Author Archives: Kieran O Hara

The Last Of Us Part 2

What you may need to know:

1. Games spending has continued to thrive as lockdown continues with spending on digital games recorded at $10.46B in June 2020. This is the second highest total ever after April’s $10.54B spend and another $10.2B in May.

2. The big winner on console this summer was The Last of Us Part 2 which sold 2.8M digital units in June, even though it’s only available on Playstation. Pent up demand in the form of pre-orders for TLOU2 accounted for over two thirds of June’s sales.

3. On PC, Valorant from Riot Games had the biggest launch ever for a free-to-play PC title. Also doing well on PC in June was Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but its numbers were down for the second month in a row suggesting that players are moving from CS:GO to Valorant.

4. Some existing games received a boost this Summer with the release of either new seasons or expansion packs. The new season of Destiny 2, combined with preorders for the Beyond Light expansion due in November resulted in a 45% increase in player count and a 221% increase in revenue in June.

5. The same goes for Pokémon Sword & Shield which recorded its highest monthly digital earnings since launch as a result of the mid-June release of the Isle of Armor expansion pack.

6. On mobile, Pokémon GO earnings were up 12% year on year. Due to its reliance on Augmented Reality, it could have been one of the few titles to have been negatively impacted by lockdown as it is designed to be played outside. Instead Pokémon GO moved to selling remote raid passes at the end of April, which allowed players to join in-game battles without the need to travel to certain physical locations.

Worldwide digital games market: June 2020 (SuperDataResearch)

Graphics from Unreal Engine 5 rendered on a Playstation 5

What you may need to know

1. Last week Sony made a $250 million investment in Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite and Unreal Engine which has been used to develop hundreds of third party games. The Guinness Book of World Records called Unreal the “most successful videogame engine” of all time.

2. Contrast this with the $330 million investment that Chinese conglomerate Tencent paid in 2012 for a 40% share in (an admittedly pre-Fortnite) Epic Games.

3. Sony’s investment gives Epic a near $18 billion valuation, or a 20x return on Tencent’s investment to date. Epic’s revenue for 2020 is forecast to be around $5 billion, and not all from Fortnite.

4. The investment paves the way for greater integration between Sony and Epic outside of just gaming and Unreal’s use in Sony’s upcoming Playstation 5 launch.

5. Think of how Unreal could be used in the production of the Spiderman movie, or how a musician whose touring revenue is currently curtailed might stage a virtual concert in Fortnite as Sony’s Travis Scott did in April this year, bringing more than 12 million players onto the platform to view the event.

6. Sony needs Epic more than Epic needs Sony. Epic has successfully monetised the infrastructure that their core business was built on to the point that the infrastructure has become one of their core businesses.

7. There are currently more than 7 million people who license Unreal Engine for both gaming and enterprise. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has already predicted that enterprise users of Unreal Engine will overtake game users soon with applications as diverse as architecture, medical research and car manufacturing.

8. Or, the Metaverse. The Epic CEO thinks that we’re three years away from a viable digital reality that converges with actual reality, like in almost every Black Mirror episode ever. I wouldn’t bet against him.

Kieran’s verdict: Invest early in the metaverse to avoid virtual disappointment later.

Previously: Broadsheet Game Review on broadsheet

What you may need to know

1. Pokémon day was yesterday, but you probably already knew that.  It celebrates the anniversary of the launch of the first Pokémon video games in Japan in 1996 by introducing a new Pokémon called Zarude, a rogue, bipedal monkey that can’t be encountered in regular gameplay. Gigantamax versions of Grimmsnarl, Kingler, Orbettle and Hatterene will be appearing in Max Raid Battles for a limited time, as well as the the Kanto starters Squirtle, Bulbasaur, Charmander and the legendary psychic Pokémon Mewtwo. Gotta catch ‘em all!

2. This update demonstrates how publishers can continue to upsell their product long after the initial outlay, something that the Pokémon Company are masters at due to their massive catalogue of over 800 characters.

3. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are basically the same game, they just contain different Pokémon. Each costs €60 to download and players are rewarded for buying both with additional content. There are two expansion packs for the game due later this year that will add another 200 Pokémon to the games, at a cost of €30 each.

4. In the past Pokémon have released enhanced versions rather than expansions packs. Pokémon Red and Blue were followed up by Yellow. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were released as enhanced versions of Pokémon Sun and Moon. That’s just repackaging existing content and making players start all over again. With the Sword and Shield expansion packs, players can continue their journey without loosing the contents of their Pokédex, so no need to start from scratch, but you still have to pay for access to new content.

5. While other publishers struggle with in-game monetisation due to the backlash against in-game purchases and loot-boxes, Pokémon can lean on a 24 year legacy of recycled and upcycled content that it cross promotes through Switch, DS, mobile, TV shows, movies, cards, comics, music, eSports tournaments, toys and gaming hardware. That’s the real monster.

Kieran’s Verdict: More wallet monster than pocket monster.

