Ops and Ghosts, the latest addition. The studios Treyarch and Infinity Ward have been responsible for most of the installments.

For supporting its aggressive yearly plan, Activision (the behemoth behind Call of Duty) decided that a two-year development cycle was necessary, leaving little room for creative exploration. No deadline could be missed (ever!).

Although the move has proved to be extremely successful in terms of sales (2012’s Black Ops II earned $500 million in one day), the games’ quality was affected, especially the single-player experience. Actually, it’s interesting to see the disparity between the reviews gave by publishers and the ones gave by users. In other words, lately each new game started to feel like a minor tweak to the previous installment.

Modern Warfare 2 (2009)

Modern Warfare 2 (2009)

Hoping to change the turn of the tides (and to keep its spot as the FPS king), Activision now has decided to change its release strategy a bit, investing more on each title. Therefore, from now on the franchise will switch to a three-year development cycle, giving one more year to each game.

In order to keep the lucrative annual-release business alive, Sledgehammer Games has joined the party to develop a new Call of Duty entry, which will be launched this year. It isn’t its first time with the brand, though, as it had worked on Modern Warfare 3 (2011).

All of us here at Sledgehammer Games have a shared vision to create the best work of our lives. The next Call of Duty represents a new era for this amazing franchise, and we look forward to sharing what we have been working on.

Call of Duty Ghosts (2013)

Call of Duty Ghosts (2013)

This means that there will be 3 ongoing labels being developed at the same time: Modern Warfare (by Sledgehammer Games), Black Ops (by Treyarch) and Ghosts (by Infinity Ward). According to Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, this means “more time to focus on DLC and micro-DLC,” and “more time to polish”.

Although having annual releases has been good for some series (FIFA, Assassin’s Creed), many times it feels too forced, with only minor improvements over the mechanics (besides new content). That’s why Activision’s new move (keeping the yearly strategy but investing more on each game) sounds like a good decision to me, for the company and the players.

Sources: Develop Online, Gamasutra

Nintendo president cuts his pay in half… and drops 2 bombs

"Hi. We're on Mr. Iwata's list"

“Hi. We’re on Mr. Iwata’s list”

These have been really busy days for Nintendo. After forecasting a surprise $240 million loss for the current fiscal year, and among different kind of rumors, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata spoke yesterday at an investors meeting in Tokyo and dropped some unexpected news. Since I can’t speak or read Japanese (and since the official Nintendo translation doesn’t include everything), I’ve spent some time researching different outlets and in order to bring you a proper summary.

As part of Nintendo’s new strategy, Iwata is reducing his salary in half. Other seven executives (including Shigeru Miyamoto) will get pay cuts between 20% and 30%. The salary reduction starts in February and will last until June, when the situation will be reviewed based on the company’s progress.

“We still have THIS money left…”

This move may be unusual for the rest of the industry but not for Nintendo: over 2 years ago, Iwata had made a similar decision following disappointing 3DS sales. Those also were rough times for the company, making its former president Hiroshi Yamauchi lose $500 million in one day.

In the long run, the handheld business proved to be healthy for Nintendo. The Wii U, however, seems to be more problematic, having to compete against its classic opponents (Sony, Microsoft) and the emergence of mobile gaming.

Regarding the company’s next steps, Iwata used the same investors meeting to drop 2 bombs:

  • There are no plans to launch Nintendo games for non-Nintendo platforms, BUT…

Therefore, we would like to, instead of directly expanding our business on smart devices, focus on achieving greater ties with our consumers on smart devices and expanding our platform business. (…) Accordingly, I have not given any restrictions to the development team, even not ruling out the possibility of making games or using our game characters. However, if you report that we will release Mario on smart devices, it would be a completely misleading statement. It is our intention to release some application on smart devices this year that is capable of attracting consumer attention and communicating the value of our entertainment offerings, so I would encourage you to see how our approach yields results.

  • Iwata’s next 10 years in the company will focus on “quality of life through entertainment”. In that line, Nintendo’s next platform will be a non-wearable device to monitor the user’s health, and will be launched during the fiscal year ending March 2016.

Nintendo’s leapfrog strategy

You can read the official translation of the presentation here. It’s full of interesting quotes.

