Facebook Looking To Make Smartphone Again

Facebook is reportedly hiring iPhone engineers with expertise in both software and hardware to work on a smartphone codenamed Buffy. Those with knowledge of the project said that Facebook is partnering with HTC to release a Facebook phone in 2013.

“Mark [Zuckerberg] is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms,” said a Facebook employee.

Source: bits.blogs.nytimes.com

Minecraft At 9.2 Million Sales Worldwide

Minecraft is available for mobile, PC and now console formats, giving it plenty of potential for sales. Mojang founder Markus Persson and business developer Daniel Kaplan put a fairly precise number on the amount of sales.

Minecraft has now sold six million copies. That’s the original PC version only, and doesn’t count Android, iOS or XBLA sales,” said Persson. “Counting all formats, we should be at around nine million copies sold, I’d guess ”

“Yeah a little bit more. Maybe 9.2,” Kaplan replied.

Source: Twitter

Mad Riders Trailer Lampoons Trailers

The realm of video game trailers is often too self-serious and predictable, but Techland is turning that on it’s ear with their Mad Riders trailer. They even mock their own reverse-slow-mo trick used in Dead Island‘s debut trailer.

Zynga Exec Says E3 ‘No Longer Just About Consoles’

E3 is adjusting to a changing landscape in games, adding elements to the show floor for social and mobile companies like Zynga and Gree. Rob Dyer, vice president of partner publishing at Zynga, said that the reason why he left Sony Computer Entertainment America was because of changes he saw at a trade show.

“E3 is in a bit of transition. It’s no longer just about consoles. It’s about games and having an opportunity to talk to the people making those games, whether on the web or mobile. It is where we need to be, so we will have a presence,” said Dyer. “The reason we’re there is to find games we can use to court the core gamer. We really want those kinds of games on the Zynga platform. You go hunting where the ducks are.”

“The thing that struck me last year and influenced my decision to leave Sony was the Tokyo Game Show. In the past, it was a very big deal about what was coming out on consoles,” he added. “ Last year, there were maybe three or four games outside of Sony’s booth that were console games. Everything else was social or mobile — and that was the canary in the coalmine for me. I believe that over time, you’re going to see the same thing occur at E3. You’re going to see more free to play games on the show floor. Interestingly, you might wonder why companies like Zynga would even want to come to a hardcore-focused games event like E3 . . . but that’s precisely it: Zynga wants to start attracting core gamers.”

Source: Gamasutra


Sony Xperia Play Not Getting Ice Cream Sandwich

Android 4.0, named “Ice Cream Sandwich”, is releasing soon with new features like face unlock, voice search and better browsing. While Sony will update their phones Xperia arc, Xperia pro and Xperia ray with the latest update for Android, they revealed that the gaming oriented Xperia Play will not receive an update.

“In regards to Xperia Play, after extensive in house testing with our developer teams and working with our partners, we have concluded that a consistent and stable experience, particularly with gaming, cannot be guaranteed for this smartphone on Ice Cream Sandwich – therefore, we will not make the Android 4.0 upgrade available for Xperia Play,” said Sony on their mobile blog.

“This decision was also verified when we received similar feedback from the developer community; both experienced developers and advanced users, along with game content providers following our ICS beta ROM for unlocked Xperia Play smartphones,” they added. “Our priority has and always will be, to provide the best possible user experience on Xperia smartphones. In this instance the ICS upgrade would have compromised stability, where we look to ensure a quality gaming experience with games optimized and developed for Xperia Play.”

Source: blogs.sonymobile.com

Transforming A Brand Into A Game

Peter Della Penna

When you ask someone who grew up on the action cartoons of the ’80s which was their favorite, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll say Transformers. Iconic as a toy brand, now a mega success as a movie, there are still a number of people who feel the greatest connection to the original cartoon series, (known as Generation One, and abbreviated to G1). High Moon Studios saw an opportunity with the franchise outside of just adapting the movies into video games and have run with it. We talked with High Moon Studios President Peter Della Penna and Marketing Manager Greg Agius about the brand and their latest game Transformers: Fall of Cybertron.

