Video Game Investment Watch ~ April, 2015

stock chartThe stock market in general is struggling right now, which means a good time to buy might be coming. Even the high-flying Electronic Arts has been “basing” in recent weeks with the lukewarm reception of Battlefield:Hardline.

The future of video games has never been brighter, and the stocks of video game companies are reflecting that. Blizzard is up about 20% in the last year. EA is up about 60%. Sony is up 50% in just the last 3 months, after getting sold off due to the hacking scandal.

If you’re a gamer, you’re probably good with figuring addition math. It doesn’t take an Eve Online player to look at these numbers and think this might be worth looking into, especially if you’re a young person.

It takes scarcely a few hours of your time to set up an account with an online broker and transfer money from your bank account (Or at least, it should. If it doesn’t, find another one.) I’m endorsing TD Ameritrade.

(I can also refer you if you want to go to the trouble to help me win a $50 referral bonus in exchange for this blog post – just leave a comment with your first and last name, and I’ll get your email address to complete the invitation, but no one else will).

I haven’t killed the research on this. I’m mainly typing research notes from this week.


Blizzard (symbol: ATVI)


Blizzard’s stock has given a healthy 20% return in the last year, but has gone nowhere for the last eight months. This year Activision has the new Call of Duty:Black Ops coming, along with the new online Guitar Hero Live next fall. Blizzard is working on Heroes of the Storm (in beta), which is getting mixed reviews.

If it’s successful, it could be really big, and since when has a Blizzard game not been successful?

Blizzard may also have a “catalyst” for its stock coming in the form of another game announcement. Is everyone from the cancelled Titan project securely re-distributed to Overwatch and elsewhere, or is something more in the works? This could send the stock breaking out.

I’m really tempted to buy some ATVI, even though I’m personally not a huge Blizzard fan. Blizzard is looking really strong with its games on Twitch, maybe with a stronger popular sentiment than the market is discounting right now.


Electronic Arts (symbol: EA)


They’ve got FIFA, Madden, NBA, Sims, Need for Speed, Dragon Age, and SWTOR. Electronic Arts has returned an astonishing 60% on an investment in the last year.

In recent weeks, like Blizzard, EA stock has been basing, which means it may be poised to offer a good buying opportunity, either by breaking out to the upside, or also by breaking down. The chart could definitely break down.

EA seems like the best bet on the future of RPGs with Bioware in the house. Its big upcoming title looks like Star Wars: Battlefront, launching with the new Star Wars movie from Disney next winter. It looks like a new Mirror’s Edge is coming as well.

I struggle ethically to invest in EA because they’ve built their profits and soaring stock price on the back of microtransactions that I hate. I haven’t purchased Dragon Age: Inquisition yet because EA will only sell it on Origin and not Steam.

This is because they’d rather pocket the profits themselves and more importantly force customers into their platform instead of giving them a choice. I use Steam on PC, so I’m not buying any EA games. Origin is literally the only reason I never look to buy EA games, because I look on Steam. It’s my Facebook for video games.

Still. EA is the king, and it’s often the best play to put your chips on the king, especially when the stock market is struggling, like it is this year.


My Picks: Nvidia And Akamai (symbol: NVDA and symbol: AKAM)


I bought into Nvidia and Akamai this week. Like Steam (Valve), I like companies who are independent fighters and not greedy giants. I’m so wary to bet on software companies also, for all sorts of reasons. In general, the short history of tech shows that software gets replaced with better technology (i.e. cloud, Android, and open source.)

Meanwhile, many gaming companies are private or on a foreign market. You can’t buy into Zenimax. You can’t buy a video game ETF–yet. (An ETF is an exchange-traded fund, a “stock basket” containing a bunch of stocks on a common theme, which reduces your risk drastically for any single stock. You can buy these just like a stock at any broker, and some you can buy into for free.)

NVIDIA: Currently the PC market is in a decline, and few think it will recover soon, if ever. Microsoft and Intel are really suffering because of this, and it shows in their stock prices. This is a good time to go with a contrarian strategy on PCs–buying when everyone else has sold.

