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Is The Steam OS Really Good?

November 19, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Benchmarks for Valve’s Steam machines are out and it does not look like the Linux powered OS is stacking up well against Windows.

According to Ars Technica the SteamOS gaming comes with a significant performance hit on a number of benchmarks.

The OS was put through Geekbench 3 which has a Linux version. The magazine used some mid-to-late-2014 releases that had SteamOS ports suitable for tests including Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Metro: Last Light Redux.

Both were intensive 3D games with built-in benchmarking tools and a variety of quality sliders to play with (including six handy presets in Shadow of Mordor’s case).

On SteamOS both games had a sizable frame rate hit. We are talking about 21- to 58-percent fewer frames per second, depending on the graphical settings. On our hardware running Shadow of Mordor at Ultra settings and HD resolution, the OS change alone was the difference between a playable 34.5 fps average on Windows and a 14.6 fps mess on SteamOS.

You would think that Valve’s own games wouldn’t have this problem, but Portal, Team Fortress 2, and DOTA 2 all took massive frame rate dips on SteamOS compared to their Windows counterparts.

Left 4 Dead 2 showed comparable performance between the two operating systems but nothing like what Steam thought it would have a couple of years ago.



Will AMD Bring Two New GPUs To Market In 2016?

November 18, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

AMDs’ head graphics guy, Raja Koduri promised that AMD will have two new GPUs out next year.

Koduri was talking to Forbes about how AMD needed to get some new architectural designs and create brand new GPUs into the shops.

He added that this is something that AMD has been pretty pants about lately.

He promised two brand new GPUs in 2016, which are hopefully going to both be 14nm/16nm FinFET from GlobalFoundries or TSMC and will help make Advanced Micro Devices more power and die size competitive.

AMD’s GPU architectures have gotten rather elderly, he said.

AMD also wants to increase its share in professional graphics. Apparently this is so low that any competition it brings Nvidia could significantly help their market share in this high margin business. The company has hired

Sean Burke to help drive this forward. Sean was a president at Flex and Nortek and a senior executive at Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and Dell. For those who came in late he was the father of Dell’s Dimension and Compaq’s Prolinea.

Koduri’s cunning plan is to capture consumer and professional graphics will be by providing fully immersive experiences that range from education and medicine to gaming and virtual reality with plenty of overlap in between.

He is also interested in expanding into “instinctive computing” applications which involve medicine, factory automation, automotive and security. These are computing applications that are more natural to the environment and less obvious to the user and should come as natural user experiences.

Koduri has three make attack plans. The first is to gain discrete GPU market share in 2016 and 2017 as well as win the next generation of consoles, which will be 4K. Ironically the AMD chips in the consoles on the market at the moment can handle 4K but they don’t.

Koduri wants console makers will continue to stick with Radeon IP for their next generation consoles and give Advanced Micro Devices an even bigger advantage in the gaming space.

DirectX 12 in the latest shipping version of Windows does seem to give Radeon GPUs a significant performance uplift against Nvidia, he said.



HP Inc. Releases ZBook Studio Laptop With 4K Screen

November 13, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

The newly formed HP Inc. has announced its first product release, the ZBook Studio, a feature-packed, 15.6-in. laptop with a 4K screen.

The laptop can be configured to be as speedy as a gaming laptop, but is targeted at mobile workers.

The laptop marks the first product launched by HP Inc., which officially commenced operations last week after Hewlett-Packard split into two companies: HP Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. More laptops, hybrids and tablets are expected to be released by HP Inc. in the coming months.

The ZBook Studio is 18 millimeters thick and weighs 1.99 kilograms (4.6 pounds). It  can be configured with Nvidia Quadro graphics cards, which are more for professional graphics and engineering applications.

The laptop has up to 2TB of storage capacity, but HP is selling a separate dock with a Thunderbolt 3 port, which will make it easy to add external storage drives.

Beyond the Intel Core chips, the ZBook Studio is one of the few laptops that can be configured with a Xeon server-class chip. Starting at $1,699, the laptop will ship in December.

A cheaper option would be HP’s new ZBook 15u, which starts at $1,099. It has a 1080p screen, up to 1.5TB of storage and can be configured with an AMD FirePro graphics processor, which competes with Nvidia’s Quadro.

A 4K screen can be included in HP’s ZBook 15 and 17 laptops, which have 15.6-in. and 17.3-in. screens, respectively. The ZBook 15 has up to 3TB of storage, while the ZBook 17 offers up to 4TB of storage.

The laptops have up to 64GB of memory and can be configured with Intel Xeon or Core chips. The laptops are scheduled for release in January; prices weren’t immediately available.





Will AMD Go Back To Black In 2016

November 12, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

AMD’s EMEA component sales manager Neil Spicer is “confident” his outfit can return to profitability in 2016.

Talking to CRN Spicer said he is sure that profitability will return as long as the company sticks to its principles.

“From a personal stance, I am confident [AMD can be profitable]. I believe we are working with exactly the right customers, and over the last few years we have become much simpler to execute and do business with.”

He said that in order to achieve profit, the company must ensure it is investing in the right areas.

“Moving forwards to 2016, we have to have profitable share growth,” he said. “So it’s choosing the right business to go after, both with the company itself and the ecosystem of partners. There is no point in us as a vendor chasing unprofitable partners.

