Wham Bam Slam The Man!

The Mythological Heroes Co-Op Weapons DLC for God of War: Ascension Multiplayer is now available. No one at Sony Santa Monica is quite sure how to describe the fast-paced gameplay. This video shows staffers making wilder and wilder suggestions, until Sony asks for your help in coming up with the right description. Check out the video, and see what kind of description you can come up with!

Setting Up Another ‘PayDay’

Two years ago PayDay: The Heist surprised gamers as a fun, aggressively-priced shooter.  It was a digital game published by Sony Online and available through Steam and PlayStation Network.  PayDay scored well with critics and did well enough with fans to warrant a sequel, which its developer Overkill Software announced even as they were still releasing content for the first game.

PayDay made an impression on more than just gamers.  Shortly after its release, Sweden-based Overkill was the target of a takeover by compatriot game maker Starbreeze, best known for its own shooters Syndicate and The Darkness.  Starbreeze made it clear they were interested in PayDay.  Just before the acquisition, Starbreeze CEO Mikael Nermark said that his company’s intention was to let Overkill continue building the IP.  He also stressed that the acquisition was intended to bolster Starbreeze’s own portfolio, where now PayDay: The Heist and the upcoming sequel, PayDay 2, both sit prominently on the company’s web site.

For PayDay 2, Starbreeze and Overkill enlisted 505 Games as publisher.  The most telling change with 505 replacing Sony Online is that the game is headed to Xbox.  505 is also treating the launch of the sequel more like a traditional console game. The game will have boxed versions for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, selling for $10 more than the Steam version but still priced aggressively at $39.99, and including a $60 collector’s edition. Much like the way a publisher would position a console game IP, 505 billed the sequel as a story-driven experience, and used the game story as fodder for its marketing campaign.

That paved the way for a novel effort, where the publisher worked with Overkill to enlist Hollywood helmer Damien Lichtenstein to create a live action web series expanding on the game story.  Lichtenstein, best known for directing the 2001 comedy 3000 Miles to Graceland, is also developing a feature film based on the IP.

“We felt that the storyline and characters were so strong, there was an ability to take it beyond the life of the video game,” 505 Games president Ian Howe told us in an interview.  “[The story] also carries something of a topical message as well. The whole back story is about guys who come back from serving for their country and have had their homes repossessed, and have had their livelihoods taken away from them.  And they’re kind of striking back at corporate America, which is something that’s quite topical.  I think it will provoke a conversation.”

In our exclusive interview, Howe shares insight on the web series, and also how 505 relied on the first PayDay title’s fan community and social media outreach to build buzz for the sequel.

This Week’s [a]list Jobs – July 24

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein

Here are this week’s [a]list jobs:

  • Warner Bros. Entertainment Group, PR Specialist (Greater Los Angeles Area)
  • YouTube, Product Manager (San Francisco Bay Area)
  • Hasbro, Manager, Global Brand Development, Boys Gaming (Greater Rhode Island Area)
  • Azenberg Group, Business Development for Broadcast (Greater Los Angeles Area)
  • Netflix, Manager, Marketing Strategy – Acquisition Marketing (San Francisco Bay Area)

[a]list daily is now your source for the hottest job openings for senior management and marketing in games, entertainment and social media. Check here every Wednesday for the latest openings. To see last week’s [a]list jobs click here.

EA Surprise: Q1 Revenues 76% Digital

Electronic Arts delivered financial results above their guidance for the fiscal first quarter ended June 30, and that wasn’t the only surprise from the earnings call. “In Q1, 76 percent of our non-GAAP revenue was digital,” said interim CEO Larry Probst, “driven by the online services of blockbuster franchises like Battlefield and FIFA, as well as our strong mobile portfolio.” The company reported $495 million in non-GAAP revenue, well beyond the $450 million EA predicted last quarter. The stock has risen over 10 percent today in early trading on the news.

76 percent digital sales is absolutely no surprise to me,” said Peter Warman of market research firm Newzoo. “EA is one of the largest and most diversified game publishers and therefore you can expect to see the divide of their revenues more or less in line with the total market divide. This year, new boxed sales will represent a maximum of 35 percent of US game spending.”

“What is surprising is the discrepancy between digital revenue expectations on Wall Street and actual earnings: EA’s digital revenue was $378 million for the quarter, well above the $313 million expected earnings,” said Joost van Dreunen of digital goods measurement firm Superdata. “It indicates that the digital category is growing faster and has more potential than people anticipated.”

