It’s ancient history now, but once upon a time, if you wanted to play the most recent and most interesting games, you had to get up, leave the house and make your way to an arcade. Games consoles and home computers lived further down the food chain, their owners waiting for often sub-par versions of glorious arcade hits to be released on home systems. The real experience happened in an arcade.
Even to those who experienced that era, it’s a little hard to believe when you look at the sad remnants of their former glory which remain. Even in supposedly arcade-mad Japan, games generally find themselves wedged ignominiously in between gambling machines occupied by middle-aged chain-smokers and UFO Catcher booths promising, but rarely delivering, stuffed toys and sweets for bored teens on dates. In western countries, sad, lonely fighting game machines are just stuffed in where “arcade” owners ran out of fruit machines to install.
The reasons for this change are fundamentally technological. Arcade machines are big, bulky and expensive to move or replace. Once, that meant that they were vastly more powerful than home systems – but the accelerating pace of technological progress turned the size and expense of arcade machines into a liability rather than an advantage. Cheap, rapidly updated computers and consoles (and eventually even phones) first matched and then far outstripped the processing capabilities of big arcade cabinets. Rapid updates in graphics, processing, storage, networking, controls and screen resolutions were comfortably adopted by the home market, the costs buffered by cheap, cheerful hardware and absorbed by the wallets of millions of consumers. Arcade operators, faced with replacing large numbers of huge, expensive systems in order to keep track of such changes, fell behind completely.
Social factors either exacerbated or softened this blow, but these were highly region dependent. In Japan, where small family living spaces have engendered a culture in which many social activities are carried out external to the home, arcades persisted as date spots, as places to hang out with friends and – perhaps most importantly – as a venue for games too large, too noisy or too intrusive to be played in a small family home. In parts of the West, though, social factors intervened to hasten the decline, with a perception of arcades as “seedy” venues (in the grand tradition of pool halls and their ilk) discouraging many potential players, while regions with legalised gambling were quick to drop videogames in favour of more profitable slot machines.
Over the years, there has been talk of an “arcade renaissance” on several occasions, yet each time has ended in disappointment. Even as living spaces in many Western countries (the UK is a particularly notable example) have shrunk dramatically in terms of average size, Western consumers have demonstrated a continued willingness to engage with loud, bulky games. Rock Band and Guitar Hero were hugely successful as home games in the West, where their Japanese equivalents, Konami’s Guitar Freaks or Drum Mania, have acted as sustaining lifeblood for arcade venues. It’s also notable that even as Japanese arcades have innovated and invested, launching extraordinary new games which leverage all sorts of new technologies, from the company’s ultra high-speed broadband networks through to the possibilities of RFID enabled cards, the arcade sector’s health has still declined – a drop-off in footfall, revenue and floor space that’s been slower than in the West, but still isn’t exactly the rude health you might have come to believe from fawning articles about amazing Japanese arcades in the western media.
As such, it’s important to be cautious about any notion of an arcade recovery. Yet if we were to envisage any potential uplift in the fortunes of the out-of-home gaming sector, we can easily say what one key factor would be – just as in the heyday of the arcade, these venues would need to provide games which you simply cannot experience at home. This won’t come about, this time around, through more powerful graphics or processing – the trends in those areas are focused on miniaturisation and cost-efficiency, targeting the ability to put high-end 3D into phones rather than building pricey, bulky, ultra high-end systems. Instead, the focus would have to be on experiences that don’t work at home for reasons of space, budget, intrusiveness – or preferably, a combination of all of the above.
The reason I raise this issue now is because in the past few weeks, most of us will have seen videos or demonstrations of technologies which, although their creators purport to be focused on the home market, clearly fall into these categories. One is Microsoft’s Illumiroom system, which uses Kinect to map a 3D space and then projects imagery matched to that 3D map. It’s a great piece of technology with extraordinary gaming potential. It’s also abjectly unsuited to an ever-increasing number of living rooms around the world. Kinect alone is an impossibility for many players due to the space and room layout it demands; Illumiroom, demanding similar space if not more and intrusively taking over the entire room such that nobody else will be able to use it concurrently with the game being played, is simply not going to work for most people and most homes. Outside the home, though, in a dedicated venue? The potential of the technology is extraordinary, the experiences it could create serving to create a destination for gamers to experience something that just won’t work at home.
