Nosey Google has updated its search engine algorithms in an attempt to restrict piracy web sites appearing high in its search rankings.
The update will mean piracy sites are less likely to appear when people search for music, films and other copyrighted content.
The decision to roll out the search changes was announced in a refreshed version of a How Google Fights Piracy report, which was originally published in September 2013.
However, this year’s updated report features a couple of developments, including changes to ad formats and an improved DMCA demotion search signal.
The move is likely to be a result of criticism received from the entertainment industry, which has argued that illegal sites should be “demoted” in search results because they enable people to find sites to download media illegally.
The biggest change in the Google search update will be new ad formats in search results on queries related to music and movies that help people find legitimate sources of media.
For example, for the relatively small number of queries for movies that include terms like ‘download’, ‘free’, or ‘watch’, Google has instead begun listing legal services such as Spotify and Netflix in a box at the top of the search results.
“We’re also testing other ways of pointing people to legitimate sources of music and movies, including in the right-hand panel on the results page,” Google added.
“These results show in the US only, but we plan to continue investing in this area and to expand it internationally.”
An improved DMCA demotion signal in Google search is also being rolled out as part of the refresh, which down-ranks sites for which Google has received a large number of valid DMCA notices.
“We’ve now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites. This update will roll out globally starting next week,” Google said, adding that it will also be removing more terms from autocomplete, based on DMCA removal notices.
The new measures might be welcomed by the entertainment industry, but are likely to encourage more people to use legal alternatives such as Spotify and Netflix, rather than buying more physical media.
Juniper Research now estimates smartwatch shipments will hit 100 million by 2019. The firm expects several high-profile products to launch over the next year or so, helping boost mainstream awareness.
However, the figures are anything but encouraging.
The report, titled ‘Smart Watches: Market Dynamics, Vendor Strategies & Scenario Forecasts 2014-2019′, expects growth will decelerate from 2016 onwards. The first batch will ride the hype, but moving forward it won’t do much for mainstream adoption.
However, the forecast also examines the possibility of sustaining 2014-2015 growth in the long term.
If consumers discover a ‘key use case’ or cases for smartwatches, backed by more product releases on the back of higher demand, higher growth could be sustained. In plain English, if people actually find a use for smartwatches, they will see more growth.
Unfortunately the case is hard to make at this point. Smartwatches face a number of hardware limitations and software support is still limited, which means they are not very useful at the moment. Juniper expects more vendors to integrate GPS, NFC and other technologies, but the downside is that smartwatches are not expected to become very cheap. The firm estimates premium branding and high functionality to keep prices at $200+ until the end of the decade.
Europeans not too keen
One possible application that could generate more demand comes in the form of mobile payments. Apple Pay is coming to the Apple Watch, but the service will be limited to the US for quite a while and Apple won’t have an easy time launching it in other markets, where it enjoys a much lower market share.
The problem with mobile digital wallets is that they have not taken off yet. What’s more, new research indicates that Europeans are not sold on the idea of smartwatch wallets.
The survey, carried out by German market research firm GfK, found that just 20 percent of Germans and 27 percent of Britons are interested in contactless payments built into a watch. However, Chinese and American consumers are more open to the idea, with 40 and 54 percent saying they are interested.
Most consumers said they are interested in health applications and many said they would store identification data on their smartwatches.
Kwon Oh-hyun has said he is not worried about a price war in the semiconductor industry next year even though the firm is rapidly expanding its production volume.
“We’ll have to wait and see how things will go next year, but there definitely will not be any game of chicken,” said Oh-hyun, according to Reuters, suggesting the firm will not take chip rivals head on.
Samsung has reported strong profits for 2014 owing to better-than-expected demand for PCs and server chips. Analysts have also forecast similar results for the coming year, so things are definitely looking good for the company.
It emerged last week that Samsung will fork out almost $15bn on a new chip facility in South Korea, representing the firm’s biggest investment in a single plant.
Samsung hopes the investment will bolster profits in its already well-established and successful semiconductor business, and help to maintain its lead in memory chips and grow beyond the declining sales of its smartphones.
