Google Faces FTC Anti-Trust Case

The FTC announced that it has hired an outside litigator to take charge of an antitrust investigation of Google. The hiring of Beth Wilkinson, a former Justice Department prosecutor who played a lead role in the conviction of the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, shows that the agency has moved beyond the preliminary stage of its inquiry and was preparing to go to court.

“In an important case, you want to do a thorough investigation,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

Google formally denied obstructing a government investigation into a privacy breach but agreed to pay a fine of $25,000 anyway. Initial investigations showed that while Google denied it was collecting substantive digital data with Street View cars with the cameras, it was revealed that they were also collecting Wi-Fi location data and unencrypted Internet communications.

Source: NY

Tribes: Ascend Hits 800,000 Registered Users

Tribes: Ascend is a free-to-play incarnation of the classic multiplayer FPS title and has been well received by the press. Since launching April 12, Hi-Rez Studios COO Todd Harris has confirmed that the game has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of users.

“Hi-Rez Studios’ COO told us today that the F2P game Tribes: Ascend has over 800K registered accounts,” said a Tweet. “Not bad!”

Source: Gamasutra

Apple First-Time Device Owners Increasing Via iPhone, iPad

An NPD Group study revealed that a quarter of all iPad owners say that the device is their first Apple product. Additionally, 37 million homes in the U.S., roughly a third, own one Apple product – 69 percent of that group own iPods.

“iPad sales are growing much faster than any other Apple product has this soon after launch,” said Ben Arnold, director of industry analysis at NPD. “”In fact, one-in-five Apple owner households has one — nearly equivalent to the number that own an Apple computer. This demonstrates the appeal of both the new form factor and Apple’s app ecosystem.”

The study of 3000 respondents also said that while 82 percent of Apple consumers say the iPod was their first product, more recent consumers say that the iPhone or iPad has been their entry into Apple devices. 70 percent of long-term Apple users said the iPod was their entry device, but that number drops to only 57 percent in the last two years.

“Should more households become multiple Apple product homes, these platforms will become even more important in the acquisition and sharing of content between devices,” added Arnold. “Forty percent of electronics shoppers say owning devices in the same brand family is an important purchase factor. As consumers look for greater interoperability between devices and more brands become aligned with platforms, we could see fewer multi-brand ecosystems in the household.”

Apple households own 2.4 Apple devices on average. Apple owners aren’t exclusive to the company’s devices, as 58 percent of Mac owning homes also have a PC and 30 percent of Apple fans own a non-Apple smartphone.

Skullgirls Hits 50,000 Sold In 10 Days

Reverge Labs has announced that Skullgirls has sold over 50,000 copies in 10 days of availability. The European PSN release is still pending and will come May 2.

“Reverge Labs and Autumn Games would like to sincerely thank everyone for their support,” said the company in a tweet. “We’ve started on the first updates, so stay tuned!”

Source: Twitter

Microsoft Not Offering Same-Day Digital Downloads For Retail Games

Sony has been offering digital downloads of their PS3 titles on the same day as retail release for a while now and Nintendo has said they will do the same this year. Microsoft, however, says that they will not be following suit, at least for the time being.

“We don’t do Games on Demand on day one, we focus on boxed retail for day one,” said Xbox Live UK product manager Pav Bhardwaj. “That’s where our focus has always been and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. We release a game roughly six months after it arrives at retail at full ERP. That’s our model and we’ll be sticking to that. It’s a successful model, so why change something you don’t need to ”

“The customer has the choice of going to retail on day one if they really want to buy a particular title, or to wait a couple of months and buy it full price from the Xbox Live marketplace. It’s a successful part of our business, we’re very pleased with the growth and it continues to do really well. Clearly there’s an audience out there who are happy to purchase a product at full ERP six or so months after [its retail release],” he said.

Source: MCV {link no longer active}

Angry Birds Veterans Found Boomlagoon

Antti Sten and Tuomas Erikoinen have left Rovio to be CCO and CEO of Boomlagoon. The former server manager and lead artist will build web and mobile games with HTML5.

“Through our experience of seeing multiple start ups, we’ve gained the necessary skill set for founding and running a company with high values on all departments of the company,” said Sten. “Our core skills are in game development but we’ve also had the opportunity to study fields such as PR, branding, recruitment, business negotiations, leading teams, HR, and networking.”

“We know a thing or two about successful games and high volumes and we’ll use this knowledge to spawn something very cool and new,” Sten continued. “If we play our cards right we just might end up with the next Angry Birds.”