The same thought process applies, to some extent, to the Oculus Rift. It’s not that the superb VR headset hardware won’t work at home – of course it will, and it’ll probably only be a few hardware generations before the compromises presently being made in the name of cost are ironed out by technological progress. However, the “full” VR experience – with a custom controller (a gun, perhaps, or full-body motion sensing suite), a multi- directional treadmill, and so on, is simply going to be too expensive for most users – and even if prices collapsed, it’s too big and unwieldy to live in most people’s apartments. Yet the entertainment potential of such a fully-functional setup, running in parallel with a dozen other such suites so that a group of friends can explore a virtual world together, is enormous – and from a commercial perspective, not even all that space-consuming.
Of course, technology is just one factor. Technologies such as these (and I’m sure that others exist which also fall into the trap of “amazing, but it won’t work in my house”) can give a compelling reason for people to engage with out-of-home gaming – but the social factors also have to be right if an arcade renaissance is to be possible. Social factors are trickier, in many ways, than getting the hardware and the software right. Losing the seedy, unwelcoming image of the arcade in some regions will be tough; in others, where arcades have died entirely, the marketing of an entirely new social pursuit would present a major challenge. Getting people to try out something like this might be easy; getting them to see a trip to the VR centre with friends as an entertainment option on par with a trip to the cinema is likely to be much harder.
All the same, the entertainment possibilities opened up by technologies of this kind, which are now reaching a mature, usable stage in their development, ought to create an optimism around arcades and out-of-home gaming that hasn’t been seen for some time. Social or commercial aspects could still pull the rug out from any hope of recovery or renaissance – but the potential certainly exists for new kinds of gaming and interactive entertainment to take their place as key social out-of-home experiences in the coming years.
Ubisoft has confirmed that Watch Dogs will arrive on November 19th in North America and November 22nd in Europe. The game is been confirmed for the Xbox 360, Xbox Next, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC, and Wii U. The release date for the PlayStation 4 version is expected to coincide with the release date of the PlayStation 4 console, so depending on its release date, the release of the PS4 version could be adjusted. (This apparently applies to the Xbox Next, as well.)
We are also being told that the PS3 version of the game will include an additional 60 minutes of exclusive game play. We are not sure if this game play will also be available for those that purchase the PS4 version, but we suspect that it will.
Four special edition versions of the game will be offered. It is not yet clear whether or not they will offer each of these special editions for each of the platforms. More details are expected to follow in the days ahead, but these look like some very nice special editions of the game, with some very nice extras being thrown in.
On Monday, Nokia confirmed that the Lumia 510 is shipping with Windows Phone 7.8. However, the company would not confirm or deny reports from the Netherlands saying that the update was also available to Lumia 800 owners.
“At present we have no more information we can give about wider availability of the update for phones running Windows Phone 7.5,” Nokia said in a statement via email.
Windows Phone 7.8 was announced in June, and includes the new start screen Microsoft built for version 8 of its smartphone operating system. It allows users to change the size of the tiles used to access applications.
The update also doubles the number of theme and accent colors to 20 — so users can further personalize their phones — and adds new lock screen features, Microsoft said in a blog post last month.
Microsoft’s blog post also provided some information on availability.
“We know youre eager to get the Windows Phone 7.8 update, and we want you to know that were working closely with our hardware and carrier partners to get it tested, approved, and rolled out to as many devices as possible in early 2013,” it said.
Microsoft has stated that Skype is ‘coming soon’ to Windows Phone 8, after the app failed to show up with the launch of the mobile operating system.
