The Lenovo Z51 is a 15-inch Windows 8.1 notebook that’s meant to be both a workstation and a home entertainment center, the company said Wednesday. The PC also has room to fit an optional RealSense camera, which can offer gesture controls like ones found in Microsoft’s Kinect gaming device.
The Z51 has a 1080p display, and can be configured to have up to a fifth-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of HDD or SSHD (solid-state and hard drive combination) memory. It weighs 2.3 kilograms (approximately 5 pounds) and offers 4 hours of battery life. It can be upgraded to include an AMD R9-M375 graphics card.
The Z51 has a smaller sibling called the Z41 that has a 14-inch screen, but no support for Intel’s RealSense camera. Both products will have a starting price at $499.
But the Z51, when configured with the RealSense Camera, and equipped with a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, will start at $599.
Consumers wanting an even cheaper alternative can look at Lenovo’s ideapad 100, which the PC maker also introduced on Wednesday.
The ideapad 100, comes in both 14 and 15-inch display versions, and will start at $249. The affordable laptop runs an Intel BayTrail-M N3540 processor, which has four cores. It can have up to 128GB of SSD (solid-state drive) memory, runs Windows 8.1 and has a 1366 by 768 screen.
It has a battery life of 4 hours, and the 15-inch version weighs 2.3 kg, while the 14-inch version comes at 1.9 kg (approximately 4.2 pounds). The SSD memory can also be swapped for 500GB of HDD memory.
U.S. and Chinese researchers have come up with wooden semiconductor chips which have the advantage of being biodegradable and a lot cheaper than conventional semiconductors.
According to the group of 17 researchers, mostly from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with others from the U.S. Department of Agriculture the team used a cellulose material for the substrate of the chip, which is the part that supports the active semiconductor layer.
For those who don’t know these things cellulose, a naturally abundant substance used to make paper and is flexible, transparent and sturdy material with suitable electrical properties.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications the team says that this makes CNF better than alternative chip designs using natural materials such as paper and silk.
The researchers coated the CNF with epoxy to make its surface smooth and to prevent it from expanding as it heated. They also developed methods to fabricate gallium arsenide-based microwave devices, which are widely used in mobile devices such as phones and tablets, on the CNF substrate.
The CNF chip features “high-performance electronics that are comparable to existing state-of-the-art electronics,” they wrote.
The team said that commercializing the wooden chips reduced the use of semiconductor material by 99.9 percent.”
Mac and Linux fans you are out of luck. Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, the headset that perhaps more than any other device has ignited public interest in virtual reality, will run almost exclusively on well-appointed Windows PCs, at least in the near future.
The process that most laptops use to output video doesn’t work with the Rift, and Oculus has temporarily halted development for hardware running Apple and Linux. That’s the takeaway from the spec informationOculus published Friday detailing what type of computer would be compatible with its headset.
Graphics cards need to be equivalent to or more powerful than the AMD Radeon R9 290 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, while the processor needs to match or exceed an Intel i5-4590 chip, the virtual-reality headset maker said in a blog post. Systems need at least 8GB of RAM, two USB 3.0 ports and must be able to handle HDMI 1.3 video output. They also need to be running at least Windows 7 with Service Pack 1.
Having common specs will simplify the development process and allow programmers to create apps and games that offer a consistent experience, said Oculus chief architect Atman Binstock in a blog post. This is important, since hardware that isn’t up to par will deliver a negative experience, he said.
The specs will stay consistent, but in theory, the cost of components that support the technology will decrease over time, allowing a broader range of PCs to work with the Rift, Binstock said.
Laptop owners who hoped to use the Rift are out of luck, at least for now. Many laptops have external video outputs connected to an integrated GPU (graphic processing units), said Binstock said. However, in those scenarios the video output is handled by “hardware and software mechanisms that can’t support the Rift,” he added.
Reviewing a laptop’s spec would not reveal this information, and Oculus is working on a method “to identify the right systems,” Binstock said.
Hackers from Brazil have managed to discover a new exploit for the PS4 which enables them to bypass the DRM on any software and games.
A couple of weeks ago, a number of electronic stores in Brazil had been advertising the means to copy and run a series of ripped retail games on the console.
At the time little was known about the hack back then, but information gradually began to trickle out from customers and make its way around the web. Please see below for commentary from Lancope.
