Rival Peak – Follow Up 1

[December 16th, 2020]

The experimental interactive experience has been up for more than 10 days and has finished the first weekly loop of “heart of experience”, Rival Speak. You can try the reality show / game at fb.gg/play/rivalpeak.

My first impression for Rival Peak before its launch was the experience is not engaging. Now that I have tried the “gameplay” and watched the “show”, the impression hasn’t changed much. I believe there are people who enjoy the experience and find other use cases of the Rival Peak. For example, Rival Peak has great ambience music so some people would just keep it up in the background (like video of 10-hour raining in mountain with campfire category on Youtube).

Maybe it’s due to Facebook platform strategy, Rival Peak has limited social presence outside of Facebook ecosystem. Rival Peak currently lacks discussion on twitter and content on Youtube. The media coverage concentrates on the product launch, not much about the post-launch reception. It will get harder and harder for Rival Peak to gain traction (the constraint comes from design of experience) unless it has extremely strong live ops to do growth hack. Not much time left for this product before it loses momentum and enters into phase out mode (in my previous post, I simply don’t think this product can take off after quickly reviewing its trailer…).

I have no idea what kind of post mortem this product will have but I enjoy more watching VTubers playing Minecraft and chatting in a foreign language that I don’t speak (e.g. Usada Pekora from Hololive).

Do you find it enjoyable to interact with something human-like that takes your inputs to feed the algorithm / model or to watch interaction between algorithms / models based on real-time data input without clear gameplay? During Rival Speak, it’s unbearable to see an interaction with between a human and an “AI” with human-written script voice-acted by another human.

Rival Peak – Initial Thoughts

Background of Rival Peak

Below is how Facebook describes Rival Peak and its trailer:

Rival Peak is an experimental competition reality show, featuring artificially intelligent contestants whose fate is controlled by YOU, the viewing audience. You can interact with the real-time experience through an instant game right on Facebook.

Rival Peak Official Website

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Initial Thoughts

Do you think the experience presented in the trailer above interesting?

The interactive experience will be launched later today so apparently I get my impression from the trailer. I know it’s totally subjective but at the moment I don’t think the experience is interesting or engaging enough to retain a level of audience / players that Facebook expects.

While I don’t watch reality shows and seldom play role-playing games, my first questions for this interactive experience are:

  • What’s the core experience for a reality show?
  • What’s the core gameplay for a role-playing game?

This experiment blends observing element in reality show (watching someone interacting with others) with immersive element in role-playing game (playing the role of someone) and adds some UGC element (audience decides some parts of the show / game) to create a new category / genre. This new experience feels confusing to me. I hope Facebook finds ways to make the experience enjoyable otherwise this will be just… an experiment where you blend two things together hoping to enjoy both but it turns out you get non.

Nobody cares about the cloud computing or AI stuff in cloud gaming. They are like new capabilities that people expect to have so that the gameplay will be more enjoyable or engaging…

In terms of IP, I think it’s not going to be long lasting. Again, very subjective, maybe it’s due to art style… Developers might further expand the IP during the show / game but I see limited potential overall.

Since it’s a reality show and a game played real time, live ops might be the only place that this experiment can have optionality. At glance, the setup is not very favorable but strong live ops that have quick iteration and creative operation / coordination might be able to turn things around.

It’s difficult to say an experiment is a flop (well it’s an experiment!) and the fact that the show / game is being distributed on a 2B+ social graph guarantees it will have some impressive metrics like peak concurrent viewer / players… That said, given my impression above, I expect retention will be weak even though Facebook might design various loops in the experience to maintain engagement.

People will talk about 2B+ build-in social graph cannot guarantee the success of a confusing experience and that the cloud gaming in this iteration is not what they expect (they’re not surprised or amazed by the experience).

I expect there will be other iterations on the tech but no season 2 for Rival Peak. Maybe I will change my mind after trying the experience.

Wish Rival Peak has a great launch!

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Background of the Game

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a Hack and Slash (H&S) game for Nintendo Switch. The game is developed by Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force and will be published by Koei Tecmo in Japan and by Nintendo worldwide.

Concept of the Game

The game is a crossover between Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors series and Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda (LoZ) series.

In terms of this specific crossover, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (HW: AoC) is the sequel to Hyrule Warriors (HW). However, in terms of IP strategy for LoZ series, the story of HW: AoC is set before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW) and inherits the art style of the highly acclaimed open-world game.

