#85: Return of the thing

We're back! Let's get caught up on a surprisingly busy start to 2022.

Hello! I trust you all had a suitably festive and restive break. Apologies for Hit Points returning rather later than its intended date of January 5; after two weeks with the kids, I found I needed some more time to recover and — such is the luxury of the self-employed! — realised I could take it. (For those of you on the paid list, I paused billing, so your renewal date has been pushed back by however many days Hit Points was on hiatus. It has now been resumed.) I spent some time polishing off a couple of consulting projects, and lining up interviews for Max HP, the subscriber-exclusive interview series which returns later this month. I also put my feet up a bit and played some videogames, which was nice.

Despite expecting a slow start to the year, there’s actually been quite a lot of news, hasn’t there? Quite a few of the ol’ developments. Probably makes sense to get started with a recap of sorts.

Take Two buys Zynga

I almost came back off holiday the day this was announced because it is clearly Big and Important, but didn’t really have anything to say about it. After a few days of mulling it over, I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. It certainly looks to me like Take Two has substantially overpaid for a company that, while having recovered significantly from its Don Mattrick-era doldrums, is far from the force it once was. And, well, it’s not a very exciting deal, is it? It does not stir the old loins, exactly. This is not an industry-shaking megaton like Microsoft buying Bethesda; rather it is a videogame company spending the equivalent of the GDP of Namibia on the FarmVille guys. It is a difficult thing to get excited about (particularly if you’re Namibian).

That, however, is a question of perspective (unless you’re Namibian). While we may not pay it much attention in these parts, mobile is by far the biggest market in the industry, worth over $120 billion last year and forecast to be worth more than double that by decade’s end. Zynga is one of its major players, and not just in terms of software or users; its Chartboost platform is a big deal for advertising and user acquisition, and the latter is harder than ever on mobile since the IDFA changes introduced by Apple last year. The deal greatly increases Take Two’s reach, and hugely broadens its demographics beyond the audience that buys 2K sports games and plays GTA. Sure, $12.7bn seems like a lot, but Zynga made $2.8bn in revenue last year. It’ll pay for itself pretty quickly, eh.

PlayStation VR 2

I appreciate Sony persisting with virtual reality, given that none of the other platform holders give a monkey’s about it and we can safely assume that, with Index and Half-Life: Alyx shipped, the creative minds at Valve have now wheeled their desks over to the Steam Deck team, or wherever. A number of studios have spent the last few years refashioning themselves as VR specialists, and I’m glad they’re not having the rug pulled from beneath them. And it is without doubt a good thing that VR’s fate is not being solely controlled by clammy cyborg prototype Mark Zuckerberg. Indeed, Zuck throwing the full weight of one of the biggest companies on the planet behind VR suggests a rather more secure future for it, at least for now. And if it gets us an Astro Bot sequel then so much the better.

A good thing, then, this PSVR2 business, though I don’t particularly want one in the house. VR always feels like too much of a faff to me, a professional obligation rather than a recreational pursuit. I still have nightmares about the day I spent fitting an HTC Vive, with its army of sensors, into my home office while staring down the barrel of an Edge deadline. (Out of options and ideas, the fourth sensor ended up on top of a stack of empty cardboard boxes). Sony’s new headset may cut down on the ungainly morass of cabling that its forebear required, but one cable is still one too many. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but my house feels a little smaller after all these lockdowns. There is stuff in every corner, online orders and toys on every surface, furniture all over the place. Clearing enough space for a stress-free VR session is an afternoon’s work — and even then, I’d probably send the dog flying when punching some virtual goon. I’ll leave life in the metaverse to Zuck and co.

Oh Good, NFTs

The blasted things aren’t going anywhere in 2022, something made depressingly clear by Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda in a New Year’s Letter published while most of us were still nursing our New Year’s Hangover. “I realise that some people who “play to have fun” and who currently form the majority of players have voiced their reservations toward these new trends, and understandably so,” he parped, before somehow turning that into a reason to ignore all those people. He pledged his full-throated support for NFTs, play-to-earn, the blockchain and sundry investor-catnip buzzwords.