Gavin Reid, VP of threat intelligence, Lancope said that Sony was playing an arms race against groups that benefit from the abilities to copy and share games.
The hack originates from a Russian website and has been pushed into the public by Brasilian retailers. The hack isn’t necessarily a jailbreak for the PS4, nor is it really a homebrew technique.
What they did was use a retail PS4, with several games installed on it, with it’s entire game database and operating system (including NAN/BIOS). This was then dumped onto a hacked PS4 via Raspberry Pi.
The entire process costs about $100 to $150 to install 10 games and $15 per additional game.
“Open source groups like Homebrew with more altruistic motivations of extending the functionality of the console alongside groups selling modified consoles specifically to play copied games and of course the resell of the games themselves at fraction of the actuals costs. This has happened historically with all of the major consoles. It would be highly unlikely not to continue with the PS4,” he said.
GPU maker Nvidia is seeing trouble ahead, thanks to a slump in PC sales and a strong US dollar.
The company’s astrologers and tarot card readers have Nvidia predicted lower-than-expected revenue for the second quarter either that or someone is going to meet a tall dark stranger.
Nvidia also reported first-quarter revenue and profit below what the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street estimated.
Chief Financial Officer Colette Kress said that there had been a fall in demand from OEMs and PC market which is softer than an Apple fanboy’s bottom.
Worldwide PC shipments fell about 6.7 percent to 68.5 million units in the first quarter, and are expected drop 4.9 percent during the year.
Rival chipmaker AMD reported a steep fall in first-quarter sales last month and said it expected weak demand for PCs to continue for some time.
Nvidia was also hurt by the strong dollar, which has risen about 9 percent. The outfit does a lot of its business in US dollars which has made its GPU gaming more expensive.
The outfit forecast second-quarter revenue of $1.01 billion, plus or minus two percent, below the average analyst estimate of $1.18 billion.
The company’s net income fell to $134 million in the first quarter ended April 26.
Revenue rose 4.4 percent to $1.15 billion, but missed the average estimate of $1.16 billion.
From ways to eavesdrop on brains and glean what ads excite consumers, to gadgets that alleviate depression, the number of U.S. patents awarded for “neurotechnology” has soared since 2010, according to an analysis released on Wednesday.
Most surprising, concluded market-research firm SharpBrains, is that patents have been awarded to inventors well beyond those at medical companies. The leader in neurotechnology patents, according to the report, is consumer-research behemoth Nielsen.
That expansion into non-medical uses, said SharpBrains Chief Executive Alvaro Fernandez, who presented the results at the NeuroGaming conference in San Francisco, shows we are at the dawn of “the pervasive neurotechnology age,” in which everyday technologies will be connected to brains.
“Neurotech has gone well beyond medicine, with non-medical corporations, often under the radar, developing neurotechnologies to enhance work and life,” he said.
Patents for neurotechnology bumped along at 300 to 400 a year in the 2000s, then soared to 800 in 2010 and 1,600 last year, SharpBrains reported.
Those awarded to medical device company Medtronic PLC, for instance, include ways to use electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the severity of a brain lesion. Several held by medical technology company St. Jude Medical Inc. describe ways to change brain activity to, say, improve vision.
But it is the explosion in non-medical uses, such as controlling video games with brain waves, that is driving neurotechnology.
SharpBrains measured “intellectual property (IP) strength” by number of neurotechnology patents as well as patent quality, reflected in how many other patents reference them, for instance.
Valve is no stranger to its ventures having a somewhat rocky start. Remember when the now-beloved Steam first appeared, all those years ago? Everyone absolutely loathed it; it only ever really got off the ground because you needed to install it if you wanted to play Half-Life 2. It’s hard now to imagine what the PC games market would look like if Valve hadn’t persisted with their idea; there was never any guarantee that a dominant digital distribution platform would appear, and it’s entirely plausible that a messy collection of publisher-owned storefronts would instead loom over the landscape, with the indie and small developer games that have so benefited from Steam’s independence being squeezed like grass between paving stones.
That isn’t to say that Valve always get things right; most of the criticisms leveled at Steam in those early days weren’t just Luddite complaints, but were indeed things that needed to be fixed before the system could go on to be a world-beater. Similarly, there have been huge problems that needed ironing out with Valve’s other large feature launches over the years, with Steam Greenlight being a good example of a fantastic idea that has needed (and still needs) a lot of tweaking before the balance between creators and consumers is effectively achieved.
