Game Developers Seek the Creative Freedom of Independent Firms

  • Experienced game developers are increasingly leaving the security of big publishers to work for small independent companies that offer greater creative freedom and the possibilities of making their fortunes through digital distribution.
  • Easy-to-use and inexpensive game creation tools also make it easier. Still, success stories are hard to find.
  • “Working for a major publisher can be rewarding, very quickly: you get to work on known IPs, you have job security, you get a good paycheck every month, you have the business card with the big name on it to show off to your friends,” explains Audrey Leprince of The Game Bakers, an independent developer of mobile games.
  • But there are downsides, she says. “You don’t really know how much you will be listened to or if your ideas will be taken into account, how much freedom you’ll have in your work, or if you’ll end up crunching on a B project after the perfect project you joined for gets cancelled.”
  • Developers also seek smaller independent companies when the company they are working for is acquired by a larger name and the environment changes. For example, Ars Technica cites a happy employee of Black Box who later felt like “a cog in the machine” when his company was bought out by EA, so he left for a position at Radical Entertainment. “It was a large but independent company with talented industry vets, free food, beer on tap… I was happy again,” he said.

Bar Fights: Videogame Fans Muscle their Way into Sports Bars

  • Sports bars have become venues for live Internet videogame matches between professional gamers.
  • The events attract a large numbers of gaming fans that have already been watching alone at home, but are attracted to the energy and screams of other fans. One tournament in July attracted some 85,000 online viewers via Twitch.tv.
  • “This summer, ‘Starcraft II’ has become the newest barroom spectator sport,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Fans organize so-called Barcraft events, taking over pubs and bistros from Honolulu to Florida and switching big-screen TV sets to Internet broadcasts of professional game matches happening often thousands of miles away.”
  • The “Starcraft” franchise is very popular in Korea, where two cable stations provide dedicated coverage of “Starcraft II” (in addition to “Halo,” “Counter-Strike” and “Call of Duty”). Fervor for public viewings is spilling into the U.S. for the first time.
  • “This feels like the World Cup,” said one Barcraft attendee recently in San Francisco. “You experience the energy and screams of everyone around you when a player makes an amazing play.”

Attention Gamers and Developers: Namaste To Launch User-Gen Gaming Platform

  • Are you a casual gamer who wants to create your own games but lacks the resources of a big game company? Namaste may be for you.
  • The startup is developing a platform called StoryBricks, designed to help casual gamers and those interested in being part of a development team to create their own content and share them on social networks.
  • “The twist is that it’s not for professional game designers,” reports TechCrunch, “but users who want to create their own games. The company is understood to be be in discussions with several top VCs.”
  • Namaste has started fundraising via AngelList and recently tapped Anil Hansjee, former head of corporate development for Google Europe, to join the company as advisor.

Google+ Games: Should Facebook and Apple be Nervous?

  • The introduction of games to Google+ potentially threatens both Facebook (which also has games) and Apple (which takes a 30 percent cut versus Google’s 5 percent).
  • Google+ sees games as being core to their mission: “We don’t consider ourselves experts at making compelling games, but we can bring a lot to the party,” explains Bradley Horowitz, VP of Product for Google+. “There were some internal debates about whether Google was well-suited to have games in our repertoire and what is the value of games to the users. There’s tremendous value for users. They provide a way for people to connect, discover and interact with each other… We don’t see games contrary to our mission, or a diversion. We see them as being core.”
  • If HTML5 unifies the Web and mobile, it could become possible “for software to be written once and run across multiple devices.” And if Google+ games were to run via a browser on the iPhone or iPad, this could be an additional concern for Apple.
  • What do you think? Should Facebook and Apple be nervous?

Disney Demonstrates Surround Haptics System for Gaming and More

  • Disney Research has developed a new technology that leverages phantom sensations and other tactile illusions to provide a wide range of physical sensations for gamers and film-goers via chairs outfitted with vibrating actuators. The technology is being demonstrated this week at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver.
  • Disney says its Surround Haptics system makes it possible for video game players and film viewers to “feel the smoothness of a finger being drawn against skin, for example, or the jolt of a collision.”
  • The system could potentially have a wide range of applications in movies, music and games, even communication systems for the blind.
  • “Although we have only implemented Surround Haptics with a gaming chair to date, the technology can be easily embedded into clothing, gloves, sports equipment and mobile computing devices,” says senior research scientist Ivan Poupyrev. “This technology has the capability of enhancing the perception of flying or falling, of shrinking or growing, of feeling bugs creeping on your skin. The possibilities are endless.”

