Thứ Ba, 19 tháng 7, 2011

Lolapps Merges With Social Game Publisher 6waves

Lolapps Merges With Social Game Publisher 6waves

Social game developer Lolapps and publisher 6waves have announced that the two companies have merged, and will now be known as 6waves Lolapps, a company focused on game development and publishing simultaneously.

The Hong Kong-based 6waves previously published Lolapp's Ravenwood Fair, and Lolapps CEO Arjun Sethi told Gamasutra that with this new partnership, 6waves will provide Lolapps with more direct access to "distribution and access to more development capabilities," enabling Lolapps to release its social games on platforms beyond Facebook and even on mobile devices.

In addition to helping Lolapps' games expand to other platforms, 6waves will use Lolapps' products to attract new publishing partners and strengthen its presence on a range of social networks.

In particular, 6waves will use Lolapps' recently acquired Fliso engine to attract publishing partners, using Ravenwood Fair as the engine's showcase title.

"We will leverage some of [Lolapps'] stuff like their analytics platform and the Fliso engine, which we feel will be like an equalizer that will help third part developers get on the platform very quickly, and will facilitate very fast and easy development," said 6waves CEO Rex Ng.

Sethi added that Lolapps will develop and work on the Fliso engine as before, and 6waves will promote the engine and provide it to any developers within its network.

Ng said that with Lolapps' games at its disposal, 6waves will be able to launch internally-developed titles and establish a strong foothold on Asian-focused social networks like Mixi and Hangame. "Now that Lolapps is part of our team, we have a good pipeline for launching games in a global fashion," he explained.

Sethi said that the two companies have shared a similar vision for growth since working together on Ravenwood Fair, which helped inspire the original idea for the merger.

"We had the same strategy and the same alignment regarding where we wanted to go -- part of that was international, and other part was mobile growth, etcetera," he said. "It began to make sense for us to start working together, especially because we were working together from a partnership perspective."

He noted that expanding into publishing was "always part of [Lolapp's] mindset." To achieve this goal, Lolapps chose to join with 6waves, an established publisher, so it could expand its business while still remaining focused on game development.

"6waves wasn't focused on development; they were focused on publishing and making sure that it worked. For us, we get to think less about it and still get to execute on that vision, as 6waves continues to do that for us," Sethi continued.

With this new partnership, Sethi will now report to 6waves' Ng, though he said that the companies will remain largely independent, with 6waves primarily interacting with Lolapps to promote and distribute its games and tech.

The executives noted that in the wake of the merger, the companies will retain all of their current employees, and continue to operate from separate offices across the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, and the UK.

New Video Poker Games at Virgin casino Online

  It has been a long time since there has been an addition to the video poker games category at Virgin Casino. Virgin Casino offers very few video poker variants and therefore the additions are more than welcome. These new variants are from the Microgaming portfolio accessed through the QuickFire platform. The first of the new video poker variants is Aces and Eights. It is characterized by high payout for Four of a Kind (Aces or Eights) hand rankings, which is more than that for straight flush. It pays out 80 coins per coin wagered. Four of a Kind (Sevens) also has a special payout of 50 coins per coin wagered. These enhanced payouts have been made possible by reducing the payout of the remaining Four of a Kind hands to 20 coins per coin wagered. The payouts have also been marginally reduced for Full House and Flush. The payout table has been so tweaked as to offer a 99.09% return to the player.
Aces and Eights video poker at Virgin Casino offers the regular Microgaming features. Players can wager with up to 5 coins per hand. The advantage of wagering with 5 coins lies in the payout for Royal Flush. At 4,000 coins for 5 coins wagered it is more than the pro rata payout of 250 coins per coin wagered offered for wagers with up to 4 coins. The Microgaming video poker gamble game is also available in Aces and Eights. This allows players to try and double their payouts if they want to. The coin size ranges from 0.25 credits to 5.00 credits. The minimum bet, with 1 coin wagered, is 0.25 credits. The maximum bet with 5 coins wagered is 25.00 credits. The jackpot payout at maximum bet works out to 20,000 credits.
The other video poker addition at Virgin Casino is Bonus Deuces Wild. This variant has two differences from the standard Jacks or Better. The twos act as wild cards and there are special payouts for certain poker hand rankings. Natural Royal Flush pays 800 coins per coin wagered, except when 5 coins are wagered. Then the jackpot payout is 5,000 coins. The next payouts per coin wagered are 400 coins for Four Deuces with an Ace, 200 coins for Four of a Kind (Deuces), 80 coins for Five of a Kind (Aces), 40 coins for Five of a Kind (Threes, Fours or Fives), 25 coins for Wild Royal Flush and 18 coins for Five of a Kind (Sixes through to Kings). The return to the player for Double Deuces Wild is 99.15%.
Virgin Casino is licensed by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission and offers online casino games from a number of software providers through the GTS platform.