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield: currently available on Nintendo Switch.
Isle of Armor Expansion Pack: June 2020.
Crown Tundra Expansion Pack: Autumn 2020.

Two days after Christmas day, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment published the National Cyber Security Strategy that outlined how the government plans to protect the state against cyber crime.

In case you were doing something else that day and didn’t get the chance to read it, here’s what you may need to know.

1. In September 2018 the Comptroller and Auditor General reported that “The overall strategic direction of the National Cyber Security Centre is not clear. There is no strategic plan currently in place.” The C&AG also questioned whether the body was sufficiently funded. Fast forward to the final days of 2019 and the publication of the strategy covering 2019-2024.

2. The report identifies 20 measures intended to “to protect our nation, to develop our cyber security sector, and to deepen our international engagement on the future of the internet.” These measures cover the areas of National Capacity Development, Critical National Infrastructure Protection, Public Sector Data and Networks, Skills, Enterprise Development, Engagement and Citizens.

3. The measures will impact all government departments and requires specific input from a further eight as well as all of the following stakeholders; the National Cyber Security Centre, the National Security Analysis Centre, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, the Office of Public Works, An Garda Siochana, the Defense Forces, the Central Bank, COMREG, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, the Irish Aviation Authority, the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of Emergency Planning, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure UK, Telecoms Operators, Skillnets, SOLAS, the Government IT Security Forum, Science Foundation Ireland, Cyber Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. They’ve totally got this, we’ll be fine.

4. Four types of cyber risks are identified. (i) Strategic Risks that include threats from rogue actors and the risk that comes from hosting over 30% of all Europe’s data. This risk extends beyond just the data centres to include the infrastructure that supports them, both public and private. (ii) Hybrid Threats, which are defined by the EU as “combining coercive and subversive measures, using both conventional and unconventional tools and tactics (diplomatic, military, economic, and technological) to destabilise the adversary.” (iii) Risks to Critical National Infrastructure and Public Sector Systems and Data (see point 5). (iv) Risk to Citizens and Business including phishing scams and cyber crime.

5. The report gives special credence to Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) across seven named sectors (energy, transport, drinking water, banking, financial markets, healthcare and digital infrastructure). Seventy ‘Operators of Essential Services’ have been identified and are subject to a formal set of security requirements and are obliged to follow a predefined reporting process when in the event of a security breach. The NCSC has enforcement powers and can conduct security assessments and audits in 5 of the 7 identified sectors.

6. One thing the report does well is to break down each of the 20 measures into their component parts, identify each component’s owner and stakeholders and put a timeframe on each task’s completion. There are 50 tasks scheduled for completion this year, 12 of them due to be completed by the end of March. Time will tell.

Kieran’s verdict: The report, much like all cyber security, feels reactionary. It will always be a barn door closing industry, but the target of training a 5000 strong army of security personnel over the next three years should help to keep a few horses in their stables.

National Cyber Security Strategy

What you may need to know.

1. The Commodore 64 was first released in 1982 and went on to earn the Guinness Book of Records world record as the highest-selling computer of all time. It also held the record for the longest time for games to load, probably.

2. In 2018 the C64 Mini was released. Half the size of the original, it came preloaded with 64 classic games and plugged straight into the telly but it had a fake keyboard. If you wanted to practice your Basic programming skills you had to plug in a USB keyboard.

3. Now a full size replica of the original is available with working keyboard and an improved joystick. It’s a lovingly created facsimile, right down to the font and PETSCII characters on the keys.

4. Some of the preloaded games have been copied over from the C64 Mini and some new ones have been added, but most are obscure titles. If you want to play The Last Ninja, Bubble Bobble, Maniac Mansion, Emlyn Hughes International Soccer, Ghostbusters or Barry McGuigan World Championship Boxing you’ll have to download and install them the old school way (LOAD”*” ,8,1).

5. And that’s the problem. If you want to play old school games, just add an emulator to your PC, Android or even a Raspberry Pi. There’s no reason to plug a large, plastic, mostly empty box into your TV beyond a nostalgic pining for 8-bit games.

Kieran’s verdict: Emotional attachment to the games from your childhood, much like the Commodore 64, is something best left broken and gathering dust in your mam’s attic.

Not sure what to buy for the vitamin D-deficient, monosyllabic, repetitive stress-suffering, online friends but no real life friends-having, working on a screen all day and coming home to relax on a screen all night, no eye contact-making, glaucoma-ignoring, sweatpants-wearing, non team sports-playing, struggles to differentiate between reality and the online world special someone in your life?

It’s not too late to show that you understand with one of these top games from 2019 below.

Or vouchers.

Maybe just get them vouchers.

For clothes.

1. Best AAA game

Death Stranding (PS4 only for now)

You’re a post-apocalyptic postman with a side gig as an inter-colony wifi technician. A bit like real postmen, you are delivering cargo to decimated colonies following the arrival of destructive creatures from a realm between life and death.

Unlike An Post, you are encouraged to delivery your packages efficiently and with care. Impeding your work are a cabal of porters who are trying to steal your cargo so they can deliver it themselves (UPS in this analogy).

