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.

Zune Subscription Video May be Coming to Xbox, WP7

  • Electronista reports that Microsoft is considering a subscription video service to be branded under the Zune name.
  • The rumored service is expected to be separate from the live Xbox TV service recently announced at June’s E3 Expo.
  • The Zune service may be modeled much like the current pay-per-title store and compete with the likes of Netflix.
  • It would “most likely” offer videos to stream on Windows Phone 7 smartphones and Windows PCs.
  • “Whether or not it would follow the traditional month-to-month plan, integrate with the Zune Pass, or bolt on to an Xbox Live Gold subscription wasn’t as evident.”

iPhone Users Lead the Charge in Mobile Gaming

  • According to a recent Nielsen study, the average iPhone user commits twice the average amount of time to playing mobile games as compared to other mobile gamers, suggesting that iOS may have the most engaged gaming audience.
  • The study also indicates that 93 percent of app customers have paid for games in the last 30 days.
  • The average iPhone owner spent 14.7 hours playing games during the month, while the average Android owner spent 9.3 hours (the overall average for smartphone gamers is 7.8 hours/month).
  • The report explains that consumers are typically more willing to spend money on games than other types of apps.
  • Nielsen breaks down the leading categories of most popular apps for Q2 2011 in the following order: Games, Weather, Social Networking, Maps/Navigation/Search, Music, News, Entertainment, Banking/Finance, Video/Movies, Shopping/Retail, Dining/Restaurant, Sports.

Rovio Planning Angry Birds Feature Film, Acquires Animation Studio

  • Rovio, creator of the game app “Angry Birds,” is planning the next step for its popular IP: a feature-length motion picture.
  • The expanding franchise has already proven successful with plush toys, iPhone cases, a Mattel board game, a cookbook, and an interesting tie-in with 20th Century Fox’s feature film, “RIO” (Rovio launched mobile game “Angry Birds Rio” to coincide with the film’s release).
  • In order to facilitate its next steps, Rovio has acquired Finnish animation studio Kombo and has attached former Marvel Studios chairman David Maisel as special advisor.
  • Based on the global popularity of the app and the “emotional connection” that gamers experience during play, Maisel sees continued success for “Angry Birds” as an entertainment brand.

Video Gamers May Be the New Stars of Live Streaming

  • Videogaming events today attract hundreds of thousands of simultaneous streaming video viewers.
  • A recent “League of Legends” competition drew more than 200,000 simultaneous viewers, according to game provider own3D.tv (the Austria-based company has more than four million unique viewers per month).
  • 95 percent of the viewers watch in HD.
  • Early numbers suggest this is a global trend (only 15-18 percent are U.S. viewers).
  • Others are getting on board; live streaming provider Justin.tv created TwitchTV to offer e-sports as a live sporting event.

Zynga Going Public: Insiders Anticipate Value at $20 Billion

  • The Zynga Game Network, maker of online video games, is expected to file for its initial public stock offering this week.
  • The company’s games, including “Cityville” and “Farmville” are immensely popular on Facebook, with 270 million active users.
  • The stock sale is expected to value the company between $15 and $20 billion, making it one of the largest technology offerings since Google’s IPO in 2004.

Companies use Facebook Credits as Incentives with ifeelgoods Help

  • Facebook “Credits” began as a means of purchasing virtual goods for social games, and then were used as a tool for other digital goods such as movies.
  • Companies are now leveraging Credits in a new way — to attract consumers to their brands via the social network.
  • The ifeelgoods platform helps retailers provide consumers with Facebook Credits, which can then be used for tasks including: “liking the retailer on Facebook, signing up for an email distribution list, making a purchase, checking into a location or answering a survey.”
  • The company suggests that Credits may be more effective than offering a coupon or discount code, “because consumers like to believe they are receiving something, especially if they know they don’t have to make a purchase.”
  • Facebook users can then post related information to their wall (ifeelgoods claims consumers are willing to share this information 60 to 70 percent of the time).
  • Ifeelgoods has raised $6.5 million in capital.

