Meet Pinc, The iPhone’s VR Shopping Assistant

VR, once the domain of dime-store novels and sci-fi movies, is now a feasible product for consumers. As such, it stands to reason that a horn-o’-plenty of virtual reality experiences from startups the world over would pop up. One such experience is the Pinc, a device from Toronto’s Cordon Development Labs designed to turn your iPhone into a portable VR viewer.

The Pinc (pronounced “pinch”), brainchild of Cordon president Milan Baic, works by attaching itself to the iPhone through an eye-catching 3D-printed case. The wearer attaches the encased iPhone to their head with head straps; viewing is done through a set of aspheric lenses suspended an inch and a half away from the iPhone, projecting a landscape rendered in stereoscopic 3D by the Pinc app. Movement is performed with LED “rings” attached to the wearer’s index fingers.

Baic is quick to differentiate Pinc from the gaming-centric Oculus Rift, stating that Pinc’s primary focus will be e-commerce. “Control, portability, and use case” are the Pinc’s three key strengths, he says, seeing virtual reality as a solution for mobile retailers burdened by difficulties conducting business on small smartphone screens.

Cordon still has a few kinks to work out with Pinc’s hardware and software. Their camera plus LED control system, though novel, encounters problems when the wearer enters a bright real-life environment, leaving them more or less confined to the Pinc’s ideal darkened room. Baic claims that production-ready LEDs will be brighter and wrap their way around the circumference of the wearer’s finger, permitting on-the-go shopping no matter what real-life conditions happen to be.

Time will tell whether Pinc is able to fully realize its goal of transforming shopping into the same kind of immersive digital experience Oculus is attempting for gaming or Jaunt is attempting for concerts. It’s all about generating revenue and attracting a user base for Baic; an Indiegogo campaign launched today, with plans to attract big brands like Nike by ushering them into a “virtual shopping mall” and invoicing them for space equivalent to what they would occupy in a real-life shopping center. “There is something to say about scarcity [ . . . ] Unlimited space is a good thing when you want to create something, but when you are in a commercial environment, you want to create the concept of scarcity.”

GameStop Earnings Reveal Key Industry Trends

GameStop delivered its earnings report yesterday, which was slightly below the same quarter last year. Of course, this year didn’t have Grand Theft Auto V to boost results, so it’s not that surprising that overall sales are down. Total global sales for the third quarter of 2014 were $2.09 billion, a decline of 0.7 percent compared to $2.11 billion in the prior year quarter, GameStop said. An important indicator, consolidated comparable store sales, were down from last year by 2.3 percent. One major factor GameStop noted: “Topline and comparable store sales were negatively impacted by the delayed release of Assassin’s Creed Unity,” the company said in its press release.

Investors responded poorly to the earnings report, with GameStop shares dropping over 13 percent in after-hours trading. “Q3 results lagged expectations, accentuating concerns GameStop is losing significant market share to full game downloads,” noted Wedbush Securities managing director Michael Pachter. He added “We don’t expect digital downloads to absorb all of the growth in video game software sales in 2014 or 2015, and believe that by then, GameStop’s ancillary businesses will generate significant profits, fully offsetting any future declines in software profits.”

GameStop noted a number of statistics that showed promising signs for the retailer. “During the quarter, new hardware sales increased 147.4 percent, greatly outpacing industry growth of 102.4 percent. After the first 12 months since launch, the U.S. installed base of the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One is 73 percent greater than the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 base was over the same period,” GameStop said. “The company reached 47.3 percent new software market share during the quarter, its second highest ever, despite new software sales declining 34.4 percent. The decrease was primarily due to overlapping the company’s record market share of last year’s AAA titles, such as Grand Theft Auto V, Battlefield 4, Batman: Arkham Origins, Pokemon X/Y, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.”

Reading between the lines, although the company said that sales of new AAA releases met its expectations, it seems that this year’s crop of AAA titles hasn’t lived up to last year’s sales. That’s not the only issue at retail, though. “The decline in prior-gen software sales due to the transition to next-gen console has been steeper than expected and titles that moved out of 2014 will both have an impact on our results this year,” said GameStop CFO Rob Lloyd.

