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Instagram Dethrones Twitter As Second Biggest Social Network

September 25, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Instagram celebrated a milestone this week, logging more than 400 million monthly users, solidly blowing past rival Twitter.

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.



Rovio Seeks Resurgence, Growth In Asia With ‘Angry Birds 2′

August 21, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Gaming

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.”




Nintendo Goes AMD

July 21, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

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.



Facebook’s Oculus Acquires Gesture Recognition Firm Pebble

July 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Facebook’s Oculus unit announcd that it has agreed to acquire Israeli gesture recognition technology developer Pebbles Interfaces for an undisclosed amount.

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 Allowing Users Without An Account To Use Messenger

June 26, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

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.




Google Seeking Testers For Jump Virtual Reality Video Camera

June 24, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

If you’re an aspiring virtual reality content producer, Google is looking to give you a chance to test the Jump camera system it developed for recording video to be used in VR environments.

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.



Google Launches ‘YouTube Gaming’

June 15, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Gaming

Google Inc said on Friday that it is unveiling a live streaming gaming service called “YouTube Gaming”, creating a rival to Inc’s  Twitch service.

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.



Angry Birds Rovio Makes Deal With Lego

June 9, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

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.



Will Nintendo Move To Android?

June 3, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

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.


Will Region Locking Cost Nintendo In The Long Run?

June 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

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.


Is Nintendo Going Mobile?

March 18, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Nintendo has formed a comprehensive new alliance with DeNA that will make every one of the company’s famous IPs available for mobile development.

The bedrock of the deal is a dual stock purchase, with each company buying ¥22 billion ($181 million) of the other’s treasury shares. That’s equivalent to 10 per cent of DeNA’s stock, and 1.24 per cent of Nintendo. The payments will complete on April 2, 2015.

What this will ultimately mean for the consumer is Nintendo IP on mobile, “extending Nintendo’s reach into the vast market of smart device users worldwide.” There will be no ports of existing Nintendo games, according to information released today, but, “all Nintendo IP will be eligible for development and exploration by the alliance.” That includes the “iconic characters” that the company has guarded for so long.

No details on the business model that these games and apps will be released under were offered, though Nintendo may well be reluctant to adopt free-to-play at first. The information provided to the press emphasised the “premium” experiences Nintendo currently offers on platforms like Wii U and 3DS. Admittedly, that could be interpreted in either direction.

However, Nintendo and DeNA are planning an online membership service that will span Nintendo consoles, PC and smart devices. That will launch in the autumn this year.

This marks a significant change in strategy for Nintendo, which has been the subject of reports about plans to take its famous IPs to mobile for at least a year. Indeed, the company has denied the suggestion on several occasions, even as it indicated that it did have plans to make mobile a part of its core strategy in other ways.

Analysts have been offering their reflections on the deal, with the response from most being largely positive.

“Nintendo’s decision to partner with DeNA is a recognition of the importance of the games app audience to the future of its business,” said IHS head of gaming Piers Harding-Rolls. “Not only is there significant revenue to be made directly from smartphone and tablet consumers for Nintendo, app ecosystems are also very important in reaching new customers to make them aware of the Nintendo brand and to drive a new and broader audience to its dedicated console business. Last year IHS data shows that games apps were worth $26 billion in consumer spending globally, with handheld console games worth only 13 per cent of that total at $3.3 billion.

“The Nintendo-DeNA alliance is a good fit and offers up a number of important synergies for two companies that are no longer leaders in their respective segments.

“DeNA remains one of the leading mobile games company’s in Japan and, we believe, shares cultural similarities with Nintendo, especially across its most popular big-brand content. The alliance gives Nintendo access to a large audience in its home market, which remains very important to its overall financial performance. Japanese consumers spend significantly more per capita on mobile games than in any other country and it remains the biggest market for both smartphone and handheld gaming. While the partnership gives Nintendo immediate potential to grow its domestic revenues through this audience, gaining access to DeNA’s mobile expertise is important too to realise this potential.

“This alliance makes commercial sense on many levels – the main challenge will be knitting together the cultures of both companies and aligning the speed of development and iteration that is needed in the mobile space with Nintendo’s more patient and systematic approach to games content production. How the new games are monetised may also provide a challenge considering the general differences in models used in retail for Nintendo and through in-app purchases for DeNA.”

