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PATCH UPDATES: The Single Biggest Threat to the Future of Next-gen Gaming

The console launches, last November, of Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen video games platforms marked a new era in home video game console playability. The increases in graphics, social networking and wider entertainment facilities have created the spectre of a gaming and entertainment hub in each and every living room or bedroom throughout the world. However, the current spate of patch update after patch update news, seems to indicate an issue. This issue is harming not one single platform but the entire next-generation platform. In four weeks, there have been issues with the following games (on all next-gen platforms):

  • Ryse: Son of Rome – required a 550mb patch
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts – required a 375mb patch
  • Grand Theft Auto V – required a 227mb patch
  • Battlefield 4 – at time of writing, required a 447mb patch – that could grow with current issues still unresolved
  • FIFA 14 – required a 220mb patch
  • Dead Rising 3 – required a 600mb patch

Dead Rising 3 Game - Ultimate Gaming ParadiseGames developers and publishers, much like Activision, Electronic Arts, Capcom and DICE have released titles that have been literally “plagued” by glitches, bugs and other critical errors that have brought the next-gen consoles into disrepute.

There is an argument, noted by many, that argues that a new console is always paired up with mediocre software. This is inherent in the fact publishers and developers do not have enough time to ‘fully utilise’ the technology of the next-gen console to create a better title. However, bugs in 90s or early noughties consoles where something one had to ‘live with’. The Sonic the Hedgehog 1 glitch on Level 3 is now infamous. However, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One – and in some respects the Wii U – are network connected and thus, because of the ‘platform network (your PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live subscription), these ‘patches’ are mandatory. “You will not be able to use Microsoft Xbox Live if you decline this update” was a regular occurrence on the Xbox 360. Many gamers, and commentators, believed the next gen consoles would bring about what the PC has done (and many smart phones) over recent years – downloads and updates in the background while you “get on with it”.

This didn’t happen. In fact, more worryingly, key platform features – defining features some would argue – were on purpose left out of games. A notable example is the PlayStation 4 – which has 1080 ability for High Def gaming. This functionality was not present on the disc of the Call of Duty: Ghosts title; you had to download a patch thereafter. This seems to indicate 1080 ability was an afterthought and not a central part of the design focus?

The single biggest next-gen mess-up is the release of Electronic Art’s digital unit Dice’s premier title: Battlefield 4. The Battlefield series has been EA’s attempt to dislodge war gamers from Activision’s Call of Duty series. The well-reviewed Battlefield 3 saw a migration of users away from Black Ops 2 to Battlefield 3. The new platform and the bigger investment by EA into the franchise should have resulted in Battlefield 4 becoming the premier title on the platform. The game, on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 platforms, has been plagued by repetitive ‘patch updates’. The title has received approximately 4 patch updates globally since launched in November.

Call of Duty Ghosts advert - Ultimate Gaming Paradise

RYSE was a key launch title by Microsoft. It was meant to be a title that defined Xbox One. However, this was also ruined by the spectre of day one ‘patch’ updates. If the next generation of video gaming will be a

continuum of patch after patch update, how will this affect gamer perceptions of the platforms? The rise of mobile gaming, the resurgence of PC gaming (along with the investment by Apple into Mac OS gaming) has created viable competition to Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. They, in true US fashion, needed their ‘game faces on’ when it came to launching the Xbox One, the Nintendo Wii U and the PlayStation 4. The result was far from a coherent effort to lead a vanguard attack on other gaming platforms. In reality, some argue, the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 will become a poster child for the exodus of gamers to other – more stable platforms.

The crux of the issue is that, if 24/7 network connectivity means developers can release shoddy games with shoddy code and expect users to eat up bandwidth through downloading “fixes”, it will, in the long run, affect gamers’ playability and therein their connectedness to the platform. It is important developers and publishers BETA test their platforms to a greater level. These consoles take the gaming experience to the next level – it’s only right publishers and developers take their pre-launch testing to the next level in order to maintain high expectation of latest titles and their increased playability over other platforms?

It’s important that the next gen consoles retain their simplicity. They have always been ‘plug and play’ experiences and it is important that this experience is not altered. The mobile gaming world is enjoying massive growth with the development of such mobile titles – like FIFA, Call of Duty and Need for Speed; that allows users a simple ‘pick up and play’ experience. PC Gamers on the other hand, have always been used to Windows updates and therein updates from their games publishers. It is part and parcel of the experience – newer graphics cards etc. have resulted in more patches being issued for PC games. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are meant to be the showcase platform – incorporating excellence (like the PC experience) with simplicity (like the mobile experience) but in a concurrent gaming experience. To save this experience from being eroded by the plight of patch updates, it is crucial that developers really start to understand how these ‘patch updates’ can affect the long-term playability, and therein platform loyalty, that could result in gamers moving to other platforms – Amiga and Sega’s decline was, at its core, about quality. Microsoft and Sony need to heed the historical along with the current issues facing their next-gen platforms in order to protect their platforms from becoming obsolete.

