Oppo has big plans for 2020

Note: Responses to my questions from Oppo’s New Zealand managing director Morgan Halim were prepared by Oppo prior to the Covid-19 lockdown in New Zealand but this is the first chance I’ve had to post them to the site. Also, this is the first post in a month: I’m so sorry about that. I will do better.

For many smartphone buyers, Oppo isn’t as well-known as Samsung, Apple and Huawei, but there is much to like about the Chinese manufacturer who started out as a high-end audio equipment maker before delving into smartphones. I caught up with Oppo New Zealand managing director Morgan Halim late last month for a chat about what the future holds for Oppo.

Morgan, a lot of consumers in New Zealand probably haven’t heard of Oppo, instead opting for brands like Apple and Samsung. Has it been hard for Oppo to break into a market dominated by the others. What have been the biggest challenges for Oppo in NZ?

Certainly, as a relatively new brand, entering our fourth year in New Zealand, we’re still gaining our momentum and share of voice, and we’re up against competitors that have a much longer relationship with Kiwis.

Brand awareness and shifting into the consideration set is definitely one of the biggest challenges we face. But it’s also a grand opportunity – as a challenger brand with a challenger mindset, we’re here to defy the norms and give Kiwis something they might not’ve found in their smartphone provider until now.

Oppo was recently named as a Consumer Top Brand (in the mobile phone category). What does that mean for the company?

This award calls out Oppo smartphones as the cream of the crop in their category. We’re over the moon to receive this award, knowing the rigorous testing that goes into it. We also know that Consumer NZ’s Top Brand Award isn’t dished out easily and there’s not a winner every year, so it’s very humbling as a newer player to come out on top.

How we’ve achieved this is through our focus on the customer – the customer experience is at the centre of everything we do. We’re the only smartphone brand to have a local repairs centre based in NZ and this helps us keep our approach local and personal with customers – there’s no big hoops to jump through – if you’re having issues with your phone, you can bring it into our centre and we’ll take a look at it.

The Consumer Top Brand testing found 82.9% of Oppo customers are “very satisfied” with their mobile phone, significantly more than the average – that’s pretty big kudos from our customers and cements exactly what we’re here to do.

Oppo’s Enco Q1 noise cancelling headphones.

Oppo used to be a high-end audio equipment manufacturer so how has the company brought that experience into the mobile phone market?

Oppo’s global heritage and expertise lies in pioneering audio technology, and this expertise has evolved over time as the company continues to innovate and explore new technologies.

Audio is an essential component to every smartphone, so it’s fitting that we’re now combining some of the best quality audio features in our smartphones, as well as in other smart products. True to its audio heritage, Oppo has recently launched two wireless earphone models in New Zealand, the Enco Q1 noise cancelling headphones and the Enco Free wireless earphones.

If someone said to you “I’m looking at buying a new smartphone and I’ve seen this brand called Oppo. Do you know anything about them?”, how would you sell Oppo to that person?

Oppo has made waves around the world with its unique product offering: aesthetically-pleasing designs, innovative technology and a vision to create premium products without the price tag.

In New Zealand, Oppo is a top mobile phone brand with awards and reviews to boot. Based locally, we also have the lowest return rate for repairs of any smartphone brand in NZ, so you can count on a quality and long-lasting product and is gaining traction amongst Kiwis both young and old.

The smartphone market is incredibly competitive so what innovation is Oppo bringing to entice customers?

We continue to charge forward, innovating and pioneering across a number of consumer electronic categories as well as being at the forefront of 5G. We continue to develop our new technologies, such as the safest and fastest charging technology available in the world today, our lightning speed VOOC charging technology.

In NZ, we’re focused on bringing Kiwis premium products and services that lead with the customer in mind. We continue to push these bounds through our customer service, whereby last year we brought our own after-sales service in-house to our Auckland office to ensure we maintain the quality and personal customer service Kiwis deserve. Not to mention we have some of the lowest return rates in the industry and our central repairs team is typically turning around repairs for customers within the same day.

What’s the plan for OPPO moving forward in New Zealand? What’s the big thing for the coming year?

2020 is set to be the biggest year yet for OPPO in NZ as we continue our mission to bring some of the best technology to New Zealanders.

We’re venturing further to make our mark, starting with the launch of our first-ever 5G smartphones, including the top-end Find X2 Pro, and the highly-anticipated OPPO smart watch, a little later this year. With the groundwork we’ve built and with what we have in store for 2020, I’m confident we’re in a strong position to smash some big milestones and keep shaking up the industry.

