Vevo, the online music video hub that is a joint venture of two of the world’s biggest music labels, has enjoyed a nearly 50 percent spike in the number of music videos streamed each month from its platform, according to the company’s top executives.
The company, which is controlled by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, hit a monthly average of nearly 6 billion views in December, a 46 percent rise from a year earlier, said Rio Caraeff, the chief executive officer.
About 65 percent of the videos are being watched on mobile phones, according to the company.
“On a global stage, it’s really all about mobile,” Caraeff said in Miami, where he was participating in the Billboard Latin Music Conference. “Mobile and tablet and television are where the majority of the views are happening.”
A growing number of people watch music videos from the platform on smartphones, tablets or web-connected TVs using Apple TV, Roku and XBox devices.
Google Inc is a minority stakeholder in New York-based Vevo, which was founded in 2009. Universal Music is a unit of Vivendi SA, and Sony Entertainment is part of Sony Corp.
The online music video service started out distributing videos to AOL and Google’s YouTube, creating revenue from a portion of the advertising revenue it generated.
Of the approximately 6 billion music videos streamed each month, 5 billion occur outside the United States, Caraeff said. The top countries include the UK and Germany. Vevo offers its own service in more than 13 countries and will soon roll out in Mexico.
The most watched video ever is teen pop star Justin Bieber’s “Baby” with over 1 billion streams, according to the company. Last year, Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason” topped Vevo’s list of the most viewed videos.
Caraeff said the company is holding conversations with potential investors as it seeks to expand. He declined to say who the company has spoken with. The Wall Street Journal has reported Vevo held talks with financial services firm Guggenheim Partners.
“We are continuing to speak to investors as we try to find the right partners to grow the business more rapidly than we’ve been able to do so far,” Caraeff said. “We’re still very active in that process.”
Last week, Vevo, which provides some of the most popular content on YouTube, expanded its content partnership with Yahoo in a deal that brings Vevo’s music videos and other programming to Yahoo’s video channel, Yahoo Screen, in the United States and Canada.
The partnership is expected to soon extend to Britain, Germany, Spain, France and Italy as well as the Yahoo Screen mobile app.
Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning has never played well with big corporations. In 2005, following a particularly vicious quarrel with Electronic Arts, his studio Oddworld Inhabitants seemed all but dead, taking the beloved franchise with it. Now it’s back, and barrelling towards a bright new future. At GDC earlier this year, Lanning was keen to explain to GamesIndustry International his new approach to the business – and why he trusts major publishers less than ever.
“I don’t want to be a slave to the big ships, and that’s what was happening with AAA, with publishing and with game devs,” he explained. “Every game dev that I know that’s still doing AAA retail products is trying to figure out a way to get out of it.
“Those deals are just getting worse and worse, even though your expectation of the money is getting higher and higher. Labour’s getting more expensive and the rewards are getting smaller. So that’s why we decided to stop playing for a while until we could start getting our games up digitally, see if we could build our own business. It’s working, it’s funding new content.”
The success of HD re-releases of Stranger’s Wrath and Munch’s Oddysee has provided the resources to create a full remake of the original Abe’s Oddysee, titled Abe’s Oddysee: New ‘N’ Tasty. Lanning hopes that the sales of this latest offering will, in turn, open up further new opportunities. Ultimately the goal is to get Oddworld Inhabitants to a place where it can create a new AAA IP totally independently.
“We’re spending cold cash on this, a couple of million. Not a public company partner. Ourselves. If we lose, we lose big. But if we can get it to that next level where we’re spending five or six million on content, we can do a new IP,” he said.
“It’s not money we’re sticking in our pockets, it’s money we’re leaving in the bank to fund new stuff”
It’s the sort of money he doesn’t think could be raised through crowd-funding – he’s dismissed suggestions that he should run an Oddworld Kickstarter. He’s determined to live up to the “AAA expectations” of Oddworld, and he’s confident that with a cycle of game releases followed by re-investment in the business, they’ll get the funds they need.
“I do think success in the product can raise that money. It’s not money we’re sticking in our pockets, it’s money we’re leaving in the bank to fund new stuff,” he explained. “It’d be nice to be getting paid again! [laughs] That hasn’t been happening for me. It’s all going into the product.”
For Lanning, going independent doesn’t mean going it alone. None of Oddworld Inhabitants’ progress so far would have been possible without their partnership with Just Add Water. The small, Yorkshire-based company has been responsible for the development of all three remakes, with Oddworld Inhabitants taking on a supervisory role and handling publishing. Now Lanning is working with a second studio, mobile developer Square One, who will be producing a port of Stranger’s Wrath to iOS and Android devices.
“What’s nice, working with other indie guys, is that they believe that quality is going to be their lifeline,” he said of his partner studios. “These guys are like, ‘if we’re going to succeed it’s because we build really superb quality products’.”
The indie community as a whole is something he’s keen to embrace. He spoke enthusiastically about cross-promotion plans with developers 17-BIT (Skulls Of The Shogun, Galak-Z: The Dimensional) and Switchblade Monkeys (Secret Ponchos), pointing to an almost union-like spirit of mutual co-operation and support among independent studios. The sort of interactions, he pointed out, that are impossible for studios hitched to major publishers. Among indies, he says, it’s not about competition.
“It’s funny, because people ask me, for New ‘N’ Tasty, ‘who do you see as your competition out there, what titles?’,” he said. “It’s interesting, because if you’d have asked me that for an Xbox release it would be a very specific answer and I’d be trying to convince you why we’re a better offer for your money. But we’re not looking at it that way anymore. We’re looking at it like if you like this type of game, and there’s another type of game like this, we want to be recommending it to you!”
