Axios Gaming

Picture of a gaming controller.

Hi, it’s Stephen. My 5-year-old son recently discovered that the digital cameras I got for him and his sister include video games. He tried one, quickly declared that it was about making buildings and went back to snapping photos. It was Tetris.

Today's edition is 1,278 words ... 5 minutes.

1 big thing: A 500-hour game

Video game screenshot that shows the arm of a person extending from the camera as the player's character leaps across a rooftop
Dying Light 2. Screenshot: Techland

A weekend promotional announcement that the upcoming zombie game Dying Light 2 will take 500 hours to complete drew a lot of negative replies.

Why it matters: Big-name games keep getting longer, squeezing out other games and frustrating some players.

Driving the news: “To fully complete Dying Light 2: Stay Human, you'll need at least 500 hours,” Polish studio Techland tweeted Saturday afternoon.

  • Some players responded enthusiastically, saying they were eager to dive into the first-person open-world adventure, in which players explore and fight their way through a city infested with zombies.
  • But negative reactions were abundant: “That’s not ideal. Less is more,” someone tweeted. Another: “I loved your previous games but that is a huge turn off. As a father of two kids I don't have the time.” And another: “500 hours sounds like a lot of repeated content.”
  • Within two hours, Techland tweeted an update: “a regular player should finish the story + side quests and do quite a lot of exploring in less than 100 hours, so don't worry!”

Between the lines: In the world of video games, where an eight-hour run-time for a story-driven game is considered short, 100-hour adventures are increasingly common, albeit controversial.

  • In recent years, Ubisoft has swelled the size of its Assassin’s Creed games from 30-50 hours per installment to 100+ hours.
  • Sales have been strong, even as some fans have complained the newer games drag, contain too much filler or simply don’t fit into busy lives.
  • Executives boast to investors of lengthy per-user playing times, based on the logic that the longer people play, the more likely they are to buy added in-game content.

The numbers: Top games are generally longer these days, according to HowLongToBeat.

  • 2005’s first God of War took about 9 1/2 hours to finish, according to the site; the 2018 God of War: 32 hours.
  • Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros.: 2 hours (once you know what you’re doing); 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey: 26 hours.
  • Techland’s own 2015 original Dying Light: 30 hours to finish the main adventure (55 hours to complete 100%)

The big picture: Most players don’t play that long, as gamers generally don’t finish narrative-driven games.

  • Just under half of the people who played that acclaimed 2018 God of War game, which won numerous Game of the Year awards, finished its story, according to the PlayStation’s trophy tracking system.
  • Players often spend more time in multiplayer games that can be played repeatedly, like a game of poker or basketball.

2. Take-Two and Zynga's mammoth deal

Video game screenshots of mobile games that involve a woman walking with long hair trailing behind her and a woman walking on high heels that are as tall as stilts
Hit hypercasual mobile games Hair Challenge and High Heels. Screenshots: Rollic/Zynga

Grand Theft Auto and NBA 2K publisher Take-Two Interactive announced this morning an agreement to buy FarmVille mobile giant Zynga for $12.7 billion in cash and stock.

Why it matters: The move is all about the white-hot $93-billion mobile scene, showing just how much traditional game publishers will spend to expand in that market.

  • Should the deal be approved by stockholders, Zynga will become a Take-Two label and Zynga management will run Take-Two’s mobile efforts.
  • Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said Zynga’s free-to-play mobile expertise would help bring more company franchises to mobile and expand its portfolio’s reach to markets in India, Latin America and more.
  • Take-Two, like rivals EA and Activision, has been expanding aggressively into mobile in recent years.

The numbers: Take-Two predicts the deal will make mobile 50% of its business in the next year, up from 10%.

  • The combined company will employ 8,000 developers, though executives also predict $100 million in “cost synergies” that involve eliminating “duplicative overhead.”
  • Initial market reaction was negative for Take-Two, sending shares down 15%.

Be smart: The deal is more than just GTA + FarmVille.

