Apple wants to tilt the balance from ad-laden freemium gaming titles toward all-access ad-free gaming experiences that can be downloaded across platforms on iOS, macOS and tvOS.
At the company’s services event this morning, they announced Apple Arcade, their new premium subscription service for gaming across their hardware products. “We want to make gaming even better,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said onstage.
The subscription will boast 100+ new and exclusive games while Apple will be adding new content “all the time.” It looks like the company will have a hand in building out the titles by working directly with developer partners to produce titles. Early partners include names like Disney, Konami and Lego.
Another important note: All games will be playable offline. This is a content play rather than a tech product like Google’s recently announced Stadia game-streaming platform. The subscription will provide access to all of the content in the games without ads.
Apple has the benefit of building this directly into the App Store; you’ll be able to access Apple Arcade from a new bottom tab in the App Store app. This may be the company’s best chance at leveraging its strength on iOS to finally build a better home for games on Mac.
The service is coming this fall. Apple oddly didn’t detail pricing, though they did share it would be launching in 150 regions.
Even the most successful tech company is going to have a stumble from time to …
Disney+ unveiled two teaser trailers for upcoming series at the Lucasfilm studio showcase panel during Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California, on Thursday. The first was for Andor, a 12-episode prequel series set five years before the events of Rogue One, starring Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. The other was for Willow, a new series intended as a sequel to the 1988 cult classic fantasy film of the same name, set decades after the events of the original film.
The streaming platform also confirmed that the much-anticipated Star Wars series Ahsoka will premiere in 2023, along with a new kid-centric series called Star Wars: Skeleton Crew, set during The Mandalorian‘s timeline and starring Jude Law. Also, the third season of The Mandalorian will premiere in February 2023, featuring the bounty hunter’s return to Mandalore with Grogu, as well as Katee Sackhoff reprising her S2 role as Bo-Katan Kryze. (Chances are she wants to retrieve the Darksaber that Mando won.)
We haven’t seen or heard much about Andor after the reveal of a behind-the-scenes teaser in December 2020 during Disney’s Investors Day. Andor has been described as a “tense nail-biting spy thriller,” with Tony Gilroy, who co-wrote Rogue One, serving as showrunner. It begins with the Empire’s destruction of Cassian Andor’s homeworld and will depict the birth of the Rebellion. According to Deadline Hollywood, Luna described Andor as “the journey of a migrant. That feeling of having to move is behind this story—that shapes you as a person. It defines you in many ways, and what you are willing to do.”
Per the official synopsis:
The Andor series will explore a new perspective from the Star Wars galaxy, focusing on Cassian Andor’s journey to discover the difference he can make. The series brings forward the tale of the burgeoning rebellion against the Empire and how people and planets became involved. It’s an era filled with danger, deception and intrigue where Cassian will embark on the path that is destined to turn him into a rebel hero.
The ensemble cast also includes Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma, a senator of the Republic who helped found the Rebel Alliance, as well as Forest Whitaker reprising his Rogue One role as Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera. Stellan Skarsgård and Adria Arjona co-star as the resistance fighters who recruit Andor to the cause. Kyle Soller, Denise Gough, Fiona Shaw, Robert Emms, and David Hayman have all been cast in undisclosed roles. Alan Tudyk was supposed to be returning as the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, but his appearance was scuttled during rewrites. The droid might meet up with Cassian during the second season, which is already in development and purportedly will lead directly into the events of Rogue One.
We know much less about the Willow TV series, although fans of the film will be thrilled to hear that Warwick Davis is returning as the Nelwyn dwarf sorcerer Willow Ufgood. The original film was directed by Ron Howard, and it told the story of a child with a rune birthmark who was prophesied to bring about the downfall of the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda. The child is set afloat on a grass raft and found by a village of little people (the Nelwyn). Willow leads a party to find a community of Daikini (tall people) to raise the baby. Many magical adventures ensued.
The Oscar-nominated 1988 film debuted to mixed critical reviews, but made a decent showing at the box office, earning $137.6 million globally—even though it never became the blockbuster hit producer George Lucas had hoped it would be. Lucas and Davis had discussed the possibility of a sequel series as early as 2005, but Disney+ didn’t give the project the green light until October 2020, with Howard on board as an executive producer.
The official synopsis describes the series as “an epic period fantasy series with a modern sensibility set in an enchanted land of breathtaking beauty”—so, very much in the same vein as the original film. It continues:
The story began with an aspiring magician from a Nelwyn village and an infant girl destined to unite the realms, who together helped destroy an evil queen and banish the forces of darkness. Now, in a magical world where brownies, sorcerers, trolls, and other mystical creatures flourish, the adventure continues, as an unlikely group of heroes set off on a dangerous quest to places far beyond their home, where they must face their inner demons and come together to save their world.
