Facebook: 375 Million Users Play Games

This week at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Facebook wasted no time in explaining how to build up a strong audience for cross-platform gaming.

During a panel at the event earlier this week, engineering manager Aaron Brady broke down some interesting statistics for the site, indicated in a blog post. An average of 375 million people play Facebook-oriented games on a monthly basis, through both desktop and mobile devices. For good measure, cross-platform play is huge, having grown 2.5 times the level of mobile-only players, and 1.5 times over routine desktop players.

The stats also indicate that cross-platform play across both devices also grew quite a bit between September and November 2013, with games like Candy Crush Saga leading the charge.

Needless to say, Facebook’s gaming portal isn’t going to slow down anytime soon, if at all.

Source: GigaOm

How A Dog Helps Wounded Warriors

The Netherlands’ Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation has run an ad which keenly demonstrates how a veteran can benefit from having a dog. It’s a great ad for demonstrating the natural empathy that animals can demonstrate, which is often what those who have seen combat need.

 

Devils And Dragons Inside

Game of Thrones has received the final trailer for its fourth season and it effectively teases much of the larger storylines for the coming season, from the conflict between Cersei and Tyrion, the demands of the “Red Viper”, and the harsh justice of Daenerys. Early April can’t get here fast enough.

 

Another Virtual Reality Headset

Virtual technologies are ruling the Game Developers Conference this week. Along with Oculus VR showing its latest Rift technology and Sony introducing its own headset, Sulon Technologies is also getting involved.

The company is showing off its Cortex virtual reality “spatial gaming” system at GDC this week, a device that will turn literally any gaming room into a virtual world. Chief executive Dhanushan (Dhan) Balachandreswaran explained that the headset uses a different approach than other headsets, however.

Users put on a headset with goggles that completely cover the eyes, and then it tracks the borders of the room using magnetic technology. From there, game imagery can be projected into the space of the real world, layering on a fantasy world around familiar surroundings.

“We’re going to change the way the world perceives entertainment,” said Balachandreswaran. “You could walk around in circles, but visually it may feel like you’re walking for miles.”

Users will be able to expand the world however they please, and not just be “cramped” in where they want to get around.

The headset will be priced at $499, with a launch expected next year.

Source: VentureBeat

PlayStation 4 Update Detailed

Sony has announced that its latest downloadable patch for the PlayStation 4 console will bring a number of additional features that will make it easier than ever for users to share their gameplay experiences with others.

“This upcoming update will add a rich video editor with a simple tool to personalize your video clips, and you’ll also be able to export to and save the videos and screenshots you create by pressing the Share button to a USB drive,” said the company in its blog post. “In addition, this update will add an HDCP off option for capturing gameplay via HDMI, a feature we’ve previously said would come after launch.

“We recognize that some gamers want to record and share longer clips of their gameplay sessions, and we’re excited to deliver this option with PS4. There’s a lot more coming in this update as well, so stay tuned for more — there will be plenty in the update to excite everyone.”

There’s no word on a release date, but Sony said it is coming “soon.” As always, the update will be free of charge.

Source: IGN

Two Million Homes Unplug Cable TV

TV is just beginning to feel the brunt of the digital shift. In 2013, Americans who chose to pay for cable, satellite or fiber services saw a loss of nearly 2 million video subscribers. The picture is slightly different when segmented, with cable losing a majority of these customers while satellite actually gained 170,000 subscribers and fiber optics grew by 1.6 million users respectively.

Research from firm SNL Kagan tallied subscribers from the whole of the the paid TV industry to find that the numbers had dropped to 100 million. With cheaper (and online) alternatives, offering as much on-demand media as one can consume, it’s understandable by Americans are proceeding to cut pricey cable subscriptions.

“While seasonally driven quarterly declines have become routine for industry watchers, the annual dip illustrates longer-term downward pressure even as economic conditions gradually improve,” said SNL Kagan.

