The games industry moves quickly and while stories may come and go there are some that we just can't let go of…
So, to give those particularly thorny topics a further going over we've created a weekly digest where the members of the PocketGamer.biz team share their thoughts and go that little bit deeper on some of the more interesting things that have happened in mobile gaming in the past week.
It seems too good to be true, and - of course - it is… For now… Unity’s AI teaser gives a promising glimpse into how the game-making tools giant would like to see its eventual quest for ease-of-use end up. The endgame for Unity appears to be to become the powerhouse behind an AI-driven entertainment engine that magically manifests whatever a game developer requires.
Don’t waste time creating repetitive content, tweaking things that don’t work and banging your head against your office cubicle. Just tell Unity what you want and it’ll do the hard stuff (and the no-brainer obvious stuff) without you lifting a further finger.
And you don’t need to be too head-in-the-clouds to imagine an even further future scenario where the game developer is cut out of the equation altogether and it’s the user that’s calling the shots. “Make me a version of Final Fantasy VII only without the bit where [edit: spoilers]”
Medium term the results can only be good. More and better games made faster. Longer term? With the heroes taken down from their lofty pillars replaced by a vast level playing field stretching as far as the eye can see, with all the players playing the same game? Time will tell.
This was an interesting story for me because of how it relates to the Chinese market and to the deal between NetEase and Blizzard. Fishing Clash was not some massively popular title (by the developer’s own admission) and it seems revenue was on a downward trend even before it was abruptly canned. However, more interestingly it's the fact that the developer attributes the shuttering of Shanghai Online Games to an unspecified publishing deal between NetEase and 'another party'.
Until I’m corrected I’m going to assume that in actuality this is Blizzard. And that would make sense. After all, they had a very public break up witn NetEase before coming crawling back when a new deal didn’t seem forthcoming. NetEase and Tencent as well as other Chinese companies are probably very wary that a lot of Western companies may be trying to “cut them loose” so to speak.
After all, China is no longer a secondary market, and even with a slump in growth due to the Covid pandemic and legislation, it’s still a massively populous country with a huge mobile user base. It’s no surprise then that companies like Blizzard and Microsoft - who insinuated CoD: Mobile would be axed when Warzone was released under their leadership - might want to take the lead and do things more their way instead of working with the mobile giants already in the region.
I know, rather seismic predictions for a game about fishing, right? But it’s only one of many knock-on effects caused by the deal. And indicates that there’s growing caution towards Western imports even as licences are agreed for them.
Loot boxes remain a controversial mechanic in the games space. Unlike simply purchasing a cosmetic, item, or character, implementing chance means that players can easily spend far more money trying to get what they want. While the mechanics have had a proven effect on revenue, critics have likened the system to gambling.
A Canadian judge declaring that loot boxes don’t constitute gambling is interesting for a few reasons. Firstly, this puts Canada at odds with several territories, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, which have imposed strict restrictions on the use of loot boxes, if not banned them entirely.
Secondly, it implies a certain reluctance to acknowledge the power of gaming. Despite being the most profitable branch of the entertainment industry, gaming has historically been considered somewhat frivolous by many regulators. While they may acknowledge the fact that it’s a popular hobby and a thriving industry, they don’t consider the affect gaming can have on consumers. While the rationale behind the judge’s decision - that EA only sells the loot boxes on its own site for virtual currency - has some merit, the fact remains that it still implements an element of chance, and that players can purchase in-game currency with real money to take part.
Whether or not loot boxes constitute gambling remains a topic of debate, with both advocates and detractors among consumers and regulatory bodies worldwide. It’s likely we’ll see more and more countries come out against the systems, but has there ever been a court which has so definitively come down on the side of developers utilising the technology?
Where does this leave loot boxes? Well, time will tell, but advocates may take this decision as evidence of a positive future.