According to sources, Samsung expects its chip production capacity to increase by a “low double-digit percentage” after the facility begins production, which almost goes against the CEO’s claims that it is not looking for a price war.
Last month, Samsung was found guilty of involvement in a price fixing racket with a bunch of other chip makers stretching back over a decade, and was fined €138m by European regulators.
An antitrust investigation into chips used in mobile device SIM cards found that Infineon, Philips and Samsung colluded to artificially manipulate the price of SIM card chips.
In a recent interview with OXN, Mile Colter who plays Agent Locke in Halo Nightfall claims that his character is the primary character that people will be playing in the Halo 5 game. That is not to say that Master Chief will not have a significant role in Halo 5 as well.
Part of the campaign will apparently be Locke’s search for Master Chief. Still we don’t know if Locke is a friend or not, so it is obvious that the relationship between the two will be a big part of the story in Halo 5 according to our sources.
Hard to say how accurate this all is, but we do know that we don’t have much longer to wait till the Nightfall series starts airing on the Halo Channel starting November 11th.
RedHat has announced the Fedora 21 Alpha release for Fedora developers and any brave users that want to help test it.
Fedora is the leading edge – some might say bleeding edge – distribution of Linux that is sponsored by Red Hat. That’s where Red Hat and other developers do new development work that eventually appears in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and other Red Hat based Linux distributions, including Centos, Scientific Linux and Mageia, among others. Therefore, what Fedora does might also appear elsewhere eventually.
The Fedora project said the release of Fedora 21 Alpha is meant for testing in order to help it identify and resolve bugs, adding, “Fedora prides itself on bringing cutting-edge technologies to users of open source software around the world, and this release continues that tradition.”
Specifically, Fedora 21 will produce three software products, all built on the same Fedora 21 base, and these will each be a subset of the entire release.
Fedora 21 Cloud will include images for use in private cloud environments like Openstack, as well as AMIs for use on Amazon, and a new image streamlined for running Docker containers called Fedora Atomic Host.
Fedora 21 Server will offer data centre users “a common base platform that is meant to run featured application stacks” for use as a web server, file server, database server, or as a base for offering infrastructure as a service, including advanced server management features.
Fedora 21 Workstation will be “a reliable, user-friendly, and powerful operating system for laptops and PC hardware” for use by developers and other desktop users, and will feature the latest Gnome 3.14 desktop environment.
Those interested in testing the Fedora 21 Alpha release can visit the Fedora project website.
When Titan first came to light in 2007, most people assumed it would be Blizzard’s next big thing, ultimately taking the place of World of Warcraft which was likely to see further declines in the years ahead. Fast forward seven years, WoW clearly has been fading (down to 6.8 million subs as of June 30) but Blizzard has no MMO lined up to replace it, and that fact was really hammered home today with the surprise cancellation of Titan. In fact, the developer stressed that it didn’t want to be known as an MMO company and one may not be in its future. Cancelling the project this late in the game may have cost Blizzard several tens of millions of dollars, analysts told GamesIndustry.biz.
“Development costs for Titan may have amounted to tens of millions, perhaps $50 million or more. This is not an unusual event, however. Blizzard has cancelled several games in various stages of development in the past. Costs for unreleased games can be significant, but launching substandard games can harm the reputation of a successful publisher such as Blizzard. Expenses for development can be considered R&D, and benefits can include invaluable training, IP and technology that can be applied to other games,” explained independent analyst Billy Pidgeon.
Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter estimated an even higher amount lost: “My guess is 100 – 200 people at $100,000 per year, so $70 – 140 million sunk cost. It’s pretty sad that it took so long to figure out how bad the game was. I expect them to go back to the drawing board.”
Indeed, the market has changed considerably in the last seven years, and while MMOs like EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic struggle to find a large audience, free-to-play games and tablet games like Blizzard’s own Hearthstone are finding success. Blizzard has no doubt been keenly aware of the market realities too.
