Master Chief Goes Anime

Master Chief Goes Anime

You really thought Halo 3 wrapped up the franchise?

The Los Angeles Times is reporting a new division of Microsoft dubbed 343 Industries is tasked with all things that make up the Halo universe, including a new anime series that will hit DVD, Blu-Ray and Xbox Live in 2010.

And unlike previous video game/Hollywood “collaborations,” this one seems like an actual collaboration.  From the Los Angeles Times:

Microsoft gave the production companies largely free reign in how the shorts looked, but [343 Industries creative director Frank] O’Connor and others were heavily involved in developing the stories and making sure all the details were right.

“Depending on the studio, we did everything from writing the stories to feeding them with characters and scenarios they could explore,” he said.

Halo isn’t going the short films route alone, with Assassin’s Creed II: Lineage debuting later this year as three live action films that run ten to 15 minutes long.  Ubisoft has high hopes this will increase excitement for one of their big holiday titles, and we’re interested to see how many other publishers follow suit.

[Full Los Angeles Times article]


Watch Out, Hulu

Watch Out, Hulu

Behind the smiles, they’re looking for blood.

Seems like the Mouse House isn’t down with being a part of something like Hulu as much as making its very own service.  With their catalog, it’s hard to blame them.  From Variety:

Iger would not elaborate much more about the project other than to say that it would offer a “robust” experience for users. It’s believed to be conceived along the lines of a grown-up version of Disney’s successful kid social network/virtual world services Club Penguin and Pixie Hollow, which charge monthly subscription fees.

Club Penguin is already a huge positive impact on Disney’s Internet bottom line, and a service like this, if coupled with Pixar and Disney classics, could come into its own in a big way.

It may not even compete with Hulu as much as you may initially think.  The subscription route is one Hulu has avoided, and if Disney focuses on its original IP but keeps its strategy open to platforms like Hulu, there could be room for another online video-on-demand player.

Still, if you’re a Hulu exec, you’re probably not sleeping too well tonight.

[Variety’s complete story]

Microsoft Earnings Not So Hot

Microsoft Earnings Not So Hot

Ballmer, grasping for a lifeline. Xbox may deliver it.

From Gamasutra:

Tech giant and Xbox creator Microsoft’s fourth quarter ended with revenue 17 percent down to $13.10 billion, and profits down 29 percent to $3.05 billion.

The company’s Entertainment and Devices Division, which contains its games business, as well as the Zune and other miscellaneous items, saw a 25 percent year-over-year fourth quarter revenue decrease to $1.19 billion.

But this primarily reflected shrinking Zune and Mediaroom revenue – Xbox 360 platform and PC game revenue decreased $110 million or 12 percent. The company shipped 1.2 million Xbox 360 consoles in the quarter, slightly down compared with 1.3 million Xbox 360 consoles during the same timeframe last year.

The biggest reasons given by Microsoft for the decline in Xbox business is a general decline in hardware sales, in addition to price drops implemented recently.

But hey, at least it’s not Windows.

[Full story at Gamasutra]

ESA Versus Chicago: It’s On

ESA Versus Chicago: It's OnWhat’s all the fuss?

Chicago has a problem with violent video games, and has banned the advertising of games like Grand Theft Auto IV on city buses and transit stops. Now, the ESA is hitting back with the good ol’ Constitution.

“The CTA’s ordinance constitutes a clear violation of the constitutional rights of the entertainment software industry” said ESA president Mike Gallagher. “Courts across the United States, including those in the CTA’s own backyard, have ruled consistently that video games are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as other forms of entertainment.”

The Grand Theft Auto series has been Chicago’s main target, with bans leveled on Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Boston, Denver, San Antonio and Portland have also removed similar ads in past years.

In unrelated news, Chicago has had 202 homicides in the first six months of the year. Chicago, it may be time to worry a little less about violent video game ads and more about the city’s actual violence.


Column: What Is This EVOLVE Theme All About?

This year the theme for the second annual [a] list summit is EVOLVE. Without elaboration this may seem a little nebulous. Let me see if I can help put this in context.

At last year’s summit we were honored to have Mister Jordan Weisman lead off the discussions with a talk about providing entertainment in our marketing communication. It was his opinion that in order to stand out marketers need to add value to their communication. He argued that for a game consumer there is no better value proposition than entertainment.

