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Pokemon Go New Features Aims To Thwart Cheaters

June 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Niantic, the developer behind the wildly popular Pokemon Go game, has announced new features to help curb cheating in the game.

“Pokemon caught using third-party services that circumvent normal gameplay will appear marked with a slash in the inventory and may not behave as expected,” the company explained on the Silph Road subreddit.

While Niantic was not specific in the post about which third-party services are being targeted, tools such as GPS fakers that artificially place you in “busy” Pokemon areas or bots to catch Pokemon for you have already been identified as “cheats” in the game.

The company also was not clear about how ‘slashed’ Pokemon caught by cheating will behave, although various theories have been put forward by players in the subreddit, including “your moves will permanently become splash/struggle” or “it eats the pokemon around it in your inventory”.

The announcement comes shortly after Niantic’s unveiling of the largest update to the game so far, which brings multiplayer “raid battles” to Pokemon’s Gyms.

Can Microsoft’s Live Streaming Service Mixer Compete With Twitch

June 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft has changed the name of its live-streaming platform from Beam to Mixer.

The firm says it has made the changes to push the live-streaming platform in territories where it cannot use the Beam name. Mixer, the firm says, reflects the fact the service brings people together.

Mixer’s big selling point is its faster-than-light low latency, which allows viewers to interact directly with the streamer and the game in real-time. TellTale is incorporating this into some of its games, such as The Walking Dead, Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman, where the audience can crowd-decide what choices are made.

As part of the re-brand, Microsoft is also launching a series of new options for Mixer as it attempts to take on Twitch in the lucrative but competitive live-streaming market.

These include extending Mixer to mobile phones (it is currently available on Xbox One and PC), launching a co-streaming option where gamers can now stream next to one another in the same channel, and a dedicated in-house channel called Channel One, which will showcase a variety of content. The firm will also now promote Mixer via the Xbox One dashboard, and will be streaming Microsoft’s E3 press conference.

In addition, the firm has launched a dedicated ‘Mixer Studio’ in New York for streamers and partners to use.

Mixer enters closed Beta on iOS and open beta on Android today. The company is also eyeing other platforms as it tries to catch up with some of its more established competitors.

“We’re not announcing any new platforms today, but there’s no platform that we wouldn’t want to be on,” Chad Gibson, partner group program manager, tells GamesIndustry.biz.

“We don’t want to put any barriers behind people wanting to watch it or use it. We will be rolling out to more platforms over time, for sure.”

“The idea came from just observing what a lot of streamers do,” Gibson says. “A lot of streamers that we’ve seen will be playing games together and having their different channels. There are a couple of partners on our platform that will be playing Minecraft and building a world together and they will both have independent channels, and viewers will often switch back and forth between the channels. So the way it just naturally works is that their community is split between those two channels… Co-streaming is just a way to allow that to come together where the community isn’t separate.

“In the case of co-streaming, those two people would join their channels together, the chat gets merged, and their two viewing perspectives will be in the same channel page. So the community that’s watching those two guys or girls now has a single place to watch. That streaming will be referenced on both of their individual channels, so they’re not losing any opportunity for community growth, but we are now allowing within a single channel a chance to tell a bigger story.

“As we went down that path, there was just so many scenarios that this was great for. For example, take the popular game of the moment, Playunknown Battlegrounds, and its four-person squad play. As I have been testing the feature, I am playing with a four-person squad and we all stream together. We join a co-stream and it is the story of our squad in one channel, and that is a really, really powerful thing that we think is going to unlock new types of storytelling and community building.”

Co-streaming could work well at events such as E3, Gibson says, where multiple users can stream things from their phones.

The majority of content on Mixer is game-related, which is unsurprising considering its integration with Xbox. But Gibson observes that this is changing.

“The diversity of non-gaming content actually happened faster than I thought,” Gibson says. “It is not that I personally had a goal of percentage of game to non-game content, but… a good example of one of our partners is Remi. She reads books, tells stories and occasionally she will play League of Legends. There are a bunch of folks who create art, and we actually have a couple of musicians – BrilliantBuffoons is one, Duke is another. Duke plays the piano and BrilliantBuffoons plays drums, and they take song requests from the audience. Stuff like that is great, and I find that so incredibly engaging, and the low-latency applies so well, because you are having a direct conversation.”