Of course, Lanning’s glowing positivity about the indie community is always framed as a contrast with his misgivings about the past and current actions of major publishers. He pointed to Battlefield 4 as an example of how wrong he feels the developer-publisher relationship can go.
“Why did a title that was so incredible ship prematurely?” he asked. “Now I know, without talking to anyone, if you look at the quality of that title, and if you know how games are built, you know how much hard work went into that, you know how much love and pain and sleepless nights the developers put into it. And you know they were devastated when someone made the decision to release that project before it was ready. Because they’re smart enough not to do that.”
He speaks from personal experience too; the original release of Abe’s Oddysee was criticised for its buggy state, and Lanning places the blame firmly on now-defunct publisher GT Interactive.
“A gold master with all the bugs fixed was in Fed-Ex while someone else made the decision to release a buggy game, because they’re in the sales department and they thought ‘Hey that’s enough time, I don’t need to wait til tomorrow, it’s good enough’,” he recalled. “And then you get stung by the hardcore gamers asking ‘why did you f**k this game up?’. I know what a heartbreak that is.”
In his eyes, it’s the need to impress shareholders taking priority over the need to satisfy customers. “When shareholders are more important than the customers, how long is your business really going to last?” he asks.
Lanning points to the level of trust and transparency indie developers have with their audience, and the more direct relationship that creates. It’s already affecting the way Oddworld Inhabitants do business in a significant way – following the re-release of Munch’s Oddysee, the company polled their audience as to what title they’d like to see developed next. Abe’s Oddysee: New ‘N’ Tasty was the winner. “When creators can go directly to the audience it’s a much better existence,” said Lanning.
“Trust is the most endangered commodity, it’s the rarest commodity today,” he pointed out, referring to the lack of trust consumers have in large businesses. Indie developers, he believes, are in a unique position to gain that customer trust, but it takes a leap of faith. It means being honest even when you don’t know that things are going to go your way.
“You’ve got to answer their questions in a sincere way, even if it’s not what they want to hear. You have to say ‘you know what? You’re right, we f****d up like this or we f****d up like that, but this is where we’re at, this is why we’re doing it, this is what we’re trying to achieve,” he explains.
For Lanning, however, the benefits are absolutely worth the risk. It’s that direct relationship with the fans that has allowed Oddworld Inhabitants to revive itself in the way it has, and will allow it to continue moving forward. Without the resources behind them to do large-scale marketing, they’re relying on word-of-mouth to sell units.
As ever, Lanning is supremely confident, convinced that the fans will come through for him. So far, they have, with the two remakes to date generating impressive figures. Strikingly, Stranger’s Wrath HD has actually out-sold the original, perhaps finally vindicating Lanning’s claims that he was failed by publisher EA’s marketing department when it was first released. He’s enthusiastic about the future, talking excitedly about potential future projects, even mentioning in passing developing something for VR devices.
He’s also convinced he knows where the industry is headed.
“High-end AAA isn’t going away, but within 5 years, I think what we’re going to see is high-end AAAs competing against indies. The indies will be rising up,” he predicted. “More and more sales will be digital and the retailers are going to have a harder and harder time. Some more retail businesses will go out.
Growth in the tablet market is driven by low-end devices and Android, but AMD’s tablet strategy is driven by Windows and high-performance machines. So AMD’s avoidance of the low end of the market narrows options for people looking for name-brand chips in low-price machines.
AMD chips are in just a handful tablet models. Those AMD chips that are available for tablets are essentially watered-down PC chips with strong graphics capabilities. But the company plans to introduce new chips, code-named Beema and Mullins, for tablets These new chips are based on a new core and designed to provide more performance and battery life.
“If we miss out on some units in the low end, so be it,” said Lisa Su, general manager of AMD’s global business units, during the first-quarter earnings call on Thursday.
AMD executives said they didn’t want to buy their way into the tablet market like Intel, which has been subsidizing tablet makers to use its x86 chips through its “contra revenue” program. Instead, AMD wants to be selective in its product mix, and focus on high-margin and high-value products.
“This idea of contra revenue is foreign to us,” said Rory Read, CEO of AMD, during the call.
AMD could go after tablets priced at $300, but won’t go under that, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.
“They are not chasing bad business,” Brookwood said.
AMD doesn’t have the financial resources to provide subsidies to tablet makers to use its chips, Brookwood said.
Though the tablet market is important, AMD is more concerned about generating revenue from custom chips and other areas, Brookwood said.
AMD makes custom chips for game consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4, which helped drive up revenue by 28 percent in the first fiscal quarter of 2014. AMD’s revenue in the PC, server and tablet chip business declined.
Addressing the wide tablet market isn’t a good idea for AMD and its bottom line, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. AMD is directing more resources out of tablets and into consoles, where there is more financial reward, McCarron said.
But it does need one or two big customers to help their tablet business, he said.
“They are being very judicious in what part of the product stack they are playing in,” McCarron said. “They are working on home-run customers.”
Reddit, a website with a retro-’90s look and space-alien mascot that tracks everything from online news to celebrity Q&As, is trying to attract even more followers, and advertising, by allowing members of its passionate community to post their own news more quickly and easily.
Reddit, majority owned by Conde Nast parent Advanced Publications, last month unveiled a new feature that lets users of the nine-year-old site post live updates, allowing them to report in real time.
