For the first time since 2011, gaming giant Nintendo is a profitable company. In the company’s financial report for the fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2015, Nintendo posted net sales of 550 billion yen (around US$4.61 billion), which led to a welcome operating income of 24.8 billion yen (US$207.8 million).
Nintendo, which saw 75.4 percent of their sales come from outside Japan, attributed some of their financial success in the past year to the depreciation of the yen against the US dollar. The company also saw “robust” sales of their most popular games, including Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. for both Wii U and 3DS, and Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, all of which launched during the past financial year.
As for hardware, Nintendo collectively sold 8.73 million 3DS consoles, down 29% on the 12.2 million 3DSes sold last year. Wii sales were also down significantly, dropping to just 460,000 from 1.22 million the previous year. However, Nintendo did see a rise in Wii U sales, which jumped 24% to 3.38 million units in the past financial year.
For the next financial year, Nintendo expects their operating income to double to 50 billion yen (US$419 million) on the back of slightly increased revenue of 570 billion yen (US$4.78 billion). This will again please investors who have waited patiently through the past four years for the company to turn a profit.
Nintendo also expects to sell fewer 3DS consoles and fewer handheld games in the upcoming financial year, despite the recent launch of the New Nintendo 3DS. Wii U hardware sales are expected to increase slightly, while the company sees software sales dropping slightly. Unsurprisingly Nintendo also expects Wii hardware and software sales to fall off a cliff.
Update: Minter has posted a letter dated June 2014, sent by Atari law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP, laying out what it sees as the legally actionable similarities between Tempest and TxK.
Llamasoft developer Jeff Minter is currently embroiled in a heated legal discussion with Atari over the rights to TxK, a tube shooter released last year on the Vita that bears a striking resemblance to 1994 Atari Jaguar release Tempest 2000.
The apparent similarities between Tempest 2000 and TxK are perhaps unsurprising, given that Minter single-handedly did the coding on both games, the former while working for Atari and the latter as an independent developer (credit for 1980’s original Tempest, which was the inspiration for Tempest 2000, belongs to Atari’s Dave Theurer). Minter even called TxK “an updated version [of Tempest 2000] on modern hardware” when announcing the Vita game back in 2013.
But Minter now says Atari is trying to unduly claim trademark and copyright rights to TxK and attempting to stop him from distributing the existing Vita version of the game as well as planned ports for the PC, PS4, Android, and VR platforms. “I think the weirdest aspect of the legal letter thing is how they desperately try to imply I had nothing much to do with my own creation,” Minter tweeted incredulously.
Minter outlines what he refers to as “threats and bullying” from Atari’s “legal letter” in a post on his blog and through his Twitter account (though he has not shared the full text of the letter). Among the “legal accusations” allegedly made by Atari (quotes are Minter’s relaying of pieces of Atari’s apparent allegations):
Tempest 2000 was “merely an update to Tempest to which [Minter] made no contribution” (source)
“There is nothing remotely original in TxK and in no way can it be described as [Minter’s] original creation” (source)
“TxK features an electronic music sound track and sound effects that are indistinguishable from those used in Tempest 2000” (source)
TxK and Minter are profiting from association with the Tempest and Atari brand names.
Minter says Atari is “trying to insist that I remove from sale Vita TxK (even though it’s plainly at the end of its run now and only brings in a trickle these days) and sign papers basically saying I can never make a Tempest style game ever again. So no chance of releasing the ports.” He also says simply contesting the legal claims in Atari’s letter would be incredibly costly and that Atari has rebuked attempts to get “official” Tempest branding for TxK or its ports.
The folks at Microsoft-owned Mojang just gave PC users one more reason to uninstall Java from their systems. The Minecraft launcher for PC now installs and manages its own instance of Oracle’s software. The version of Java the new Minecraft launcher uses is contained within the game’s directory—meaning you no longer need a system-wide version of Java installed on your PC to play the game.