MySpace Founder Believes Google+ has Facebook on the Defensive

  • Tom Anderson, former founder and president of MySpace, details the key advantages Google+ has over Facebook in a recent guest post on TechCrunch.
  • Anderson suggests Google+ can attract game developers by taking a smaller cut, and may not need any advertising at all. “Google has plenty to gain without ever showing an ad and, put simply, Google doesn’t need the money,” writes Anderson. “Facebook’s got to know this, and it’s got to have them just a little bit concerned.”
  • Facebook is testing out a “real-time” feed, as opposed to its current default “Top News” algorithm (which Anderson has criticized). Facebook is having to deal with complaints from advertisers and app developers. “It seems that the ‘Top News’ stream is killing the virality of advertisers ‘content’ and of apps that are trying to find new users,” he adds.
  • Anderson addresses Google’s decision to block business accounts and suggests both companies have some challenging decisions to make: “How do they balance what’s best for the regular guy (you & me), advertisers (big brands), small local businesses (who can never afford the big spend), platform developers with non-competing services (games & music, which it appears FB won’t get into) and platform developers with potentially competitive services (like business networking and dating, which FB/G+ may want to get into themselves someday).”
  • “Over the long haul (5-10 years), the company that makes the right choices in these areas may just end up winning,” he concludes.

Will Tablets and Smartphones Replace Gaming Consoles?

  • Mike Capps, president of Epic Games, imagines the iPhone 8 will be faster than an Xbox 360 and will probably plug into our TVs or connect wirelessly, perhaps making next-gen consoles less significant.
  • “I think that’s the real challenge for us now,” explained Capps to IndustryGamers, “rather than worrying about the difference between a couple consoles and some order of magnitude, whether 3X or 4X. It’s about how do we deal with iPhone 8.”
  • “Your iPhone 8 will probably plug into your TV, or better yet, wirelessly connect to your television set to give you that big screen gaming experience with good sound,” added Capps. “So really, what’s the point of those next-gen consoles? It’s a very interesting situation to be looking at. That’s what we’re starting to think about more…not how do we scale from some Nintendo platform to some other future console.”
  • Capps’ observations are similar to remarks made recently by EA CEO John Riccitiello, who described the iPad as the company’s fastest growing platform.
  • “We have a new hardware platform and we’re putting out software every 90 days,” Riccitiello told IndustryGamers. “Our fastest growing platform is the iPad right now and that didn’t exist 18 months ago… Consoles used to be 80 percent of the industry as recently as 2000. Consoles today are 40 percent of the game industry.”

Endemol Games to Launch Motion Control Sensor Game

  • Online gaming firm Endemol Games UK is getting ready to launch one of the first motion control sensor games not developed around the Xbox Kinect controller.
  • Based on the TV show “Total Wipeout,” the game uses motion control technology developed by OmniMotion Technology.
  • The game is based around a virtual obstacle course similar to what is featured on the TV show. Players use their bodies to control the action through their webcam.
  • “Total Wipeout: Big Ball Run” will be available in the UK later this month through Facebook, or as a downloadable application from totalwipeout.co.uk.
  • Endemol also has plans to roll out the game internationally.

New Philips HDTVs Will Access Cloud Games and Set-Top Functions

  • Philips announced it will be including streaming set-top and gaming functions in some of its new HDTV sets.
  • The Philips 4000 and 5000 series, which use the CloudTV platform of ActiveVideo Networks, can access cloud-based games streamed as MPEG files.
  • Both lines will include Philips MediaConnect, that enables wirelessly connecting the TV and PC.
  • Other features include NetTV (offering services such as Netflix, VUDU, Facebook, Film Fresh, Pandora and Twitter), V-tuner Internet radio and built-in Wi-Fi support.
  • The 4000 series features six screen sizes, ranging from 19 to 55 inches, while the 5000 series adds another 10 screens, from 40 to 55 inches.