Microsoft has been keen to talk up the Skype app for Windows Phone 8, but we were disappointed to find that the app is yet available in the Windows Store, given the operating system’s support for apps designed for Windows Phone 7.
We’re not the only ones disappointed either, as early Windows Phone 8 adopters have taken to Twitter to bemoan the lack of a Skype app. For example, one user said, “What the..? Skype isn’t available for Windows Phone 8? Microsoft is making it really hard to whole-heartedly love its mobile OS.”
However, Microsoft has told us that the app will arrive in the Windows Store ‘soon,’ although it was unable to give us a date. Skype told us it was unable to comment.
It sounds like it’ll be worth the wait, though. Borrowing styling tips from Microsoft’s Windows 8 desktop operating system, it sports a clean and simple user interface. It also comes with the ability to run in the background, with Skype promising that this won’t drain the battery of your Windows Phone handset, and contacts will now be integrated into the Windows Phone 8 People Hub.
Thanks to Microsoft’s customisable Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system, you’ll be able to resize the Skype Live Tile, opting whether to display it in a small, medium or large format.
Skype explained, “Windows Phone 8 has allowed us to bring new, resizable Live Tiles to Skype, so you have even more choices for making Skype a part of your Start Screen.
“On Windows Phone 8, Skype will show a count of your unread messages on all tile sizes – and with the largest size tile we show you a preview of the last message you received.”
In addition to Skype, we noticed that Spotify was also missing on Windows Phone 8. The music streaming service said it doesn’t yet know when it will launch an app for Windows Phone 8.
Nintendo will be launching Wii U in just a few weeks, and Mario and Co. no doubt would like Wii owners to make the jump to their new platform, but Microsoft sees it playing out differently this holiday. With blockbusters like Halo 4 and a $50 price cut on holiday bundles, Matt Barlow, general manager of product marketing for Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, believes Xbox 360 will have the edge in the HD console battle.
“I think this holiday season is an amazing jump off for all those people who may have been interested in the Wii and now want to be interested in high definition gaming”. “I can’t think of a better console for them to choose than one that has the most games available, the highest rated games available, than the Xbox 360 platform.”
“And when you look at the alternative experiences that we’re going to bring with SmartGlass, the entertainment providers that we’re bringing on board, with sports and music and movies and TV, and then if you think about those preeminent best selling blockbuster games that they’re going to want to play – Halo, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Forza, Nike+ Kinect Fitness – they either play first or they play best on Xbox 360 and nowhere else.”
“We’ve only scratched the surface…Kinect is going to be something that everyone’s going to want to own”
“Like I said, jump off is great and we like the way we’re positioned to pick those customers up. They really should consider an Xbox 360 if they’re looking for the best high definition gaming and entertainment platform.”
Barlow was speaking as part of an interview about how Microsoft is positioning the Xbox 360 business going into yet another holiday season, nearing the end of its lifecycle. He noted that Kinect, which he said has now sold 20 million units, will continue to play a large role and he believes it’s actually beginning to resonate with the core audience.
“When you look at the way core has adapted to Kinect, the things that they’re valuing with it – the voice control stuff is really starting to catch on. When I look at some of the stuff we’ve done with Skyrim, some of the integration we have with Skyrim, some of the work with FIFA…voice integration has been unbelievable. If you look at some of the reviews we have on Mass Effect 3 and some of the people who play through using some of the voice control capabilities as well in that game. We’re starting to strike the right chords in the core audience,” he said.
“There are plenty of uses for this particular technology, whether it’s gesture or speech, and we’ve only scratched the surface. We’ve only been in this thing a couple of years now…Kinect is going to be something that everyone’s going to want to own. Whether you’re core, whether you’re broad.
Here is some news that many are going to find a bit amusing. Minecraft on the Xbox 360 is getting more hours of play than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or FIFA 13. Worldwide activity for the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft is king when it comes to hours played.
With this news, Minecraft for Xbox 360 becomes the first Xbox Live Arcade title to take the top spot. While no one is talking exact numbers, we know that the Xbox 360 version of the game has sold over 4 million copies.