 

Source: AdAge

 

Data And The Digital Shift

AdAge recently published an article concerning the distribution of data between marketers, agencies and Google. You can read the full version here, but the gist of it is that marketers make the obvious assertion that their first party data is highly valuable and they are reticent to share this asset with agency and publishing partners. They are wondering about the value proposition of exposing such a highly prized commodity to outside parties. Deep Focus makes the point  that agencies are great at taking existing customer data and finding new customers. Google promises that connecting a marketer’s first party data to the larger data ecosystem makes the marketer’s data more valuable.

I think this conversation is wrapped closely to the idea of barriers to entry. When TV stations dominated the media landscape only those with great means could launch a TV station or network. As media has become democratized any person with a voice and an idea has the opportunity to become their own media channel. The barrier to entry has been dramatically lowered to almost nothing.

In parallel media agencies have been important to marketers because they knew how to manage the complicated TV landscape through a strategic approach and economies of scale. As digital evolved into several disciplines and became a standard on the media plan the marketer’s in-house groups began to understand more about the medium. With the innovations collectively organized through ad tech and the programmatic approach barriers to entry to forge a direct path to consumers have dropped significantly.

We are seeing a shift into the digitalization of all media, in some way or another affecting TV, print, radio and OOH. Principles from the digital media ecosystem are becoming the characteristics of all media. Examples include the dynamic stratification of media, price discrimination and the rapid deployment and testing of data to derive performance.

All this is to say that it is easier than ever for marketers of a certain size to create in-house media strategy and activation practices. Data is a critical part of the decision making process.  It is a valuable asset and it is owned in-house at the marketer. Thus the first party ownership of data becomes an important catalyst for the move to an in-house media buying practice. With data being such a big opportunity for marketers, you can see how the activation of data almost takes precedent over the activation of media. In other words, the activation of media is really the acute activation of the right data, which then re-informs the decisioning process as new data is collected.

The points that Google and Deep Focus make about tying in-house data to the larger data ecosystem and finding new prospects are poignant. However, the programmatic approach makes it easier, and thus more likely that advertisers will continue to build agency-like (or agency-lite) in house media activation / data activation practices.

We are seeing the astute marketer create in-house programmatic media practices. Some examples of this include Netflix, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, 1-800 Flowers, Electronic Arts and Guthy-Renker. Data is benefitting from the move toward automated activation, so data becomes another programmatically handled aspect of marketing, much like media is. So, I think to win the future (referencing Larry Page’s discussion at TED) marketers have to prepare for the continuing onslaught of data.  Matt Webb, CEO of BERG, in a recent Business Insider report about the Internet of Things (IoT), shares the following quote: “Connecting products to the Web will be the 21st century electrification.”  We are on path to generate and collect data from connected homes, cars, wearable devices (like my favorite the Jawbone Up), Connected TVs and who knows what else.  We’ll see smart offices, factories and cities. By 2018 there will be 19B connected devices globally.  Imagine what that number will be 10 years from now. It’s clear that data is valuable. There is more data and more variety data. The consequence is a future where data illuminates a (close to) real time view of our consumers and their usage habits.

Some marketers will create their own data and expand their data practice. Others will continue to forge strategic partnerships for data sharing co-ops; i.e. collecting second party data. We are still in the early stages of data application for media use in my opinion. As with any new technologies, methods or practices, those companies who get to practice early will generate a level of competency that will grow exponentially as time moves forward.

Image Source: Exchange Wire

Browser Gaming Supercharged

There’s plenty of buzz about virtual reality at this year’s GDC, with the Oculus Rift introducing a new development version of the headset, Sony’s Project Morpheus VR headset, and Sulon Technologies introducing a headset. It’s not at all clear that VR headsets costing hundreds of dollars will ever become a large gaming market. Another technology announcement at GDC, one that’s been largely ignored by the gaming press, is likely to have a far bigger impact on the gaming business in the years ahead.

The Khronos Group, a non-profit consortium with over 120 members (including some of the largest tech companies) announced several major updates to their APIs, including OpenGL ES 3.1, WebCL 1.0, SYCL 1.2, Open CL 2.0, and EGL 1.5. It’s a lot of alphabet soup and detailed technical specs for programmers, but the important part is what this will do for browser-based games on desktop and mobile systems: Provide near-native performance for browser-based games in a way that’s easy to program. In other words, games running in a browser could deliver nearly the same graphics or 3D performance as a game written for that platform.