Business digest: Austin game developer confirms layoffs

Austin-based game developer confirms laying off workers
Austin-based game developer UTV True Games confirmed Tuesday that it has laid off workers, but did not say how many.
Don Choi, vice president of the company's online division, said in a statement that "a fraction" of the company's employees who worked on the online role-playing game "Faxion Online" were laid off.
Choi was not available for comment Tuesday and a spokesman didn't know how many employees were laid off. The company employed 53 people as of last fall.
The recently released "Faxion Online" will continue to run and "be updated frequently," Choi said. Another game, Planet Crashers, remains in development.
True Games' founder, Jeff Lujan, left the company months ago and was recently named CEO of the startup Digital Harmony Games.
Apple price, boosted by iPhone, iPad, leaps in extended trading
NEW YORK — Apple Inc.'s results trumped expectations for yet another quarter, with iPhone and iPad sales setting new records.
Its stock surged $19.85, or 5.3 percent, to $396.70 in extended trading after the results came out Tuesday. The stock was already at record highs.
The strong results show that Apple can deliver even with CEO Steve Jobs on indefinite medical leave. It was Apple's first full quarter since Jobs turned over day-to-day operations in January to the company's chief operating officer, Tim Cook. Jobs remains involved in major decisions.
Net income in the fiscal third quarter, which ended in June, was $7.31 billion, or $7.79 per share. That's more than double the $3.25 billion, or $3.51 per share, a year ago. Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting earnings of $5.82 per share.
Revenue was $28.6 billion, up 82 percent from $15.7 billion a year ago. Analysts were expecting $24.8 billion.
Bank of America reports $9.1 billion loss in 2nd quarter
NEW YORK — Things keep getting worse for Bank of America.
On Tuesday, the nation's largest bank reported a loss of $9.1billion during the second quarter, partly due to an $8.5 billion settlement with investors. That agreement, reached in June, settled claims that the bank had sold the investors poor-quality mortgage bonds. The bank had already announced several other settlements this year. The total so far to settle investor claims: $12.7 billion.
The large settlements and protracted losses related to mortgage loans are causing investors to worry about something bigger: Bank of America's overall financial strength. In a conference call to discuss the earnings report, analysts grilled the bank's executives.
At the top of their list of concerns was whether the bank will need to raise more money to comply with new international requirements that large banks hold more capital. If Bank of America needed to boost its capital reserves, it might look to raise more money by issuing more shares of its stock.

10 Video And Social Marketing Tips For Video Game Executives

Online video and social media marketing seem to be obvious choices for those tasked with marketing new video game titles, but I'm consistently surprised at how those strategies are misused, underused or used not at all.

Following are ways that video game marketing directors, brand managers and social media managers can help launch titles using video and social media marketing:

1. Keep your balls in the air. Just because a new title demands your attention, don't let go of titles that are still being actively discussed. In fact, the social media presence you spark on one title could be fertile ground for seeding your next title. Stay engaged and involved with fans rather than moving on. Rather than thinking with a one-and-done mentality, focus on making each video and social media marketing initiative build upon the next.

2. Seek co-branding for video and social initiatives. What other brands and products appeal to your game's demographics? Consider launching video and social media marketing initiatives that highlight both in a creative and engaging way. Co-branding helps your game reach new audiences and effectively requires less budget participation per partner, since two or more brands/products are involved in sharing the costs.

3. Involve celebrities who carry built-in audiences. Actors, musicians and other celebrities, either mainstream or on YouTube, are often highly connected in the social networking space and can bring an audience to the table. Beyond simple endorsements, allow them to be part of the project -- and in turn, share their work, along with your marketing message, with their audiences across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. On the PR side, you might work in a mainstream media mention to reach even more people.

4. Go beyond the video game trailer. There are lots of ways to use video and social beyond posting an obligatory game trailer on video game blogs, publications and review sites. One creative concept and shoot can yield not only a game trailer but also a Web series, branded entertainment videos, videos with multiple or choose-your-own-endings, TV spots, "banned for TV" or "red band" trailers, Web-only TV spots, contest announcement videos and videos to be used by your PR team or agency. These can all be strategically released to create a swarm of activity and awareness across social media and video-sharing sites as well as crossing over to a mainstream audience. Going beyond a basic game trailer can also help your title reach people who don't buy video games -- but should.

5. Practice reactive engagement: act, interact, react and repeat. Engage reactively. Too many game publishers (and other industries, for that matter) launch video and social media initiatives but fail to act, interact and react effectively. Whether you've launched a multiple-video initiative backed by a contest across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, or simply launched an engaging game trailer, you will have stirred up conversation. Make sure someone is joining that conversation, answering questions, posting comments, responding to comments, interacting with YouTube messages, emails and tweets! If there is no reactive engagement, then you're just broadcasting and hoping people talk about your video(s), but your brand and game title aren't represented in the conversation.

6. Allocate a creative and production budget. If you work with a creative, marketing or ad agency, creative and production fees can vary from flat-fee, hourly and even incentive-based systems, depending on the project and the agency. Beyond that, plan on budgeting for the type of production you need. Live action can add new elements to the game trailer formula and can be either very expensive or not so expensive as dictated by the creative. A man-on-the-street gag, "talking head" or "faux amateur" YouTube video will not necessarily price out the same as five actors on a stage or location set with a big crew, special effects, post production, motion graphics and digital effects. That said, many brand videos that appear to be consumer-generated (UGC), actually required considerable planning and production budget. The best bet is to share your requirements and budget and let your creative agency offer you ideas.

7. Allocate a social video marketing budget. Unless you are simply pitching a game trailer to gaming blogs and publications, plan to allocate budget for video seeding, which involves paid banner, blog and social game video placements, social networking and blog and publication outreach, all designed to take video content from "paid" views and engagement to "earned" views and engagement. Earned views are the "free" views that happen once videos are being shared organically. Video seeding will return infinitely more bang for your buck, so if you need more bang, go get more bucks!

8. Integrate video and social with other advertising, sales and PR initiatives. Video and social media marketing shouldn't exist in a bubble. Ideally, there should be a larger strategy at play. Integrating video and social media campaigns with your TV, print, radio, outdoor and PR initiatives will help you reach a much larger audience across multiple channels. Identify which internal teams and departments you should be working closely with on the launch and follow-through of your campaigns. Share the creative, production, viral marketing and social media strategy costs with these departments and create content that can be used for multiple purposes -- including TV and video banner ads, social networking, trailers, sales videos, promos, outdoor and PR outreach.