“We want to focus [in the areas] we are good at – that’s where we are going to invest heavily. That’s things like winning the graphics battle with gaming and so forth, and we want to be part of this Windows 10 upgrade cycle.”

Spicer so far has been a little optimistic this year. He thought that Windows 10 would drive an upgrade refresh, particularly as AMD works so well with the new OS.

He also thinks that the combination of Windows 10, the advent of e-sports – competitive online gaming – and new technology and products AMD is launching, means “PC is an exciting market”.

Of course Spicer was extremely enthusiastic about Zen which he thinks will help its play in the high-end desktop space, and the server area. More cynical observers think that Zen will be AMD’s last roll of the dice.



Is Activision’s Move To Buy King A Smart One?

November 6, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Activision Blizzard has bought King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 billion, marking not only one of the largest acquisitions in videogame history but one of the largest deals ever made in the entertainment business. Comparing this to previous entertainment deals highlights just how extraordinary the figures involved are; the purchase price values King at significantly more than Marvel Entertainment (acquired by Disney for $4.2 billion), Star Wars owner Lucasfilm (Disney again, for $4.1 billion) and movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (acquired by Sony for almost $5 billion). The price dwarfs the $1.5 billion paid by Japanese network SoftBank and mobile publisher GungHo for Supercell back in 2013 – though it’s not quite on the same scale as the $7.4 billion price tag Disney paid for Pixar, or in the same ballpark as the $18 billion-odd involved in the merger that originally created Activision Blizzard itself.

How is $5.9 billion justified? Well, it’s a fairly reasonable premium of 20% over the company’s share price – though if you’ve been holding on to King shares since its IPO in 2014, you’ll still be disappointed, as it’s far short of the $22.50 IPO price, or even the $20.50 that the shares traded at on their first day on the open market. The company’s share price has been more or less stable this year, but Activision’s offer still doesn’t make up for the various tumbles shares took through 2014.

A better justification, perhaps, lies in the scale of King’s mobile game business. The company is a little off its peak at the moment. Candy Crush Saga, its biggest title, is on a slow decline from an extraordinary peak of success, and other titles aren’t growing fast enough to make up for that decline, but it still recorded over half a billion monthly active users (MAUs) in its recently reported second quarter figures. In terms of paying users, the company had 7.6 million paying users each month – more than Blizzard’s cash cow, World of Warcraft, and moreover, the average revenue from each of those users was $23.26, far more than a World of Warcraft subscriber pays. King took in $529 million in bookings during the quarter, 81 per cent of it from mobile devices – a seriously appealing set of figures for a company like Activision, which struggles to get even 10 per cent of its revenues from mobile despite its constant lip-service to the platform.

In buying King, Activision instantly makes itself into one of the biggest players in the mobile space, albeit simply by absorbing the company that is presently at the top of the heap. It diversifies its bottom line in a way that investors and analysts have been crying out for it to do, reducing its reliance on console (still damn near half of its revenues) and on the remarkable-but-fading World of Warcraft, and bulking up its anaemic mobile revenues to the point of respectability. On paper, this deal turns Activision into a much more broad-based company that’s far more in line with the present trajectory of the market at large, and should assuage the fears of those who think Activision’s over-reliance on a small number of core franchises leaves it far more vulnerable than rivals like Electronic Arts.

That’s on paper. In practice, though, what has Activision just bought for $5.9 billion? That’s a slightly trickier question. The company is, unquestionably, now the proud owner of one of the most talented and accomplished creators and operators of mobile games in the world. King’s experience of developing, marketing and, crucially, running mobile games at enormous scale, and the team that accomplished all of that, is undoubtedly valuable in its own right. Those are talents that Activision didn’t have yesterday, but will have tomorrow. Are those talents worth $5.9 billion, though? Without wishing for a moment to cast doubt on the skills of those who work at King, no, they’re not. $5.9 billion isn’t “acquihire” money, and when that’s the kind of cash involved we simply can’t think of this as an “acquihire” deal. Activision didn’t pay that kind of money in order to get access to the talent and experience assembled at King. It paid for King itself, for its ongoing businesses and its IP.

Open the shopping bag, and you might struggle to understand how the contents reach $5.9 billion at the till. King has one remarkable, breakthrough, enormously successful IP – Candy Crush Saga, which still accounts (not including heavily marketed spin-off title Candy Crush Soda Saga) for 39 per cent of the company’s gross bookings. No doubt deeply aware of the danger of being over-reliant on revenues from this single title, King has worked incredibly hard to find success for other games in its portfolio. But even its great efforts in this regard have failed to compensate for falling revenues from Candy Crush, and it’s notable that a fair amount of the “non-Candy Crush Saga” revenue that the company boasts actually comes from Candy Crush Soda Saga. Other titles like Farm Heroes Saga and Pet Rescue Saga are no doubt profitable and successful in their own right, and King would be a sustainable business even without Candy Crush. But it would be a much, much smaller business, and certainly not a $5.9 billion business.