Some of the recent activity is due to the release of the latest patch, which provided an upgrade that has spurred many who had not been playing the game to come back as a result. Those that have returned to the game have found the new upgrade has made its return quite an experience.
Microsoft has a little surprise in store for those using USB Flash drives for storage on their Xbox 360 consoles. With the latest update, Microsoft has doubled the allowed size of USB flash drives from 16GB to 32GB.
The news of the capacity increase came as more users have been getting the latest dashboard update. Previously, even if you had a larger flash drive than 16GB, the Xbox 360 would only allow users to use 16GB of the available storage space.
The storage increase comes as Microsoft confirms that Halo 4 will require 8GB of available storage space. The capacity increase will help those users that have opted not to go with a hard drive, but instead have taken advantage of the cheap prices of USB flash drive storage for handling their storage needs. Some users have reported using multiple USB flash drives and are pleased with the option, as it is still cheaper in most cases than buying a hard drive for use with their Xbox 360.
While the price of 32GB USB flash drives isn’t as cheap as 16GB flash drives yet, 32GB USB flash drives are now under $20, and we see the price going a bit lower as many makers are moving to USB 3.0 drives; which is making for great deals on the older and slower USB 2.0 models. Since the Xbox 360 does not support USB 3.0, there is no gain in buying a USB 3.0 model. With two 32GB drives, users have more storage than the 60GB hard drive that appeared in the Xbox 360 for a short time prior to the company moving away from both the 20GB and 60GB models in favor of the 120GB drive, which became the standard for a long time.
Since it launched in May, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition has sat comfortably atop Microsoft’s Xbox Live sales charts. That continued success adds up, as developer 4J Studios confirmed on Twitter this weekend that its console adaptation of Mojang’s blockbuster hit has tallied more than 4 million sales.
The game hit its first million sold within five days of appearing on Xbox Live Arcade, and became the service’s best-selling title of all time with 2 million sold in under a month. Despite that success, the Xbox 360 Edition of Minecraft still has a ways to go to catch up to its PC progenitor. In August, Mojang said the original edition of the game had surpassed sales of 7 million.
Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition sells for 1,600 Microsoft points ($20). The console edition of the game was developed by 4J Studios, which has made a name for itself bringing other games to Microsoft’s download service. Previously, the studio handled the Xbox Live Arcade ports for Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, and Perfect Dark.
Microsoft’s new ‘Beauty of the Web’ advert featuring Alex Clare’s Too Close track will allow customers to interact with it using their mobile phones. With the advert set to appear on The X Factor on Saturday, viewers will be able to use their Shazam mobile app to view live performances with the Alex Clare and enter a competition to see him live.
Alex Clare owes a lot to the Shazam app. Following his song’s airing on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer promo material it received 1,792,594 Shazam tags globally and shot to number four in the UK charts.
Paul Davies, Microsoft head of consumer marketing said, “We’re confident that by leveraging Shazam’s reach of more than 11 million people in the UK we will continue to strengthen Internet Explorer’s position as the browser that truly enables people to experience the web in all its beauty.
“The campaign will build on the growing success of the Internet Explorer brand and show users that Internet Explorer is the best way to experience their favourite sites.”
This isn’t Shazam’s first expansion into the television market. The company inked a deal with American Idol in April, before landing a deal with British broadcaster ITV.
If you fancy getting involved, the Shazam app is available to download for free on Android, Blackberry, IOS and Windows Phone.
Struggling mobile phone maker Nokia has cut prices of its older smartphone models using Microsoft Windows software, industry sources said on Thursday, a day after investors gave its latest Lumia phones a rapid thumbs-down.
Two industry sources told Reuters that the Finnish group, which is fighting to recapture ground lost to its rivals, cut the price of its mid-range Lumia 800 Windows Phone by around 15 percent this week and made smaller reductions on other Windows models.