9. Educate yourself! Familiarize yourself with the strengths and weaknesses of video, viral and social media marketing, including what's possible, what's working, what hasn't worked -- and why. Study what the competition is doing and follow video, viral and social media marketing blogs, publications and thought leaders. 10. Don't be afraid to experiment -- and remember the basics. Take chances! Rather than copy what's out there now, think in terms of what can be the next big buzz-generating campaign and encourage your team and colleagues to think that way as well. Video and social are all about generating conversation and converting that conversation into action. Surround yourself with people who think this way and push the limits, while continuing to pursue traditional marketing and PR initiatives. If you're worried about jumping too far outside your comfort zone, just remember that video and social media are tools in your marketing toolbox, and don't represent a complete paradigm shift. Marketing is, and always has been, about influencing behavior and selling more stuff!

DC Councilmember wants to repeal online gambling

WASHINGTON (AP) — A D.C. Councilmember said Tuesday that he wants to repeal a provision that would make the nation's capital the first jurisdiction in the country to offer legal online gambling.
Tommy Wells, a Democrat representing Ward 6, said he plans to introduce legislation this fall that would stop online gambling before it starts.
Online gambling was authorized outside the usual legislative process. Councilmember Michael A. Brown, I-At Large, added it to a budget bill late last year, and it became law in April when Congress did not object. The D.C. Lottery is preparing to start offering online poker, blackjack, slot machines and other games.
Wells said he objected to the way online gambling became law and said he did not fully understand the measure when it was slipped into the budget.
"It's not good government. It's not transparent," Wells told The Associated Press. He first announced his plan to repeal online gambling during an appearance on NewsChannel 8.
It's not clear whether any of Wells' Council colleagues would support a repeal. Councilmember Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, held a hearing on the D.C. Lottery's plans last month that prompted the lottery to delay its plans for implementation until after Oct. 1, the start of the 2012 fiscal year.
Evans, who chairs the Council's committee on finance and revenue, said Tuesday that he's spoken to Wells about the issue but does not favor repealing online gambling at this point. He plans to hold another hearing in October.
"I'm not going to do it until I'm very comfortable that this thing is OK," Evans said. "It could be a long time or not. I don't have a timetable in mind. It's not going to go into effect certainly until after October, if at all."
Evans said that because the law has been approved but not implemented, the Council has ample opportunity to give it the vetting it needs.
D.C. Lottery Director Buddy Roogow is planning to hold community forums in all eight of the city's wards to listen to concerns from residents and said Tuesday he would give "great weight" to the concerns aired at those meetings.
Some residents who testified at the June hearing said they were concerned about the prospect of bars, restaurants and hotels becoming destinations for gambling. The lottery plans to make gambling available through Internet protocol addresses at businesses before allowing people to log on from home.
Gamblers would have to be at least 19 years old, and the lottery intends to cap deposits in online accounts at $250 a week. The limits on wagering are meant to appeal to recreational players and not to poker professionals who've been out of work since federal authorities shut down the three most popular online poker sites this spring.
Intralot, the city's Greece-based lottery vendor, is developing the online gambling platform and will collect 51 percent of the net revenues, with the rest going to the district. The district's chief financial officer has estimated that online gambling could generate $13 million for the government over four years.
Wells said he was not morally opposed to gambling but that he wasn't sure how the new program would benefit the district.
"For some people, gambling can really be an addiction," he said. "I want to know what the public good is."
Brown, who has pushed hard for the district to become the first government to offer online gambling, said no other Council members have signaled their displeasure with the way the program was approved. He said he supported Evans' efforts to ensure the public had a say in its implementation.
"I want it to be done right, not fast," he said.
Wells' power on the Council was diminished last week when Council Chairman Kwame Brown stripped him of his chairmanship of the transportation committee. Wells was the only member to vote against the change. After the vote, he said his commitment to ethics and good government made some of his colleagues "uncomfortable."

Amazon Could Challenge Zynga With New Social Game

Amazon has recently hired a noted RPG designer, Jonathan Tweet, to design a social game for them. Amazon did not answer requests for further information, and the game remains unannounced expect for an entry on Jonathan Tweet's LinkedIn profile. Tweet did confirm his new role to IndustryGamers. This move follows the release this May of Amazon's Appstore for Android and Amazon's release of their mystery and thriller book publishing imprint Thomas & Mercer.
Jonathan Tweet is a noted paper-and-pencil RPG designer. He's best known for his contributions to Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, and among RPG fans for his creation of the influential titles Ars Magica and Everway, along with many other RPG credits. Most recently he worked at Gamehouse on various Facebook games. His choice as lead designer for a social game leads immediately to speculation that Amazon's social game might have RPG elements.
Amazon has already been a game publisher since their October 2008 purchase of Reflexive Entertainment, a longtime developer of downloadable games (for a variety of platforms) such as Big Kahuna and Airport Mania 2. Amazon has sold those downloadable games, along with many others, through their Digital Services division. Amazon's presence in the digital distribution of games has been minor compared to Steam and other distributors. Recently Amazon started meeting or beating Steam's sale prices, in a likely bid to raise their profile among game shoppers.
Developing and publishing a social game is a much different proposition than creating a typical downloadable PC game, though. A social game is a continuous process, where the publisher is developing new content and tweaking existing content based on user data. Audience size is critical, especially when using a free-to-play model. Unless you have an audience in the millions, you can't expect to make any significant money when a typical social game has between 1% and 5% of the players paying anything at all.
Moreover, social game companies (such as Zynga) typically depend on having multiple game titles to cross-market to their customer base. When players get bored with one of their social games, they can entice them into another one. Current customers are the best prospective customers for other games you offer. Amazon should know that unless they plan to enter the social gaming market in a big way, with significant marketing and multiple games, they would be unlikely to have any great success.
Amazon's approach with its new book publishing line, Thomas & Mercer, may be indicative of how they plan to approach gaming. Amazon has picked up all the rights to 47 books from best-selling author Ed McBain, which should give them a significant presence in that market.
Combining this information with Amazon's push into creating their own Android Appstore, and the rumored new Android tablets they will be producing, I suspect Amazon may plan on rolling this new social game right into their new hardware. It's certainly the obvious way to build a big audience for a game very quickly, and having free games on your hardware would be an added selling point for the hardware. Clearly the whole idea of Amazon creating their own Android tablet is not to build the best technology, but instead to get their storefront and all the content they sell into the hands of a large audience who are already used to buying from Amazon.
If Jonathan Tweet can create a social game with strong RPG elements that could be very appealing to a lot of users, and help attract more of an audience to Amazon's entire game line. While it's not certain until we see more sign's of Amazon's investment in games, Amazon could be very serious indeed about building a competitive game publishing business. Amazon certainly has the resources and the audience to compete with any player in the game business.