The digital surprise came from several sources. EA noted that The Simpsons: Tapped Out recorded its highest revenue quarter since it launched in 2012, and overall mobile revenue increased 30 percent for the quarter. EA’s Origin service now has 50 million members, 22 million of them on mobile, and digital sales of Battlefield 3 were strong despite the fact that Battlefield 4 is coming soon.

“It is also not surprising that EA mentions The Simpsons Tapped Out in its earnings call,” said Warman. “I can imagine the performance of this free-to-play game has sparked a turning point within the EA organization. Seeing a new free-to-play IP earning more money than paid games based on their key franchises must have been one of their biggest eye-opening experiences, taking away all doubt about the direction the market is heading.”

Meanwhile, EA is gearing up for the huge battles expected for the rest of the year. “Microsoft reports that Xbox One presales are trending ahead of the 360 during the same time period, and major U.S. retailers have sold out of their pre-sell allotments,” said president and COO Peter Moore. “And PlayStation believes this will be their biggest hardware launch ever. So we believe that the key indicators are pointing to a strong launch for both consoles in the holiday window.”

EA is expecting this transition to impact sales of sports titles, and so has developed a marketing strategy to ease that process. EA’s two biggest sports sellers, FIFA and Madden, will both be available at launch on the next-gen consoles. “Today, we announced that FIFA 14 will allow players to transfer their full roster of Ultimate Team players and in-game items from Xbox 360 to Xbox One and from PS3 to PS4. Our Madden franchise will provide a similar service,” said Moore.

The question of EA’s new CEO was briefly touched on during the earnings call. “I am assisting the Board of Directors in searching for a new CEO,” said Probst. “While we have nothing specific to share today, the Board is fully engaged in this process and evaluating both internal and external candidates.” EA’s CEO search is certainly more interesting than this bland statement would imply.

The fact that EA still doesn’t have a new CEO implies that the board of directors is looking seriously at external candidates. An internal candidate requires less vetting, and if that was the Board’s first choice EA would already have a new CEO. EA’s board may be looking for a charismatic leader who can revive morale among employees and investors. EA has a growth story ahead, looking at its success in digital and overseas expansions, but those transitions are still going to be difficult. Strong execution is needed to avoid more problems like the cancellation of NBA Live for two years or the poor performance of Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

“Of all traditional publishers, EA is the most active in trying new business models, screens and games in this period of change,” noted Warman. “It has been a rocky road if you look at Star Wars: The Old Republic and the recent launch of Sim City Online. But they are learning quickly by trying whilst other publishers like Activision just wait, not gather hands-on experience and count on their blockbusters to rake in the money. EA’s dare for trying new things is starting to pay-off and will continue to do so towards the future as their key franchises will start to benefit from these experiences.”

EA’s future looks brighter despite the difficult console transition ahead. The increasing momentum EA has on digital will surely help the company through disruptions in the packaged goods markets. “EA has been building a strong digital line-up, and it’s starting to bear fruit,” said van Dreunen. “Over the past year, the company’s transition from physical to digital is all over its balance sheet: digital sales have offset a relatively low number of packaged sales, allowing earnings to remain flat.”

The best opportunities ahead seem to be in mobile and abroad. “Having Apple as its largest retail partner last quarter indicates EA’s ability in capturing the shift to mobile,” van Dreunen noted. “But more important than the current success of titles like The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Real Racing 3, it shows the sustainability of mobile as a platform for the industry at large. For the next period, a key milestone in EA’s digital strategy will be the successful rollout of a free-to-play FIFA Online 13 in China together with its new partner TenCent.”

Google Android Data Misleads

Google data on Android activations is now getting scrutiny for excluding devices and entire regions, and therefore skewing downward the actual install-base for the Android operating system. Android-powered devices have seen great success in the past few years, growing to 900 million devices worldwide. This is especially true outside of the United States, where countries like China have overwhelmingly turned to Android smartphones. But not all of them are counted by Google’s regularly updated Android growth charts. Android devices that aren’t licensed to run apps sold through Google’s Android app store aren’t included in data used by Google. With Google’s latest sales data showing that daily Android activations have barely grown since last September, tech site GigaOM has raised the red flag as to how this is skewing Android market data.

In countries such as China and India where smartphone penetration is big and growing, many devices run Android without licensing from Google. On the device front, Amazon’s popular Kindle Fire, which is now available in 200 countries, also doesn’t count in Google’s numbers. Google-licensed Android devices and its Android app store are huge forces in the smartphone market, but GigaOM has rightly turned attention to how its reports can be misread to underestimate just how much Android is penetrating that market worldwide.