In a livestreamed press conference regarding the DeNA deal, Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata reassured those in attendance that the company was still committed to “dedicated video game systems” as its core business. To do that, he confirmed that the company was working on a new console, codenamed “NX”.

“As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand new concept under the development codename NX,” he said.

“It is too early to elaborate on the details of this project but we hope to share more information with you next year.”



Is Nintendo On The Right Course?

February 3, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo is heading back to black, with the company’s financial announcements this week revealing that it’s expecting to post a fairly reasonable profit for the full year. For a company that’s largely been mired in red ink since the end of the glory days of the Wii, that looks like pretty fantastic news; but since I was one of the people who repeatedly pointed out in the past when Nintendo’s quarterly losses were driven by currency fluctuations, not sales failures, it’s only fair that I now point out that quite the reverse is true. The Yen has fallen dramatically against the Dollar and the Euro in recent months, making Nintendo’s overseas assets and sales much more valuable in its end-of-year results – and this time, that’s covering over the fact that the company has missed its hardware sales targets for both the 3DS and the Wii U.

In short, all those “Nintendo back in profit” headlines aren’t really worth anything more than the “Nintendo makes shock loss” headlines were back when the Yen was soaring to all-time highs a few years ago. The company is still facing the same tough times this week that it was last week; the Wii U is still struggling to break 10 million units and the 3DS is seeing a major year-on-year decline in its sales, having faltered significantly after hitting the 50 million installed base mark.

In hardware terms, then, Nintendo deserves all the furrowed brows and concerned looks it’s getting right now. Part of the problem is comparisons with past successes, of course; the Wii shipped over a million units and the DS, an absolute monster of a console, managed over 150 million. In reality, while the Wii U is having a seriously hard time in spite of its almost universally acclaimed 2014 software line-up, the 3DS isn’t doing badly at all; but it can’t escape comparison with its record-breaking older sibling, naturally enough.

Plenty of commentators reckon they know the answer to Nintendo’s woes, and they’ve all got the same answer; the company needs to ditch hardware and start selling its games on other platforms. Pokemon on iOS! Smash Bros on PlayStation! Mario Kart on Xbox! Freed from the limited installed base of Nintendo’s own hardware – and presumably, in the case of handheld titles, freed to experiment with new business models like F2P – the company’s games would reach their full potential, the expensive hardware division could be shut down and everyone at Nintendo could spend the rest of their lives blowing their noses on ¥10,000 notes.

I’m being flippant, yes, but there’s honestly not a lot more depth than that to the remedies so often proposed for Nintendo. I can’t help but find myself deeply unconvinced. For a start, let’s think about “Nintendo’s woes”, and what exactly is meant by the doom and gloom narrative that has surrounded the company in recent years. That the Wii U isn’t selling well is absolutely true; it’s doing better than the Dreamcast did, to pick an ominous example, but unless there’s a major change of pace the console is unlikely ever to exceed the installed base of the GameCube. Indeed, if you treat the Wii as a “black swan” in Nintendo’s home console history, a flare of success that the company never quite figured out how to bottle and repeat, then the Wii U starts to look like a continuation of a slow and steady decline that started with the Nintendo 64 (a little over thirty million consoles sold in total) and continued with the GameCube (a little over twenty million). That the 3DS is struggling to match the pace and momentum of the DS is also absolutely true; it’s captured a big, healthy swathe of the core Nintendo market but hasn’t broken out to the mass market in the way that the DS did with games like Brain Training.

Yet here’s a thing; in spite of the doom and gloom around downward-revised forecasts for hardware, Nintendo was still able to pull out a list of this year’s million-plus selling software that would put any other publisher in the industry to shame. The latest Pokemon games on 3DS have done nearly 10 million units; Super Smash Bros has done 6.2 million on 3DS and 3.4 million on the Wii U. Mario Kart 8 has done almost five million units, on a console that’s yet to sell 10 million. Also selling over a million units in the last nine months of 2014 on 3DS we find Tomodachi Life, Mario Kart 7 (which has topped 11 million units, life to date), Pokemon X and Y (nearly 14 million units to date), New Super Mario Bros 2 (over 9 million), Animal Crossing: New Leaf (nearly 9 million) and Kirby: Triple Deluxe. The Wii U, in addition to Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros, had million-plus sellers in Super Mario 3D World and Nintendo Land.