Gaming Industry Wins in Supreme Court Battle over Violent Content

  • In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that a controversial 2005 California law, which would have made it a crime to sell extremely violent or inappropriate video games to minors, is unconstitutional.
  • The decision ends a court battle that has gone on for more than six years, while similar proposed laws have been struck down in other states.
  • Justice Antonin Scalia explained the law does not conform with the First Amendment: “The basic principles of freedom of speech…do not vary with a new and different communication medium.”

Will Video Games Drive 3D Mobile Phone Sales?

  • Nintendo introduced autostereoscopic 3D gaming with its 3DS system earlier this year, but it failed to gain significant traction.
  • In his Forbes Tech column, John Gaudiosi suggests the availability of new top-tier 3D games and a drop in price may help turn that around.
  • The drop in price may come sooner than expected, now that Sprint’s $200 Evo 3D (from HTC) – the first glasses-free 3D phone for the U.S. – is available. Plus, later this summer AT&T will enter the 3D market with its LG Thrill 4G.
  • “While some have called 3D phones gimmicky, these devices are already commonplace in Asia. And with an influx of new 3D phones entering the market this year, coupled with the Nintendo 3DS, Jim Cameron recently told me that he sees these glasses free devices as being key for the adoption of 3D TVs in the homes.”
  • Gaudiosi’s column features several interesting video reports and interviews about the direction of 3D.

Phil Harrison: Apple Will Be the Games Industry

  • Edge Magazine speaks with Phil Harrison, former president of Sony Computer Entertainment’s Worldwide Studios, and recently appointed advisory board member of cloud-based streaming game service Gaikai.
  • Harrison answers questions on the future of gaming and suggests the following projections: Games will rely increasingly upon social networks; free-to-play will become the predominant business model in 20 years; local storage will disappear; music, film and television will be consumed like a utility and browsers will replace consoles (in the wake of a next-generation browser war).
  • On the future of non-physical media: “If you live in Korea, it’s already happened, if you live in China, it’s already happened. That’s an easy prediction to make: there is undoubtedly a generation of kids alive on the planet today who will never purchase a physical media package for any of their digital entertainment.”
  • On Apple’s impact on the market: “At this trajectory, if you extrapolate the market-share gains that they are making, forward for ten years – if they carry on unrestrained in their growth, then there’s a pretty good chance that Apple will be the games industry.”

Animation Technology Behind L.A. Noire Game Draws Attention

  • Depth Analysis is getting high praise for the 3D motion-capture technology it used in rendering facial expressions for the new L.A. Noire video game. The Australia-based company is working to perfect a full-body system that will let film directors “drop” actors into their movies.
  • L.A. Noire is the latest game from the Rockstar Games label (Take-Two Interactive Software). Team Bondi and Depth Analysis have been earning positive reviews for the game’s highly stylized, immersive and cinematic production design (check out the trailer here).
  • Development on the MotionScan 3D motion-capture system, which uses 32 HD cameras positioned at different levels to capture and create a 3D model, began in 2004. The infrastructure, pipeline and capture rig were all developed from scratch.
  • Depth Analysis has found success in realistically recreating the detail of actors’ facial performances for its video game and plans to use it more for capturing full-body performances.
  • The company has also been demonstrating the work-in-progress system to filmmakers. L.A. Noire writer-director Brendan McNamara explains that the appeal of the Depth Analysis system is its ability to drop actors into virtually any setting.
  • For those interested in a visual demonstration, CNET has posted a 6-minute GameSpot interview with Oliver Bao, head of R&D for Depth Analysis.
  • According to Bao (in an AWN interview last week): “We’ve managed to reproduce lifelike performances of actors. Getting the data compressed to fit game discs and render back at decent speed and quality have been reasons why this was not possible before. We’ve demonstrated that what you see is what you get; actors have their performances reproduced faithfully to the point that you can lip read what they’re saying in L.A. Noire. This is the first time we’ve allowed gamers to be able to enjoy believable acting on a console.”

