Interest In VR Games' Titles Rises Ahead Of Holiday

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Interest In VR Games' Titles Rises Ahead Of Holiday
October 26, 2016

Figuring out what to get for your video gamer friends and relatives this holiday season is about to become a lot more complicated.
 
Over the next two months, the game industry is pushing out one of the more crowded product lineups of recent years. What’s different is the sheer amount of stuff: not just blockbuster titles for gaming consoles, but also new hardware, independent games and a bigger emphasis on virtual reality.
 
They are all jostling for attention during the end of the year, which is when around 40 percent of the industry’s sales take place, according to Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities.
 
“The lineup of hardware and software this holiday will look to some to be an evil conspiracy specifically designed to drain the wallets of hard-core gamers,” Mr. Pachter said.
 
The choices might be made even more complicated by the question of whether to buy a game title or just rent it. NPD Group, a research firm that tracks retail sales in the United States, is projecting an increase in spending on rental games from services like GameFly and Redbox, as more people opt to try titles before they purchase.
 
Redbox, which makes games available to rent for $3 a day, said in a February earnings call that video game rentals surged 84 percent during Christmas week last year over the same week of 2014.
 
The wealth of options underlines how console makers and game publishers have to work harder to keep people interested in games, especially with more entertainment options than ever. As a result, the game industry has embraced new technology like virtual reality, as well as new approaches to current products.
 
The appearance of new consoles, for example, is notable because the hardware is coming partway through a typical five-to-seven-year cycle for new consoles. Here is more about what gamers can expect this holiday season:

New Consoles
On Nov. 10, Sony will release the PlayStation 4 Pro console, which will offer more processing power than the PlayStation 4 and include 4K display resolution. The $399 console will support Sony’s new virtual reality headset, PlayStation VR. Also costing $399, PlayStation VR is competing with other virtual reality systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
 
Nintendo will also release a new console next month: the $59 NES Classic Edition, a smaller version of its NES console from 1985. It includes a controller and 30 preinstalled classic Nintendo games, like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.
 
Microsoft, meanwhile, jumped ahead of the pack in August with a new, slimmed-down version of the Xbox One, the $299 Xbox One S, which comes with 4K Blu-ray and 4K video streaming. The company has also announced that a new virtual reality-enabled console, Project Scorpio, will be released during the 2017 holiday season.
 
Seasoned gamers may opt for the Xbox One S or the PlayStation 4 Pro, both of which promise more power and a better visual experience. Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition seems aimed at those who value nostalgia — the low price suggests this may be the better option for those who simply want to rediscover the joy of their gaming youth with something easy to plug in and play.

Blockbuster Console Games
So what games are set to be big this holiday season? The answer: Shooter games. Again.
 
That category of games, where people take on the character of someone doing the shooting, has long been popular for its first-person perspective. This month, the video game publisher Electronic Arts released two shooter games, Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2. Activision is making its latest Call of Duty war game — this one is titled Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare — available in November.
 
Many of these games have long lineages (the Battlefield series has been around since 2002), reflecting how unlikely it is that gamers will ever tire of shooters. Most of the games have multiplayer modes, meaning people can play with their friends. Also, there are essentially no consequences for being killed, since when you die in one of these games, you simply respawn immediately and carry on.
 
Other games that are expected to do well this holiday season also have shooting elements. Those include a third-person shooter game, Gears of War 4 (published by Microsoft); the action adventure game Mafia III (published by Take-Two); and Watch Dogs 2, an open-world adventure game set in a fictionalized version of San Francisco (from Ubisoft).
 
Indie and Mobile Games
Digital and mobile games continue to grow as more people use their smartphones and tablets as casual gaming devices. Those devices are set to become the leading games platform by software revenue this year, generating about $35 billion, up 20 percent from 2015, according to Deloitte. That compares to $32 billion for PC games and $28 billion for console games this year.
 
With the increased use, the quality of mobile and independent games is also improving, especially in graphics and design. “We’re seeing more indie titles with greater polish and the feel of a major game title,” said Kate Edwards, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, a trade group.
 
Ms. Edwards said the independent games that are getting buzz for the holiday season are Cuphead, a run-and-gun platform game drawn in the style of 1930s cartoons and inspired by the work of cartoonists like Max Fleischer (made by Studio MDHR for Microsoft Windows and Xbox One); and Overland, a survival strategy game set in post-apocalyptic North America (made by Finji for PC; $20).
 
Others include Gang Beasts, a melee party video game (made by Boneloaf for PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 VR; $20); Hand of Fate 2, an action role-playing game (made by Defiant Development for PC and Xbox One); and Cryptark, a 2-D science-fiction shooter (made by Alientrap for PC, Mac, Linux and PlayStation 4; $15). That’s right, shooter games again.
 
Still, the games will have to work to stand out from the crowd. An average of about 500 gaming apps are released for Apple iOS devices every day, according to Pocket Gamer, a site that tracks apps offered in the App Store.
 
Virtual Reality
This year, virtual reality became widely available for the first time with the introduction of headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and, most recently, Sony’s PlayStation VR. For many of the headsets, virtual reality games have been crucial.
 
“Major studios and indies alike are all creating in V.R., which means even the most jaded gamer is likely to be surprised by what comes out later this year and beyond,” said Jason Rubin, head of content at Oculus, which is owned by Facebook.
 
Interest in virtual reality games appears to be increasing, according to Mr. Rubin. Samsung Gear VR, a headset that runs on Oculus software, reported more than a million unique users for the last few months, he said.
 
Some virtual reality games that consumers can look forward to include Rock Band VR by Harmonix, a rhythm game that lets players bust out a guitar solo in front of a bustling crowd; The Unspoken, made by Insomniac Games, which allows people to cast spells at rival magicians; and a game called Wilson’s Heart, from the studio Twisted Pixel, in which players must try to escape an abandoned hospital.
 
There will be more to come. Mr. Rubin said developers would continue to experiment with new types of virtual reality experiences, especially in multiplayer games that will plunge several people at once into the same immersive virtual environments.

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