“As far back as 2013, they had already stated Titan was not likely to be a subscription-based MMORPG. This is consistent with a market that is increasingly dominated by multiplayer games that are either free to play or are an expected feature included with triple-A games such as Call of Duty. Titanfall and Destiny sold as standalone games supplemented by paid downloadable add-ons. Blizzard maintains very high standards of quality, so expectations will be steep for new franchises as well as for sequels,” Pidgeon continued.
DFC Intelligence’s David Cole agreed, noting that after seven years of development in an industry where trends and technologies change at a rapid pace, Blizzard simply had to pull the plug on Titan.
“They realized that unless a big MMO is out-of-this-world unbelievable it won’t work in today’s market where it competes against a bunch of low cost options. If they felt that it just wasn’t getting to that point it makes sense to cut your losses,” he noted. “Also, you see games like League of Legends and their own Hearthstone which are doing very well on a much lower budget.”
“For Blizzard, I am expecting to see them continue to focus on high quality products but also focus on products with shorter development cycles and less cost. The market is just not in a place where you can have games with 7+ year development. It is changing too fast.”
For most developers, junking a seven-year long project would instantly spell turmoil, but thankfully for Blizzard, it’s part of the Activision Blizzard behemoth, which has a market cap of over $15 billion and, as of June 30, cash and cash equivalents of over $4 billion on hand. It’s a nice luxury to have.
The No. 1 U.S. online retailer also revamped its basic Kindle e-reader to include a touch screen. It will cost $79, about 15 percent more than the current basic model.
Other new devices unveiled on Wednesday are a $99 Kindle Fire HD tablet, which includes a smaller, six-inch screen as well as a tablet designed for kids that starts at $149. Amazon also upgraded its 7-inch and 8.9 inch Fire tablets.
All the upgraded and new devices start shipping in October.
The expanding Kindle lineup underscores Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’ commitment to developing devices as a way to retain users and bolster its core business of retail and shopping.
This year alone, Amazon has launched a set-top box, a grocery ordering wand and a Fire smart phone, which debuted in July to lackluster reviews.
Amazon, which entered the hardware sector with the 2007 launch of the Kindle, has adopted a strategy of selling the devices at cost, and it profits when users buy content or goods.
It has been investing heavily in content, inking a deal this year to stream some HBO shows including “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” to members of its Prime subscription program.
“The vast majority of people are still using the tablets,” David Limp, vice president of devices for Amazon, said during a briefing with reporters in New York.
Executives touted the Kindle Voyage as the thinnest device Amazon has ever made. The company hopes heavy readers might adopt the device, which more closely mimic a paper book.
The company has asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use two blocks of frequencies for the tests, which are scheduled to last about six months and begin in October. They will be conducted above an area of more than 1,400 square kilometers in the center of New Mexico to the east of Albuquerque.
“Google recently acquired Titan Aerospace, a firm that specializes in developing solar and electric unmanned aerial systems for high altitude, long endurance flights,” Google said in its application. “These systems may eventually be used to provide Internet connections in remote areas or help monitor environmental damage, such as oil spills or deforestation.”
Google said its application for temporary permission to make the transmissions was needed “for demonstration and testing of [REDACTED] in a carefully controlled environment.”
The FCC allows companies to redact certain portions of their applications when they might provide too much information to competitors.
In the application, Google said it wants to use two blocks of frequencies, one between 910MHz and 927MHz and one between 2.4GHz and 2.414GHz. Both are so-called “industrial, scientific and medical” (ISM) bands typically used for unlicensed operations.
The application has not yet been approved.
It’s the latest in a series of moves by the company to trial Internet delivery from the skies.
The company unveiled its ambitious Project Loon last year, which uses a series of high-altitude balloons that float in winds at about 20 kilometers (65,000 feet) above the Earth. The first experiments with Loon involved using a transmission system based on WiFi, but earlier this year the company began experimenting with LTE cellular transmissions in a test site in Nevada.
Google acquired Titan Aerospace in April this year for an undisclosed price.
EA is considering developing games for wearables. The company already has two teams on the job, looking for ways to make wearable games. Their efforts are focused on the Apple Watch for now.