Why this matters: Java has a reputation for opening enormous security holes in PCs and security experts have long advised us to dump Java unless it was absolutely necessary to keep it. In January, security firm Secunia ApS issued a report that said Java was the single biggest security risk for American PC users. That same month Oracle released a quarterly security update that patched 19 vulnerabilities in Java, fourteen of which could be exploited from a webpage. Removing the system-wide version of Java and replacing it with a version that only executes when Minecraft is running dramatically reduces your system’s security risk.
Windows PCs only for now
At the moment, the self-installed version of Java with Minecraft is only available for Windows users. A new launcher is apparently in the works for OS X users too.
While the new change is good news for longtime Minecraft users, you’ll have to take a few extra steps before uninstalling Java via the Control Panel. The problem is that older profiles will still default to using the system-wide version of Java, but with a few tweaks you can put an end to that.
We won’t get into that process here, but How-To Geek—which first reported on the Minecraft change—has everything you need to know. The site also has some performance comparisons between the system-wide and Minecraft-contained versions of Java.
Once you’ve done away with Java why not consider dumping other security-challenged software from your PC like Adobe’s Reader and Flash?
Epic Games made history at last year’s Game Developers Conference when it opened its Unreal Engine 4 up to all via a monthly subscription model. At this year’s conference, the company is doing away with monthly licensing fees and making its popular engine free for all to use.
In exchange for use of the engine, Epic Games will earn a five percent royalty on gross revenue after the first $3,000 per product, per quarter should a developer monetize a game or application built using Unreal Engine 4.
The change is effective immediately. Epic will be issuing a pro-rated refund to current subscribers for their most recent month’s payment. What’s more, anyone that has ever paid for a subscription will receive a $30 credit that can be used in the Unreal Engine Marketplace.
Up to this point, Unreal Engine 4 set developers back $19 per month.
Just to reiterate, we’re talking about the full version of Unreal Engine 4, not some watered-down trial version. It includes all of the C++ source code and tools that Epic uses to build its own games. The engine also includes game templates, content samples and tutorials to help newcomers get acclimated to using it.
Epic also released a teaser trailer of sorts that showcases clips from multiple games built using its latest engine including Batman: Arkham Knight, DMC: Definitive Edition and Hellblade.
The bulk of today’s press release announcing a March 10 release for the PC port of Assassin’s Creed Rogue is strictly boilerplate. Then you get to the last paragraph and read that “the Assassin’s Creed Rogue PC development team in Kiev has partnered with Tobii Tech to integrate eye tracking input as a component of gameplay.” Wait, what?
Thankfully, the folks at Tobii go into much more detail in their own press release, describing what they’re calling an “infinite screen” experience in Rogue. When a player looks to the left side of the screen, for instance, an eye tracker can measure that gaze at 50 frames per second and report it back to the game. That causes the in-game protagonist to look to his left and the camera to automatically pan to show what he’s looking at.
A Tobii illustration shows how eye tracking works.
You can still use traditional mouselook at the same time, but the idea seems to be that you won’t want to once you’ve experienced what Tobii calls “the next evolution of human interfaces in gaming.” A short video from the developers demonstrates how the technology will work, showing the game reacting as the player’s “gaze point” moves across the screen. “The screen automatically centers around whatever you’re looking at, which in essence provides you with this infinite screen where your point of gaze will always control what’s being shown on the screen,” Tobii Tech Software Partners VP Anders Olsson says in the video.
As if that’s not enough, eye tracking users will find the game pauses automatically when they look away from the screen and resumes when they look back. Sounds perfect for gamers who find it too onerous to reach for the escape key every time they want to look up at a Big Bang Theory rerun on the nearby TV.
The main Ars System Guide (last updated in August) is great for what it is—a well-rounded system with a strong focus on gaming ability. However, it has some definite limitations and a few gaps in coverage. And if our System Guide build got much bigger, it might not ever get published.
To get into the specifics, there is a decent gap between the Budget Box (our low-end, affordable build) and the Hot Rod (that “just right” bowl of build porridge). There’s also an enormous gap between the Hot Rod and the God Box (where money is no obstacle). To shift from capable-all-around boxes with gaming capability to boxes that are purely gaming focused requires an equally seismic shift. There’s where our latest System Guide comes in: Meet the special Gaming Boxes.
