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Sony tells investors Uncharted 4 is heading to PC, and it’s making more live-service games

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Sony tells investors Uncharted 4 is heading to PC, and it's making more live-service games

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Sony Interactive Entertainment has a huge hit in the PlayStation 5, but the company is looking to maximize its revenue beyond the confines of that platform. In a financial report today, the company told investors that this involves PlayStation Studios games on mobile, more live-service games, and new ports to PC. Under a section labeled “More PC releases planned,” Sony included Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Days Gone. With Days Gone launching on Steam earlier this month, it seems likely that Uncharted 4 is next to get that treatment.

As part of its documentation, Sony emphasized that these ports help its business. Horizon: Zero Dawn launched on PC last year, and Sony told investors that it saw a 250% return-on-investment. The company also claims that this practice creates new fans for Sony properties. And it also enables games to find fresh audiences in markets like China, Russia, and India that prefer PC.

Above: PlayStation is looking to port more games to PC.

Image Credit: Sony

But it’s not just about PC ports. Sony also reiterated that it plans to use its first-party studios to make more live-service games. While Sony is known for a certain blockbuster style, it sees a chance to generate more money with its own Fortnite or Minecraft.

SIE also expects to release these PlayStation Studios live-service projects on PlayStation 5 as well as on other platforms. This is not unlike what Microsoft is doing with Halo multiplayer, which is launching on Xbox and PC this holiday.

And that is the challenge with live-service games from a company like Sony. How could a game exclusive to a console compete for attention against something like Fortnite, which is everywhere? And the answer is seemingly to put those games out wherever you can.

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Candy Shop Slaughter is a video game concept creatd by AI

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Candy Shop Slaughter is a video game concept creatd by AI

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


It is possible for artificial intelligence to create a video game. Contrary to popular opinion and hopes for humanity, an AI came up with the basic design for a video game called Candy Shop Slaughter.

The game has all of the elements needed for success in the competitive mobile game industry. OnlineRoulette.com commissioned the project, which was created by Fractl, a South Florida growth marketing agency.

Games are thriving despite the pandemic and video game jobs are growing in spite of the competition from automation. Video games are a creative art, and it’s hard to believe that a machine can come up with the kind of creativity needed to make such a work. But we shouldn’t be too complacent about human ingenuity against the continuous improvement of AI.

That was part of the point of the project, said Kristin Tynski, cofounder of Fractl, in an interview with GamesBeat. The art for the game was created by Fractl’s artists. GPT-3 generated the text. With other AI projects, like JetPlay’s Ludo, AI is used to generate everything from the game art to the game characters and gameplay. It’s no longer the case that only humans can create games.

Joe Mercurio, creative strategy lead at Fractl, said in an interview with GamesBeat that he developed the idea and development of the project, and Tynski worked on the AI outputs. Their company is an agency that works on growth campaigns for companies.

“A year or two ago, we received access to Open AI technology, GPT-2, and then we got access to GPT-3,” said Mercurio. “We started fooling around with that. Kristin actually developed a full website that had a bunch of blog content that was completely AI-generated. We were just inspired to set up a bunch of different ideas. And for Online Roulette, we decided to explore a video game.”

Fractl’s creative team has always been interested in generative AI, and it saw GPT-2 and GPT-3 as a big advancement, Tynski said.

The agency created the game to see if people were interested in characters and gameplay created by the OpenAI program known as GPT-3, a text generator. Fractl used GPT-3 to create a hero character, bosses to battle, and friends to meet along the way in both story and arcade modes in Candy Shop Slaughter.

With the characters and gameplay created by GPT-3, OnlineRoulette then surveyed 1,000 gamers to find out if they would be willing to play it, how original they found the various aspects of the game, and whether they’d be willing to pay for it.

AI-developed story and arcade modes

Above: Candy Shop Slaughter characters were generated by AI.

Image Credit: Fractl

Using the OpenAI text generator GTP-3, Fractl created a story, arcade, and multiplayer mode for the fictional video game.

In the synopsis, the AI created the main character Freddy Skittle and his best friend Ted. In story mode, the game utilizes a karma system where players can accumulate experience points for all of the good actions they make along the way and lose experience points when they make poor choices. The more they progress, players can unlock additional characters with different strengths that appear in the game’s universe who can aid in the boss battles players will encounter.

In arcade mode, Candy Shop Slaughter turns into a classic 3D fighting game, where blood and guts are transformed into candy and treats and players can experience plenty of food puns and jokes along the way. Players start by creating characters from a template and have the opportunity to unlock new costumes and weapons as they play.

AI-created video game  characters

Fractl's team

Above: Fractl’s team

Image Credit: Fractl

The AI also imagined 12 unique characters, bosses, and companions players could encounter in Candy Shop Slaughter.

