Activision Blizzard Inc has launched a film and TV studio to develop original content based on its popular videogame franchises such as “Call of Duty” and “Hearthstone” in its latest push to expand beyond console-based games.
Activision Blizzard Studios’ first production will be “Skylanders Academy,” an animated TV series based on the company’s toys-to-life videogame “Skylanders”, the company said in a statement.
A “near-term” project for the videogame maker’s film and TV studio will be to develop a movie franchise based on the hugely successful military first-person shooter “Call of Duty”.
The company said it would also consider adapting the franchise for TV.
“Warcraft”, Activision’s other well-known game franchise, is already being made into a film through a partnership between its Blizzard Entertainment unit and Legendary Pictures, and is slated for a 2016 release.
Activision said last month it would start an e-sports division to tap into the fast-growing competitive gaming market, where gamers play against each other for prize money.
Earlier this week, Activision agreed to buy “Candy Crush” creator King Digital Entertainment Plc for $5.9 billion to sharpen its focus on mobile games.
Activision’s highly anticipated “Call of Duty: Black Ops III” game went on sale earlier on Friday.
Activision Blizzard has bought King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 billion, marking not only one of the largest acquisitions in videogame history but one of the largest deals ever made in the entertainment business. Comparing this to previous entertainment deals highlights just how extraordinary the figures involved are; the purchase price values King at significantly more than Marvel Entertainment (acquired by Disney for $4.2 billion), Star Wars owner Lucasfilm (Disney again, for $4.1 billion) and movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (acquired by Sony for almost $5 billion). The price dwarfs the $1.5 billion paid by Japanese network SoftBank and mobile publisher GungHo for Supercell back in 2013 – though it’s not quite on the same scale as the $7.4 billion price tag Disney paid for Pixar, or in the same ballpark as the $18 billion-odd involved in the merger that originally created Activision Blizzard itself.
How is $5.9 billion justified? Well, it’s a fairly reasonable premium of 20% over the company’s share price – though if you’ve been holding on to King shares since its IPO in 2014, you’ll still be disappointed, as it’s far short of the $22.50 IPO price, or even the $20.50 that the shares traded at on their first day on the open market. The company’s share price has been more or less stable this year, but Activision’s offer still doesn’t make up for the various tumbles shares took through 2014.
A better justification, perhaps, lies in the scale of King’s mobile game business. The company is a little off its peak at the moment. Candy Crush Saga, its biggest title, is on a slow decline from an extraordinary peak of success, and other titles aren’t growing fast enough to make up for that decline, but it still recorded over half a billion monthly active users (MAUs) in its recently reported second quarter figures. In terms of paying users, the company had 7.6 million paying users each month – more than Blizzard’s cash cow, World of Warcraft, and moreover, the average revenue from each of those users was $23.26, far more than a World of Warcraft subscriber pays. King took in $529 million in bookings during the quarter, 81 per cent of it from mobile devices – a seriously appealing set of figures for a company like Activision, which struggles to get even 10 per cent of its revenues from mobile despite its constant lip-service to the platform.
In buying King, Activision instantly makes itself into one of the biggest players in the mobile space, albeit simply by absorbing the company that is presently at the top of the heap. It diversifies its bottom line in a way that investors and analysts have been crying out for it to do, reducing its reliance on console (still damn near half of its revenues) and on the remarkable-but-fading World of Warcraft, and bulking up its anaemic mobile revenues to the point of respectability. On paper, this deal turns Activision into a much more broad-based company that’s far more in line with the present trajectory of the market at large, and should assuage the fears of those who think Activision’s over-reliance on a small number of core franchises leaves it far more vulnerable than rivals like Electronic Arts.