NVIDIA has catalysts not just in the video game industry, but also through a new major initiative with Dell against Apple. The release of DirectX 12 this summer may also be a catalyst. Most of Dx12 will be supported as a software upgrade for existing cards, but some features will need a new video card. These are likely the high-performance features that gamers are most interested in.

AMD is also a solid contrarian play. They have been mostly beaten by Intel in the CPU chips, but are hanging on with their graphics cards. Their stock has been crushed with their failures. On the other hand, I was willing to spend more to get an Intel CPU on my last gaming computer, but I tried to scrimp with a Radeon card. That was a mistake.

My installation of the AMD Catalyst Control Center has been broken forever and won’t run, just like on my last PC. I have no way to adjust or troubleshoot my card. My card also has display issues and glitches with two screens, so I don’t run two screens anymore. The fan also has had problems, but I think that’s the third-party manufacturer. Next time it will be Intel and Nvidia, only.

AKAMAI: Akamai is one of the world’s largest online content delivery services, and a cloud services provider. They advertise themselves as a game content deliverer, and they’ve had some success in recent years in delivering content for gaming companies like Turbine, Nintendo, and Sony. They have recently worked on being a security provider.

Akamai is a bit of a “greedy giant”. They have waged legal war on competitors, and in at least one case (Limelight Networks), they have failed. Limelight is another opportunity, and this much smaller company has had big insider buying in the last quarter even after the stock has surged, which is supposed to be a big buy signal.

I bought $200 of Akamai originally for $2 a share in the market crash of 2001. I sold half at $20, and the rest at $40. So this stock is a long-time favorite. I’m starting to buy in again at $70 after a base, although I’m really tempted to try for the same rags to riches story with Limelight.

Akamai’s stock chart is a stair-step show-me pattern. When they report solid earnings, everyone buys, otherwise everyone is wary. This is partly because Akamai has done business with Apple, who is currently the world’s greatest tech company by doing chips themselves and cutting out Intel and Nvidia from the equation. Apple is currently working on reducing the need for Akamai, which is bad.

As of recent weeks, Apple is still going to their major competitor, Samsung, for displays, though. Go figure.

On the positive side, Akamai specializes in cloud and delivering video, both of which are huge future growth areas. I’m also not a big believer in the current hot, overpriced internet security companies. From what I’m reading, I think big companies would rather go for a security solution as part of the package from their content delivery or networking partner, who is the expert on their own systems.


My Strategy


So what’s my buying strategy? Right now I’m averaging in. I’ll buy a little, preferably on “dips” in the market, over time. I always sell if a stock loses 7%. It’s my rule. That way, all I need is to pick and hold one double (+100%) to make up for maybe 12 losses adjusted for fees. Surely even a stupid kitty can handle that.

So if you love video games, consider putting your money where your joystick is. Don’t make my mistake and wait. If your favorite company does well, you profit, and you’re basically getting your games for free, instead of having your money sitting in a worthless bank account.

If you don’t profit, this blog post was in no way an endorsement of any of these companies, or professional advice.

Good luck, and don’t forget to buy -and- hold until the 7% rule is broken. I got the 7% rule from the classic book title shown below by William Neil. Here are a few golden rules from that book, rules that I failed to follow when I first tried managing my own portfolio years ago:

Buy on the way up, not the way down. Buy more only after the stock has risen.

Buy when stocks are near high, not when they look cheap.

Always sell quickly for 7-8% loss.

Learn to read charts.


More Reading:


How To Make Money In Stocks – William J. Neil (Can’t link to Amazon on this free hosting. Enjoy.)


Weekly Wyrm: Why More Male Companions?

pillars of eternityI get the concept of why games offer more playable males. More boys play video games.

I was leafing through a Seventeen magazine this morning, and it’s all about cosmetics, more cosmetics, your face, your hair, your eyelashes, your period, or the prom.

I’ve got a cute boy with lip gloss in the centerfold, but there’s no information on the proper handling of Sniper Rifles, submachine guns, or death spells.

I don’t get why most companions are male, though. Why do game developers keep the same male ratio with companions, mercenaries, or whatever?