In addition to Davis, the case includes Erin Kellyman as a servant named Jade, who is training to become a warrior; Ruby Cruz as Jade’s friend Kit, a princess who assembles a party to rescue her twin brother; Ellie Bamber as a kitchen maid named Dove; and Amar Chadha-Patel as a thief named Boorman, who is promised his freedom in exchange for helping the party. Dempsey Bryk, Talisa Garcia, Ralph Ineson, and Rosabell Laurenti Sellers have been cast in undisclosed roles.
The first two episodes of Andor will debut on Disney+ on August 31, 2022, with new episodes airing weekly after that. Willow premieres on Disney+ on November 30, 2022.
With the 2020 release of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, we’ve started to see the era of console games that finally make full use of TVs capable of 4K resolutions (i.e., “Ultra HD” 3840×2160 pixels) that have become increasingly popular in the marketplace. Now, though, at least one TV manufacturer is already planning to support 8K-capable consoles (i.e., 7680×4320 resolution) that it thinks could launch in the next year or two.
Polish gaming site PPL reports on a recent public presentation by Chinese TV and electronics maker TCL. Tucked away in a slide during that presentation is a road map for what TCL sees as “Gen 9.5” consoles coming in 2023 or ’24. Those supposed consoles—which the slide dubs the PS5 Pro and “New Xbox Series S/X”—will be capable of pushing output at 8K resolution and up to 120 frames per second, according to TCL’s slide.
First off, there’s little reason to believe that a lesser-known TV manufacturer has leaked the first official word of Sony and Microsoft’s next console plans. As GamesBeat’s Jeff Grubb points out, you can tell TCL is speculating on console makers’ plans “because they put the information up in big letters on a stage. If the company knew what it was talking about, then it would be under a non-disclosure agreement.”
Still, speculation about a new mid-generation upgrade isn’t completely far-fetched. After all, it was four years after the Xbox One and PS4 launched that we saw the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, which offered their own resolution bumps over their predecessor consoles.
Since we’re speculating anyway, it’s worth asking the question: Is there any real value in a console that can output at 8K resolution? And are gamers going to need to upgrade to an 8K-capable TV in the foreseeable future?
The answer to that first question depends largely on the screen size and the viewing distance for your gaming setup. Those variables determine the “angular resolution” of an image, i.e., how many pixels can be squeezed into each degree of your vision.
A person with 20/20 vision generally can’t discern visual details that measure smaller than 1/60th of a degree of angular resolution on their retina. Using that heuristic, display resolutions beyond 4K only become “worth it” for displays 65 inches and above if you’re sitting 4 feet or less from the screen, according to an analysis by RTINGS.com. That’s pretty cramped for most living rooms.
More rigorous studies of how viewers perceive visual detail also suggest limited advantages in moving from 4K to 8K displays. TechHive’s Scott Wilkinson detailed one study in 2020, a double-blind test led by Warner Bros., which asked participants to rate the relative quality of a number of film clips rendered in both 4K and 8K. That test got results from nearly 140 participants with a variety of visual acuity levels sitting at either five or nine feet away from an 88-inch OLED screen.
The study set up a subjective scale for participants to rate the two different versions of each clip: “same” (0); “slightly better” (+1); “better” (+2); and “much better” (+3) (If the 4K clip was judged better, the results noted a negative value). On average, the participants rated the 8K clips just 0.252 points better than their 4K counterparts. While that is technically an improvement, it’s one that gets you only a quarter of the way to “slightly better” on the study’s subjective scale.
What’s more, a slight majority of participants watching six of the seven clips said both resolutions looked the same; they literally couldn’t tell the difference. A significant minority of participants also said the 4K image looked better, which could suggest they were guessing.
Who’s in the market?
Right now, 8K TVs are an expensive niche, with high-end displays running close to $30,000. Given that, and the relative dearth of 8K-ready content, it’s not surprising that manufacturers shipped fewer than 100,000 8K-capable TVs worldwide in the last quarter of 2021, according to Omdia Research. And while prices will no doubt come down, Omdia sees 8K sets in just over 2.6 million households worldwide by 2026, and “no convincing market demand of further 8K service development” worldwide.
In other words, we might finally be hitting the point where the law of diminishing returns will finally force console manufacturers and game makers to stop chasing more and more pixels as a selling point. But that doesn’t mean there’s no space for improved pixel densities in gaming. PC players, who routinely sit just a foot or two from increasingly large monitors, could probably benefit from at least one more doubling of the linear pixel density in their displays.
And let’s not forget VR displays, which routinely sit just a couple of inches from the player’s eyes. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey told Ars back in 2013 that a VR headset would need to generate an 8K “per eye” resolution “to get to the point where you can’t see pixels. And to get to the point where you couldn’t see any more improvements, you’d need several times that.” How’s that for a “retina display”?