Even though I only watched some live streaming during Tokyo Game Show I started writing this post just before the Nintendo Direct Mini so I had the opportunity to try the demo (actually this is my first Warriors game since PS2). I can tell there are many attention to details and integrations that developers (including Nintendo team) want players to feel they’re really in the world of BotW to enjoy a game genre that developers believe better fitting the story setting (a war rather than an adventure).

In this sense, HW: AoC is better to be seen as the prequel to BotW rather than a sequel to HW even though it’s in different genre and developed by third party.

Implication of the Game for Nintendo’s LoZ Series

What we can learn from HW: AoC about Nintendo’s IP strategy for LoZ series?

Nintendo probably plans to use the design theme of BotW going forward to unify logo style (particular) of LoZ games to indicate they are games developed in the BotW era. For example, the logo design of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake (2019) shares the same style with BotW. In addition, while the logo design of HW: AoC follows that of HW, we notice that its logo uses fonts from the BotW. This is even more apparent in it’s Japanese logo which changes English font of “Zelda” to Japanese font of “Zelda” in BotW. We can expect more remakes from original LoZ titles with different gameplay and art style but sharing the same design theme shown on the logo indicating they’re influenced by BotW.

In addition to new elements that BotW introduces into LoZ series, the game also provides “the engine” which serves as a technical and intellectual platform for the series and might be applied to other IP. The engine can shorten the development cycle for similar genre and it can even bring in new ideas to games in different genres. For example, it is relatively easy for Nintendo to make a direct sequel to BotW where they can have more resources to put into story and other enhancement or additions to the game world. In the future, Nintendo can keep iterating on BotW series or it can leverage the engine in other Zelda games or other games. (One noticeable BotW-inspired game might be Genshin Impact. It’s easy to identify elements from BotW and other games but you still quickly realize it’s a different game providing different interactive experience)

There are few things Nintendo can do with LoZ franchise games.
(1) Keep iterating BotW series (Breath of the Wild Universe)
(2) Remake past LoZ games
(3) New BotW-inspired LoZ games with different story line (or parallel universe), genre and gameplay
(4) Last one is least likely but has highest potential: a live game in a LoZ parallel universe built on top of BotW art style and engine

(1) Keep iterating BotW Universe

(1) , (2) & (3) as LoZ Pipeline Category for Nintendo

(1), (2) & (3) are traditional business model for Nintendo’s console games. There’s no noticeable live game developed by Nintendo.

I expect Nintendo to release LoZ games every one to one and a half year. These LoZ games can be categorized in three groups in terms of pipeline sources as shown in the graph above. It’s very likely Nintendo will keep using traditional business model for these games (boxed game in console with some DLCs) in the foreseeable future as long as Nintendo Switch is still relevant.

It seems Nintendo doesn’t have a plan to develop and operate a live game for its IP on Nintendo Switch. Without live game plan, Nintendo will miss some optionality from its IP in gaming. The unwillingness to experiment live game on console in-house indicates the limited upside from mobile gaming. Fire Emblem Heroes is an exception which has apparent product-market-fit. The problem lies in senior management but time will fix this.

Prospect of the Game

Warriors game is in a relatively niche genre. I couldn’t even finish the demo. That said, I believe HW: AoC will be a commercial success supported by Zelda fan base. The game will be easily the best sold Warriors game on Nintendo Switch and probably rank top among the whole Warriors series. Koei Tecmo will reach a new audience base. This is not a Warriors game with BotW skins but a BotW game with Warriors gameplay.

The crossover indicates that Nintendo is more flexible on its IP. Even though Nintendo wants to have a prequel to BotW, that doesn’t mean the game needs to be in the same genre or developed by Nintendo. Depending on what and how the story Nintendo wants to tell, different genre might create better experience and Nintendo might need support from other company for that specific genre. Koei Tecmo has collaborated with Nintendo on other Nintendo IP such as Fire Emblem (Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Fire Emblem Warriors). In the past crossover Warriors games, the Warriors concept/element was used as a platform to host a parallel universe for characters within a franchise (it seems Warriors can easily mix everything together). It’s a little bit different in in HW: AoC, what developers need from Warriors here is its gameplay to support the story setting. I expect Nintendo to use this module approach more often in its franchises.

It’s likely that Koei Tecmo will announce DLCs for this game later. After the success of this game, people will expect more possibilities from BotW and other IP like Fire Emblem.

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

Concept of the Game

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit (Mario Kart Live) utilizes Mixed Reality technology to combine real-time, interactive information captured from physical radio-controlled cars and digital Mario Kart gameplay experience.

