End Times For Walled Gardens

Traditionally game consoles have been walled gardens, where users could wander freely amongst the delights of the games provided. You were never allowed to play with gamers who dwelt in other gardens – in fact, you couldn’t even see them or be made aware of their existence. Now, that reality is changing.

We’re seeing glimmers of this on Nintendo Wii U. Australian indie developers Nnooo are releasing Cubemen 2 later this year on the Wii U, joining the PC and iOS versions in allowing cross-platform multiplayer and sharing of content.

“I’m really proud to be able to announce this,” said Nic Watt, creative director at Nnooo. “We’ve spent the last few months working with both Nintendo and 3 Sprockets, the game’s developer, to make this a reality. Cubemen 2 is an amazing game and a great fit for Nintendo players. We can’t wait to see how creative they are, whether in tactical multiplayer online or in the new levels they build.”

There are 4,000 user-created levels available, which Wii U users can access. The game is playable across the Wii U, PC and iOS.

This is newsworthy because it’s so rare. World of Tanks on the Xbox 360 has its own servers, and there will not be cross-platform play with World of Tanks on the PC. Certainly Wargaming would love to see that happen. Activision would be happy if Call of Duty players on Xbox could play with PlayStation players; likewise EA would be excited to have FIFA players competing across all platforms. Yet the console makers generally don’t allow this.

Uniqueness is one of the key selling points of consoles. Exclusive titles sell hardware, and that’s been true for decades. If you really want to play a particular title that’s only the PS3, that’s why you’ll choose a PS3 over an Xbox 360. Hardware makers want to have exclusive titles in order to sell hardware… yet an exclusive title is limiting the audience by its very nature. Yes, Halo sells Xboxes. But Halo could sell many more units if it was also available on PlayStation. If the profits in the business are really from software sales and not from hardware, is this limiting potential profitability

Look at it another way. Xbox Live has some 50 million members, PlayStation Network over 90 million members. Those are impressive numbers… until you start looking at the size of other networks. World of Tanks has 60 million members. Apple’s Game Center has over 65 million members. Zynga has 187 million monthly active users. Facebook has over 1 billion members.

The potential audience for gaming is far larger than any one network – well, maybe not larger than Facebook’s network, but certainly larger than any console’s network. The power of gaming platforms is rising, making it easier for games to be cross-platform (especially more casual games). The vast majority of the gaming audience would prefer that a game is available on multiple platforms.

Second-screen gaming is a way to keep players involved in a game when they aren’t able to get to their console. Publishers want people to engage deeply with game brands, and that means making the game available to the player wherever and whenever possible. Allowing players to use a tablet or a smartphone to check into a game may not be full cross-platform gaming, but it’s still time spent with your game and not some other game.

King has had a huge hit with Candy Crush Saga, partly because the game is playable on multiple platforms – and your progress is synced across those platforms. Play on your phone in the morning, then grab a session on your lunch break via Facebook on your computer, then play on your tablet when you get home – and your progress is saved and tracked through each platform, so you never have to repeat a level unless you want to.The trend is obvious – more and more, games are allowing cross-platform communication at a minimum. Asynchronous play is relatively easy and undemanding compared to synchronous multiplayer, so that is already being done. The difficult feat is to take a game like Call of Duty and make it playable seamlessly across consoles. Activision would solve that problem handily if given the chance by the platform makers.

What may in fact happen ultimately is that the console market will look more like the mobile market, with hardware makers generating profits through sales of hardware and a cut of all software sales. Hardware pricing is kept low for consumers by network providers that subsidize the hardware in order to lock in subscribers for two years. There have been rumors of such an arrangement for the Xbox One, which would reduce the hardware price if you sign a contract for Internet service with a provider like Comcast.

Game publishers will continue to push for more cross-platform game play and connectivity, while platform makers will continue to resist. It might be a big competitive advantage if your console offered cross-platform gaming… or by reducing the value of exclusives it might give your competition a boost. No one knows, so there is great reluctance to be the first to try it out. What we’re likely to see are more careful moves in that direction with continued gauging of consumer response. Console makers will need to decide, ultimately, where the profits are located in the overall business and optimize the business for that. The equation is different now than it was in times past, and the variables are changing.

