Level 86: Stadia Digs its own Grave (again)

What's original IP, anyway?

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💡 Industry Content

Azure Playfab: Microsoft acquired Playfab three years ago to help power backend live ops services. Since, it’s become a platform-agnostic service that supports communication (e.g live transcription and translation), content sharing, and helping make games faster. For Microsoft and the broader Xbox ecosystem, it’s a forward-thinking move because it helps them establish industry partnerships, understand the needs of indie/AAA developers, and create a “continuum of services” with Azure, Microsoft’s cloud ecosystem. And yet despite all this, they’re currently facing branding competition issues with AWS. Link

"How do we ultimately deliver that platform that Phil [Spencer, head of Xbox] sold me on, to help the world's game developers be more successful with their games? I'm now responsible not just for PlayFab, but also for Azure, and frankly any [Microsoft] service in the game development space. My job is basically to figure out what game developers need, work across all of Microsoft to deliver it, whether it's working with Playfab, Xbox, Azure, Dynamics, Teams, and stitch together end-to-end solutions from across Microsoft to the games industry." - James Gertzman, Playfab Co-Founder

Stadia IP is No More: Stadia, the 2019 video game streaming platform from Google, announced this week that it was shutting down its internal game studios, opting to work directly with third-party developers instead. As one Twitter thread aptly described it, the move feels somewhat like a death sentence for Google’s gaming ambitions. Gaming hardware has lived and died by exclusive first-party content, with specialized game + console bundles often creating compelling events to drive hardware sales. Combine that fact with the ongoing battle for gaming IP, Stadia’s weak existing library of games, the platform's myriad technical issues, and the outlook is looking grim for what was once one of gaming’s most exciting prospects. Link

Roblox IPO - A Primer: If you’re a regular Pause Button reader, you know our fondness for one of gaming’s most innovative start-ups, Roblox. The story behind how Roblox came to be is just as interesting as the company itself with roots in physics simulators, Facebook predecessors, and more. If you’re potentially interested in buying some $RBLX when the company goes public via direct listing later this month, this is a great place to learn more. Link


🎮 Fun & Games

Tales Of Immortal: These days, Chinese indie games are finding unprecedented success in both domestic and international markets. Genshin Impact and Party Animals are two well-known titles that popped off in 2020. Recently all eyes have been on Tales of Immortal, an open-world RPG created by Lightning Games. The best part: it’s still in early access and only available in Chinese… but it already logged 170,000+ concurrent players with an 87% positive review rate. Link

Further Reading: 

  • Steven Messner’s prescient report, examining the health of Indie game development in China. Link

  • Josh Ye’s gaming predictions for 2021. Link

Designing “Celebrations in Games”: Senior Designer at Riot Games, Katie Chronis, wrote up an awesome Twitter Thread on how to build cues that reinforce important behavior for players. Visual effects, sounds, UI elements, to name a few. Often subtle, these cues can lead to dramatic shifting behaviors for players to pursue specific actions in games e.g a headshot in Warzone feels satisfying because of the “clink” you hear. Link

it's a thing i often see missing in games, and it's also a critical part of *teaching* the game to players. if players don't understand when something important happened-- and if they can't evaluate important moments against each other-- it's harder for them to learn how to play!

Abuse & Exploitation in Smash Bros: Competitive Super Smash Bros is grassroots by nature. Never receiving support from developer Nintendo, the community has often turned to its own top players, commentators, and leaders to define its culture and values. The problem with this approach, however, is that skill in a 20+ year-old video game doesn’t mean that you have the world’s best moral compass. In his first piece for Dot Esports, journalist Jacob Wolf explores the story of Sky’s House, one of Smash’s first — and worst — community hubs. Link


😎 Other Cool Reads

How Game Reviews Work: Earlier this fall, fans were confused at how the glaring flaws of Cyberpunk 2077 slipped past professional reviews at sites like Kotaku & Polygon. Surely people who review games for a living would have noticed the messy bugs and broken features everywhere right? The honest answer isn’t so simple. In his latest, Kotaku Editor-in-Chief Stephen Totilo breaks down the behind the scenes of gaming reviews and how sites like Kotaku are subject to tough constraints and embargos from developers. Link

The DMCA Debacle: Touchpoint’s Bryant Jefferson wrote up a primer on the DMCA (~music copyright) issues streamers are reckoning with when they stream themselves playing games. Our favorite takeaway is his prediction that music artists will partner with streamers at the grassroots level as a publicity mechanism much the same as Drake’s agreement with Nickmercs. Link

30 Years of Classics: id Software is undoubtedly one of gaming’s earliest pioneers. Responsible for titles like Doom, Wolfenstein, and Quake, id is often considered the father of the first-person shooting genre. Benj Edwards sat down with original id founders like John Carmack and John Romero to discuss the studio’s recent 30th anniversary, its massive library of games, and much more. Link


⚡ Quick Bytes

  • The M&A spree continues with Embracer Group’s acquisition of Gearbox (and 11 other studios) for $1.3 billion. Link

  • Polygon’s most anticipated games of 2021. Link

  • Xsolla launches commerce tool to help take mobile games cross-platform. Link

  • As Stadia shuts its doors, Amazon is reportedly spending $500M a year on its own original IP. Link

  • “Services, not software, are the future of games enterprise tech”. Link

  • Noclip released the final entry in their docuseries covering the release of indie hit Hades Link

  • “Perfect World and Valve will launch a public beta of Steam China on Feb 9” starting with Valve IP. There will be two separate versions of Steam in China, an international and domestic. Link

  • Runescape publisher Jagex was bought for $530M by the Carlyle Group, an investment firm. Link

  • Bilibili has 85% user retention and high ambitions to compete with Tencent. Can they pull it off? Link


😍 Our Current Favorites 

Fawzi (@fawzitani)

I just signed up for a new service called Dialup, which matches random people together to chat about preselected topics at preselected times. It looks sooo dope. I’m super excited about the gaming-specific one that discusses “good games you’re playing”. Maybe I can wrangle together a few good indie recommendations from people for the newsletter.

That being said, I’d love to connect with readers here! The size of our reader base has grown considerably over the past few months and to be honest, sometimes it feels a bit daunting to dig through and reach out to people. I’d love to chat, though, and would love if you reached out as well! Let’s talk games, industry, creators, startups.

FYI, I might be hopping on Clubhouse this weekend with @JoshYe to chat about all things Steam China. Let me know if you’d be interested in participating/know of anyone who might be game as well!

Max (@MaxLowenthal)

There were a ton of earnings releases for major gaming companies this week. Sony blew out profit and revenue targets, Oculus VR has 60+ titles generating more than $1M in revenue, and Star Wars games have made EA a cool $3B. The one stat that jumped out to me though, was the success of gaming mainstay Activision Blizzard. The company grew revenue nearly 25% YoY, and is killing it with Call of Duty and other major titles.

The takeaway here for me is that  “mainstream” games have way more staying power than your average consumer realizes. I’ve seen people say companies like Roblox, Riot, and others are on their way to eating Activision’s lunch - not so. Activision might not innovate at the pace of some of these single-game studios, but what they lack in speed, they make up for in quantity of rich and beloved IP. If you’re holding your breath expecting major gaming studios to be usurped by your favorite gaming start-up you’ll be waiting for a long, long time. Link


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