  • Zynga gives Take-Two a robust mobile gaming advertising platform and an emerging blockchain/NFT gaming division.
  • Take-Two also gets a Star Wars game (rivals Ubisoft and EA already have some) and publisher Rollic Games' scores of “hypercasual” games like Hair Challenge that are often targeted at women.
  • And Take-Two moves further from the days when investors criticized it for being squarely reliant on Rockstar Games for its success.

3. You ask, we answer

Video game screenshot of a man in a Hawaiian shirt putting his feet up on the desk of a man in a pink suit who is waving his hands
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy. Screenshot: Rockstar Games

It’s time for our weekly Q&A. As always, you can send in questions by replying to this newsletter.

Q. Why is it that more and more games are being released seemingly at an unfinished/not fully tested state? ... It seems like every major release is plagued with some sort of issue on release, case in point Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — The Definitive Edition or Cyberpunk 2077. Perhaps it's because of financial reasons?

A: The simplest answer: because they can.

  • Modern games are built to be tweaked through downloadable updates, with developers continuing to improve them in the weeks before and after a release date.
  • That creates an exploitable norm in which a game can be in rough shape even as it is pressed to a disc. Its developers or, more likely, its publisher, may bet that patches can make the game run well before bad word of mouth spreads too far.
  • Bear in mind that it’s easier to delay a game a year ahead of schedule than it is in the final weeks, when millions of marketing dollars are being spent.

For some fresh and frank insight, check out this clip in which two of the designers in charge of Days Gone, a PlayStation 4 game that was hobbled by launch bugs, explain why they didn’t ask for more time.

  • Short version: They’d already tested their publisher’s patience and thought the game was in good enough shape to launch.

4. Need to know

💰 Hackers who sold cheats for PUBG Mobile have been ordered by U.S. and German courts to pay the game’s corporate backers $10 million in damages, Dot Esports reports.

🚫 Roblox’s nascent app in China was taken offline last month because “a number of transitory actions are necessary,” a company spokesperson vaguely tells The Verge.

⬆️ Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates and Egypt will have 86 million gamers and generate $3.1 billion in gaming revenue by 2025, according to a new Niko Partners report. Mobile is the main platform, though consoles are growing.

5. Worthy of your attention

Spec Analysis: PlayStationVR 2 - a shot in the arm for high-end virtual reality gaming [Richard Leadbetter, Digital Foundry]

Ultimately, from what we've seen so far, the spec is excellent. It elevates our hopes that higher-end VR experiences may be on the cards. The truth is that the proliferation of Oculus Quest 2 has essentially seen the lion's share of VR development focused on a mobile-class device, to the detriment of the capabilities of PC and other higher-end hardware. …Perhaps the eventual arrival of PSVR2 combined with a reasonably-sized PS5 installed base could make all the difference.

6. The Snorlax wasn’t worth it

Illustration of the large Pokemon character Snorlax, who sits asleep with his arms out.
A Snorlax. Image: The Pokémon Company

Two former Los Angeles police officers who were fired for playing Pokémon Go rather than responding to the report of a robbery have lost an appeal over their dismissal.

Why it matters: A California judge’s ruling focused on affirming that investigators were allowed to use recordings of the officers in their squad car.

But we’re covering this for the spectacle of comparing what investigators heard …

For approximately the next 20 minutes, the DICVS [in-car recording] captured petitioners discussing Pokémon as they drove to different locations where the virtual creatures apparently appeared on their mobile phones. On their way to the Snorlax location, Officer Mitchell alerted Officer Lozano that “a Togetic just popped up,” noting it was “[o]n Crenshaw, just South of 50th”

And what the officers said…

Petitioners denied playing a video game. They claimed they were merely “having a conversation about Pokémon Go” and Officer Mitchell had been receiving text messages and alerts from a Pokémon Go players group where “people [were] bragging about their scores.”
Detective McClanahan determined petitioners were not being truthful.

No surprise they didn’t keep their jobs.

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Don’t forget to check out Awesome Games Done Quick. Tomorrow's schedule includes runs of recent PlayStation 5 releases Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart and Returnal.