Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

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Rovio Entertainment, maker of the popular line of
“Angry Birds” games, announced today that its
expanding its business to include third-party titles,
which it will publish, distribute and market to
consumers. The new program is being called “Rovio
Stars,” and makes available the company’s expertise as well as its marketing teams to other publishers.
The first title to be released under the new effort is
“Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage,” by Nitrome Ltd. The Icebreaker game, which follows the adventures of
a lone Viking, will be followed by medieval adventure
and puzzle game “Tiny Thief,” made by 5 Ants. This is the first time Rovio has included third-party
titles in its lineup, the company announced this
morning via a blog post and press release. “We want to help the developers to give these games
that last coat of polish, publish the games and find
their audience,” said Rovio’s Director of
Development Kalle Kaivola. “We’re focusing on a
small, select number of games, and each Rovio Stars
launch will be an event of its own.” That “last coat of polish” means Rovio will actually
assist its partners in finalizing game production and
with post-production, the company explains. Rovio
notes that it’s looking for titles in “an advanced stage
of production” – that is, in either alpha or playable
format. Rovio’s experts will specifically help to mentor
developers in order to “turn their games into
blockbusters,” as well as market them, provide PR,
and help publishers distribute titles to all the relevant
app stores. Developers can now apply for consideration as one of
Rovio’s next picks on the Rovio Stars dedicated
website, where the company provides a submission
form. Interested parties can attach screenshots and/
or video alongside a description of their game. For
now, only mobile titles are being considered. Expecting a high volume of submission,
the company says it can’t promise that everyone will
receive a response. Rovio has long since moved beyond being only a
games publisher, and is now more of media company
offering cartoons, toys, and other merchandise like t-
shirts, books, and even soda. It has debuted an
“Angry Birds Space Encounter” at the Kennedy Space
Center, and Angry Birds-themed parks. It also recently partnered with Dreamworks to release “The
Croods,” a game based on the animated film. These expansions have been working well for the
company so far. In April, Rovio announced its 2012
sales were up 101 percent to $195 million, and net
profit was up to $71 million. 45 percent of Rovio’s
revenue now comes from “consumer products,”
versus 30 percent the year prior. The company also has 1.7 billion downloads across its properties, and
sees hundreds of millions of active users per month. Details regarding how Rovio Stars will generate
revenue – through a revenue share, perhaps, or other
fees, were not immediately provided. We’ve reached
out to the company for more information and are
waiting on a response. (Update to follow). Update: Per Rovio, the projects will be chosen depending on their individual merits, and right now the
company is planning on publishing a select few
games per year under Rovio Stars. As for other
considerations, Rovio’s level of involvement in the
project depends on what makes sense in the given
situation. As for the marketing and polish, it can mean different things for different projects. Just to
give an example, Rovio can help with the game’s QA
process. As for marketing, Rovio has a wide and
dedicated fan base around the world, strong on-line
presence and a reputation for publishing polished,
quality games. This is certainly a great asset for an independent game developer.

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SketchParty TV is a game that essentially allows a
group of people to play a version of Draw Something
on a big screen in a party setting, usually with
between four and six players. The AirPlay component
works by allowing AirPlay Mirroring to turn your Apple
TV-connected television or display into the easel for the game. A player gets the word they’re supposed to
draw on their iPhone or iPad, and as they draw on the
screen, that image appears (without the clue words)
on the TV, allowing others to join in and guess. The app earned high praise from tech bloggers
including Federico Viticci and Jim Dalrymple of the
Loop nearer to its original launch back in July last
year, but overall the response from the general public
has been more muted. SketchParty TV’s Braun
explained in an interview that to date, SketchParty TV has seen only around 5,000 total downloads, which he
says still has probably put the game in front of
between 20,000 and 30,000 people, given that it’s
meant to be used in a group setting. Those “aren’t breathtaking numbers,” admits Braun,
but the reviews have been positive and this seems to
be more an issue of consumer education and getting
the feature out there than any limitation of the AirPlay
tech itself, Braun suggests. “Apple has a lot of technology in their platform to
encourage developers to support, and AirPlay
Mirroring is a smaller piece of the equation than
something like, say, iCloud,” he explained. “There’s
also a consumer education component involved –
right now it seems to be up to the savvy to disseminate the wonders of AirPlay to their friends by
word of mouth. Or by showing off games like
SketchParty TV.” Others like Real Racing have embraced the two-
screen Mirroring experience, but even the support of a
major publisher like EA hasn’t pushed it into the
spotlight, and Apple isn’t exactly crowing about the
feature either. They advertised that AirPlay Mirroring
made it possible to see the same thing on your TV as you’re watching on the iPhone or iPad, but there’s
been no formal campaign to promote the fact that
gamers can get a true, Wii U style dual-screen
gaming experience from current apps with the tools
available now. “It’s been surprising to me that there are many people
who have an Apple TV and an iOS device and are
aware of the ability to send a video stream over
AirPlay, or mirror the device display, but not of the
ability to do second-screen to the television and show
different content on each,” Braun said about the conspicuous absence of hype around the feature.