The main protagonist Freddy Skittle throws knives and uses a retractable pocketknife in close combat. Bosses to fight in various levels include Pie Cake, who throws spiked pie slices in battle; Honey Bun, who evolves into a massive honey monster; and M&M’s Candy, the final boss who utilizes sweet soda bottles and candy worms in battle.

“GPT-3’s capabilities are pretty astounding. And it demonstrates a pretty fundamental shift and in what generative AI is capable of,” Tynski said. “We’ve had a ton of fun doing this project and testing out the creative abilities of GPT-3 within the context of a specific idea.”

Will game developers lose their jobs to AI? Probably not real soon.

“AI is going to take a lot of jobs. And I think it’s going to transform all the other jobs,” said Tynski. “I think you’re always going to have to have a human that’s part of the creative process because I think other humans care who created it. What’s super cool about these technologies is they’ve democratized creativity in an amazing way. I think as a creator you can find something mutually beneficial in this technology.”

She added, “There are and will be a lot more companies that are basically packaging GPT-3 outputs of specific game styles or types, or use cases, and then they use and using that to create some sort of service.”

Gamer impressions

candy shop pie charts

Above: Gamer reactions to Candy Shop Slaughter.

Image Credit: Fractl

Seventy-seven percent of gamers indicated they would play Candy Shop Slaughter, and 65% of gamers would be willing to pay for the game.

When asked about its uniqueness, just 10% of gamers found it unoriginal or very unoriginal, while 54% said Candy Shop Slaughter was original, and 20% of gamers deemed it very original.

The most impressive part of Candy Shop Slaughter was the characters, which 67% of gamers ranked as high quality. Following the characters, more than half of gamers considered the overall game (58%), the storyline (55%), and the game title (53%) to be high quality.

Fifty-seven percent of gamers indicated Candy Shop Slaughter sounded more like a mobile game, while 43% believed it would be a console game. With the descriptions of gameplay in mind, 73% also said the story mode of the game sounded more appealing, compared to just 28% who felt more intrigued by the arcade mode.

With the descriptions and details of 12 different characters, 48% of gamers felt Freddy Skittle (the main character) sounded the most fun to play, followed by Cookie Sandwich (33%), Pie Cake (30%), and Honey Bun (30%).

Respondents were not informed that the video game, storylines, and characters were AI-generated.

“It wasn’t like we cherry-picked the results here,” Tynski said. “There were lots of other ones that we generally ended up generating later that were similarly good. It pulls from well-known tropes. It is pretty difficult for humans to differentiate the text that was generated by AI.”

OnlineRoulette.com got responses from 1,000 players. The survey was designed with the intent of having them rate the storylines and characters presented to them.

“As an agency, we see AI becoming a much more integrated piece of content generation and part of the creative process,” Tynski said. “I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface. And this is also at the same time is advancing very, very rapidly. So we just want to continue to explore what’s possible and, and help our clients to create cool things by integrating these new technologies.”

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

How will you do that? Membership includes access to:

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  • The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
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How Azur Games grew its hypercasual games to 1.5B downloads

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How Azur Games grew its hypercasual games to 1.5B downloads

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


Azur Games is one of those companies that has quietly become one of the top ten game publishers in the world with more than 1.5 billion downloads. It did so by pivoting into the emerging hypercasual games on mobile devices.

Now the company has more than 300 employees in Cyprus and Eastern Europe, said Dmitry Yaminsky, CEO of Azur Games, in an interview with GamesBeat. And in the first quarter, Azur’s Stack Ball and Hit Master 3D games were among the top-20 most downloaded games worldwide, according to measurement firm Sensor Tower.

During this successful run, Yaminsky found that while many hypercasual games remain big hits for about a month, they quickly fall off after that. But the downloads don’t go to zero. Rather, they fall to maybe 10% or 20% of the early numbers. And then they stay at that level of perhaps 100,000 downloads a month for a long time, giving the games a longer life and a more predictable revenue stream. And with so many games in the library and upcoming pipeline, Azur Games has a pretty good business that can sustain the employee base, Yaminsky said. Stack Ball is the biggest hit, with more than 300 million downloads, while WormsZome.io has more than 200 million downloads.

But the competition isn’t easy. There are rivals like Voodoo Games, SayGames, Rollic, and others.

Origins

Above: Modern Strike was the first hit by Azur Games.

Image Credit: Azur Games

Yaminsky previously worked in the advertising industry, but decided to move into games after a downturn struck in 2014 and 2015.

Yaminsky formally started the game publisher in 2016 in Moscow to publish midcore games, or those with hardcore themes but can be played in short cycles on mobile devices. The company found a studio that was working on a title called Modern Strike Online, a mobile take on Counter-Strike. And they helped them with the launch with marketing at first.