Our consumers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of advertising directed to them. Everywhere they look some company is touting their product. Traditional approaches are falling flat. Just five years ago a flash banner ad was commanding near a one percent  click through rate. Now that same flash ad is lucky to get a .1 percent. TV viewership is in steep decline, print is dead and no one is spending any time on our beautiful flash websites anymore. How do we get our consumers to pay attention?

We must EVOLVE our message. Jordan was on to something. With web 2.0 consumers define your brand whether you like it or not. There are a mass of niches on the web. So many people in so many places talking about your brand you can’t possibly reach them all directly. How can we have influence over these discussions so that more of them are positive than negative?

The assertion is that by providing value in your message your consumer will become more receptive to it. If you entertain your consumer with a hilarious two minute viral video then that little pre-order message at the end is a bit easier to accept. If you give a core fan five exclusive screenshots for sharing your new trailer with his friends you can empower his word of mouth.

This is the theme we will apply to each and every talk, panel and discussion topic at this year s [a] list summit. We have some of the most respected professionals in our business assembled together to discuss marketing executions (i.e. broadcast, online, viral etc) and how to add value to those executions.

EVOLVE to us is exciting because it opens up a whole new way to think about advertising. We can get much more creative in our approach. No longer does the formulaic approach of, do your print ad, shoot your TV spot build your banner campaign cut the mustard anymore. Today we are challenged to build compelling, entertaining campaigns that don’t simply tout the three core features of your new shooter, we tell stories, incentivize pass along, make people laugh or just amaze. I for one would have it no other way.

So I hope this year while you’re sipping that Zin or Cab at the event you re also inspired by our speakers. They re thinking about this EVOLUTION going on in our business and are willing to let you in on their successes and their failures. Together we can all share best practices and hopefully continue to fuel the tremendous growth this industry has enjoyed for many years to come.

Look forward to talking with you all.

Hasbro Future Tied To Virtual Worlds


Hasbro's Digital Future -- Littlest Pet Shop

Hasbro’s Digital Future — Littlest Pet Shop

The first Transformers movie netted Hasbro, creator of the action figures tied to the movie, over $500 million at retail.  The company is also very pleased with how sales are going tied to the second Transformers movie and the upcoming G.I. Joe movie.

But it’s looking at virtual worlds for its future growth.  From Virtual Worlds News:

“Being able to experience our brands in the online world is critical as the category is growing by about 19 percent a year and is expected to be a $2.5 billion category in 2011,” [Hasbro] CEO [Brian] Goldner said in [a recent earnings] conference call. “This includes virtual worlds and online gaming for both kids and adults.”

Hasbro touts its partnership with EA through Club Pogo and its Monopoly and Boggle brands as a hint of its future goals, and is positioning Littlest Pet Shop as a potential flagship for girl consumers.

The hunch that Hasbro looks at popular toy-and-website company Webkinz as a model isn’t farfetched.  Sources tied to Webkinz estimate that company’s earnings at $750 million, and the kids-focused virtual world Club Penguin sold to Disney in 2006 for $700 million.

[More on Hasbro’s future at Virtual Worlds News] {link no longer active}

Comic-Con 2009 Preview

San Diego Comic Con kicks off July 23

San Diego Comic Con kicks off July 23

Video games have had an increasing presence at the ever-growing San Diego Comic-Con, and 2009 is no different, with several high profile publishers and developers showing their wares to thousands of fans in this three-day event.  A couple of things to keep an eye on:

Pushing Original IP

Video games will continue its push of original IP with the masses, knowing that one great hit (Assassin’s Creed) can make up for a few sales misses (Mirror’s Edge).

Games like Dante’s Inferno (God of War clone) and Brutal Legend (a genuinely funny game by influential developer Tim Schafer) are natural fits for the Comic-Con audience, and you can expect massive crowds around these two new IPs that are scheduled for 2009 release.

Sexy librarian/sex godess Bayonetta is also garnering some pre-show buzz.  Her sultry look combined with the warm place Sega has in many geek hearts (myself included) should make this an easy win.

Hollywood Dominates… Again

Hollywood has seen massive benefit from getting close with comic book fans, and the dividends have paid off with last summer’s huge Iron Man and The Dark Knight box office takes (let’s not talk about Watchmen, okay?).