Paymentwall’s in-game payment options gain a good following

Paymentwall said today that more than 1,000 developers have adopted its alternative payment methods for virtual goods in social games, including special ads known as offers.
By creating new payment options for gamers around the world, Paymentwall can help expand the overall game business.
“We are filling a void left by the other companies that have moved on to other strategies,” chief executive Honor Gunday said in an interview. “We are trying to become the global payment platform.”
As its name suggests, San Francisco-based Paymentwall presents a full page of payment options to users when they want to buy something.
As you can see from the picture, you can pay via PayPal, credit cards, mobile payments such as Paymo and MoPay, Amazon payments, or Google Checkout. Users can also make payments by choosing advertising offers, where they can get virtual goods in a game if they perform an action like signing up for Netflix.
Gunday said the company now has 75 different payment options that include various credit cards, mobile payments, prepaid cards, direct payments, offers, and local currency options as well.
Offers were a big business on Facebook until the “scamville” scandal came along in the fall of 2009, when offers got a bad name because some scam artists were using them to sign users up for monthly services that they didn’t realize they were paying for. Facebook cracked down and whittled down the number of approved offer vendors. And starting on July 1, Facebook transitioned its app developers to paying for goods with its Facebook Credits virtual currency, which can be purchased through a variety of means. But Paymentwall is focusing on non-Facebook web-based games and apps.
“All these other companies have shut their offer businesses and the developers have been left with nothing,” Gunday said. “Our monetization has gone up as a result.”
Gunday said it is good to have a lot of payment options because many web sites get international traffic. Few payment options work everywhere. PayPal, for instance, has its biggest base of users in the U.S.
Most recently, Paymentwall has added payment partnerships in China, Brazil and Russia. Facebook is not dominant in those territories. Paymentwall will open new local offices in Germany and Turkey in the coming months. Paymentwall can process more than 50 currencies and can localize its wall to 20 languages. Some developers reported a ten-fold increase in monetization in territories such as Southeast Asia, Turkey and Brazil, thanks to Paymentwall, which now reaches 200 countries.
Paymentwall has 32 employees and plans to build its workforce to as many as 50. The company was founded in 2010 and competes with rivals such as PlaySpan (bought by Visa) in payments and TrialPay and Sponsorpay in offers.

UbiSoft Initiates Used Games Online Fee

Ubisoft Entertainment
SA (Public, EPA:UBI) has confirmed that it will be utilizing its own online pass system to combat used game sales just as Electronic Arts and others have. The pass will cost $9.99 for US gamers to play online multiplayer with previously owned games.
The first game to use what the company is calling UPlay Passport will be Driver: San Francisco. In order for players to enjoy online multiplayer, the system will ask players to enter a code included with all new retail versions of the game in order to access the title’s multiplayer modes. If the code is ineligible, the player will have to purchase a new Uplay Passport code from Xbox Live Marketplace or PlayStation Store.
Ubisoft stated that the system will be used for “many of Ubisoft’s popular core games”. No price for regions outside the US has been given yet.
Driver: San Francisco will be released in NA on August 30, and in Europe September 2.
Jonah Falcon is a blogger for TMRzoo and and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Jonah provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.

Who says social games are shallow?

