HBO Cuts The Cable

A lot of folks have demanded it, and it appears that HBO has finally listened – HBO will be available next year as a standalone service, without the need to buy a cable subscription.

Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler responded to the thousands of requests from fans and stated that the cable channel will launch its own independent streaming service next year to compete with the likes of Netflix and Hulu Plus.

“That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be untapped,” he said. “It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO.”

A service in conjunction with “current partners” will be put together for the U.S. market next year, although Plepler stopped just short of confirming what kind of monthly subscription price plan would be put in place. He also didn’t confirm what kind of technology the service would use, although the “partners” could certainly help out on that front.

“All in, there are 80 million homes that do not have HBO and we will use all means at our disposal to go after them,” he said.

Between demands of the fans, a slight decrease in pay TV buys, and the rise of Netflix’s business model, it shouldn’t be a surprise that HBO has finally caved in to the demand of introducing a streaming service, especially one that could base its success around such exclusive programming as Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and the returning Game of Thrones.

Now the only question comes with the price. In some markets, HBO packages can go for as high as $60 a month. Obviously, HBO Go would have to go for a lesser price in order to seem more like a value, but there’s a question as to whether the service would just be home for HBO original programming, or also movies and specials that make their premiere on the channel.

We’re likely to find out more information come early next year. But it’s nice to see HBO make the move after so many months of “will they, won’t they.”

‘Friends’ Coming To Netflix Next Year

Could we be watching any more Friends

Even after the end of the popular Thursday night sitcom following ten seasons of laughs, Friends continues to be a phenomenon in syndication, with timeless episodes being aired on the likes of TBS, Nick at Nite and local syndication. Now, Ross, Chandler and the rest of the gang will soon be making their way to another avenue – streaming.

Netflix has announced today that all 236 episodes of the popular show – yes, including particular favorites – will be available to stream on the service starting January 1st, 2015. This is the latest move by the network to bring in new audience members, although it’s really had no problem beforehand with such original programming fare as Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, along with popular favorites like Breaking Bad and Arrow.

To help celebrate the announcement, during the recent re-opening of the Central Perk coffee house in New York (to commemorate the show’s recent anniversary), Netflix put together a new ad featuring The Rembrandts performing an acoustic version of the show’s theme song, “I’ll Be There For You.” In addition, the ad also features an appearance from a long-time favorite side character on the show, Gunther. You can watch it below…and, relax, there’s no sign of Janice.

 

Warner Bros. Slates Superhero Movies

Considering how marketable the Marvel Universe is with movies – Guardians of the Galaxy has managed to clean up over $650 million worldwide – Warner Bros. is looking for its own cut of comic book profits, as it has announced no less than 11 new DC Comics-based films to come between 2016 and 2020.

The news was revealed during a Time Warner investors meeting this morning, with CEO Kevin Tsujihara confirming the existence of all 11 films. Along with separate releases featuring top superstars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Shazam) and Jason Momoa (Aquaman), two Justice League films, to be directed by Man of Steel helmer Zack Snyder, have also been planned, according to IGN.

Here’s how the whole slate looks between 2016 and 2020:

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, directed by Zack Snyder (2016)

Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer (2016)

Wonder Woman (2017)

Justice League Part One, directed by Zack Snyder (2017)

The Flash, which will star Ezra Miller in the lead role (2018)

Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa (2018)

Shazam, featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (2019)

Justice League Part Two, directed by Zack Snyder (2019)

Cyborg, starring Ray Fisher (2020)

Green Lantern (2020)

Another interesting wrinkle with this announcement is the reboot of Green Lantern. Warner Bros. previously released a feature-length film in 2011 featuring Ryan Reynolds in the lead role. Unfortunately, it was met with harsh criticism and failed to make back its rumored $300 million budget, leading Warner Bros. to the idea that a reboot more loyal to the comics was in order.

Comics in Hollywood are big business for DC Comics right now. Prior to these announcements, a number of its products have been licensed for TV shows, including CW’s The Flash (which has big audience numbers right alongside popular TV show Arrow), Fox’s Gotham and NBC’s Constantine, which will premiere later this month.

Now the only question is if it can keep up with the success alongside Marvel, who recently announced that Robert Downey Jr. would be joining the cast of the third Captain America film. Not to mention the heavy buzz going into next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron

The Winner Of The Console Wars

The news that Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter broke earlier this week was stunning: Apparently Microsoft sold 325,000 Xbox Ones in September, beating out Sony’s 250,000 units of PS4’s sold (both numbers are for U.S. retail sales only). Sony has beaten Microsoft every single month since the two consoles launched last year, and the upset is stunning. Is this a fluke, or will Sony come back to #1 Can dark horse Nintendo ride on the back of Super Smash Bros. to retake the #1 slot Who will win the console wars this holiday season

Before you start placing bets, it’s important to realize that we already know who the winner will be, if you’re counting numbers of units. The answer isn’t Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo. It’s Apple, followed by Amazon, Google, Samsung and a few others — because tablets will be outselling any of the traditional game consoles by at least an order of magnitude (that’s 10x for those who don’t normally deal in astronomical numbers).