“I think the market is large enough for everyone to be successful. But we’ll focus on the things that are unique about our platform”

The big challenge for Mixer is that it currently lags behind its competitors in terms of pure viewer numbers. The relationship with developers and the tab on the Xbox One dashboard (which will be used to show everything from a Gears of War eSports event to a new streamer) will certainly help, but until it gets a strong number of users, it can’t command the same monetisation opportunities for streamers as the likes of Twitch can. Gibson says Mixer is getting there.

“The growth has been more than we had anticipated since the Creator’s Update [the Windows 10 update that introduced Beam to PC],” Gibson insists. “It has provided us with a whole bunch of new challenges to overcome, but it’s been really great. We have surpassed all of our initial goals for that launch.”

He continues: “We will do everything we can to share this with the world. This is one of the reasons we’re doing this, to take it to a larger level. We think the whole market for game video and streaming in general is growing so fast, that I don’t think we need to necessarily look at ourselves relative to others to see our own growth success. I think the market is large enough for everyone to be successful. But we’ll focus on the things that are unique about our platform, which is great because it allows us to tell our own story and showcase what we are really excited about – which is low-latency, interactivity, co-streaming… all of those capabilities.”

The involvement of TellTale is certainly a positive move for Mixer as the service looks to integrate into more video games. Mojang is also looking at utilising it in Minecraft – and there are already community-made Minecraft mods that make use of Mixer.

TellTale is using Mixer with Guardians of the Galaxy where the audience decides

Gibson says that the development community is excited by what Mixer can do, but acknowledges the firm needs to make it easier for them to utilise. And it’s something the team is committed to, he says.

“It has excited and challenged people in terms of how to create a game and make it so the viewing audience can participate,” He says. “For some games that is challenging. For a game that has shipped, it’s a case of trying to see if there’s a content update they can do to add that interactivity, and for some games that is harder. Most of the creative directors we talk to think that the really mind-blowing experiences will only exist when the game is built with this in mind. There are a lot of games where there are very natural ways for us to expand with interactivity. Minecraft is probably my favourite example where there is a bunch of ways, even for modders, to bring interactivity into that game.

“Most of the creative directors we talk to think that the really mind-blowing experiences will only exist when the game is built with this in mind”

“But honestly, in terms of feedback, what we’re hearing is: “We really think this can make our game more engaging, but we need to be able to trial a lot of things.” I am summarising a bunch of feedback, but developers ultimately want us to make it easier for them to try a bunch of things. That made us, with [our last update] Interactivity 2, change our priorities on some things. We prioritised having Unreal and Unity add-ons, because that makes it easier for creative directors and tech directors to prototype.

“The excitement has been pretty universal. It has challenged people to figure out how they can apply this to a game that’s on the market right now, and motivated people who have games coming in the summer, fall or next year. So throughout all of this, the tactical thing for us is to help make it easier and quicker for them to iterate, prototype and explore what they can do.”

In terms of technology and potential, Beam – now Mixer – always seemed interesting. The popularity of ‘Twitch Plays’ showcases a desire for communities to get involved with the things that they’re viewing. But Mixer enters into a market that’s dominated by Twitch, with growing competitors such as Facebook Live and YouTube – plus other independent outlets like DingIt and Smashcast.

So what is Beam’s ultimate aim? Is it to augment Microsoft’s existing services and offer something that’s unique to the Xbox platform, or is it to become a true competitor to Twitch?

“A big thing that we obsess about in Xbox Live is how do we make it easier for friends to invite others to play games,” Gibson concludes. “We want to make it easy to share things. To us, this service allows us to expand that to the act of watching. Now my friends can watch me play with zero latency and it is just like they are in party chat with me.

In the future, when Sea of Thieves, or a new Minecraft or Forza comes out, my viewing audience can actually participate in my game adventure. Be that by giving me challenges, cheering me on, helping me overcome an obstacle… to us it is a great way of extending the game to more people in a conceptually similar way when we moved Xbox Live onto Windows. With that we wanted to expand the Xbox world to more people, and this allows us to expand that even further and offer a whole bunch of great new experiences.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Nvidia Debuts Project Holodeck VR

May 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Taking a short pause from GPU spec talk, Nvidia on Tuesday unveiled a live demo of its new Project Holodeck VR tech at Computex in Taiwan, Taipei.