“Personally, I’d love for Apple to give more love to the
Apple TV – whether that means improvements to the
current offering or some bold new direction like an
actual HDTV set.” Rumors still prevail that Apple is planning its own
HDTV set, despite the fact that this has been
rumored for years now. But if it does come true, that
would provide a big reason for Apple to push more of
its features. The other big question mark that remains
centers around whether Apple might just open the Apple TV platform to third-party apps, which might
minimize, though not eliminate, the benefits of having
an AirPlay-connected game. Braun says that the addressable market is large for
this type of experience, ranging between 10 to 12
million by his calculations, and with plenty of growth
potential thanks to the more than 300 million strong
iOS user pool. It’s a bigger potential market than that
represented by the current combined sales of all major home gaming consoles, in fact, with the
provision that Apple needs to blanket more of those
with the AirPlay component. One way or another,
that’s a market that won’t go ignored for long.

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The Rusty Throne This is essentially how the games industry has
behaved for the longest time. It has a history of
generational prize fights, of kings and contenders and
pride going before a fall. It was a place where
previous winners became abject losers, from Atari to
Sega, Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. And there were many young 3DO-sized pretenders that never got out
of the gate. The real kingmakers were developers. Faced with the
choice to work with one dedicated platform or another,
or try their hand at PC distribution, many would
evaluate based on appeal and conventional wisdom
about the market’s tastes. So, depending on who
courted them best, offering the best tools or the best business opportunities, developers would always
choose and then become locked in. Porting costs
were expensive and difficult. A virtuous circle of audience and developers then
formed, each propping up the other until such time as
the platform started to feel played out. The only
consistent exception to this rule was Nintendo, who
developed both the platform and its games, and so
needed a smaller audience to thrive. Yet the pattern started to shift somewhere around
2005. According to the normal order of succession,
Microsoft’s Xbox 360 should have become king when
Sony fumbled the ball. But actually it was Nintendo,
with the fresh-faced and deliberately cheap Wii, who
rose to prominence and left the other two achieving a kind of détente. A common assumption of the time had it that the
industry had simply moved from a phase of monopoly
to oligopoly, but there were a couple of other factors
at play. One was that – outside of a couple of very
big third parties – developing games for these formats
became prohibitively expensive for most studios. So the platform holders took a greater hand in developing
and publishing the successful games on their own
platforms. This led to smaller choices. A second factor was that, after years of sputtering,
smartphones finally managed to roar into life in 2007,
and in the following year the world learned what an
app was. Apps started to change perceptions of value
around software and games, as did social gaming.
Foundational ideas like how the economics of gaming should behave, and consequently what game
products should look like, raised significant
questions. The numbers indicated stagnation, or even
contraction, of the console idea. The Xbox 360 was
launched eight years ago today on May 12, 2005 and
went on to sell around 70-75 million units. Sony’s
Playstation 3 launched in November 2006 and also
sold about 70-75 million units. Nintendo’s Wii also launched in November 2006 and has sold just shy of
100 million units. These are all pretty good, but none
is close to the Playstation 2 (155 million units).
Meanwhile the iPad has sold at least 100 million units
in three short years, the iPhone is north of 250 million
and the combined sales of Samsung’s Galaxy models probably dwarfs that number. A third factor was technology. Developers don’t really
have to make the choice to go with any one platform
any more. At the high end of the scale, big publishers
opted for Epic’s Unreal engine, which made it much
easier to port between multiple game systems. And at
the lower end, Unity in particular has made it much easier for game makers to get into many arenas
cheaply. That in turn has affected how they think,
such that making games these days is no longer an
all-in business. Now the virtuous circle can, and
frequently does, extend beyond the platform. This leads me to the idea that there is no longer one
Iron Throne of gaming. That the very notion that a
hardware monopoly, or even an oligopoly, will
continue to own the market is archaic. Elegantly Democratic Most of the interesting stories about games have
come from non-traditional sources over the last few
years. Technological innovations like mass
asynchronous social gaming happened beyond the
Wall, and a decline in PC sales and console software
sales corresponded to a rise in tablets and apps. The Wii, despite its initial roar, faded quickly. So did
products like Kinect. The market changed, becoming
much more chaotic and faddish in some respect. But
also much more tribal. Here’s a small example: Five years ago I regularly
bought Xbox 360 games at my local GAME store.