That’s on paper. In practice, though, what has Activision just bought for $5.9 billion? That’s a slightly trickier question. The company is, unquestionably, now the proud owner of one of the most talented and accomplished creators and operators of mobile games in the world. King’s experience of developing, marketing and, crucially, running mobile games at enormous scale, and the team that accomplished all of that, is undoubtedly valuable in its own right. Those are talents that Activision didn’t have yesterday, but will have tomorrow. Are those talents worth $5.9 billion, though? Without wishing for a moment to cast doubt on the skills of those who work at King, no, they’re not. $5.9 billion isn’t “acquihire” money, and when that’s the kind of cash involved we simply can’t think of this as an “acquihire” deal. Activision didn’t pay that kind of money in order to get access to the talent and experience assembled at King. It paid for King itself, for its ongoing businesses and its IP.
Open the shopping bag, and you might struggle to understand how the contents reach $5.9 billion at the till. King has one remarkable, breakthrough, enormously successful IP – Candy Crush Saga, which still accounts (not including heavily marketed spin-off title Candy Crush Soda Saga) for 39 per cent of the company’s gross bookings. No doubt deeply aware of the danger of being over-reliant on revenues from this single title, King has worked incredibly hard to find success for other games in its portfolio. But even its great efforts in this regard have failed to compensate for falling revenues from Candy Crush, and it’s notable that a fair amount of the “non-Candy Crush Saga” revenue that the company boasts actually comes from Candy Crush Soda Saga. Other titles like Farm Heroes Saga and Pet Rescue Saga are no doubt profitable and successful in their own right, and King would be a sustainable business even without Candy Crush. But it would be a much, much smaller business, and certainly not a $5.9 billion business.
Despite being generally bullish about King’s prospects, then, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the company has done incredibly well out of this acquisition. The undoubted talent and experience of its teams aside, this is, realistically, a company with one IP worth paying for, and unlike Star Wars or the Avengers, Candy Crush is a very new IP whose longevity is entirely untested and whose potential for merchandising or cross-media ventures is dubious at best. King has done better than most of its rivals in the mobile space at applying some of the lessons of its biggest hit to subsequent games and making them successful, but it shares with every other mobile developer the same fundamental problem: none of them has ever worked out how to bottle the lightning that creates a mega-hit and repeat the success down the line. Absent of another Candy Crush game, the odds are that King’s business would slowly deflate as the air escaped from the Candy Crush bubble, until the company’s sustainable (and undoubtedly profitable) core was what was left. Selling up to Activision at a healthy premium while the company is still “inflated” by the likely unrepeatable success of Candy Crush is a fantastic move for the company’s management and investors, but rather less so for Activision.
Perhaps, though, the whole might be more than the sum of its parts? Couldn’t Activision, holders of some of the world’s favourite console and PC game IP, work with King to leverage that IP and the firm’s reach in traditional games, creating new business at the interaction of their respective specialisations? That’s a big part of what made Pixar so valuable to Disney, for example; the match between their businesses was of vital importance to that deal, and the same can broadly be said for Disney’s other huge acquisitions, Lucasfilm and Marvel. (SoftBank’s purchase of Supercell, by comparison, was rather more of a straightforward market-share land grab.) What could this new hybrid, Activision Blizzard King, hope to achieve in terms of overlap that enhances the value of its various component parts?
Certainly, Activision has some properties that could work on mobile (I’m thinking specifically of Skylanders here, though others may also fit); some Blizzard properties could also probably work on mobile, though I very much doubt that Blizzard (which retains a strong degree of independence within the group) is a good cultural fit for King, and is deeply unlikely to work with it in any manner which gives up the slightest creative control over its properties. King’s properties, meanwhile, don’t look terribly enticing as console or PC games, and conversions done this way would almost certainly defeat the entire purpose of the deal anyway, since the objective is to bolster Activision’s mobile business. The prospect of a mobile game based on Call of Duty or another major console IP may seem superficially interesting, but we’ve been down this road before and it didn’t lead anywhere impressive. Sure, core gamers are on mobile too, but they’ve by and large been nonplussed at best and outraged at worst by the notion of engaging with mobile versions of their console favourites. It’s genuinely hard to piece together the various IPs and franchises owned by King and Activision and see how there’s any winning interaction between them on the table.