It’s a virtual world, created through HTC’s Vive headset, that allows users to experience the perks of the physical world — manipulate physical objects! obey the laws of physics! — but in a completely digital space.

During the demo, Nvidia set up three of its engineers backstage (kitted out with Vive headsets), speaking to them in real time. Onstage, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang brought up local Taiwanese e-scooter company Gogoro to talk through a 3D fly-through of one of its vehicles.

But the future of VR doesn’t stop at shiny scooters and floating torsos. Nvidia wants to use the Holodeck to create virtual worlds to train artificial intelligence — spaces where digital robots can repeat tasks endlessly and develop machine learning.

According to Huang, the Holodeck could be used to not only render designs for things like scooters, it could also fill out the whole production cycle.

“[The Holodeck can be used to] design the product, design the factory that’s going to make the product and design the robots that are going to create the factory that are going to make the products,” said Huang.

Can NBCUniversal Compete In The Mobile Games Space

May 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

As the mobile market continues to boom and the nascent virtual reality space becomes a larger sector within mobile thanks to devices like Samsung Gear and Google Daydream, NBCUniversal is aiming to leverage its bevy of popular IP such as Fast & Furious, Minions, Despicable Me, Jurassic World and more. According to GamesBeat, the company has hired former Disney mobile games leader Chris Heatherly to oversee a new mobile game and virtual reality publishing group.

The goal is to leverage properties from DreamWorks Animation, Illumination Entertainment, and Universal Pictures by directly getting involved in the creation, development, marketing and distribution of games as opposed to licensing out brands, which has been done previously. For example, Despicable Me had been licensed to Gameloft, and the publisher’s Minion Rush game went on to be downloaded more than 800 million times. While self-publishing is now a focus, the company said it will still complement its business by licensing some brands as well.

“Universal has decided to take a strategic position in games,” Heatherly said. “We are pushing heavily in the digital space. And they see there is no bigger digital space than games. It’s part of a larger plan to build evergreen franchises that support multiple products across multiple businesses.”

Heatherly will serve as executive vice president of games and digital platforms within Universal Brand Development, and he will be joined by James Molinets, senior vice president of production; Timothy FitzRandolph, vice president of creative; and Fabian Schonholz, senior vice president of technology and operations. The former two executives were key members of the Disney mobile team and also oversaw the kids-focused virtual world, Club Penguin.

While NBCUniversal said it’s going to be 80% focused on creating mobile games, interest in VR as an “emerging area” is building as well. “We are leveraging the best talent that is already out there… On the VR front, we are doing quite a few things. One of them we can announce soon,” he teased.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Angry Birds Movie To Get A Sequel, Says Rovio Entertainment

May 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Finnish mobile games and animation studio Rovio Entertainment approved plans to proceed with a sequel to its Angry Birds movie, it said on Monday, aiming for release in September 2019.

The Angry Birds Movie 2 will be produced with Columbia Pictures and distributed by Sony Pictures, Rovio said.

The first Angry Birds movie, released last year, earned about $350 million at the box office and gave a boost to Rovio’s game sales, helping the company to swing to an annual profit after years of falling earnings, job cuts and divestments.

Rovio said the new movie will be directed by Thurop Van Orman, the creator of animated TV series “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack”.

The original Angry Birds game — in which smartphone players use a slingshot to attack pigs who steal the birds’ eggs — became a phenomenon in 2009, but the franchise faltered in the following years amid tough competition.

Alongside the movie plan, Rovio is looking to reduce its dependence on Angry Birds — earlier this month it launched “Battle Bay”, the firm’s first multiplayer game which does not carry the Angry Birds name.

Will Facebook’s TV Venture Succeed

May 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The world’s largest social networking company is set to unveil its own catalog of original TV shows and short films for debut in mid-June, according to a report from Business Insider.

Mark Zuckerberg’s 13-year old social networking startup – turned highly-profitable corporation – plans to premiere a slate of 24 originals in the middle of next month, with several more approved for production later this year. According to people familiar with the discussions, Facebook has been looking to separate the shows into two separate tiers – a “marquee tier” for longer, big-budget shows that would be suitable for TV viewing, and a “lower tier” for short, cheaper shows, averaging five to 10 minutes in length that will refresh every 24 hours.