Lloyd noted some positive trends for the retail giant. “Pre-owned sales increased 2.6 percent compared to the prior year quarter,” Lloyd said. “The U.S. was up 2.2 percent and international was up 5.2 percent or 9.8 percent, excluding FX impact. This marks the third consecutive quarter that the pre-owned business has grown and we expect this trend to continue.” This is a key element in GameStop’s multi-pronged strategy to thrive during the transition of the games industry to digital content being the largest part of game revenues. Keeping the pre-owned game business and the buy-sell-trade engine going will help GameStop capture ever-greater market share even as the overall market shrinks.

GameStop also made good progress on another part of its strategy, the digital business. “Our digital receipts were $210 million, a 52 percent increase over the third quarter of last year, with over 80 percent growth in international, driven by console digital sales associated with Destiny and FIFA,” Lloyd said. “Globally, we attach DLC subscriptions to over 30 percent of Destiny sales during its launch.” There’s the value of good sales associates — adding in those additional content sales when the customer is right there, ready to buy.

GameStop president Tony Bartel provided some numbers on GameStop’s market share with new consoles, and the company is thriving there. “We continue to successful execute against our goal of winning the new console launch,” said Bartel. “Our software market share on Xbox One and PS4 hit an all-time high at 56 percent for the quarter. In addition, our hardware share on Xbox One and PS4 is at all-time highs.” Bartel also gave a nod to Microsoft’s price cut on the Xbox One. “The recent price decrease on the Xbox One has really increased sales of that platform and we expect consoles to be in high demand this holiday season,” Bartel said. Will Microsoft finish the quarter with greater sales than Sony for the holidays It could happen, but it’s going to be a tough fight.

Bartel took the opportunity to crow a bit about GameStop’s digital business, comparing it to the rest of the industry. “Turning to digital, our 52 percent growth is higher than the growth reported in the most recent quarter by our four largest publishing partners,” said Bartel. “Year-to-date, our digital growth is also higher than this group. Our console digital growth alone is 72 percent as we continue to play a vital role in the discovery and affordability of digital content.”

The Kongregate business is a major part of this for GameStop. “In addition to console digital, we’re also continuing to grow in mobile publishing. Kongregate again doubled its business over last year, growing 98 percent during the quarter,” Bartel noted. “We remain a top 10 third-party mobile publisher with nearly 30 million installs of our 14 games on the App Store and 12 games in the Google Play Store.”

Some added detail on digital full game downloads came out during the earnings call, which showcased some particularly revealing numbers. “A couple of interesting data points taken from recent research with gamers indicates that the average price being paid by a customer rate full game AAA download is $22,” Bartel said. “When asked what price a game expected to pay for a recently released full game digital download, the answer in these surveys was approximately $35. It is important to note that like the industry, much of our full game digital content was given away at no cost to the consumer with the hardware bundle. In fact, year-to-date, we estimate that over $100 million worth of games have been digitally delivered for free in hardware bundles.”

Clearly the first stop for console makers seeking to boost the sales of consoles is to add in a free game or two, particularly as a digital download. That hardly changes the cost of goods, yet provides significant added value to the customer — without reducing the retail price. Yet Bartel is careful to note the long-term danger this represents to the business, especially the retail business. “We want to help ensure that our industry does not make the same mistake as other entertainment categories by driving the perceived value of digital goods significantly below that of a physical game,” Bartel said.

Yes, this is just one more reason why gamers are expecting a lower price for games on average. The ever-growing variety of free or low-cost online and mobile game options, combined with pre-owned software, continues to put downward pressure on retail prices. There doesn’t seem to be any overall solution to this — each publisher is finding its own answers. For that matter, while decrying the trend, GameStop is preparing for the inevitable future by broadening its revenue base across hardware and software, and continuing to increase its digital publishing efforts.

One more thing to worry about for GameStop: Sales of software for the last generation of consoles continues to underperform. “Year-to-date in the U.S., Xbox 360 and PS3 software and hardware are down 57.8 percent on a dollar basis,” Bartel said. “That’s clearly significantly more than we anticipated at the beginning of the year and so that’s what we factored into our fourth quarter forecast.”

Mobile Games: Women Play, Men Pay

It seems, as of late, that the audience interested in mobile games is certainly widening, with more and more female gamers stepping up to play the likes of Candy Crush Saga, amongst other mobile releases. And according to a new study from EEDAR, some new download numbers back up that theory.