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Battlefield 4 China Rising

Crashing bug plagues Battlefield 4 on Playstation 4

Even with the Playstation 4 patch released and the Xbox One patch imminent, things don’t seem to have got a whole lot better for DICE, the studio behind Battlefield 4.   With the patch in place gamers are reporting perceived increases in the ominous CE-34878-0 crash in Battlefield  4 as well as in a number of other titles, including FIFA 14, Need For Speed Rivals, and NBA 2K14.  While not all EA produced games are being effected, and it seems likely that this is a generic bug hitting the PS4, it’s certainly more prevalent in EA games. With Battlefield 4 being hit particularly hard by the PS4 bug, DICE are taking the issue extremely seriously.

With hints of panic setting in at the helm, DICE are asking gamers to note the exact circumstances with the crash on bug reports; they are asking for details on game mode and map you were playing when the crash happened.  DICE have promised to review every report they are sent in a conscious effort to squish the bug, but are at a loss to its cause and are asking gamers to supply them with details of the crash so they can attempt to reproduce it.

Battlefield 4 squad jumping

There’s little information on what actually causes the CE-34878-0 error, but it seems to occur moments after players start the game; it just crashes and goes back to the Playstation 4 dashboard.   One possible fix that has been suggested was to just delete the save game files and start again, but it seems this only delays the problem and lets you play for a few moments longer before the whole lot crashes again.

In allied news, it seems that DICE aren’t the only ones tugging at their collars to alleviate the heat around Battlefield 4 at the moment either.  EA isn’t to escape the curse of Battlefield  4 either as they are the subject of a federal investigation launched recently by US Attorneys at Law, Holzer Holzer & Fistal.  The Georgia-based law firm are examining whether EA complied with federal securities law, and while not mentioning specifics, have hinted at possible irregularities and are focusing on currently undisclosed statements made by EA during the development of Battlefield 4.  Holzer, Holzer & Fistal are urging any investors who have lost money in EA’s recent share-slide to contact them.

 

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Xbox One vs PS4

PS4 vs Xbox One – A Tale of Two Consoles

There seems to be a very odd approach taken in explaining the sales figures of the PS4 and the Xbox One. Many news sources, like The Daily Mirror, The Independent and the BBC, seem to be reporting that the “Playstation 4 has ‘outsold’ the Xbox One“. However, many analysts argue that such headlines fail to really examine the crux of the whole affair. Are we looking at all this the wrong way?

It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. They’re fruit but they’re not the same fruit. This is a pretty good metaphor to describe the current tit-for-tat battle currently being enacted in the wider media. The Playstation 4 launched in North America only whilst Xbox One launched in 13 countries simultaneously. The on-hand stock is thus, in the case of the Xbox One, more diversely distributed than Sony’s. This meant Sony had more ‘onhand’ stock to be able sell more. This is not to say Sony didn’t break records. But we need to look closer at the detail.

On 30th November, InfoScout publish an ‘investors’ note’, guidance for fund managers to examine how retail sales would affect their share portfolios. The note reported on the Black Friday sales, America’s biggest shopping day, and how it affected each of the different consoles – both the 3rd and 4th gen Microsoft and Sony. The data saw that over 61% of sales went to Microsoft. The Xbox One accounted for 31% of all sales at Walmart and Target (two of the biggest US retailers). The Microsoft Xbox 360, now a legacy console, outsold Playstation 4 by two to one. It also seems in America, at any rate, the Xbox One outsold the Playstation 4 during one of the busiest shopping days in America. Now, poor old InfoScout took quite a hammering by the ‘establishment’. Time Magazine’s video games supremo Matt Peckham called the data mining and survey specialists approach a kind of “voodoo”. The reason behind this was that their multi-platform based approach was based on ‘projectable’ analysis over ‘representative’ analysis. There is an on-going battle within survey circles arguing the merits of each approach. Time doesn’t take much stock in InfoScout’s data. However, this is important. Time, as with the BBC, The Independent and The Mirror, seem to be focusing too narrowly on the similarities whilst ignoring the differences. It’s a very unusual case of apples and oranges being cross-evaluated by a ravenous press out for division and disunity.