E3 2011: Nintendo Unveils Wii U Controller and 3DS Updates

Nintendo chose its E3 Expo presentation to provide a much anticipated first look at the new Wii U controller in addition to a system update and new 3D games for its $250 3DS handheld gaming device released earlier this year.

The Wii U controller combines a 6.2-inch touchscreen, traditional inputs and motion control functionality. The wireless device will support full HD graphics (a first for Nintendo) and is backward compatible with all Wii games and accessories. Interesting features include a microphone, gyroscope, accelerometer, front-facing camera and stylus. Even though it shares a number of characteristics with other handheld devices, the Wii U controller was not designed to serve as a portable gaming device. However, users will be able to game and video chat (even without a television). By adding another screen to the home entertainment experience, Nintendo is hoping to redefine “how the TV, the game console and the Internet function and interact together.”

According to the Nintendo press release: “Previously, video games played on a home console have been confined to the TV and offered identical viewpoints to each player in a multiplayer environment. Furthermore, watching TV and playing console games have been completely separate experiences. The new controller removes these boundaries, creating a more dynamic and fluid gaming and entertainment experience.”

Gamers can use the controller to zoom in on television images and to interact with games that appear on both the controller and TV screens. In a video demo of the system, Nintendo showed a player sending a throwing star from the controller’s touchscreen to the TV screen across the room with a swipe of his finger, as if the weapon actually flew through the air. The Wii U has similar functionality when connected to the Internet, allowing users to essentially “throw” photos or videos from the controller onto the television screen.

The dynamic of adding an additional screen to the gaming experience in the controller is difficult to explain in words, so Engadget has posted a 5-minute video demo of multi-player gaming (produced by the Nintendo Network). And Nintendo’s compelling 4-minute Wii U video from the E3 presentation is available on YouTube. It illustrates capabilities of the new device including video chats, drawing with a stylus, motion control functionality, browsing, TV interaction (even with the virtual space beyond the TV screen) and more. Additional video footage of the Nintendo E3 presentation is available on the CNET channel on YouTube.

Although specific pricing and availability was not announced at E3, the Wii U is expected to have a mid- to late-2012 release. Screen resolution was also not specified, but the display ratio is 16:9.

The company also announced a new system upgrade to its glasses-free, portable 3D device, the Nintendo 3DS (that launched March 27). Users who connect via a wireless Internet connection and install the update will have access to the Nintendo eShop, which features downloadable games and applications using a cash-based system. According to the site, gamers can access “3D games, classic games remade in 3D, and legendary titles from the Game Boy system — plus more. View webpages right from your Nintendo 3DS system, including the ability to view 3D images on the Internet where applicable.”

Nintendo also announced its initiatives to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda: “A re-mastered 3D version of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time launches for Nintendo 3DS on June 19, while Wii owners will see the arrival of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword in the 2011 holiday season.”

For the duration of the E3 Expo, fans can visit the Nintendo Network online to watch developer interviews, get information about new games and see coverage from the show floor.

Related CNET article: “E3 2011: Nintendo’s new Wii U set for 2012” (6/7/11)

Related Engadget post (with press release and videos): “The Wii U controller, revealed!” (6/7/11)

Related CNN Tech article: “Nintendo unveils the Wii U system” (6/7/11)

Related USA Today article: “Nintendo unveils Wii U, with a touch-screen display” (6/7/11)

Related Yahoo! Games article: “Nintendo debuts Wii U” (6/7/11)

Related Xbit Laboratories news: “AMD and IBM Confirm Work on Chips for Nintendo Wii U” (6/7/11)

Related ABC News article (comparing announcements from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft): “Wii 2: Nintendo Wii U Video Game Console Debuts at E3 Expo” (6/7/11)

Hulu Plus Now Available on TiVo Premiere DVRs, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3

Hulu Plus has announced its latest service integration, this time with the Tivo Premiere set-top box. According to the Hulu Blog, to celebrate the launch, “TiVo is offering a 6-month free trial to those who purchase a TiVo Premiere from a retailer or Tivo.com. This offer runs until August 30, 2011. And TiVo subscribers who already subscribe to Hulu Plus can begin accessing their account with no additional charges.”