A mix of low-tier and high-tier shows

In other words, the high-tier content will let Facebook compete with media streaming giants Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube, all of which produce their own highly popular original shows. In December, the company hired Ricky Van Veen, co-founder of College Humor, to build its experience in “kickstarting an ecosystem of partner content” purposefully built for the site’s new “Video” tab. This feature began cropping up at the bottom menu within Facebook’s mobile app in April 2016, allowing people to view popular live videos from around the globe and view content from their own friends.

The social network expects high-quality, scripted video to become an important feature in retaining users that have increasingly flocked to rival services including Snapchat and Twitter. More importantly, the ability to control and broadcast its own original content will allow it to maintain some content parity with shows from Netflix, YouTube’s growing list of originals, and Hulu’s recent originals.

Monetization will happen through “mid-roll” ads

The profit strategy for Facebook’s approach appears similar to YouTube’s hated method of throwing ads into the middle of its original shows, also known as “mid-roll ads”. Sources close to Facebook hint that it has been testing these ads for months in live and recorded videos, giving video publishers the chance to insert ads into clips after they have been watched for more than 20 seconds. The social network plans to sell the ads and share 55 percent of sales with publishers, or the same revenue split currently offered by YouTube. In addition, Zuckerberg has personally spoken against the use of “pre-roll” ads, which play before a clip starts. This will be another key differentiator between Facebook and most other providers in the ad business.

More info may arrive at Cannes Lions festival in June

According to one source, the social network may use the Cannes Lions advertising festival in June to officially introduce its video initiative. However, somebody else said this date could be pushed back later in the summer. There is not much information on what genres Facebook originally intends to release, though one of them is said to come from Conde Nast Entertainment involving people going on first dates in VR before meeting in person.  Here at Fudzilla, we fear the worst, confidently.

Courtesy-Fud

Nintendo Betting Record Profit On Switch Console

April 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo Co Ltd is predicting its new Switch console will more than double annual operating profit and end the eight-year sales decline that plagued its previous offering just as players were turning to smartphone gaming.

The Japanese firm entered the mobile gaming market last year to the relief of shareholders fretting about diving console sales. Now the early success of the Switch has fueled hope of a long-term earnings recovery and sent the firm’s share price about 20 percent higher since the console’s March debut.

“We are hoping to change the tide of our business with the Switch,” Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima said at a news briefing on Thursday.

Nintendo estimated profit to grow 2.2-fold to 65 billion yen ($584 million) in the year through March 2018, with sales jumping 53.3 percent. That was still far below the 104 billion yen average of 23 analyst estimates surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Asked if the outlook was too low, Kimishima said the firm was stepping up marketing costs for the Switch.

Nintendo aims to sell 10 million of the hybrid home console and handheld device this financial year, on top of a higher-than-expected 2.7 million sold in its debut month.

“If the 10 million target is achieved … that means the sales momentum would be close to the Wii,” Nintendo’s most successful console, Kimishima said.

The Wii, launched in November 2006, sold about 20 million units in its first year and exceeded 100 million over its life. The last time Nintendo’s sales grew was in the year ended March 2009, when Wii demand drove profit to a record 555 billion yen.

Profit from a new console typically peaks a couple of years after launch when there is a wide choice of game titles.

Kimishima also said Nintendo’s first own-brand smartphone game, Super Mario Run, has neared 150 million free downloads, but the number of users paying the one-off fee to unlock most of its content is below the target 10 percent.

One reason behind the Switch’s strong start is that unlike its predecessor Wii U, the console has a long list of game titles from independent studios because Nintendo made the Switch compatible with publicly available game development platforms from the start, said Hirokazu Hamamura, a director at Kadokawa Dwango Corp, which publishes games magazines.

Facebook’s Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Unit Named In Patent Lawsuit

April 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Facebook Inc’s virtual reality unit Oculus VR has been hit with a lawsuit alleging it incorporated without authorization a smaller competitor’s patented technology into its Rift headset.

Techno View IP Inc, a Newport Beach, California-based technology licensing firm, filed suit against Facebook and Oculus for infringing a 3D imaging patent owned by the VR headset maker ImmersiON-VRelia.

According to the complaint filed in federal court in Delaware, ImmersiON-VRelia, which has offices in Spain and California, agreed to let Techno View litigate the patent on its behalf.