Part movie/part video game, Death Stranding stars photo realistic versions of Norman Reetus, Mads Mikkelsen and for some reason Guiellermo Del Toro, in an open world, stealth exploration story-line that is combative, sometimes insane and quite exhausting.

Buy this for: Someone with lots of time to spare.

2. Best indie game

Sayonara Wild Hearts (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Apple Arcade)

Short in length, but high in emotion, Sayonara Wild Hearts follows the story of a woman who tries to heal a recent heartbreak by restoring balance to the world. She does this by collecting hearts while sword fighting, having dance offs, riding motor bikes and deer, she sometimes rides a deer.

Each part of the world has its own theme music that aligns with the mood of the main character and which by extension impacts the mood of the player. The game’s input controls are minimalist, just one button and an analogue stick, but there is a third essential input that the game takes – the player’s rhythm.

To succeed you must tune into the patterns in the game’s soundtrack and not the patterns that you see on the screen. Do this right and you’ll align your hand and ear to the point that you don’t memorise the gameplay, instead you feel your way through.

Buy this for: Someone who considers music videos an artform.

3. Best free-to-play game

Apex Legends (PlayStation 4, XBox One, PC)

Somewhere in this game’s studio there are Post-Its on a wall from a brainstorming session where they asked everyone in the building to name what they enjoyed about free-to-play games.

Suggestions included battle royale, first person shooter, mercenaries, squads, complex maps, safe zones, loot scavenging, inventory accumulation, armor, grinding, in-came currencies, micro-transactions, content updates, flying, team communications, respawns, obscure yet pompous title and much more. Someone said, ‘good meeting team, let’s do it’, and so they did, beautifully.

While not creating anything original, Apex Legends raised the bar of every component of free to play games and made an engaging and highly playable version of Fortnight for adults.

Buy this for: Someone who also spent zero euros on your present.

PS: Fortnight is also free to play. If you’re buying a boxed version in-store what you’re really buying is in-game currency. Still a nice present, but that money might be better spent in the real world. On vouchers. Clothes vouchers are probably best, they have enough of those games. .

PPS: If Santa is bringing a console or game this Christmas, make sure he loads it up before the big day or else you could be faced with over an hour of downloads on Christmas morning. If he’s bringing controllers they might need to be charged up too. Happy Gamesmas!

Top pic via Grunge

What you may need to know

1. Stadia is Google’s foray into the $150bn game industry. There’s no console, as games are streamed up to a 4K resolution at 60 frames per second. It’s accessible via laptop, desktop, Chrome OS tablet, Pixel phone or on your TV using a Chromecast Ultra.

2. Stadia is not fully adopting the Netflix model, in that you still have to purchase most games rather than gain access to a library that you can choose from. The current pool of games is small, with headliners including Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption II.

3. A free base service will be coming next year, but for now there is only the option to pay for the Pro monthly subscription that will allow you to stream at higher rates and offer you access to some free games. To access the service you first need to purchase the Stadia Premier Edition for €129 which gets you a controller, a Chromecast Ultra and three months’ access to the Stadia Pro service.

4. Google seem to have gone to market with an MVP that they plan to iterate on. This might work for its software products, but hasn’t worked as they try to disrupt the mature console market. The product feels unfinished and is highly dependent on users’ internet speeds.

5. Stadia will improve as it evolves. More games will added, with online multiplayer, latency will improve, Youtube will be integrated, it will unshackle itself from the Pixel phone, 5G will become a reality.

6. Or… that won’t happen and Stadia will join all of the other products in the cemetery where things that we once loved are buried.

Kieran’s verdict: Still in beta.

What you may need to know

1. It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose. So starts Untitled Goose Game in which you play the titular goose terrorising a quaint English village with a pleasingly annoying HONK!

2. On the surface, UGG is a stealth puzzle game in which your are set a series of tasks to complete. Alternatively, you use your goosey powers for evil by tormenting the locals, stealing their possessions, harassing shopkeepers and bullying bespectacled children to the point where your day can only get better by making someone else’s day much worse.

3. A bit like real geese, the dicks.

4. Goose Game’s plot is short – you can play the main storyline in under three hours. It also suffers from the same drawback as most single player puzzle games in that once you’ve beaten it you’ll be unlikely to return to the solve the riddle a second time.

5. That said, it’s still a joy to play. From the animation of the befuddled, plodding villagers to the classical score which rises and falls depending on whether you are chasing or being chased, who knew that being a sadistic goose could bring such pleasure?

6. The creator‘s previous effort was Push Me Pull You (2016), a game they described as being about friendship and wrestling. But that’s only true if your friends are human centipedes with heads at both ends. Oh and they can swap their human heads for dog heads. The gameplay is secondary to the insanity of the setup.

7. Untitled Goose Game is available now on PC and Mac via the Epic Games Store and for the Switch from the Nintendo eShop.

Kieran’s Verdict: Honking good fun.