However, Michael Pachter, media stalwart and chief analyst at Wedbush Securities – an investment and hedge fund company – argues Sony’s 1.25 million sales “thrashed” Microsoft’s 750,000 units sold. There seems to be a lack of logic evident here – Microsoft did not have onhand the stock to counter Sony in the US as it’s launch was global. It’s also worth remembering that Sony did launch the PlayStation 4 first in North America only, on the 15th of November 2013. Then two weeks later it was rolled out globally – including the UK. Microsoft, on the other hand, launched globally on the 22nd of November 2013. Sony had one week to push ahead in US sales. Microsoft’s sales need to ‘catch-up’ to Sony before we can really evaluate the differences and the wider impact.Xbox One v PS4 logos
What does ‘selling faster’ actually mean? Microsoft, on the 22nd of November, publicly stated that they where trying to re-stock as soon as possible after “unprecedented demand” from customers deflated available on-hand stock levels. In layman’s terms, they launched in several key markets at the same time and sold out! Sony, on the other hand, launched a week earlier on the 15th just in North America and then on 29th November in the UK. Sony, however, didn’t seem to have that much in the way of stock shortages? In fact, the media are only starting to report ‘possible’ UK shortages of PS4 in early December 2013. On the Xbox One side of the fence, they’re completely sold out – you are either looking at a Christmas Eve delivery date by most retailers or a £600+ eBay purchase. Is this all down to a Microsoft blunder? You’d think, Microsoft sat down and said to itself, “look, we are launching in x number of countries, lets make sure we have enough consoles to go around.” You hope they had the conversation. However, looking at the sales data – especially the Black Friday data from the US – we start to find nuggets of information that seem to indicate that on-par, Microsoft will outsell Sony.

What are the reasons? Many, like Pachter, argue that price seems to play a big role in the so-called ‘demise’ of the Microsoft Xbox One against its cheaper PlayStation 4 rival. Let’s look at the price dimension? Microsoft ships the Xbox One for £ 429 whilst Sony is selling the PlayStation 4 for £ 349. That’s a cash difference of £ 80. Now, some argue that since the Kinect is pre-packaged with the Xbox One that’s an extra purchase for Sony PS4 owners which adds an extra £ 60, for the Sony Eye camera. That means the saving is now only £20. Now, since you have to have a PlayStation Plus Network subscription – unlike the PS3 – to play online that adds a further £49.99 to the PS4 bundle. The Xbox One Live annual pass is only £ 39.99. Now, let’s add it all up and look at the total bundle cost; the PS4 with Eye camera and PS+ access costs £ 458.99 whereas the Xbox One with Xbox One Live annual subscription costs £ 468.99. That means the ‘real’ cost difference between the two is a mere £ 10. These journalists and analysts seem to think £ 10 will obliterate the competition and will help Sony reign supreme?

The perceived media success of Sony’s PS4 launch is based on the concentration of its initial US launch. This was a market they had been loosing steadily for years to Microsoft. They need a bigger percentage of the $42 billion dollar a year US video gaming market. They knew what they were after and went straight for the jugular. However, Microsoft was already king of the roost, back home in the ole’ US of A. They wanted to continue their global appeal. Two different launch approaches, one successfully stocked and the other it would evidently seem, was under prepared.

It’s also fair to say that the “zero sum game” approaches to the ‘console war’ will always fail to highlight the nuances of the wider video games market. People are brand loyal, they define their video gaming experience on the desirability and playability factors of their favorite gaming platform. The sales data is still raw, the figures still need to be crunched and as such, more needs to be done to better evaluate the full extent of the marketplace. However, let no one tell you Microsoft or Sony are going anywhere soon – they will be building consoles for a fair few years to come.

 

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PS4 Advert

The PS4 is less of a financial disaster than the PS3

Back when the PS3 was released in 2006, there were some pretty heavy financial concerns. Sony had made it a goal to make the architecture of the console completely unique, using state of the art technology and even developing their own processor to be used in the machine. As a result, the production costs were extremely high and Sony ended up charging below the cost to manufacture. If you have a basic grasp on economics, you’ll notice that charging less than what it cost will end up losing you a lot of money, and that is exactly what happened.

It’s reported that Sony lost over 3 billion dollars over the course of figuring out how to lower the costs of manufacturing each PS and this resulted in a few key employees leaving the company. More so, several years of cutting costs across the board hasn’t stopped Sony selling PS3 at a loss. Evidence would dictate that at this point in time, making a console unique is probably a bad idea unless you’re willing to charge a higher price and justify the purchase to an audience of consumers who are more interested in the price tag than anything else. During the PS3’s release, it was noted that it sold poorly compared to the Xbox 360 because the only people purchasing the console were loyal Sony customers or people who genuinely thought the PS3 was a superior console. For the casual consumer, all they saw was the fact that it was more expensive and had fewer exclusives than its Microsoft counterpart.

Seven years later and we’re now at next-gen consoles, so what’s the news? At the moment, it’s a bit tough to determine how the PS4 matches up to the Xbox One since the consoles have been available for purchase for less than a month. Financially speaking, however, the PS4 is probably a big sigh of relief for Sony and their cheque book.