Here are my quick counts of balls to boobs in recent RPGs. I’m using the internet, so I’m sorry if any numbers are significantly wrong.

*Recent RPG Companion Gender Ratios, Male To Female, DLC Not Included*

DA: Inquisition – 6:3
Dragon Age 2 – 5:4
DA:Origins – 4:3 (no Dog)
Pillars of Eternity – 5:3
Diablo 3 – 2:1
Baldur’s Gate Enhanced – 3:1 (only added companions)
Divinity: Original Sin – 2:2
Wasteland 2 – 9:6

As you can see, males seem favored. I picked these RPGs at random from the top of my head. This isn’t a feminist rant. I’m not demanding change. I’m just trying to understand why this is happening.

According to a poll, most players use the Enchantress in D3. You could argue that reasons for choosing a follower usually have nothing to do with gender, but no amount of anecdotal reporting can be accurate.

Do adventuring groups just seem more heroic with more men in them? I’d like to hear some opinions of some guys. Do you prefer male companions? Are girls annoying, so it’s nice to get away from them in a game?

Why are game developers designing like this?

Are game developers mostly male, so they are writing characters they can most relate to, expressing a part of themselves? This is the best argument I can think of. Is there data that shows players prefer a more capable man at their back?

I can’t find a preference poll for Divinity: Original Sin, the only game on my list with an equal ratio.


Pillars of Eternity : Re-incarnation Rampage


I keep starting Pillars over. So far, I’ve started the game over at least five times.

My first character was a wizard, but I found the wizard underwhelming, and the game hands you a wizard out of the gate anyway. I created a rogue hireling with my wizard to do traps and locks, and I ended up liking my rogue more than my main character.

So I started over with a monk, giving her points in mechanics.

I played a lot with my monk, and ended up making some evil choices. I decided I’d rather stick with the good choices, and I didn’t like how my conversation options were panning out with my character stats.

So I started over with a barbarian, so I could still roll at the front of the party and do some mechanics and tanking.

Once again, I managed to make a few choices that the game seemed to think were evil, but I didn’t interpret them that way. I created a druid hireling to go with the barbarian, and again I liked my hireling more than my main character.

So I started over on a druid with mechanics skill (not exactly thematic).

I made my first druid a wolf for knockdown, but I’m starting over one more time with the cat shifter. I’m just not a wolf fan, even if the wolf has cool perks. (The druid makes a great werewolf by the way, if you’re into the furry thing.)

The fun thing is that I’ve taken different choices with each re-run, mostly based on stats, and Pillars of Eternity has rewarded me with different events and outcomes. I’ve also played in Spanish, although the voice-overs are still English.

The druid is weak at the front of the group, but has good spells. More importantly, the druid’s primary attributes seem like the best so far for conversation choices (strength, intelligence, resolve).

I can be persistent and witty, or go for a strong paw to the face. A starting stat score of 16 seems like the perfect level for hitting those special conversation choices.

So I’m giving two opposable thumbs up for the Pillars of Eternity druid. I hope I’m finally good to go forward and explore new and more dangerous areas. Happy gaming, whatever you’re playing.


More Reading On Pillars:


F*ck Yeah, Pillars of Eternity
Using Custom Portraits In Pillars Of Eternity


Kobold’s Corner: Pillars Of Eternity Impressions: NPC Writing

kobold deekinMMORPG published an article a few days ago: 5 Things MMOs Could Learn from Pillars of Eternity. It was good to see characters and story near the top of this list.

Some reader comments on the article are skeptical, suggesting that single player RPGs and MMOs are different categories, but no. Characters should be the #1 most important thing in anything fiction, and every video game is fiction.

No? When you think of Mortal Kombat, what comes to mind? The gameplay or the characters? What about driving games? GTA is the best-selling driving franchise of all time, edging out Mario Kart. And Mario Kart is called Mario Kart.

MMOs tend to overwhelm players with too many throw-away character names. Pillars of Eternity tries to avoid this trap. Instead of naming every villager, PoE just calls them villagers.