That’s 12 software titles from a single publisher managing to sell over a million units in the first three quarters of a financial year – a pretty bloody fantastic result that only gets better if you add in the context that Nintendo is also 2014′s highest-rated publisher in terms of critical acclaim. Plus, Nintendo also gets a nice cut of any third-party software sold on its consoles; granted, that probably doesn’t sum up to much on the Wii U, where third-party games generally seem to have bombed, but on the 3DS it means that the company is enjoying a nice chunk of change from the enormous success of Yokai Watch, various versions of which occupied several slots in the Japanese software top ten for 2014, among other successful 3DS third-party games.

Aha, say the advocates of a third-party publisher approach for Nintendo, that’s exactly our point! The company’s software is amazing! It would do so much better if it weren’t restrained by only being released on consoles that aren’t all that popular! Imagine how Nintendo’s home console games would perform on the vastly faster-selling PS4 (and imagine how great they’d look, intones the occasional graphics-obsessive); imagine how something like Tomodachi Life or Super Smash Bros would do if it was opened up to the countless millions of people with iOS or Android phones!

Let’s take those arguments one at a time, because they’re actually very different. Firstly, home consoles – a sector in which there’s no doubt that Nintendo is struggling. The PS4 has got around twice the installed base of the Wii U after only half the time on the market; it’s clear where the momentum and enthusiasm lies. Still, Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart 8 managed to sell several million copies apiece on Wii U; in the case of Mario Kart 8, around half of Wii U owners bought a copy. Bearing in mind that Nintendo makes way more profit per unit from selling software on its own systems than it would from selling it on third-party consoles (where it would, remember, be paying a licensing fee to Sony or Microsoft), here’s the core question; could it sell more copies of Mario Kart 8 on other people’s consoles than it managed on its own?

If you think the answer to that is “yes”, here’s what you’re essentially claiming; that there’s a large pent-up demand among PlayStation owners for Mario Kart games. Is there really? Can you prove that, through means other than dredging up a handful of Reddit posts from anonymous people saying “I’d play Nintendo games if they were 1080p/60fps on my PS4″? To me, that seems like quite a big claim. It’s an especially big claim when you consider the hyper-competitive environment in which Nintendo would be operating on the PS4 (or Xbox One, or both).

Right now, a big Nintendo game launching on a Nintendo console is a major event for owners of that console. I think Nintendo launches would still be a big event on any console, but there’s no doubt that the company would lose focus as a third-party publisher – sure, the new Smash Bros is out, but competing for attention, pocket money and free time against plenty of other software. It’s not that I don’t think Nintendo games could hold their own in a competitive market, I merely don’t wish to underestimate the focus that Nintendo acquires by having a devoted console all of their own underneath the TVs of millions of consumers – even if its not quite the number of millions they’d like.

How about the other side of the argument, then – the mobile games aspect? Nintendo’s position in handheld consoles may not be what it used to be, but the 3DS has roundly trounced the PlayStation Vita in sales terms. Sure, iPhones and high-end Android devices have much bigger installed bases (Apple shifted around 75 million iPhones in the last quarter, while the lifetime sales of the 3DS are only just over 50 million), but that comparison isn’t necessarily a very useful one. All 50 million 3DS owners bought an expensive device solely to play games, and the lifetime spend on game software of each 3DS owner runs into hundreds of dollars. The “average revenue per user” calculation for Pokemon on the 3DS is easy; everyone paid substantial money for the game up front.

By comparison, lots and lots of iOS and Android users never play games at all, and many of those who play games never pay for them. That’s fine; that’s the very basis of the F2P model, and games using that model effectively can still make plenty of money while continuing to entertain a large number (perhaps even a majority) of players who pay nothing. Still, the claim that moving to smartphones is a “no-brainer” for Nintendo is a pretty huge one, taken in this context. The market for premium, expensive software on smartphones is very limited and deeply undermined by F2P; the move to F2P for Nintendo titles would be creatively difficult for many games, and even for ones that are a relatively natural fit (such as Pokemon), it would be an enormous commercial risk. There’s a chance Nintendo could get it right and end up with a Puzzle & Dragons sized hit on its hands (which is what it would take to exceed the half a billion dollars or so the company makes from each iteration of Pokemon on 3DS); there’s also an enormous risk that the company could get it wrong, attracting criticism and controversy around poor decisions or misjudged sales techniques, and badly damage the precious Pokemon brand itself.