Arty PS4For comparison, the PS3 at release cost $448.73 to simply build, and the company was losing over $200 with each console sold after labour, shipping, and support was taken into consideration. By 2009 they had cut the losses per console to $31.27 but that means there were three years of significant losses. Ouch. The PS4 has a bit of a better situation in this regard, costing $381 to produce and for labour. Couple this with the fact that the PS4 is selling for $399 and you find yourself with $18 profits… Or do you?

As it turns out, that figure doesn’t account for shipping, support or a cut for wholesalers and retailers. More likely than not, Sony is still going to be initially reporting a loss per console sold but it will most definitely not be anywhere near the disaster the PS3 was. Worst case scenario, the losses for Sony will be around $150 per console but I’d wager this to be more in the $100 range.

This does pose the question of how Sony managed to reverse their console financials. Has the technology they’ve used in the PS3 gotten so cheap that it was easy to improve upon with a lower cost? Did they organise better bulk deals with suppliers? The answer is something that will make PC gamers jump with glee – The PS4 is so much cheaper to make because Sony decided to scrap the customised hardware idea and went with something a bit more conservative such as adapting typical PC hardware components in the console. The previous “CELL” processor used in the PS3 has been replaced with AMD’s 8-core Jaguar and several features of the old PS3 has seen some significantly reduced costs, such as the optical drive dropping down to $28 compared to its $66 figure seven years ago.

The bread and butter of Sony’s console is, of course, subscriptions to Playstation+ and the purchasing of games. It is quite easy to overlook minor losses with the sale of the console when you are making a boat load of cash via other avenues that utilise their device, but it’s certainly a good thing to cut those losses whenever possible. For now, it seems Sony has achieved just that.

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Dualshock 4 Controller

Sony Scraps PS4 Dualshock Touchscreen (For Now)

If you’ve been following the next-gen console race, you know that Sony had revolutionised their Dualshock series of controllers and incorporated a touchscreen into the centre of the controller, much like WiiU’s. There was significant debate at the time as to whether or not the touchscreen would be to the PS4’s detriment or advantage, with many websites taking a look at the prototype images that were released or leaked (depending on who you asked).

The change to the Dualshock series was obvious. The central portion of the controller was being completely replaced with the touchscreen while everything else took on a much more streamlined appearance. Rather than shine and feel slick in your hands, the new controller appears to be something that you can firmly grasp onto as well as solving the annoying problem of having your thumbs fall off the analog sticks, an issue that mainly came to light after games like Heavy Rain were released that required some extensive analog stick twiddling.

Reluctantly, at the time, I decided that the controller would be an improvement over previous models, but that the touchscreen was the one thing that stuck out as terrible (besides the plan that there’d be a social media button on the controller which is bad no matter which way you look at it). I’ve toyed around with the WiiU controller and it’s extremely distracting to be looking at the TV and then having to look down at my lap to go through a mini-game, navigate a menu, or commit to a quick time event. I’m an individual that’s really into immersion and getting lost in the game, and consistently needing to break my attention away from the onscreen action, is the best way to make me not enjoy myself.

Luckily, Sony seems to agree with my opinion, so I’ll stop you right here and take full credit for what’s coming next. That’s right, this is all my doing! Okay, maybe not. Nevertheless, Sony has decided after much deliberation that the touchscreen couldn’t be that great of an idea and has officially scrapped it before the PS4 release date. The matter of the touchscreen came down to cost and usability, both of which were negative to the point of justifying the removal of the concept. I have to hand it to the engineers as they were really thorough with the new controllers this time.

Designs of the Dualshock 4 began coming to fruition as early as 2010, with the project being led by Toshimasa Aoki, one of the leading figures in the planning of the Walkman, PSP, and PS3. Primarily, he dealt with the disk drives but it was time to switch it up, and I’m honestly grateful. Sony, and their planning department, went through twenty different prototypes before deciding on a final model.

So, what’s replacing the touchscreen? Will we have the typical PS logo button, the Select button, and the Start button? The answer is still no as the touchscreen appearance is sticking, but is being replaced with a touchpad instead. The difference between the two is subtle and took me a while to figure out, but it turns out that you won’t need to constantly break your concentration to browse menus on a screen that’s on your lap. Instead, the “screen” becomes an extension of the controller, allowing the game to program additional hot-keys into the pad that activate based on where you click with your fingers, although there’s really only one button. That’s right, it’s touch sensitive and knows where you’re pressing, just like a tablet or mobile phone.

I’m excited for seeing how the touchpad gets utilized by developers. Although the games being released along with the PS4 will likely not have many uses for it, the video games being designed and released a year or two from now just might find some excellent gimmicks that can innovate how the touchpad gets used by gamers. In the end, I’m just happy that I won’t need to spend my time gaming, staring at my lap.

What do you guys think? Will the touchpad be a success or a colossal failure?

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