How did you get a chance to do a game based on an original take on Transformers in the first place?

Peter Della Penna: It was pretty obvious to us and Activision, that our studio capabilities and sensibilities were a great fit for the Transformers license. Also, it was perfect timing for us to develop a Transformers game that was not based on the film property and did not interfere with the movie franchise release schedule. The natural place for us to go was back to our childhood roots in G1 and start telling the story of Transformers before they came to earth.

What are ways that you look to bring in fans of the classic cartoon series? Do you try and tap veteran voice actors?

Greg Agius: Authenticity is our biggest strength at High Moon Studios. You walk around the studio and you see G1 fans everywhere. I’d say that bleeds through to the game in every way. The look and the feel all are heavily inspired by G1. But everything is updated so that it feels right and up to date with the look of a modern game. Landing original G1 voices like Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime and Gregg Berger to do Grimlock is another key. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron reboots your childhood and makes it cool again!

What games do you try to emulate as far as being successful with a classic brand? Do you try and learn something from the recent Batman and Spider-Man games?

Peter Della Penna: Game wise I would say both Batman and Spider-Man are great references. Especially the Batman Arkham series where everything you do in those games drives the player back to the core of what makes Batman so cool.  For us, it’s about transformation and the variety of awesome characters in the Transformers lore.

Talk to me about the reveal trailer for the game and what you thought the important messages you were trying to convey were (prescience of certain characters, style of the graphics, etc.)

Greg Agius: We wanted Transformers fans and gamers to take a fresh look at our game. For me, we needed to communicate that Fall of Cybertron is an adult oriented game that stands totally apart from anything related to the films. So the team set out to break every rule we could think of for a Transformers trailer: we had zero voiceover, we destroyed main characters, we made the story come to you, and we picked a song that is totally groundbreaking for this franchise. When fans started posting, “attention . . . this is how you do Transformers!” I knew we had done things right. The style and look is all very in line with what gamers are currently playing.

Greg Agius

How do you balance aesthetic considerations for these games? The Transformers are evocative of G1, but they’re not cel-shaded. Was it conscious to make it like the early cartoon but have it be a little grittier?

Peter Della Penna: Visuals are very important to gamers. If it doesn’t look good many won’t even try the gameplay. So, yes, our style is evocative of G1 but not a reproduction of it. By design we intended to have a gritty, nostalgic sensibility.

What went into bringing in the Dinobots for Fall of Cybertron?

Greg Agius: Getting the Dinobots in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron was a labor of love that has paid off handsomely. This game is new canon for Hasbro, and we are working with them to write lore that will stand for future storylines for this multi-billion dollar brand. Our team passionately fought to keep the Dinobots in the lore so that we can have them in our game. And why not You can’t find characters more unique than this! Of course we had to work with them to find a plausible creation story that Transformers fans would accept. We found some inspiration from the old U.K. comics and it provided some excellent ground that players will explore in our story. Playing as Grimlock is fantastic, you just feel super powerful!

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[a]list Summit San Francisco Highlights

The [a]list Summit that took place in San Francisco last week brought together marketers from many different game companies to exchange ideas on the state of the industry and how to connect to consumers. Pachter’s keynote address has already been covered in detail here. The subsequent sessions covered social gaming from several angles, including the core game audience, marketing techniques and social analytics.

Kicking off the discussion titled “The Social Core”, Kixeye VP of Marketing John Getze said their games do better than Zynga’s because, “the number of DAU we have as a percentage of MAU is a lot higher than Zynga. We strive to have a game that’s much more like a traditional PC game than an online game, and our level of ARPDAU is much higher.”

John Getze

In discussing the social game market and Zynga’s huge audience compared to the relatively tiny audiences of Kabam and Kixeye, Senior Director of Global Product Marketing Leo Olebe of Kabam put it succinctly: “Why does it matter if you’re talking 250 million over there and 2 million over here It’s how many people are playing, how many people are staying, and how many people are paying.”