In short, while I’m constantly aware that the market seems to be changing faster than Nintendo is prepared to keep up with, I’m not convinced that any of the company’s critics actually have a better plan right now than Satoru Iwata’s “stay the course” approach. If you believe that PlayStation fans will flock to buy Nintendo software on their console, you may think differently; if you think that the risk and reward profile of the global iOS market is a better bet than the 50-odd million people who have locked themselves in to Nintendo’s 3DS platform and shown a willingness to pay high software prices there, then similarly, you’ll probably think differently. Certainly, there’s some merit to the idea that Nintendo ought to be willing to disrupt its own business in order to avoid being disrupted by others – yet there’s a difference between self-disruption and just hurling yourself headlong into disaster in the name of “not standing still”.

There’s a great deal that needs to be fixed at Nintendo; its marketing and branding remains a bit of a disaster, its relationships with third-party studios and publishers are deeply questionable and its entire approach to online services is incoherent at best. Yet this most fundamental question, “should Nintendo stay in the hardware business”, remains a hell of a lot tougher than the company’s critics seem to believe. For now, beleaguered though he may seem, Iwata still seems to be articulating the most convincing vision for the future of the industry’s most iconic company.


Is Dailymotion Going After Twitch?

January 16, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Dailymotion has hopped onto the game streaming juggernaut and launched a game streaming service.

Dailymotion Games will put the firm into a market that so far includes Twitch, a streamer that has cemented its place as a gaming add-on and a coveted option on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles.

The Dailymotion information does not dwell on Twitch, which has been a feature of many a gushing press release from console makers such as Sony, but it does say that the live streaming gaming platform has some decent credentials.

For example, the promotional information says that the platform is backed with “industry leading video and live streaming technology”.

The firm also reminds us that it has some history here, and has been e-gaming for some time.

“Since 2011, with the first Dailymotion Cup on Starcraft, Dailymotion has accompanied e-sport growth on the internet,” said Martin Rogard, Dailymotion’s chief operating officer.

“Dailymotion Games is entirely dedicated to e-sports fans and streamers who come together every evening to form an amazingly talented and gregarious community.

“Over the coming months, we will significantly increase our investment in the e-sports domain to ensure worldwide recognition of all our talented content producers.”

Dailymotion said that live streamers will be able to monetise their content, which Microsoft recently confirmed is fine for its users, and that streamers could run their own “controlled video advertisement” and any number of social tools including search and real-time communications. Android and iOS apps are available.

The service is currently in beta. Dailymotion said that it serves some 180 million game videos a month.


Will Mobile Games Dominate?

October 27, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

As the market for games has grown and diversified, it’s become increasingly important to take any headline figures you might read with a grain of salt. Every time an analyst or a research firm announces that the games business has reached such and such a size, or that monthly revenues compare thusly with previous figures, or that a certain product or company has over- or under-performed projections, their august pronouncement isn’t so much an answer as a source of more questions. What exactly are you defining as the “games business”? Which sectors have you included? How did you measure digital revenues? What about IAP? Are your figures global, regional, merely covering the increasingly unrepresentative US market or “global” for a narrow definition of “global” which means “markets we could find data for with a quick Google search, and to hell with the rest of them”? And as for projections, whose projections, arrived at through which logic and with which agenda?

In short: with a very, very few notable exceptions, most of the sector analysis and research conducted on this industry is awful. It’s under-informed, narrow and rarely exposes its methodology well enough to understand and account for its flaws. It’s also the best thing we’ve got, unfortunately, which is why sites (including this one) continue to publish this research as it becomes available, although all of it should probably carry a large flashing warning to remind readers that an infant let loose with coloured crayons and some graph paper would probably have a similar margin of error to their data.

Yet this is only when we’re talking about data about what’s going on right now. Start to project forward, into crystal-ball-gazing questions like “where will the market be in five years”, and you’re into the realms where the real nonsense starts. Models and figures are pulled out of analyst’s backsides with wild abandon. Rationales and factual grounds are nowhere to be found, but incredibly slick charts and graphs abound; it’s a little like astrology, except that rather than blathering about Saturn being in Capricorn and whatnot, analysts seek to bamboozle everyone with charts and then deeply, fervently hope that when the time period they’re predicting actually arrives nobody will remember how wrong they were.