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Nature of the Game

Due to physical element in the game mechanics, the game has natural constraints on scalability in different forms.

  • Unlike drone racing which inspired the game, Mario Kart Live has a clear limitation on area defined by wireless communication capability of the hardware. The size of area might be designed based survey of average size of home space and costs of hardware. Nintendo recommends the product is for indoor use only.
  • The game doesn’t support online multiplayer while up to four players can race together via local multiplayer. This means the game can only enjoy limited local network effect due to relatively high price of RC cars and uncertain replayability for potential players.

In the mean time, Mixed Reality element gives the game unlimited possibility and unpredictable fun.

  • There’re unlimited routes that players can design. In fact, they are required to set up track every time they paly. User’s creativity and improvisation is a source of fun for this game. It’s kind of user-generated content (UGC) even though the “content” creator is the “content” consumer. There’s no built-in mechanic in the game to share this type of content. For those who are really enthusiastic about the game, they might go to social media to find ideas to decorate and create obstacle for their tracks. They will find some as it’s not surprising there’s supply of this type of content. Oh by the way, how’s Nintendo Labo doing?
  • Mixed Reality brings teal-time, interactive physical inputs into gameplay, sometimes making the game unpredictable in an enjoyable way. One scenario is playing the game with toddlers or pets walking arounds. Their actions are less predictable adding random factors into the game (which is actually a part of game mechanics). That said, I don’t know how often this magic happens and how much it makes players want to replay the game.

Business Model and Monetization of the Game

The game integrates/bundles radio-controlled car and downloadable-only game software. The game software also serves as the operating system for the RC cars. The bundle is priced at $100. The game has in-game items which can be unlocked using coins earned during the game.

The game has little room for paid DLC, let alone live ops. If the game was solely developed Nintendo, it might get some free updates. Since the game is developed by Velan Studios, the consideration is different from that of platform holder being a sole developer. Nintendo and Velan Studios probably have a flexible plan with production depending on initial reception and additional content depending on installed base, user feedback and user behavior.

The game is likely to collaborate with Tetris 99 to offer special skin. Nintendo might have other plans for this in Super Mario 35th Anniversary campaign.

This product looks like software in a box. However, the hardware and software are so integrated that replayability and scalability are capped in a reinforcing way. Thus, it has limited potential for game as a service.

Prospect of the Game

Due to the limited replayability and pricing, I don’t expect this product to be a hit as Ring Fit Adventure which even has utility value (keeping you fit) . We might see supply shortage on this product for an extended period of time as Nintendo might be cautious about the demand (more like another Nintendo’s high quality experiment). If the product does well, that’s very good. Even if the product doesn’t do well, the game meets Nintendo’s high standard and presents the innovation/novelty to the world. Nintendo can always treats it as marketing initiative under its broader IP strategy. My perspective is that the game is more like a profitable marketing initiatives. The magnitude of lifetime contribution profit won’t be significant for Nintendo. I don’t expect next iteration or live ops plans for this game.

Sides Notes

It seems Nintendo is executing based on an IP platform strategy rather than on game platform concept. Nintendo’s live game or game as a service includes their mobile games (Mario Kart Tour, Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Dr. Mario World, Dragalia Lost), Nintendo Switch Online and Tetris 99 (as part of Nintendo Switch Online). Nintendo doesn’t have real live games in their 1P game portfolio (excl. games or services related to The Pokemon Company). What they’re doing with their 1P games on Nintendo Switch is keeping iterating franchises/IP with some add-on or DLC for each iteration. The reasons why Nintendo lacks live game on Nintendo Switch, can’t build a successful smart-device business and sticks with more traditional business mode on game level on their platform are multifaceted and interconnected.

Ring Fit Adventure has high potential to become a viable game as a service and it’s a new IP so it has less historical burden to try some new business models. It’s been exactly one year today since Ring Fit Adventure launched. Not sure if Nintendo has any further plan for this game after seeing its success. In addition to its own sales, the game also drives some adoption of Nintendo Switch Online and adds value to that service.

  • As of the end of Jun. 2020, Nintendo has shipped 3.9M Ring Fit Adventure but it didn’t have a business model for the game that generates recurring revenue.
  • In comparison, Peloton had 1.1M connected fitness subscription as of the end of Jun. 2020. Over the past year, Peloton has added more than $30B to its market cap. Nintendo’s market cap is around $65B.