Nov 2, 2021

Axios Gaming

It's Tuesday. I'm Stephen. Thanks as always for reading.

I commuted into Manhattan yesterday, and here's my takeaway: There sure are a lot more people planting virtual flowers via "Pikmin Bloom" near Madison Square Garden than in the suburbs of New Jersey. These AR games are sleepier in the sticks.

Today's edition is 1,206 words, a 4.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Blockbusters, but with parts missing

Image: Activision

Friday’s release of “Call of Duty: Vanguard won’t include the main quest for its popular cooperative multiplayer “zombies” mode, according to an Activision blog post.

  • It will be added to the game weeks later.

Why it matters: It’s become common, especially this year, for big games to launch without all the expected parts. That puts the onus on players to buy today and get the rest of the game later.

  • EA’s “Madden NFL 22” launched in August without a planned and much-anticipated scouting feature that was added in October.
  • “Halo Infinite” will arrive in early December without support for campaign co-op nor a new version of the series’ “Forge” map editor. Both are staples of the franchise and are scheduled to be added to the game in 2022.
  • While “Vanguard” will launch without that Zombie quest, it’ll have its main WWII solo campaign and competitive multiplayer, so it’s unlikely it’ll feel skimpy.

Between the lines: The “Call of Duty” zombies team hasn’t provided a reason for the mode’s delayed rollout, but developers of other games in this situation have cited the need for added polish.

  • Games can generally be delayed when they’re not all done, but in some of these cases, we’re simply seeing features delayed.
  • And we’re seeing game makers gamble that players will find enough remaining in the offered package to make it worth their $60 anyway.
  • The process dovetails with the near-ubiquity of seasonal content updates that add more to big-budget games for months or even years after release. Those updates just didn't usually include major, core modes.

Flashback: Nothing in gaming is entirely new. Back in 2009, Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed II” shipped without chapters 12 and 13 in its 14-chapter story, which were added later as paid downloadable content.

  • "I felt that, 'OK, there were too many things to do and to finish,'" the series’ then-creative director Patrice Désilets told me at the time.
  • "So we said, 'OK, let's take a portion of the game that was planned and we'll give it in DLC.'"
  • The notable difference: missing content in 2021’s games is expected to be added post-release for free.
2. "Avengers" developers backtrack

Paid boosters in "Marvel's Avengers." 500 credits = $4.99. Screenshot: Square Enix/Axios

Square Enix will cease selling so-called “XP Boosters” for its “Marvel’s Avengers” game, the company announced in an apologetic tweet today.

Why it matters: “XP Boosters,” which are items that players can buy to make their characters improve more quickly, are viewed suspiciously by many players.

  • They’re particularly controversial when introduced in premium games that generally already cost up to $60.
  • The presence of, say, the ability to pay $10 to improve your character faster than by playing normally, often leads to long Reddit threads and tweetstorms about whether the game is throttling players’ progress to entice them to pay.

Between the lines: “Marvel’s Avengers” didn’t launch with paid XP boosters last year.

  • The developers had suggested then that any such boosters would be offered for free in the “Avengers”’ in-game marketplace (alongside premium costumes that don’t impact gameplay).
  • But they started offering those paid boosters last month.

What they’re saying: "We introduced them as an option for an evolving player base, and did not see them as pay-to-win since they don’t offer power directly,” the studio wrote in today’s tweet.

  • It is nonetheless removing the boosters today “after considering your feedback.”
  • “We hope that this can be the first step in rebuilding your confidence in us as a team,” the studio added.
3. MOBAs thrive

"Wild Rift." Screenshot: Riot Games

"Wild Rift" has surpassed $150 million in consumer spending, a year after the mobile take on Riot's "League of Legends" launched, according to App Annie.

Why it matters: It's another sign of strength in the MOBA subgenre, which involves rival teams of players dispatching and escorting colorful characters from one corner of a contested multi-lane map to another.

  • "League of Legends" is the dominant MOBA on PC and will be in the press a lot this week, leading up to the game's esports world finals on Saturday and the premiere of its animated Netflix series "Arcane" the same day.

Between the lines: The only mobile MOBA genre to hit that spending mark faster was Tencent's "Honor of Kings."

Bear in mind: There's one clear winner in this category.

  • "League of Legends" mega-studio Riot is owned by Tencent.
  • And who makes "Honor of Kings"? That'd be Tencent too.
  • If the pattern isn't clear, one of this year's breakout mobile and Switch hits is "Pokémon Unite," a MOBA developed by ... Tencent.
4. Need to know

⬇️ Nintendo may be cutting its production of Nintendo Switch consoles by 20% to 24 million units by the end of March 2022, because of chip shortages, Nikkei reports.

  • A Nintendo rep told the outlet they are "assessing" the impact of those shortages. The company will provide an updated earnings and business report Thursday.

🦒 Twitch has added an "animals, aquariums & zoos" category for watching live-streamed non-humans. On Tuesday morning, the category was outperforming "Overwatch," "Animal Crossing" and ASMR.

⚔️ "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" is getting a tabletop game spinoff.

🧙‍♀️ Niantic is shutting down augmented reality game “Harry Potter: Wizard Unite,” its second 2021 closure of a game launched in the last two years. The company’s “Pokémon Go” remains a success, and it just launched “Pikmin Bloom” with Nintendo last week.

🟥 Netflix is rolling out its mobile gaming service to subscribers in the U.S. and the rest of the world today. Only for Android, so far, but a company rep tells Axios it’ll be available for iOS users “in the coming months.”

💰 Hacker Gary Bowser has pleaded guilty to helping people play pirated copies of Nintendo games. He also agreed to pay the gaming giant $4.5 million in restitution, TorrentFreak reports.

5. Worthy of your attention

League of Legends esports still hasn’t turned a profit. That’s okay, says Riot. [Teddy Amenabar, The Washington Post]

In the most basic sense, esports leagues act as a marketing tool to encourage people to play a competitive game. Professional tournaments showcase the best players in the world and — by renting out arenas for these spectacles — companies hope the matches will inspire fans to spend more time and money playing the game. For the makers and license holders of those games, esports events don’t necessarily return a profit themselves, but they can still add to the game’s revenue. For the teams that have paid millions in franchise fees to secure a spot in an esports league, the opportunities are more limited.
6. The speediest run
GIF: Savestate on YouTube/Axios

A speedrunner who goes by "Savestate" has set a world record completion time of 3:41.833 for — get this — the demo version of "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" that is included in the Wii game "Super Smash Bros. Brawl."

  • Runs like these demonstrate the sequence of incredible trick plays the runner must make to zip through the game.
  • They're rolling, floating, grabbing phantom items — all techniques implemented masterfully with regular button presses and discovered over decades by players poking at the game.
  • The "Ocarina of Time" demo starts midgame and is terminated after five minutes. Savestate proved it was possible to hit the game's credits with a 4:51 run of the demo last summer.

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🐦 Find us on Twitter: @megan_nicolett / @stephentotilo.

Usually, I try to end with a joke. But nothing I write could be funnier (or is that "scarier"?) than this brainstorm about a "Mario Kart" NFT game.