Even so, when all of the world’s analysts start to point in the same direction – the good, the bad and the bluffing – it’s worth taking note. That’s the context in which the headline figures from research firm Newzoo’s latest report are interesting; headline figures which, in a nutshell, suggest that 2015 will be the tipping point at which revenues from mobile game software surpass revenues from console game software.

“What’s happened to consoles as mobiles have taken over? Not much, as it happens”

Newzoo, like most research firms focusing on this industry, doesn’t provide sufficient detail to back up or verify its sweeping and grandiose claims, because apparently a really pretty graph with a swish background ought to suffice. They would argue, no doubt, that all the juicy detail which would explain their peculiarly high figures is what they charge clients lots of money for, an argument which is entirely true and still leaves them in the position of peddling figures while failing to show their workings. Nevertheless, Newzoo is not alone in its prediction. It’s not even a particularly novel prediction, actually; research firms have been pointing at this tipping point for several years, although when exactly the graph lines would intersect has been a subject of some debate. With mobile growth still strong and the next-gen consoles performing excellently but remaining largely constrained within the core market (rather than seeing another Wii-style breakout success story), the lines are converging a little more evenly and the soothsayers are in accord; next year is the year.

So what happens then? Do burning stones rain from an angry sky to smash all our PlayStation 4s? Will a horde of rampant mobile gamers, driven to murderous insanity by Candy Crush Saga, rip the 3DS’ from our hands and beat us to death with them? Shall E3 be swallowed by a lake of fire, and every presentation at GDC be replaced by an ominous looping video of Zynga founder Mark Pincus laughing savagely at the audience?

Perhaps rather than stockpiling tinned foods, filling the bath with potable water and tearfully locking away your beloved RPGs and FPS games in a lead-lined safe, it might be instructive to take a look at a market where this transition has already happened. There is, you see, a place where revenues from mobile games overtook revenues from console games several years ago – as early as 2011, according to some figures, although the safe money is on 2012/13 being the tipping point. Now, in this market, mobile games are the unquestioned market leader in revenue.

The market in question is Japan, where a well-developed market for mobile gaming on existing “feature phone” devices was supercharged by the arrival of the smartphone. Now mobile game revenues have soared well clear of console games. Unlike in the 1990s, Japan’s mobile phones aren’t vastly advanced compared to those overseas – they queue up here for iPhones just like everywhere else, with Apple’s devices being by far the dominant player in the smartphone market, so it’s not that games they’re playing are technologically advanced compared to those in the west. Rather, it’s that the market itself was further down the path than the west, with a wider swathe of consumers familiar and comfortable with mobile gaming, F2P models and in-game transactions.

What’s happened to consoles as mobiles have taken over? Not much, as it happens. The softness of PS4′s sales in Japan since the stellar launch last spring has been well noted, but it’s not a meaningful indicator of an overall problem with the console market; anecdotally, I get the impression that PS4 is extremely desired but still lacks the killer apps which will actually drive Japanese gamers to go out and buy one. Indeed, the line-up of software that appeals to the local market is still weak; a few big titles will shift the needle significantly, just as Mario Kart 8 did for the Wii U (which is now back in a slump awaiting the arrival of Smash Bros; software sells hardware, as ever).

Handhelds, meanwhile, are what you’d expect to suffer most from the triumph of mobile, yet the 3DS is going gangbusters in Japan and the PS Vita is stronger in this market than anywhere else in the world. The rise of mobile to take the crown of most lucrative and expansive market hasn’t even impacted the ability of Japanese publishers to launch genuinely massive new franchises on handheld consoles; Yokai Watch may not have made it to the west yet, but if it’s half as pervasive over there once it launches, it’ll be the biggest new gaming franchise in years.

So the consoles are still pretty healthy, especially the handheld devices. They play to their strengths, for the most part; it’s notable that the biggest handheld games around at the moment, games like Smash Bros and Monster Hunter, really wouldn’t work on a mobile phone as they rely on accurate, pinpoint controls that couldn’t be replicated on a touchscreen to any degree of satisfaction. Other games that work well are those designed for long sessions of play; mobile devices still suffer badly from rapidly draining batteries when playing games, and while a dead battery in your 3DS is a little annoying, a dead battery in your mobile phone is a disaster, meaning few people are willing to put in significant play sessions in GPU-intensive mobile titles.