This is what makes me keep returning to those other mega-deals – to Star Wars, to Marvel, to Pixar – and finding the contrast between them and Activision / King so extraordinary. Each of those multi-billion dollar deals was carried out by Disney with a very specific, long-term plan in mind that would leverage the abilities of both acquirer and acquired to create something far more than the sum of its parts. Each of those deals had a very clear raison d’être beyond simply “it’ll make us bigger.” Each of those companies fitted with the new parent like a piece of a puzzle. King’s only role in Activision’s “puzzle” is that they do mobile, and Activision sucks at mobile; there’s no sense of any grand plan that will play out.
In all likelihood, Activision has just paid a huge premium for a company which is past the peak of its greatest hit title and into a period of managed decline, not to mention a company with which its core businesses simply don’t fit in any meaningful way. King’s a great company in many respects, but its acquisition isn’t going to go down as a great deal for Activision – and we can expect to see plenty of that $5.9 billion being frittered away in goodwill write-downs over the coming few years.
Facebook crossed the 1 billion monthly user mark in September 2012, so it’s taken about three years to add the last half billion. It took just over two years to amass the half billion before that. For comparison, Twitter has about 320 million monthly users.
Facebook announced the figure with its earnings results for the third quarter, which came in better than expected. Revenue was $4.5 billion, up 41 percent from a year earlier, the company said, while net profit was $896 million, up 11 percent.
Excluding charges, Facebook’s profit was 57 cents a share, better than the 52 cents a share analysts were expecting, according to a poll by Thompson Reuters.
Facebook had 1.55 billion monthly active users at the end of September, up 14 percent from the same time last year. Mobile monthly active users were 1.39 billion, it said.
The social network announced another milestone in August, when it said the number of people who accessed Facebook in a single day passed 1 billion for the first time.
“When we talk about our financials, we use average numbers, but this is different. This was the first time we reached this milestone, and it’s just the beginning of connecting the whole world,” Zuckerberg said at the time.
The company’s net profit had declined in the two previous quarters, largely because costs increased as it invested in new areas like virtual reality. But costs rose less sharply this past quarter — by 68 percent, compared to 82 percent in the second quarter — and net profit was up again.
In the mobile gaming space, change occurs quickly and often. In the seven years since the App Store revitalised a previously disjointed and granular market, almost every important aspect of production, distribution, marketing and consumption has been upturned several times. Smart developers learned to move quickly, primed for instant response and rapid iteration, in order to keep pace with a constantly shifting environment.
For mobile’s biggest companies, Kabam’s Aaron Loeb says, this way of thinking no longer suits the marketplace. “Five years ago mobile could best be characterised as a market where the best attribute you could have as a developer was speed. Today, the best attribute you can have as a developer is reliability. That requires different studios, that requires different leadership, and that requires different ways of thinking about steering development.”
Loeb left a senior position at Electronic Arts for Kabam in June 2014, the first in a run of major hires that also saw Zynga’s Mike Verdu and EA’s Nick Earl arrive at the company. Kevin Chou, Kabam’s CEO, had steered the company from a dependence on Facebook to its own web platform, Kabam.com, and then from there to mobile, the company emerging stronger and more successful each time. Loeb, Verdu and Early were hired in a conscious attempt to pivot once again, preparation for what Chou believed soon become a more settled and predictable place to do business.
Broader product strategies used to work, Loeb says, echoing an idea he expressed in a talk that proved to be the highlight of DICE Europe last month. Ever since the first games with in-app purchases appeared on the App Store in North America and Europe five years ago, the collective confusion over what constituted a ‘good’ product encouraged a “throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks” culture. Player taste and behaviour has changed, Loeb says, and the companies with the will – and the resources – to monitor and understand those factors have a clearer idea about the qualities necessary for success in mobile.
A company like Kabam can now place its bets with greater confidence than ever before. Those bets will be fewer, bolder and bigger, and they will ultimately lead to what Loeb has called – on his Linkedin profile, no less – “the next generation of free-to-play games.”