You can bet that Wargaming will continue to argue for connecting World of Tanks on the Xbox 360 to the World of Tanks audience on PC. A bigger audience will make all the players happier, because there will be more people to play against. And you needn’t worry if your friend has the right hardware to play a game. Hardware is becoming less important, and the game and its network of players is becoming more important. Game makers, platform holders and marketers are all adjusting to this, some more rapidly than others. It’s happening, and the only question is how each company adapts to it.



‘Psychographic’ Targeting Comes To Mobile Ads

NativeX is ready to launch a service for “psychographic” targeting.  The mobile advertising company considers the approach to be “the most precise demographic targeting technology to date,” with hundreds of thousands of attributes compared to the one or two that most mobile ads take.  NativeX collects data through anonymous surveys, but it says its method can work without user-submitted data and has shown 500 to 600 percent increase in CMP for advertisers using it.

The team described the technology to TechCrunch: “Imagine you are a poster vendor, and you’re presented a class of 100 high school girls who are interested in buying posters. You can give out a catalogue of Justin Bieber posters (because he’s a hot ticket) and you’ll land 20 customers who will buy multiples, but you’re losing out on the other 80 because you don’t know what they like.”

“NativeX’s smart engine examines various elements about all 100 girls and finds out what each of them like. Instead of sending out one Justin Bieber catalogue to the whole class, you give out catalogues that target each student’s interests. You’ll hit not only the power buyers, but also the students who receive catalogues relevant to their interests.”

No word yet on when the program will launch, but it’s likely to go through testing first.

Source: TechCrunch

Each Wii U Sold Is Losing Money

Many in the games industry (and the gaming community) really want Nintendo to lower the price on the Wii U console to boost sales – but that may be easier said than done, considering the company is losing money on each one already.

The latest earnings report from the company indicates that Wii U hardware sales are a major factor in its most recent ¥36.4 billion yen ($387 million) operating loss. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata stated that the company will “strive to regain Nintendo-like profits” in the months ahead, with a slew of new software for both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime noted back in November that “as soon as we get the consumer to buy one piece of software, then that entire transaction becomes profit positive.”

This follows reports of major retailers dropping the more basic 8 GB model of the Wii U in favor of the deluxe 32 GB edition, which sells for $349.99 in the United States. A price drop isn’t looking likely, but Nintendo may be looking at a repackaging of sorts, one that could include bundled games to help entice would-be system owners.

Source: GamesIndustry International

Carmack Joins Oculus VR

John Carmack, the brilliant co-founder behind the iconic Doom-creating team at id Software, just added another job to his resume.

Carmack has signed on as the chief technology officer for Oculus VR. He expressed interest in the virtual headset company last year when it first began its KickStarter for funding, fueled most of his decision.

“The dream of VR has been simmering in the background for decades, but now, the people and technologies are finally aligning to allow it to reach the potential we imagined,” Carmack said in a statement. “I’m extremely excited to make a mark in what I truly believe will be a transformative technology.”

However, don’t worry about his position at id Software. He’s staying with that company as well, serving double duty. A Bethesda representative stated, “John has long been interested in the work at Oculus VR and wishes to spend time on that project. The technical leadership he provides for games in development at id Software is unaffected.”

We certainly wish Carmack the best of luck with his new position.

Source: GamesIndustry International


Luigi On Chicago’s L Train

Mario seems to take the limelight with most of his games, but Nintendo wouldn’t dare forget about his brother, Luigi. He’s starred in a number of releases this year, including the upcoming Mario & Luigi: Dream Team and Luigi’s Mansion on the 3DS. To promote his latest appearance in the challenging platforming game New Super Luigi U, Nintendo has reached an agreement with the Chicago Transit Authority to feature the plumber on its L train.