Pokemon pips Jedi Knight for top spot in January game sales in NZ

It seems a Nintendo Switch game has pipped the PlayStation for top game in New Zealand for January, 2020, with Pokemon Sword pipping EA’s SW Jedi Fallen Order for the top spot last month.

Rounding out the top five were COD: Modern Warfare, NBA 2K20 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – GOTY Edition (all on PS4).

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says: “Based on our historical click data, even though four out of the five most popular games for January were found to be from PlayStation, the overall most popular game was Pokemon Sword for Nintendo Switch.

Pokemon Sword launched in November 2019 with an RRP of $99.  Normally, after two to three months after a game has launched, we would expect to see it drop significantly in price, so help it appear more competitively priced against other new releases and to encourage further sales to occur.

“However, according to our historical pricing insights, despite Pokemon Sword being almost three months old in January, the price point remained fairly static, dropping just 12 per cent compared to the RRP price at launch.

“The same cannot be said for the other top four games from PlayStation.  For example, even though Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order launched around the same time as Pokemon Sword, our historical pricing data in January revealed it dropped in price by almost 40 per cent (39 per cent) compared to its RRP at launch.

“Similarly the third most popular game in, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, also offered gamers a rather attractive 39 per cent off its original RRP in January.”

“Based on these findings, consumer demand for Pokemon Sword still remains to be fairly high, without the need for Nintendo to discount the product to entice consumers back in.  PlayStation on the other hand seem to be using a different tactic, offering gamers the opportunity to pick up a relatively new game at a bargain price a few months after release,” says Matinvesi-Bassett.

NZ video game development industry on the up and up

Looks like things are on the up and up for the New Zealand video games development industry, with the sector earning $203.4 million dollars during the 2019 financial year – double the $99.9m earned only two years earlier in 2017.

The figures come from the annual NZ Game Developers Industry Survey conducted by independent researcher Tim Thorpe and is for the financial year ending 31 March 2019. It canvassed 39 interactive, gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and edTech companies. The 10 largest studios earned 93% of the industry revenue, employed 77% of the workforce and are now 10 years old on average.

New Zealand Game Developers Association Chairperson Cassandra Gray says the results are the “fruits of the last generation of New Zealand interactive studios’ hard work”.

“Our opportunity is to support the next generation of creative tech companies to join them,” she says.

Fifty nine per cent of studios expect significant growth (greater than 10%) in the coming year. In the last year, eight New Zealand-made apps debuted the new Apple Arcade service, NinjaKiwi’s Bloons TD6 topped Apple’s paid games charts, Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile was one of the top ten played PC games in the world, RocketWerkz opened a second studio in Auckland, and Valleys Between by Little Lost Fox won the Best Feel Good Game at the International Mobile Gaming Awards.

The companies involved in the survey employ 683 creative and hi-tech workers, an increase of 133 new jobs this year. A Creative NZ and NZ On Air study, A Profile of Creative Professionals 2019, found that game development was one of the best paid creative occupations in the country and 31% of the roles in the industry are programmers, 29% are artists, 24% for game designers or producers, 12% for management or marketing.

Nearly half of the studios (47%) said that skills shortages were limiting the growth of their business – and this had intensified since last year. Gender diversity remains a concern for the sector, with 21% of employees identifying as female or non-binary, and attracting early stage development funding and attracting investment for expansion continue to be the biggest growth challenges to the industry.

The educational benefits of simulations and interactive training continues to be recognised, with 24% of New Zealand interactive studios having made games or apps for businesses clients or government departments and 20% have made games for educational institutions.

The surveyed developers make interactive media for a range of devices and global markets, with 63% making mobile apps, 53% producing PC games, 38% concentrating on console games, 22% making augmented reality apps and 19% making virtual reality games.

When I used to write full-time for a living (a few years ago now), I had a wee bit to do with several NZ game developers and was impressed with what I saw, especially from studios like Flightless, based in Mt Maunganui (RTS game Element, Doomsday Vault & Bee Leader) and Sidhe (now called Pik Pok),  and I had a tour of the Grinding Gears studio a few years back. Here’s to a strong future to all Kiwi game developers.

The Touryst: Just perfect for the Nintendo Switch

Until late last year, I had no idea The Touryst, a cute little game from German developer Shin’en Multimedia, existed.

I first heard about the game when I watched an analysis about the from Digital Foundry, which not only marveled at its pixellated graphical style (which kind of has a Minecraft feel to it) but it pretty much played at a locked 60 frames per second.

Perfect for the Nintendo Switch, The Touryst is an adventure puzzle game where our little hero has to unlock  secrets through mission that will take him to a variety of islands that hide secrets in their ancient monuments: One of them is full of shops and a cinema, the other is a party place with flashing lights bouncing off golden sands, on another rains all the time, one of them has a beautiful surf beach ready to test your skills.