“Players are demanding games with more compelling loops, a richer sense of gameplay satisfaction,” he says. “The historical notion of what that means – from the console industry – is deep immersion, 80-hours of gameplay, you can disappear into your man or woman cave and never come up for air. That is not great mobile gameplay.
“Games that are purely versions of Solitaire – minimal attention, brain-clearing exercises – will always have their place in mobile, but more sophisticated mobile consumers want games they can have meaningful relationships with. So characters they care about, and other players they can care about, in ways both good and ill.
“The other thing that will be really prevalent will be an emerging and changing sense of what people will pay for, and what works in free-to-play… I can’t give you an exact answer to [what that will be], and not because I secretly know the answer and won’t tell you. It’s because it’s happening right now, and it is one of the most interesting things happening right now.”
Certain aspects of the answer can be found in two Kabam releases from the recent past: Marvel Contest of Champions, which is still among the top-grossing iOS games almost a year after launch, and Spirit Lords, which launched to considerable fanfare in May this year. Spirit Lords, in particular, displayed an uncommon degree of ambition: a new IP with lavish production values, an all-star development team, and no pre-existing brand awareness to use as a crutch.
“The point is that we’re taking the best design elements of those traditional games that our team members have been building for years – Diablo, Dragon Age, real classics – and bring them truly into mobile,” Loeb says. “We’re not trying to recreate your love of Diablo in the Nineties. We’re trying to create a new language of games for mobile.”
Such things don’t come cheap, of course, and that kind of investment demands a successful launch. Only two or three years ago, I heard very smart people advise mobile developers to launch a minimum viable product; to use the live, reactive nature of the App Store to shape what those games would become. With a game like Spirit Lords, however, there isn’t even a hint of uncertainty, no optimistic air of ‘we’ll see how it goes.’ To use Loeb’s own comparison, Kabam wasn’t throwing spaghetti at the wall with this one.
“That’s 100 per cent accurate. Kabam has engaged in a significant shift, and I believe that the whole industry will engage in that shift,” he says. “It is these launches that set the trajectory of a title. The launch is a big deal in mobile now, in a way that it wasn’t a few years ago. You had the sense then that you could build a business over two years. You still can do that, by the way, but you don’t get two chances to make a first impression.
“We are certainly thinking about how to make a very compelling, very satisfying experience at launch, which then continues to grow after launch… We don’t agree with [MVP strategy] any more. We believe we can look at the market now, and see the tastes of the customer and the player, and we can determine at some root level what is a good game and what is a bad game. That doesn’t mean that if you release a good game it will succeed – it’s still an incredibly competitive market – but at the very least you can have more influence on the outcome than treating it all like a coin toss.”
This kind of thinking is now commonplace among the big mobile developers. Earlier this month, Machine Zone’s Gabriel Leydon predicted that the most successful companies would soon be releasing just one or two games a year, with more and more money coming from an ever decreasing slate of products. The market remains crowded and chaotic, but the way Kabam, Machine Zone and others like them are setting up for the future will impose a kind of order – one not dissimilar to that which arose due to the rocketing costs of AAA console development, when many so studios discovered that they could no longer compete on such an uneven field of play.
“The launch is a big deal in mobile now, in a way that it wasn’t a few years ago”
“It is too early to say it’s gonna be the exact same phenomenon as console, and the economic factors of the industry are different enough that I don’t think it will be the exact same,” Loeb says. “In part, the middle fell out of console because the consumer for small and mid-sized games left to go to mobile and free-to-play. That was a pretty big part of that phenomenon.”
Whether those developers left through choice or necessity is a crucial distinction, of course. As is the question of where, exactly, those developers will turn if this age of “fewer, bigger and bolder games” has a similar fallout to the consolidation of high-end development in the last console generation. Loeb certainly doesn’t dismiss it as a possibility, and he admits that the companies worst affected by the shift will be further down the chain. With console, the middle of the market dropped away. With this next phase of mobile, it will be the little guys.