With the best games such as "Angry Birds," social games excel with the signature characteristics of gaming classics.
With the best games such as "Angry Birds," social games excel with the signature characteristics of gaming classics.
  • Social games resonate because they're easy to pick up and play yet impossible to put down
  • The games operate in a competitive market since nothing stops players from moving on
  • Their format has tremendous potential to reach players and instantly grab their attention
Editor's note: Scott Steinberg is the head of technology and video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, as well as the founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV. The creator and host of online video series Game Theory, he frequently appears as an on-air technology analyst for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CNN.
(CNN) -- Popular wisdom holds that because they're more intuitive, approachable and inviting than traditional video games, social games are shallow.
But just as you can't judge a book by its cover, a newer, deeper breed of Facebook game is proving that you shouldn't stereotype coffee-break diversions by their sunshiny colors and doe-eyed avatars alone.
It's easy to see where misconceptions come from in the free online games space, often populated by cartoonish digital diversions like "Pet Society" and "Monster World." Effortless to pick up and play, titles such as "Bejeweled Blitz" and "Bubble World" also seem like minimalist experiences at passing glance.
Frequently dismissed by veteran players out of hand for their grinning, all-ages appeal and game designs that are engineered to keep people clicking, free-to-play games often get the same respect as carnival midway outings.
Obviously, they don't sport the sky-high production values of blockbusters such as "Battlefield 3" or ambitious scope of epics like "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim." But critics in the industry may be dismissing the games at their own peril.
As is always the case with the best games -- from "Angry Birds" to "Tetris" -- the magic here is less about what you see than what you don't. Social games excel not because they're mindless diversions. They resonate because they're easy to pick up and play yet impossible to put down.
And that's a signature characteristic of timeless gaming classics dating all the way to "Pong."
Lowering games' learning curve and charisma has long been a goal of designers, as evidenced by the triumph of systems like Nintendo's Wii and motion-control accessories including PlayStation Move and Kinect.
Tossing out the tired heavy metal riffs, alpha-male attitude and endless explosions, social games embrace all comers and steadily reward, not punish, players as they progress. This completely turns the traditional game design model on its head.
Since the early days of "Pac-Man" and "Asteroids," electronic amusements were essentially high-priced challenges of skill, designed to weed out all but the most capable or dedicated players, who'd gleefully claim high-score rankings as a reward. (The operators' manual of a "Gauntlet" arcade machine I once owned suggested upping the difficulty if users enjoyed more than two minutes of play on one quarter.)
Games for Facebook have instead worked to actively court the widest audience possible, to the point that they're offered free, and find ways to encourage people to interact with one another, thereby creating prolonged interest and enjoyment.
While top-tier production values and big-name brands can all generate interest in a social game, it's also worth nothing that these titles operate in a highly competitive market. Costing nothing to play and with dozens of outings released weekly, there's nothing stopping players from moving on to a different title if another, more compelling option arises.
Meaning that, as always, it's great gameplay (specifically the kind that is rewarding and refreshing enough to keep jaded audiences coming back) that's the killer app here, not shinier graphics or snazzier marketing ploys. The best social network games are like onions, revealing juicier surprises as you slowly peel back each layer.
Much ado has been made in recent months over the adaptation of popular traditional gaming franchises such as "Civilization," "Madden NFL" and "The Oregon Trail" for use on Facebook. Ample curiosity has also been heaped upon Zynga's introduction of more classically styled titles such as beer-and-pretzels wargame "Empires & Allies" or Kabam's "Kingdoms of Camelot," a rich medieval strategy outing with more than 2 million monthly active users.
Industry insiders continue to scratch their heads over the ongoing defection of well-known designers such as Brian Reynolds, John Romero and Steve Meretzky to the social gaming formats as well.
But it's becoming quickly obvious that across the board, from publishers to developers, the video game industry is increasingly beginning to view social games as something other than a money-making scam or lightweight alternative to hardcore outings.
Many recognize that "CityVille" becoming the fastest-growing game in history -- outstripping hardcore gaming's gold standard by boasting 18.6 million monthly users, to about 12 million for "World of Warcraft" -- is a marked achievement. But they also miss the lasting ramifications.
Today's popular social games are training entire generations of game players that "Mafia Wars" is a strategy game, "MMA Pro Fighter" a sports title and "Ravenwood Fair" a simulation. Consider how that clashes with most current software publishers' definitions and how they'll be forced to adapt to respond to the expectations of this ever-growing audience.
These games are truly changing the scope, definition and perception of what video games can be, ripping up the playbook and throwing it out the hand-drawn, pastel-colored window.