The lawsuit comes as Facebook weighs its options following a $500 million verdict in an unrelated lawsuit brought over its VR technology by video game developer ZeniMax Media Inc. A Dallas federal jury in February found Oculus used copyrighted computer code developed by video game designer John Carmack while employed at ZeniMax.

Lawyers for Oculus and Facebook have said they will seek to have the verdict set aside.

ImmersiON-VRelia makes VR headsets similar to the Oculus Rift, as well as a VR device for use with smartphones. Techno View said in its lawsuit ImmersiON-VRelia’s chief executive, Manuel Gutierrez Novelo, attained several patents between 2003 and 2006 on various aspects of VR technology.

Techno View said Oculus and Facebook specifically infringed a patent held by ImmersiON-VRelia on a method of generating left and right perspectives in a 3D video game. Techno View said it may add claims relating to other patents owned ImmersiON-VRelia at a later date.

Facebook acquired Oculus for an estimated $3 billion in 2014. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has predicted that virtual reality “will be part of people’s daily lives,” revolutionizing industries like media, education and medicine.

Facebook and Oculus did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Techno View’s lawsuit.

The case is Techno View IP Inc v. Oculus VR LLC and Facebook Inc, 17cv00386, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

Amazon To Refund Parents Over Kid’s In-app Purchases

April 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Parents with children who racked up bills, sometimes huge, through in-app purchases will receive some or all of that money back. Amazon could have to refund more than $70 million to affected consumers, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC and Amazon have agreed to end their legal battle over whether the U.S. company unlawfully charged its customers for the purchases.

A year ago, a court found that Amazon had.

The company’s app store can be downloaded to Android devices and it runs on certain Kindle tablets. However, parents had complained that Amazon’s system had made it all too easy for their children to buy virtual items in the apps, without their consent.

Both the FTC and Amazon had filed appeals related to the case, but on Tuesday, they dropped them. That opens the way for the refund process to begin shortly, according to the FTC.

More than $70 million in in-app charges made from 2011 to 2016 may be eligible for refunds, the U.S. regulator said.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, so it’s unclear how the company will reimburse its customers. Amazon had taken a 30 percent cut from the in-app purchases, according to the FTC.

In 2014, Apple and Google settled similar cases over in-app purchases with the FTC, which resulted in a combined $51 million in refunds to customers.

In Apple’s case, the company emailed and sent postcards to every customer who might have been affected. Apple eventually received 37,000 claims, and made refunds to them all.

Facebook Pursuing Deal To Live Stream MLB Baseball Games

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc is currently negotiating with Major League Baseball to live stream one game per week during the upcoming season, which could be a key win as the social media platform works to offer more live sports, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Facebook has pushed to sign deals with owners of sports rights to live stream their games, going after an audience that competitor Twitter Inc is also trying to capture, according to sports media consultants.

For social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, live streaming sports is key to attracting people since sports is one of the few types of content that people still watch live.

“Facebook is aggressively going after sports content and they are now one of a number of competitors to traditional media outlets that are going after sports programming,” said sports media consultant Lee Berke. “It makes perfect sense that they would be going after name brand properties like the MLB.”

The companies were in advanced talks, according to one source. It was unclear which games MLB would live stream on Facebook. A representative for Facebook and MLB declined to comment.

By partnering with Facebook, MLB would get access to a young audience at a massive scale, consultants said.

The size of Facebook’s reach was a big reason Univision Communications Inc decided to use Facebook Live to live stream Mexican soccer matches in English, said Tonia O’Connor, chief commercial officer and president of content distribution at Univision.

Under that deal, Facebook will live stream 46 matches by Mexican soccer league Liga MX in 2017. Terms were not disclosed.

Over the past few months, Facebook has live streamed global basketball and soccer matches and table tennis.

Rovio Seeks New Gaming Path, Opening Studio In London

January 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Finnish mobile games and animation developer Rovio Entertainment is intensifying its search for new hit games by opening a studio in London to focus on multiplayer games that would not rely on the company’s Angry Birds brand.

Privately-held Rovio has struggled in recent years as profits from the Angry Birds franchise dropped, prompting deep job cuts and divestments.

But last year Rovio launched an animated Angry Birds 3D Hollywood film that it said did well at the box office and yielded new licensing deals.

 Rovio is now looking to build a team of about 20 people in London to create “massively multiplayer online” (MMO) games that support a large number of players simultaneously, with a focus on new characters.