Wait a minute — tablets aren’t consoles! Maybe not in the traditional form factor, but in the minds of consumers who will be buying hardware this holiday, tablets will be considered right alongside of consoles. And most families will be buying one or the other — not everyone has the money or the desire to buy two pieces of hardware that can easily run into hundreds of dollars. Parents especially will be weighing consoles against tablets when making holiday hardware purchases, and traditional consoles have a number of disadvantages.

In order to understand how this might be the case, let’s look at the cost comparisons first, because that’s often where people start. In the $99 to $150 range, we have microconsoles like the Amazon FireTV and the new PlayStation TV, as well as other Android-based consoles like the Ouya. The PlayStation TV can play nearly any PS Vita game, plus with PlayStation Now it will have available a large number of old PlayStation games. Certainly in terms of deep games the PS TV has it all over its microconsole rivals — except for price. Games for the PS TV are going to be in the range of $20 to $40, for the most part. Meanwhile, the FireTV is getting an increasing number of interesting games, many of which are free or somewhere in the $3 to $7 range.

Compare either of those to Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablets, which start at $99 for a 6″ tablet at $139 for a 7″ tablet, both of which have pretty nice screens and an excellent array of not just games, but books, movies, TV and music, along with parental controls. Or the FireHD Kid’s Version, which somes with added case protection and an unlimited 2 year if-it-breaks-we’ll-replace-it warranty. Of course, there are plenty of lesser known brand names in the same price range. Yes, these tablet consoles don’t have the same game, but there are thousands to choose from (mostly free or nearly so), and these things are portable, too. Handheld consoles like the 2DS for $130 or the 3DS for $150 have a good selection of great games, but again those games are going to run you $20 or $30.

Parents who aren’t terribly familiar with the types of games available may well choose tablets, based on the availability of low-cost games and the much broader utility and portability offered by tablets.

When you get into the $200 to $300 price range, you start comparing more premium tablets (like an iPad Mini or a Samsung Galaxy or a Google Nexus 7) with last-gen consoles like the Xbox 360, the PS3, and the Wii or even the Wii U. Again, the tablets have greater general utility and portability, while the consoles have the hardcore (but expensive) games.

At the high end of $400 to $500, you get into the top end of tablets like the iPad Air and begin comparing that purchase to an Xbox One or a PS4. The difference in games is stark – but an iPad is a go-anywhere, do almost anything kind of tool that will be a much easier sell to a dubious, non-game-playing spouse. And if you’re serious about gaming, what about Nvidia’s new Shield tablet and controller, designed for the hardcore gamer and also a great tablet

While the games seem to be a key differentiation, even that is eroding. You can now find older console games like the Final Fantasy series or BioShock on consoles, and more will be coming. Blizzard’s hot card game Hearthstone is racking up amazing numbers on mobile, and converting many hardcore gamers to that new form of console. Check out this list of 21 great games for iOS, and this list of 87 great games for Android — you’ll find plenty of familiar names there, as well as some terrific new ones. Great gaming experiences are right in front of you, even for hardcore gamers. Try Kingdom Rush out for some simple tower defense fun, but the strategy gets very interesting.

Even new games like Skylanders: Trap Team now have a tablet version identical to the console version, complete with Bluetooth controller — at the same price as the traditional console version of the game. Minecraft Yeah, mobile’s got a version of that. If you have kids in the right age range, the idea of a tablet where they can be off in their room playing Skylanders, liberating your TV for your usage, may be a killer app.

When we’re talking about winning the console wars, it’s really about numbers. Apple sold over 26 million iPads in the fourth quarter of last year, and it will likely do that again with new iPad models on the way. Xbox One or PS4 sales will probably be in the 2 million range, so Apple has them beat by ten times. Amazon will probably sell 10 million Fire tablets over the holidays, though it’s hard to tell since they never release numbers. But in any case, it’s clear that tablets will easily conquer hardware sales numbers.

Sure, but are tablets really gameplaying devices When Digi-Capital reports that 67 percent of tablet time is devoted to playing games on them, and it’s by far the most popular app category, I think we can say the answer is yes. And since 75 percent of all app revenue is coming from games, the billions of dollars in mobile gaming is looking pretty competitive to consoles. While tablet game revenue won’t be passing console game revenues for a while, the gap is closing.