“The way that mobile and free-to-play as they currently stand will be disrupted is not completely clear,” he says. “The very low end of mobile game development seems likely to go away, or it will truly become like hoping to get hit by lightning. The developer who spends $20,000 throwing something on the marketplace really ought to put that $20,000 in a mutual fund. That’s just not very likely to produce any outcome.
“There’s so much competition, and so much quality product being created, that it will be very, very hard for those games. Harder than it has ever been.”
Japan’s Nintendo Co announced that it is delaying the much-awaited launch of its videogame service for smartphones by a few months to March 2016, disappointing gaming fans as well as investors who drove its shares down by more than 10 percent.
Under a strategy announced by its previous chief executive, who died of cancer earlier this year, Nintendo had said it would introduce its first smartphone games by the end of 2015. Fans and investors had hoped it would include its best-selling videogame franchise Mario in the first lineup.
Chief Executive Tatsumi Kimishima, a former banker who succeeded Satoru Iwata, said the delay would help Nintendo concentrate on selling its existing consoles and game software during the year-end holiday season.
“The year-end is traditionally our peak season for sales,” told a packed news conference, when asked about the delay. “This way, we’d be able to introduce our new applications after the holiday season is over.”
He avoided commenting on whether Mario would come to smartphones, instead introducing a new social networking service-style application called “Miitomo” which would be available in March.
The news knocked Nintendo’s shares down more than 10 percent in morning trade, erasing earlier gains. DeNA Co, Nintendo’s mobile gaming partner, fell as much as 19 percent.
Kimishima must avoid cannibalizing traditional console sales at the same time as pushing aggressively into the rapidly growing mobile gaming segment. On Wednesday, Nintendo reported a weaker-than-expected operating profit for the July-September quarter on tepid sales of game software.
“This (move into mobile gaming) is a sea change for them and there may be some growing pains like this along the way,” said Gavin Parry, managing director of Hong Kong-based brokerage Parry International Trade.
Former CEO Iwata, credited with broadening the appeal of videogames, died of cancer in July just months after deciding to enter mobile gaming despite years of resisting investor calls for such a move.
Instagram, a five-year-old site for posting and photos and video online, has solidly surpassed rival Twitter to claim the No. 2 spot in the social networking world – behind parent company Facebook.
“Given that Facebook owns Instagram, that certainly makes them the king of the social networking mountain,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. “Instagram is aimed squarely at mobile devices, and that makes it very easy for users to shoot and post very quickly. It also has the patina of ‘cool’ with hip users — mainly arising from young users adopting it as their own.”
Instagram is gaining momentum. In December of last year, the company said it reached the 300 million monthly user mark. Less than a year later, the site has added another 100 million active users.
Despite the surge in monthly users, Instagram is still far behind Facebook, the world’s largest social network with more than 1 billion worldwide users.
However, the numbers put Instagram beyond Twitter, which in June reported316 million active monthly users. Instagram is also well ahead of Google+, which reportedly has about 300 million active monthly users.
“While milestones like this are important, what really excites us is the way that visual communication makes the world feel a little bit smaller to every one of us,” Instagram wrote in a blog post. “Our community has evolved to be even more global, with more than 75% living outside of the U.S. To all the new Instagrammers: welcome!”
Among the last 100 million to join, more than half live in Europe and Asia, the company noted. The countries that added the most Instagram users include Brazil, Japan and Indonesia.
Finnish mobile gaming company Rovio Entertainment, popular for its high-flying “Angry Birds,” is hoping to rebound from a tough 2014 and to expand in Asia by tailoring its games to draw local consumers.
After reporting a 73 percent drop in its 2014 earnings due to a decline in the licensing of the “Angry Birds” brand, and cutting about 110 jobs, Rovio is focusing on going local, the company’s chief commercial officer Alex Lambeek told Reuters this week.
“(We have the) building capability to scale into parts of the world where we haven’t been strong in the past and a big part of that is actually working with partners, not trying to do everything ourselves,” said Lambeek, who joined the company from Fox International Channels in April.
