Economy Will Impact Holiday Spending, Says NPD

The NPD annual survey of consumer spending for the holidays has found nearly a third plan to button up their budgets this year, reports  The survey found 30 percent of people planning to spend less, a four percent increase over last year.  A half of those surveyed blamed the economy.  NPD also found 20 percent of those surveyed plan to buy video games this year, a two percent decline from last year.

Read more at {link no longer active}.

Beta Launch For 360 Social Media Apps

Elite Xbox blogger Major Nelson has invited Xbox Live users to sign up to test the new 360 dashboard with Twitter and Facebook connections, reports  Nelson is asking thousands to sign up to test the social media apps on XBL in advance of the official launch, rumored to be next month.


VidZone Streaming Videos Will Be On PS3 Only

Digital content company VidZone is bumping up its streamed video offerings for PS3 but sticking to downloadable content on 360, reports  Talking about the company s Europe plans, VidZone’s Michael Russo says its PS3 streaming content service will expand to cover 18 countries by Christmas.  While not providing specifics, he says additional services are planned for the U.S.

As for 360, Russo calls the platform a smaller business , one where VidZone only sells downloadable music videos from independent labels.  He calls their streaming content service on PS Network more of a ‘proper consumer product’ than what they offer through Xbox Live.


PC Shipments Up From Early 2009 Decline

Research firm IDC has found third quarter sales of personal computers jumped 2.3 from the same period last year, reports AP.  The industry had expected sales to continue falling after declines in the first half of 2009.  Computer makers have also been reeling from a tough 2008, when holiday sales fell to their lowest in six years.  IDC partly attributes the third quarter jump to robust back-to-school sales.  It ranked HP as the world s biggest computer maker, with Taiwan’s Acer bumping Dell for the number two spot.

Read more from AP {link no longer active}.

‘Guitar Hero’ In ‘Couples Retreat’

Activision scratched a winner when Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn wrote Guitar Hero 5 into the script for Couples Retreat.   As fans of the game in real life, the famously funny pair wrote a scene into the movie where a Guitar Hero face-off moves the plot forward.

According to Variety, the news had Activision executives in stitches when they heard about the unendorsed placement.  The game publisher quickly joined Universal’s list of product placement licensors for the film ranging from booze brands to apparel.  Activision then launched a nationwide contest supported by radio spots to promote the film and its starring product.

Couples Retreat was the number one movie in the U.S. last weekend, overcoming dismal reviews – 15 percent at Rotten Tomatoes – to pull in $34 million.

Read more at Variety.

Wall Street Journal Is Number One U.S. Paper

The latest report by the Audit Bureau of Circulations shows Wall Street Journal is the number one newspaper in paid circulations in the U.S., reports Ad Age.  The report shows U.S. paid circulation for the Journal climbed to 2.02 million, a slight increase from last year.  Going the other way was USA Today, suffering a big drop to 1.88 million subscribers from 2.3 million last year.

Ad Age says a price hike hurt USA Today, as did fewer copies at hotels seeing fewer guests.  ABC counts hotel freebie papers as paid circulation.  The agency will publish its full round-up of newspaper circulations on October 26.

Read more at Ad Age {link no longer active}.

GameX Industry Summit In Philadelphia

GameX is featuring creative and development leads from major game companies at its expo and industry summit taking place in Philadelphia October 24-25.  The summit will have more than 20 sessions covering creative and business aspects of game development.  Featured speakers include Jason Della Rocca, president of Perimeter Partners, Chris Foster, design director at Harmonix, Clint Hocking, creative director at Ubisoft, and Richard Rouse, lead designer at Kaos Studios.

Find out more at their web site.

Codemasters Turns Up The Audio In ‘Operation Flashpoint’ TV spot

Codemasters decided to highlight the underappreciated role audio plays in action games in the TV spot for its upcoming shooter.  The spot for  Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising helps viewers immediately get where the ad’s messaging is headed.  The video starts with a black screen as the sound of bullets whizzing by can be heard.  Bullets give way to mortars and explosions, but the screen remains black save for a visual effect that reinforces the audio.  The ad doesn’t stop being footage-free until about midway through.

The hardcore set may draw conclusions, namely that Codemasters is avoiding going head-to-head on visual quality with prettier console shooters.  If that s the case, this approach is commendable in setting the game apart elsewhere.  Operation Flashpoint games have always been positioned as war simulation shooters, and here Codemasters highlights an often overlooked area that brings realism to the games.

Codemasters is airing the spots on TV and in cinemas in the UK.

Watch it at Brand Republic {link no longer effective}.

Pepsi’s Mature-Rated Marketing App

Channeling the risk-taking young men associate with drinking Mountain Dew, Pepsi created a risqué app to promote its Dew-branded Amp Energy drink on iPhone.  In a move seen with many independent iPhone developers, they created a very Apple-like advertising spot to promote it.

The app is Amp Up Before You Score, a dating facilitator that helps men identify types of women and offers tips on picking them up.  In what Pepsi may have seen as a PR boost, the app propelled into the spotlight when Apple slapped a mature rating on it.  It then turned political correctness nightmare when the app drew much scorn for its commodification of women, prompting Pepsi to issue an apology through Twitter.

Did it deserve it?   It may push buttons when it comes to stereotyping women, but it also pushes boundaries by working nifty iPhone features into a marketing app.

Watch it at Creativity-Online.

Nexon America’s Rise Offers Lessons In Free-To-Play MMO Market

Nexon America VP Min Kim talked about the company s success and why its free-to-play MMOs have resonated in the West in a speech given at GDC China.  Christian Nutt covers Kim’s speech for Gamasutra.  His piece shows there are lessons to learn on the free-to-play MMO market by understanding how Nexon played its hand in bringing products to the West.

Kim attributes some of his understanding of the U.S. market for MMO games to his upbringing as a Korean-American.  He says Nexon recognized that the real potential in the West’s MMO market was targeting young teens, an audience he calls Pokemon kids who are growing up.  One of the biggest steps was empowering their youthful audience with purchase decision-making.  For that they had to untether them from their parent s credit cards.  Nexon rolled out a massive pre-paid card campaign that at one time had Nexon Cash cards available at Target, Best Buy, 7-11 and other national retailers.

Both of Nexon’s hits can be attributed to targeting that maturing teen gaming audience.  Kim sees Maple Story directly serving the tastes of the Pokemon set.  For their other hit, Combat Arms, Nexon went after those weaned on console games and ready for a flashier, more arcade-like spin on MMO shooters such as Counterstrike.   The game has more than three million players in North America.  One recent miss offers a different lesson.  Nexon recently consumer tested a casual cart racing game that got high marks for quality, but showed that the casual game MMO market isn’t well developed in the West.

Kim laments the treatment free-to-play games get from game press, saying they get caught up in what they perceive as a lower quality bar.  Nexon sees that changing as future free MMOs catch up to console games.  Yet overall his philosophy is that compelling and accessible content can overcome the quality barrier, citing how teens readily turn to low-fidelity entertainment on YouTube when most of them have an HDTV in the living room.

Read more at Gamasutra {link no longer active}.