NCAA Football 12: The Kotaku Review

A century’s worth of traditions spread over 100 teams makes college football one of the top subjects when sports fans start gumming How It Really Oughta Be: Who gets into what bowl, what rivalry should be rescheduled, what schools should be in which conference if everyone wasn’t so fixated on starting their own TV network.
The level of manipulation NCAA Football 12 now gives you over what was already a darn good alternate sports reality is at times startling, considering how staid and rigidly self-interested its licensing partners are. They’ve approved a game that allows you to carve up the landscape, and carve through their Orwellian bullshit, to make the college game the more equitable, meritorious campaign it pretends it is every time the bowl bids go out.
Bowl Championship Series? I now command you invite the champion of the Mountain West Conference. ESPN? You have fouled the airwaves with so many East Carolina, Clemson and Louisville borefests that I now dread the words “Thursday Night”. I have banned all but Saturday games from now on.
Rose Bowl? You have been such obstructionist bastards to the slightest concept of a playoff that you are now hosting the champions of the Sun Belt and Conference USA. Have a nice day and choke on it. Big Ten? While I cannot rename your conference to something more mathematically accurate, I am shit-canning your division names, “Leaders” and “Legends”, which came straight from a motivational sales retreat. Also, you’re playing your championship game outdoors, which is How It Really Oughta Be.
If NCAA Football 12, for the Xbox 360 and PS3, has any compelling appeal over its excellent predecessor, it is in an ability to fix things just so that borders on cathartic. The core of the game, however, shows that we may be at the point of diminishing returns with high definition simulation sports.
Better blocking and refined animations help make mobile quarterbacks particularly dangerous in NCAA Football 12.
The biggest change in NCAA Football‘s gameplay mechanics can be seen in a play almost unique to amateur football: the option. Decision-making with it has long been a pick-it-and-pray proposition before the snap. Now, thanks to better AI and more refined animations that don’t begin until contact, you can react to what you see. If that defensive end crashes through, take it in the other direction.
That’s on a QB Choice from the shotgun, where you’re seeing a lot of teams running the spread with mobile quarterbacks now. The flipside is that running the option from under center – and of the four teams who do this, three are service academies – is a tougher job. The defensive ends still shed too many blocks (released too early by your linemen), even on standard difficulty, that my triple option was effectively reduced to one, fullback up the gut.
In formations more orthodox to the modern game, I was impressed by the viability of running between the tackles. With the improved AI and contact animations, your line can clear off some choice real estate in the middle of the field. While this also is true when you’re on defence, I found that a steady diet of blitzes and man-coverage schemes, at the easier difficulties anyway, were perhaps a little too effective at neutralising the threat.
The game has added one new control: A tackle button (X on the 360 controller; square on the PS3) that, combined with the defensive assist (A/circle) cuts down on the problem of overrunning plays. It isn’t a cure-all though. If you key it too early your defender will whiff on the play and go flying. But if you do hit the guy square, or if you get a shoulder into a guy sprinting for daylight, the collision will change the ballcarrier’s momentum more than it did in the past, delivering some hits and stumbles that look more organic.
With better defensive back AI, running the ball is more critical than ever and I was pleased to see it as a more viable security blanket than the good ol’ slant route, which will get jumped and swatted a lot more by linebackers and corners this year. Hook routes have also been a staple of mine, but now the DBs are adept at hanging behind the guy, suckering you into throwing that way, and then stepping in front of the pass to bat it down or, worse, pick it off altogether.
The strength of NCAA Football, year after year, has been in the model railroad you create in the game’s Dynasty Mode. As mentioned above, the new level of control here is what really sells the game. Conference memberships are fully alterable, from four to 16 teams, with control over protected rivalries, location of championship games, even whether a team plays at night in November I created some exceptionally balanced conferences that I truly considered expressions of art.
Then I set off into my reality and, for the most part, forgot about the doings elsewhere in the world I created. The game is still dragged down by menus, never more so than in Dynasty, and the load times (throughout the entire game) are simply unbearable. If you want to know what’s going on in the season, you have to go hunt for it because the update panel in the main menu wastes half the screen telling you about the game you just played and the two preceding it. I can’t believe I’m criticising menus of all things, but cycling through them is a sludgy process of sticks, triggers, and loading waits that definitely discourages you from reading up on your hallucinated reality.
Menus weigh down NCAA Football 12′s otherwise superb Dynasty, especially in its recruiting process.
Recruiting is still the most fascinating player-management mode in sports simulations but that process remains time-consuming and inefficient, especially early in the season, and also suffers from menu sludge. I still can’t fathom the changes made to Pipeline recruiting and how they either help me or guide my prospecting. I’m constantly checking back to my team needs screen to make sure I’m not wasting too much time on a prospect who doesn’t fill a critical need. That’s information that should be conveyed, somehow, at the menu where I’m deciding who to call.
Through all of these disappointments, though, Dynasty still is a one-more-game role-playing obsession that takes me late into the night. NCAA Football 12 has added a “Coaching Carousel” that formalises the mode into more of a coaching career. You begin with a two-year deal, and can even start out as a coordinator working only one side of the ball, which is great for those who like offence and hate having to manually super-sim the defensive possessions (or be penalised in something like the Season Showdown for not playing enough of the game). When you begin, you may choose any school, even No. 1 Oklahoma, but your coach will be given a two year contract set of expectations commensurate to its rank, covering victories, bowl bids, and how well you recruit. Some count more than others. Fail those, and your job is in jeopardy.
One last thing I appreciated about Dynasty is how the custom playbooks, reintroduced this year, can be edited from within the mode. This is crucial because loading into and out of Dynasty (as well as loading into a game) is just unacceptably long. Xbox 360 users who plan on putting a lot of time into the game should consider a hard drive installation.
“Coach Trust” lays a solid role-playing foundation in your solo career mode but its progression happens far too quickly. A 99-rated field general as a sophomore?
Every year, the first mode I play in this game is its singleplayer career. It’s a compact experience and a reintroduction to the pacing of a game I haven’t picked up in a while. Typically, one season is enough, and then I move on to Dynasty.
This year, Road to Glory has added in a role-playing game element that establishes a solid new footing for the game but does not go far enough. “Coach Trust” is now your primary goal, and it is something you acquire by being effective at your job. It’s best illustrated at quarterback, a position I suspect most will play.
When you begin, your coach trusts you to do nothing but run the play he has called. You can’t audible from it, call a hot route, or flip its direction. You earn the ability to do this by progressing through ranks, separated by 1000 points, which you’re awarded for gaining yards (or, I suppose, making tackles if you’re on defence). Admirably, this makes practice critical as it gives you 25 reps which can supply more coach trust opportunities than actual games (especially for non-quarterbacks).
Unfortunately, progression in both Coach Trust and in your player’s ratings comes far too quickly. I reached 99 overall by the second game of my sophomore season, with an arm that was far too accurate for an underclassman and too underpowered out of high school. Typically you see cannon-armed QBs with no touch at that level. With your experience points (earned alongside Coach Trust) you may buy packages of skill upgrades in a marketplace that changes its stock every week. Some upgrades last a single game, some are permanent. This approach left me feeling like I wasn’t fully in control of how I developed. The marketplace would have been better as a single-game boost resource, with your overall career development allowing the more traditional application of XP to attributes.
After Coach Trust and an extended high school career, Road to Glory still unfolds like past editions. I would say that in the early stages of Coach Trust, the feature makes some games more challenging and therefore realistic. Playcalling AI is a little better and not as repetitive, and will be attuned more to a team’s offensive style. But I still lost a ton of momentum in Road To Glory after my first year, and it’s partly because my progression was so rapid. The game simply needs to save some surprises for your senior year.
The Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech is one of dozens of pre-game traditions that are fun to watch; you’ll start buttoning through your home team’s after seeing it the 10th time.
The debate in visual design for sports games these days is whether to show a sport as it is played or as it is seen on television. While NCAA Football 12 is, in many regards, a very beautiful game to play, it makes some presentation choices that try to have it both ways, and satisfy neither.
The pre-game runouts should be a centrepiece of the game, and it really does bring a smile to see Ralphie the Buffalo go tearing across Folsom Field, or the Ramblin’ Wreck, festooned with Georgia Tech’s cheerleaders, who are unaccountably prettier in this game than real life. Yet they are shown in a sequence of jarring broadcast silence, and it isn’t clear if you’re supposed to be a player on the team, a fan at the game, or a viewer at home. Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit are two of the best, longest-tenured voices in sports gaming, and they really need to continue their dialogue over these shots. As it is, I was still buttoning through them.
In the game, progressive lighting is the key to creating some beautiful panoramas that truly convey a sense of place. I was thrilled when, in the SEC, I got snow games on back-to-back dates, at Knoxville and Fayetteville, which had the aura of one of those where-the-hell-did-that-come-from snowstorms that occasionally hit that latitude. The screen was bathed in brilliant blue and gave the feeling of romping around in the snow as a kid. At Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower loomed over a sky that turned from marble blue to rust to purple, exactly as I recall in my mind’s eye.
While undoubtedly the best entry in the series, NCAA Football sends a strong hint that transformative works this late in a console generation are simply not going to happen. The game’s major appeals this year all lie outside the core experience, or are subtle refinements of it that, in some regards, make it a more difficult game.
It’s still a tremendously enjoyable experience, held back only by some manageable disappointments. (There are, however, problems in online play, particularly in Online Dynasty, that still are being addressed at the time of writing. These include freezes encountered with created schools, and the lack of an administrative SuperSim feature that is offline until it can be fixed. Online gameplay itself is reliably lag-free.)
But those who are comfortably ensconced in their dream job with NCAA 11, helming a long-running dynasty whose rosters have completely deviated from reality, may not find much to write home about in NCAA Football 12 after toying with its new features. For those who redshirted last year, though, this is a great time to return to the field.