“Angry Birds,” which was released in 2009 as a mobile game and fast became a hit, allowed players to fling an array of birds at pigs using a virtual slingshot.
“Angry Birds 2,” released last month, adds more characters, high-definition scenes, options to pick which bird to fling and the ability to compete with friends.
China accounts for a third of the nearly 40 million downloads of “Angry Birds 2″ since July 30, making it the top market. That is in line with the first “Angry Birds,” which Rovio said has seen nearly one billion Chinese downloads, out of what the company says is a total of 3 billion game downloads since 2009.
For Birds 2, Rovio partnered with Chinese mobile gaming company Kunlun Inc to make changes within the prompts and language used to target the way Chinese players are used to gaming, Lambeek said.
Chinese customers “want to be spoken to and listened to in their own language with their own specific humor,” he said.
Rovio hopes the new game renews interest in the brand ahead of May 2016′s “The Angry Birds Movie.”
The last of the console makers is ready to sign up to AMD chips, according to the latest rumor
Some details are now coming to light on Nintendo’s upcoming NX console. The console will be in the shops in a year’s time, but we might know who’s building the NX’s chips.
AMD will manufacture the CPU + GPU combo, giving the outfit total control of the console market. It was pretty much a no brainer. AMD created the APUs found inside the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Although it is getting increasingly difficult to tell the consoles apart.
AMD’s CEO, Lisa Su, confirmed that the company had a new chip contract. Su said the deal could generate billions, but she did not identify the customer .
It now seems she was referring to the Nintendo deal, which means she is more optimistic about the products’ success than us.
The NX will be based around the Android operating system and should released some time next year. Nintendo is saying nothing about the deal at the moment.
AMD is needs more deals like this if it is going to turn around its dependence on the ever-shrinking PC market. There are only so many consoles that made every year and AMD appears to be inside them all.
The announcement was made in a blog posted by Oculus.
Israel’s Calcalist financial news website said the deal was worth tens of millions of dollars.
While other companies pioneering the virtual reality field focus on full-body movement, Pebbles’ technology detects and tracks hand movement. It is aimed primarily at gamers but also has applications for TV, computers, or smartphone operation while driving.
Recently Pebbles integrated its technology with Oculus glasses, which translate finger gestures into virtual movement through a camera mounted on the glass frame, Calcalist said.
Investors in Pebbles include Chinese mobile phone maker Xiaomi, Israeli venture capital fund Giza and U.S. storage firm SanDisk, Calcalist said.
Facebook Inc has begun allowing users without an account to sign up for its Messenger app with a phone number, the social media company said on Wednesday, in another move to broaden the app’s reach and make it a standalone platform.
Earlier this year, Facebook opened up Messenger to developers, and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said he wanted to connect users directly with retailers, restaurants and other businesses.
With the latest update, users will be prompted by an option that says “Not on Facebook?” when they open the app. They can then sign up with their name, phone number and a photo.
The mobile messaging service, which has 600 million users, has added a number of new features in recent months, including games and video calling.
Facebook’s flagship social network has 1.4 billion users.
Individuals that are interested in trying their hand at capturing 360-degree video with Jump can fill out a form Google posted on Monday that asks basic biographical questions as well as details on how they would use the system.
Google didn’t say how many “select creators” it would chose, but those who are picked will be able to start using the 16-camera rig this summer.
Google seems especially interested in people with creative backgrounds. The jobs that people can select in the form’s occupation section include filmmaker, director, artist and production staff — but there is an “other” section that allows write-ins if none of the above apply.
There’s also a section where applicants can explain why they want to test Jump — and “awesome answers might put you at the top of the list,” Google said.
Google worked with GoPro to build Jump, which has 16 of the company’s Hero4 cameras attached to a circular frame. Jump’s price and availability weren’t provided when the rig was shown at Google’s I/O developer’s conference in May. However, given that a Hero4 camera retails for approximately US$500, initial Jump buyers will likely have deep pockets.