“MMO is a genre that is growing in mobile, but it is not fully saturated. We are not looking for a niche position but a very wide, inclusive game,” Wilhelm Taht, head of games, told Reuters.

The original Angry Birds game, in which players use a slingshot to attack pigs who steal the birds’ eggs, was launched in 2009 and it remains the top paid mobile app of all time.

Rovio exploited the brand early on by licensing its use on a string of consumer products. But the company’s failure to bring out new hit games resulted in falling profit, prompting Rovio to cut more than 300 jobs in 2014 and 2015.

“In the long term, our new characters may generate intellectual property and even a brand,” Taht said.

Rovio has a series of smartphone games based on Angry Birds characters. In 2015 it published a puzzle game called Nibblers and it will soon put out Battle Bay, a real-time multiplayer game.

Rovio is not looking to launch a large number of games this year, Taht added.

“Perhaps there’s been some change in our thinking here,” he said. “The market is favorable for games that will live long and that are operated with a service mindset.”

Asked about Nintendo’s hit smartphone game Pokemon GO, Taht said the game truly put augmented reality (AR) on the gaming map.

“We will, of course, be following AR as a technology and a tool,” he said.

In the first half of 2016 Rovio booked a small operating profit, compared with a loss a year earlier, help by growth in game sales.

Rovio has around 200 employees spread between its four game studios in Finland and Sweden and about 400 in total.

Is The Mobile Gaming Space Difficult To Succeed?

November 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

There’s something quite noble about Phil Larsen, Luke Muscat and Hugh Walters, and their reasons for turning their collective backs on Halfbrick.

The trio had been partly responsible for some of the biggest games in the smartphone space, including Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, but they felt they had nothing left to learn working at the developer, so took the gamble to go it alone.

“There weren’t too many more challenges, and the challenge of starting something new and being small and agile seemed like a smart idea,” says Phil Larsen, who is the MD at the studio. “And we are all basically in our early 30s, and we thought that maybe we wouldn’t get another chance. So we decided to go for it.”

The team left Halfbrick at the start of 2015 and attended GDC with “no money, no game, no nothing”. Although Larsen felt the newly formed team, named Prettygreat, had the capacity to pull in some big investors, they instead decided to aim a little lower, and accept funding from the founders of Crossy Road makers Hipster Whale.

“Matt [Hall] and Andy [Sum], being so successful with Crossy Road at the time, wanted to put some investment into other studios, and they were the perfect fit for us,” Larsen explains. “They were other developers who understand what we do, they trust in us as a team because we’ve done it all before, and it just helped us get everything off the ground. It has basically been the best possible decision we could have made.”

Prettygreat has only been going for 18 months, but it’s already created two games, with a third deep in development. The firm initially made the modestly popular smartphone title Landsliders, a casual collect ’em up project that it managed to pull together in just four months.

“Although we’d worked together before, working on our first game is always going to be tricky, you’ll be understanding each other and finding a new approach,” Larsen explains. “The way we did that was to try and create something a little bit unique, a bit weird, with some control innovation… as a game, it was profitable, which is good. It wasn’t the mega hit of the year or anything like that, it wouldn’t have reached any Top Ten charts in terms of downloads, but we made that game in four months, and we supported it for six months after launch, which we wouldn’t have done if there wasn’t profit to be made. The game has about 5m downloads so far, which is not bad. We’ve come from a place where 200m or 300m downloads were the norm, so we’re scaling back, which is fine. But Landsliders is a first game that says: ‘hey, this is what we can do. Make a game fast and make it successful’.”

It may seem like a rapid turnaround, but Prettygreat managed to outpace that with its second game, Slide the Shakes, which was designed and released in just six weeks.

“Basically, we had about three weeks left at the end of last year, because we’d done everything for Land Sliders. So we just decided to make a game. It also made a profit and had 3 or 4m downloads already. That was also a game where we understood its scope and potential, so we invested the appropriate amount of time – which was six weeks, but I think our quality level for that was quite high.

“We are game strategy agnostic, for want of a better way of expressing that. We are not sitting here saying we’re going to make triple-A games on mobile, or make six months projects every time. We are going to pick projects that we like and we are going to develop it to the level that we think it will be successful – and if that means it is six weeks, fine, if it is six months, which is our current project, then we will do that. We just want to make all sorts of crazy ideas. We don’t have any specific business model or genre.”