GAME wasn’t my only source of games (Amazon
was another) but I often found it the easiest to browse
and the most immediate delivery vehicle. An average
purchase would probably be around $30, and time from purchase-to-playing could be measured in hours. This weekend, on the other hand, I opened my iPad
and downloaded Running with Friends, Impossible
Road, Oregon Settler, Ace Patrol, Paper Titans, Star
Command and Year Walk. Some of these games
were free (as in free-to-play), some were $2 or $3.
Most of them are pretty good and some of them look beautiful. After my purchase they had all downloaded
and installed in about 10 minutes, and then I was
playing away. It sounds trivial, but that kind of elegant experience
and low price fundamentally undoes many of the
basic precepts of the old way of looking at things. I
don’t just mean that the games are cheaper and more
easily accessed (although that’s a part of it). They are
much more disposable. $0.99 spent on Angry Birds Friends is just a lot less of a commitment than $69.99
spent on Call of Duty, and that means players are
much more likely to drop a game if it’s not instantly
engaging. It also means that players have access to vastly
more games and can try tons of them before they find
the one that’s right for them. This means that
marketing stories, as opposed to platform stories, are
more important than ever. Recognition, resonance
and so on matter more because the one thing you (as a game maker) don’t have is the guaranteed attention
that comes with a platform sugar daddy. Almost all the really interesting stuff is happening
anywhere but console because of access and price.
It’s relatively easy to be on iOS (though hard to be
successful there because of so much competition)
compared to Xbox Live. It’s much easier to connect
to fans through general-purpose devices that also sell games than games machines that also sell content.
This applies just as much to the bingo-gaming
business or the frontier of indie development. Some would say that all this proves is that Apple
became the new king, but if so Tim Cook wears a
fairly disinterested crown. The iOS shift was more like
the old computer revolution than a dedicated gaming
movement. And while games certainly make up a
huge part of that experience today, Apple (and Google and Facebook, too) operate a curation/aggregation
marketplace rather than the traditional dictatorial
console platform. There is no king any more, not like we used to know
anyway. And little need for him to return. Nobody Needs The Targaryens In the Song of Ice and Fire, Daenerys Targaryen is on
an extended quest to form her armies and return to
take back the crown of Westeros in the belief that this
is her divine right. At some point I think, perhaps in a
later book, there’ll come a moment when she realizes
that she was wrong. In fact my bet is that the Iron Throne is eventually melted for scrap. I feel a similar
way about games. A common counter-argument to all the new school
game thinking seems to say “Okay, okay, fine. All
these touch-based games are all well and good, but
they can’t do Halo 4.” In other words, phones and
tablets are for casuals, but real gamers know the
score. They know that the mono/oligopoly approach is right, and is where the good games come from. They
are waiting for a new king. Actually, “real gamers” (whoever they are) are actually
often to be found playing indie games on Steam and
funding Kickstarter projects. Many of the most
significant games in that sphere get their first breaks
elsewhere, such as Minecraft. Many of the big trends
happen well outside official platforms, where the conversation is more connected. Meanwhile the
would-be kings operate what amounts to a television
model, while Valve is proposing to create a Steam
Box that gets around the console problem once and
for all. This means dedicated devices like the PS3 are
actually second- or even third-string platforms now.
My friend Mike Bithell, for example, released Thomas
Was Alone first on a variety of small PC-download
stores, then Steam, and only much more recently on
PSN. He doesn’t need official sanction to go make his game, just Unity and some way to accept credit
card payments. And that means Sony comes calling
to him rather than the other way around. In addition, the presumed hardware advantage of
consoles is less impressive than ever. Halo 4 may
weave a big song and dance, tell a story, and also put
you in the game world with haptic feedback. But when
I look at wonderfully stylized games like Year Walk, I
remember that the actual story in Halo 4 felt largely like a re-run of bad Babylon 5 episodes. And as for the joypad factor? Well OUYA, Gamestick,
GamePop and other microconsoles are becoming
more and more interesting. They’re trying to bring a
lot of that app store thinking to your television at a
low price, and while that idea has yet to cross the
chasm into the mainstream, it seems only a matter of time. At the moment, more “royalist” elements of
gaming journalism tend to think of microconsoles as
3DOs (primarily asking who are the devices supposed
to be for) and evaluating their chances based on the
criteria of “proper” consoles. But, as Darrell wrote
yesterday, that’s probably the wrong way to look at them. However what is apparent is just how trivial they
could make the joypad-gap seem. And did I mention
how they almost all work with Android and Unity? The Republic of Gaming It’s highly unlikely that any major console will win the
Iron Throne ever again. Gaming is changing from a
monarchic model to something approaching a
democratic one, where a flood of formats and cross-
platform solutions overcome monolithic ideas of
quality and price, and of the need to choose a platform to be the king. The old kings are still carrying on as though they’re
playing the game of thrones, trying to out-maneuver
one another with a raft of press events. But what
you’ve got ask yourself is whether all of that is just so
much noise and bluster celebrating the emperor’s new
clothes?

