A quickie with Oskar Burman

Easy Studios, who currently develop the ongoing free-to-play game Battlefield Heroes, just released a major expansion that included nazi robots! Well, the equivalent of ‘nazi’ robots, anyway. We wanted to have a chat with Oskar Burman, General Manager at Easy, about how things are going, and what he thinks about the digitally distributed, free-to-playfuture – is it here or not?

MCV: You’ve just released a new expansion for the game, I assume things are going well for BF Heroes?

OB: BFH is doing great, with lots of players – new and old – enjoying the game. A strong contributing factor to this, is the addition of new content. Because we keep improving, keep adding features, keep on expanding the experience, we get our players to stay with us, month after month, year after year. Looking where Battlefield Heroes is today, and compare it to where it was when we started out, it’s a much, much improved game.

MCV: Is Heroes the success you expected it to be, or even better (or worse)?

OB: When we launched the game almost three years ago, we’d never imagined it’d still be as popular as it is, several years down the line. In fact, it’s more popular today, than during launch, and it shows how sticky our gameplay is, and the importance of running games-like-a-service, constantly improving. Of course, part of the success is the instantly recognizable Battlefield gameplay with a mix of vehicles and on-foot combat, combined with the ever present BF Heroes humor. I mean, which other game has fireproof underpants?

MCV: Now that the game has been around for a while, how would you say the reception of the free-to-play concept has been?

OB: We were one of the first core F2P shooters released in the western market, and early on it was a challenge for our consumers to understand this new model. Over time, it feels like players has seen the advantages of Free-2-Play, and with more and more titles adopting it, starting to appreciate it. The barrier to entry is so much lower when all you have to do is hit our web page and immediately start playing.

MCV: How much do people in general spend on their Heroes experience, or perhaps, how many of your players actually buy stuff for the game versus how many just play for free?

OB: I can’t go into details, but generally these kind of games only has a few percent of the playing population paying, with the rest enjoying the game for free, and it’s very similar to what we see in Battlefield Heroes. What’s important to understand is that we embrace all our players, both free and paying. Both of them are necessary in our ecosystem, and we have to keep on building a game that’s fun for both kind of players, or we will fail.

MCV: Where do you think this free-to-play concept is going in the next couple of years? Will it completely take over the online market, or will we see a new kind of business model evolve in parallel?

OB: Over the last years the pricing model for games has gone through a radical change. Nowadays we have everything from free games such as browser games or Facebook games, to 1$-5$ smart phone games, to $5-$20 digitally distributed PC/Mac games, to $60 console/PC package goods games, to subscription based MMOs. There’s room for all these players in the market, and the flexible pricing is definitely here to stay. To be honest I’m surprised the diversification hasn’t happened earlier. Gamers of 2012 have a significantly increased opportunity to find an experience that fits their wallet.

1,400 signatures to save Danish Games Museum

Within a week more than 1,400 people have signed the online petition to save the Danish Games Museum and its collection of more than 10,000 games and several thousand coin-ups and game consoles.

The petition was initiated by Thomas Vigild, chairman of The Danish Game Council, following an analysis on the preservation of video games done by The Department of Culture that made it clear that no public funding would be made available for the museum.

The petition has resonated strongly within the academic community, and as Ph.D. in videogames Jonas Heide Smith told MCV, the point of the petition is not the museum itself but that funds should be made available for the preservation of games and hardware.

“The Danish Games Museum just happens to take a unique initiative that no other institutions, neither public nor private, have matched. Preserving games history is just as important as preserving literature and movies, and if the politicians cannot make even limited funds available for this, then it is a serious lack of consequence on their part,” says Jonas Heide Smith.

Danish game developers also show concern that the museum collection including the largest collection of Danish games anywhere might now be lost to the public due to the lack of government funding.

“The museum is vital because it sustains the story of a media and a culture that has great importance in our daily life today. In a time where games and digital culture in general have a tendency to only look forward and where ‘new’ equals ‘good’, the museum provides a historical bearing that I basically think is healthy,” states game developer Press Play’s Game Director, Ole Teglbjærg

Interested parties can sign the petition here.

Supercell might be worth 600 million

Finnish developer Supercell just can’t stay out of headlines these days it seems. Now the founders of the Helsinki-based studio, which was a relative unknown in the business just six months ago, are rumored to have received offers worth 600 million dollars for the company.

Known for its hugely successful mobile games Clash of Clans and Hay Day, Supercell’s daily revenue is estimated to be around the 750,000 dollar range, though Supercell CEO did not confirm the figure to Pandodaily.

According to Index Ventures partner Ben Holmes, Supercell might overtake the struggling mobile giant Zynga in the near future.

“They are one of the few companies, along with King.com, who are now on a regular and reliable basis producing winning games. Both companies have very good shot at overtaking Zynga in terms of revenue, profits and valuation over the next year,” Holmes told Pandodaily.

Supercell was founded by games industry veterans with venture backing just two years ago, which makes the company’s newfound success sound even more astonishing.

