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.

LEGO Simpsons Play Sets Coming

We’ve seen a lot of LEGO sets make their way to store shelves over the past few years, including countless Star Wars and Batman offerings, as well as recent pieces of coolness like LEGO Back To the Future and Lego Ghostbusters.

Now, the company may have just made its biggest announcement yet with a move into Springfield. LEGO Simpsons playsets have officially been confirmed for release in 2014, though specific play areas and characters haven’t been revealed just yet. You can bet the Simpsons clan will show up, joined by countless Springfield citizens made famous by one of television’s most popular programs of all time.

A few folks in the LEGO community aren’t too pleased with the announcement, starting an online thread in the Lego community to voice their displeasure with concerns over The Simpsons‘ somewhat mature content. However, that’s a small group compared to the large amount of people excited for the toys, waiting to get their hands on characters like Mr. Burns and Dr. Hibbert.

We’ll see what announcements are made in the months ahead. We’ve got our fingers crossed that Itchy and Scratchy will make the cut.

Source: Leg Godt


Vikings Attack!

If you’re a big fan of the PC action game War of the Roses (and who isn’t with its sweet medieval setting ) we’ve got good news for you. The development team at Fatshark is hard at work on the game’s spiritual follow-up, War of the Vikings. This multiplayer-only game takes place in the Viking age, with a whopping amount of bloody close-quarter combat and plenty of weapon upgrades.

War of the Vikings should arrive on PC sometime in 2014. No word yet if any other platforms are being considered.

Source: Polygon

This Week’s [a]list Jobs – August 7

“You’re not lucky to have this job, they’re lucky to have you. Every day, you invest a little bit of yourself into your work, and one of the biggest choices available to you is where you’ll be making that investment.” Seth Godin 

Here are this week’s [a]list jobs:

[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.

‘Hope Soap’ Creatively Reduces Disease

Simply washing your hands can be a highly effective disease fighter, but how do you get kids to do it In Blikkiesdorp, South Africa, a creative campaign was introduced to help clean kids up using a special incentive. Hope Soap is a revolutionary soap creation with a toy embedded right in the middle. The more kids wash up, the closer they are to getting the toy that’s deep inside.

This creative solution is saving lives – can we find that sort of life-changing creativity in the game industry?