Already OpenGL is used daily in over 1.5 billion devices, according to Khronos Group. It’s the most widely used API by an order of magnitude. This latest update enables many more features of current processors out there, and brings a number of desktop features to mobile devices. Such things as physics simulations will become easier and more powerful on mobile with the adoption of this new standard. Core game engines like Unity, Unreal and others will be adopting these standards, and other Khronos Group members like ARM, Google, Samsung, and others are expected to follow.

This is the breakthrough that HTML 5 has been waiting for. We’ve heard for years about games being written in HTML 5, meaning they would be able to run on any mobile device or desktop without any need to port the code. The problem has always been the limited performance of HTML 5, which even on the most powerful devices limited games to very simple graphics — and even those often weren’t as smooth as could be. Now, using these new APIs, HTML 5 games could be performing like they were written specifically for the device. Games using fast action and 3D graphics could be run right from the browser with no extra effort.

There’s some other attractions for game developers in these announcements. The SYCL spec allows the use of all C++ tools for OpenCL, meaning programmers can immediately use all the tools they are familiar with to create games for a variety of platforms. The WebCL spec gives programmers access to all of the hardware — CPUs, GPUs, DSPs, and other such processors — in order to optimize computing power in a given device. That’s especially useful in a mobile device, where you can efficiently use all of the horsepower in service to creating a great game experience.

Still, it’s not all as easy as that. Browsers will have to be revised to incorporate these standards, so it won’t happen right away. And the dark cloud on the horizon is that in some cases it may not happen at all, or in a very limited fashion. Why Consider the situation on iOS devices. Right now, if you want to have a game appear on iOS, it has to be an app which is sold in Apple’s App Store. Apple takes 30 percent of the price, and 30 percent of any future in-game transactions. If, however, you could create your game in HTML 5 and anyone on an iOS device could get to it via the Safari browser, Apple wouldn’t get any share of the revenue. Clearly, Apple has a strong incentive to keep browser games crippled on iOS, which they can do simply by not adding these new capabilities to Safari.

“That is a dynamic,” admitted Neil Trevett, President of the Khronos Group and also a vice-president at Nvidia, when the [a]list daily questioned him about it. “The one developer that’s not as into WebGL and exposing it to developers is Apple. I think in the end the Web is the one platform that no vendor can really bet against.” Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research agreed. “The other aspect is it’s also the gateway to cloud data. You can’t hold all the data on your phone, and you have to go somewhere to get it. How are you going to get it there They’re not going to have any choice.”

Apple just introduced an 8GB version of the iPhone 5C in certain countries, allowing them to reduce the retail price by $50 or more in order to boost sales of iPhones. With only 8GB, though, the device will be far more dependent on streaming services. Getting the best performance from streaming is going to require supporting technologies like WebGL. In the long run, Apple may be forced into this support whether or not it has a damaging effect on App Store revenues.

Devices and browsers that do choose to support these new technologies will have a distinct advantage, and one that will be readily apparent to consumers as applications use the technologies to provide a better experience. Game creators need to keep a close eye on this technology, which could bring an additional 30 percent of revenue in while making games available on a huge number of devices. Trevett said that over 1.5 billion devices right now use OpenGL every day, for instance. These new standards could see similar widespread adoption, delivering a massive audience to game developers.

The impact on game finances and how games are marketed could be enormous. Game makers, HTML 5 and browser-based games may finally get their moment in the spotlight, and it could make business both easier and more lucrative.

Game Cheat Unlocks Google Voice Search

The “Konami code” – up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start – has been used in several games over the years, but the most notable one is the NES game Contra, where you could add 30 much-needed lives to your arsenal. Now, that code will give you a similar boost over at Google Voice Search.

Users who visit the voice-activated page can simply say, “Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right” (no need to worry about the rest) and it’ll read “Cheat mode unlocked. Unlimited free Google searches.”

While the general search performance stays the same, it’s a fun little Easter egg, especially for those who grew up in the 8-bit Nintendo era.

Source: The Next Web