In this Metacast episode, Abhimanyu Kumar, Lars Doucet and Tim Mannveille, join your host Maria Gillies to discuss Riot’s recent introduction to Xbox’s Game Pass, Apple’s stance against fingerprinting and the details behind Savvy Gaming Group.

Riot x Game Pass

  • Context
  • Riot’s games are free to play. However, when purchased on Game Pass, they come with content unlocked that a player would otherwise have to grind for.
    • E.g. calculated that if you played one game a day, it would take 9 years to unlock all 140+ characters in League of Legends. Game Pass subscribers can immediately access all the characters.
  • However, these benefits could make the games less enjoyable.
    • Could remove a sense of progression and make players feel unrewarded when they play.
    • Having too many characters when starting the game could overwhelm new players.
  • Specific details such as whether or not players can resume progress cross platform has yet to be confirmed.
  • The other games shown in Summer Fest and the XBox & Bethesda Games Showcase do not seem particularly original.

Who Is Savvy Gaming Group?

  • Context
    • Savvy Gaming Group is a holding group of 5 companies (including their recently acquired ESL FaceIt Group) owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).
    • As part of Saudi Arabia’s goal to create a thriving, diverse economy, the country is putting $500 billion into the local and international economy, $35-40 billion of which is going to entertainment industries including gaming.
    • The group is headed by Brian Ward, who previously held leadership roles in Electronic Arts, Microsoft and Activision Blizzard → very experienced.
    • They currently hold a 5% stake in Nintendo, Capcom (could be arbitrage bets, as the yen is currently weak against the dollar) and Nexon, a 5-7% stake in Activision Blizzard and Take-Two, and near full ownership of SNK (creators of the King of Fighters games).
  • Savvy recently invested $1 billion into Embracer Group, owning approximately 8% of Embracer’s shared capital.
    • As part of the deal, Embracer has also agreed to carry out M&A operations in the MENA region.
    • Why Embracer? As of September 2021, Embracer owns 108 studios and 560+ IPs. Has also recently made major acquisitions such as Square Enix’s IPs (discussed in this episode) → major and relevant company.
  • Savvy could be a way for Saudi Arabia to enter the gaming arena in a major way.
    • Has the potential to bring major wealth to Saudi Arabia and diversity their oil-dependent economy.
  • Has raised questions about the hyper consolidation of the gaming industry (discussed in this episode) and its possible effect on the creativity of future games.
    • May have a negative effect:
      • Developers may face pressure from their acquiring or stake holder companies to replicate past successes.
      • With less competition, companies will have less reason to innovate.
      • Central planning tends to be less efficient.
    • May have a positive effect:
      • Larger companies could provide safety nets and encourage risk-taking.

Dark Forest Research Sneak Peak

  • Context
    • Lars wrote this article criticising the blockchain’s purpose, seeing that the blockchain games cannot promise immutability, trustless-ness and decentralisation when it stores data on its centralised frontend (See: the oracle problem).
    • However, Dark Forest, a new space conquest play-to-earn game, has accomplished this seemingly impossible task.
  • The game is not really owned or controlled by any party, and anyone can ship code into the game that affects all players whether they opt into the changes or not (EVE Online inspired; idea that anything possible should be legal.)
  • It uses technology called zkSNARK.
    • In simple terms, it makes transactions like card games where cards are played face down; it assures the legality of the move without revealing what it is.
  • The drawback: Only up to 3,000 players can play at a time → faces major scalability issues.
  • The creators, MIT graduates, have turned down any money offered to them and are building it purely from interest.
  • While what they have accomplished is incredible, we have to wait and see if people will find them sufficiently interesting for the project to become influential.

Apple Says “Fingerprinting is Never Allowed”

  • Context
    • Apple just introduced the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) private policy.
    • Users will be prompted to opt in or out of the policy. The policy mandates against the association of third party data with the identifiers of users who opt in.
  • The lack of user data will make it difficult for smaller developers to market their games effectively.
  • It was reported by that 31% of game developers believe their businesses might be forced to close due to new ad regulations and 69% are struggling to find new users.
  • 4 ways for games to get audiences:
    1. Marketing
      • More games are getting published, and of higher and higher quality → marketing is a very important tool for smaller games to find themselves an audience → especially difficult to market now due to ATT.
      • “Build (a good game) and they will come” myth untrue. E.g. Among Us was on the app store for years before suddenly blowing up.
    2. Being a huge IP
    3. Partnering with a huge IP
      • Small studios can leverage on the existing popularity of large IPs through partnerships, crossovers, etc.
    4. Personalisation (adapting a game to player behaviour)
      • Shifting the focus from finding new players to retaining them and encouraging regular spend engagement.
      • Recently, Candy Crush developer King acquired an AI company hoping to improve personalisation systems.
      • However, this still might be too difficult/ expensive for smaller companies.
  • Apple has a lot of power as they control both how users acquire (the iOS App Store) and the device on which they play the game (as opposed to e.g. Steam, which only controls one).
  • As opposed to other huge tech/gaming companies e.g. Microsoft, Apple has a reputation of being unappreciative of gaming beyond a means of profit.
    • Controlling over which games get popular based on what they, rather than players, want to be popular.
    • The ATT shows they may not be looking in the best interest of their game developers.
    • 2 weeks ago, 2 Apple Arcade executives left.
  • Their approach is contrasted with Netflix’s recent advent into gaming, showing a willingness to move beyond the contours of their business to expand and a recognition of developing games to suit a particular business model (in this case, a subscription model).