Sony’s latest financial forecasts, tucked into a Wednesday presentation to investors, saw the company disclose plenty about its varied tech and entertainment platforms. Still, the presentation had a ton to say about its gaming space. Deservedly so: Sony’s “game and network services segment” drove a whopping $25.1 billion in global sales of hardware, software, and other products during the company’s “fiscal year ’21” ending in March 2022. (Microsoft won’t have its forecast available until its fiscal year closes in June; its gaming division reported $15.37 billion in sales for the 2020 fiscal year in June 2021.)
While perusing the company’s presentation, which combined present-day numbers with forward-looking estimates, one page stood out: “exponential growth” coming to its slate of games for PCs. The result is arguably Sony’s most bullish admission of how many Sony games, including previous PlayStation exclusives, could land on PCs in the next nine months.
$300 million, spread over how many games?
There’s no way for Sony to reach its sales estimate for FY22 without more new games—and lots of them. Its past two fiscal years of PC game sales total roughly $115 in revenue, driven by three ports of previous PlayStation 4 exclusives onto Windows: Horizon Zero Dawn, Days Gone, and God of War (2018).
Yet Sony insists that its next fiscal year will end with $300 million in PC game sales—a 375 percent jump year-over-year and nearly triple the past two years of combined PC game sales. That bold estimate only gets more audacious when we clear up an obvious question: No, Sony is not including sales of Destiny 2, which was developed by Sony’s recently acquired studio Bungie, as part of this estimate.
Instead, Sony Interactive Entertainment president Jim Ryan indicated that this drive would be fueled in part by the previously announced PC port of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (including both Uncharted 4 and its semi-sequel The Lost Legacy), along with two “unannounced” games. Ryan did not clarify whether the two games in question are merely unannounced ports of existing PlayStation console games or whether they may be entirely new games or franchises slated to simultaneously launch on PC and PlayStation.
Either way, in the short term, SIE has yet to release a PC game in its modern push that has exceeded $40 million in revenue in a single calendar year. Its three most recent PC ports have arguably entered a downward trajectory of reduced revenue. If we want to be particularly optimistic about per-game revenues, SIE would need no less than five new PC game launches, all selling at gangbuster levels, to get near its bullish estimate.
Nvidia’s 2021 dollop of tea leaves, newly examined
Bizarrely, the best resource we can turn to about potential Sony PC ports comes from the infamous “Nvidia leak,” which included stub entries posted on Nvidia’s GeForce NOW servers in September 2021 (and more in November). The leak had some truth to it, confirming wholly unannounced fare like the Grand Theft Auto Definitive Trilogy and Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. It also included two of Sony’s eventually announced PC ports.
The remaining games from that September 2021 list, in alphabetical order:
Ghost of Tsushima
Gran Turismo 7
Horizon Forbidden West
“Ratchet and Clank” (no subtitle clarifying which sequel)
Sackboy: A Big Adventure
Notice that the list skips PlayStation-exclusive franchises, like Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Last Of Us, in favor of unexpected titles like a From Software PlayStation VR exclusive and an unannounced sequel to a 2015 twin-stick shooter. In other words, it isn’t a catch-all list of top-selling console exclusives. Yet it’s still unclear exactly which of these had been formally submitted to Nvidia by Sony as planned PC ports and which, if any, were given Nvidia stub pages out of mere speculation.
Two games from that list, Returnal and Ghost of Tsushima, also appeared in a November Github leak of potential PC game launches sourced from Nvidia servers—though, at the time, those two games had PC port dates that have since come and gone. While Sony and Nvidia can claim plausible deniability about these lists, it’s tempting to re-read them as a path toward accruing a $300 million in single-year revenue—even if the lack of recent PS5 exclusives raises our eyebrows. (On the other hand, Sony’s obnoxious decision to link Gran Turismo 7 to an always-online server structure would at the least pave its high-speed track toward PCs.)
However Sony’s PC porting plans shake out over the next year, it planted seeds for its bullish growth when it acquired the PC game-porting powerhouse Nixxes nearly one year ago. More interesting in the frame of this week’s PC revenue estimates, it’s worth noting that we still haven’t seen the fruits of that acquisition, as Nixxes didn’t contribute to the development of the God of War (2018) port that launched earlier this year.
The rest of the presentation teases further growth in PC game sales in the years to come, along with an equally bullish push for new games on smartphone platforms. By 2025, SIE estimates that half of its game-launch output will be on PlayStation 5, with the other half split roughly 60/40 between PC and mobile platforms, respectively. It also sees the publisher, which has primarily focused on one-off triple-A games during the PlayStation 4 era, announce its intent to release far more “live service” games, with two unannounced games coming by the end of FY22 and roughly 12 being operated by Sony by the end of FY25.