SimCity launch a disaster

Remember how SimCity released in the US on wednesday, and the servers had problems keeping up with the load, so that a lot of customers couldn’t play the game at all? Remember how EA promised to fix that little problem for the European release, yesterday? Well, they apparently lied.

Go check out any gaming site you care to mention, and you’ll find hordes of angry players complaining about the EA servers being unreliable, busy or just plain broken. The European (and thus, of course, Nordic) launch was every bit as bad as the american one, and probably worse, since disgruntled American players resorted to using European servers to get the game started.

So what, exactly, is the problem with SimCity, and why can’t the gamers who bought it play it on release day? The main problem is the game’s always-online-DRM, a form of copy protection that checks that you have a legitimate copy by connecting to a server somewhere every time you start the game. That kind of thing has led to some fairly disastrous launches in the past (Diablo III perhaps being the most memorable). But EA seems to have taken the system one step further, constantly checking what the players are doing in-game against the servers, which not only slowed the game down for people over the last two days, but often resulted in people who just forked over €50 or so being unable to use the software they bought.

Now for the opinion piece of this, um, piece. My own personal experience with the game was much the same as everyone elses: I got a few hours of play, until the servers burped and I was unceremoniously kicked out to the desktop. I managed to reconnect long enough to find out that the game hadn’t synched against the server when it crashed, and that all my saved data was gone. All the servers then showed as ‘busy’, and I called it a night.

I’m preaching to the choir here, I know, but this simply isn’t acceptable. Always-online-DRM is pointless, does nothing to stop piracy, but it does plenty to punish and aggravate the people who actually buy games. You know, the people you might want on your side for future releases. I realize that it’s physicall (or at least fiscally) impossible to provide enough server capacity for everyone to play the game on release day, but the solution is probably not to try and trivialize the problem. I think not using a DRM scheme that locks everyone, except those who pirated it, out of the game might be better.

The frankly ridiculous lengths EA went to with the SimCity DRM turned the launch of an otherwise very good game into an unmitigated disaster. Because it IS a very good game, when it works. Let’s just hope that EA, and other large publishers, take something away from this and realize that the people lining up to hand you wads of cash are NOT the bad guys.

Racoon City kicks Mass Effect off Swedish charts

This morning, we got the Swedish game sales charts for the past week, and were mildly surprised to see that Mass Effect 3 was no longer at the top.

Sure, the science fiction epic was still at third, at least on Xbox 360, but the two top slots were taken by the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Resident Evil: Operation Racoon City. Best selling PC game of the week was, somewhat less surprisingly, The Sims 3: Superstar. Here’s the entire top 20 for week 12, 2012:

1. Resident Evil Operation Racoon City (PS3)

2. Resident Evil Operation Racoon City (360)

3. Mass Effect 3 (360)

4. Kid Icarus Uprising (3DS)

5. The Sims 3: I Rampjuset (PC)

6. Fifa Street (PS3)

7. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (PS3)

8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (360)

9. Battlefield 3 (PC)

10. Mass Effect 3 (PC)

11. Fifa Street (360)

12. Battlefield 3 (PS3)

13. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (PC)

14. Mass Effect 3 (PS3)

15. Battlefield 3 (360)

16. Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC)

17. Fifa 12 (PS3)

18. Dance Central (Kinect) (360)

19. Halo Reach (360)

20. Mario Party 9 (Wii)

The list is based on sales reported by Swedish retailers, compiled by Media Control GfK.

Ina Bäckström named IT girl of the year

Ina Bäckström, one of the rising young stars in the Swedish gaming industry, was awarded the IT Girl of the year at the Universum Awards last night.

The Awards were held at Berns Salonger in Stockholm, and included presentations of prizes for the most attractive employers for students of economy, technology, computers science/IT, law and realty.

The show also included the presentation of the Microsoft-sponsored IT Girl or the Year award, which includes a trip to a technology show and various invitations to Microsoft events throughout the year.

This year the award went to Bäckström, a student at Futuregames Academy and one of the founders of BarCraft, the first e-sport bar in Sweden, as well as Frizone Gaming Guild that works to get more women into gaming.

“Being named IT Girl of the year gives me a stronger voice to affect people with, and I see it as a great opportunity to get more women interested in games,” Bäckström said. “I think it’s very important to get more girls into the games industry, not least to change how men and women are portrayed in games, which are after all one of the most influential entertainment businesses for young people.”

Per Larsson, Senior HR Manager at Microsoft Sweden, says about the award: ”Microsoft founded the prize for ’IT Girl of the year’ in order to encourage and inspire women to discover the IT business, and all the possibilities that IT offers. The ‘IT Girl of the year’ prize, which was awarded for the ninth time this year, goes to a female student who shows initiative, inspiration and who can become a role model for other girls who apply for an education in a business and an industry with endless possibilities.”

Fundedbyme Equity launches today

Fundedbyme today launches a new initiative, Fundedbyme Equity, in Sweden after overwhelming interest during the pre-rounds.

The idea is to try and take crowdfunding to the next level, allowing private individuals to be part of bit projects, not just huge venture capital companies, by investing comparatively small sums. This also potentially opens up startups to a much larger pool of investors.