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The Ouya is making its way out to backers even now
(though my shipping notification still hasn’t arrived.
Grrr.) and judging by early impressions, it’s no silver
bullet to take down behemoths like Sony and
Microsoft. The $99, Android powered console still
isn’t fully formed exactly, but it’s doubtful that between now and June 25 it’ll take on giant-killer
proportions. Likewise the recently-announced
BlueStacks Android gaming console, which features a
subscription-based pricing model, probably won’t
alone topple the giants. But combined, these and a slew of other devices
including the GameStick, smart TVs from
manufacturers, Steam Boxes, and even Google and
Apple hardware are eating away at what was once a
fairly exclusive field. It seems a lot of people are
waiting for a watershed moment to signal a significant shift away from traditional console gaming to a new
paradigm, but increasingly, it looks likely that what
we’ll see instead is an erosion that more closely
resembles glacial shift, but on a less geological time
scale. There’s evidence to suggest that console gaming is
already losing significant ground, like quarterly results
from Nintendo that show a dramatic decline in
consumer interest in the recently-launched Wii U
console. And while Sony saw its first full-year profit in
half a decade, most of the good news was on the smartphone side, and PlayStation sales fell for the
year. Microsoft is still doing fairly well with the Xbox
360, but growth of key accessories like the Kinect
have slowed with time. Slower Kinect sales are a good bellwether for the
industry’s overall health, if only because it and
devices like it are where console makers are turning
to try to inject some fresh life into a market that had
recently started to look fairly stale. To some extent,
Kinect, Move and other gimmicks like the screen of the 3DS are an answer to incursions by mobile
gaming and other alternatives. Just like point-and-
shoot cameras needed differentiating features like
long zooms to prove themselves relative to
smartphone cameras, video games needed
something new to reel in new buyers. The new crop of challengers to the console gaming
market, including Ouya and the new BlueStacks
GamePop console, risks getting discounted by critics
as just another round of devices like the GP2X Wiz or
the Gizmondo, which had limited appeal and then
faded into the background of video games history as little more than a minor footnote. But that’s taking too
short-term and dismissive a view on what’s currently
happening in the video game space. It’s true that, as
ardent console gamers continually remind me, there
will always be a demand for that type of content. Increasingly, however, there’s a growing contingent of
players that are fine saying, “if I can get it on my
phone, why do I need it anywhere else?” and that’s a
market that’s ripe for a living room transition like the
ones being attempted by Ouya and BlueStack. It’s
easy to discount these ahead of their full consumer launch, and I don’t expect them to have an immediate
impact on console sales, but they are signs of a sure
shift, and one that won’t go away, even if doesn’t
provide the sort of bomb shock disruption that we’re
so fond of identifying and championing.

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Yahoo has just been gobbling up startups. In the last
week or so, it has announced the acquisition of
Astrid, GoPollGo, and Milewise. In fact, in a tweet
today, Yahoo said that it has “added 22 entrepreneurs
to our growing mobile team,” thanks to the three
aforementioned companies — plus a mobile gaming startup called Loki Studios. I’ve reached out to both Yahoo and Loki Studios for
details about the deal, but the news seems to be
confirmed on the Loki website, where the front page
currently announces that the team is joining Yahoo: It has been a difficult but immensely rewarding
journey. We collaborated closely with an incredibly
supportive community to continuously iterate and
improve upon [Loki Sutdios’ game] Geomon. We were
fortunate to have been advised by some of the best
mentors in the industry and befriended many of our peers along the way. We surmounted immense
obstacles, formed tightknit bonds, and worked
through a few too many sunrises. Now, our journey continues. We are thrilled to be
joining the exceptional folks at Yahoo!. We believe
fully in their commitment to creating outstanding
mobile products. We are excited to learn from, work
with, and contribute to one of the most well-known
pioneers of the tech industry. The note is signed by seven Loki team members, so
it sounds like they’re all joining Yahoo. The startup had backing from DCM’s Android-focused
fund and it was also part of the inaugural class at the
StartX incubator for the Stanford community. It’s not clear whether Yahoo will actually be doing
anything with Loki’s technology, but in case you’re
curious, the company says it was working on
location-based games, starting with its title Geomon.
The idea is to incorporate data about the user’s
location — “including the weather, temperature, time of day, season, and geographic region” — into the
game: “Therefore, playing our game on the beach on
a warm, sunny day provides a different game
experience from playing at home in the city on a cold,
winter’s night.” Update: Yahoo just sent me a statement announcing the deal. Today we welcomed Loki Studios to the Yahoo!
mobile team. Their experience in community and
location-based mobile services is impressive and
we’re excited to have them on the team. The company said that it’s not disclosing the terms of
the deal, and that Geomon will be shut down.