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Level 60: Video Games on TV?!
We take a look at an upcoming gaming TV network (VENN)and dive into what makes a JRPG different from a Western RPG
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📜 This Week’s Notable News
The Next Generation of Gaming TV? Late last week we got our first look at VENN — a 24/7 gaming network launching on August 5th. Similar to recent streaming services like Quibi, VENN touts a “watch from anywhere” approach, with a heavy emphasis on quality and variety. The initial slate of announced shows cover everything from Gaming Pop Culture to Fear Factor-esque mystery challenges. Link
Avid gaming fans may remember G4, a cable TV network built around video games that rose to prominence in the early 2000s. Ultimately the channel shuttered due to waning interest in the video game industry; there weren’t enough engaging ways to talk about video games and pop culture to justify the upkeep. While it’s not hard to draw connections between VENN and the eventually ill-fated G4, there are a few reasons things might be different this time around:
Gamers Rise Up: Compared to the early 2000s, gaming has a much stronger foothold in popular culture and mainstream media. Thanks in part to the ubiquity of platforms like YouTube and Twitch, gaming has gone from some niche interest, to a legitimate career. That means more people are looking for a diverse array of gaming content than ever before.
Computers In Your Pocket: It’s hard to overstate how important the rise of smartphones has impacted gaming's move into the mainstream. When G4 was in its heyday, consumers would have to intentionally sit down and consume the gaming content they wanted. Now, they can do so whenever and wherever they want. This plays in VENN’s favor, as suddenly they can make their entire library of content accessible at the push of the button
The Abundance of Talent: G4 is remembered for some of it’s staple talent, like X-Play hosts Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb. Back in 2004, you have to imagine it was much harder to find a legitimate TV-caliber personality to talk about video games on a regular basis. Now, with platforms like YouTube, any random person could be the next Sessler. Putting the power firmly in VENN’s corner when it comes to finding the perfect hosts for their content
The market is poised for an interest-specific platform like VENN to capture lots of new eyeballs — but that doesn’t mean this is a sure thing. There are TONS of things that could go wrong with this idea including (but not limited to): not making quality/original content, charging too much for their services, not capturing attention from competitors (like Twitch and Netflix), not monetizing their business correctly, running out of funding, raising too much funding...you get the idea. As VENN launches we’ll keep you updated on how promising the platform is, and where we think it’s headed. In the meantime, if you have thoughts, opinions, or ideas about VENN that we missed, respond to this email and let us know!
💡 Industry Content
Company Profile — SEA Limited: In the U.S. it feels like there's a company for every aspect of the gaming industry. Twitch exists for streaming, Discord for chatting, Patreon for supporting your favorite creators, Shopify for selling merch, Blizzard for making games and so on. Imagine though, if you mixed all of those companies together into one singular entity — that’s Sea Limited. Similar to Asia’s multi-media giant Tencent, Sea Limited has created an end to end experience for communication/gaming, without accruing massive funding like its Western counterparts. In this profile, author Julie Young profiles how Sea Limited operates, and has risen to become one of Singapore’s most dominant companies, with services that rival Amazon, Twitch, and others. Link
China’s Crackdown on Games: Amid strict regulations for gaming license agreements, China has removed 2500 games from the iOS App Store. These games alone combine for a total of $34.7M in lifetime revenue and 133M downloads in China. Considering TikTok’s recent criticism surrounding national security, and the growing antitrust concerns for major tech companies, it’s interesting to see similar concerns start to bleed into the gaming industry. A single glance at China’s regulations and application process shows that things are already complex — it’s hard to imagine them getting simpler anytime soon. Link
Ubisoft’s Executive Shakeup: Following abuse and harassment allegations, three of Ubisoft’s executive team have resigned from the company, including its Head of HR and Chief Creative officer. According to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, many of the executives impacted here were seen as “untouchable” in the eyes of the employees. It’s reassuring to see actual change coming following the numerous allegations leveled against these leaders. Link
🎮 Fun & Games
Western vs Japanese RPGs: With such immersive environments and characters, RPGs exist as the pinnacle of narrative-driven storytelling in games. Why then do we split the genre into two sub-categories: Japanese RPGs (JRPGs) vs Western RPGs? In this fantastic video, YouTuber Game Maker’s Toolkit explores the history of the RPG genre, and how the delineation of JRPG and RPG came to be. Link
Child’s Play: It turns out United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez plays League of Legends. It goes to show that video games can probably teach you some useful life skills: resiliency, grit, and patience to deal with toxic teammates. Link
Who is The Ugliest Of Them All? There’s a certain genre of action titles: gritty and violent, almost as if Die Hard turned into a video game. But the gratuitous blood and shooting doesn’t mean that these games don't have redeeming qualities. In this video essay, YouTuber Jacob Geller dubs this genre “ugly games”, and expands on what it takes to make a truly “good ugly game”. Link
😎 Other Cool Reads
A VR/Horror/FPS/Marketing Crossover: After the cancellation of the industry trade show E3, developers have been struggling to find the right medium to preview their upcoming releases. Ever the black sheep of the industry, developer Devolver Digital opted for a more “experiential” marketing technique: a literal full-fledged video game. Enter Devolverland Expo, a FPS game set in an “abandoned convention center”, all built around tracking down trailers, easter eggs, and other surprises. Link
Jet Set Radio: Have you ever used the spray mechanic in Warzone or Fortnite? Apparently these now-commoditized interactions have their creative roots in Jet Set Radio, a Sega Dreamcast game all about self-expression and city politics. This game is perhaps more relevant than ever given the national discussion around police authority and privledge. Link
History & Ghosts of Tsushima: Sucker Punch’s new release, Ghost of Tsushima, already has rave reviews ahead of its launch this Friday. In this piece, Polygon sits down with Brian Fleming, co-founder of Sucker Punch, to discuss the intentionality behind the setting, plot and localization of the game: all set in feudal Japan.
Everything has an interpretive quality to it. And I think we feel like we’ll succeed if we are really respectful.
Historical accuracy and relevance is often an overlooked and underappreciated design by consumers, but we love the additional layers and nuances it gives the game. Link
📊 By The Numbers
Matthew Ball on why media consumption habits are good for games. Link
ESA on the “essential facts” about video game demographics. Link
Details around the 19% YoY rise of female gamers in Asia Link
😍 Our Current Favorites
Nintendo released a free guide to cult classic Earthbound. Perhaps an oblique signal for a future re-release? At any rate, this is so, so cool to dig through. Does anyone else miss buying physical guides for games? Link
Ever since quarantine began, my podcast consumption habits have completely changed. My previously dedicated podcasting time (i.e. my commute) has been totally removed, meaning that I need to be intentional if I want to sit down and listen to something. The most recent podcast I made time for was an interview with Blake Robbins, a venture capitalist at Ludlow Ventures and early investor in 100Thieves. Blake is a strong believer in the future of online creators, media, and gaming, and has been a big influence on the work I do for The Pause Button. Link
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