Despite being generally bullish about King’s prospects, then, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the company has done incredibly well out of this acquisition. The undoubted talent and experience of its teams aside, this is, realistically, a company with one IP worth paying for, and unlike Star Wars or the Avengers, Candy Crush is a very new IP whose longevity is entirely untested and whose potential for merchandising or cross-media ventures is dubious at best. King has done better than most of its rivals in the mobile space at applying some of the lessons of its biggest hit to subsequent games and making them successful, but it shares with every other mobile developer the same fundamental problem: none of them has ever worked out how to bottle the lightning that creates a mega-hit and repeat the success down the line. Absent of another Candy Crush game, the odds are that King’s business would slowly deflate as the air escaped from the Candy Crush bubble, until the company’s sustainable (and undoubtedly profitable) core was what was left. Selling up to Activision at a healthy premium while the company is still “inflated” by the likely unrepeatable success of Candy Crush is a fantastic move for the company’s management and investors, but rather less so for Activision.

Perhaps, though, the whole might be more than the sum of its parts? Couldn’t Activision, holders of some of the world’s favourite console and PC game IP, work with King to leverage that IP and the firm’s reach in traditional games, creating new business at the interaction of their respective specialisations? That’s a big part of what made Pixar so valuable to Disney, for example; the match between their businesses was of vital importance to that deal, and the same can broadly be said for Disney’s other huge acquisitions, Lucasfilm and Marvel. (SoftBank’s purchase of Supercell, by comparison, was rather more of a straightforward market-share land grab.) What could this new hybrid, Activision Blizzard King, hope to achieve in terms of overlap that enhances the value of its various component parts?

Certainly, Activision has some properties that could work on mobile (I’m thinking specifically of Skylanders here, though others may also fit); some Blizzard properties could also probably work on mobile, though I very much doubt that Blizzard (which retains a strong degree of independence within the group) is a good cultural fit for King, and is deeply unlikely to work with it in any manner which gives up the slightest creative control over its properties. King’s properties, meanwhile, don’t look terribly enticing as console or PC games, and conversions done this way would almost certainly defeat the entire purpose of the deal anyway, since the objective is to bolster Activision’s mobile business. The prospect of a mobile game based on Call of Duty or another major console IP may seem superficially interesting, but we’ve been down this road before and it didn’t lead anywhere impressive. Sure, core gamers are on mobile too, but they’ve by and large been nonplussed at best and outraged at worst by the notion of engaging with mobile versions of their console favourites. It’s genuinely hard to piece together the various IPs and franchises owned by King and Activision and see how there’s any winning interaction between them on the table.

This is what makes me keep returning to those other mega-deals – to Star Wars, to Marvel, to Pixar – and finding the contrast between them and Activision / King so extraordinary. Each of those multi-billion dollar deals was carried out by Disney with a very specific, long-term plan in mind that would leverage the abilities of both acquirer and acquired to create something far more than the sum of its parts. Each of those deals had a very clear raison d’être beyond simply “it’ll make us bigger.” Each of those companies fitted with the new parent like a piece of a puzzle. King’s only role in Activision’s “puzzle” is that they do mobile, and Activision sucks at mobile; there’s no sense of any grand plan that will play out.

In all likelihood, Activision has just paid a huge premium for a company which is past the peak of its greatest hit title and into a period of managed decline, not to mention a company with which its core businesses simply don’t fit in any meaningful way. King’s a great company in many respects, but its acquisition isn’t going to go down as a great deal for Activision – and we can expect to see plenty of that $5.9 billion being frittered away in goodwill write-downs over the coming few years.

Facebook Sees Monthly Users Swell To Over 1.5B

November 6, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

Facebook sailed past another milestone, reporting Wednesday that its base of monthly active users surpassed 1.5 billion for the first time.

Facebook crossed the 1 billion monthly user mark in September 2012, so it’s taken about three years to add the last half billion. It took just over two years to amass the half billion before that. For comparison, Twitter has about 320 million monthly users.

Facebook announced the figure with its earnings results for the third quarter, which came in better than expected. Revenue was $4.5 billion, up 41 percent from a year earlier, the company said, while net profit was $896 million, up 11 percent.

Excluding charges, Facebook’s profit was 57 cents a share, better than the 52 cents a share analysts were expecting, according to a poll by Thompson Reuters.

Facebook had 1.55 billion monthly active users at the end of September, up 14 percent from the same time last year. Mobile monthly active users were 1.39 billion, it said.

The social network announced another milestone in August, when it said the number of people who accessed Facebook in a single day passed 1 billion for the first time.

“When we talk about our financials, we use average numbers, but this is different. This was the first time we reached this milestone, and it’s just the beginning of connecting the whole world,” Zuckerberg said at the time.

The company’s net profit had declined in the two previous quarters, largely because costs increased as it invested in new areas like virtual reality. But costs rose less sharply this past quarter — by 68 percent, compared to 82 percent in the second quarter — and net profit was up again.





nVidia Adds Support For OpenACC

November 5, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Nvidia has added support for the OpenACC directives-based parallel programming standard on x86 multi-core processors with the launch of v15.10 of PGI Accelerator Fortran, C and C++ compilers.

The new compilers are said to bring better performance and portability, allowing OpenACC-enabled source code for parallel execution on a multi-core CPU or a GPU accelerator.

OpenACC was created in 2011 by a group of companies comprising Nvidia, Cray, the Portland Group (PGI) and CAPS enterprise. The open parallel programming standard is designed to enable the millions of scientific and technical programmers to easily take advantage of heterogeneous CPU/GPU computing systems.