On August 12, part of the Brown Line will be renamed the “Luigi Line,” and a special train with images of him appear on both the inside and outside of the train. It will run from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and will also have Luigi appear in person on board. In addition, the upper platform of the lobby at the Clark/Lake station is set to have stations available, where people can try out New Super Luigi U.

The extra levels are available for download now on the Wii U eShop for $19.99, though you’ll need New Super Mario Bros. U to access them. A disc-based version is also coming on August 25 for $29.99.

Source: Polygon

‘Animal Crossing’ Gets Miiverse Hub

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is easily one of Nintendo’s most popular games to date, with thousands of 3DS system owners taking part in festivities and building their own little towns. Today, Nintendo expanded that community by introducing a new hub for the Wii U. In Animal Crossing Plaza, users will be able to post messages with screenshots across the Miiverse, the virtual world that ties Wii U users together. On top of that, QR codes from the 3DS game can be transferred to the community using an SD card, and users can interact with characters from the game.

“The second-half of 2013 is packed with great games and great experiences for Nintendo fans, from new entries in longstanding franchises to software that highlights the many benefits of connecting our hardware to the Internet,” said Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of sales & marketing. “We’re always on the lookout for new ways that our fans can interact with their favorite game series, and Animal Crossing Plaza extends the fun of the infectious series to Wii U.”

The app is free to download on the Wii U eShop. and Animal Crossing: New Leaf is available now for digital download or retail purchase on the Nintendo 3DS.

The Mobile Game Market Today

Tablets are over 300 million this year. Smartphones are hitting the 1 billion unit mark. The mobile device market has put substantial computing power — and game-playing capability — in the hands of over 1 billion people in just a few short years, and rapid growth continues. Tablet sales grew 60 percent worldwide in the last quarter versus the previous year, according to IDC. Smartphone shipments grew by 50 percent worldwide in the last quarter, according to Canalys. Given the size of the market already, that’s amazing.

Almost 50 percent of U.S. households with broadband access have at least one tablet, and that number is growing fast. Apple has lost some its market share in the tablet market (down 14 percent in the last quarter), but new product releases may erase that decline. Android is gaining share worldwide due to its array of lower-cost options. India, for instance, has overtaken Japan to become the third-largest smartphone market, and those are all Android-powered phones.

While iOS still generates twice as much app revenue as Android, that gap is narrowing. Fragmentation and market addressability continues to be an issue for Android, but every large mobile developer is creating games for both iOS and Android, and usually optimizing for both tablets and smartphones. It just doesn’t make sense to pass up the opportunity to make good money on both platforms. Sadly, Blackberry and Windows Phone continue to be a non-factor for games, since their market shares are hovering around 2 or 3 percent apiece. They need to reach double digits to even begin to be a consideration for large game developers.

Smartphone and tablet games have become some of the best moneymakers in the game industry. Puzzle & Dragons is generating some $4.5 million per day, and has brought in $763 million in revenue during the first six months of the year. Supercell is on pace to bring in over $900 million this year from two tablet games. Those are numbers approaching the revenues of the best AAA console and PC games, but with roughly twice the profit margins. Only the top games can expect to clear $1 billion in revenue in a calendar year. With the continued strong growth of mobile devices, we should expect $1 billion in revenue from the top mobile games to be achieved in the next year.

It’s no wonder that all game publishers are taking mobile into consideration, and many are shifting some or even all of their development efforts in that direction. The market is still in many ways very young. Hardware adoption seems set to continue strongly for at least several years. However, most of the games that have generated the highest revenue have been casual games. We are starting to see deeper games (like Supercell’s Clash of Clans) generating substantial revenue, but there is great potential ahead for genres that have proven successful on consoles and PCs but have not yet been big winners on mobile.

First-person shooters are a huge revenue engine for consoles and PCs, but have very little presence on mobile. DeNA’s The Drowning hopes to change that with an innovative control scheme. Strategy games are starting to gain traction on mobile, as Kabam has ably shown. Sports games, RPGs, MMO’s and other sectors are just beginning to find a home on mobile. It’s not clear if any or all of these genres can reach the same popularity on the broad mobile audience that they have achieved with hardcore console and PC gamers.

