Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.
May 13, 2022

I hope you're having a terrific Friday.

I'm suddenly having live-service game panic. Need to finish up that last Destiny 2 season so I'm ready for the next one.

  • Today's edition: 1,211 words, 4 1/2 minutes.

1 big thing: Unity's ambitions

Photo illustration of Marc Whitten and a pattern of Unity logos.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Unity

Tech giant Unity may be a gaming company by heritage, but its overall goal these days is to popularize 3D graphics in every walk of life, one of the company’s senior vice presidents, Marc Whitten, tells Axios.

Why it matters: Unity is already one of the leading creators of tools for making games, and is positioned, through key acquisitions, to make its tech more relevant to the rest of the world.

What they’re saying: “We think real-time 3D is going to reinvent pretty much every industry,” Whitten says.

  • To be clear, he didn’t mean to use the popular buzz term “metaverse” and its notion of virtual meetup spaces. We checked. “I think ‘metaverse’ is important,” Whitten said, “but I personally think real-time 3D is probably a broader definition.”
  • “There’s lots of things that are really just about people trying to get their job done — whatever that particular job is — where 3D itself and in particular interactive physics-aware simulation-aware 3D makes that job better.”
  • An example: Proximie, a company that lets a doctor remotely and virtually interact with a live surgical procedure, showing where to make an incision. Think of the construction and logistics industries too.

Buying spree: Unity has been Hoovering up tech and tools companies in the past year, including streaming service Parsec, Hollywood special effects house Weta Digital, and machine-learning character creation outfit Ziva Dynamics.

  • The common denominator, Whitten says, is enabling more people to more easily create more 3D art.
  • As more fields embrace real-time 3D, they’ll need to make a lot more art, Whitten says, noting that game companies already have swelling art teams to keep up rendering their virtual worlds.

Between the lines: Unity is already so widely used in gaming and beyond, that the company’s able to turn out eye-popping numbers.

  • It boasts that its Operate division, which supports games once they launch with ad and monetization tech, among other services, supported 200,000 launches last year.
  • Whitten says 15,000 projects are started in Unity each day.
  • When game engine company Epic is brought up, Whitten says they’re not viewed as a competitor, since Epic-backed games still use Unity services. He is also ready to share that 70% of mobile games are made on Unity, and 50%+ of PC games are made on Unity.

One bad number for Unity: Its stock dropped 37% this week after reporting increased revenue but a net loss and acknowledging problems with its ad-targeting tech.

Yes, but: Unity’s ubiquity has raised some concern internally in terms of who the company partners with. A Vice report in August detailed worker concern about partnerships with the Defense Department.

  • Unity says it won’t support projects that cause harm to humans or the climate or deprive people of their rights, but critics aren't sure all projects truly adhere.
  • Whitten says there is “still work to continue to drive around those missions,” and said that in some cases the company needed to be more transparent.

What’s next: Look for many more games and projects made on Unity — plus an adaptation of the tools from Weta and others into products more potential Unity customers can use.

2. The week ahead

Video game screenshot of a bird's eye view of a mountain range and a city next to it.
Old World. Screenshot: Mohawk Games

There will be plenty of corporate news events next week, but not a whole lot of major new games.

  • Programming note: This very newsletter will have an unusual schedule next week, as I’ll send you editions on Monday and Friday but am going dark midweek. Back to the normal schedule the week following.

Saturday and Sunday, May 14 & 15

Monday, May 16

  • Take-Two reports quarterly and full-year earnings.
  • Fall Guys developers Mediatonic host a “big announcement” livestream

Tuesday, May 17

Wednesday, May 18

  • Tencent reports quarterly earnings.

Thursday, May 19

  • Shareholders vote on proposed Zynga sale to Take-Two Interactive.
  • The Embracer Group reports quarterly earnings.
  • Paramount Plus’ live-action Halo series airs its season finale.

Friday, May 20

3. Need to know

😲 One out of every four Nintendo Switches sold last year were bought by people who already owned one, Nintendo says.

↘️ U.S. consumer spending on video games in April was $4.3 billion, down 8% from the year before, according to the NPD group.

  • The new Lego Star Wars was the month’s top release, and the Switch was the top platform in units. It surpassed the PS4 to become the fourth-best-selling console in American history, behind the PS2, Xbox 360 and Wii.

🤔 Square Enix, which announced the sale of its three biggest western development studios (and intellectual property such as Tomb Raider and Deus Ex) earlier this month, hopes to establish new studios, according to its latest report to investors.

  • Its investments are focused on bolstering its core Japanese-developed franchises and expanding into fields such as cloud, AI and blockchain gaming.

💰 The best-known NFT video game, Axie Infinity, continues to struggle amid the ongoing crypto crash, with the value of its in-game token declining to $0.004, Kotaku reports.

🐓 Battle royale PUBG saw its player base “nearly tripled” in the first three months of 2022 compared to the prior quarter, thanks to the game switching to free-to-play in January, publisher Krafton announced today.

😀 Van Mai, the woman responsible for the first-ever console game to star a human female, 1982's Wabbit, might have been forgotten by history, if not for some careful internet sleuthing, the Video Game History Foundation explains.

4. What’s old is slightly new again

Video game screenshot of armed men standing in front of the U.S. Capitol building
The Division 2. Screenshot: Ubisoft

Here’s a trend in the making: Games from a few years ago that their developers seemed to be done with are getting unexpected expansions.

Driving the news: Exhibit A is The Division 2, Ubisoft’s para-military action game largely set in a destroyed Washington, D.C. It just got its first batch of new content since February 2021, with the promise of more to come.

  • Ubisoft issued an even more surprising update last December to 2018’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. That game hadn’t received new content since 2019, seemingly abandoned in the wake of a separate 2020 Assassin’s Creed game.
  • In March, Nintendo didn't quite dust off 2017's Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It still sells millions every year. But it did start releasing waves of additional race tracks, after leaving that game untouched for years.

Between the lines: Publishers are recognizing opportunities with large user bases that they are no longer content to abandon in the interest of just selling them a sequel.

  • It probably helps that big publishers now sell half or more of their games as digital downloads. In the disc days of old, players may have sold their games back to GameStop or friends by now, but in the digital era, most people can redownload their games when there's new stuff to play in them.

Yes, but: Reviving an old game with new content can be tricky, especially for indie developers who face some hard math about whether it's worth it, as this piece in Vice about a new, surprise expansion to the 2016 game Furi explains.

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🐦 Find me on Twitter: @stephentotilo.

Expand Assassin's Creed Origins next, please.