One of the companion NPCs in PoE, written by Chris Avellone, is the Grieving Mother. She doesn’t have a real name, but she has a long and detailed backstory. This seems to be a self-conscious experiment in naming conventions. When you meet Durance, the priest companion, he says to you:

“You probably find names as useless as I do… The names that litter this world like debris are hard enough to wrap around the tongue, and what do they matter? It’s what’s beneath the skin and the names I care about, what burns within.”

The character of Durance was also written by Chris Avellone. Just a coincidence? No.

Currently, standard MMORPG writing gives a new name to every little quest giver and NPC with a role to play in every quest hub, and you forget most of them. While playing Elder Scrolls: Online, I feel the game is a little guilty of this.

I’m currently playing through Pillars of Eternity with both a good and ‘evil’ party. I’m super-impressed, but I’m not ready for a full critique. I’ve noticed that PoE companions are ‘played slowly’ with their backstory. PoE does a great job with mystery and subtext.


So what can be improved?


Emotion. In Pillars, my favorite NPCs easily are the first ones you meet. You bond emotionally with them through hardship, and they have likeable voice actors. Then they die. Why?

The PoE developers have excellent reasons to kill off these characters: establishing a gritty world immersion through realism and starting a heartwrenching quest that strongly supports the main story. I would rather have Calisca alive, and have a likeable companion with motivation and serious things at stake (helping her sister).

A sympathetic emotional aspect is important for the player to bond with the NPC, and if there is one nitpick I’d have for Pillars, it’s that the permanent companion characters – so far – lack emotion, including sympathetic goals in life and a sense of humor.

Like every RPG, Pillars needs a friendly, likeable sidekick in the beginning of the game. Planescape has Morte. Baldur’s Gate has Imoen. Vampire:Bloodlines has Smiling Jack, who is my usual example. Neverwinter has Deekin (I don’t really remember when he shows, but he’s so cute and friendly in his picture.)

Fewer, more important named NPCs. I would advocate more quests given by a smaller number of NPCs who are central to the story. This means more traveling to visit the same NPCs again and again, but modern MMOs have that covered with maps, portals, and horses.

How many times have you done a lot of work for a faction, like vampire Bodhi in Baldur’s Gate, or the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion? Now, how well do you remember those NPCs compared to every other non-affiliated NPC in the game world. You remember them better.

You have instant sympathy from being on the same team, plus the extra engagement of your own personal trials and judgement, instead of just helping someone else, plus the human desire to rise in the ranks.


Personal


This week I’m pushing yet another revision of novel #3, with my eyes set on finishing my fantasy trilogy, which matches The Lord of the Rings in written length.

After 15 years of effort, I have hopes that these highly-polished epics (i.e. 20-30 revisions over the years for each 130k+ word manuscript) will do better than my published short stories. This writing effort involved sacrifices of money, relationships, my previous job, and a big chunk of my adult life.


Weekly Wyrm ~ Kiss This, Blizzard. Pulitzer Prize For PoE.

pillars of eternity dialog imagePillars of Eternity released a week ago and received strong reviews online with a Metascore of 91%, handily slaying Dragon Age: Inquisition, which stands at a respectable 85%.

I just now purchased PoE, and I’m looking forward to playing it tonight. Obsidian released the first patch for PoE, 1.03 on Steam this morning.

The game is built on the Baldur’s Gate isometric Infinity Engine. The writing is supposedly brilliant. A reviewer on Steam said the writing team of Chris Avellone, Josh Sawyer, Feargus Urquhart et. al. should win a Pulitzer Prize.

I watched Cohh stream PoE for a few hours last weekend. I was impressed by PoE, even if the game looks a little too familiar at times.

PoE uses a text/voice combo to convey the story, setting, and characters. Since the arrival of full voice-overs (ESO and SWTOR), I’ve really been a defender of text. I hope game history will show that a combo like PoE is better than full voice-overs.

PoE uses a writing style that includes a lot more action and emotes in the text than ‘normal’, which is very interesting. I personally use a lot of action tags (or beats), in my fiction.

pillars of eternity dialog imageAction conveyed through text may also offer a cheap substitute for facial animations in a game where you can’t see the faces well.

I remember facial animations being a part of marketing for Fallout 2, a game made way back in 1998 by the same developers as PoE, when Avellone and Urquhart were helming Black Isle Studios.