The console wars are pretty much decided, and tablets are the winners. The only question for game publishers now is how they’re going to take advantage of it, and how fast they can move over.

Mozilla And Humble Bundle Bring Indie Games To Browsers

The potential of games to run in any browser, anywhere, has been a dream for many years in the gaming industry. What if there were no massive downloads, finicky installation procedures, or demanding ports to different platforms? Developers could have an unparalleled reach for their games if anyone could play it just by going to the right web address.

Of course, the practical difficulties to implementing this dream were massive. The performance of browsers would mean that few games beyond a simple solitaire would be playable, and where’s the market for that these days? Fortunately, many people have been hard at work finding solutions, and the advent of the new WebGL announced earlier this year promised near-native speeds for browser-based games. Still, we’d have to see all the major browsers support that, and then more work on the part of game developers. And even if all the technical problems were solved, how would potential players find out about this?

 

Enter Mozilla, acting in concert with Humble Bundle, offering a package of indie games that will run right in your Firefox or other WebGL compliant browser (including Chrome) on Windows, Mac and Linux. The Humble Mozilla Bundle is powered by asm.js, and gamers can pay what they want, support non-profit organizations and seamlessly play games right in their browser.

If you haven’t been following the amazing success of the Humble Bundle, the site started as a way to generate some sales for indie game developers as well as raise money for charity by offering a bundle of games for a price picked by the buyer. The buyer can also pick the charity being supported, and vary the ratio of how the money is allocated between developers and charity. The concept proved to be a viral marketing smash, and continues today with bundles every couple of weeks, now having extended into multiple platforms and even other product categories. The Humble Bundle has raised well over $50 million in its four years, with over $20 million to charity.

As a marketing tool, the Humble Bundle has been a terrific way for indie developers to get exposure for games and generate some added sales. Now the technology is making it even easier to play these games. The [a]listdaily spoke with Humble co-founder John Graham and Mozilla director of product management Bill Maggs about the Humble Mozilla Bundle and what it portends for games.

[a]listdaily: Tell me about what the Humble Mozilla Bundle accomplishes.

John Graham: We are now able to take eight awesome indie games into the browser and make them playable right there. We’ve always wondered when that time would come. For other types of media, you just go there and the browser just handles it. You’re viewing or listening or watching right there. For gaming there’s been no real precedent for that, not when it comes to hardcore, accelerated PC gaming. This is an opportunity to really bring that same ease of use and make playing a game as easy as watching a video. That’s what gets us really excited. Mozilla has been working really hard creating the asm.js library that’s really making it all possible, so games can be recompiled for this system and run really nicely at near-native speeds right in the browser.

Bill Maggs: Mozilla has wanted to do this for a long time, the technology base has been coming together, and now WebGl is running everywhere, even on iOS 8. That’s a really important step. Now we can take the code that developers write in C++ and compile it directly into Javascript that runs in every browser, but is optimized to run in Firefox as well as other major browsers. It makes for the first-class hardware -accelerated experience that gamers really want.

[a]listdaily: The promise of WebGL is finally being delivered, isn’t it?

John Graham: We’re certainly excited about it, and this is only the beginning. We wanted to create that base level, and evangelize that base level of customer experience where you show up and you’re playing games in the browser, but there’s a whole wealth of features that’ll be very exciting for the future. In the future, the same way a video knows which device is accessing it across computers and types of hardware, to do things like detect resolution and give you what you want, there’s no reason games couldn’t do that to.

[a]listdaily: Potentially, then, you could have a game that’s playable on mobile platforms as well as PC by detecting the platform and changing the controls available, couldn’t you?

Bill Maggs: One thing that Humble has done that’s really pretty good is they’ve worked with a lot of their developers to get a standard approach that works for PC games that essentially abstracts the hardware in a pretty standard way. There are projects under way that we’ve done at Mozilla to make it possible for anybody with a game controller to just plug that controller into their computer and just have it work. A lot of these controllers are popular on console, it would be neat to have them usable in your browser too.

[a]listdaily: What are developers looking forward to with this technology and the Humble Bundle?