Source: GamesBeat


Feature: Brand Opportunies Beyond Publishers

For a long time, there was singular sort of game that brands would have to go publishers to make into a retail. It’s because everything, whether it was a blockbuster movie or a soft-drink mascot, was going to come out in some sort of physical format. Digital has changed many things now, and it’s also opened up different avenues for brands to get messaging out. We talked with Patrick Sweeney, head of Reed Smith’s Video Game Practice and a member of the Video Game Bar Association’s board, about this new trend.

[a]list: Talk to me about this approach by brands to directly produce games and potentially bypass game publishers – should publishers be worried?

Patrick Sweeney: In some cases, yes….These are potential revenue-generating opportunities that publishers may not have a chance to profit from. But, realistically, a lot of publishers would not have wanted to invest in many of these projects anyway. That being said, this is symptomatic of a larger issue that should be concerning to some. Regardless of whether the game is brand-based, the ability to bring a game to market without a publisher ought to be concerning to many publishers.

[a]list: Why bypass publishers?

Patrick Sweeney: I think every brand is going to have a different perspective, but the major factor is the relatively lower production cost and barrier to entry to reach the consumer. Games like these are not $50 million investments and there is not the risk of dealing with a warehouse full of inventory. Independent games have to manage the process with digital platforms, but its a much different level of commitment.

The Sour Patch Kids game split things a little bit – Kraft managed development through a client of mine (Beefy Media), but they didn’t completely bypass the traditional publisher. There was still an important role for Capcom on the marketing side. It’s not accurate to say that a publisher has no value in a situation like this….they just have a different value proposition for this type of opportunity.

[a]list: Why are things like Facebook games increasingly popular in your opinion for brands

Patrick Sweeney: I think it’s a similar thought process. The barrier to entry for Facecbook games is lower – you can get wide exposure to a mainstream audience for a lower production cost. And you don’t NEED a publisher to launch a game on Facebook. Because of the lower amount of development time, it’s easier for the brand to wrap its arms around the development process and the cost associated with it. It appears less daunting and easier to put together for an entity that may not have a lot of game development experience.

[a]list: Social games can also be more directly reactive to consumer reactions and demands. How does that factor into these opportunities?

Patrick Sweeney: You’re exactly right. Social games can iterate quickly based on consumer feedback. It’s not like a traditional boxed product, where that content is static.

[a]list: What else about mobile and social game opportunities are appealing to a brand?

Patrick Sweeney: The shorter development time is attractive. Showtime might say, “The next season of Dexter in 9 months…it would be great if we had a game associated with the launch.” Well, of course, you can’t launch a console game in that time (at least not a good one), but it’s likely that you can do something on Facebook. So if a licensor hasn’t been thinking far enough ahead, there still may be an opportunity for some game based on the brand.

[a]list: It seems like many brands are retreating from the AAA games field. Take something like Hunger Games – a decade ago, that would have gotten a PS2 game, now it’s just on Facebook.

Patrick Sweeney: I don’t think that the brands are retreating. I think the publishers are. The brand likely would welcome a large license fee for a big AAA console release. Publishers are not going to take the risk on just ANY license. But I think the top end licenses will always have an opportunity to partner with publishers. There’s some licenses/brands where a AAA cross-platform commitment is justified, whether it be Spider-Man, Batman or the sports leagues or whatever the next mass-appeal franchise may be. But it’s at this next level of license that I think publishers have retreated from the AAA-level of investment. Not to single out Dexter (it’s one of my favorite shows). But, it’s unlikely that there’s a good console, AAA publishing opportunity out there today. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a different games avenue for that license.

[a]list: It also means more opportunities for independent developers.

Patrick Sweeney: Absolutely…and not just for the developers. I think that new ways to bring games to market (whether branded or otherwise) is great for the industry in general. For example, Beefy Media was helping Kraft to craft the Sour Patch Kids games. Developers like Icarus studios and Three Rings found an opportunity to develop the Dexter and Dr. Who games, respectively. It goes beyond developers. Companies like [a]list games that are working on marketing campaigns for mobile and social games as well as tech/middleware companies like Havok all benefit from having more potential customers. All of a sudden, there’s an ecosystem of marketers.

Independently-funded games might not be good for all companies, but it’s definitely good for the industry as a whole. This goes above and beyond branded games. Traditional Publishers all recognize that things are changing. They all have to adjust and each approach it differently. Some companies will adjust through acquisition of mobile/social companies. Some will phase out of retail console and gradually change their portfolio of release.

The ability to publish and develop games without the traditional publishers is opening up new opportunities for commercializing content. This is not just limited to brands/licenses, but I think that brands are certainly taking advantage of this new world. I expect it to continue.

[a]list: Patrick, thanks.

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