You know where this is leading. Steam Workshop, the longstanding program allowing people to create mods (or other user-generated content) for games on Steam, opened up the possibility of charging for Skyrim mods earlier this month. It’s been a bit of a disaster, to the extent that Valve and Skyrim publisher Bethesda ended up shutting down the service after, as Gabe Newell succinctly phrased it, “pissing off the Internet”.
There were two major camps of those who complained about the paid mods system for Skyrim; those who objected to the botched implementation (there were cases of people who didn’t own the rights to mod content putting it up for sale, of daft pricing, and a questionable revenue model that awarded only 25% to the creators), and those who object in principle to the very concept of charging for mods. The latter argument, the more purist of the two, sees mods as a labour of love that should be shared freely with “the community”, and objects to the intrusion of commerce, of revenue shares and of “greedy” publishers and storefronts into this traditionally fan-dominated area. Those who support that point of view have, understandably, been celebrating the forced retreat of Valve and Bethesda.
Their celebrations will be short-lived. Valve’s retreat is a tactical move, not a strategic one; the intention absolutely remains to extend the commercial model across Steam Workshop generally. Valve acknowledges that the Skyrim modding community, which is pretty well established (you’ve been able to release Steam Workshop content for Skyrim since 2012), was the wrong place to roll out new commercial features – you can’t take a content creating community that’s been doing things for free for three years, suddenly introduce experimental and very rough payment systems, and not expect a hell of a backlash. The retreat from the Skyrim experiment was inevitable, with hindsight. With foresight, the adoption of paid mods more broadly is equally inevitable.
Why? Why must an area which has thrived for so long without being a commercial field suddenly start being about money? There are a few reasons for the inevitability of this change – and, indeed, for its desirability – but it’s worth saying from the outset that it’s pretty unlikely that the introduction of commercial models is going to impact upon the vast majority of mod content. The vast majority of mods will continue to be made and distributed for free, for the same reasons as previously; because the creator loves the game in question and wants to play around with its systems; because a budding developer wants a sandbox in which to learn and show off their skills to potential employers; because making things is fun. Most mods will remain small-scale and will, simply, not be of commercial value; a few creators will chance their arm by sticking a price tag on such things, but the market will quickly dispose of such behaviour.
Some mods, though, are much more involved and in-depth; to realise their potential, they impact materially and financially upon the working and personal lives of their creators. For that small slice out of the top of the mod world, the introduction of commercial options will give creators the possibility of justifying their work and focus financially. It won’t make a difference at all to very many, but to the few talented creative people who will be impacted, the change to their lives could be immense.
This is, after all, not a new rule that’s being introduced, but an old, restrictive one that’s being lifted. Up until now, it’s effectively been impossible to make money from the majority of mods. They rely upon someone else’s commercial, copyrighted content; while not outright impossible technically, the task of building a mod that’s sufficiently unencumbered with stuff you don’t own for it to be sold legally is daunting at best. As such, the rule up until now has been – you have to give away your mod for free. The rule that we’ll gradually see introduced over the coming years will be – you can still give away your mod for free, but if it’s good enough to be paid for, you can put a price tag on it and split the revenue with the creator of the game.
That’s not a bad deal. The percentages certainly need tweaking; I’ve seen some not unreasonable defences of the 25% share which Bethesda offered to mod creators, but with 30% being the standard share taken by stores and other “involved but not active” parties in digital distribution deals, I expect that something like 30% for Steam, 30% for the publisher and 40% for the mod creator will end up being the standard. Price points will need to be thrashed out, and the market will undoubtedly be brutal to those who overstep the mark. There’s a deeply thorny discussion about the role of F2P to be had somewhere down the line. Overall, though, it’s a reasonable and helpful freedom to introduce to the market.
It’s also one which PC game developers are thirsting for. Supporting mod communities is something they’ve always done, on the understanding that a healthy mod scene supports sales of the game itself and that this should be reward enough. By and large, this will remain the rationale; but the market is changing, and the rising development costs of the sort of big, AAA games that attract modding communities are no longer being matched by the swelling of the audience. Margins are being squeezed and new revenue streams are essential if AAA games are going to continue to be sustainable. It won’t solve the problems by itself, or overnight; but for some games, creating a healthy after-market in user-generated content, with the developer taking a slice off the top of the economy that develops, could be enough to secure the developer’s future.