The hardcore gamer is the customer target for both Kixeye and Kabam, but the size of that market is not something they’re entirely sure of. “More than 1 million, less than 300 million,” said Olebe, not narrowing the field very much.

Both Getze and Olebe agreed that user acquisition costs have risen, but they both insisted that cost is only one issue. “The other part of the equation is that you could spend a dollar to acquire someone who’s only going to give you 50 cents over the life of the product, or you could spend a million dollars and if that person winds up giving you 6 million bucks you’re doing all right,” said Olebe.

Getze spelled out how hard it is to get a foothold in the social game market: “When we launched Backyard Monsters we were looking at a 30 day break-even point on all of our spending because we had no money. Once you’ve established a ‘food court’ of different franchises it doesn’t matter if its pizza, or burritos, or burgers, they’re still eating; you’re looking at a network LTV (life time value) and that really helps with user acquisition. But it’s extremely challenging, given the cost of user acquisition, to come onto a platform now. The first game has to be a hit.” Getze noted that their customer acquisition costs are now around $1.50, which is double what it was in June of 2010.

The Ayzenberg Groups’ Keith Pape and EA’s Director of Online Marketing Tabitha Hayes took the stage next for the “Social Marketing” session. Scaling up social marketing efforts is difficult if you want to maintain quality interactions, Pape observed. Many challenges are part of the task facing social marketers, and Tabitha Hayes noted how she prepares for the inevitable bad events.

“Plan for the worst; don’t plan for the best. Seriously, plan for the worst,” said Pape. “S***’s gonna break, people are going to come to your office with guns… Then you’ll have a plan and you can optimize it every time. The good thing is, the worst gets better over time.”

Rebecca Markarian

Hayes advised that beyond those factors, meet things head on, and be authentic. Tell the users what you’re doing about their issue; if you don’t have the answers, tell them that you don’t have the answer right now but you’re working on it.

The final session was “Social Analytics”, with special attention on how to go about gathering and analyzing data. Rebecca Markarian, Executive Director of Social and Emerging Media at the Ayzenberg Group, discussed some best practices.

“Measuring sentiment is not easy; in fact in gaming it’s probably harder than any other space because any automatic sentiment tool that grades automatically will grade something like ‘that’s sick’ as a negative every single time, ” Markarain said. “So we hand grade every post that comes in . . . it’s time-consuming work but the data that comes out of it is valuable.”

The ultimate value of all of these analytics is this: “At the end of the day, being able to go into the C-suite and say ‘We can prove this makes money’ is going to be a huge benefit to getting more budgets for all of us to do social media,” Markarain concluded.


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PlayScreen Poker Doubles Down With Billboards

Online and mobile ads provide a great, frictionless way for people to download and play online and mobile games. However, there’s still something to be said for old fashioned outdoor advertising. PlayScreen thought so, and recently put up some billboards leaving Los Vegas and for those heading back to California and elsewhere. We talked with William Volk CCO PlayScreen about the marketing campaign and so much more.

Give some background on your history in the gaming industry.

In the age of the dinosaurs I worked for Avalon Hill in the Year of Our Lord 1979. The first game I ever wrote was Conflict 2500 that came out for Apple II, Atari 2600 and Commodore 64. Voyager I is a 3D FPS ahead of its time. It had a map that only showed you what you explored, and had randomly generated levels. It used some assembly and some basic. You could make more money in those days per hour than you could now!

William Volk

Then I worked for Rising Star for a few years, then I worked for the Mac and I did Pyramid of Peril. I was at Activision for eight years as Vice President of Technology; I green-lit and produced Manhole, the first CD-ROM game. Bobby Kotick knew me from the Amiga days and I was probably the only senior person to stay on after he bought the company. There’s also Return to Zork and people are still complaining about the puzzles in that to this today. We made an unfair, ridiculous game – we had puzzles that were so crazy, you could break the game without even knowing it. It was literally cracking us up while we were doing it.

Double Fine is trying to bring the genre back with their new Kickstarter.