That game became a huge hit with more than 70 million downloads, and Azur Games acquired half of the development studio.

“It was very successful. And with the launch of the game, I decided to work on other games. And so after the company started as a mobile publisher, and then we started our own development,” he said.

In 2017, hypercasual games — which take perhaps a minute to play — started taking off, thanks to new game companies like Voodoo Games. He moved the headquarters to Cyprus.

“We didn’t really know how to approach user acquisition for the new market at the time, so we decided to fund and conduct an experiment — two people from the team made a hypercasual game that became a hit,” Yaminsky said. “It turned out that two or three people can create a project with better metrics than a team of 60 in the midcore segment. That was our pivot.”

In the first experiment, one person worked on programming and another on art. It took about a month to finish the game. On its first day, the game generated $1,000 in advertising revenue. On the second day, it was $2,000.

“Then we started acquiring users,” he said. “Back then it was just so easy. There were so few competitors. A lot of people said it was impossible. I said it was my money. Let me waste it. In fact, the first game I launched was a real success.”

Growing the business

Azur Games' employees in Cyprus.

Above: Some of Azur Games’ employees in Cyprus.

Image Credit: Azur Games

Some companies started churning out games like factories. It was relatively easy to grow in hypercasual at that time since the market was small and the developers were very enthusiastic about presenting their games.

That’s when we knew we needed to stand out from the other publishers and tried to see the teams for their potential, refine the prototypes, and accumulate expertise within the company,” Yaminsky said. “This was a breath of fresh air for the industry, since most publishers at that time just looked at the first metrics — if they were good, then they took the project, if not, they sent it back to the developer.”

Azur Games started to build an ecosystem that would be comfortable for the developers and grow projects within it. It shared its experience and actively helped budding studios and solo developers to enter the market. As a result, the marketing budgets grew, the studios learned to trust Azur Games, and the company began attracting a lot of new developers.

While the headquarters is in Cyprus, the team is spread out, with back offices in Dubai and Moscow. Most of the people work remotely, which helps the company grow quickly. About 50 people work in marketing and analytics, while a team of 30 motion designers work on creative ads that help the games spread. About 200 people work on midcore projects, which can have higher margins.

azur 3

Above: Azur Games has lots of hypercasual titles.

Image Credit: Azur Games

“We’re trying to pave our own way,” Yaminsky said. “Many companies on the market are still waiting for finished projects with good metrics. But we at Azur Games believe in teams and improve the projects ourselves.”

While hypercasual games still provides most of the downloads, Azur Games has diversified into the casual game and midcore game segments. Those games will start coming out in the coming months and years.

The hypercasual department consists of several mini-teams, which include a producer, two or three product assistants, and two or three game designers. Each mini-team works with a limited number of studios.

“We prototype about 200 games a month, and after we test them, we launch about one or two games per month,” Yaminsky said. “In other words, to get a lot of downloads, you need to do a lot of work, which isn’t always visible from the outside.”

Staying ahead of competitors

Worm

Above: WormZome.io is one of Azur’s games.

Image Credit: Azur Games

Now that hypercasual is a big market, companies like Zynga have acquired hypercasual firms like Rollic, and the market is crowded.

“You can win as a company only if you share your expertise with developers more than the others, run tests faster, use your own analytics, and invest your skills and experience in development,” Yaminsky said. “We put the emphasis on communication and providing the necessary resources: for example, if the team doesn’t have motion designers, game designers or artists, we involve them as needed.”

In other words, the current strategy is to offer favorable conditions and development infrastructure within its ecosystem. This means that the company is willing to share anything that could help the developers make the right decision, trend-tracking data being one example. At the same time, the company never reworks the games for the studios and it only suggests the direction.

That means the company has to find the right teams to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. It has invested more than $10 million in developers to date. Many of the developers are in Eastern Europe, where companies have learned to move quickly and efficiently without running up high costs, Yaminsky said. There are also a lot of educated programmers in the region.

“First and foremost, we always assess the potential. If it’s there, we’re ready to invest our own efforts and substantial amounts of money,” Yaminsky said. “For instance, if there’s a studio with annual revenue of up to $5 million, we’re ready to invest up to $10 million for a 20% to 30% stake, even more in some cases. Meanwhile, the studio stays in control of the project, and we only help to grow it in all directions, including marketing.”

azur 5

Above: Azur Games prototypes 200 games a month.

Image Credit: Azur Games

By 2019, the market got a lot more competitive, and now it is even more heated. In the month of May, the company spent more than $15 million in marketing. The company also tries to offer the developers more favorable terms than others do, like paying well for each prototype. This allows them to cover development costs, so they can feel comfortable and try more things than they would in a different setting, Yaminsky said.