John Graham: We’ve found in the past when we do something new that shakes up the model a little bit, we tend to generate a lot of natural buzz around the promotion that we’re doing, and that’s something developers are interested in. We’ve built up some good will in general around cultivating new platforms. We’ve got nearly 100 games ported to Linux now, but this is a frontier that’s kind of like Linux but even larger in terms of the potential and ease of access for everybody. It really feels like the precipice is something huge, when you think about how many people really use a browser versus what really big user bases there are in the industry. Browsers are just so much bigger. We’re talking hundreds of millions of users, maybe billions versus less than a hundred million Steam users. How many of these would be gamers that would get into all this beautiful content that’s out there but just haven’t wanted to deal with the existing ecosystem

Bill Maggs: The technology is there, and innovative companies like Humble Bundle have figured out ways to build viral marketing events around great content that people just literally didn’t know was available for PC. We thought, what a great opportunity to take every single person who opens a home page on a browser to be able to identify what part of this big audience out there wants to play games this way. We thought it would be a novel idea to take one of the game developers in this bundle to make a playable game for us that we can put in the snippet. The entire 3D game, with all the assets and everything, only takes up 180K. When it comes out we think a lot of people will be blown away by it.

Xbox One Takes Vine To The Big Screen

The long-awaited Vine app has launched on Xbox One in 34 countries today for Xbox Live members to view and share content more easily from the comfort of their home. As the first Vine app ever created to scale for TV, Vine’s integration will allow users to make short gameplay videos too, providing an alternative to streaming on Twitch.

Kinect voice and gesture controls are able to be used with the Vine app to play, pause and search for videos in the platform. There will also be dedicated channels like Art, Music & Dance, Comedy and others to adapt the viewing experience to TV.

Here’s what it looks like:

Mobile Spending Sees Older Audience

Think that mobile gaming is attracting a younger audience? Actually, according to a story from GamesIndustry International, it’s the opposite.

A report from Unity-owned mobile gaming firm Everplay provided more information on who’s actually spending money in the mobile game market. Across over 3,000 people, the survey shows that an older audience provides the biggest boost, with $6.07 spent per party per month across the 35-44 year old demographic. The 18-24 year old market was a runner-up, but with nearly half the amount at $3.73 spend on a monthly basis.

Men make up a majority of that audience, spending $5.63 per month compared to women spending $3.49 in the same period. The average comes out to around $4.58.

Out of those surveyed, those who played more often spent the most money, while casual players didn’t even come close to the one-dollar mark, spending around $.66 per month. More avid players came closer to $15.15 spent per month, averaging over ten hours of gameplay.

By comparison, 59 percent of players didn’t spend a single cent on their mobile game experiences, while less than 1 percent were considered the “whales” of the group, spending $50 or more on a monthly basis. Out of those experiences, those involving competitive play seemed to be the biggest draws.

The chart below breaks down spending by demographic, including how much is spent by age and gender, as well as monthly spending and time utilized in playing said games.

There’s also a breakdown of where the social angle lies, with 32 percent interested in sharing tips and tricks for their favorite games, followed by discussion in dedicated forums, providing video replays for others to view, and sharing screenshots of their games in action. Not every game provides these options, so it’s easy to see where tips and tricks would be more popular.

JuiceBox Games Founder Explains Mid-Core Opportunity In Mobile

A trio of former Zynga veterans have had success out of the gate with mobile game developer start-up JuiceBox Games. Jason McGuirk, Chief Technology Officer, and Zak Pytlak, creative director and CEO Michael Martinez have assembled a team of 20 engineers, artists and game designers to create original mid-core games for the growing mobile games industry.

The company has raised $2.5 million from Initial Capital, General Catalyst, Index Ventures and Maveron, as well as individual investors Scott Dale, a member of the Zynga founding team, and John Riccitiello, former Electronic Arts CEO. The JuiceBox Games board includes Kristian Segerstrale, founder and CEO of Playfish and former Supercell board member.

The studio’s first mobile game, HonorBound, was downloaded over 3 million times across Android, Amazon and Apple platforms. The free-to-play game combines the collectability of Pokemon with the RPG battles of Game of Thrones (Bobby Tahouri, whose music can be heard in the HBO TV series, scored the game’s soundtrack). The developer created more than 500 character art pieces in its in-house studio, focusing on a simple look and feel that appeals to the booming mid-core gaming market that companies like Kixeye have banked on for years.

Martinez, who worked on games like Zynga Poker and Farmville, explains the opportunities that these mid-core gamers have opened up in the mobile space in this exclusive interview.

What are the challenges of creating a game that will emerge through the crowd in today’s environment?

With so many options for players, it’s incredibly challenging to even be noticed, let alone hold players’ attention. We take it very seriously when a player chooses to spend their time with HonorBound and our goal is to reward that time with an immensely entertaining experience.

We create games that we’re passionate about and think that passion comes across for our players. We built HonorBound because it was a game we actually wanted to play that didn’t exist yet.

How have you seen the business model of free-to-play evolve?

