NY Games Conference Zeroes In On Digital

Digital Media Wire is organizing the East Coast version of its now seventh-annual DMW Games Conference, gathering industry pundits and up-and-coming game makers this September in New York to look at how digital distribution continues to alter the face of the game industry. Headlining the event is keynote speaker Kristian Segerstrale, co-founder of Playfish who now sits on the board of directors of super successful mobile game maker Supercell.

Much of the conference agenda is broken into two tracks looking at distribution and monetization. Panels within each track gather representatives from large and small game companies to look at strategies for success in every digital game category, from mobile and social games to free-to-play games and digitally released content on consoles. One standout panel features Bethesda founder Christopher Weaver, DDM founder Jeff Hilbert and CiiNOW marketing VP Chris Donahue covering how digital distribution and cloud gaming are evolving on consoles.

Outside of the tracks, a panel titled “View from the Top” looks at the state of the industry with Michael Pachter, Peter Blacklow, president of WorldWinner and EVP of Digital at GSN, and Anthony Borquez, CEO of Grab. There’s also a “Game Marketing Leadership” roundtable with speakers yet to be announced. Whoever this group may be, it’s safe to say the industry’s fits and starts in figuring out how to consistently build and maintain audiences for digital games should give them plenty of fodder for discussion. The conference closes with a session featuring five startup pitches to investors Sunny Dhillon from Signia Venture Partners and Janet Tsai Dargan from Siemer Ventures.

DMW NY Games Conference is scheduled for September 17.  The full agenda and event details are available on the conference web site.

Industry Chimes In As Phil Fish Flounders

Social media has forever changed the way the gaming press functions, especially in the case of the passionate indie developer community. Interviews are requested through Facebook, sometimes administered via Reddit AMA’s, and quotes are now lifted from Twitter. Developers are more accessible than ever before, and in the case of Phil Fish, more vulnerable to scrutiny than ever. Recently, the unprecedented tussle between Phil Fish and Marcus “AnnoyedGamer” Beer on Twitter materialized into the very public cancellation of Fish’s sequel to his wildly successful game Fez, and apparently his departure from game development entirely. Now Fish’s peers and industry journalists are jumping in, expressing opinions about his departure and the heated Twitter thread that caused it.

Probably the response to get the most legs across the internet came by way of a passionate letter from Gears of War designer Cliff Bleszinski.

“The industry needs people like you to speak with their hearts before their brains because I’m tired of hearing the PR —approved appropriate response . . . Come back, Phil. We miss you already,” wrote Bleszinski.

Necrosoft Games director Brandon Sheffield supported the letter whole heartedly, deeming Bleszinski’s words as a “good example on dealing with haters on the internet” in a tweet.

A more neutral response came from Destructoid’s Jim Sterling, whose game industry observations and brash vocalization is seen by some as the tone Marcus Beer has tried to strike in his Annoyed Gamer routine.

“Neither of them need my advice,” wrote Sterling. “But again, speaking as a guy who used to get himself into these sort of slanging matches on the regular, all I can say is I’m 100 percent happier and less stressed out professionally now that I go out of my way to avoid people who want to have fights (or just retweet the funny ones so *other people* go and fight them while I block them). It can be difficult not to bite back, and I still even find myself engaging it for a while now and then, but on the whole, mellowing out and learning not to step into the shit heap when I know, deep down, that’s exactly what I’m stepping into (and you always *really* know), was one of the best things I did for my long-term job satisfaction and overall happiness in what I do.”

IGN’s Daniel Krupa voiced his opinion on Twitter, saying, “I’m sad to hear about @PHIL_FISH stopping Fez 2. I understand his pressures, and it’s unfortunate to hear he quit”

Ever vocal, and often impeccably timed, Michael Pachter inserted some comedic relief during the debacle, tweeting, “I would like to be between @AnnoyedGamer and @JimSterling talking about stuff over some Scotch. Let’s do a Bonus Round on my boat!!!!”

Others like SourceFed host Meg Turney posted a spit fire YouTube video expressing how she “really feels about Phil Fish leaving the industry.” Turney seems to give a no-nonsense response to Fish, tearing the developer apart and calling his actions childlike. She also makes sure to remind the gaming community of his famous slam on Japanese game developers.

While Fish cited factors beyond his Twitter tussle with Beers, his abrupt leave of absence from game development seems to revolve around how the gamer community can be very opinionated, and sometimes brutally so. Yet by essentially breaking down in a very public manner, he’s managed to generate an influx of support, and that could reignite his faith in the very same community he’s currently claiming to loathe. Or, we can hope this is all a Joaquin Phoenix-style hoax, wait for the punchline, and in the meantime keep holding out for Fez II.

