games

Xbox’s Japan chief resigned recently due to lackluster sales of the Xbox One in Japan. Only 39,000 units were sold to date; 24,000 of which at launch. That’s horrible.

When it comes to console games in Japan, Microsoft needs to realize it is David not Goliath. Microsoft can’t fight Sony head-to-head, sword-to-sword in Japan. It needs to go guerilla warfare and use a slingshot.

Here’s what I would do if I was chief of Xbox Japan:

Scale back operations. Forget the huge office, the army of people, the national distribution networks. Xbox Japan should think like a start-up and go lean. This will allow them to shift resources to initiatives that actually work, instead of pouring money into hopeless battles.

Embrace the outsider identity. Position Xbox as anti-establishment. Make fun of regular Japanese people who only play regular Japanese games. Paint the Playstation 4 as conformist — you probably wear a suit and bow a lot if you have the Playstation 4. The Xbox One, on the other hand, is about being free. About giving the middle finger to the rigidity of society; basically, American values. 🙂

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What? Say it ain’t so. My copy of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is in the mail for my Playstation 4 and I’m excited. I’m getting bored of Destiny (my review here) so it’s time to play a new game.

Unfortunately, according to Digital Foundry, CoD for the Playstation 4 has minor frame rate issues in the single player campaign, even though it’s always 1080P. The Xbox One version on the other hand runs a more consistent 60 frames per second but its resolution is variable.

Don’t tell me that my eyes can’t discern past 24 frames per second. It surely can.

As a one time “serious” fighting game player, I can vouch that a rock solid frame rate is the most important thing to a great game experience.

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Microsoft made two important announcements recently. The first is about Office 365 being a game changer, which I covered yesterday. Today I’m talking about the $50 price drop for the Xbox One. Starting from November 2 to January 2, you can get any Xbox One SKU for $50 off, which makes the entry level version $350. That’s cheaper than the Playstation 4 at $400.

Microsoft is marketing this as a temporary promotion for the holidays, but that’s just marketing. I have a hard time believing the Xbox One will go back up to $400.

The price drop is long overdue. The Playstation 4 is outselling the Xbox One by a significant margin — Ars Technica estimated by at least 40% — and the entire gap can be traced to one crucial decision. That’s how thin the line is between success and failure is in the console market. You can have a fantastic brand, recruit third party support, obtain exclusives, introduce innovations, ensure wide distribution, spend a lot of money on marketing…and still fail because of one bad decision.

Can you guess which? It wasn’t bundling the Kinect, though that was quite bad because of the $100 price premium. It wasn’t the DRM policies or the always online requirement. No, Microsoft was able to reverse out of those decisions early enough.

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I love this essay from Paul Graham of Y Combinator. It’s chock full of truths, as Paul’s essays typically are, and I encourage you read the whole thing. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

It’s not surprising that after being trained for their whole lives to play such games, young founders’ first impulse on starting a startup is to try to figure out the tricks for winning at this new game. Since fundraising appears to be the measure of success for startups (another classic noob mistake), they always want to know what the tricks are for convincing investors. We tell them the best way to convince investors is to make a startup that’s actually doing well, meaning growing fast, and then simply tell investors so. Then they want to know what the tricks are for growing fast. And we have to tell them the best way to do that is simply to make something people want.

So many of the conversations YC partners have with young founders begin with the founder asking “How do we…” and the partner replying “Just…”

Why do the founders always make things so complicated? The reason, I realized, is that they’re looking for the trick.

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The conventional wisdom is not to invest in videogames because of its hit-driven nature. Only a handful make money and it’s difficult to predict which will. A company that produced a successful game may never produce another. Like a music band that’s a one hit wonder.

Videogame companies typically make a bad investment, because you want to invest in a repeatable business model. Not luck.

The traditional console games industry has combated that with franchises. Gamers who love a game will remember the brand and are more likely to buy the sequel. Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Madden, etc. are all examples of this.

Unfortunately, this strategy does not appear to work for mobile, casual games. Casual games, by definition, have simple gameplay. Is it possible for a sequel to feel fresh and new, yet still have the same simple gameplay?

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I have the Chromecast and some things are awesome on it. Unfortunately, it’s a limited device in that strictly speaking, the Chromecast doesn’t mirror content, it streams from the web. This means that outside of a few phones, you can’t project games to your TV, which I’ve argued could disrupt the games industry. It also means you can’t project your PowerPoint presentation to the TV.

That changes with Microsoft’s Wireless Display Adapter (awful, awful name). It uses the Miracast standard to mirror your Windows and Android devices to the TV so you don’t even need Wi-Fi to make it work. Check out the video to see how Microsoft wants you to use it:

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Speaking of videogames, Electronic Arts announced an interesting offer in EA Access: for $5 a month or $30 a year, Xbox One owners can play all the games in EA’s so-called Vault, which currently consists of FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2 and Battlefield 4; with presumably more in the pipeline.

You can also get 10% off EA titles purchased through the Xbox One game store.  If you’re planning on buying even one EA game, it’s worth getting EA Access for the 10%.  Essentially, EA Access comes free for one month with every >$50 game purchase.

This appears to be a modified approach of in-app purchases on mobile; i.e. lower barriers to adoption, create stickiness once adopted and monetize later via downloadable content.  If successful, it might even create network effects.

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