It also allows parallel programmers to provide simple hints, known as ‘directives’, to the compiler, identifying which areas of code to accelerate without requiring programmers to modify or adapt the underlying code itself. By exposing parallelism to the compiler, directives allow the compiler to do the detailed work of mapping the computation onto the accelerator.

“This capability provides tremendous flexibility for programmers, enabling them to develop applications that can take advantage of multiple system architectures with a single version of their source code,” explained Nvidia.

“Our goal is to enable high-performance computing [HPC] developers to easily port applications across all major CPU and accelerator platforms with uniformly high performance using a common source code base.”

Nvidia believes that this added capability will be important in the race towards exascale computing owing to there being a variety of system architectures requiring a more flexible application programming.

The new PGI feature is also said to accumulate OpenACC compute regions for parallel execution across all of the cores in an x86 processor or multi-socket server.

“The cores are treated in aggregate as a shared-memory accelerator, eliminating all data movement overhead in the resulting OpenACC programs,” said Nvidia. “By default the compiler generates code that uses all the available cores in the system, and several methods exist for programmers to control and fine-tune this behaviour.”

Nvidia said that the other main benefits of running OpenACC on multicore CPUs include offering a common programming model across CPUs and GPUs in Fortran, C and C++; faster exploitation of existing multi-core ‘parallelism’ in a program using the Kernels directive; and scalable performance across multicore CPUs and GPUs.

Buddy Bland, the project’s director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, added: “Porting HPC applications from one platform to another is one of the most significant costs in the adoption of breakthrough hardware technologies.

“OpenACC for multicore x86 CPUs provides continuity and code portability from existing CPU-only and GPU-enabled applications.”



Will The Low End Mobile Games Market Disappear?

November 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

In the mobile gaming space, change occurs quickly and often. In the seven years since the App Store revitalised a previously disjointed and granular market, almost every important aspect of production, distribution, marketing and consumption has been upturned several times. Smart developers learned to move quickly, primed for instant response and rapid iteration, in order to keep pace with a constantly shifting environment.

For mobile’s biggest companies, Kabam’s Aaron Loeb says, this way of thinking no longer suits the marketplace. “Five years ago mobile could best be characterised as a market where the best attribute you could have as a developer was speed. Today, the best attribute you can have as a developer is reliability. That requires different studios, that requires different leadership, and that requires different ways of thinking about steering development.”

Loeb left a senior position at Electronic Arts for Kabam in June 2014, the first in a run of major hires that also saw Zynga’s Mike Verdu and EA’s Nick Earl arrive at the company. Kevin Chou, Kabam’s CEO, had steered the company from a dependence on Facebook to its own web platform,, and then from there to mobile, the company emerging stronger and more successful each time. Loeb, Verdu and Early were hired in a conscious attempt to pivot once again, preparation for what Chou believed soon become a more settled and predictable place to do business.

Broader product strategies used to work, Loeb says, echoing an idea he expressed in a talk that proved to be the highlight of DICE Europe last month. Ever since the first games with in-app purchases appeared on the App Store in North America and Europe five years ago, the collective confusion over what constituted a ‘good’ product encouraged a “throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks” culture. Player taste and behaviour has changed, Loeb says, and the companies with the will – and the resources – to monitor and understand those factors have a clearer idea about the qualities necessary for success in mobile.

A company like Kabam can now place its bets with greater confidence than ever before. Those bets will be fewer, bolder and bigger, and they will ultimately lead to what Loeb has called – on his Linkedin profile, no less – “the next generation of free-to-play games.”

“Players are demanding games with more compelling loops, a richer sense of gameplay satisfaction,” he says. “The historical notion of what that means – from the console industry – is deep immersion, 80-hours of gameplay, you can disappear into your man or woman cave and never come up for air. That is not great mobile gameplay.

“Games that are purely versions of Solitaire – minimal attention, brain-clearing exercises – will always have their place in mobile, but more sophisticated mobile consumers want games they can have meaningful relationships with. So characters they care about, and other players they can care about, in ways both good and ill.

“The other thing that will be really prevalent will be an emerging and changing sense of what people will pay for, and what works in free-to-play… I can’t give you an exact answer to [what that will be], and not because I secretly know the answer and won’t tell you. It’s because it’s happening right now, and it is one of the most interesting things happening right now.”

Certain aspects of the answer can be found in two Kabam releases from the recent past: Marvel Contest of Champions, which is still among the top-grossing iOS games almost a year after launch, and Spirit Lords, which launched to considerable fanfare in May this year. Spirit Lords, in particular, displayed an uncommon degree of ambition: a new IP with lavish production values, an all-star development team, and no pre-existing brand awareness to use as a crutch.

“The point is that we’re taking the best design elements of those traditional games that our team members have been building for years – Diablo, Dragon Age, real classics – and bring them truly into mobile,” Loeb says. “We’re not trying to recreate your love of Diablo in the Nineties. We’re trying to create a new language of games for mobile.”

Such things don’t come cheap, of course, and that kind of investment demands a successful launch. Only two or three years ago, I heard very smart people advise mobile developers to launch a minimum viable product; to use the live, reactive nature of the App Store to shape what those games would become. With a game like Spirit Lords, however, there isn’t even a hint of uncertainty, no optimistic air of ‘we’ll see how it goes.’ To use Loeb’s own comparison, Kabam wasn’t throwing spaghetti at the wall with this one.