The live updates allow selected users, dubbed “reporters” by Reddit, to instantly stream unlimited posts during the course of an event such as the conflict in the Ukraine, an earthquake in Los Angeles, or a game played in real time, without having to refresh the page.
The capability is still in testing mode. So far only users selected on a case-by-case basis can create a live thread. The feature has attracted attention. For example, live threads linked to “Twitch plays Pokemon,” in which users of the Twitch website played an old Nintendo game, garnered 2 million page views in 30 days.
“Reddit members are doing amazing things with very minimal tools and were hitting some barriers,” said Erik Martin, general manager.
Martin, who said the site is not yet profitable and declined to give specific revenue figures, added: “We want to give people a more powerful way to make updates.”
Reddit’s move toward enabling users to fluidly update is the latest move in a battle between social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to use news to engage users, and attract more ad dollars.
Before, Reddit users could not update in real time. The new feature is similar to how people instantly send tweets but keeps the updates together through one thread or “subreddit.”
Reddit, which also gets revenue through e-commerce, has ramped up efforts of late to attract more advertisers. Next week, it plans to unveil city and country targeting capabilities that allow advertisers to address users by geographic market.
One recent ad, specific to Reddit, featured the actors Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray, stars of the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” as individual threads.
Some 62 percent of Reddit users get their news through the platform while about half of all Facebook and Twitter users do the same, according to a recent report on the State of the News Media from the Pew Research Center.
“Reddit is all about the community, that is the value they brought to the site as they created it,” said Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, who has been following Reddit since it was founded.
“News has always been really important to Reddit,” she said.
Reddit has more than 114 million unique visitors worldwide and has doubled its traffic in 12 months, said Martin. Facebook has more than 1 billion users and Twitter has more than 240 million.
Double Fine has warned indies of the dangers of devaluing their products, citing its new publishing initiative as a way of protecting against that outcome.
In an interview with USgamer, COO Justin Bailey expressed concern over the harmful side-effects of low price-points and deep discounting for indie games. By giving away too much for too little, he warned, indie developers could reach a similar situation as that found in the casual market.
“I think what indies really need to watch out for is not becoming the new casual games,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a problem from the development side. Indies are approaching it as an artform and they’re trying to be innovative, but what’s happening in the marketplace is indies are being pushed more and more to have a lower price or have a bunch of games bundled together.”
Double Fine is publishing MagicalTimeBean’s Escape Goat 2, the first occasion it has assisted another developer in that way, and it won’t be the last. According to Bailey, what seems to be a purely business decision on the surface has a strong altruistic undercurrent.
“Double Fine wants to keep indies premium. You see that in our own games and how we’re positioning them. We fight the urge to just completely drop the price. That’s one of the things we want to encourage in this program. Getting people to stick to a premium price point and to the platforms that allow you to do that.”
“We’re not looking to replace… we’re trying to augment the system,” he replies. “We’re making small strides right now. Costume Quest 2 is a high-budget game. It’s one that I thought it was best to have a publishing partner who can also spend some marketing funds around it.”
Double Fine is not the first developer to express concern over the tendency among indies to drastically lower prices.
In January, Jason Rohrer published an article imploring developers to consider the loyal fans who buy their games full-price only to see them on sale at a huge discount just a few weeks or months later. Last month, Positech Games’ Cliff Harris went further, suggesting that low price-points actually change the way players see and interact with the games they purchase.
With Amazon’s Fire TV device the first out the door, the second wave of microconsoles has just kicked off. Amazon’s device will be joined in reasonably short order by one from Google, with an app-capable update of the Apple TV device also likely in the works. Who else will join the party is unclear; Sony’s Vita TV, quietly soft-launched in Japan last year, remains a potentially fascinating contender if it had the right messaging and services behind it, but for now it’s out of the race. One thing seems certain, though; at least this time we’re actually going to have a party.
“Second wave”, you see, rather implies the existence of a first wave of microconsoles, but last time out the party was disappointing, to say the least. In fact, if you missed the first wave, don’t feel too bad; you’re in good company. Despite enthusiasm, Kickstarter dollars and lofty predictions, the first wave of microconsole devices tanked. Ouya, Gamestick and their ilk just turned out to be something few people actually wanted or needed. Somewhat dodgy controllers and weak selections of a sub-set of Android’s game library merely compounded the basic problem – they weren’t sufficiently cheap or appealing compared to the consoles reaching their end-of-life and armed with a vast back catalogue of excellent, cheap AAA software.
“The second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail”
That was always the reality which deflated the most puffed-up “microconsoles will kill consoles” argument; the last wave of microconsoles sucked compared to consoles, not just for the core AAA gamer but for just about everyone else as well. Their hardware was poor, their controllers uncomfortable, their software libraries anaemic and their much-vaunted cost savings resulting from mobile game pricing rather than console game pricing tended to ignore the actual behaviour of non-core console gamers – who rarely buy day-one software and as a result get remarkably good value for money from their console gaming experiences. Comparing mobile game pricing or F2P models to $60 console games is a pretty dishonest exercise if you know perfectly well that most of the consumers you’re targeting wouldn’t dream of spending $60 on a console game, and never have to.