“If 2015 does see mobile overtaking console worldwide, it may be the best thing to happen to games in years; it won’t hurt console, at least not for a long while yet, and it’ll allow us to finally turn a corner towards mobile being seen as a platform for everyone”

What’s actually more interesting than what’s happened to console, though, is what’s happened to mobile itself. The mobile game market in Japan is nothing short of fascinating. Ever since its meteoric growth, it’s become a hugely expansive market that caters to an enormous range of tastes and demographics, as you’d expect – but the core demographic, the heart of the market for which every company seems to be competing… Well, that’s oddly familiar, as it happens.

Every time you see a commuter train festooned with ads for a new mobile title, or a lengthy TV commercial promoting the latest smartphone release, or even the huge screens at Shibuya’s scramble crossing taken over with a video of a mobile game, they always have something in common. Their visual language, their core mechanisms and their basic appeal is absolutely in tune with core gamers. Mobile’s new position on top of the heap has opened the door to games with higher production values and more depth, aimed at the market that has always played the most and paid the most; the core.

The results aren’t always appealing; mobile games launch fast and fail fast, and that’s fine. When things do work out, though, they create some pretty amazing hits. Puzzle & Dragons, as you probably know by now, was the biggest-grossing game on any platform in 2013 (probably; analyst figures, you know?), and it’s also incredibly deep, compelling and fun. Publisher GungHo advertises the game on trains and TV over here with videos showing advanced techniques for building chain combos in the game; just consider that for a moment, a game so successful that your advertising isn’t even “here’s why this game is great”, it’s “we know you already play, here’s a tip so you can play better”, displayed on evening TV across the nation. Puzzle & Dragons is far from being Japan’s only “mobile core” hit, though. RPGs have been rapidly rising in prominence on mobile platforms, and now appear to be even more popular than the collect ‘em up titles (mostly card battlers) which dominated up until this point; the latest big title is Mistwalker-developed RPG Terra Battle, a game which I’m resigned to installing on my phone this week because literally everyone around me doesn’t talk about anything else any more.

In short, the Japanese market may be peculiar by comparison with the rest of the world, but sometimes that’s simply because it’s still a couple of years ahead of the western market in a few regards. Not in every regard; Japan is a very retrograde nation in terms of certain tech advances (it’s worth noting that streaming video services like Netflix are an absolute disaster here, and let’s not even talk about online banking), but in gaming, the market if not the technology is a little in advance of most western countries. Japan crossed the line between console-as-number-one and mobile-as-number-one a couple of years ago, and the world did not end. Console and handheld are doing fine; mobile is doing better than fine, and most excitingly of all, the new titles coming to mobile are better than ever, driven by a strong desire to get the most lucrative market in gaming, the core gamers themselves, playing. If 2015 does see mobile overtaking console worldwide, it may be the best thing to happen to games in years; it won’t hurt console, at least not for a long while yet, and it’ll allow us to finally turn a corner towards mobile being seen as a platform for everyone – core, casual, and everyone in between.


nVidia Shield To Get Android Update

October 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Although has not been publicly confirmed that Google’s latest Android 5.0 Lolipop will be coming to its Nvidia Shield tablet, Nvidia was pretty quiet about the Shield Portable handheld console, so we asked around. It appears that the update will indeed be coming to Shield Portable as well.

The first devices on the list to receive the Android 5.0 Lolipop update will be Google’s own Nexus devices, starting with the Nexus 4, Nexus 7 2012 and Nexus 10 as the oldest devices, followed by Google Play Edition devices and LTE-enabled products. Most smartphone and tablet manufacturers have also confirmed that the new Android 5.0 Lolipop will be coming to their recent devices.

One of the companies on the list is also Nvidia, which has announced that it “ultimate tablet for gamers” also known as the Nvidia Shield Tablet will be getting the Android 5.0 Lolipop update soon. The update for Shield Tablet does not come as a surprise considering that it is based on the speedy Tegra K1 32-bit chipset.

While it did not give out any details regarding Android 5.0 Lolipop update for the Shield Portable handheld console, we sent out a quick email to Nvidia and managed to confirm that the update will indeed be coming to the Shield Portable as well. Unfortunately, Nvidia did not give any precise date for this device either.