The report, 2014 Deconstructing Mobile and Tablet Games indicates that more women have stepped up to play. From that report, 56 percent of all mobile gamers consist of females, while the remaining 44 percent are males.

However, the gaming habits vary. “Heavy gamers” who spend a lot of time on mobile devices lean more towards males, with 71 percent compared to female gamers taking up the remaining 29 percent. Moderate players show leaner numbers, with 59 percent male compared to 41 percent female. Meanwhile, non-players, who are casual mobile users, have greater female numbers, at 63 percent compared to the 37 percent made up by males.

However, when it comes to spending habits, it appears that males in general pay a bit more than female gamers – with certain genres. In the matching puzzles market, 73 percent of the audience consists of females, spending $159 million for the year, while males make up the other 27 percent with $59 million. Meanwhile, combat city builder games tell a much different story, as only 23 percent of females buy in with $77 million, while males dominate with 77 percent and $258 million, making up a majority of the revenue.

The general ratio shows that males over index in genres that create are likely to spend $99 yearly on mobile games, while females tend to spend far less, just barely under a dollar ($.99).

These spending habits are likely to continue fluxuating within the coming year, with possibly even more female gamers coming on board. Now it’s just a matter of marketers trying to reach out further to them in terms of spending more money.



Image source

App Annie October 2014 Mobile Games Report

Analytics firm App Annie released its October 2014 report yesterday, with plenty of interesting information about the top games on iOS and Android worldwide. App Annie compiles its information directly from Apple’s App Store and Google Play’s store, using access granted by participating publishers. So the firm’s numbers reflect direct information from the stores involved.

It’s worth noting, though, that the Google Play store is not as universal as Apple’s App Store. A significant amount of traffic and revenue flows through Amazon’s Appstore in the US (perhaps as much as 25 percent of the US total), and in China the revenue and traffic comes from literally dozens of different Android app stores. Also worth noting is that App Annie is tracking revenue from the stores, which covers in-app purchases. That does not track revenues from advertising or from licensing, which in some cases are quite significant. Rovio, for instance, derives close to half of its overall revenue from licensing by some estimates.

Ad revenues are significant for many mobile game companies. And let’s not forget the power of cross-promotion, either. A company could well be using a free title to draw in customers to download another title that has plenty of revenue opportunities and a much better monetization rate. Marketing strategies are getting more sophisticated as they become integral to the financial success of mobile titles, and thus analytics firms are always working to catch up to the latest wrinkles thought up by aggressively innovating mobile companies.

App Annie’s list of the top companies shows them combined for both iOS and Google Play, with a list both by downloads and by revenue. The massive differences between the two lists points up the strong differences in monetization of various titles. Supercell, for instance, is #1 by revenue but only #5 by download count. Clearly the company does better at monetizing its users than Gameloft, which doesn’t even appear in the top ten on the revenue list. Of course, Gameloft also has 189 apps compared to Supercell’s 6 apps.

Looking at the Downloads list, it’s interesting that Supercell is the only company with a single-digit number of apps; most companies are solidly in the hundreds of game apps. However, when you look over that the Revenue list, the companies with the lower number of apps are at the top of the list. A reasonable inference might be that fewer apps means more attention paid to each one, and thus a greater chance for success.

Turning to the top apps downloaded on iOS, App Annie noted that licensed games and well-known brands dominated the list. The list was headed by the introduction of Angry Birds Transformers, which is the third time Rovio has used a license with Angry Birds to good effect (after Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Star Wars). What’s interesting is that Rovio is continuing its attempts to broaden the Angry Birds brand into different genres by adding sidescrolling game elements to the basic physics-based gameplay. Certainly tying that in with a well-known movie and toy brand is helping, given the title’s debut position on the chart.

Electronic Arts moved up to second place with FIFA 15 Ultimate Team, showing the strength of the EA Sports brand on mobile. The company benefits from the mobile app not just in in-app purchases, but increased sales of the PC and console version of FIFA 15 must also be ascribed to the success of the mobile app to some degree. As App Annie noted, “Based on its latest earnings release, Electronic Arts’ mobile games averaged 155 million monthly active users (MAUs) during Q3 2014. Of this, its mobile sports games averaged 40 million MAUs during the same time period, a gain of 250 percent since last year. This steep growth coincides with Electronic Arts’ decision to move to a freemium business model, with last year’s FIFA 14 being a major beneficiary. Now, with FIFA 15 Ultimate Team, it seems to have another hit mobile sports title on its hands.”