Hence the inevitability. Developers need the possibility of an extra revenue stream (preferably without having to compromise the design of their games). A small group of “elite” mod creators need the possibility of supporting themselves through their work, especially as the one-time goal of a studio job at a developer has lost its lustre as the Holy Grail of a modder’s work. The vast majority of gamers will be pretty happy to pay a little money to support the work of someone creating content they love, just as it’s transpired that most music, film and book fans are perfectly happy to pay a reasonable amount of money for content they love when they’re given flexible opportunities to do so.
Paid mods are coming, then; not to Skyrim and probably not to any other game that’s already got an established and thriving mod community, but certainly to future games with ambitions of being the next modding platform. Valve and its partners will have to learn fast to avoid “pissing off the Internet” again; but for those whose vehement arguments are based on the non-commercial “purity” of this corner of the gaming world, enjoy it while it lasts; the reprieve won this week is a temporary one.
It’s going to be another big year for games, as Newzoo is projecting that 2015 will see global gaming revenues jump 9.4 percent year-over-year to $91.5 billion. The future looks bright as well, with the research firm’s upcoming Global Games Market Report projecting worldwide revenues to reach $107 billion in 2017.
As the overall market grows, the distribution of where that money is coming from will also shift. Newzoo’s projections for this year have a surging Chinese market narrowly overtaking the US as the single biggest revenue contributor, bringing in $22.2 billion (up 23 percent) compared to the American market’s $22 billion (up 3 percent). As far as regions go, Asia-Pacific is far and away the largest source of gaming revenue, accounting for $43.1 billion (up 15 percent). Latin America is the smallest of the four major markets with just $4 billion in revenues, but it is also growing the quickest, up 18 percent year-over-year.
The platforms on which people spend money gaming are also in flux. Tablet revenues are expected to be up 27 percent year-over-year to $9.4 billion, with smartphone and watch revenues jumping 21 percent to $20.6 billion. However, PCs are the most popular platform for games, bringing in $27.1 billion (up 8 percent) from standard titles and MMOs, while casual webgames will draw an additional $6.6 billion (up 2 percent). Newzoo grouped TV, consoles, and VR devices into their own category, projecting them to bring in $25.1 billion (up 2 percent) in game revenues. The only market segment not seeing growth at the moment is the dedicated handheld, which Newzoo expects to bring in $2.7 billion in revenue this year (down 16 percent).
While the firm’s grouping of VR and smartwatch revenues in other categories may be unusual, it said both segments are too small to report for now.
“Short- to medium-term VR revenues will be limited and largely cannibalize on current console and PC game spending as a share of game enthusiasts invest in the latest technology and richest experience that VR offers,” Newzoo said. “Smartwatches will be a success but not add significant ‘new’ revenues to the $20.6 billion spent on smartphones this year.”
EA is shuttering four high-profile free-to-play games, all of them allied to popular IP like Battlefield and FIFA.
Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield Play4Free, Need for Speed World and FIFA World will all continue for another 90 days, at which point they will be taken offline for good. Further development on the games has stopped already.
“In more than five years since most of these titles launched, how we play games has changed dramatically,” said Patrick Soderlund, EVP of EA Games, in a statement. “These were pioneering experiences, and we’re humbled that, over the years, so many of you joined us to enjoy the games and the community.”
In terms of EA’s growing interest in free-to-play models, the real pioneer among that group is Battlefield Heroes, which was pitched at “frustrated, restricted” gamers back in 2008. Need for Speed World and Battlefield Play4Free followed, launching over the second half of 2010.
By the start of 2012, EA was reporting a combined total of 25 million players across the six games in its “Play4Free” initiative, with Battlefield Heroes and Need for Speed World contributing 10 million players each.
However, FIFA World is by no means a forerunner. It only reaching open beta late in 2013, and so it is being shuttered after substantially less than two years of public availability. This wouldn’t imply a slow decline in interest, but a lack of interest in the first place.