EA told CNET that the company has quite a relationship with Apple and Frank Gibeau, head of EA’s mobile gaming arm, said he is impressed with the new Apple A8 SoC. Gibeau added that Apple’s decision to include 128GB storage in flagship models is more good news for gamers, as it raises the bar for developers and gives them more room to play around with.
Gibeau said EA’s mobile division is “intrigued” by the prospect of gaming on wearables. He said wearables are eventually going to offer more performance and capability, thus enabling new gaming experiences. However, he cautioned that “it’s very early days” for wearable gaming.
“In fact, we have two teams prototyping wearable experiences that are not only standalone, but also some ideas where you can actually use the fitness component in the watch that can unlock capabilities in the game that might be on your iPhone. Or you could do crafting or some other auction trading on your watch that goes back into your tablet game that you might check out later when you get home,” he told CNET.
The new offering, called Wi-Fi Un-leashed, is open to all subscribers to the carrier’s Simple Choice plans. It could vastly expand the places those customers can exchange calls and text messages.
In addition to domestic use, it will allow calls into the U.S. from any Wi-Fi network outside the country, using the subscriber’s regular T-Mobile number and no additional apps. Starting Sept. 17, Wi-Fi Un-leashed also extends to flights on U.S. airlines — minus the voice calls — with unlimited text, picture messaging and visual voicemail through a partnership with in-flight Wi-Fi provider Gogo.
Wi-Fi plays a growing role in mobile operator networks, bringing in extra capacity without sapping their expensive licensed spectrum, because Wi-Fi runs over unlicensed bands. Hotspots have been a key part of T-Mobile’s infrastructure for years, but the services unveiled on Wednesday go further than any major U.S. carrier to date. It’s the latest strategy by the nation’s fourth-largest carrier to grab market share from its larger rivals through unconventional plans.
The Wi-Fi calling feature lets users make high-definition calls over wireless LANs and keep those calls going as they switch over to T-Mobile’s LTE and 3G networks, CTO Neville Ray wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. T-Mobile introduced HD calling across its LTE network earlier this year using VoLTE (voice-over-LTE) technology.
Wi-Fi voice and text essentially extends T-Mobile’s coverage and network capacity without additional network deployments, and the company wants to help its subscribers make that possible. On Wednesday it introduced the T-Mobile Personal CellSpot, an access point that users can plug in anywhere they have a broadband connection, T-Mobile said. The Personal CellSpot will prioritize T-Mobile voice calls over other traffic going over the broadband link, Ray said. Starting Sept. 17, any Simple Choice subscriber with a Wi-Fi voice handset can get a Personal CellSpot free with a $25 deposit.
Intel has released its Edison chip for wearables at its Intel developer conference (IDF) in California today. The tiny computer is a dual-core Quark system on chip (SoC) Pentium-class x86 processor made using the 22nm process.
The Edison device runs Linux and has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth modules. The chip can also connect to its own app store, and has 40 I/Os via a 70-pin connector that lets users do many things without going through a custom board. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich Intel said that the module, which has the footprint of an SD card, was to encourage developers to build the next generation of wearable and connected devices now that it is shipping.
All IDF attendees went home with a free Edison developer kit and it will be on sale for $50 retail cost. Like the Galileo board it will be open source so developers can develop it.
“I really hope to see an explosion of innovation around this part, it has everything a person needs and an extension capability to build just about anything you can think of,” he said.
Edison has been developed by Intel to be a simple low-power development platform for people to develop software easily, thus to usher in the next generation of Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable devices.
You can’t accuse eSports League CEO Ralf Reichert of always telling people what they want to hear. At last month’s FanExpo Canada in Toronto, Ontario, just a few blocks away from the Hockey Hall of Fame, Reichert told GamesIndustry.biz that he saw competitive gaming overtaking the local pastime.
“Our honest belief is it’s going to be a top 5 sport in the world,” Reichert said. “If you compare it to the NHL, to ice hockey, that’s not a first row sport, but a very good second-row sport. [eSports] should be ahead of that… It’s already huge, it’s already comparable to these traditional sports. Not the Super Bowl, but the NHL [Stanley Cup Finals].”