You play as an unnamed tourist who has plans to visit the idyllic islands to relax and recuperate but finds something much, much deeper as he searches island to island, uncovered the secrets of a long lost civilisation.

The game’s art style evokes old school games of the late 80s with their pixelated graphics but they’re a real modern twist to them. They pop on the Nintendo’s screen, too, and the islands themselves are full of minute details and interesting characters: There’s the couple looking for suggestions for great holiday destinations. There’s a fitness fanatic who challenges you to a chin up contest. There’s an art gallery curator wanting you to take photos of interesting things for his next exhibition. There’s the DJ who wants you to expand his record collection.

Each monument has a core which will lead you closer to the secrets of the islands and each monument has a boss battle, or sorts, which will reveal the core when defeated. The Touryst is a surprisingly relaxing game where you can deep sea dive, take photos of people and places and paddle canoes one moment, then take on strange rock creatures guarding the monuments the next.

I have had a blast playing The Touryst. Visually, it’s a delight (running at 1080p in docked mode and 720p in portable mode) and the game play is captivating enough to keep you interested, but it’s not perfect: Some of the jumping puzzles are downright frustrating at times, often hampered by the restricted camera when in tight confines.

The Touryst was a real sleeper hit for me and well worth the $19 it cost. It’s a game that is perfectly suited to the Switch’s format and just the ticket for relaxed gaming sessions when all you want to do is play something a little bit special.

And you know what? The Touryst could be my sleeper hit of the year of 2019, alongside A Plague Tale Innocence.

Tony Slopes demo: A weird but strangely addictive downhill racer

Tony Slopes in his rocket-powered inflatable ring ready to hit the … um, slopes.

It’s almost the end of what could best be described as a forgettable year for me so what better to round off the blogging year with a game that I’m going to add to the “Weird but strangely addictive” files.

I received an email from family-run British developer Seedtech Studios over the weekend (before starting game development the company specialised in 3D visualisation, animation and simulation) with a Steam code for early access to its game Tony Slopes because I had “either requested a copy of the demo for media articles/reviews, for blog/vlogs, or because you have signed up in the past for play-testing.”  I can’t remember if I had done either (to be fair, I have trouble remembering where I put the car keys 20 minutes after I’ve used them) but I downloaded the demo anyway as I was curious to see what it was all about.

Tony Slopes is a multiplayer and single player downhill racing game where you race others down a variety of terrains (snowy slopes, for example) riding a variety of objects. What sort of objects? Ah, a shopping cart with rockets attached, a shark, a crocodile, an inflatable rubber ring  … and a hump back whale. Yes, you read that right: A hump back whale. At the moment, it’s only single player racing, which is fine by me.

For my first race, I selected the shopping cart, a road cone helmet and it’s played like any downhill racer: Navigate your craft around a twisty course (the opening track is set in a mountain range), avoiding the patrolling hi-vis wearing officials and basically getting to the finish line first. If you crash, go off the course or hit a barrier, you respawn and continue racing. I finished third in my first race, pipped at the line by a crocodile and an inflatable boat. There are a lot of customisation options for your character greyed out so it looks like options will unlock as you progress through the game.

For my second race, I selected the humpback whale. It had to be done, right? As you’d expect for a huge water-based mammal, pulling off quick manoeuvres was pretty hard and it took a while to gain momentum as the whale barrelled down the slopes, but you can still do some pretty mean slo-mo jumps with it!

In my third race – in an inflatable ring – I, unfortunately, took out one of the officials who was walking across the track just as I approached the first jump: His scream as he went flying through are still echoing in my head. Sorry, mate. I saw an ambulance parked up nearby, hopefully you got medical attention in time.

Here’s some video I captured of about 30 seconds of racing (there’s a delay in me starting as I had to fumble around to get the capture software recording):

From this demo, Tony Slopes shows a lot of promise already if you’re a fan of downhill racing-style games, and while it’s bare bones right now in terms of features, its clear that Seedtech are leveraging off its background in 3D animation and simulation as for an early access title the game is showing some real promise.

It’s only being developed for PC at the moment but Seedtech says it is in discussions with PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox for a console release. Seedtech is hoping the full game will be out sometime next year.

A game to keep an eye on, I reckon.

Top tech predictions for Christmas

Please note: These consoles are not top picks for this year’s Christmas.

Yes, this is most of a media release but, hey, it’s been a busy year so ride with it.