The first videos created with Jump will appear on YouTube this summer, Google said at I/O. People will be able to experience them via the Google Cardboard viewer.
The service, to be available in the form of an app as well as a website, will focus exclusively on gamers and gaming.
More than 25,000 games will each have their own page on the site, bringing videos and live streams about various titles together in a single space, Google said.
Users will be able to add games to their collection for quick access, subscribe to channels, and receive recommendations on new games based on the games and channels they follow.
“When you want something specific, you can search with confidence, knowing that typing “call” will show you “Call of Duty” and not “Call Me Maybe,” Google said in a blog post.
Amazon bought Twitch Interactive last year for $970 million, beating a rival bid from Google.
“We welcome new entrants into the growing list of competitors since gaming video is obviously a huge market that others have their eye on,” said Matthew DiPietro, Twitch’s vice president of marketing.
Twitch also tweeted a welcome message to its rival, saying, “@YouTubeGaming Welcome Player 2. Add me on Google +. #kappa”
“Kappa” is an emoticon used mostly by Twitch users to convey sarcasm.
YouTube Gaming will available on the web, mobiles and tablets on both Android and iOS operating systems, according to a tweet from its official account.
The service will launch this summer, starting in the United States and UK.
Finland’s Rovio said on Monday it had inked a deal with Danish toymaker Lego to produce a line of Angry Birds building blocks as a bid to revive its ailing licensing business based on the popular mobile game.
Rovio, whose 2014 earnings fell 73 percent due to a drop in licensing the Angry Birds brand on toys, clothing and sweets, said the release of the Lego toys would coincide with the premiere of its full-length Angry Birds movie in spring 2016.
The Angry Birds game, in which players use a slingshot to attack pigs who steal birds’ eggs, is the No. 1 paid mobile app of all time, but the brand has been losing appeal and Rovio has struggled to produce new hit games.
The company is hoping the upcoming 3D movie will help the toy business turn back to growth.
Rovio recently cut about 110 jobs, or 14 percent of its workforce.
For a while now, people had been wondering what the next Wii would be called, with smart money being on the Number 2. However it seems that the new console dubbed the Nintendo NX has a few surprises under the bonnet.
According to Nikkei Nintendo is planning an Android console so that game developers would be able to port their games over with relative ease.
This could also indicate that games developed for the Nintendo NX could extend to other Android-powered devices like smartphones and tablets, play nice with the console.
Games developers have been ignoring the Wii U in droves so this might actually help Nintendo get back into the race.
Android-powered consoles have appeared before but they died horribly in the market place.
There’s something genuinely surreal about sitting down to write an article about region locking in 2015. It feels archaic and almost nostalgic; I might as well be writing something about blowing into cartridge ports to get games to work, or bemoaning the long load times for cassettes. Yet here we are. Years into the era of digital distribution, long after we reached the point where it became technically harder to prevent customers from accessing games from anywhere in the world than it is to permit the same, region locking is back in the news. Thanks, Nintendo.
The focus of this week’s headlines is the Humble Bundle promotion which Nintendo is running for a number of indie titles on 3DS and Wii U. It’s a great deal for some excellent games and is raising money for a solid cause; plus it’s wonderful to see console platform holders engaging with the Humble Bundle approach, which has been so successful at bringing indie games (and other creative works) to wider audiences on the PC. It ought to be a win, win, win for Nintendo, gamers and indie developers alike.
Unfortunately, though, the bundle only works in the Americas; North America and some bits of Central and South America. Customers elsewhere are entirely locked out, a matter which has been a source of deep frustration not only to those customers, but also seemingly to Nintendo’s own staff working on the project. The result is that what ought to have been a straightforward PR win for the company has turned bittersweet; there has been more widespread news coverage of the region locking debacle in the past few days than there has been for the bundle itself.