 

CastleStorm DLC Brings Medieval Mayhem

Zen Studios’ strategic action game CastleStorm (on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade for $10) is getting its first DLC, From Outcast To Savior, this Wednesday for only $3. You’ll work your defensive magic on incoming enemies with the help of a turret, soldiers and other tools, while attacking an opponent’s castle at a distance. From Outcast to Savior features a new 20 battle campaign, a new hero, new weapons and stunning new environments. Your quest to capture the mighty Viking warrior Chief Ramhorn awaits!

Real Boxing, PS Vita Style

Are you ready to take your boxing skills to work with you  Real Boxing, the portable sports sim from Vivid Games, will be releasing on August 27 for download for the PS Vita, for a very reasonable $9.99. The game will feature solid controls, as well as a variety of fictional boxers to choose from, each with their own brawling style. You can also train through a variety of mini-games, to get yourself in prime shape.

Next-Gen Hands-On At GameStop Expo

GameStop Expo 2013 is just one month away from happening at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. To help get attendees ready for it, the company has listed all the publishers that will be in attendance, bringing their latest games along with them.

Microsoft and Sony have both been confirmed, bringing their respective next-generation consoles, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.  This marks the first time GameStop Expo will be home to a next-generation hands-on demo, giving many attendees their first chance to try these systems.  Other companies confirming for the show include 2K Games/2K Sports, EA, Disney, Nintendo, Square Enix, Activision/Blizzard, Namco Bandai, Ubisoft and Warner Bros.

To learn more about highlights from the show – as well as how to get tickets – visit the official GameStop page.

PlayStation 4 Expands Social Features

A recent video from PlayStation Access has emerged, one that provides good news for those of you that like making friends. The video reveals that players will be able to store a friend list of up to 2,000 people, meaning you won’t have to worry about the limited capacity that came with previous consoles – like the Xbox 360 and its 100-friend cap.

Other details in the video include the ability to carry over your PlayStation Network ID and current Avatar, which will transfer with no problems; the idea of 3D-supported content is being passed around, but nothing has been confirmed as of yet; party chat will be fully supported on the system, free of charge; and a PlayStation Plus subscription will be required in order to access online multiplayer features.

Source: PlayStation Access

Activision’s Deal Analyzed

The financial transaction involving Activision last week was massive and complex, which led to confusion in the media reporting on the event. ‘Activision goes independent’ was part of many headlines, perhaps leading to an impression that Activision is no longer a public company. The exact opposite is true — Activision is more of a public company than before. The deal leaves Activision in control of its own future at the cost of adding a sizable amount of debt. How exactly has Activison changed, and how might this affect the future of the company

The deal itself has been under negotiation for months, and in the offing since the merger of Activision with Vivendi’s games unit (most importantly Blizzard Entertainment) back in 2008. The merger at that time left Vivendi with 61 percent ownership of Activision-Blizzard, with the remaining 39 percent of shares held by the public. The catalyst for the current buyout was the expiration of a clause in the merger agreement that required Activison directors to approve any debt greater than $400 million, preventing Vivendi from taking Activision’s cash or borrowing against the company.

Vivendi is seeking cash because it a massive debt problem, owing more than $15 billion, and it wants to reduce that debt. Unable to find a buyer for Activision in the last year, Vivendi has accepted the deal put forth by an investment group led by Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and chairman Brian Kelly. Here’s how the deal works: Activision is borrowing $4.75 billion from banks and using $1.2 billion of its own cash, along with $2.3 billion from an investment group, to reduce Viviendi’s share of Activision to 12 percent. The investment group will own 24.9 percent of Activision, while 63.1 percent will now be owned by the public.

The investment group included $50 million each from Kotick and Kelly, along with investments from Fidelity Investments and others including Chinese game giant Tencent. The deal has increased the value of shares held by the public, which is why Activision stock jumped more than 15 percent to its highest point since 2008.

There are several good things about the deal, especially from the view of Activision’s leadership. The deal puts the complete control of Activision in the hands of its board of directors. Shareholders have seen a good increase in the value of their shares. Importantly, the deal still left Activision with substantial cash, and a manageable debt load that’s roughly equal to about four years of profits (at the current profit levels). On the negative side, the cash on hand is mostly overseas (some $2.6 billion out of about $3 billion) which would incur substantial taxes were Activision to repatriate it. The company will only have about $400 million in US cash handy when the deal closes.