PS3: 'Still a Pain in the Ass' for Developers

PlayStation 3 has had something of a reputation in development circles for being incredibly hard to work with at times.  This stigma has held up for the past five years, as developers are still at odds with how the system forces them to work.  One such developer, Vigil (Darksiders), has been vocal about the problems as of late, claiming that working on Darksiders II has been exasperating.
"It's a pain in the ass to work on," said Darksiders II director Marvin Donald. "Five years later, getting used to it? That means it's a pain in the ass. I'm not an engineer, but I hear about it all the time. We have to do wacky stuff with the way we manage memory."
The main problems, as described by Donald, have to do with memory management and distribution of assets.
"Even as an artist, it's like, OK, my textures are too big, I'm in trouble because I checked in something that's making the 360 crash because it's a 20x48 when it really should just be a 10x24, or even smaller," he continued.  "But on the PlayStation 3, the assets go into different categories, and if one of those categories becomes too bloated it'll crash the system. It's a little bit more sensitive on the PS3 in that regard. There are some things you just can't do, or you have to do differently. Yeah, it's a pain."
Sony seems content with how they have developed their hardware, citing the need to keep a ten-year lifecycle for the PS3.  Sony Computer Entertainment boss Kaz Hirai even confirmed the difficulties of working with the PS3.
"It's hard to program for, and a lot of people see the negatives of it, but if you flip that around, it means the hardware has a lot more to offer," Hirai stated in February 2009 to the Official PlayStation Magazine. "We don't provide the 'easy to program for' console that [developers] want, because 'easy to program for' means that anybody will be able to take advantage of pretty much what the hardware can do, so then the question is what do you do for the rest of the nine-and-a-half years?"
With the development hurdles of the PS3, one simply has to wonder about the possibility of a PS4 coming sooner, rather than later.  As rumors abound about a fast approaching PS4 reveal, could Sony be thinking about how to ease the process for developers?
"They have to do things their way," commented Donald. "Somebody over there is going to think it’s better. And it's really just different, which makes it a pain for everyone to port games back and forth. But, whatever. We'll see."

Chủ Nhật, 17 tháng 7, 2011

Apple's got its eye on mobile games

In the eye of the typical beholder, Apple's iPhone is simply a popular device, great for fun, on-the-go applications-and phone calls.
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But mobile-game publisher Neil Young sees the iPhone as a catalyst for a revolution in entertainment that's beginning to spread from mobile devices to the home.
Users of the iPhone and Apple tablet iPad already are setting the pace for spending on games and other apps, so it "seems inevitable" that these devices will jockey for space on the TV, says Young, 41, who helped produce big-name video games at Electronic Arts before leaving to start his own company, NGmoco, in 2008.
"We are 12 to 24 months away from being able to disrupt the living room with experiences that you might be playing on an iPad version four, but projecting ... to a TV in your living room," he predicts. It'll be "every bit as good" as the experience of playing a high-end console game today, he adds.
With more than 200 million devices running Apple's mobile operating system-and 100,000 games available-Apple has transformed the traditional mobile-game marketplace. Spending on mobile games is expected to account for 15 percent of all spending on game software this year, rising to 20 percent in 2015, research company Gartner predicts.
That momentum has Apple flexing its muscles in the marketplace. And, because those who play games are more willing than downloaders of any other app to actually pay for content, analysts don't expect Apple's star to fade anytime soon. IHS/Screen Digest expects the sale of games in Apple's App Store to approach $2 billion worldwide in 2011, up about 75 percent from 2010. The closest mobile-games rival, Android Market, is forecast at $170 million for 2011, the firm says.
To be sure, console games played on systems such as Microsoft's Xbox 360 remain the dominant force in video games, accounting for about 40 percent of the projected $74 billion to be spent globally on games in 2011, Gartner says.