PoE is going on the cheap, replacing the animated faces with text descriptions (and probably an animator with a writer, which doesn’t happen often enough). PoE was kickstarted for 4 million. I wonder how that budget compares to Fallout 2.


Torment: Tides of Numenera


If you like PoE or this genre, don’t forget that Torment: Tides of Numenera is also scheduled to release this year, and it’s also a Chris Avellone (and others) writing production.

Torment is supposed to be “primarily story-driven, giving greater emphasis on interaction with the world and characters, with combat and item accumulation taking a secondary role.”

Tides also has an award-winning erotica writer on its staff, while PoE offers no scripted, evolving character romances. For me, this is a strike against PoE, and this issue literally pulled my paw back from the buy button at one point last weekend.

It’s fantastic to see this classic genre making a comeback. I’m worried that PoE has lots of strategic combat. Wave after wave of enemies were the reason I quit playing Wasteland 2 and Baldur’s Gate Enhanced, and also the reason I didn’t buy Diablo 3 on a 50% off sale last weekend.

Thankfully PoE offers an “easy” mode. So, we’ll see.

Escapist dropped an article this week on eight amazing isometric RPGs. I’ve played them all except Divinity. Torment should be on the list instead of Icewind Dale, in my opinion.


Hearthstone: Blackrock Mountain


So what made me buy PoE today? Hearthstone’s Blackrock Mountain released yesterday.

I logged in ready to play what I’d paid for, but only one wing released. Why would I want to play just 20% of an 8-hour (or whatever) expansion, once per week, for the next month and a half?

I asked in the forums why Blizzard is releasing Blackrock strung out in little weekly pieces like a TV serial, and my legitimate question was insulted and buried in immature negativity.

Blizzard also put a new daily quest in Hearthstone this week – a quest that makes you watch a friend win a game to complete your quest. This quest isn’t a special one-timer.

It’s implemented on purpose to fill up one of your three slots – annoying you, hindering your questing, re-appearing if you reroll it, and most importantly – getting you to invite your friends.

Blizzard is also sweetening their expansion by advertising a “free” card back, while calling the card back a “limited edition” in their advertising. New card backs come out all the time. They have no real value.

I borrowed some ‘friends’ off of the forums, but this whole scene just feels really manipulative suddenly. Hearthstone is Free-To-Play, but I’ve been paying. For some reason I expected more class from Blizzard.


Elder Scrolls: Online


So I’m done with Hearthstone. I’ve just downloaded 14GB of Pillars of Eternity, and I’m also back playing Elder Scrolls Online.

I was happy to see a revamped starting sequence in Elder Scrolls that helps you establish a friend in Lyris and connect with real emotion. It’s working much better. The story is still a little opaque, but hardly more so than Rift, and it’s more personal.

In this week of headline news about Indiana’s new laws allowing religious discrimination against LGBTQ people, I’m also pleased to support Elder Scrolls because Zenimax/Bethesda supports the LGBT community. So happy gaming, whatever you’re playing.


More Reading on Pillars of Eternity:


Overview Video of Pillars of Eternity on MMORPG


World Of Darkness: Risen From The Grave

vampire bite vintageOne year ago this month, the World of Darkness MMO project was cancelled by CCP games.

Today, Matt Firor at Zenimax Entertainment announced they’ve purchased the rights to make World of Darkness using their Elder Scrolls Online platform.

“We’ve always loved our vampires,” Matt was quoted as saying. “We’ve decided to devote 100% of our resources towards making a great vampire MMO. All development content from our current Fallout Online project will be converted into just one vampire zone: the sewers of New York.”

This makes total sense, because the sewers of New York are probably radioactive anyway. And who needs another post-apocalyptic survival game, really.

The zombies have eaten up the genre, and it’s time to move on. Modern corporate culture resonates instead with sex, violence, and profiting from sucking every drop of life out of anyone you can oppress for your benefit.

So it’s finally going to happen, and this kitty is quivering in her collar with excitement. Finally an MMO developer with real chops has seen the light in the Darkness, and a seraph will rise from the epitaph.


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