Each game of this year’s Stanley Cup Finals averaged 5 million viewers on NBC and the NBC Sports Network. The finals of the ESL Intel Extreme Masters’ eighth season, held in March in Katowice, Poland, drew 1 million peak concurrent viewers, and 10 million unique viewers over the course of the weekend. That’s comparing the US audience for hockey to a global audience for the IEM series, but Reichert said the events are getting larger all the time.
As for how eSports have grown in recent years, the executive characterized it as a mostly organic process, and one that sometimes happens in spite of the major players. One mistake he’s seen eSports promoters make time and again is trying to be too far ahead of the curve.
“There have been numerous attempts to do celebrity leagues as a way to grow eSports, to make it more accessible,” Reichert said. “And rather than focusing on the core of eSports, the Starcrafts and League of Legends of the world, people tried to use easy games, put celebrities on it, and make a classic TV format out of it.”
One such effort, DirecTV’s Championship Gaming Series, held an “inaugural draft” at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills and featured traditional eSports staples like Counter-Strike: Source alongside arguably more accessible fare like Dead or Alive 4, FIFA 07, and Project Gotham Racing 3.
“They put in tens of millions of dollars in trying to build up a simplified eSports league, and it was just doomed because they tried to simplify it rather than embrace the beauty of the apparent complexity.”
Complexity is what gives established sports their longevity, Reichert said. And while he dismisses the idea that eSports are any more complex than American football or baseball, he also acknowledged there is a learning curve involved, and it’s steep enough that ESL isn’t worrying about bringing new people on board.
“It’s tough for generations who didn’t grow up with gaming to get what Starcraft is,” Reichert said. “They need to spend 2-10 hours with it, in terms of watching it, getting it explained, and getting educated around it, or else they still might have that opinion. Our focus is more to have the generations who grew up with it as true fans, rather than trying to educate people who are outside of this conglomerate… There have been numerous attempts to make European soccer easier to approach, or American football, or baseball, but they all kill the soul of the actual sport. Every attempt to do that is just doomed.”
Authenticity is what keeps the core of the audience engaged, Reichert said. And even though there will always be purists who fuss over every change–Reichert said changing competitive maps in Starcraft could spark a debate like instant replay in baseball–being true to the core of the original sport has been key for snowboarding, mixed martial arts, and every other successful upstart sport of the last 15 years.
“Like with every new sport, the biggest obstacle has been people not believing in it,” Reichert said. “And it goes across media, sponsorships, game developers, press, everyone. The acceptance of eSports was a hard fought battle over a long, long time, and there’s a tipping point where it goes beyond people looking at it like ‘what the hell is this?’ And to reach that point was the big battle for eSports… The thing is, once we started to fill these stadiums, everyone looking at the space instantly gets it. Games, stadiums, this is a sport. It’s such a simple messaging that no one denies it anymore who knows about the facts.”
That’s not to say everybody is convinced. ESPN president John Skipper recently dismissed eSports as “not a sport,” even though his network streamed coverage of Valve’s signature Dota 2 tournament earlier this year. Reichert admitted that mainstream institutions seem to be lagging behind when it comes to acceptance, particularly with sponsors. While companies within the game industry are sold on eSports, non-endemic advertisers are only beginning to get it.
“The very, let’s say progressive ones, like Red Bull, are already involved,” Reichert said. “But to get it into the T-Mobiles and other companies as a strategy piece, that will still take some time. The market in terms of the size and quality of events is still ahead of the sponsorship, but that’s very typical.”
Toronto was the second stop for ESL’s IEM Season 9 after launching in Shenzhen July 16. The league is placing an international emphasis on this year’s competition, with additional stops planned in the US, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
Dubbed My Intelligent Communication Accessory, or MICA, has glamorous looks as well as 3G cellular connectivity. It doesn’t need to be tethered to a smartphone.
Designed by Humberto Leon and Carol Lim of fashion house Opening Ceremony, MICA is a cuff-style accessory covered with snakeskin as well as semiprecious stones such as obsidian and lapis, which were important stones in Ancient Egyptian tombs.
