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[Update] Microsoft Will Focus Primarily On Xbox Live Usership, Not Console Shipments

Update: Microsoft will not be using console shipments as its primary metric for success beginning with this quarter, we have been told. The company is more focused on engagement, leading it to choose Xbox Live usership as its leading statistic.

While that doesn't mean we won't hear about console shipment statistics, it won't be something we should expect to see every quarter. Microsoft also indicates that the 39 million Xbox Live users reported today are more narrowly defined now. We've been told that this metric now reflects users that have logged in within the past month. No differentiation has been made between gold (paying) and silver (free) members.

Original Story (October 22 at 4:29 p.m. Central):

Microsoft has announced the results of its first fiscal quarter for the current year. The company has not revealed how many consoles it shipped, which is a change from past reporting practices.

The company does indicate that total gaming hardware revenue is down year-over-year, attributing the decline to lower sales of Xbox 360. A further breakdown across console types is unavailable. Xbox Live has seen a boom over last year at the same time, though.  Usership is up 28 percent to 39 million. 

The Xbox group is now reported as part of Microsoft’s personal computing division. With the release of the New Xbox One Experience next month and deeper integration with PC since the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft appears to be unifying that category.

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Gaming revenue was up 6 percent when adjusted for constant currency. Corporate revenue dropped year-over-year by 12 percent to $ 20.4 billion, with net income up 2 percent to $ 4.6 billion. 

We’ve inquired with Microsoft about Xbox One shipments and will update should we receive a response.

[Source: Microsoft]


Our Take
This move away from console shipment reporting may be in line with Xbox boss Phil Spencer’s recent statements that the company isn’t as focused on the competitive nature of the sector. I suspect that after the holiday quarter, there might be good news enough to share more specifics, though. – The Feed

From Software Opening New Studio To “Focus On Creating 3D CG Assets”

A press release from From Software announced recently that the studio is establishing a new studio in Fukuoka, Japan in October.

According to the release, the studio is being established to work on creating assets and won't radically change From's development trajectory.

From Software has been actively developing video games for various platforms and they will continue to do so. The establishment of the new studio will expand their development capabilities to create globally competitive products.

The Fukuoka studio will focus on creating 3D CG assets for games while working closely with the original studio in Tokyo.

The studio will be established next month and being operating in January 2016.

Dark Souls III is on our cover this month, and as a result we have all kinds of Dark Souls features. You can find them by clicking the banner below

[Source: From Software, via NeoGAF]


Our Take
It's unlikely this will negatively impact the work being done on Dark Souls, whatever is next for BloodBorne, or spread the studio thin. It just seems like an atypical way of expanding its workforce. I'm curious if it will be creating 3D CG assets for studios other than for use in From Software's games. – The Feed

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Daybreak Shifts Focus From Landmark To EverQuest Next, No Guarantee Of Release This Year

Daybreak Games (formerly Sony Online Entertainment) has announced a significant shift in the EverQuest team's focus. Landmark, Daybreak's EverQuest sandbox, has been the priority for months. Moving forward, the team is turning its attention to EverQuest Next.

Landmark will continue to feed into EverQuest Next's development, as the team explores ways to bring user creations into the game. What this also means is that features that are exclusive to Landmark are going to take a back seat now that the team has completed a major character and land claim wipe.

"As the team has wrapped up the various pieces related to the wipe and the bugs associated with it, we have been shifting our focus and resources over to work on the highest priority tasks and systems that will be used in EverQuest Next," writes senior producer Terry Michaels. "While we do this, we’re working in areas with high amounts of creative risk. This means that while we know what we want to do, we know it will take an unknown amount of iteration, tweaking and sometimes drastic direction changes to get these in game and working the way they need to. Because of this, we simply cannot commit to any dates, because until we get much closer, even our best estimates are educated (but still fairly wild) guesses."

Updates and hotfixes to Landmark will still take place, but not as frequently as they have been. While Daybreak's EverQuest team is repositioning its resources, Michaels is clear that it should not be interpretted as a commitment for release of EverQuest Next in this calendar year.