This year is even more exciting as James Cameron has promised to show the first scenes from Avatar, a movie that has tremendous buzz as much for its 12 years in production as its potential to break new ground in the 3D arena.

And where there is a blockbuster, there is an average video game waiting to take advantage.  Look for Avatar: The Video Game and G.I. Joe to occupy a few minutes time on the show floor.

We’re Jealous

If you’re attending the show, it doesn’t have to be just about watching movie clips, playing video games and, oh yeah, reading comic books.

Publishers have a few choice happenings to indulge your geek appetite, from limited edition lithograph giveways (EA booth, any day, from 11 a.m. to noon) to game-related panels (try the Assassin’s Creed II Hollywood panel on Thursday, 1:45 p.m., Room 6A).

While you do that, don’t mind us – we’ll be ogling the real-life Bayonetta Thursday and Friday and Sega’s booth.  Game of the show!

[More on Comic-Con 2009 Video Game Preview at GameDaily] {link no longer active}

XBLA Prices Rising

XBLA Prices Rising

$15 is fast becoming the rule, not the exception.

We’re all for the digital download movement, and are intrigued by any development happening even at this very early stage. That’s why we love Kotaku’s analysis of the prices of Xbox Live Arcade games and its accompanying chart.

As Microsoft has expanded its Xbox 360 userbase and is throwing more weight behind digital distribution (two straight years of Summer of Arcade sales promotions help), prices have also increased.

The average price of Xbox Live Arcade games on the Xbox 360 has risen by a $1.74 since the Xbox 360 launched in November of 2005, according to Kotaku’s study of prices for more than 200 XBLA games.

One of the most interesting points found is that the $5 price point is no longer popular and may be phased out altogether, while the $15 price point is increasingly popular.

This is almost the reverse of Apple’s App Store, where applications quickly hit 99-cents due to a very open and streamlined approval process. Apple doesn’t have a huge problem to fix there (yet), but it may want to keep an eye on what its old nemesis is doing in the space and how they’ve been able to maintain this kind of price point strength.

[More analysis and chart at Kotaku]

Trouble With Warcraft, China Easing

Never fear, Chinese WoW fans.

The Chinese government put a damper on the over five million Chinese players of World of Warcraft when the game’s publisher switched network providers two months ago.

Due to a licensing snafu and content approval process, the most popular MMO game in the world has been offline for 40 percent of its customers for the past several weeks.

Thankfully for genuine players and gold farmers alike, World of Warcraft has been allowed a partial relaunch on July 30. Yahoo! explains why it’s only partial:

But the government agency in charge of regulating print and online publications found some content during its checks that it will require Blizzard or NetEase to modify. The game will have to be resubmitted for approval after the changes are made, an employee at the agency, the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), said by phone earlier this week. He declined to estimate when the game will receive approval or to say what content must be changed.

Past content changes include having skeletons change into human bodies, and removing bones from the game’s locales.

“It’s to promote a healthy and harmonious on-line environment,” anonymous staff said, according to [Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily].

So healthy, harmonious environments don’t include walking skeletons? Whatever you say, churchy!

[Yahoo! and PCWorld have the info] {link no longer active}

Ning Valued At $750 Million

This has cost $119 million and counting.

Ning is a pretty innovative company that allows users to create their own social networks and monetize them through a number of ways, including Google ads, microtransactions and premium revenue.

They recently closed an additional $15 million of funding (bringing their total to $119 million) at a valuation that pegs them at $750 million.

That’s money, a social network bought last year by AOL for the same amount.

BoomTown has some details:

Founded in early 2007, it currently has 29.3 million registered users, who are using 1.3 million social networks, and it is adding one million registered users every 15 days, said the company.

Not all the metrics are great, though:

But not all its social networks are active, and Ning’s monthly unique visitors are lower, according to various surveys, at about six million in the U.S.

The additional funding will be used to acquire more social tools for its users, increase its userbase through marketing, and adding new team members to help with its monetization.

We’re not sold on the model; frankly, it seems a little more like GeoCities than anything. But the funding is substantial, and proves the saturation point isn’t quite there for social networks. At least where investors are concerned.

For now.

[BoomTown has the scoop]