Although this is a terrible shame for the developers involved – and I sincerely hope that Nintendo can pull its thumb out of its backside and launch an international version of the bundle in short order – no sympathy is due to Nintendo in this situation. It’s a problem entirely of the company’s own making; the firm made a deliberate and conscious decision to embrace region locking even as the internationalisation of digital distribution made that look increasingly ridiculous, and until that stubbornly backwards piece of decision making is reversed, it’s going to continue causing PR problems for the firm, not to mention genuine problems for its most devoted customers.
Remember, after all, that the rest of the gaming world has ditched region locking en masse – Sony gave it up with the PS3, even making it painless to use digital content from different regions by creating multiple accounts on the same console, while Microsoft made region locking optional on Xbox 360 (making a bit of a mess where some publishers enforced it and others didn’t) before ditching it entirely on the Xbox One. At the same time Nintendo, ever the merry contrarians, went the opposite direction, not only maintaining region locking on the Wii and Wii U, but even extending it to the 3DS – in contrast to the company’s prior handheld consoles, which had been region free.
The idiocy of a region locked handheld is staggering; these are systems which are quite simply at their best when you’re traveling, yet lo and behold, Nintendo don’t want you to buy any games if you go on holiday or on a business trip. The excuses trotted out were mealy-mouthed corporate dishonesty from start to finish; it was all about protecting customers, honest, and respecting local customs and laws. Utter tosh. Had those things been a genuine issue, they would have been an issue in the previous decades when Nintendo managed to sell handheld consoles without region locking; they would also have been an issue for Sony and Microsoft when they removed region locking from their systems.
In truth, there’s only one reason for region locking in this day and age – price control – and Nintendo’s calculation must have been that they had more to lose from the possibility, real or imagined, of people buying cheaper 3DS games from countries overseas, than they had to lose from annoying a chunk of their customer base, be they keen gamers who wanted to try out titles unlikely to be released in their regions, expats who want to play games brought from their home countries or parents who find that a game bought in the airport on the way home from holiday results not in a pacified, happy child on the flight but in an angry, upset child with a game that won’t work.
In Nintendo’s defence, Satoru Iwata has recently been musing publicly about dropping region locking from the Nintendo NX, whenever that turns up. That the company is clearly planning to move down that path does rather confirm that it’s been fibbing about its motivations for region locking all along, of course, which might be why Iwata is being cautious in his statements; it’s a shame if such face-saving is the reason for Nintendo failing to keep up with industry moves in this regard, because the company is going to keep being periodically beaten with this stick until the problem is fixed.
Admittedly, there would be problems with removing region locking from its existing consoles – not least that Nintendo’s agreements with publishers probably guarantee the region locking system, so even if it could be patched out of the 3DS and Wii U with a software update, that can’t happen legally due to the contracts it would breach. What Nintendo could and should do, however, is to offer gamers a gesture of good faith on the matter by dropping region locking from all its first-party software from now on – and perhaps emulating Xbox 360 era Microsoft by making it optional for third-party publishers as well. I can envisage no legal barrier to that approach; it would earn the company enormous kudos for responding to its audience and dealing with the problem, and would cost them precisely nothing. There aren’t that many easy PR wins floating around the industry right now; Nintendo should leap on this chance to show itself to be on the customers’ side.
Wheels turn slowly in Kyoto, though, and it’s probably too much to expect the company to react in a startup-like way to the region locking issue. In some ways it’s Nintendo’s strength that it reacts slowly and thoughtfully rather than jumping on every bandwagon, but in recent years, it’s also been a weakness far too many times – and the thoroughly wonderful software that the company has been turning out in the past few years, perhaps the finest line-up it’s produced in decades, has been regularly undermined by bad decisions in marketing and positioning of its platforms, many of which can be traced to a failure to understand where the market is and where it’s moving.
Region locking isn’t the biggest problem. Fixing it would be cheap and easy but would hardly be a panacea for Nintendo’s issues – but it’s a problem that’s symptomatic, emblematic even, of the broader problems Nintendo has with putting its customers first and applying the same care and attention to its corporate aspects which it always applies to its software development. Fix a problem like this in a proactive, rapid way, and we might all start to believe that the company has what it takes to get back on top.