That’s in stark contrast to FIFA Online, the free-to-play version of the game made specifically for markets in Asia. In 2012, EA’s Andrew Wilson claimed that FIFA Online was making $100 million a year in revenue. A year later, FIFA Online 3, the most recent iteration, was the leading online sports game in both traffic and revenue in Korea.
One thing is certain, take these four titles away from EA’s free-to-play games on Origin, and you’re left with only Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances and Star Wars: The Old Republic – in his statement, Soderlund stressed the latter’s “enthusiastic and growing” community, and reiterated EA’s commitment to providing new content.
The remainder of the company’s free-to-play catalog is composed of games like Outernauts, The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Bejeweled Blitz. Casual, social, call them what you will, but they are intended for a very different audience to Need for Speed World and Battlefield Play4Free, and that audience has just lost two-thirds of the games EA had made to satisfy its needs.
After less than two years at the helm of Zynga, Don Mattrick is on the move again. He’s picking up the best part of $20 million on his way out the revolving door, so don’t feel too bad for him, but after his catastrophic mis-management of the Xbox One’s development and launch, his failure to lift Zynga out of its post-IPO slump looks like yet another blot on the extremely expensive copybook of the former Microsoft executive.
There will be plenty of I-told-you-so’s over this news, but in truth, it wasn’t so predictable. Mattrick always looked like a better fit for Zynga than he was at Microsoft; the balls-up he made of the Xbox One could be attributed, if we’re feeling charitable, to having sensibilities far more in-tune with a broad mass-market than with the core audience a launching console needs to please. As such, the social- and (latterly) mobile-focused Zynga should have been a more suitable challenge for him; and indeed, while the company’s performance under his tenure hasn’t exactly been good, or even mediocre, there have been some important bright spots, most notably the (clever) acquisition of mobile specialists NaturalMotion, and the (achingly slow, but getting there) transition away from browser-based games to mobile platforms.
That the company’s performance in terms of finances and share price alike failed to pick up under Mattrick’s tenure, though, is something easily presented as an outright failure; and after the mess he made at Microsoft, it would be straightforward to roll our eyes at the spectacle of yet another overpaid exec with bugger all knowledge about games being given an enormous sack full of $100 bills with which to break his falls after a gentle defenestration from his latest failure. That’s not entirely an unfair characterisation, but not entirely fair either, I suspect, because no sooner was Mattrick out of the CEO’s chair than Zynga founder and former CEO Mark Pincus had his backside back in the seat – and that, to me, sets off all sorts of alarm bells.
For a CEO to depart and to be instantly replaced is not entirely unusual, but it does raise some eyebrows; for a CEO to depart after a short and unfruitful period, only to be replaced instantly by the company founder whom they replaced in the role, strongly suggests that the company founder never actually took their fingers out of the pie. The reasons for Pincus leaving the CEO’s role were pretty clear; he was broadly seen by investors as a millstone around the company’s neck, his dictatorial nature, inflexibility and tendency to make stupid, inflammatory statements in public being pretty damaging to a firm struggling to recover from an overheated IPO. That he’s been waiting in the wings for Mattrick to depart raises troubling questions over just who has actually been running Zynga for the past two years; it’s not hard to imagine Mattrick finding his hands tied by the presence of a highly opinionated and influential founder who never actually wanted to let go of the reins in the first place, something which might explain a good deal about the tardy pace of Zynga’s turnaround.
The markets, unsurprisingly, reacted to the news by dumping Zynga stock; the founder who was doing a miserable job of being CEO has stepped back up to replace the new guy who was also doing a poor (but better) job of being CEO? It’s a net negative, not merely because for all his faults Mattrick was broadly considered a better CEO than Pincus, but because it suggests that the upper echelons of Zynga’s management are in absolute disarray.
Still, though; even this latest dump of Zynga’s stock is only going to bring the company back to depths it already plumbed back in February… and in December… oh, and last October, too. Zynga is bumping along the bottom, and has been since mid-2012, in share price terms. It looked like it might climb off the floor around the start of 2014, but since the middle of last year it’s traded at around $3 and under; frankly, the depths to which it can fall off the back of this executive-revolving-door farce are severely limited by the fact that it’s already at rock bottom. That’s because Zynga’s real problems, although they may well start from its dysfunctional management, are much more deeply rooted. The company hasn’t had a hit in years – even more problematically, it has never had a bona fide, honest to god hit on a mobile platform. It bought some smaller developers with mobile hits, and then failed to grow or develop them (in some embarrassing cases, they flopped almost immediately after being purchased). FarmVille, a game franchise whose existence you had entirely forgotten until I just mentioned its name at the start of this sentence, remains the jewel in Zynga’s crown. The “Games” section on Zynga’s website reads embarrassingly like a blow-by-blow account of games everyone seemed to be into for a few months, years ago.
