gaminggamingauthorSeth SchieselGaming NewsletterWant to better understand the $150 billion gaming industry? Get Seth Schiesel and Shakeel Hashim's newsletter every Tuesday.03807ace1f
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

Where should we send your daily tech briefing?

×
Protocol Gaming
Your essential guide to the business of gaming with Seth Schiesel and Shakeel Hashim.

Don’t violate the Gamer Code

Controller with a dunce cap

Hello! This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Violating the Gamer Code is bad for business, Facebook leans into cloud gaming and what Sid Meier is playing now.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.)

The Big Story

Violate the Gamer Code? Put on your flame suit.

A few months ago, I was speaking with someone who recently joined a major video game company after a successful career in older, more traditional industries when they confessed confusion about one particular aspect of the game business.

  • "Why do people in the game industry get so emotional about everything?" they asked. "Everyone takes everything so personally all the time. What's that about?"
  • I laughed because it's true. Games are a deeply creative, personal sort of entertainment, so the people who conceive, create and deliver them justifiably feel like they're pouring a part of their real selves into the product.

But it's not just the gamemakers who take things personally. There is often a deeply tribal sense of "us versus them" community among gamers themselves.

  • I'm not even talking about partisan console warriors (at least this week). I'm referring instead to the deeply aggrieved outrage that sometimes erupts from players when someone in the industry violates the unwritten codes of authentic gamer behaviour.

See: Alex Hutchinson, creative director at Google Stadia's Montreal studio. Hutchinson was basically pilloried before getting run out of gaming Twitter on a rail last week after daring to suggest that streamers pay licensing fees for the games they stream for profit.

  • Putting aside the merits of the position (obviously legal, but foolish as a business matter; streamers usually create huge value for gamemakers), saying such a thing publicly was deeply unwise for someone in Hutchinson's position. Antagonizing streamers and their fans is wildly counterproductive if your goal is to actually, you know, sell games.
  • Hutchinson's statements will stick to him, his studio and perhaps even Stadia itself, even though Google distanced itself from his position. Hutchinson should have saved the thought for an industry cocktail party, if those ever happen again.
  • In fairness, the contretemps certainly won't hurt Stadia's relationship with publishers. This morning Ubisoft announced that it's rebranding its Uplay+ service as Ubisoft+ and expanding it to Amazon's Luna and then Stadia.

Sometimes it's the players and streamers themselves who run afoul of Gamer Code, to their shame. Exhibit 1: The elite World of Warcraft fire mage known as Preheat, who had a lawyer send a cease-and-desist letter to another WoW content creator known as Preheet.

  • Gamers rallied to Preheet's defense last week and generally excoriated Preheat, not least because Preheet appears to have started generating significant guides on YouTube first. To most players, Preheat's legal sword-waving was deeply uncool.
  • As with Hutchinson, Preheat's organization, the guild Complexity Limit, swiftly backed away from the stupidity. Max, the widely respected leader of Complexity Limit, said that the guild had demoted Preheat from his officer rank. Hopefully Preheat and Preheet can just move on without involving lawyers.

People do and say unfortunate things all the time (I should know). But very few sectors have as deeply ingrained a sense of code and community as gaming. Violate it at your peril.

— Seth Schiesel

Players

  • "You may not use your Account or use PSN in any way to create, reproduce, publish or disseminate any information which … damages the honor and interests of the PRC." — Developer Mark Kern raised questions about new PlayStation Network terms for users in Hong Kong. Simon Carless, meanwhile, suggested Steam's new enforcement of government licensing rules in China could seriously affect developer sales.
  • "You're going to see lower priced hardware as part of our ecosystem." — Phil Spencer said streaming sticks would likely become part of the Xbox platform. He also said that Microsoft is exploring "how you can acquire games" on Xbox, hinting at alternative storefronts being allowed, and discussed the cloud-first future of gaming, saying games are going to become "much much more distributed in the way [they] run."
  • "The Defendants have operated an unlicensed, illegal gaming system through their loot boxes." — A class action lawsuit filed against Electronic Arts accuses the company of violating Canadian gambling laws.

A MESSAGE FROM MICROSOFT AZURE

Azure

Make next level games with Microsoft's own AAA-grade development toolbox, including the battle-tested solutions of Azure and PlayFab, powering some of the world's biggest games.

Learn more.

Level Two

Facebook's big bet on cloud gaming

Facebook on Monday revealed a broad new cloud gaming strategy aimed at upending the lucrative and fast-growing mobile games ecosystem. I spoke with Jason Rubin, Facebook's VP of Play, to find out more.

Facebook's eschewing the big-budget "AAA" approach of Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Nvidia. Instead, it will attempt to leverage new data centers and its planet-spanning user base to reshape the world of casual free-to-play games.

  • The goal: Let users instantly play full mobile-quality games within Facebook without having to download them from an app store. Along with instant gameplay comes instant marketing; now, a Facebook ad for a video game may sometimes let users actually play the game itself.
  • "If you want to reach more of the gaming audience, you have to deliver more advanced graphics and experiences, and that is the cloud platform," Rubin told me.

But there's one place Facebook's vision won't work: iOS. Apple is essentially locked in a war with much of the rest of the tech and gaming industries about its rules for games and commerce on its mobile devices.