My attitude to NFTs is now somewhat akin to the way conservative western governments are viewing the Omicron variant. We’re just going to have to let this nonsense rip through the game industry, hope that its impact is relatively mild, and bank on things returning to normal down the line. Ubisoft’s early experiments with NFTs have hardly set the industry alight: the few that are selling at all are not selling for much, and their impact in Ghost Recon Breakpoint has been negligible (as finely shown this week by Waypoint reporter and Hit Points chum Patrick Klepek). It appears that what works for crypto dullards who want to make money does not necessarily work for people who “play to have fun”. Who knew! Oh right, yes. All of us.

But sure, I understand that executives whose primary function is maximising value for shareholders are duty-bound to at least dip a toe in this stuff. I suppose we shall just have to let them get on with it. If you thought the Omicron analogy a little distasteful — and you may have had a point there, if I’m honest — here’s something a little closer to home: it’s like the kids tearing the house apart a wet Sunday afternoon. It’s annoying and disruptive and you’re worried something or someone is going to get broken, but there’s not much you can do about it. Just let the little buggers tire themselves out, and steel yourself until bedtime. Peace and quiet will be along in due course.

Not-E3 returns

The new year brought a very early, perhaps even premature, cancellation of the planned return to in-person festivities at the greatest show on videogaming Earth. Omicron’s peak will surely be long over by June, no? Several reporters claimed after the announcement that the ESA had actually given up its dates at the LA Convention Center a few months ago, but I’ve heard the opposite: that the E3 organisers are fully committed and can’t back out, but simply haven’t been able to sell enough booth space to make it happen.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the result is the same: another summer sat on our arses at home, drinking Old Fashioneds through a wet British summer, WhatsApping our pals through livestreams in a poor approximation of the real thing amid a further concentration of industry-showcase power by Everywhere’s Geoff Keighley. I’m disappointed, but also somewhat relieved: I likely wouldn’t be able to afford the trip this year anyway. It gives me another 12 months to make Hit Points so successful it can fund a first-class trip in 2023! Assuming E3 itself survives another year, anyway. Fingers crossed on both counts, I suppose.


  • The most striking thing about this week’s NYT interview with Phil Spencer is his coining of the phrase ‘virtue shaming’, in reference to Microsoft’s response to Activision Blizzard’s misconduct scandal. First we managed to make ‘being a nice person’ a bad thing by calling it ‘virtue signalling’; now we’re doing the same with ‘acknowledging things that are bad’. I’m really not sure this whole human-race thing is going to work out.
  • The dust has long since settled, but the Dying Light ‘500 hours to complete’ kerfuffle is such a breathtakingly bad bit of comms work that I can’t let it go unaddressed. Astounding. (If you’re a developer hoping to avoid a spectacular, and spectacularly needless, communications disaster and would like some help in doing so, simply reply to this email.)
  • Atsushi Inaba is the new president and CEO of PlatinumGames, replacing incumbent bossman Kenichi Sato. Perhaps Inaba can redress the balance somewhat at a studio that is brilliant on its day, but makes absolute stinkers on all the others. Is there a more inconsistent developer in the industry? “I appreciate your unchanging support,” he cheered.
  • Sony is hoiking prepaid PS Now cards from sale at UK retailers, seemingly in preparation for the unveiling of its new all-in-one subscription service. That said, a Sony statement this afternoon says that Now cards are merely being phased out to make way for service-agnostic, fixed-amount gift cards, which is far less exciting and therefore probably true. Gah.
  • Tributes have been paid to Stewart Gilray, founder of UK studio Just Add Water, who sadly succumbed to Covid-19 last week, and to Lionhead and Bullfrog veteran Paul McLaughlin, who passed away in December.
  • Here’s Troy Baker — the second-best voice actor in that game you like — being unpleasantly bullish about NFTs. “You can hate, or you can create,” he thundered. Why not both, Troy? He has since admitted he “might have been a bit antagonistic”. Nonetheless, this attitude is a growing trend. Yesterday ngmoco founder Neil Young announced the sale of his latest venture, N3TWORK, to US blockchain outfit Forte, and I found his tone in doing so rather striking. We’re exiting the phase of being told what a wonderful idea all this stuff is. Now it’s more a case of: ‘It’s happening, fucko.’ Jolly good.
  • Top game-industry CEOs trousered $842 million last year. The overall winner was of course your friend and mine Bobby Kotick, who out-earned the median Activision Blizzard salary by a ratio of just 1,560 to one. Happy new year!

Ah, there we go. Feels nice to be back! I hope you agree. As ever, if you’ve enjoyed this, please give it a share. Have a simply exceptional weekend, and I’ll see you all on Monday.