There might – might – be light at the end of the tunnel. It would be easy to dismiss Zynga’s new Great Hope, the action strategy title Dawn of Titans, as absolute folly; the “Clash of Clans” market, so utterly saturated that top games in the category have ended up spending millions on Superbowl commercials to try and soak up the last remaining dregs of the market, is a horrible place to be launching a new product. Dawn of Titans, though, is just branded and presented a little like Clash of Clans; the game itself looks quite different, and most of all, it’s from the genuinely brilliant NaturalMotion. If I were to pick the most likely source of a Zynga renewal, it would be NaturalMotion; one can only hope that, in a similar manner to the Activision / Blizard relationship, Zynga’s management has the good sense to let NaturalMotion do their jobs and keep their paws off to the greatest extent possible.
Still; the fate of a company is a big thing to rest on one development team, no matter how talented. What Zynga needs is a hit, undoubtedly. What it really, really needs is hits – plural. Once upon a time, there was a formula for social gaming success, based on just the right balance of compelling game design (yes, Farmville really was compelling in its own way), pulling the right social levers, monetising intelligently and with a light touch, and spreading through some fairly nakedly unpleasant viral approaches on Facebook. Mark Pincus got that formula down perfectly; that is, thus far, the only thing that Zynga has ever executed perfectly. That formula, of course, is part of the history books now; it doesn’t work any more and never will again.
The new formula that Zynga needs to discover is actually a much trickier one, one which game companies have struggled with for decades; the formula for making great games people actually want to play and actually want to recommend to their friends. The CEO who could potentially turn Zynga into a company where that happens would have to create an environment of intense creativity and freedom, utilising the short development cycles, rapid prototyping and start-up style Minimum Viable Product soft-launching strategies enabled by mobile platforms to let creators exercise their imaginations and try many different ideas in search of the hits; a CEO who truly valued creativity and understood how to let it thrive. Mark Pincus wasn’t that CEO first time around. He’s going to have to work hard to prove that Pincus 2.0 is any better.
A rumor fresh out of Korea suggests Nvidia might be tapping Samsung as a GPU foundry, but there is a catch.
The news comes from Korea Times, which quoted a source familiar with the matter. The source told the paper that the deal involved Nvidia GPUs, but it was a small contract.
GPUs on 14nm? Something doesn’t add up
If you are sceptical, don’t worry – so are we. While Nvidia is expected to use Samsung for its upcoming Tegra SoCs, this is the first time we heard it could also try using Samsung’s and Globalfoundries’ FinFET nodes for GPUs.
This would obviously place Nvidia in an awkward situation, as it would basically be using an AMD spinoff to build its chips.
There is another problem with the report. The source claims the deal is valued at “a few million dollars”, which would be barely enough to cover the cost of a single tape-out. In fact, it might not be enough at all. The cost of taping out FinFET chips is relatively high, as these are cutting edge nodes.
Tegras or GPUs?
We doubt Nvidia will ditch TSMC for Samsung, at least as far as GPUs are concerned.
The most logical explanation would be that Nvidia has inked a deal with Samsung to tape-out Tegra chips rather than GPUs. The source may have simply mixed them up, that would explain everything.
Still, there is always a chance Nvidia is looking at alternative nodes for its GPUs, but we just don’t see it happening, at least not yet.
The deal that helped Crytek recover from its recent financial difficulties was Amazon, according to a report from Kotaku.
The online retail giant signed a licensing deal for CryEngine, Crytek’s proprietary game engine. Sources within the company put the deal’s value at between $50 million and $70 million, and suggested that Amazon may be using it as the bedrock for a proprietary engine of its own.
However Amazon uses the technology, though, the importance of the deal for Crytek cannot be overstated. Last year, during the summer, it became apparent that all was not well at the German developer. Employees hadn’t been fully paid in months, leading to an alleged staff walkout in its UK office, where a sequel to Homefront was in development. Koch Media acquired the Homefront IP and its team shortly after.