“We are launching a model that will change the way that “old financing” used to work to fund companies into a better, leaner and more effective way of raising capital and creating early momentum,” says Daniel Daboczy, CEO and co-founder of Fundedbyme. “We are really aiming at becoming the entrepreneurs best friend.”

You can find more info about the project, that could potentially impact the Nordic indie games market in a big way, much like previous crowdfunding projects have, on the Fundedbyme Equity page.

Funcom: 72% Metacritic score ‘considered low’

On Friday, Funcom published an update on their latest MMO The Secret World, for their investors.

The text talks about the significant decrease in the Funcom share price after the release of the game, on July 3rd, 2012. Funcom would like to attribute this drop to the low metascore the game received at Metacritic and other such public statistics sources. The Secret World has a Metacritic score of 72 our of 100, though the user score is higher and stands at 8.4, with 673 ratings. Still, this puts it just under the ‘mostly positive’ category, even though the game did indeed mostly get positive reviews if you look at the individual texts about it, but the average was pulled down by some scathing reviews with low scores at the bottom end.

This is one of the reasons why Funcom just launched the game on Steam, and the report also mentions the similarities and differences from the Age of Conan launch, which was a disaster by any standard – this one is much better and looks like the game might be here in its current form for quite a while.

“First indication of churn is more positive than for Age of Conan, and the in-game store is performing as expected,” Funcom writes. “The add-on packs are performing better than expected. Also higher than expected sales are going directly through the online download stores like EA’s Origin and Funcom’s own storefront, generating more profitable sales for the company.”

“A possible scenario going forward is that the game will sell less than both of the two above mentioned scenarios the first 12 months following launch, but with high customer satisfaction, it will generate a more stable subscriber base than the game Age of Conan. Over time, this will enable Funcom to retain more customers and generate higher revenue.”

Personally, I think that this means that The Secret World has the potential to do ok in the long run. It’s better to have a game with a strong plan for the future and a wobbly launch than to have a game that knocks everyone’s socks off up front but has very little depth or replayability (yes, The Old Republic, I’m looking at you). Unfortunately, Funcom CFO Björn Toften mentioned on StockLink iMarkedet that this means layoffs, so it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Also on a personal note, Funcom has consistently delivered original and fresh content to the massively multiplayer online market, even though their games have not always been bug-free on release, so I really hope that this works out. We need companies that dare to innovate.

Dreamfall Chapters under development

Ragnar Törnquist, Funcom creative director and head of the newly started Red Thread Games, has been very active on Twitter the last few days, in the wake of getting caught in the storm Sandy in New York.

The tweets I’m thinking of were all about the new project that Red Thread is undertaking, Dreamfall Chapters. The game will be a new part in the Dreamfall saga of direct-control adventure games, and should hopefully be released sometime late 2013/early 2014 – but that’s just my guess. Below are some of the more relevant tweets regarding this, that I wanted to share with you, dear reader.

“Yep, it’s finally official. The sequel to Dreamfall is on its way from my new development studio Red Thread Games. More information soon!”

“Nope, I haven’t departed Funcom! I’m just juggling several balls; two companies and two projects. Funsies! Red Thread may be a new studio, but we’re all of us experienced game developers, and I did head up both Dreamfall and The Longest Journey!”

“We’ve also received 1M NOK ($175,000) from the Norwegian Film Institute to help fund the first stages of preproduction. Yay “

“No, Dreamfall Chapters won’t be an online game. It’s going to be a single-player PC/Mac adventure game through and through. We’re not planning on an episodic format. Dreamfall Chapters will be a full game…but not necessarily the final game in the saga.“

“Dreamfall Chapters will initially be developed for PC and Mac. We are looking at PS/Xbox versions as well, but that’s not a priority.
We’re still discussing game mechanics, but it will probably be direct control like Dreamfall — but better. Much better.”

“We are definitely doing a Kickstarter, some time early next year!”

“Hopefully we’ll be able to give you a first glimpse early next year…and we’ll definitely bring some of our favourite actors back. It won’t be out for a while yet, but we will have more information soon, I promise.”

Looks like Funcom (the logical choice to publish Dreamfall Chapters, thought nothing has been announced) and Ragnar Törnquist will continue to give us original, story-driven games like no-one else. Keep an eye on them, and follow Törnquist at @ragnartornquist on Twitter.

Bungie’s Destiny is powered by Umbra

Bungie’s upcoming scifi-shooter Destiny will use Umbra’s Umbra 3 technology, the Finnish software developer has announced.

Umbra 3 is the latest product in a series of visibility solutions. The middleware boosts graphics performance with automatic occluder generation and software-based occlusion culling, and has been used in such titles as Mass Effect 3, Alan Wake and Guild Wars 2.

According to Umbra, the company has been working closely with Bungie, and many of Umbra 3’s features were developed with feedback from Bungie’s engineering team.

The long-rumored Destiny was announced last Sunday. The game is currently in development for PS3 and Xbox 360, though other platforms are also a possibility.