“That’s 100 per cent accurate. Kabam has engaged in a significant shift, and I believe that the whole industry will engage in that shift,” he says. “It is these launches that set the trajectory of a title. The launch is a big deal in mobile now, in a way that it wasn’t a few years ago. You had the sense then that you could build a business over two years. You still can do that, by the way, but you don’t get two chances to make a first impression.

“We are certainly thinking about how to make a very compelling, very satisfying experience at launch, which then continues to grow after launch… We don’t agree with [MVP strategy] any more. We believe we can look at the market now, and see the tastes of the customer and the player, and we can determine at some root level what is a good game and what is a bad game. That doesn’t mean that if you release a good game it will succeed – it’s still an incredibly competitive market – but at the very least you can have more influence on the outcome than treating it all like a coin toss.”

This kind of thinking is now commonplace among the big mobile developers. Earlier this month, Machine Zone’s Gabriel Leydon predicted that the most successful companies would soon be releasing just one or two games a year, with more and more money coming from an ever decreasing slate of products. The market remains crowded and chaotic, but the way Kabam, Machine Zone and others like them are setting up for the future will impose a kind of order – one not dissimilar to that which arose due to the rocketing costs of AAA console development, when many so studios discovered that they could no longer compete on such an uneven field of play.

“The launch is a big deal in mobile now, in a way that it wasn’t a few years ago”

“It is too early to say it’s gonna be the exact same phenomenon as console, and the economic factors of the industry are different enough that I don’t think it will be the exact same,” Loeb says. “In part, the middle fell out of console because the consumer for small and mid-sized games left to go to mobile and free-to-play. That was a pretty big part of that phenomenon.”

Whether those developers left through choice or necessity is a crucial distinction, of course. As is the question of where, exactly, those developers will turn if this age of “fewer, bigger and bolder games” has a similar fallout to the consolidation of high-end development in the last console generation. Loeb certainly doesn’t dismiss it as a possibility, and he admits that the companies worst affected by the shift will be further down the chain. With console, the middle of the market dropped away. With this next phase of mobile, it will be the little guys.

“The way that mobile and free-to-play as they currently stand will be disrupted is not completely clear,” he says. “The very low end of mobile game development seems likely to go away, or it will truly become like hoping to get hit by lightning. The developer who spends $20,000 throwing something on the marketplace really ought to put that $20,000 in a mutual fund. That’s just not very likely to produce any outcome.

“There’s so much competition, and so much quality product being created, that it will be very, very hard for those games. Harder than it has ever been.”

Will UMC Chip Shipments Drop In The Fall?

November 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Foundry UMC is expecting its shipments to fall by five percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, as a result of ongoing inventory adjustments within the industry supply chain.

Revenues for the last part of the year will be adversely affected by an about one per cent drop in wafer ASPs and capacity at its plants will slide to 81-83 per cent in the fourth quarter from 89% in the third.

UMC’s had already lowered capacity in the third quarter. At the beginning of the year it was running at 94 percent.

The company’s revenues decreased 7.1 per cent to $1.07 billion in the third quarter, with gross margin slipping below 20 per cent.

UMC net profits were down 62.9 per cent on quarter, as both operating and non-operating income eroded. This is bad news because in the first three quarters of 2015, UMC’s net profits increased 35.8 per cent from a year earlier.

However UMC is continuing to invest in new capital and will spend $1.8 billion.

CEO Po-Wen Yen said that the continuing IC inventory adjustment will dampen fourth quarter wafer shipments, but UMC continues on the path towards long-term growth.

“Throughout 2015, UMC engineers and Fab12A have worked tirelessly to bring several new 28nm product tape-outs into volume production. “UMC is working to bring a timely conversion of new 28nm requirements into production, which will strengthen our business.”


Nintendo Pushes Smartphone Videogame Launch Into 2016

October 30, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Japan’s Nintendo Co announced that it is delaying the much-awaited launch of its videogame service for smartphones by a few months to March 2016, disappointing gaming fans as well as investors who drove its shares down by more than 10 percent.

Under a strategy announced by its previous chief executive, who died of cancer earlier this year, Nintendo had said it would introduce its first smartphone games by the end of 2015. Fans and investors had hoped it would include its best-selling videogame franchise Mario in the first lineup.

Chief Executive Tatsumi Kimishima, a former banker who succeeded Satoru Iwata, said the delay would help Nintendo concentrate on selling its existing consoles and game software during the year-end holiday season.

“The year-end is traditionally our peak season for sales,” told a packed news conference, when asked about the delay. “This way, we’d be able to introduce our new applications after the holiday season is over.”

He avoided commenting on whether Mario would come to smartphones, instead introducing a new social networking service-style application called “Miitomo” which would be available in March.

The news knocked Nintendo’s shares down more than 10 percent in morning trade, erasing earlier gains. DeNA Co, Nintendo’s mobile gaming partner, fell as much as 19 percent.

Kimishima must avoid cannibalizing traditional console sales at the same time as pushing aggressively into the rapidly growing mobile gaming segment. On Wednesday, Nintendo reported a weaker-than-expected operating profit for the July-September quarter on tepid sales of game software.

“This (move into mobile gaming) is a sea change for them and there may be some growing pains like this along the way,” said Gavin Parry, managing director of Hong Kong-based brokerage Parry International Trade.