It will be available in two styles, one with white snakeskin and the other with black snakeskin, each with different stones.
The 1.6-inch sapphire-glass touchscreen can display SMS messages relayed through the bracelet’s Intel XMM6321 3G cellular radio. It can also display calendar alerts.
No world on price yet, but if you have to ask you can’t afford it. It will be sold through some Barneys and Opening Ceremony stores by the December holiday season.
The MICA bracelet also follows Intel’s acquisition of health-tracking wristband maker Basis Science in March.
You’re sitting at home, watching one of the major E3 presentations. A brand-new AAA video game has just been revealed and the teaser trailer actually makes it look pretty hot. You’re halfway through watching the trailer, interest piqued, and now you’re wondering, “When’s this coming out?” Now you see it; it’s slated for the holiday season… of the following year. You’re going to be waiting a solid 18 months, and that’s assuming the project doesn’t encounter delays.
Such is the way of the modern AAA console and PC business, but it wasn’t always like this. While the industry never really saw Apple-like announcements when you could practically buy the product immediately after, recent history shows that game announcements used to happen more regularly around six months prior to shipping.
“Back in the PS2 days…if it was shipping in the fall, you usually would see it for the first time at E3. That’s if everything went according to plan. The running joke was if you saw it for two E3s, development was a problem,” noted industry veteran and consultant Christian Svensson.
So what happened? With the success of the PS2 and the continued boom in the industry, retail became increasingly more important, and pre-orders started driving everything. And naturally, more time before release meant more time for marketing and more time to drive pre-sales.
“Around the time that Xbox 360 and PS3 came to market, the investments and risks were so high you had to do everything you can to build awareness earlier,” Svensson said. “You had to build in more beats for your PR earlier, you had more shows to attend to drive hands-on and media exposure, and all of that was ultimately in the name of driving up your pre-order numbers… everyone was trying to lock down the day one consumer. That drove all of that mania where you had to announce 18 months to two years out.”
While pre-orders were a primary factor in the ever-lengthening lead time to a launch, there were other factors as well. Svensson pointed out that companies have always worried about early leaks twisting their messaging. “If we announced it first, at least we controlled the message. Announcing it early lets you prep all of your partners earlier without fear that there are leaks out there,” he said.
Beyond that, development cycles on big budget titles just grew longer and longer. Announcing earlier enabled teams to adequately judge and react to feedback.
Warren Spector (Deus Ex, Epic Mickey), Director of the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy at the University of Texas at Austin, remarked, “Talking about a game early is a double-edged sword, no doubt about it. On the one hand, it can lead to unrealistic expectations about ‘promised’ features that ultimately fail to make the shipping game (as inevitably happens). And there’s no doubt, public clamor can amp up the pressure on a team On the flip side, seeing public excitement about what you’re doing can get a team ’psyched and cranking’ as we used to say. It’s nice when people express enthusiasm for what you’re doing. Also, early reveals can help you gauge public opinion, which can be useful in weeding out undesirable features as well as ones you might want to focus on more. Early reveals cut both ways.”
Dominic Matthews, product development manager for Ninja Theory, added, “The risk with announcing too early is that you make a first impression that is very, very hard to change. You can say as many times as you like that the game is very early in development, or this isn’t finished or is work in progress, but players understandably don’t hear it. They just see what you’re showing and take it as representative of the finished game. Personally, I would have kept all of the games I worked on under wraps for longer.”
That said, Matthews acknowledges that most developers are very excited to be able to discuss their projects usually. “It’s actually a really positive thing for a developer to be able to share their work outside of the studio. The announcement of the game allows everyone in the team to be able to share what they are doing with friends, family and industry peers. It can be frustrating having to say ‘I’m working on something really cool, but I just can’t talk about it yet’,” he said.
There’s also the very tangible benefit that by announcing earlier, teams should have an easier time adding talent to make a project go more smoothly.
Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford commented, “It’s not merely about attracting future customers, but communicating about the effort to the industry itself. When your in-development project is known, some activities including recruiting or attracting business partners or other activities becomes much easier than when you’re silent under the radar.”