[Source: Daybreak Games]


Our Take
It feels like EverQuest Next has taken a backseat to the sandbox tools players have been using in Landmark. While there are sure to be major connections between the two as was the original vision, it has been some time since EverQuest Next was in the news. 

Especially now that it seems a 2015 release is in question (and, in fact, unlikely given Michaels' statements), this refocusing seems important. Daybreak doesn't have Sony backing anymore, which frees the studio to explore multi-platform deals, but also likely applies more financial pressure to produce. – The Feed

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NBA Live 15 Sharpens Its Focus On The Court

To say NBA Live 14 had a rough debut is an understatement. With sluggish transitions, almost no off-ball movement, and a troubled shooting system that saw some A.I players take shots with their backs to the basket, the play resembled the Washington Generals more than a true NBA team. The developers at EA Tiburon owned up to the game's shortcomings, and rather than sulking immediately went to work on getting the Live gameplay to a competent level. Part of that effort includes bringing on longtime NBA Live and NCAA Basketball vet Connor Dougan back into the fold as a producer.

Dougan and the rest of the Live team set out with a four-part plan. First, they wanted to improve the responsiveness of every action taken on the court, from dribbling and passing to shooting and driving. To do so, they replaced every transitional animation to give players instantaneous changes of direction and the feeling that actions happen at the push of a button. The pass reception system was also overhauled to ensure that players square up to the basket and get into proper position to shoot or drive. 

Secondly, EA Tiburon wanted to make the game more accessible. A long time has passed since Live has been on equal footing with rival NBA 2K, and an entire generation of gamers have grown up with 2K controls. To get these types of players on board with Live more quickly, EA Tiburon designed a new tutorial system to teach players the basics of dribbling, passing, and shooting before jumping into a game. Guided by cover athlete Damian Lillard, players learn all the basics in an easy-to-follow series of drills on a practice court. Other changes to improve accessibility include moving alley oops to a face button and bringing over the quick action system from NCAA basketball. Tapping L1 at any time on the court will enact a series of ad hoc screens and cuts to try and free up an offensive option. If you tap it while carrying the ball up the court, it also serves to initiate early offense with high screens. 

The third major endeavor pertains to upping the animation quality. The team aggressively overhauled its approach, making changes to locomotion, off-ball movement, guarding, passes, catches, and shooting. More than 600 new dunking and lay-up animations were added to Live 15, and the new jump-shooting footwork evens out inconsistencies present last year where timing could be different whether you were moving left or right with a signature shot.

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Last but not least, EA wanted to hone the physics in the paint to not only even up the matchup against 2K, but in some cases beat it. Anyone who plays basketball games knows animations get messy when players come into content under the hoop, causing arms, legs, and sometimes even the ball to warp through bodies. To improve these entanglements, Tiburon is applying true physics to both the shooter and defenders while a player is attacking the rim. For the entirety of the shot, rag doll physics are applied, which means you'll see true contact and realistic-looking animations. In several instances we saw defenders jockeying with each other for space on the court while trying to block a lay-up. 

I checked out these improvements first-hand in two exhibition games. The game definitely plays faster than last year's sluggish effort. Stringing together dribbling moves and penetrating looks much more natural, and the drive, hop step, shoot strategy isn't 100-percent successful anymore. The closer camera angle gives you a chance to check out some of the improved player animations – the body models and glistening, sweaty skin in particular look fantastic. Players react naturally with emotion when celebrating blocks or slamming a dunk home. 

I was always a fan of the quick action button in NCAA basketball, as it gives you on-the-fly options when you don't feel like calling a proper play. This translates well to Live 15, which helps keep players from idling listlessly on the court. Last year movement would come to a standstill if you didn't initiate a play, but the players in Live 15 move with urgency and purpose as much as they would on a real court.

The gameplay may still have some rough edges – I noticed in particular that players reacted slowly to loose balls, and some contact animations in the paint resulted in defenders being driven aggressively backward. But if the majority of these alterations prove themselves out over extended play sessions, the Live series may finally have a foundation from which to build a true competitor to NBA 2K. – The Feed