Hitachi Announces LCD Screen: 720p and Glasses-Free 3D

  • Smartphone screens may continue to get larger. Hitachi announced it has developed a high resolution 4.5-inch, 720p display that the company hopes will be used for portable TVs, phones or handheld game devices.
  • The 1280×710 resolution may enable 720p HD movies to be viewed in native resolution on phones — and the backlit LCD would be an IPS-based display, allowing for a wide viewing angle like that on the iPhone.
  • Additionally, this new 3D-capable display uses a lenticular lens (rather than a barrier approach) that would enable glasses-free 3D.
  • ETCentric contributor Phil Lelyveld points out: “3D is driving the display industry towards higher and higher resolution phone screens, since 3D effectively halves the resolution. Resolution has become a marketing point in this highly competitive market.”

Sony Experiments with Headgear for VR Gaming

  • Sony Computer Entertainment may launch a 3D headset for virtual reality-type games in the future.
  • The head-mounted display was first introduced during the company’s CES press event in January, but now Sony is reportedly working on developing it for more than just viewing passive entertainment.
  • The device features twin 720p OLED displays (one for each eye) and 5.1 surround sound.
  • Mick Hocking, group studio manager for Sony Europe, said the 3D headset can provide an immersive experience for games (and it is worth mentioning that a number of Sony Computer Entertainment studios fall under his command).
  • “The head-mounted display has twin-OLED screens; very high quality. At the moment it’s just a head-mounted display; the head isn’t being tracked — but that’s something we’re doing R&D on,” Hocking explained. “We’re working with a couple of games at Sony that are experimenting with virtual-reality-type experiences.”

AFTRA Ratifies Residuals for Streaming Video Games

  • A new contract was recently ratified by members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) that will provide performers who work on video games a onetime payment when games are streamed over the Internet.
  • The so-called “cloud gaming fee” is the first of its kind, and resolves a longstanding dispute over compensation for the remote delivery of video games.
  • The union represents some 70,000 actors, recording artists and broadcasters.
  • AFTRA’s sister union SAG has yet to negotiate a new video game contract.

Blockbuster Targets Frustrated Netflix Subscribers

  • ETCentric recently reported on the backlash to new Netflix subscription rates (see “Nine Video Streaming and Rental Alternatives to Netflix”).
  • Most of the nine rental alternatives referenced in the earlier post are currently offering special introductory offers.
  • According to this related article however, Blockbuster is now offering a free 30-day trial specifically to disgruntled Netflix customers unhappy with the recent price hike.
  • If customers decide to switch, they’ll pay a comparable monthly subscription fee (Blockbuster points out that they offer video games and newer releases than Netflix).
  • Blockbuster’s special Netflix promotion runs until September 15.

Entertainment Media Companies Not Ready for Digital Opportunities?

  • Most media and entertainment company senior execs believe they are not fully leveraging customer data that would make it possible to deliver customized content, suggests a new study by consulting firm Accenture.
  • The research indicates that 91 percent of these executives are not taking full advantage of the data, and as a result, are not adequately prepared to identify revenue opportunities related to current and future digital technologies. Additionally, 95 percent do not have strong digital customer relationship management capabilities.
  • If fewer than 10 percent of the companies have a fully integrated view of their digital consumers, a new operating model may be necessary for sustainable digital growth (Accenture recommends a shift from legacy vertical, channel-oriented structures toward a horizontally-layered operating model).
  • Only 55 percent said their companies had a clearly defined social networking strategy in place, while 80 percent believe the industry is still in a state of flux. And 42 percent anticipate that advertising will serve as their main source of revenue in the next two years.
  • Accenture’s “Global Media & Entertainment High Performance Study” canvassed 130 executives across Europe, North America, South America and Asia Pacific from industries including television, gaming, film, music, publishing, portals and advertising.

Electronic Arts to Purchase Award-Winning PopCap Games

  • Videogame maker Electronic Arts announced this week it would acquire PopCap Games, maker of games like “Bejeweled,” “Zuma” and “Plants vs. Zombies.”
  • According to the deal, Electronic Arts is expected to pay $650 million in cash and $100 million in new shares.
  • EA has long been a dominant player in the console gaming market; this acquisition plans to strengthen its presence in mobile and causal gaming.
  • Mobile games, like those played on Android and iOS devices, are the fastest-growing segment of the gaming market.
  • “EA’s global studio and publishing network will help PopCap rapidly expand their business to more digital devices, more countries and more channels,” explained Electronic Arts chief exec John Riccitiello.

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