Why is the second wave of microconsoles going to be different? Three words: Amazon, Google, Apple. Perhaps Sony; perhaps even Samsung or Microsoft, if the wind blows the right direction for those firms (a Samsung microconsole, sold separately and also bundled into the firm’s TVs, as Sony will probably do with Vita TV in future Bravia televisions, would make particular sense). Every major player in the tech industry has a keen interest in controlling the channel through which media is consumed in the living room. Just as Sony and Microsoft originally entered the games business with a “trojan horse” strategy for controlling living rooms, Amazon and Google now recognise games as being a useful way to pursue the same objective. Thus, unlike the plucky but poorly conceived efforts of the small companies who launched the first wave of microconsoles, the second wave is backed by the most powerful tech giants in the world, whose titanic struggle with each other for control of the means of media distribution means their devices will have enormous backing.
To that end, Amazon has created its own game studios, focusing their efforts on the elusive mid-range between casual mobile games and core console games. Other microconsole vendors may take a different approach, creating schemes to appeal to third-party developers rather than building in-house studios (Apple, at least, is almost guaranteed to go down this path; Google could yet surprise us by pursuing in-house development for key exclusive titles). Either way, the investment in software will come. The second wave of microconsoles will not be “boxes that let you play phone games on your TV”; at least not entirely. Rather, they will enjoy dedicated software support from companies who understand that a hit exclusive game would be a powerful way to drive installed base and usage.
Moreover, this wave of microconsoles will enjoy significant retail support. Fire TV’s edge is obvious; Amazon is the world’s largest and most successful online retailer, and it will give Fire TV prime billing on its various sites. The power of being promoted strongly by Amazon is not to be underestimated. Kindle Fire devices may still be eclipsed by the astonishing strength of the iPad in the tablet market, but they’re effectively the only non-iPad devices in the running, in sales terms, largely because Amazon has thrown its weight as a retailer behind them. Apple, meanwhile, is no laggard at retail, operating a network of the world’s most profitable stores to sell its own goods, while Google, although the runt of the litter in this regard, has done a solid job of balancing direct sales of its Nexus handsets with carrier and retail sales, work which it could bring to bear effectively on a microconsole offering.
In short, the second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail. Moreover, they’ll be “trojan horse” devices in more ways than one, since their primary purpose will be as media devices, streaming content from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix and so on, while also serving as solid gaming devices in their own right. Here, then, is the convergence that microconsole advocates (and the rather less credible advocates of Smart TV) have been predicting all along; a tiny box that will stream all your media off the network and also build in enough gaming capability to satisfy the mainstream of consumers. Between the microconsole under the TV and the phone in your pocket, that’s gaming all sewn up, they reckon; just as a smartphone camera is good enough for almost everyone, leaving digital SLRs and their ilk to the devoted hobbyist, the professional and the poseur, a microconsole and a smartphone will be more than enough gaming for almost everyone, leaving dedicated consoles and gaming PCs to a commercially irrelevant hardcore fringe.
There are, I think, two problems with that assessment. The first is the notion that the “hardcore fringe” who will use dedicated gaming hardware is small enough to be commercially irrelevant; I’ve pointed out before that the strong growth of a new casual gaming market does not have to come at the cost of growth in the core market, and may even support it by providing a new stream of interested consumers. This is not a zero-sum game, and will not be a zero-sum game until we reach a point where there are no more non-gaming consumers out there to introduce to our medium. Microconsoles might do very well and still cause not the slightest headache to PlayStation, Xbox or Steam.
The second problem with the assessment is a problem with the microconsoles themselves – a problem which the Fire TV suffers from very seriously, and which will likely be replicated by subsequent devices. The problem is control.
Games are an interactive experience. Having a box which can run graphically intensive games is only one side of the equation – it is, arguably, the less important side of the equation. The other side is the controller, the device through which the player interacts with the game world. The most powerful graphics hardware in the world would be meaningless without some enjoyable, comfortable, well-designed method of interaction for players; and out of the box, Fire TV doesn’t have that.
Sure, you can control games (some of them, anyway) with the default remote control, but that’s going to be a terrible experience. I’m reminded of terribly earnest people ten years ago trying to convince me that you could have fun controlling complex games on pre-smartphone phones, or on TV remote controls linked up to cable boxes; valiant efforts ultimately doomed not only by a non-existent business ecosystem but by a terrible, terrible user experience. Smartphones heralded a gaming revolution not just because of the App Store ecosystem, but because it turned out that a sensitive multi-touch screen isn’t a bad way of controlling quite a lot of games. It still doesn’t work for many types of game; a lot of traditional game genres are designed around control mechanisms that simply can’t be shoehorned onto a smartphone. By and large, though, developers have come to grips with the possibilities and limitations of the touchscreen as a controller, and are making some solid, fun experiences with it.
With Fire TV, and I expect with whatever offering Google and Apple end up making, the controller is an afterthought – both figuratively and literally. You have to buy it separately, which keeps down the cost of the basic box but makes it highly unlikely that the average purchaser will be able to have a good game experience on the device. The controller itself doesn’t look great, which doesn’t help much, but simply being bundled with the box would make a bold statement about Fire TV’s gaming ambitions. As it is, this is not a gaming device. It’s a device that can play games if you buy an add-on; the notion that a box is a “gaming device” just because its internal chips can process game software, even if it doesn’t have the external hardware required to adequately control the experience, is the kind of notion only held by people who don’t play or understand games.
This is the Achilles’ Heel of the second generation of microconsoles. They offer a great deal – the backing of the tech giants, potentially huge investment and enormous retail presence. They could, with the right wind in their sales, help to bring “sofa gaming” to the same immense, casual audience that presently enjoys “pocket gaming”. Yet the giant unsolved question remains; how will these games be controlled? A Fire TV owner, a potential casual gamer, who tries to play a game using his remote control and finds the experience frustrating and unpleasant won’t go off and buy a controller to make things better; he’ll shrug and return to the Hulu app, dismissing the Games panel of the device as being a pointless irrelevance.