It warms my heart what Double Fine is working on. My answer on why adventure games went away is that they were too expensive and everyone wanted to do FPS. Anyway, I eventually I did some educational games for Lightspan for educators who wanted to try and have kids learn fractions. The whole project was over a million dollars and it ended up on the PlayStation. That company went public in early 2000 and the stock market crashed, especially for tech companies. Then I started dabbling in mobile. I met Sherri when she was working on a project for James Cameron. We worked on a big social mobile game at Bonus Mobile Entertainment called The Dozens inspired by the Wayans Brothers card game in the middle of the decade that worked on multiple platforms. We worked at mynumo, not a game company at first, but we started getting more mobile games; from 2007 to 2008 we were supported by those games we made.

Now Sherri made a poker game for AOL in the mid 90s and I was made the CCO. First title we did at PlayScreen was with Bocce Ball, and it succeeded because it was simple. If you want to learn why something does well, look at Draw Something compared to Ngmoco’s Doodle This; while ngmoco’s game had more features, OMGPOP made their game more accessible. Poker took a long time to come out but we always had in mind to do that.

Tell me about how PlayScreen Poker differentiates itself in the mobile poker game market.

It’s a beautiful looking product, and it has things like a practice mode even when you don’t have an online connection. But the thing that’s coming out is the ability to connect with people and make the game yours. How do you measure being the best poker player Against your own friends, and that’s what the game will let you do.

What metrics can you talk about with PlayScreen Poker so far?

We’re about the ninth top title in the App Store. In the past we’ve gotten up to the level of Zynga poker but we’re waiting for the revision of our product and then we’re going to push it with more innovative advertising.

We have thousands of players per day and hundreds of thousands of downloads, but that’s not important. We have players that play the most, the whales. These are interesting players and they’re playing for a lot of times and they’re playing long times. Players wagered 18,000 chips apiece on April 9 but generally it’s in the thousands.

Talk to me about the billboard promotion you had recently.

We understand the iPhone marketing channels. We do video ads and incentive ads, but what you want are good users. We were spending all most ten times as much on online advertising as we are now with billboards. There are four full sized billboards – it’s not like it’s driven a huge number of users, but it’s driven people who play a lot. Statistically, we had one of our historic highs recently; the number nine category in poker and eight in free games.

We did on the way back from Vegas because people are going to Los Angeles and San Diego, their minds are on going back to work, and this helps them bring their minds back to Vegas, where they were having fun. We have more people playing the games a lot and Sunday in particular was a large day for wagering. We were driving people that were interested in poker. It’s not so much who you bring in, especially for social games, a lot of it is how players are attached to the game.

Right now we’re close to releasing a new version with PlayScreen Poker 2 and PlayScreen Poker 2 HD for the Retina display, we were trying to be where everyone was and we wanted to figure out what the players wanted to do. We’ve rewarded people who want to play with us. PlayScreen Poker 2 is about people who want to engage with other players . We make it easy to set up games with your friends. We’ve done a lot of engagement and we’ll let people earn chips by watching ads.

It must be a challenge to try and go up against the Zynga’s of the world.

I’m quoted as saying that Zynga made the casual game market really work. We think they’re a great company to work against. For us, we’ve unleashed achievements across our titles. We’re improving chats and invites and so that players know when their friends show up. It pushes us to make the best product we can.

Do you feel like advertising can be a differentiator for mobile titles these days?

There’s 22,000 new apps every week. You have to be better than the rest. The quality of games has gotten so high. The NES age, which I remember because I got to work then, during the whole era there was 700 games total and now there’s thousands games every day. It used to be you bid in Kyoto for your cart allocation, but now something like Tiny Wings can come out of nowhere and do great. So any differentiator is key.

Where are you hoping to take PlayScreen Poker in the future?

PlayScreen has a logo with IClops and you should see something with him soon. We have an amazing word game and strategy game coming and the new bocce game that you’ll see more about very soon.

Thanks, William.