Sources: Eurogamer.net, Polygon, The Wall Street Journal, Kotaku

World of Warcraft = Lord of the Rings x12

On its way to its 10th anniversary, World of Warcraft, the quintessential MMO, has released some really impressive facts. For example:

  • Since its launch, more than 100 million unique accounts have been created.
  • It’s played in 244 countries and territories across the globe, including Antarctica.
  • Its in-game text is around 6 million words, the equivalent of 12 copies of The Lord of the Rings.
  • Among the 619 available pets, the squirrel is the most common and the tiny red carp the rarest.
"We are the world, we are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day So let's start giving"

“We are the world, we are the children.
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let’s start giving”

You can see the complete infographic here, or an HTML version here (available in many languages).

World of Tanks gathers over 1 million concurrent players

World of Tanks, the insanely popular tanks MMO, has set a new record with 1.1 million concurrent users. In other words, more than 1 million players shooting each other at the same time. The game has over 75 million registered users around the world.

You can find the full story here.

Kabam doubled its revenue in 2013

Kabam, the social games colossus known for its strategy games, had had a great 2012, making more than $180 million in gross revenue (70% more than in the previous year). Based on its mobile success in China, the company forecasted earning $270 million in 2013.

However, the Warner Bros. backed developer ended 2013 reporting $360 million in revenues, doubling its previous year. According to Kabam CEO Kevin Chou, most of that money came from their mobile ventures, although around $100 million were generated by browser games on Facebook and Kabam.com.

The Hobbit: Armies of the Third Age (2013)

Regarding the general gaming scene, Chou acknowlodges the initial success of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but still isn’t sold on developing games for them:

…over time, free-to-play mobile gaming revenues will dramatically overtake traditional game sales as more people worldwide download and play games on smartphones and tablets from freemium content companies like Kabam.

Source: Gamasutra

Xbox One had 75 prototypes before its final version

Xbox_One_Console_and_Controller

Microsoft launched its stellar Xbox One on November 22, 2013 in 13 countries (Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, UK, and USA). By the end of the year it had shipped 3.9 million units to retailers, selling “over 3 million” of those, against the 4.2 million PS4 units sold by Sony through December 28 (here’s a practical comparison).

However, a lot of hard work had to be done during the previous years in order to reach that milestone, involving a lot of designs and iterations. More than 75, actually.

One Xbox to rule them all

Carl Ledbetter, senior industrial design manager at Microsoft and the guy behind the Xbox One design (and the original Intellimouse!), admits it wasn’t an easy task.

There was this conundrum in that we had to meet and satisfy desires of core gamers and Xbox fans, and at same time we wanted Xbox to reach out and mean something to new people. From a design perspective, how do we make that happen? That was a big challenge.

He and his team had to create a sophisticated yet approachable gaming powerhouse, that could become the entertainment manager without overshadowing the rest of the living room. By the end of the process, they had more than 75 iterations of the console, 100 of Kinect, and more than 200 of the controller

We put a lot of time into all of the details. The overall product is really premium. It really feels designed, engineered and crafted in quality.

You can read the full interview here.

Capcom unveils its five-year plan

All of us have been in love with Capcom at least once. Street Fighter, Mega Man, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry and many other great contributions have left a lasting mark on gamers across generations.

However, during the last years Capcom made a lot of of wrong decisions and released many faulty games, leading everybody to ask the same question: what happened to Capcom?

O Capcom, where art thou?

2013 was the pinnacle of its failure. Monster Hunter 4 shipping 4 million units only 2.5 months after its release wasn’t enough to rescue the company, as the rest of its line up fell below expectations. Trying to adapt to the growing smartphone business, Capcom decided to use U$S39.1 million from Monster Hunter 4‘s profits to fund a new mobile studio.

In an attempt to address its latest missteps, Capcom has published a group of open letters detailing its business plan for the next 5 years. In Kenjo Tsujimoto (Capcom CEO)’s words,

From now on, I plan to hire at least 100 software developers every year to give us an even more powerful development workforce. Furthermore, I want to establish clear targets for these developers so they can help make Capcom even stronger.

You can find the CEO‘s full letter here, the COO‘s letter here and all the management objectives here.