The goal of Gaming Boxes is two-fold. First, we want to help build boxes that are the best gaming performance for the money. Second, we want to do so while highlighting different price points than what we see in the main System Guide.
The differences between the specialty Gaming Boxes and others may be smaller than some think. With online distribution now mainstream for many gamers, the Gaming Boxes actually need fairly substantial amounts of storage. The shrinking cost of LCD monitors, affordable SSDs, fast video cards, and other components all mean that the adjustments in a build from a more well-rounded box to a gaming-focused box are smaller than they used to be.
Meet the boxes (and their requirements)
The Gaming Boxes put a greater emphasis on gaming performance than the boxes in the main System Guide (Hot Rod-class performance on a Budget Box price, or so goes the cliche.) For those who desire something more than the Hot Rod but don’t need all the storage or processing power of the God Box (and with a stronger bent on value), the Gaming Boxes can provide that too.
To start, the Value Gaming Box sits between the Budget Box and Hot Rod for price but aims for Hot Rod-level gaming performance. With gaming as the primary focus, details like noise and energy efficiency may take a slight hit, although that usually isn’t too severe these days. A target price around $1,000 reflects the narrowing gap between the Budget Box and Hot Rod, but this price point still allows a reasonable CPU, GPU, SSD, and some bulk storage while leaving flexibility for individual builders to bump up a component or two if budgets allow.
The Performance Gaming Box has many superficial similarities to the Hot Rod. The base components making up the Hot Rod are solid, which means bumping up some areas (such as CPU or memory) may be a relatively poor value. Keeping those in the same class as the Hot Rod and focusing on the parts that matter for more gaming panache—the video card(s) and monitor—is likely to be the most effective use of money. Many components do end up tweaked in order to handle the increased power draw of a pair of high-end video cards in SLI/Crossfire and the related demands.
Value is still key, and to that end, the Performance Gaming Box is bifurcated with two variations, each targeted at the extremes of the original Performance Gaming Box price range—$2,000 and $3,000. This wide range allows tremendous flexibility in a key area: monitors. The diverse choices in monitor resolutions, number of monitors, and higher refresh rates can cause a serious strain on the video subsystem. It also can significantly increase cost.
One last thing to note is form factor. Greater efficiency in CPUs and GPUs means smaller form factors are very viable for the Gaming Boxes, and while we may not go to the smallest-possible form factors (microATX and the even smaller mini-ITX), powerful gaming systems no longer need to be built inside standard ATX or massive XL-ATX cases.
Microsoft’s IllumiRoom project was one of the main attractions at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. Several months later, the Redmond-based company said the technology – which illuminates a wall with a flood of lights and images to create a more immersive gaming experience – was too expensive for a consumer launch.
Microsoft has remained mum on the subject for more than a year which led some to speculate that it had been scrapped. We now know that’s not the case as IllumiRoom is back with added features and a brand new name.
IllumiRoom 2.0, or RoomAlive as it’s now being called, uses a series of off-the-shelf projectors and Kinects linked to a small computer to extend the visuals from a single wall to an entire room. The system is said to be completely auto-calibrating and self-locating so it can calculate the 3D geometry of a room within minutes.
Once ready to go, RoomAlive can track multiple players that can interact with the augmented reality world projected around them. As Engadget points out, players can bop enemies whack-a-mole style or physically dodge booby traps. A false move in the latter game will result in a bloody wound being projected onto your body.
RoomAlive is still a proof-of-concept as it remains too cost prohibitive at this point although the potential is certainly there. As technology advances, however, a smaller and cheaper version could have the same sort of potential as the Oculus Rift to shake up the gaming industry.
We’re almost done with July. To some, that’s a sad statement. Soon it will be time to put away the shorts, stow the beach gear, and give up on fruity drinks. The children will go back to school while the adults merely tick off one more summer gone by.