When the company’s management eventually addressed the rumors, it had already secured the financing necessary to take the company forward. No details of the deal were offered, but it’s very likely that Crytek got the money it needed from Amazon.
We have contacted Crytek to confirm the details, but it certainly fits with the perception that Amazon could emerge as a major creator of game content. It has snapped up some elite talent to do just that, it acquired Twitch for a huge sum of money, and it has been very open about where it plans to fit into the overall market.
Semiconductor sales reached $340 billion in 2014, up eight percent on the year before and led by Intel, according to a report by analyst house Gartner.
The figures represent positive growth for semiconductors powering all device categories, unlike in 2013 when Gartner said that application-specific integrated circuits, discrete components and micro-components all declined.
Intel was the top ranking chip manufacturer in 2014, seeing a return to growth after two years of revenue decline and retaining the number one market share position for the 23rd consecutive year with 15 percent.
Gartner claimed that this was down to a recovery in PC production, which saw sales up just under eight percent to $52bn.
Samsung was the second best in terms of semiconductor revenue last year, according to Gartner’s report, with $34bn in revenue and a market share of 10 percent. However, the 2013-2014 growth was almost double that of Intel’s at 13 percent.
Qualcomm came in third with revenues last year of $19bn, growing 12 percent compared with 2013, but with a much lower market share of almost six percent.
The top 25 semiconductor vendors’ combined revenue increased by almost 12 percent, which was more than the overall industry’s growth, and accounted for 72 percent of total market revenue, up from 70 percent in 2013.
Across the industry, the memory market was the best performer for the second year in a row, Gartner said, growing 17 percent.
This meant that the rest of the market achieved only five percent growth, according to Gartner research vice president Andrew Norwood.
“As a group, DRAM vendors performed best, lifted by the booming DRAM market which saw revenue increase 32 percent to $46bn, surpassing the all-time high of $41.8bn in 1995,” he said.
Last year also saw more merger and acquisition activity among the major semiconductor vendors than the previous year, Gartner said, and some announced deals are still to close in 2015.
Among the most significant was Avago Technologies’ acquisition of LSI, propelling the company into the top 25 semiconductor vendors for the first time.
MStar Semiconductor merged with MediaTek after a prolonged merger, and ON Semiconductor acquired Aptina Imaging.
“After adjusting for closed M&A activity, the top 25 semiconductor vendors grew at nine percent,” Gartner said.
AMD must face claims that it committed securities fraud by hiding problems with the bungled 2011 launch of Llano that eventually led to a $100 million write-down, a US court has decided.
According to Techeye US District Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers said plaintiffs had a case that AMD officials misled them by stating in the spring of 2011 and will have to face a full trial.
The lawsuit was over the Llano chip, which AMD had claimed was “the most impressive processor in history.”
AMD originally said that the product launch would happen in the fourth quarter of 2010, sales of the Llano were delayed because of problems at the company’s chip manufacturing plant.
The then Chief Financial Officer Thomas Seifert told analysts on an April 2011 conference call that problems with chip production for the Llano were in the past, and that the company would have ample product for a launch in the second quarter.
Press officers for AMD continued to insist that there were no problems with supply, concealing the fact that it was only shipping Llanos to top-tier computer manufacturers because it did not have enough chips.
By the time AMD ramped up Llano shipments in late 2011, no one wanted them any more, leading to an inventory glut.
AMD disclosed in October 2012 that it was writing down $100 million of Llano inventory as not shiftable.
Shares fell nearly 74 percent from a peak of $8.35 in March 2012 to a low of $2.18 in October 2012 when the market learned the extent of the problems with the Llano launch.
During a presentation at the Game Developers Conference earlier this month, Boss Fight Entertainment’s Damion Schubert suggested the industry to drop the term “whales,” calling it disrespectful to the heavy spenders that make the free-to-play business model possible. As an alternative, he proposed calling them “patrons,” as their largesse allows the masses to enjoy these works that otherwise could not be made and maintained.
After his talk, Schubert spoke with GamesIndustry.biz about his own experiences with heavy spending customers. During his stint at BioWare Austin, Schubert was a lead designer on Star Wars: The Old Republic as it transitioned from its original subscription-based business model to a free-to-play format.