Former CEO Iwata, credited with broadening the appeal of videogames, died of cancer in July just months after deciding to enter mobile gaming despite years of resisting investor calls for such a move.




Will The PC Gaming Space Grow To 30B By 2018?

October 29, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Jon Peddie Research have come up with the recent analysis of the PC hardware gaming market and claim the market is set to grow in the next few years.

Apparenlty, the total gaming hardware marker in 2014 was more than  $24,936 billion in 2014 and it slightly declined in 2015 to $24,684 billion. However, in 2016 it looks like that the gaming hardware market will increase to $26.118 billion and it will reach  $28.253 billion in 2017.

However the record year for gaming hardware will be three years from now as in 2018 JPR believes that the gaming hardware market is set to grow to $30.092. Of course by then we will have forgotten that Mr Peddie made his prediction so if he gets it wrong no one will remember.

PC Gaming Hardware Market 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Total – numbers in   millions $24,936 $24,684 $26,118 $28,253 $30,092

In his report, Ted Pollak, Senior Analyst at JPR wrote

“This cycle, unlike any for the past 15 years, will inspire gamers to upgrade their displays. 27 inch and larger 4K/UHD displays are reaching mass market pricing levels and produce an incredible experience allowing much wider field of view and greater detail. The financial outlay for these display upgrades alone is billions of dollars over the coming years”.

Jon Peddie, President of JPR adds

“In addition to the cost of the new display technology, gamers are going to need the computing muscle to drive Triple A game engines at over 60 frames per second, and that horsepower comes at a premium”. Sixty frames per second is considered the gold standard in PC gaming and many prefer even faster speeds, at least twice that number if VR is involved. ”

It is interesting to note  that the PC gaming peripherals market is projected to make $3.6 billion in 2015. These are cheaper and easier to change and  gamers wear out mice, keyboards and headset much faster than  other components.

JPR believes that mainstream gaming notebook and desktop will have to fight with TV gaming optimised PCs including the ones from Alienware iBuyPower and a few others. We do agree that many gamers will be changing their monitors to at least 25×14 or the full 4K experience. To run high end triple A games at 4K you would need a lot of gaming power and a card such as Greenland with HBM 2 from AMD or Pascal high end class from Nvidia. Both of these will arrive in 2016. Gamers who want over 60 FPS in current high end titles might want to get two of the Geforce GTX 980 or higher end cards or a dual Fury from AMD.

If you want the VR glasses in 2016 you will need double the power but we will have to see the adoption rate of these gaming devices before we think that will take off. VR gaming will become significant segment eventually  but definitely not overnight.



Did Japanese Game Development Leave With Kojima

October 22, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Hideo Kojima has left the building. The New Yorker has confirmed that the famous game creator’s last day at Konami has come and gone, with a farewell party attended by colleagues from within and without the country – but not, notably, by Konami’s top brass. Only a couple of months after his latest game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, clocked up the most commercially successful opening day’s sales of any media product in 2015, Kojima has left a studio facing shutdown – its extraordinary technology effectively abandoned, its talent scattered, seemingly unwanted, by a company whose abusive and aggressive treatment of its staff has now entered the annals of industry legend.

It’s not exaggerating to say that an era came to a close as Kojima walked out the door of the studio that bore his name for the last time. For all of Konami’s the-lady-doth-protest-too-much claims that it’s not abandoning the console market, actions matter far more than PR-moderated words, and shutting down your most famous studio, severing ties with your most successful creator in the process, is an action that shouts from the rooftops. Still, there’s some truth to Konami’s statements; it’s unlikely to abandon the console versions of Winning Eleven / Pro Evolution Soccer, or of Power Pro Baseball, any time soon, though more and more of the firm’s focus will be on the mobile incarnations of those franchises. The big, expensive, risky and crowd-pleasing AAA titles, though? Those are dead in the water. Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill (whose reincarnation, with acclaimed horror director Guillermo del Toro teaming up with Kojima at the helm, is a casualty of this change of focus), Suikoden, Castlevania, Contra… Any AAA title in those franchises from now on will almost certainly be the result of a licensing deal, not a Konami game.

One can criticise the company endlessly for how this transition has been handled; Konami has shown nigh-on endless disrespect and contempt for its creative staff and, Kojima himself aside, for talented, loyal workers who have stuck by the firm for years if not decades. It richly deserves every brickbat it’s getting for how unprofessionally and unpleasantly it’s dealt with the present situation. It’s much, much harder to criticise the company for the broader strokes of the decisions being made. Mobile games based on F2P models are enormous in Japan, not just with casual players but with the core audience that used to consume console games. The transition to the “mid-core” that mobile companies talk about in western territories is a reality in Japan, and has been for years; impressively deep, complex and involved games boast startling player numbers and vastly higher revenue-per-user figures than most western mobile games could even dream of. Konami, like a lot of other companies, probably expects that western markets will follow the same path, and sees a focus on Japan’s mobile space today as a reasonable long-term strategy that will position it well for tomorrow’s mobile space in the west.