Svensson agreed: “[If] you’ve created some assets, you think you know what you’re going to build, but you still need some very key roles to be filled and/or just body count to do the work, when it’s known that a particular studio is working on that franchise then recruitment becomes an easier task than, ‘hey we’d like to call you in but we can’t tell you what we’re working on’.”
Of course, there’s another benefit to announcing early that some developers would be very keen on: once a project is revealed there’s a better chance it won’t be canceled. “One of the things people forget is that not every game put in development always ships. A reason a lot of teams would want to announce earlier is that it’s harder to kill a product that’s been announced because it’s very public and for it to not come out after it’s been announced is a difficult thing for a company to suffer. It raises questions about if the company knows what it’s doing,” pointed out Svensson.
Once the announcement gets out there, the pressure definitely ramps up on a development team. But that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. After all, it takes an intense amount of pressure to create a diamond.
“Sometimes pressure is a good thing on the development process,” said Pitchford. “The best amongst us game makers exist to try to entertain people and whenever we have a deadline we work crazy hard to do the best job we can as we know that once the deadline is up, there’s no more time to do any better.”
“In my experience a lot of that magic that just sort of works out is the result of trying to adapt to some kind pressure on the situation. It often turns out that the pressure forces some of these things to happen that ultimately make games not only better, but shippable. The point is that while pressure always feels stressful, there are often a lot of positive aspects to pressure from a development point of view.”
Pitchford also noted that some of that pressure should be alleviated by a good publisher: “I think the only really negative consequence is about expectation management and that’s where the best publishers are really worth their value. The best publishers have a knack for managing customer expectations positively while projects unfold during the development and marketing phases of a project and that’s where you get the best feelings and results from a project.”
So if you’re planning a big budget game right now, when’s the right time to announce? How much lead time do you really need?
“I think it varies from product to product as far as what’s appropriate. An enormous AAA game that is new IP aimed at a monster retail release, a longer lead time, certainly north of a year, is still warranted,” advised Svensson. “When you start to get into north of 18 months, you get diminishing returns, even on something like that… When people have short attention spans, it’s hard to stay on people’s radar at a high level. I think the industry went too far for a period of time on that front and I think the economics of it are changing.”
Pitchford agrees that if you’re looking to sell something new, having that extra lead time is beneficial. “I’ve worked on games that have gone a long time in silence before being announced and I’ve worked on games that have had public announcements that were way too early. I think both approaches can be made to work, but both also bring their own set of challenges. My preference on which way to go depends on the game. The more inventive the game is and the more education required to communicate what is being promised, the more time is useful to master that communication before going wide,” he said.
It’s a fluid process, however, and the marketing teams have to be ready to adapt. Pitchford continued, “Part of the value of the early marketing campaign is to actually learn how to market the title to a wider audience. You’ll notice if you look at campaigns from start to finish that everything from logo designs to key messaging points to front-of-box and key art content evolves and iterates over the course of a project. This is a very tangible manifestation of the marketing team actually learning how to sell the thing they are selling through a careful process of testing and iterating.”
While early reveals can certainly be beneficial for both the marketing side and development side, it’s clear that the digital revolution is having an impact, noted Ninja Theory’s Matthews.
“I think the transition into digital gaming will shorten the window between announcement and release. There won’t be such pressure to drive pre-orders as there is in the retail space,” he said.
Another wrinkle in the digital space is the rise of self-publishing. Under that scenario, announcing earlier remains quite valuable.
“Ordinarily I would say that you should wait to announce as long as you can to make sure you have the best possible assets to make a first impression with: An amazing trailer or a rock-solid gameplay demo. Having said that, we’ve just announced our new game Hellblade at the very beginning of development – in other words incredibly early. We’ve done this because we’re self-publishing and actually want to build a community behind the game by sharing the development process,” Matthews continued. “By announcing now, we can share development right from the start. If we waited, we’d be retrospectively looking back at development which would feel less real, less here and now. This type of approach, or funding a game through crowdfunding, or Steam Greenlight might result in more games actually being announced even earlier.”