The answer doesn’t have to be “bundle a joypad”. Perhaps it’ll be “tether to a smartphone”, a decision which would demand a whole new approach to interaction design (which would be rather exciting, actually). Perhaps a simple Wiimote style wand could double as a remote control and a great motion controller or pointer. Perhaps (though I acknowledge this as deeply unlikely) a motion sensor like a “Kinect Lite” could be the solution. Many compelling approaches exist which deserve to be tried out; but one thing is absolutely certain. While the second generation of microconsoles are going to do very well in sales terms, they will primarily be bought as media streaming boxes – and will never be an important games platform until the question of control gets a good answer.
“Grey Goo is remarkable not for what it has added to the RTS formula, but what it has stripped away,” PC Gamer wrote in its reveal of Grey Goo, a new real-time strategy game from the veterans at Petroglyph. Perhaps the same could be said of Grey Goo’s recently formed publisher Grey Box, which is seeking to strip away the more negative aspects of game publishing. Suits and creatives typically will bump heads because the two sides are looking at the creation of games from wildly different perspectives. But what if they actually had the same goals?
Ted Morris, executive producer at Petroglyph, felt an immediate kinship with the team at Grey Box. “As a small [studio] – small being 50, 60 people – we are always talking to publishers to see what deals we can put together. But with Grey Box, I think that we meshed better on a personal level with them as a company and as a group of people than we have ever meshed with another group,” he enthused to GamesIndustry International during GDC. “And we’ve worked with Sega and LucasArts – all the big guys – and certainly talked to everybody else, too – the EAs and everybody – and these guys – man, we just gelled with these guys so well.”
Morris said that Grey Box’s approach to publishing was noticeably different from the start. While other, larger publishers may immediately come up with marketing plans and sales targets, Grey Box found itself on the same page with Petroglyph: fun comes first.
“Every meeting that we have is always a sit down and then people open up financial books and they start talking about what the sales figures are going to be like, and when we sit down with [Grey Box], it’s like ‘how can we make a great game?’ We don’t even talk about money, we talk about ‘how good can we make this game?’ and ‘how successful will it be?’ You know, let the game drive the sales, don’t let the marketing drive the sales, don’t let the sales department drive the sales. It’s really about, if you make a great game, they will come,” Morris continued. “They spoke to that so often, so frequently that we thought, ‘man, these guys just want to help us focus on what’s really important.’”
One of the defining traits for publisher Grey Box is that they’re all gamers at heart, noted Josh Maida, executive producer for the publisher.
“I’m not going to pre-judge any of those other publishers – I mean, for all I know they love games as much as we do. And we do. We all love games. We all come from different areas. I lost a whole grade point in college to Street Fighter, and… we want to be fiscally mindful. You need to make money, but with the money we make, we want to make more games,” he remarked.
“So I think at the core of that is we’re not trying to take away from the industry. We want it to feed itself and go bigger. Quality over quantity is something that we’re mindful of. We also just want to make a good working relationship for our partners… everybody’s in here for fulfillment. The talent we work with, they could all be working in private industries for twice the amount they do, but they’re here because they love to make games, and so we want to be mindful of that. And when people die, they want to know they did great things and so we want to create those opportunities for people.”
Tony Medrano, creative director for Grey Box, criticized other publishers for being too quick to just follow another company’s successful formula.
“We’re not chasing a trend, we’re chasing something we believe in, we’re chasing something we like, and we’re not trying to shoehorn a formula or monetization model onto things that just don’t work because they’re popular,” he added. “I think from the get-go, it’s been all about how can we make the best game, and then everything else follows from that. I think a difference structurally [with other publishers] would be that we have a very lean and mean team. We’re not trying to build a skyscraper and have redundant folks. Everybody that’s here really cares, has some bags under their eyes from late nights… I think it is just that we look at all our partners as actual partners. We let them influence and make the product better, whether it’s the IP or the game.”
Speaking of monetization models, Maida commented that there’s no “secret agenda to Zyngafy RTS or anything.” Grey Goo is strictly being made for the PC, but the RTS genre easily lends itself to free-to-play. Upon the mere mention of free-to-play, however, you could almost feel the collective blood pressure in the room rising. It’s clearly not the type of experience that Petroglyph and Grey Box are aiming for.
For Petroglyph’s Morris, in particular, free-to-play hit a nerve. “I’m going to jump in here, sorry. I’m really annoyed!” he began. “There’s been such a gold rush for free-to-play right now that is driving publishers – I mean, there needs to be a good balance. There’s a great place for free-to-play – I play lots of free-to-play games – but it is driving developers like us to focus on money instead of making great game content. I’m not going to name any examples, but I’ve been disappointed with some of the free-to-play offerings because it’s not so much about making a great experience for the player anymore. It’s about ‘how can we squeeze them just a little bit more?’ or annoy them to the point where they just feel like they have to pay.”
Medrano added, “I get frustrated when I play free-to-play games, and if I purchase something, I feel dirty. I feel like ‘oh, I got cheated, I fell for the trap.’ Or even more modern games where they baby you through the whole thing. There’s no more of that, like, ‘this is tough, so that means if I get good at this, there’s reward – there’s something there.’”
Ultimately, while Petroglyph and Grey Box came together thanks to a shared love of the RTS genre, they feel there’s a real opportunity to bring back hardcore, intelligent games.