Source: GigaOm

Activision On The Hook For $3 Billion Dividend

Activision may be forced by majority shareholder Vivendi to pay billions of dollars in a special dividend, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Vivendi was the original owner of Blizzard, and owns 61 percent of Activision after the deal in which Activision acquired Blizzard. One of the terms of that deal was a clause that said Viviendi could not cause Activision to have debt of more than $400 million without approval of Activision’s independent directors. That clause expired at the beginning of July.

Vivendi is considering a vote that would pull roughly $3 billion from Activision’s cash reserves, which would net Vivendi about $2 billion due to its 61 percent share of Activision. Activision’s cash on hand (reported during the last earnings call) is $4.6 billion, of which $2.7 billion is held overseas. A payout would potentially require Activision to pay taxes on some of that cash, and the overall effect would be to substantially reduce the assets Activision might use for acquisition or major development projects.

Vivendi has a reported $17.3 billion in debt, which it hopes to substantially pay down by drawing cash from Activision and selling its stake in North African phone operator Maroc Telecom for approximately $5.5 billion. Activision was rumored to be considering buying itself back from Vivendi last year, and that still may be on the table. Such a deal would also mean a substantial reduction in Activision’s cash and a large amount of borrowing.

Meanwhile, Activision has yet to schedule its earnings call for the quarter ending June 30, which normally would take place by the beginning of August. It may be that Activision is waiting to schedule that until the financial picture ahead becomes clearer.

Source: Wall Street Journal


IPhone Is The Most Social Device

According to a new study from ShareThis, the iPhone is the most social device in the world. The study looked at billions of social actions from both desktop and mobile devices to see which ones did most of the sharing. The results showed that iPhone users were three times more likely to share something on their phone than they would on a desktop computer. They were also 1.5 times more likely to share something from an iPhone than they would from an Android device or a Blackberry. The study also showed that Facebook accounted for 60 percent of sharing on mobile devices, and that Pinterest is three times more popular on mobile than on the desktop.

The ShareThis study isn’t perfect.  It’s only representative of sites that utilize their platform, which does not include apps such as Pinterest. Pinterest enjoys an overwhelming domination on the iPad; the study showed that 50 percent of the social activity on iPad came from Pinterest. This information still falls in line with trends of social network’s popularity on mobile devices. The study reinforces that people are more inclined to tap the share button on their iPhone than they are on the computer.

Source: TechCrunch

Vivarin TV Spot Targets Gamers

Anyone who has stayed up through the night to build that life-size replica of Star Fleet’s Enterprise in Minecraft knows that caffeine can be a valuable tool. Caffeine pill maker Vivarin knows that, too.  That’s why they took to PAX East for their latest commercial. The ad shows gamers praising the Vivarin Caffeine “alertness aid” for staying awake when gaming.

The ad aired this morning on G4 and last night on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, showing PAX attendees playing games and talking about the benefits of the product.


LEGO Clicking With Cartoon Network

Cartoon Network and LEGO have joined forces on a number of TV series and projects, including the recently released Legends of Chima TV series. They are now teaming up again for a new original IP, called LEGO Mixels, combining programming, games, and toys in a transmedia powerhouse.

The animations will be short-form videos on the air and on Cartoon Network’s website. An online mobile game will be made to converge with the TV series, and of course both will be supplemented by LEGO’s famous buildable toys. Cartoon Network and LEGO are hoping to create a multi-faceted experience for children by combining games with television in a way similar to Trion Worlds’ Defiance. By uniting games, TV, and toys, LEGO and Cartoon Network are looking to engage their fans and make them feel like they are part of the universe across platforms.

Source: Promaxbda

My Little Pony Comes To Xbox Live

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a cartoon targeted toward young girls, yet it’s gained a surprisingly huge following in the 18-24 year old demographic among both men and women. Hasbro is fully aware of this, and over the last two years has released a vast range of merchandise (from “Pinkie Pie” hoodies to trading cards) to reach both audiences.

Now Hasbro is bringing the magic to Xbox Live users with a new line of avatar accessories. You can deck out your virtual persona with a line of My Little Pony sweatshirts featuring the six main characters (for both men and women), a virtual backpack, and a Rainbow Dash pet that accompanies your avatar. Items range in price from 160 Microsoft points to 320 Microsoft points, and are available now from the Xbox Live marketplace.

Source: MCV