“I think the issue with whales is that most developers don’t actually psychologically get into the head of whales,” Schubert said. “And as a result, they don’t actually empathize with those players, because most developers aren’t the kind of person that would shell out $30,000 to get a cool speeder bike or whatnot… I think your average developer feels way more empathy for the free players and the light spenders than the whales because the whales are kind of exotic creatures if you think about them. They’re really unusual.”
Schubert said whales, at least those he saw on The Old Republic, don’t have uniform behavior patterns. They weren’t necessarily heavy raiders, or big into player-vs-player competition. They were just a different class of customer, with the only common attribute being that they apparently liked to spend money. Some free-to-play games have producers whose entire job is to try to understand those customers, Schubert said, setting up special message boards for that sub-community of player, or letting them vote on what content should be added to a game next.
“When you start working with these [customers], there’s a lot of concern that they are people who have gambling problems, or kids who have no idea of the concept of money,” Schubert said.
But from his experience on The Old Republic, Schubert came to understand that most of that heavy spending population is simply people who are legitimately rich and don’t have a problem with devoting money to something they see as a hobby. Schubert said The Old Republic team was particular mindful of free-to-play abuse, and had spending limits placed to protect people from credit card fraud or kids racking up unauthorized charges. If someone wanted to be a heavy spender on the game, they had to call up customer service and specifically ask for those limits to be removed.
“If you think about it, they wanted to spend money so much that they were willing to endure what was probably a really annoying customer service call so they could spend money,” Schubert said.
The Old Republic’s transition from a subscription-based model to free-to-play followed a wider shift in the massively multiplayer online genre. Schubert expects many of the traditional PC and console gaming genres like fighting games and first-person shooters to follow suit, one at a time. That said, free-to-play is not the business model of the future. Not the only one, at least.
“I think the only constant in the industry is change,” Schubert said when asked if the current free-to-play model will eventually fall out of favor. “So yeah, it will shift. And it will always shift because people find a more effective billing model. And the thing to keep in mind is that a more effective billing model will come from customers finding something they like better… I think there is always someone waiting in the wings with a new way of how you monetize it. But I do think that anything we’re going to see in the short term, at least, is probably going to start with a great free experience. It’s just so hard to catch fire; there are too many competitive options that are free right now.”
Two upstart business models Schubert is not yet sold on are crowdfunding and alpha-funding. As a consumer, he has reservations about both.
“The Wild West right now is the Kickstarter stuff, which is a whole bunch of companies that are making their best guess about what they can do,” Schubert said. “Many of them are doing it very, very poorly, because it turns out project management in games is something the big boys don’t do very well, much less these guys making their first game and trying to do it on a shoestring budget. I think that’s a place where there’s a lot more caveat emptor going on.”
Schubert’s golden rule for anyone thinking of supporting a Kickstarter is to only pledge an amount of money you would be OK losing forever with nothing to show for it.
“At the end of the day, you’re investing on a hope and a dream, and by definition, a lot of those are just going to fail or stall,” Schubert said. “Game development is by definition R&D. Every single game that gets developed is trying to find a core game loop, trying to find the magic, trying to find the thing that will make it stand out from the 100 other games that are in that same genre. And a lot of them fail. You’ve played 1,000 crappy games. Teams didn’t get out to make crappy games; they just got there and they couldn’t find the ‘there’ there.”
He wasn’t much kinder to the idea of charging people for games still in an early stage of development.
“I’m not a huge fan of Early Access, although ironically, I think the MMO genre invented it,” Schubert said. “But on the MMOs, we needed it because there are things on an MMO that you cannot test without a population. You cannot test a 40-man raid internally. You cannot test large-scale political systems. You cannot test login servers with real problems from different countries, server load and things like that. Early Access actually started in my opinion, with MMOs, with the brightest of hopes and completely and totally clean ideals.”
Schubert has funded a few projects in Early Access, but said he wound up getting unfinished games in return. Considering he works on unfinished games for a living, he doesn’t have much patience for them in his spare time, and has since refrained from supporting games in Early Access.
“I genuinely think there are very few people in either Kickstarter or Early Access that are trying to screw customers,” Schubert said. “I think people in both those spaces are doing it because they love games and want to be part of it, and it’s hard for me to find fault in that at the end of the day.”