Andrew Zoboki, lead game designer at Petroglyph, chimed in, “It’s almost as if the industry has forgotten about the intelligent gamer. They feel like that everyone’s going to be shoehorned in there, and I would say even from a design perspective that a lot of design formulas for a lot of things, whether they be free-to-play or what the mainstream is going to, next-gen and such, that all those titles are kind of a little more cookie-cutter than they probably should be. They’ve tried to shoehorn gamers into a formula and say, ‘this is what a gamer is,’ rather than understanding that gamers are a very wide and diverse bunch of individuals, everyone from the sports jock to the highly intellectual, and they all have [different] tastes… there’s different games that will appeal to different demographics… if you make the games that players want to play, they will come.”
And that really is at the heart of it. Morris lamented how business creeps into the games creation equation far too often. “They’re trying to balance the game with Excel spreadsheets instead of sitting down and actually playing it and having focus tests and bringing people in and actually trying to iterate on the fun,” he remarked about other publishers.
For Grey Box at the moment, the focus is on making Grey Goo the best it can be, but the company does have plans for more IP. It’s all under wraps currently, however.
“We do have a roadmap, but it’s not based off of the calendar year. We do have another game in the works right now and we might announce that at E3. And we have a road map for this IP, as well,” Maida said. “Obviously we want to get it in the hands of players and fans to see what they respond to, but we’ve got capital investment in the IP with hopes to not only extend this lineage of RTS’s but possibly grow out that franchise and other genres as well.”
Grey Box plans to release Grey Goo later this year.
Nvidia certainly did one thing right with the Shield gaming console. It has learned that users of such devices really like continuous and regular updates that add features and functionality to their devices.
The effort probably would not be worth it, given the limited number of Shield consoles in the wild, but it demonstrates that Nvidia is committed to the concept. Shield today sells for a rather attractive $199 and offers Gamstream support on your home network as long as you have a 5GHz capable router.
With the latest April Update, Nvidia is offering remote Gamestream support. This is good news but we still have to try this in the field in order to make some conclusion about it. Let’s not forget that Nvidia lets you use the Shield in console mode, playing your games on a big screen TV as long as you have the necessary Bluetooth controller. Grid gaming works for some users depending on the region, with California as the epicentre, but this functionality was enabled before the April update. It is required that your ping stays below 150ms and Nvidia will let you try out a dozen games for free. We tried it and it works nice, as long as you don’t get too far away from the 5G router.
The Shield April update also brings mouse and keyboard support in console mode, and it will make your life easier playing Civilisation V, World of Warcraft and similar games from your couch. Nvidia also updated Game touch mapper making it easier to map your favourite touch based games. You can also download predefined settings from the community profiles. The full support for Android 4.4.2 KitKat is certainly a nice addition. Andrew Conrad, Nvidia tech guy and gaming nerd, the face of Nvidia gaming for the new generation also confirms that Gamestream on the go will work via WiFi, tether, MiFi or Hotspot internet connection.
As we already pointed out, Nvidia is clearly putting a lot of effort into Shield on the software front. This is not always the case with niche products, but Shield is part of a much wider strategy that revolves around streaming, blurring the lines between different platforms. Whether or not upcoming generations of the console can gain a mainstream following remains to be seen.
With Fire TV, Amazon has launched its first box to deliver games to the living room. The $99 Android-based hardware features a quad-core processor, a dedicated GPU and a separate gaming controller for $40. Moreover, Amazon will bring exclusive games to the Fire TV through its first-party team at Amazon Game Studios.
Similar to other microconsoles, the games on the digital store will be either free or quite cheap to purchase, which Amazon hopes will make it attractive to the masses. Amazon has an army of resources and while other microconsoles have failed to become mainstream, it would be foolish to doubt Amazon’s potential. Should dedicated console makers like Sony or Microsoft be concerned? The majority of the analysts GamesIndustry International spoke to didn’t think so.
Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter called the announcement a “nonevent,” saying Amazon “will not be a player.” DFC Intelligence’s David Cole agrees.
“Short term they don’t have a reason to be concerned but long term it could be an issue. The main focus of the box is streaming video. The issue is video is 1) a much bigger application than games and 2) much easier to do. It is clear games are at best currently a distant after thought for Amazon in terms of the Amazon box. The type of games they are looking at are more in the realm of tablet/mobile/casual products, which are really no substitute for what the dedicated consoles provide,” he said.
“So I think right now it is a rounding error in the game industry but that could change if Amazon decides it wants to make a big investment in the space. However, the reality is you really have to very directly target gamers and Amazon right now is only half-heartedly doing that.”
Indeed, hardcore gamers won’t be passing up the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One for an Amazon Fire TV anytime soon, said independent analyst Billy Pidgeon: “Hardcore games enthusiasts won’t be satisfied by this or any other inexpensive television-connected device. Still, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are increasingly competing for individual and family entertainment time with interactive entertainment, video and audio available in the home on multiple devices, including smartphones and tablets as well as multimedia boxes that connect to television sets.”
Pidgeon conceded that “as more devices can offer games and media, consoles’ appeal for the mass market (an important factor in mid-to-end cycle console adoption) is in steep decline.” He added that if anyone should be worried now, it should be Apple and Google.
“Apple and Google have been the main contenders for online media transactions, but Amazon has the motivation, the focus and the distribution to move Fire TV quickly into lead position. Apple has competition issues with media providers and Google is behind in online retail and user experience. Amazon’s entry into connected TV could energize the competition and speed household penetration,” he said.