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Hit video games still sell very well. First-person shooter game Call of Duty: Black Ops has earned Activision Blizzard more than $1 billion in sales since its November release. But sales of console games have plateaued in recent years, with mobile and online games supplying most of the industry growth.
Apple's ecosystem, which lets players shop for apps in the iTunes Store, benefits gamemakers and players, says IHS/Screen Digest analyst Jack Kent.
While more smartphone owners have Android-based devices (38 percent) than iPhones (27 percent), the Apple device has shown more growth recently as Android sales flattened among new buyers, according to research firm Nielsen.
IPhone gamers are dedicated, too, playing about 14.7 hours each month, compared with 9.3 hours monthly for Android-based mobile gamers and 4.7 hours for owners of other phones.
"IPhone and iPad users tend to be more voracious consumers of apps, which brings in more developers," says Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen.
Development of mobile games takes months compared with years for top-tier console games. That allows mobile-game developers to more quickly shift gears to meet players' desires.
A hot trend: Free games that let players buy virtual items, such as Zynga Poker and Tap Zoo, have begun dominating the App Store's top 10 grossing apps list, meaning that consumers are spending as much or more on items in free games than on paid games, according to Strategy Analytics AppTRAX.
"Business models are certainly shifting from a simply à la carte model to one focused more on engagement and getting users to buy virtual goods to enhance the game-play experience," says Strategy Analytics' Josh Martin. "This is a trend I expect will proliferate globally both on iPhone and very quickly move to other platforms."
Traditional video game powerhouses are responding to mobile games' momentum by adding new gimmicks and technologies to their devices. So far, those efforts have met with varying success. Nintendo's new handheld game system, the $250 Nintendo 3DS, offers glasses-free 3-D games, but sales have been slow since its March release.
Sony's motion-sensitive PlayStation Vita, expected to begin its global rollout this holiday season ($249-$299), has a state-of-the-art touch-screen that offers richer colors and uses less power, plus a rear touch-pad and built-in cameras. Also in the works: the PlayStation Suite, an initiative that includes an open operating system for creating games for Android phones and other PlayStation Certified devices, including the PS Vita and Sony Ericsson Xperia Play phone.
Among gamemakers, Activision Blizzard has announced Call of Duty Elite, an online service to connect Call of Duty players and provide improved features. Some features will be free, while others will require a paid subscription.
Some traditional gamemakers are hopping on the mobile game bandwagon. No. 2 publisher Electronic Arts has beefed up its mobile and online offerings with acquisitions of companies such as Chillingo (Angry Birds ), social-network game publisher Playfish (Restaurant City) Firemint (Flight Control) and PopCap Games (Bejeweled). An update to Firemint's latest game, Real Racing 2, lets players see the behind-the-wheel point of view on the TV, connected via an HDMI cable, while using the iPad 2 as a steering wheel and map.
With the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, Apple has "delivered on the promise of mobile," says Travis Boatman, senior vice president at EA Mobile. "It's like a blank canvas. It allows game designers to create any kind of interface they want for their game and change it on the fly, too. They are not constrained by the physical hardware, and that opens up a lot of innovation and new types of game play."
And social-gaming powerhouse Zynga, which made its name on Facebook and earlier this month filed for an IPO that could value the company at $20 billion, has brought games such as FarmVille to iPhone and . It also recently announced plans to bring Words With Friends and Zynga Poker to Android devices.
Other long-term hard-core gaming developers that have embraced the iPhone include Id Software, which offers the new Rage HD, as well as redesigned mobile versions of classic first-person shooters Doom and Wolfenstein.
And Epic Games (Gears of War) even rejiggered its game development engine so mobile-game makers can use it. The studio's own game, Infinity Blade, which has surpassed $10 million in sales, got rave reviews for raising the bar in terms of high-quality graphics and game play.
Blockbuster, high-quality game releases aren't going away, they are "going everywhere," says Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski, repeating the mantra of fellow Epic executive Vice President Mark Rein. "When users get used to a certain caliber or quality of game, there's no going back."
As for Young, he comes by his iPhone devotion honestly. Even when he was working on console games for Electronic Arts, he queued up with millions of others to buy the first iPhone. "When I got the device and I took it home, I noticed very quickly that I wasn't using it really to make telephone calls," he says. "I was using it to browse the Web and look at my stocks, check my e-mail and watch video or listen to music."
The more time he spent with the iPhone, Young says, he realized "The device had this unique blend of usability and capability that was actually changing how I was using it and how much time I was spending with it."
When Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs introduced the App Store and the game-development tools in March 2008, Young says he knew "this was going to change the consumer's relationship with the content."
Three months later, he founded NGmoco ( next-generation mobile company) with a $5.6 million investment from venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. NGmoco launched its first two games-MazeFinger and Topple-in October 2008.
Three years later, Young and NGmoco are expanding to help developers redesign their iPhone games for Android devices and create iPhone games with their ngCore technology.
Sounding as much like an economics professor as a games enthusiast, Young continues to see games trending up. "There are hundreds of millions of people, if not billions of people, that play games," he says. "That is a good macro."