The Prettygreat team seem to know a thing or two about building sustainable smartphone games, which is difficult in a market where discoverability is difficult and the competition is plentiful. Even some of the world’s biggest mobile developers struggle to enjoy repeat success in this space. It’s a fact that’s not lost on Larsen, but he says if developers are smart, plan carefully and make sure the projects are in tune with the team’s talents, then success is not necessarily that hard to come by.

“A lot of people talk about how competitive it is, which is true. And they talk about how hard it is to make a whole bunch of money, which is true. But a misconception that a lot of people have is that you have to be making Clash Royale money, or you need to be spending loads of money, or you need to take years making the games,” Larsen begins.

“There is a lot of competing factors as to what makes a business successful. For a while it was Angry Birds, and building a brand, and merchandise. Then it was all about free-to-play. We have been through all of that at Halfbrick. Our perspective is, it is competitive but you need to pick the right business model for your team, and you need to pick the right approach for you. With three dudes at the start of a company, we weren’t saying: ‘Let’s do a Candy Crush and make $1m a day.’ No. We will pick something that we know we can get out there in a short amount of time, know generally what monetisation trends that are happening, and what is the easiest way of getting some revenue going for our games.

“Yes it is hard, but it is not impossible. A lot of people say it’s impossible, but no, you just need to be smart about how you approach it for your team specifically. If we had taken AUS$2m in funding when we started, or attacked it in a bigger way, then people would be expecting us to make a Candy Crush. But we didn’t want to do that.

“Our biggest strength as a company is scoping products right, and making them for the right people at the right time. It is very easy for an indie team to say mobile is hard, but that’s possibly because they’ve spent 18 months making the game – that might be hard to recoup as an investment. We would sooner spend four months on a game.

“Having a team that works together really well, and approaching it with a clear focus, then you can make money. We haven’t made millions of dollars yet, but that’s ok, you don’t need millions to pay three people.”

Prettygreat’s next product is currently not announced, although Larsen says it is an online multiplayer project that will be unveiled soon. This title has a much bigger scope and has already been in the works longer than its previous projects. However, Larsen is reluctant to suggest the team will continue to make bigger, more ambitious projects. He tells us that the following game could take six weeks again, or four months.

Yet don’t take this to mean there is a lack of ambition on the part of the former Fruit Ninja makers.

Larsen concludes: “I don’t want to be perceived as just three guys making stuff for the hell of it, and it’s all crazy and whatever happens, happens. That’s true to an extent, and day-to-day things are very fun and casual. But we are very serious about success financially, and our reputation is very high and we want to keep that going. The path we take is sometimes a bit unconventional, and it doesn’t necessarily have a simple six month or 12 month goal, which is what the bigger investors want to see. But we still have our eyes on the prize. We are probably not going to become a 100-person studio anytime soon, but the idea that we can create some of the biggest games in mobile and strategically scale to support them, then that’s fine. If that happens, then we will make that happen.

“We have come from a place where we were working on Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, which were some of the biggest mobile games ever for a few years. We are not strangers to that environment. We haven’t started a studio to figure out how to do mobile, we absolutely already know how to do that. We’ve been through the highs and lows of some of the biggest things out there. We know what to expect and we are definitely aiming for it, but we are not going to compromise quality or our studio culture to get there.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Amazon Launches $3.99/Monthly Music Streaming Service

October 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

amazon-music-unlimited-150x150Amazon.com Inc has officially launched a full-fledged music streaming service with subscriptions as low as $3.99 per month for owners of its Amazon Echo speaker, accelerating the industry trend toward more flexible pricing after years of sticking to $9.99 subscriptions.

The new streaming service, called “Amazon Music Unlimited,” lets users access a vast catalog of songs on demand, similar to Spotify and Apple Music. Subscriptions to play music on the Echo cost $3.99 per month; for access beyond that device, subscriptions cost $7.99 a month for members of Amazon’s Prime shipping and video service and $9.99 for non-members. Amazon will continue to offer Prime members a limited streaming service for free.

As it plunges deeper into the crowded streaming field, Amazon is counting on the Echo, a smart speaker that responds to voice commands, to set it apart. Released broadly last year, the Echo has become a surprise hit, prompting many to predict that voice will become a key way users interact with technology – and music is central to the device’s appeal.