The TiVo integration is the latest in a growing list of Hulu expansion efforts. At the end of April, Microsoft added the Hulu Plus service to its Xbox 360 gaming console (only for Xbox Live Gold members who pay the $60 yearly subscription fee in addition to the monthly Hulu Plus subscription). A Sony PS3 app for Hulu Plus was made available late last year via the PlayStation Network. Hulu also announced net-connected Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players, Roku boxes and Vizio TVs.

PC World reports that current TiVo Premiere customers can register for a free one-month trial before starting the Hulu Plus subscription (while new customers who purchase the TiVo Premiere box will get six months free). Additionally, TiVo subscribers “have to sign up for the $7.95-a-month Hulu Plus service in order to stream to their TVs (Hulu requires a subscription to Hulu Plus for any non-computer streaming).”

In related news, ReelSEO reports that Hulu now accounts for a quarter of online video ads. According to recent comScore numbers, 172 million Americans consumed an average of 14.9 hours each of online video content in April. Google is the clear leader in this regard with nearly three times as many viewers as second place VEVO. While Hulu is only tenth on the list of total online viewers, it is interesting to note it falls second to Google in the average number of minutes people spend on the site. The comScore data indicates Hulu dominates in advertising, accounting for 1.14 million ads in April.

Related Hulu Blog post (and video): “Hulu Plus Now Available on TiVo Premiere” (5/23/11)

Related Wired article: “Hands-On: Hulu Plus for Xbox 360 Is Just as Unfinished as Netflix Offering” (4/28/11)

Related ReelSEO article: “Online Video Numbers Hold Steady for April, Except at AOL” (5/22/11)

Redbox Hopes to Increase Revenue with Video Game Offerings

Redbox announced that it will begin offering video games for the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 21,000 of its 31,800 self-service kiosk locations around the country starting June 17.

According to the company’s press release, Redbox has been testing video game rentals alongside movie offerings at 5,000 locations since August 2009. “Redbox has rented more than one million video games in less than two years at these locations, underscoring the popularity of video game play in America,” said Mitch Lowe, president of Redbox.

Redbox parent company Coinstar Inc. believes the select market testing suggests that the company can potentially “increase revenue by replacing 10% to 15% of the DVD slots in its kiosks with games.” (Each machine holds between 70 and 200 titles.)

Games – ranging from Call of Duty: Black Ops and Mortal Kombat to Super Mario Galaxy and Star Wars III – will cost $2 per night (compared to the $1 rental fee for DVDs and $1.50 for Blu-ray discs). For a complete list of initial game offerings, visit the Redbox Games page.

Related Home Media Magazine article (with interesting financial stats): “Redbox to Increase Video Game Presence” (4/28/11)

Portable, Glasses-Free 3D from Nintendo

The Nintendo 3DS has launched in Japan with plans to hit the U.S. and European markets next month. The portable device is the first of its kind to offer glasses-free 3D gaming.

Despite the sellout of pre-order stocks, gaming enthusiasts showed up in droves for the Japanese release.  However, it remains to be seen how the 3DS will compete worldwide with the new casual gaming capabilities of tablet PCs, the Apple iPhone, Android-powered smartphones, and the next generation portable from Sony (expected to launch in 10 months).

According to Reuters, Nintendo will initially run with the formula that has traditionally worked with its DS: “a dedicated portable games device with software available on cartridges that cost $30 or more.”

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