Asif Khan, CFO of Virtue LLC, wasn’t wowed by the Fire TV announcement either. Even with exclusive games – and now Amazon has hired some heavy hitters in Clint Hocking and Kim Swift – he’s not convinced that Amazon can disrupt the console market.
“We knew that Amazon was going to enter the games industry, but I am not sure who is going to feel compelled to buy it with a controller that costs 40 percent of the device. The success of the device as a gaming alternative will likely depend on the software that Amazon’s gaming studio can create, but we have seen with Nintendo’s Wii U flop that first-party content is not enough to get consumers to buy a device,” Khan noted.
“There is chance that Fire TV can make some waves if Amazon’s partners continue to bring games to the device, but in my opinion this product will achieve limited success,” he continued. “It feels like all of Apple’s competitors have now shown their cards in anticipation of the upcoming Apple TV refresh. We have seen Xbox One, Chromecast, and now Fire TV. None of these products have wowed consumers and ushered in a new age of how we interact with TVs. This announcement by Amazon today just has me even more interested in what Apple is going to announce this year. Clearly the set top box market has a lot of players and Amazon has a chance to contribute something to that increasingly crowded space. With that being said, I do not think the Fire TV is a game changer for video game consoles. It is a set top box that also plays games, with the potential of asymmetric gameplay.”
If the analysts seem overly negative, perhaps they are forgetting about Amazon’s web services. The back-end technology could make a difference, said IDC research manager Lewis Ward, who believes Amazon is “absolutely” a contender in the console space.
“Anybody in high tech or in content that sees Amazon jump into their bread and butter market and isn’t concerned about what Amazon might be able to do should have their head examined,” he commented. “Let’s put it this way: Fire TV is by far the most viable microconsole platform out there. Couple that with Amazon’s back-end streaming, storage, and game-hosting platforms and developer tools and you’ve got a serious threat to casual home-based console gaming in particular, at least in North America and pockets of Europe in the next few years.”
Polish researchers have released technical details and attack code for 30 security issues affecting Oracle’s Java Cloud Service. Some of the flaws make it possible for attackers to read or modify users’ sensitive data or to execute malicious code.
Security Explorations said it would normally withhold public airings until after any vulnerability has been fixed. But apparently Oracle representatives failed to resolve some of the more crucial issues including bypasses of the Java security sandbox, bypasses of Java whitelisting rules, the use of shared WebLogic server administrator passwords, and the availability of plain-text use passwords stored in some systems.
Oracle apparently has admitted to the researchers that it cannot promise whether it will be communicating resolution of security vulnerabilities affecting their cloud data centres in the future.
Adam Gowdiak, CEO of Security Explorations said Oracle unveiled the Java Cloud Service in 2011 and held it up as a way to better compete against Salesforce.com.
Microsoft Corp announced plans to give away its Windows operating system to makers of smartphones and small tablets for consumers as it seeks to make more of an impact on those fast-growing markets and counter the massive success of Google Inc’s free Android platform.
Microsoft’s, plans which were unveiled at its annual developers conference in San Francisco, is an attempt to broaden the small user base of mobile versions of Windows, in the hope that more customers will end up using Microsoft’s money-making, cloud-based services such as Skype and Office.
Up to now, Microsoft has charged phone and tablet makers between $5 and $15 per device to use its Windows system, as it has done successfully at higher prices for many years with Windows on personal computers. Hardware makers factor the cost of that into the sale price of each device.
That model has been obliterated in the past few years by the fast adoption of Google’s Android system for phones and tablets, which hardware makers quickly embraced and now accounts for more than 75 percent of all smartphones sold last year. Apple Inc’s iPhone and iPad account for most of the rest of the mobile computing market.
By contrast, Windows-powered phones held only 3 percent of the global smartphone market last year. Windows tablets have only about 2 percent of the tablet market, according to tech research firm Gartner.
Microsoft’s move to make Windows free for some consumer devices bucks a central tenet of Bill Gates’ original philosophy, that software should be paid for, which led to Microsoft’s massive financial success over the last four decades. But analysts said it is a realistic reaction to the runaway success of free Android.
“Microsoft is facing challenges on the mobile and tablet fronts and need to change their strategy to move the growth needle, this is a good and logical first step,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets.
Windows will be free for companies making phones and tablets with screen sizes under nine inches for the consumer market. A license fee will still apply for business devices.
It comes a week after new Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella unveiled new versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel applications for Apple Inc’s iPad. A year’s free subscription to Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 service will be offered on the new devices running the free Windows, Microsoft said.
Both moves show that Microsoft is now more interested in gaining market share for its cloud-based services such as Office on any platform or device, rather than its traditional approach of putting Windows at the center of everything it does and extending its influence from there.
In the new era of mobile computing, Nadella acknowledged Microsoft’s underdog status.
“We are going to innovate with a challenger mindset,” said Nadella in a question and answer session at the developer conference. “We are not coming at this as some incumbent trying to do the next version of Windows, we are going to come at this by innovating in every dimension.”
AMD has amended its wafer supply agreement with Globalfoundries. The companies agreed on purchase commitments for 2014 and established fixed pricing which will apply to AMD products churned out by the foundry.
“Under this amendment AMD expects to pay Globalfoundries approximately $1.2 billion in 2014. These purchases contemplate AMD’s current PC market expectations and the manufacturing of certain Graphics Processor Units (GPUs) and semi-custom game console products at Globalfoundries in 2014,” the companies said.
AMD says the new deal will not impact its 2014 financial goals, including its gross margin.