  • "Apple treats games entirely differently from every other form of content," Rubin told me. "We intend to find a way, but it's really, really hard."
  • It's not even about the money, Rubin said: "I can't give Apple the money. They won't let me do that. So any game based on [in-app purchases] … I can't deliver because the developer can't make their money."

Another notable part of the announcement: pseudonyms. As part of the new gaming initiative, Facebook will allow users to create an alternate "Player Name." While the company has allowed pseudonyms in the past in limited cases, Facebook has long emphasized the importance of real-name identities across its services.

  • With Player Names, Facebook appears to be officially embracing selectable alternate identities for the first time.

You can read the full interview with Rubin here to find out what he had to say about Facebook's strategy, the company's battles with Apple, the technical challenges of delivering cloud games, Microsoft's deal to distribute its own xCloud service on Facebook and the importance of the new identity policy.

— Seth Schiesel

Lootbox

  • CD Projekt delayed Cyberpunk 2077 again, this time from Nov. 19 to Dec. 10. Given that the new consoles are arriving in just two weeks, the company said it needed more time to make sure the nine (!!!) different versions of the game are up to snuff.
  • A lot of esports money is changing hands. Esports Entertainment Group bought game center owner and analytics provider Helix eSports and software provider GGCircuit for $43 million, further expanding its wide-ranging esports empire. VSPN, meanwhile, raised "close to" $100 million from investors led by Tencent. And new broadcast network VENN raised $26 million.
  • Elsewhere in deals: Scopely bought mobile studio Genjoy and Devolver Digital bought Croteam.
  • Fée Heyer joined Devolver as head of licensing, where she'll work on Fall Guys. In other moves, Riot hired Jason Bunge as its first chief marketing officer.
  • Many streamers on Twitch are receiving a new wave of DMCA takedown notices. And last week, major music industry groups wrote to Jeff Bezos and Emmett Shear, accusing the company of not doing enough to stop unauthorized music use.
  • Facebook continues to receive pushback over requiring Oculus users to have a Facebook account, but that hasn't deterred Microsoft: It will soon require Microsoft accounts on Mojang games including Minecraft.
  • Netflix is making an Assassin's Creed series. That continues Ubisoft's Netflix partnership, joining the already-announced Splinter Cell anime series and The Division movie. Ubisoft's Jason Altman and Danielle Kreinik will be executive producers on the live-action show, which is yet to find a showrunner. Our editor Karyne says she hopes it stars Ezio.
  • Former Blizzard developers Tim Morten and Tim Campbell set up a new studio. Frost Giant Studios raised $4.7 million in seed funding and will be focused on developing new real-time strategy games.
  • Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar set Twitch ablaze as they played Among Us with pro streamers to encourage voter turnout. The stream may have been a watershed for politics in gaming.
  • Russia's Mail.ru might offer a preview of Activision and Ubisoft's earnings this week. The internet group reported a 33.8% rise in gaming revenue, though that dropped to 24% excluding its recent Deus Craft acquisition.

Five Questions For...

Sid Meier, game designer

When you say "legendary game designer," Sid Meier is one of the first names that comes to mind. In September he published a memoir tracing his career and insights about game development and interactive entertainment broadly.

What was your first gaming system?

I actually coded a game on my university's mainframe back in college. I kind of got into trouble for doing it — it was a "waste of valuable computer time" — but when I told the computer science professor what I had done, he was interested in how I had done it. Maybe I learned the wrong lesson from that one, but it worked out for me in the long run.

What is the most important trend in the game business in 2020?

For about a decade now we've been seeing the cost of entry for new designers getting lower. Not only did this help bring us the indie game boom, but it's also given all kinds of people a chance to make games about things that interest them, and inspire their love of game design. I think that trend will continue to be an important one for us in the industry.

What has been the most overlooked aspect or development in the game business over the last year?

With COVID-19 over this past year we've seen more and more people turning to games as entertainment. We've seen huge numbers of people coming online and gaming, using games as a way to connect with friends and family. I don't know that it's been overlooked necessarily, but the size of the increase is amazing.

What new technology or technical development are you most looking forward to?

That's hard to say. There's always new technology and new developments in game development, both iterative improvements and experimental technologies. What is really interesting is when someone discovers a breakthrough in gameplay that takes that technology and shows what's special about it. That's what I find exciting.

What games are you playing recently that don't come from your company?

Lately I've been playing Overland, Naval Action and The Flame in the Flood.

Look Out For

Portal 2 is still alive

It might be coming up on its 10th (10th!) anniversary, but Portal 2 is still inspiring creators. A new mod adds 25 new levels and a third kind of portal, which adds a time travel dimension to the game — just in case the original Portal mechanics didn't hurt your brain enough. It's due out in April.

— Shakeel Hashim

A MESSAGE FROM MICROSOFT AZURE

Azure

Make next level games with Microsoft's own AAA-grade development toolbox, including the battle-tested solutions of Azure and PlayFab, powering some of the world's biggest games.

Learn more.

Thanks for reading. Tell your friends and colleagues to subscribe here, and send tips, feedback and ideas to sschiesel@protocol.com and shakeel@protocol.com. See you next week.

Recent Issues