Activision has already committed extra resources to marketing this fall, and the lesser amount of cash available shouldn’t be an issue in funding those efforts. The company should be raking in substantial amounts of cash in the latter half of this year. As long as Activision maintains its current profitability, the new debt load should not affect operations. Business should proceed as normal this year and the next.

It’s the longer term picture for Activision that’s murkier. The deal weakens Activision’s ability to acquire new companies or to substantially invest in major new areas. A deal for TakeTwo, say, would be more difficult now. The debt service shouldn’t be a problem if Activision continues to generate the same sort of profits it has for the past several years, but there are signs that may be changing.

The most important dark cloud for Activision concerns Blizzard, the source of most of Activision’s profits. Activision announced that subscribers to World of Warcraft had fallen by 600,000 in the last quarter, down to 7.7 million overall. The game reached its high point in 2010 with 12 million subscribers. Blizzard is taking steps to move the game to free-to-play, but it’s unknown when and if that might happen and whether it would revive the game’s ability to generate profits. Moreover, Blizzard just junked its new MMO in development (codenamed Titan) and will start over. Don’t expect something to come out of that project for several years.

The Activision deal is great for Activision’s leadership and good for current investors, but it really has no great impact on the company’s business for the near future. Longer term, Activision will be fine if it can continue to produce hits like Skylanders. Bungie’s Destiny looks like it has a fair shot at being such a blockbuster. If Blizzard can maintain profits on World of Warcraft long enough to create a new game of similar scale, that will be a key to Activision’s success. The new consoles arriving soon need to sell well, because while Blizzard’s revenue is almost all from PCs, Activision’s business is mostly console-based. Expect Activision to buckle down and continue pressing ahead with no particular change, except perhaps a greater sense of urgency. The consequences for Activision of a major product stumble, if one ever occurs, just became greater.

China’s 2013 Gaming Revenue $5.5 Billion So Far

China’s gaming market has earned a total of $5.5 billion in revenue so far in 2013, according to new data gathered by the Games Working Committee, IDC, and Gamma Data.  The dragon’s share of that revenue comes from online gaming on both PC and mobile platforms which accounted for $5.1 billion of the total, and Chinese-developed games brought in a majority of the sum.

PC-based online games accounted for $3.8 billion in revenue, showing that MMOs and other online PC games have a chokehold on the market. Mobile online game revenue grew an astounding 119 percent over last year, bringing in over $400 million.  Unsurprisingly, console games only accounted for $100 million in revenue because of the console ban in the nation, though these numbers could change by next year as the ban may soon be lifted.

Source: TechInAsia

Disney Infinity Replaces Licensed Games

Disney’s figured out a way to have a game based on a movie for far less time and effort — add licensed content to Disney Infinity rather than create an entire, stand-alone game. That’s the tactic Disney is using for Monsters University and The Lone Ranger, its most recent major releases. Content for the Disney Infinity toy-game hybrid (which is slated release on August 23) will instead be used for the usual cross-promotion, and this will be standard going forward.

“They serve as a perfectly adequate replacement for a standalone licensed product,” producer John Day told MCV. “We already use Infinity to support films and even events at the theme parks. That is part of Infinity‘s purpose.” Each add-on package comes with multiple characters and a six to eight hour adventure.

Source: MCV

 

Predictive Mobile Ads Are Up To 20X More Effective

Your phone likely has GPS built right into it, and a new marketing effort called “inference advertising” allows advertisers to serve ads to users based on their location as well as their social activity.

“What we’re trying to do is change advertising from intrusive to invited,” said Bill Gross, CEO of UberMedia. “The whole focus of UberMedia is to show the right ad at the right time, to the right person.”

For example, predictive ad software would recognize that a customer liked Shin Megami Tensei IV on Facebook and combine that with knowledge of his GameStop visits to serve up ads for other RPGs like Ni No Kuni and show the nearest GameStop where the game could be found. Ads using UberMedia are already used in about 100 apps, even apps such as the LA Times‘ app and Echofon.

UberMedia’s predictive ads are working, according to Gross. These predictive ads achieve a click-through rate between 5 and 10 percent, 10 to 20 times more effective than average rates, and UberMedia takes a flat rate of 30 percent off of ad sales.

Privacy concerns are an issue, but Gross feels UberMedia has it handled. Users can opt out if they want by turning the capability in the phone’s settings or emailing UberMedia. No third-party information is sold and tracking is only seen by the algorithm to fulfill ads.

Source: Mashable