“The digital share of sales is climbing up and the need for that pre-order drive is slipping a little bit in the sense that you don’t have to have this crescendo to launch to necessarily find success with the right product, especially when you have live teams creating content post-launch; it’s not the put everything in the box and ship it mentality anymore,” he explained. “It is the, ‘hey we’re going to create a minimum viable product (MVP) and we’re going to bring it to market and support it’ … In some cases you might not even really ramp the marketing until you feel you’ve got a good product to promote.
“To some degree, I think the pressure to announce early across the industry as a whole is being reduced because of the proliferation of digital, the adoption of games as service, and quite frankly, the other part of it is it’s really fucking expensive to have an 18-month or two-year marketing cycle for a game. It’s really hard to do, and not every game has the right kind of content to support that longevity. You can’t go dark, otherwise you lose people’s attention, you have to have a consistent set of beats all the way through from announcement to launch, otherwise why announce early? You’ve lost that benefit. It’s hard on production teams because they have to create assets to support these beats, it’s hard on marketing teams because it’s a long, hard slog.”
And with the rise of indies and smaller games published on platforms like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, huge lead times make even less sense. For smaller digital projects, three months might be more than enough time to spread the word.
“One of the things we’ve learned doing digital products, announcing more than three months out to build awareness just really doesn’t make a lot of sense. A lot of those titles are smaller, they don’t necessarily have a lot of features to drive a six-month or nine-month campaign… They’re focused. The level of touch is very high in a short period, and I’d love to see the business get back to a lot more of that,” Svensson said.
“What I do think we’re going to see is a lot of normalization again for the average product probably around six to nine months again, kind of where we were in ’99 and 2000. And I don’t think that’s bad.”
Samsung Electronics and LG announced their upcoming smartwatches, the Gear S and G Watch R, last week in advance of the show.
Samsung’s Gear S is a 3G smartwatch that doesn’t need a smartphone to function. It’s powered by an unspecified dual-core 1GHz processor and has a curved 2-inch Super AMOLED screen with a 480 by 360 pixel resolution.
After using Android Wear on the Gear Live, Samsung is back to using the Tizen operating system on its latest model. Getting developers to customize apps for smartwatches will be a challenge for any company, particularly Samsung since Tizen doesn’t have the fan base that Android and iOS have.
To help make up for the lack of apps, Samsung has teamed up with Nike on a running app and Nokia for maps.
The Gear S also has 4GB of integrated storage, 512MB of RAM and a 300mAh lithium-ion battery that lasts two days with typical use, according to Samsung. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but the Gear S will start shipping worldwide in October.
Samsung has now announced five smartwatches in 12 months — the first model, the Galaxy Gear, was launched at IFA last year. The company’s aim is clearly to consolidate its leading market position in smartwatches, particularly given relentless rumors about Apple’s possible entry into the wearables market, research company CCS Insight wrote in its IFA preview.
The tactic is similar to what Samsung has done in the past — try out a number of different ideas and see what sticks. Given this approach, it’s somewhat surprising the company hasn’t put out a smartwatch with a round face, which LG and Motorola Mobility are expected to do soon.
Motorola’s round Moto 360 has been a long time coming. It was announced along with Android Wear in March and will finally be introduced this week. Motorola has promised the smartwatch would ship in the summer and since it’s already September the company has to deliver in the next few weeks to fulfill that pledge.
The Moto 360 is also a good looking device and is expected to have a 1.5-inch screen, be water and dust resistant, and have an integrated heart-rate monitor.
It will compete with LG’s Android Wear-based G Watch R, which has a 1.3-inch screen and is powered by a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor. It has 4GB of integrated storage, 512MB of RAM and a 410mAh battery. It too has a heart-rate monitor and is water and dust resistant.
Sony is also expected to launch a new smartwatch at IFA. The company is a veteran in the field, so far using its own version of Android. But given Android Wear’s strong momentum, it’s likely that Sony will use the Google platform on the new device, according to CCS Insight.
The smartwatch sector is still in its infancy, with products that have a lot of room for improvement. Wearable sales are still dominated by armbands from vendors such as Fitbit and Jawbone, which have more than a two-thirds market share.