But lament the onslaught of fall all you want: If you play games, you know the fair season is by far the best time of the year—new release after new release, and enough news to drown in. Oh, I can’t wait.
Until then we have light-hearted summer news to deal with: Ubisoft wants you to play Far Cry 4 on Mount Everest, and The Last of Us is now a stage musical. But there are also more substantial tidbits worked into this installment of Missing Pieces—your weekly wrap-up of must-know gaming news.
Summit Everest and Digital Everest
Tired of playing video games from the comfort of your desk like some sort of plebe? At San Diego Comic-Con this week, Ubisoft announced that one person will win the chance to play Far Cry 4 while hiking Mount Everest, using an unspecified piece of portable gaming hardware “built to withstand the harsh conditions in the Himalayas.”
Apparently this is supposed to be “an exciting opportunity” and not “some sort of punishment for an unspecified crime you didn’t know you committed.” If you’re part of the “excited” group, you can sign up by visiting this website. More details in the video below:
It has been quite a long time since Atari sat atop the gaming world. Its once top of the line titles and its well known Atari 2600 console seem like relics of the past to today’s gamer. While the company hasn’t seen much attention outside of its bankruptcy proceedings in 2013 and the New Mexico excavation of its legendary E.T. games, its new CEO Fred Chesnais wants to change all that.
Atari recently release an updated mobile version of its classic Haunted House title on iOS with more titles slated for later in 2014. Chesnais, who actually ran Atari as the CEO previously between 2004 and 2007, plans to revive the brand through various avenues including gaming, online gambling and TV. His first main step will be to allow experienced development studios to license Atari brands in order to make great new products.
When it comes to games, Atari has plans to continue to reboot its older classics for mobile platforms as well as create all new experiences. The company will be bringing back its popular Asteroids title from 1979 once again. The once retro space shooter will go mobile and multiplayer but also have something to do with the survival genre, according to Wired.
While it is illegal in the US, real-money gambling over the internet has picked up overseas in a big way and Chesnais wants Atari to capitalize on it. Some studies suggest that online casino games and things of that nature could garner up to 168 million users by 2018. The reviving gaming icon has already tapped two developers to begin work on Atari Casino, a casino style, social gambling game for mobile platforms that will come in two variants. One studio (FlowPlay) is handling the casual version of the game that only contains virtual currency gambling and the other (Pariplay) will handle the real money version.
Atari will also branch out to create original TV programming for YouTube and places like that. Its efforts will kick off with a video blog on TheRealPele.com set to cover famous soccer player Pele around the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Chesnais feels strongly that this type of content is another way for Atari to recreate itself for a new generation. Chesnais said “We’re not just competing against gaming companies anymore. At the end of the day, it’s a competition for the user’s time…We have to be there..We cannot ignore another revolution.”
Market research firm DFC Intelligence believes that revenues from PC games have now surpassed revenues from console games, in what is an interesting call on a market that is often branded as “dying” by various people involved with the gaming industry.
David Cole, head of DFC, told UK website PCR that the shift to PC games as the leading revenue stream in the gaming market wasn’t expected to occur until 2015, but free-to-play and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) titles continue to perform strongly. Cole stated that MOBA games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends are the dominant force on PC, followed by a mix of MMOs, strategy games and first-person shooters.
Cole says that “among core gamers there is a heavy overlap with most console gamers also playing on a PC. The big difference is that consoles are now the luxury item and PCs are the necessity. Just a few years ago the reverse was true. This means PCs have the broader audience.”
While DFC didn’t reveal the numbers behind their statement – you’ll have to purchase their $2,995 report for a detailed analysis – Cole did mention an interesting statistic. According to their data, no game released in 2013 made the list of top 20 most played games that year, although new titles Hearthstone, DayZ and Rust have entered the list in Q1 2014.
It’s always good to hear that PC gaming continues to be popular around the world, and it’s not too surprising that free-to-play games are leading the way. With that said, it’d be interesting to know how well paid AAA games on PC (like Borderlands 2 and Skyrim) sell compared to their console counterparts, and whether that gap is about to close any time soon.