Amazon has built an elaborate system of voice controls for listening on the Echo. The company believes such smart home devices will be a key source of growth for the music industry, said Steve Boom, vice president of Amazon Music.

“The first phase of growth (in music streaming) was driven almost entirely by smartphones,” he said in an interview. “We believe pretty strongly that the next phase of growth in streaming is going to come from the home.”

The low price for Amazon’s streaming service is consistent with the company’s reputation for undercutting the competition and signals the music industry is beginning to accommodate consumers who are unwilling to pay $9.99 per month. Having watched revenues plummet from the CD era, label executives have been reluctant to budge on price, but they have come under pressure as streaming accounts for more of the pie.

Boom said he is optimistic that the new prices will expand the market.

“We’re moving music away from a one-size-fits-all approach,” Boom said. “We are the ones who have been pushing this the hardest.”

Streaming services must pay a majority of their revenues to rights holders, a business model that has left Pandora and Spotify struggling to turn a profit. But Amazon can afford to take a loss on music streaming, and the boost to Prime is well worth it, analysts say.

The premium music service, following the release of a standalone video service, suggests Amazon will increasingly offer basic media options through Prime while selling additional subscriptions for consumers who want to go deeper, said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.

 

Amazon Partners With MediaTek

October 10, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The first-generation Echo device is a voice-activated household digital assistant that can be used to play music, read audiobooks, answer questions about the weather, traffic and latest news, or control IoT-connected light switches and thermostats, among other useful utilities. The device launched in November 2014 and features a Texas Instruments single-core ARM Cortex A8, along with 256MB of LPDDR1 memory and 4GB of storage capacity.

The new Echo Dot will be launching later this month with a MediaTek SoC, while the report suggests shipments of the chip are expected to peak between October and November. The chip is expected to improve the device’s ability to hear a user ask a question from any direction, though this will likely be tested when reviews are posted in a couple weeks. Meanwhile, Amazon will continue sourcing from Texas Instruments to produce Cortex A8 chips for its existing Echo device.

Amazon been purchasing chips from MediaTek since at least 2014 for use in Kindle Fire HD tablets and OTT devices, and now wants them to be part of the smart home device market as well.

In September, the company announced it would release a software update to support Echo Spatial Perception between existing Echo and newer Dot devices, allowing a single device to answer a voice command based on nearest proximity to the user. Of course, Amazon wants its customers to buy at least half a dozen of these assistants to scatter around the house, with bulk discounts available on six and twelve packs at $49 and $99 price reductions, respectively.

The Echo Dot will go on sale October 20th and is currently available for pre-order on the product page for $49.

Courtesy-Fud

Nintendo Questioned Over Pokemon GO Data Collection, Privacy

July 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Mobile

A Democratic U.S. senator requested the software developer behind Nintendo Co Ltd’s Pokemon GO to clarify the mobile game’s data privacy protections, amid concerns the augmented reality hit was unnecessarily collecting vast swaths of sensitive user data.

Senator Al Franken of Minnesota sent a letter to Niantic Chief Executive John Hanke asking what user data Pokemon GO collects, how the data is used and with what third party service providers that data may be shared.

The game, which marries Pokemon, the classic 20-year-old cartoon franchise, with augmented reality, allows players to walk around real-life neighborhoods while seeking virtual Pokemon game characters on their smartphone screens – a scavenger hunt that has earned enthusiastic early reviews.

Franken also asked Niantic to describe how it ensures parents give “meaningful consent” to a child’s use of the game and subsequent collection of his or her personal information.

“I am concerned about the extent to which Niantic may be unnecessarily collecting, using, and sharing a wide range of users’ personal information without their appropriate consent,” Franken wrote.

“As the augmented reality market evolves, I ask that you provide greater clarity on how Niantic is addressing issues of user privacy and security, particularly that of its younger players,” he added.

Franken additionally asked Niantic to provide an update on a vulnerability detected on Monday by security researchers who found Pokemon GO players signing into the game via a Google account on an Apple iOS device unwittingly gave “full access permission” to the person’s Google account.

Pokemon GO on Tuesday released an updated version on iOS to reduce the number of data permissions it sought from Google account users.

Niantic did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Franken’s inquiry.

The company, spun off by Google last year, created the game in tandem with Pokemon Co, a third of which is owned by Nintendo.

 

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