Mobile is the right business to be in if you’re a major publisher in Japan right now. It’s where the audience has gone, it’s where the revenues are coming from, and almost all of the cost of a mobile hit is marketing, not development. Look at this from a business perspective; if you want to develop a game on the scale of Metal Gear Solid V, you have to sink tens of millions of dollars (the oft-cited figure for MGSV is $80 million) into it before it’s even ready to be promoted and sold to consumers. That’s an enormous, terrifying risk profile; while the studio next door is working on mobile games that cost a fraction of that money to get ready for launch, with the bulk of the spend being in marketing and post-launch development, which can be stemmed rapidly if the game is underperforming badly. Sure, mobile games are risky as all hell and nobody really knows what the parameters for success and failure are just yet, but with the time and money taken to make a Metal Gear Solid, you can throw ten, twenty or thirty mobile games at the wall and see which one sticks. The logic is compelling, whether you like the outcome or not.

Here’s what nobody, honestly, wants to hear – that logic isn’t just compelling for Konami. Other Japanese publishers are perhaps being more circumspect about their transitions, but don’t kid yourself; those transitions are happening, and Konami will not be the last of the famous old publishers to excuse itself and slip away from the console market entirely. When Square Enix surveys the tortured, vastly expensive and time-consuming development process of its still-unfinished white elephant Final Fantasy XV, and then looks at the startling success it’s enjoyed with games like Final Fantasy Record Keeper or Heavenstrike Rivals on mobile, what thoughts do you think run through the heads of its executives and managers? Do you think Sega hasn’t noticed that its classic franchises are mostly critically eviscerated when they turn up as AAA console releases, but perform very solidly as mobile titles? Has Namco Bandai, a firm increasingly tightly focused on delivering tie-in videogames for Bandai’s media franchises, not noticed the disparity between costs and earnings on its console games as against its mobile titles? And haven’t all of these, and others besides, looked across from their TGS stands to see the gigantic, expensive, airship-adorned stands of games like mobile RPG GranBlue Fantasy and thought, “we’re in the wrong line of work”?

Kojima isn’t the first significant Japanese developer to walk out of a publisher that no longer wants his kind of game – but he’s the most significant thus far, and he’s certainly not going to be the last. The change that’s sweeping through the Japanese industry now is accelerating as traditional game companies react to the emergence of upstarts grabbing huge slices of market share; DeNA and Gree were only the first wave, followed now by the likes of GungHo, CyGames, Mixi and Colopl. If you’re an executive at a Japanese publisher right now, you probably feel like your company is already behind the curve. You’ve studied plenty of cases in business school in which dominant companies who appeared unassailable ended up disappearing entirely as newcomers took the lion’s share of an emerging market whose importance wasn’t recognised by the old firms until it was too late. You go home every evening (probably around midnight – it’s a Japanese company, after all) and eat your microwave dinner in front of TV shows whose ad breaks are packed with expensive commercials for mobile games from companies that hadn’t even appeared on your radar until a year or two ago, and none from the companies you’d always considered the “key players” in the industry. You’re more than a little bit scared, and you really, really want your company to be up to speed in mobile, like, yesterday – even if that means bulldozing what you’re doing on console in the process.

This is not entirely a bleak picture for fans of console-style games. Japanese mobile games really are pushing more and more towards mid-core and even hardcore experiences which, though the monetisation model may be a little uncomfortable, are very satisfying for most gamers; the evolution of those kinds of games in the coming years will be interesting to watch. Still, it will be a very long time before there’s a mobile Metal Gear Solid or a mobile Silent Hill; some experiences just don’t make sense in the context of mobile gaming, and there is a great deal of justification to the fears of gamers that this kind of game is threatened by the transition we’re seeing right now.

I would offer up two potential silver linings. The first is that not all companies are in a position to break away from console (and PC) development quite as dramatically as Konami has done. Sega, for example, is tied to those markets not least by its significant (and very successful) investments in overseas development studios, many of which have come about under the auspices of the firm’s overseas offices. Square Enix is in a similar position due to its ownership of the old Eidos studios and franchises, along with other western properties. Besides, despite the seemingly permanent state of crisis surrounding Final Fantasy XV, the firm likely recognises that the Final Fantasy franchise requires occasional major, high-profile console releases to keep it relevant, even if much of its profit is found in nostalgic retreads of past glories. Capcom, meanwhile, is deeply wedded to console development – it’s a much smaller company than the others and perhaps more content to stick to what it knows and does well, even if console ends up as a (large) niche market. (Having said that, if a mobile version of Monster Hunter springs to the top of the App Store charts, all bets are probably off.)

“Hideo Kojima left Konami because he wants to make a style of game that doesn’t fit on mobile F2P – and that’s, in the long run, probably a good thing”

The other silver lining is perhaps more substantial and less like cold comfort. Hideo Kojima left Konami because he wants to make a style of game that doesn’t fit on mobile F2P – and that’s, in the long run, probably a good thing. He joins a slow but steady exodus of talent from major Japanese studios over the past five years or more. The kind of games which people like Kojima – deeply involved with and influenced by literature, film and critical theory – want to make don’t fit with publishers terribly well any more, but that doesn’t mean those people have to stop making those games. It just means they have to find a new place to make them and a new way to fund them. Kojima’s non-compete with Konami supposedly ends in a few months and then I suspect we’ll hear more about what he plans; but plenty of former star developers from publishers’ internal studios have ended up creating their own independent studios and funding themselves either through publisher deals or, more recently, through crowdfunding. Konami’s never likely to make another game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but that doesn’t stop Koji Igarashi from putting Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on Kickstarter. Sega knocked Shenmue on the head, but a combination of Sony and Kickstarter has sent Yu Suzuki back to work on the franchise. Keiji Inafune also combined crowdfunding money with publisher funding for Mighty No. 9. Perhaps the most famous and successful of all breakaways from the traditional publishing world, though, is of a very different kind; Platinum Games, which has worked with many of the world’s top publishers in recent years while retaining its independence, is largely made up of veterans of Capcom’s internal studios.