The business models of mobile games are an issue. Console games are just beginning to experiment with free-to-play and virtual goods, while free-to-play has become 90 percent of the revenue generated for mobile games. Certain genres don’t really lend themselves to that model, such as story-centered games like The Walking Dead. Some observers predict we’ll see a regular premium price category of games emerge on tablets and perhaps even on smartphones. The premium price in this case might be only $6.99 or $9.99 for tablets, and $2.99 or $4.99 for smartphones.

There’s no set formula for success yet on mobile. As John Riccitiello pointed out, we have no idea yet if mobile hits can be successfully followed with a sequel, or if the whole concept is obsolete since mobile games are usually in a continual state of evolution. What is the lifespan on a mobile hit Is the vast audience of mobile gamers really possible to sell to if your game is not entirely casual How will the tablet gaming audience change and grow over time Does traditional publishing have a role in the future of mobile games The answers to these questions are being created now by the developers and publishers who are building games now.

Game marketers are finding even more pressure put upon them as discoverability, and hence marketing, is seen as the key barrier to becoming a hit mobile game. Sure, ultimately you need a great game that stands out from the crowd, but marketing should be able to help merely good games do their best. There’s no set formula for marketing success on mobile, but marketers are trying ad networks, cross-promotion, PR and whatever else they can think of to get some visibility. It’s quite probable there will never be an easy, set formula for finding an audience for your game — and getting them to install it, play it, and spend money on it. We can dream about that, but the hard reality of today is that marketing mobile games is demanding creativity, analytic excellence, and lots of hard work.

The mobile market may well grow to be the largest segment of the game industry in a few years, which is why every game creator and marketer needs to strategize on mobile. The future is rushing towards us, and we need to create it together.

Wi-Fi’s Eerie Beauty Visualized

It’s all around us, passing through us and among us — and it binds us together. No, it’s not “The Force.” It’s the ubiquitous Wi-Fi signals that form the basis for modern Internet-based cultures. These illustrations, produced with the help of astrobiologist M. Browning Vogel, show the different wavelengths of Wi-Fi as different colors overlaid on landscapes. It’s a very different way of looking at our modern world.

Source: MyDeals

The Twitter-TV Connection

Since they operate on completely different mediums, one would think that Twitter and television don’t really have so much in common, but a new study shows they actually have ties that work together.

The study, released yesterday by Nielsen, indicates there’s a causal relationship between Twitter and TV shows. Analyzing trends from 221 primetime broadcast programs, Nielsen found that TV ratings boosted the volume of tweets around a show for about half of episodes, while Twitter buzz affected a show’s TV ratings for about a third of episodes.

Case in point, Sharknado, the “so-bad-it’s-good” SyFy movie starring Tara Reid swept up a Twitter frenzy with millions of users, even if the movie itself only garnered 1.4 million viewers in its initial showing. However, its popularity is growing, presumably thanks to this Twitter buzz, with recent rebroadcasts attracting 1.9 million and then 2.1 million viewers.

Though the relationship between Twitter and TV isn’t always guaranteed – it really depends on the product – it’s nice to see that the two can get along when it comes to hyping up certain projects. Let’s see how much better it gets when Sharknado 2 comes around next year.

Yes, Sharknado 2 is coming. Be sure to tweet that.

Source: GigaOm

Growth Continues For Tablets

The global reach of tablet devices, like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab line-up and Apple’s iPads, has expanded rapidly from 15 million in 2010 to a projected 327 million by the end of this year. Tablets have significant momentum behind them, and according to one research firm, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Analyst Forrester has provided a new report for the global tablet market, indicating that the market will grow even more significantly over the next few years. How significantly We’re talking greater than a 25 percent compound annual market increase between 2012 and 2017. Forrester states that tablets will reach – and surpass – a worldwide installed base of 905 million in that five year span, with annual projected sales of 381.23 million units by the time 2017 rolls around.

The report states that tablets are “the most successful branch” of today’s computing market, through both penetration rates and diversity of competition, with so many units being sold.

Source: TechCrunch