Another notable event on the App Annie listings is the move of Zynga into the top ten, as the company’s introduction of the new Words With Friends boosted it into the #8 position for Downloads. This is part of Zynga’s continuing transition to a mobile game company from a Facebook-based social game company. Now 55 percent of Zynga’s revenue is coming from mobile titles, a significant milestone for a company that once derived 93 percent of its revenue from Facebook.

App Annie also noted that European publishers dominated the charts, with four out of the top five publishers by download being European: Supercell, King, Rovio, and Gameloft. On the revenue side US publishers only claimed two slots, with Machine Zone at #7 and Electronic Arts at #8. European companies Supercell and King took the top two slots, while Asian publishers held the remaining six positions in the top ten.

Google and ‘Interstellar’ Want You to Take Part in Time Capsule Doc

By Jessica Klein

Google Play continues to promote Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi epic “Interstellar,” this time with a “time capsule” video project that’s currently seeking submissions.

Along with Paramount Pictures, Google Play wants people to send in videos, photos, poetry, artwork, and more that filmmakers David Brodie and Angus Wall will turn into a short documentary. Nolan himself will select the submissions for the film.

This comes as part of Google and Paramount Pictures’ collaborative efforts to showcase “Interstellar.” It follows a Google+ Hangout with the movie’s stars and some YouTubers a couple days prior to its theatrical release.

How to Enter

This article was originally posted on VideoInk and is reposted on [a]listdaily via a partnership with the news publication, which is the online video industry’s go-to source for breaking news, features, and industry analysis. Follow VideoInk on Twitter @VideoInkNews, or subscribe via for the latest news and stories, delivered right to your inbox.

Developers Concerned With VR Motion Sickness

While the Oculus Rift virtual reality technology is certainly catching on with a number of companies, it still has yet to see a specific release date in terms of being available to the public. And even then, there are still a few companies out there concerned about the general safety of the device, wondering if motion sickness could possibly play a factor.

Back in the 90’s, Nintendo introduced a virtual reality-like headset to the market called the Virtual Boy, which, like the Rift, introduced stunning 3D displays with a number of titles, including Mario Tennis and Warlo Land. However, the limited red and black display, coupled with a lack of testing for the unit, left some gamers feeling sick. Within a matter of months, Nintendo discontinued the headset.

Is it possible that the Oculus could repeat said history Some may feel that VR just isn’t ready for the market – such as, for example, Take-Two president and CEO Strauss Zelnick, speaking with Bloomberg this week. He feels developers still need to tinker with issues surrounding the technology, including “how are you going to see your controller, how does the controller interact with this immersive space.” He also feels comfort and motion sickness could also come into question, according to Ars Technica.

“We are concerned that you’ll play our games for a long period of time – we don’t want people getting nauseated,” said Zelnick. “And also, having had the experience, I’m not sure how long you want an immersive headset on your head. We’ll find out.”

Electronic Arts CFO Blake Jorgensen was just as concerned about motion sickness issues, speaking at the UBS Global Technology Conference this week about its effects. “The challenge is if you are at all even slightly motion sick prone,” he explained. “It’s very tough. I’ve seen people within 30 seconds have to take the goggles off because. . . it is so immersive. It’s an incredible experience and I think there’s a huge opportunity, but there’s some technology steps that have to be played out and I think so ways to make sure people enjoy it, but don’t get sick by it too quickly.”

That’s not to say the issues with motion sickness can’t be resolved, as both companies are hopeful. “I will say this. If that’s what consumers want, we’ll be first in line to give it to them,” said Zelnick. “We see no reason to innovate in terms of business models. We prefer to be a fast follower…I’m happy to have other people spend loads of dough on R&D.”

Microsoft has expressed similar interested as well, stating that it was willing to “see how the VR space evolves” before jumping in head first, as Sony did with its Project Morpheus earlier this year. “At this point, everything you’re seeing out there is just prototypes and development stuff,” said Xbox Group Program Manager David Dennis. “I think for us, it will be interesting to see how consumers respond and what experiences developers are able to deliver.”