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DFC Intelligence Talks Free-To-Play Rise

DFC Intelligence recently predicted that over the next five years, the free-to-play social/browser market will grow from $3.2 billion in 2011 to $7.5 billion in 2016. F2P games on social networks are expected to grow 173 percent from 2011 to 2016, reaching $6 billion. North America has been a leader at providing social network F2P games with 36 percent share of revenue in 2011.

Those are startling numbers are a sign of where the focus of the video gaming industry will be heading over the next decade and beyond. We talked with David Cole, President of DFC Intelligence, to find out what the situation with free-to-play social/browser games is and how it will play out.

What do you see driving the growth for social and browser games over the next five years, will it be what’s elevated it recently or will it be a new trend?

I think what is really driving the growth in U.S. is Facebook and Zynga; in other markets like Europe it is driven outside of Facebook. Bigpoint was able to build their own social network completely independent of Facebook. Granted, they’re targeting very different audiences, with Bigpoint going after traditional gamers that might play World of Warcraft. Zynga hasn’t really driven that in the U.S.; Zynga has targeted the casual game industry, those playing games on Pogo and they really found a new model to attract those type of gamers. There’s an audience of core gamers that play consoles on PC, but for browser games, it’s a click of a button and you’re in. For PS3 and Xbox 360 you have to wait sometimes five minutes to get into the game, between turning it on and waiting for a patch to download – with the social and browser games, they work instantly. They also work on a variety of platforms, and a PC is becoming a global necessity whereas a video game console system is really a luxury. In an emerging market, people might have a low-end PC and these games work on those sorts of systems. Having a common platform that reaches masses is key.

Originally, many of the free-to-play games coming to the U.S. were from Korea and most only managed a modest amount of success. Do you think that games better suited to the Western tastes have helped raise the profile of the free-to-play space?

Really it comes down to the simplicity. The problem with many of those Asian games is that they were targeting the more sophisticated gamers, and you had all the same barriers to access. They were basically like full retail games and they were very complex, so the audience was limited. These browser and social games can reach a huge audience. Nexon is doing very well with their products, but if you look at their audience compared to Zynga, it’s two completely different audiences. These things aren’t mutually exclusive, you have to look at the audiences. Someone’s who’s going to play an Xbox 360 game is different than a CityVille gamer; there’s some cross-over but it’s a diversion. For larger client based games, there’s some hassle in downloading and getting started. Those games are going after the WoW audience whereas the browser games have tapped into a new audience.

Do you think that social game companies will try to diversify away from Facebook if they can afford to?

I think the successful ones have to. And when you’re talking about Facebook, you’re talking about Zynga. There’s been some success stories, and Zynga’s very strong there, but that’s only about 20 percent of the worldwide market and it’s key reaching that other 80 percent that aren’t as active on Facebook as the North American audience. Facebook is going to be really saturated and there’s an opportunity to do what Bigpoint has done. What you want is multiple games, different sorts of games, making what you have its own social network, that is probably the biggest growth opportunity for companies that aren’t Zynga.

Where do you see mobile’s role in the expansion of social/browser games?

Clearly, you look now at what social companies are doing, they are looking to do mobile and smartphones versions of their products. It’s good so that you can keep up with your game on the road; I look at it as an added feature for these games. There’s been a lot of misinformation about the mobile game market and numbers that are flat out wrong, however. The revenue of a mobile game is usually a fraction of a hit free-to-play game on PC. If you’re launching a mobile game you have to think that you’re competing with all these other apps and dedicated mobile games. So I think really it becomes a major issue for anyone developing a mobile application, they’re not just competing against other apps, they’re competing with sophisticated games designed for the platform.

What are the advertising opportunities for marketers with these sorts of games? Your report said Zynga spent about 6 times more in marketing in 2011 than it did in 2010, $234 million versus $38 million.

In terms of advertising, if you look at Zynga, they’ve moved far away from advertising and they’re doing offer-based deals. If you look at their bookings, they’re doing a lot of money on those deals with user payments. I think the opportunities for marketers are, if you create a F2P game and you get people involved and you’re really going with a a pure F2P game, the possibilities exist for you to really build a product that’s fun to play – there’s all sorts of opportunities. That’s where the opportunities are rather than advertising around games. It’s more about taking a strong brand that they want people to engage with and building something from the ground up.