With Christmas just around the corner, price aggregation site PriceSpy has come up with what it thinks will be the top gadgets, games and consoles this Christmas.

The site predicts that top Christmas gadgets will be the Xiamoi MiJia M365 electric scooter, Apple Airpods Pro, Xiaomi Mi robot vacuum, Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation), Apple Watch series 3, Ultimate Ears 3, Fitbit Charge 3, Google Home Mini and Garmin Instinct.

It also predicts that the top games and consoles for this Christmas will be the Nintendo Switch, Pokemon Sword, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, PlayStation 4 Pro, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Logitech G29 Driving Force, Xbox One S, Xbox One wireless controller S and Pokemon Shield.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says it strongly recommend consumers use a price comparison site or app to find the best deals. As well as helping to save money, these sites can help ensure people aren’t paying over the odds on items that may be over-inflated in price.  It’s a fact that many products receive a bigger discount the closer we get towards Christmas. However, it’s also true that some items receive a price hike!

“Carrying out pricing research throughout the year can potentially help save consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, which is money that can be saved in the bank!”

I guess we’ll see after the New Year if PriceSpy was on the money, eh?

Pico Tanks: An iOS tank game with a real cutesy factor

I have to start this write up with an apology to Melbourne-based developer Panda Arcade.

Months ago, the Australian developer got in touch with an early access code to Pico Tanks, an iOS and Android game that features cute cartoony tanks battling against each other in 3 vs 3 multiplayer matches.

I redeemed the code, played some of the beta, enjojed it but failed to write up my thoughts. So Panda Arcade, I apologise profusely for writing something up soon. Better late than never, right?

OK, so Pico Tanks. What is it? In a nutshell, it’s tank-based multiplayer combat with really cute visuals and high customisation for your tanks. You can build your tanks from a multitude of bases (which feature a variety of wheel and track configurations), turrets and weapons – as well as popping hats on them for that extra bit of bling!

[Update one: December 16] : Panda Arcade tells me Pico Tanks has soft launched in New Zealand, Australia and The Phillipines and will launch globally in January next year.

Tanks are moved using an on-screen virtual joystick which works extremely well and you shoot and aim using the virtual controls on the right side, either by lining up and firing of just tapping the shoot button As you progress you get a variety of extra abilities like the air strike power up, which does just what it says on the tin: Drops bombs on enemy tanks.

[Update two: December 16]: Panda Arcade has also released a new trailer for Pico Tanks. Here it is:

Good work, Panda Arcade! (and, again, sorry for the lateness in getting this up)

Red Dead Redemption 2: In pictures

Red Dead Redemption 2 (PC) A story in pictures

 

It might have arrived on PC a year after the console release, but Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC is a beautiful thing. It really is.

Sure, you have to tweak a multitude of settings to get things just right (I’m currently averaging around 55 frames per second with a mix of ultra/high/medium settings) but boy, oh boy, it just looks gorgeous.

RDR2 on PC wasn’t without its problems, though: Rockstar screwed the launch royally with launcher issues, frequent crashes, and new patches that reset all the graphical settings to the default, meaning painless tweaks of each graphics preset had to be done all over again to find the optimal frame rate settings – but things seemed to have settled down now and RDR2 it’s still one of my most favourite games of recent times.

Actually, RDR2 seems to be comparable to Hideo Kojima’s recently released Death Stranding: Both are quite polarising among gamers, both criticised by some for its slow pace while adored by others. I haven’t played Death Stranding so I can’t comment on its game play but I have played RDR2 on both PS4 Pro and PC and I love it. It’s one of my favourite games of recent times.

It’s also got an amazing photo mode and there are so many great moments that I find myself pausing the game, framing a nice shot (especially if it’s night or the sun is just right) then clicking! It’s one of those games that you can document your life thanks to the photo mode.

So, enough words: Here’s is my journey so far through Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC through the lens of the game’s photo mode.

Enjoy.

 

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Digital New Zealand 2020: The state of video games in New Zealand

Last week, the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) released the latest of its Digital New Zealand reports and the findings reveal that two-thirds of New Zealanders play video games and nine out of 10 households own a video game device.

DNZ2020 studied 801 New Zealand households and 2,255 individuals and the research was undertaken by Bond University and shows that New Zealanders enjoy and engage with video games with a consistently positive outcome on their overall health, education and well-being.

The average age of a video game player in New Zealand has remained at 34 years old, the same age found in the DZ18 report released two years ago and around half of those playing video game players are women and girls. Older New Zealanders also continue to be attracted to games, with 42 per cent of those aged 65 and over self-identifying as gamers. In fact, 78 per cent of video game players are over the age of 18.