We’ll see what Oculus has in mind when it (eventually) announces a release date.


Facebook Lets Top Brands In On Big Data

In a bid to retain big brands amidst growing concerns about privacy and data safety as well as a challenge from Twitter and their vaunted “firehose” of tweets, Facebook has tapped into its formidable data-collection operation to offer a marketing program of unprecedented scale to the world’s largest corporations.

The program, called Grapevine, allows brands and their marketing teams to access specific and hyper-specialized information about consumer sentiment, data gathered from Facebook’s user base of approximately 1.3 billion that could very well tip the balance in a face-off with a competitor. The analysis, according to well-placed industry insiders, is “qualitative, not just quantitative”, enabling a shampoo company to tailor ads based on posts about frizzy hair or a gaming company to hear opinions about their latest release that they otherwise might not be privy to. In the words of a source familiar with Grapevine, “It tells them what people actually are saying and thinking.”

Grapevine is only available to a select number of well-heeled brands in the world right now; an industry source claimed that the bigger a marketing team’s payroll, the higher the chance they would be invited to participate in Grapevine. “The advertisers spending in the millions on campaigns or a half-million dollars for one ad, that’s who has access.”

Grapevine’s rollout is just another indicator that the economics of Facebook marketing have changed right along with the ongoing shakeup of traditional marketing strategies. Now a publicly-traded company, the pressure is on Facebook now more than ever to generate consistent, sustainable revenue; reluctant to alienate their user base with a premium service nor introduce “bothersome” ads into Messenger, Mark Zuckerberg and company have largely turned to brands and marketing teams for big bucks. Changes in Facebook’s privacy policy and the existence of “boosted” ads require brands to pay up to reach the wider audiences they crave; now, if they want to drill deeper for specific information about that audience, they’ll have to bring the big guns.

Amazon May Intro Ad-Supported Video Service

Currently, Netflix has a huge hold over the video streaming market, with a reported 35 percent of total Internet capacity in the US being devoted to it. However, Amazon is looking to muscle its way into this market even further with the introduction of another video service, one that would coincide with its existing Prime streaming service.

A report from the New York Post indicates that the new video channel will, in fact, be an ad-supported free video service, compared to the $99 Prime Instant subscription based channel that also provides other perks. It’s being considered an alternative for Prime, for those who don’t really have a need for expedient two-day shipping or the other options.

This service was actually hinted at back in March of this year, when the Wall Street Journal reported its existence. Amazon was quick to respond that the rumors weren’t true, although it’s changed its tune as of late. According to an email placed by TechCrunch to Amazon spokesperson Sally Fouts, the response has loosened up a bit. “We currently offer the first episode of some television shows free with ads through our First Episode Free feature on Amazon Instant Video, and there are display ads on some short videos such as movies and game trailers,” she said. “We’re often experimenting with new offers and experiences for customers, but we have not announced any plans to offer an ad-supported video streaming service.”

The service would actually make sense for Amazon, opening up a new avenue for consumers looking for an alternative service to Netflix, but without being stuck with a monthly subscription fee. It would also bring in a bevy of advertisers looking to reach out to said audience, as Amazon is sure to offer a number of programs that greatly benefit them for doing so.

Amazon is no stranger to selling advertising. Its devoted media group already works with a number of Amazon-based properties (including the IMDB page), offering both mobile ads and special advertising for its Kindle devices. This program is already quite successful, bringing in $1 billion annually, so a streaming service would probably boost it as well.

We’ll let you know once the company makes it official. In the meantime, interested customers can get a glimpse of this service through the aforementioned First Episode Free program on Amazon’s site.

Valve Sets Steam Early Access Rules

Perhaps in an effort to improve the quality of game releases and assures that less problems occur with titles, Valve has added new rules and regulations to its Steam Early Access program, which is likely to affect developers across the board.

Per a report from Eurogamer, Valve has explained that Early Access is “meant to be a place for games that are in a playable alpha or beta state, are worth the current value of the playable build, and the developer plans to continue to develop for release.” In other words, no flash-in-the-pan releases just to make a quick buck, without any follow-through.