Whichever of those avenues Kojima ends up following – the project-funding style approach of combining crowdfunding and publisher investment, or the Platinum Games approach of founding a studio and working for multiple publishers – there is no question of him walking away from making the kind of games he loves. Not every developer has his sway, of course, and many will probably end up working on mobile titles regardless of personal preference – but the creation of Japanese-style console and PC games isn’t about to end just because publishers are falling over themselves to transition to mobile. As long as the creators want to make this kind of game, and enough consumers are willing to pay for them (or even to fund their development), there’s a market and its demands will be filled. The words “A Hideo Kojima Game” will never appear on the front of a Konami title again; but they’ll appear somewhere, and that’s what’s truly important in the final analysis.

AMD’s Bet On ARM Does Not Appear To Be Helping

October 20, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Buried in the AMD results was a note which seemed to hint that AMD’s plan to flog ARM based server chips was not going very well.

Chief executive Lisa Su admitted that ARM-based server chips have experienced slower-than-expected reception from the owners of data centres and server farms.

AMD delayed its own ARM-based Opteron microprocessor, code-named Seattle, until the fourth quarter of this year. ARM was having a harder time proving itself to the multibillion-dollar market for high-end server chips.

An engineering sample of AMD’s long awaited 8 core server SOC code named “Hierofalcon” has been spotted and tested and according to WCCTech it looked pretty good. Itis based around 8 ARM-64bit A57 cores running at 2.0Ghz. And although Hierofalcon maxes out at frugal TDP of 30W.

So even the promising reviews aren’t enough for AMD to be optimistic about the ARM based gear.

Su said in an analyst conference call that the company expects to see “modest production shipments” of Seattle in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, AMD’s Intel-compatible “x86″ server chips will be the company’s mainstay product offering for data centres.

She said that AMD was continuing its ARM efforts and is seeing them as a longer term bet.



nVidia Testing New Chip Architecture For 2016

October 19, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Nvidia appears to be on track to launch its new Pascal architecture in 2016.

KitGuru claims that Nvidia is already testing both its GP100 and GP104 chips which use a technology named after a bloke called Pascal who wrote a lot about pensees (which is something we have to be careful not to use our autospell device on).

Apparently there is going to be a GDDR5 video memory successor which will go by the catchy title GDDR5X. Nvidia is going to début it with Pascal based graphics cards in addition to HBM2.

The GP100 GPU will be Nvidia’s next ultra high-end card a bit like the Titan or Ti. The GP104 will be the next step up from the GTX 970 and 980 graphics cards. GDDR5X will keep the same 256-bit memory bus, but will increase its memory bandwidth to 448GB/sec.

HBM2 will also be used, likely on the higher tier GP100 graphics cards, though this has yet to be confirmed. Tweaktown claims that the HBM2 will have a 4096-bit memory bus and a 1GHz memory bandwidth capable of pushing 1TB/sec.

While this is all rumour and speculation, it is a good time in the production cycle for leaks so we would thought that some of what we are hearing has legs.



Semiconductor Sales Still Down In 2015

October 19, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Sales of semiconductors have remained sluggish during 2015 and look set to drop still further in 2016, according to new research from Gartner.

Last quarter, 2.5 percent growth was expected for 2015, but this has been revised down to a one percent drop in the market. 2016 remains predicted to see a 3.3 percent drop.

“We are continuing to see weakness in end-user electronics demand in response to an uncertain economic environment, which is putting a dampener on 2015 spending,” said Takashi Ogawa, research vice president at Gartner. “Next year we are anticipating DRAM manufacturers to respond to oversupply with dramatic reductions in their investment plans.”

The drop likely comes off the back of weak PC sales too, with Gartner last week revealing that, despite the release of Windows 10, sales of devices slumped 7.7 percent in the third quarter.

The future looks brighter, though, and figures for 2017, 2018 and 2019 show significant growth with the losses of 2015 more than recovered as soon as 2017.

A number of key companies, including Intel, have cut spending in the past quarter against a backdrop of slow demand for electronics. This has led in some cases to semiconductor plants significantly shrinking production to avoid a surplus of obsolete chips in the fast evolving industry.

“In the DRAM market, weak end-market conditions combined with new foundries coming on line at Samsung and SK Hynix have created a weaker market than anticipated in our last forecast,” said Ogawa.

“As a result, we anticipate that DRAM manufacturers will move more quickly from investing in new capacity to a maintenance and upgrade existing capacity mode of operation.”

Meanwhile, NAND memory has actually moved to a small predicted growth of 0.1 percent against a 19.4 percent drop predicted last quarter. The rise of NAND thanks to alliances such as the one between SanDisk and HP has led Gartner to predict a 10 percent shift from DRAM to NAND in the next six months or so, while DRAM manufacturers will begin to slow investments around this time next year.

The news comes after reports that SanDisk is looking to consolidate its business by putting itself up for sale to another market player. WD and Micron are said to be likely buyers.