The study also exposes the perception of the true power of video games and how they affect the lives of New Zealanders.  A large percentage, 87 per cent, says it helps them keep up their general knowledge, 70 per cent say it helps them connect with others and 65 per cent say it improves their overall life satisfaction.

Dr Jeff Brand, Professor at Bond University and lead author of the report since its inception, says the reasons New Zealanders play games continues to broaden from their heritage of recreation and entertainment.

“With more than 10 years of research behind it, Digital New Zealand 2020 (DNZ20) gives us a gold standard into who plays video games, how they play, and why they play. Whereas in the early years, this longitudinal research helped overturn stereotypes of the average gamer, in recent years we have started to understand the deeper reasons why people play.”

“While fun is still first and foremost for New Zealand gamers, it is by no means the only reason. We found a diversity to how New Zealanders use games – from education and upskilling, to preserve social and emotional connections and as a powerful health and wellness tool in staying fit and reducing stress.”

The Digital New Zealand study also highlights how videos games are making an impact on New Zealand’s cultural footprint in the global technology ecosystem and the digital economy, with video game sales in New Zealand growing at a rate of 15% CAGR between 2013 and 2018. The latest report shows that 72% of adults believe making video games in New Zealand benefits the economy.

When it comes to training a workforce, video games are a very useful tool and 29 per cent have used video games to train workers with new skills. Interestingly, this year we saw New Zealanders of working age taking the lead in average time spent engaged with video games, with typical working age adults spending 90 minutes playing per day on average compared to the national average of all ages being 88 minutes per day.

Furthermore, the report shows the importance of video games on developing critical thinking skills. In fact, 65 per cent of parents see video games as a valuable teaching tool for STEM.

“We need to harness games as a powerful tool in building a strong and competitive future for New Zealand. The inherent problem-solving nature of interactive game play hones critical thinking and strategy skills,” said Dr Brand. “These skills can easily be applied in a professional environment, and in fact we found that New Zealanders of working age were more likely to spend longer on average playing games than those under 18 years of age.”

Ron Curry, CEO of IGEA, said, “Digital New Zealand 2020 showcases how important video games are for New Zealanders. Far from the stereotype of being a solitary pursuit, in fact we found that video games continue to facilitate a shared experience for families, friends and co-workers. Video games are a key influence on all aspects of society – at home, in the workplace, and in schools. The reasons New Zealanders are playing is becoming more nuanced – it’s not just for entertainment but also to learn and connect.”

Other key findings of the Digital New Zealand Report 2020 include:

  • New Zealand households mostly use PCs to play video games – The most popular way to play games is with a PC (72 per cent), while 65 per cent of households use a smart phone to play, and 19 per cent of households own a virtual reality headset.
  • The average New Zealander’s consumption of games has increased – The average total daily video game consumption is 88 minutes, up from 85 minutes in 2018. Breaking this down by demographic – working age adults play for the longest, averaging 90 minutes a day, whereas retirement age adults play for 79 minutes. Children sit in the middle, playing video games for an average of 84 minutes a day.
  • Video games play a vital role in ageing positively – Older New Zealanders cite the role video games play in positive ageing, with the main uses cited as being to keep the mind active, have fun and be challenged.
  • Video games play a critical role in connecting parents with their children – Parents increasingly place importance on the impact video games have on forging a connection with their children. The research shows that 42 per cent of parents play games with their children in the same room, and 33 per cent play online games with their children.
  • Parents are still cautious when it comes to ensuring safety online – 84 per cent indicate they have talked with their children about playing games safely online, with 91 per cent of parents aware of parental controls, up from 88 per cent in 2018.
  • Video games continue to educate – Games continue to play an important role in a teaching and training setting. Sixty per cent of the parents surveyed said that their children use video games for educational purposes in school and 48 per cent believe that games can imbue their children with greater confidence at school.

I also spoke to Dr Brand last week about some of his findings and I’ll post that interview once I’ve got a spare moment to write it up.

The Witcher on Switch: What is this magic?

I have to admit I was sceptical when I first heard that CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher Wild Hunt was coming to Nintendo’s hybrid console.

Well, colour me surprised and intrigued as it’s on the Switch and by all accounts, isn’t too bad, at least if this hands-on from Digital Foundry is anything to go by.

And if that analysis isn’t enough, BandaiNamco has released a 40+minute gameplay overview featuring commentary from CDPR community manager Paweł Burza and senior quest designer Paweł Sasko, Senior Quest Designer about Wild Hunt and the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions.

Go have a watch.

The Witcher Wild Hunt releases on Nintendo Switch in October.