Valve also deeply expressed that it’s vital that any experience released on Early Access should be considered a “finished game,” and not just some form of title that exists merely to, well, exist. “When you launch a game in Steam Early Access, there is an expectation by customers that you will continue development to a point where you have what you consider a ‘finished game,” the company explained.

“We know that nobody can predict the future, and circumstances frequently change, which may result in a game failing to reach a ‘finished’ state, or may fail to meet customer expectations in some other way. We work hard to make sure this risk is communicated clearly to customers, but we also ask that developer follow a set of rules that are intended to help inform customers and set proper expectations when purchasing your game.”

The company has also asked developers not to make “specific promises about future events,” in case they can’t be fulfilled. “For example, there is no way you can know exactly when the game will be finished, that the game will be finished, or that planned future additions will definitely happen,” it explained. “Do not ask your customers to bet on the future of your game. Customers should be buying your game based on its current state, not promises of a future that may or may not be realized.”

The four general rules where this advice applies are as follows, provided by the company:

  1. Don’t launch in Early Access if you can’t afford to develop with very few or no sales.
  2. Make sure you set expectations properly everywhere you talk about your game.
  3. Don’t launch in Early Access without a playable game.
  4. Don’t launch in Early Access if you are not done with development.

Free-To-Play Mobile Games Stay Strong

While there has been a question of certain tactics with free-to-play games – which forced Apple to make changes in terms of how they’re listed on the App Store – it doesn’t appear they’ll be going anywhere soon. In fact, considering their continued popularity over the last month, we’re likely to see even more emerge, sooner rather than later.

Paul Simon, executive producer at One Thumb Mobile (a Scottish company that specializes in MMO releases for mobile), explained to GamesIndustry International that, with improvements still being made, free-to-play still has a lengthy life ahead.

“It’s unlikely the free-to-play stigma will fade away from Western gamers anytime soon. There’s a lot of psychology at play regarding fairness and free-to-play that isn’t an issue to gamers in Eastern markets where the model originated,” he said. “Free-to-play is changing and adapting for Western audiences. We’re likely to continue to see more and more players warm up to free-to-play — especially since it has become the dominant market strategy, and many gamers haven’t known anything else. This has been going on for the last five or so years, and it’s unlikely to swing the other way suddenly. People like free stuff!”

There are circumstances where gamers can be affected by the market, such as titles that require a “pay to win” strategy. “To have a successful free-to-play strategy, players need to see your premium items as fair and obtainable. If you sell the best weapons and armor in your item shop, you might have great short-term sales — but you won’t be able to keep players long term without very aggressive content update schedules,” added Simon.

Simon’s team at One Thumb Mobile is currently hard at work on revamping one of its popular mobile MMO releases, Celtic Heroes, around a new engine titled Destiny, using elements from Unity. “Experience from other MMO studios has helped influence our development. Our planning and documentation has gotten much better, and people have brought in tons of great ideas for future development such as our upcoming mounted combat and crafting systems — both of which have been heavily influenced by sandbox MMOs. Since we’re a mobile studio, we’re expected to produce content much faster than a traditional MMO. We’ve dropped the idea of yearly expansion packs in favor of smaller more regular feature releases based on feedback from our players,” said Simon.

Simon also noted how careful a developer needs to be with cost structure with such a game. “MMOs are complex and expensive projects that can cost tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands a month to run. One Thumb Mobile is in a fairly unique position that we’re an independent MMO studio. We started off with a very small team and grew along with the success of Celtic Heroes — reinvesting our earnings to grow from 5 to over 25 employees in three years. Staff should be your biggest overhead, so making sure to get the right people that are passionate about the project and not overspending on large fixed costs like massive server farms or an expansive studio right away can help keep your initial costs low,” he explained.

As far as the market goes, “In the next few years… we’re going to see more and more AAA-quality games on mobile and a change in core gamer opinions on mobile games. In the short term, discoverability is likely to remain the biggest challenge. While it can be a curse, it can also be a blessing — since an indie studio with a really great game can be just as successful as a massive publisher that has for the most part still only dipped their toes into the marketplace because the pace of change is so fast,” Simon said.

More of the interview – and insight into the free-to-play MMO market – can be found here.