The freemium business model is always evolving. Both the game makers and the players are becoming more sophisticated. Game makers deliver higher quality content and players demand that higher quality. Mechanics that were everywhere three years ago seem very 1.0 today. One of JuiceBox Games’ core values is to Respect the Player. It seems obvious, and it is, but we really take it to heart. Our goal is to always provide great entertainment and value to our players. And our job is to really focus on the fun first, rather than focusing on monetization.

What opportunities has mobile opened up for a start-up like yours?

It means everything to our business. We’re able to build a deep and engaging world that is literally an arm’s reach away.

What has the increase in processing power on smartphones and tablets opened up for the games you can create?

Bigger and more immersive worlds.

What did you learn from Zynga (good or bad) that you’re applying to your studio?

It was a tremendous education. Prioritization is extremely important to us. On any given day, there are hundreds of things we could be working on, and we need to make sure we focus on a few goals and that they’re the right projects.

One of the things I love about JuiceBox Games is how everybody works to make the game better and that’s what our conversations are centered around. That common goal unites us.

Can you talk about your first new IP?

The HonorBound universe is really exciting for us. We were inspired by games like Pokemon and Skylanders with a recognizable cast of characters. We’re tremendously proud of the art style of HonorBound and that’s kudos to our great art team who developed everything in-house. The comic-book feel stands out in the App Stores and our players have responded really positively.

How were you able to achieve 3 million downloads while in stealth mode?

We intentionally kept our heads down and focused on the players and their experience. Players don’t know (or care) if you’re in stealth mode or not. They find a game and care about whether it’s fun.

How do you develop games for the new casual and mainstream gaming audience?

As a studio, it’s important to know your target audience. We’re focused on midcore (more competitive with deep investment). We definitely want to make our games accessible and draw in a wide audience, but you have to strike the right balance. If the tone isn’t clear you can end up disappointing both camps.

What role do you feel transmedia plays today in games when you look at Rovio’s success with videos and merchandising?

It’s something we’re interested in and excited about, but we’re focusing on our core competency first. We’ve had offers to make HonorBound toys and at this point it’s a distraction. There’s still so much to build and get right with the game.

Having raised $2.5 million, what are investors looking for in game studios today?

I think they’re looking for teams with passion to build great games and the proven ability to execute. One of the things I was able to say very honestly was, “We’re building this game no matter what. Your support would be helpful and we’d love it, but this game is shipping either way.” I clearly think we’re the team worth betting on.

 

Millennials Watch TV (Everywhere But TV)

One surmises from the latest report from comScore {link no longer active} today that millennials are really proving to be not just cordcutters, but are shifting screen preference elsewhere. And why not? Traditional TV sets are usually more costly, unweildy and not nearly as interactive as laptops, tablets and smartphones.

There has been some slight concern over the demise of certain TV viewing audiences, mainly due to the availability of streaming services and the quality shows they’re providing. However, despite such concerns, it appears that comScore is calming a few nerves, as it has managed to come up with some numbers that indicate that there’s still plenty of viewing to go around, according to a story from Recode.net.

Of the smaller screens, tablets are unsurpsingly the favorite of millennial viewers. Desktop/laptops still have a stronghold over smartphones, probably due to screen size, making the case for phablets a strong one.

According to the report, “About one out of six Millenials said they did not watch any original TV series from traditional TV sets within the past 30 days, a significant trend highlighting the potential for linear TV viewing to erode over time.”

For the 35+ set, screen preference mirrors those of younger viewers, although the adoption rate is much less. While TV sets are still the most popular screens for all ages surveyed, it is clear that the format– not just cable– is in trouble too.

When it comes to spending habits on pay television, however, not everyone is on board. The report shows that 24 percent of millennials don’t invest in such services as HBO or Showtime, and half of that group — 13 percent of the overall polled group — don’t watch TV at all. In a startling revelation, 11 percent don’t even use a TV at all, instead relying on other means for viewing.

So what does this mean TV viewing continues to be on a steady level when it comes to attracting key audiences, even though some pay channels don’t quite have the outreach that certain companies were hoping for. That said, viewing programming on mobile devices and computers is also on the rise, and while that may not be a heavy concern now, a few years may prove all the difference, especially with more exclusives heading to the likes of Netflix and Hulu.

CREATIVE: Meet Spotify’s ‘PartyDrone’

Spotify and BASE collaborated to create a drone that uses Spotify’s playlists and music library by outfitting a little drone with speakers and an LED lightshow. Festival attendees were asked to add their favorite song to a playlist beforehand and once they reached ticket check-in, the song would automatically play for them.

The end result is a great way to get across the customization and mobility of the music platform.