“When it comes to the product strategy, we aim at increasing lifetime value of users and paying more attention to in-app monetization,” he said. “This means we’re planning to do deeper projects, but we always take the studio resources into account — if the developer doesn’t have a lot of experience, they work on simple mechanics.”

A hit game can get 300,000 to 500,000 downloads a day, but Yaminsky believes that the long-term matters a lot. In the long tail for a hit, a game can generate $100,000 to $400,000 a month. With 10 to 30 such hits, the long tail generates a consistent revenue that is in the millions of dollars a month.

Now the company is looking for more game studios to invest in to keep generating more hits.

“The number of competitors keeps growing, and we have to stay competitive,” Yaminsky said.

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

How will you do that? Membership includes access to:

  • Newsletters, such as DeanBeat
  • The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
  • Chatting with community members, GamesBeat staff, and other guests in our Discord
  • And maybe even a fun prize or two
  • Introductions to like-minded parties

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Automate for people, not for processes

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Automate for people, not for processes

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.


Whether or not you foresee the coming of “hyperautomation” — the notion that every business process that can be automated should or indeed will be automated in the future — it’s clear that the majority of corporations across the globe have already begun to strategize for this inevitability.

An early 2020 global survey of business leaders by McKinsey & Co. revealed that close to a third of all companies worldwide have already fully automated at least one function — and that was before the pandemic. Enterprises in most industries have since shifted their automation attempts into overdrive, hoping to future-proof as much as is possible in the face of such unpredictability.

In their efforts to automate, many businesses prioritize individual process needs without prioritizing user experience. A company can achieve some cost savings this way, but such automations often fail to fully realize their potential.

Why? It risks alienating the people it set out to serve — meaning few people actually choose to use the tool.

According to a November Zapier automation confidence survey, nearly a third of workers said they were not yet convinced that automation is useful in their current role. And 10% felt it overly difficult to find time to learn the new skills required to benefit from automated applications on the job.

The problems with a process-centric approach

In the past, companies largely evaluated automation opportunities using process-driven criteria that targets the lowest-hanging fruit. Processes that occur most frequently, don’t change much, and have the largest user base have been prioritized, often resulting in disparate automations that lead to poor adoption and limited ROI.

Take, for example, the automations that are involved in onboarding a new hire. Human resources is a core enterprise function that’s been particularly transformed by new integrations and interactions amongst automated processes.

In the future, everything automated will be centered around the customer or employee “journey,” essentially employing a library of automated task modules. Instead of dictating what the user should do next, these automations will adapt to bring the right experience to the user depending on where they are in their journey.

journey centric approach

What changes when the user journey is prioritized?

With the HR example, a traditional approach to automation involves each group involved in onboarding using a mix of different software and manual steps for their specific tasks. Users need access to different systems and interfaces to complete all the processes. This means a lot of different logins and likely a mix between PDF forms and going through flows in each group’s software program.

With a journey-centric approach, the new user experience focuses on presenting all the tasks in a single interface, providing context for each step such as with a status, due date, and point of contact in a wizard-like UI.

One of the key differences is how the information is presented to users. It provides context about the actions users need to take and shows the actions contextually in the right order. Even if the underlying automation remains the same as the traditional approach, a singular, integrated interface for all tasks related to the process can up-level usability.

Journey-centric automation in the wild

Some of the best real-world examples of the future of automation come from industry titans like Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP. Their automated employee enterprise platforms are steering significant changes to the automation landscape in 2021 and beyond.

Driven in large part by advances in AI and the challenges of remote work requirements over the past year, the largest of these platforms (see Oracle Journeys, Microsoft Viva, and SAP Employee Experience Management) are all essentially tailored to an understanding of the user experience.

Their journey-centric dashboards include features like:

  • An intelligent and organized home for previously disparate onboarding processes like ID and security clearances, equipment assignments, training, location-specific orientation, and essential employment policies and paperwork
  • Intuitive or “smart” to-do lists for the upcoming tasks an employee likely needs to complete next
  • Access to personalized skill-building suggestions and even automated training modules based on the employee’s role and career trajectory
  • A checkpoint for crucial health and wellness data (for example, submitting health clearances as employees quarantine and return to work during the current COVID pandemic)
  • Insightful and customizable impact reporting for individuals, teams, and managers

How will companies maintain a competitive edge in this new age of automation?

Simply put: The automations of the future must seamlessly stitch together these previously complicated process-driven workflows to deliver a simplified user experience. Instead of replicating clunky manual processes as a digital system or only automating the easiest step, the design must re-architect the end-to-end experience, making it better for the people who use it, not just automated.

The businesses currently reporting the most success in automation are doing just that. From revolutionizing legal processes to travel experiences to manufacturing and beyond, the future of automation is about to make our lives easier in many ways.

Vijay Pullur is CEO of Groupe.io.

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