AMD CEO Rory Read said the amended agreement demonstrated the continued commitment from both companies to strengthen their business relationship and long-term strategic partnership.
“This latest step in AMD’s continued transformation plays a critical role in our goals for 2014,” he said.
The agreement does not change much, it merely reiterates AMD’s commitment to using GloFo’s services. However, it does bring up GPUs and semi-custom console parts, which could be bad news for TSMC in the long run. Still, this was not unexpected – in fact many industry watchers expected GloFo to get a slice of AMD’s GPU business years ago.
More details about the exclusives will be shared during the Intel Developer Forum in Shenzhen, China. But Intel’s software chief Doug Fisher said the U.S. chipmaker wants to work “hand in hand” with vendors to develop unique content within a game or product.
The partnerships could even result in building entire software products exclusive to Intel chips, he added.
The company is trying to distinguish itself, as ARM chips remain the most commonly used processors in smartphones and tablets. Over the last four years, Intel has responded by building more power-efficient mobile processors, and optimizing Google’s Android OS for its chips.
“That’s not sufficient, we want to differentiate,” Fisher said in an interview on Wednesday. One area in which the company said it can excel is graphics, creating more detailed backgrounds in games. Another is in better multi-tasking for Android devices.
Intel is poised to make a breakthrough in the mobile processor market, Fisher said. The company has the goal of shipping 40 million Intel-powered tablet devices in 2014, four times more than the previous year.
To help bring more Intel-powered devices to the market, the U.S. chipmaker is tapping China’s tech hub of Shenzhen, a major center for electronics manufacturing. On Wednesday, Intel announced it would establish a center in Shenzhen devoted to helping vendors create mobile devices with the company’s chips.
Intel will also fund Chinese product development on tablets, smartphones and wearables with $100 million from its venture capital arm.
One area where Intel is noticing some innovation is vendors bringing Android to larger devices, including PCs. But Fisher said it’s still too early to say whether Android PCs have a future, given that Google is also pushing notebooks running its Chrome OS.
“We don’t care as long as it runs on Intel,” he added.
In April of 2011, GameStop acquired streaming tech firm Spawn Labs because cloud gaming was the future. Today, the retailer announced it had closed Spawn Labs because cloud gaming is still the future.
Speaking with GameSpot today, the retailer’s vice president of investor relations Matt Hodges said cloud gaming isn’t a good fit for today’s consumers.
“While cloud-based delivery of video games is innovative and potentially revolutionary, the gaming consumer has not yet demonstrated that it is ready to adopt this type of service to the level that a sustainable business can be created around it,” Hodges said.
For the time being, GameStop’s cloud gaming business will be focused on selling subscription cards for programs like PlayStation Now through its retail locations.
Beyond the closure, the specialty retailer also reported its fourth quarter and full-year financial results this morning. The launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 reinvigorated the console market, helping to drive sales and profits growth.
For the year ended February 1, total revenues were up nearly 2 percent to $9.04 billion. At the same time, the company returned to the black, turning the previous year’s $269.7 million net loss into a $354.2 million net profit. The company also underlined the growth of its digital and mobile business, which brought in more than $1 billion for the year.
The fourth quarter saw sales rise more than 3 percent to $3.68 billion, with net income slipping nearly 16 percent to $220.5 million. Those figures include goodwill and asset impairment charges of $28.7 million, “primarily due to the closure of Spawn Labs and store asset impairments.”
GameStop also released its first outlook for the current fiscal year and its first quarter. For the full year, the retailer is expecting total sales to be up 8 to 14 percent, with a net income between $398 million and $433 million. For the current quarter, it has projected year-over-year sales growth between 7 and 10 percent, with profits between $64 million and $70 million.
Microsoft is using this year’s Game Developers Conference as a platform to push ID@Xbox, with the company yesterday announcing dozens of titles headed for the console under the indie self-publishing program. Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison sat down with GI discuss the reasons behind the initiative and where the company hopes to take it in the future.
“A lot of the platform decisions we made in previous generations have really been around the fact we had a predominantly retail business model,” Harrison said. “You don’t want to be pressing millions of discs only to find they don’t work. Those are expensive investments that are difficult to retract from. But in a digital world, those constraints go away. In the previous generation, all console companies had walled gardens with pretty high walls. And now we’ve got gardens with small fences around them, or maybe a hedge. The barrier to entry has definitely come down, and that is a really positive trend for gamers, but also for creating an on-ramp for developers looking to get into our industry.”
Harrison acknowledged that a platform holder could run into problems by taking that approach too far, but suggested that the ID@Xbox program isn’t in any danger of that situation just yet.
“There’s always a balance to be had, but right now our push–and we’ll continue for the foreseeable future–is to democratize access to our platform,” Harrison said. “As you know, we have an intention that every retail Xbox One can become a dev kit, and we want to open up the platform to as many people as possible.”
The company has also set up some of the Xbox One’s core feature set specifically to address some of the potential problems of being overly open, Harrison said. Social features like user recommendations and trending offerings will help, but the Twitch streaming and ability to upload screens and gameplay to video are expected to really help games attract more attention from the wider community.
“We think those platform features will help the best games connect with the biggest audience, and the biggest audience can find the best games,” Harrison said. “It’s a virtuous cycle. We’re probably just scratching the surface of what’s possible with that, but I really like where it’s headed.”
Early results from Microsoft’s indie outreach are promising. Harrison said in the ID@Xbox program’s first four months, it has already attracted 250 developers, more indies than the Xbox 360 has drawn in its eight years on sale.