How worrisome is the pernicious trend of game clones

It’s a big issue. There’s always been cloning in the casual games space. What it results in is you have games more as commodities and you have consumer fatigue. Then you have companies that don’t really care. What it causes is that they increase the development budget to make their products stand out. Really I think the focus in the report was, ‘how do you make money from these products’ but if costs double [to develop] it could mean that profits will go down. You’ll have to spend money on all facets to make money.

That’s a major highlight of the report. It’s no longer just throwing a game up there; if you look at Zynga and Bigpoint they’ve got huge development teams, you look at how Zynga’s marketing budget has increased. Bigpoint is able to use Battlestar Gallactica and that raises the bar for everybody and you have to put in a certain level of effort to compete.

Anything you’d care to conclude with about the report?

The most important thing from the report is that while people define the space as Facebook games, for us we look to it as games that are simple to play without having to install special software. Because of that I think the Zynga/Bigpoint model is the way to go – you try and take that audience and migrate them to a bunch of other gamers. Being able to migrate your audience is how to be successful in this business.

David, thanks.

To find out more about the report, please check out dfcint.com.

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Social/Mobile MMOs Tale Dark Turn

Mobile MMOs and social games are both nascent fields, but the upside for both is very high. Still, both types of games have mostly remained separate, but Spacetime Studios has changed all that with Dark Legends. The game combines MMO trappings with social elements to make for a new breed of game, all in a sexy, more violent package. We talked with Spacetime Studios CEO Gary Gattis about his company’s third mobile MMO.

Give a general overview of the Dark Legends project.

It’s a another evolution in mobile MMOs. With Pocket Legends, we took MMO mechanics and put them into mobiles. With Star Legends, we took environmental gameplay and added cross platform play. With Dark Legends, we took some social mechanics and incorporated them as something that would encourage players to come back and engage beyond merely wanting to play more. There’s energy that recharges over times and there’s also a progress bar; what it does is integrate it with a 3D scene and it shows where you are in the story. Essentially we’ve got a strong string of storytelling in the product. We’ve got a strong story and we’ve got actions where we play a cut scene and players unlock content and are rewarded for reaching those moments. They pace the user through the content.

The thing that struck me the most about this new game was the incorporation of social gaming mechanics.

It was a challenge to work that out, but I think it’s done well. It monetizes and retains better than Pocket Legends or Star Legends and it’s a new way to play mobile MMOs together so we’re happy with it and we’re working on another game and we’re iterating on it.

They can buy energy and when they’re out, we send them back to town where there’s free PvP and that’s also where all the services are and the vendors, so it’s pretty easily paced between spending their energy points and socializing.

Why did you decide to make the move to add more social game mechanics in Dark Legends?

We like to innovate, and we weren’t really content with re-skinning Pocket Legends; we wanted to push the boundaries of what mobile multiplayer is. It’s interesting to consider the retention mechanics of these social games and try to work them in.

There’s almost certainly cross over between the type of people playing social games and playing your games.

That’s exactly right. Our games are mid-core and there are a lot of people playing mid-core games. They can’t play many hours per day, but they’re still passionate and were getting more exposure with them. We got a good promotion with the demographic and it’s an effort on our part to broaden the mobile base. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t exist – things are changing in the mobile sphere.

Dark Legends seems to be a much more mature game in its content than Star Legends and Pocket legends with violence, blood and the like. Was that a purposeful move by SpaceTime?

Yeah, very much. It was a done as much as part of our own desires as to contrast with our other projects. With Pocket Legends, we want to go after the young teen user base. We also noticed a lot of adults played our games and we wanted to appeal to an adult audience and make it sexier than before.

We positioned Pocket Legends with a younger audience and when we came to Dark Legends, we wanted to make it the most violent game we’ve played on mobile. Were’ mid-core hardcore guys so this one really came from our heart.

Stay tuned for part 2 soon!

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