Nokia shares continued falling on Thursday after slumping 13 percent on Wednesday as the firm unveiled two new Windows Phone models in what may be the last major shot at reclaiming market share lost to Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Google Inc.
Nokia did not disclose the price or roll-out dates of the new models – which with their rounded edges and colourful covers look similar to their predecessors – and its share fell a further 4.6 percent to 1.9 euros by 1320 GMT on Thursday.
Research firm CCS Insight, which tracks market prices, confirmed the cuts and said they were necessary to keep momentum behind current Lumia 800 and 900 devices now when new products have been announced using the updated Windows Phone 8 software.
Robert Boyd, one half of Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness 3 developer Zeboyd Games, has told Edge that Microsoft should merge Xbox Live’s Arcade and Indie Games categories.
“I’d like to see [XBLIG] kind of merge into XBLA,” Boyd commented. “Keep Indie Games free to everyone but if you have a really good game, you could submit it to Microsoft for it to be upgraded to an XBLA title. Right now, becoming an XBLA developer is fairly difficult for a small team, so reducing the barrier of entry to XBLA could only help Microsoft, I think.”
Boyd finds that Xbox Live Indie Games has serious discoverability issues because of the low barrier to entry. Some developers could use a route to Xbox Live Arcade, a route previously provided by Microsoft’s Dream Build Play indie development contest.
“Early on, several winnders and nominees got on, but after Dust won, I can’t think of anything else. Most of the winners ended up just being released on XBLIG,” Boyd said.
“Far more indie games are released on Steam than XBLA, and yet Steam is tremendously successful. I think opening up XBLA a bit – but not completely – would only help.”
Microsoft lowered the price on its Kinect camera peripheral by $40 last week. It’s a sign that Microsoft is getting ready to ramp up for the holidays, but is it also a portent of an imminent price drop on Xbox 360 hardware? Not necessarily, according to top industry analysts.
Most analysts we spoke with think Microsoft is much more likely to continue enhancing its bundle offerings rather than slashing any hardware prices.
“Price cut no, bundles yes. For now, I think Microsoft is happy with Xbox sales and some early traction in the different pricing models they have rolled out at retail,” said Colin Sebastian of RW Baird. “We still expect the launch of the next Xbox in the fall of 2013, so there will still need to be a price cut on the current gen, although perhaps not until after the holidays. I am sure retailers will offer their own promotions this holiday though.”
Sebastian makes a good point. Consumers hungry for great deals may still find a sudden temporary sale price for Xbox 360 at huge brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart. To the extent that Microsoft will cut prices on anything, it will be in the form of discounted bundles.
“I don’t believe an Xbox 360 price cut is imminent. The Xbox 360 hardware still leads in sales and I do doubt whether we even see a price cut at all in 2012. However, we should expect a holiday season full of discounted and limited edition bundles that, on paper, would reflect a price cut. But a full price cut on the base hardware, I wouldn’t expect one until early 2013,” Jesse Divnich of EEDAR told us.
Divnich noted one caveat in his prediction, however, and it involves Nintendo. “Of course, this is entirely dependent upon the success of the Wii U. If the Wii U comes flying out of the gates and begins to impact Xbox 360 hardware, I would expect Microsoft to react swiftly with a price cut or more aggressive retail promotions,” he added.
Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter couldn’t believe that Kinect hadn’t seen a price cut already. “I thought Kinect had been cut a long time ago, and can’t believe that the standalone unit sells that well,” he said. Pachter is forecasting a slight reduction on the current Kinect bundles. “I think they will price a Kinect bundle at $50 lower than the current bundles, so $249 for the 4GB bundle and $349 for the 250GB bundle, and yes, I think this is a sign [of future Xbox hardware cuts],” he remarked, deviating from other analysts’ opinions.
Aside from the possibility of Xbox 360 hardware seeing a price cut, we also have to look at what a Kinect price cut means for Kinect. Is Microsoft paving the way for a Kinect 2 launch this holiday? Lewis Ward of IDC Research believes so.
“I’m leaning toward Microsoft not cutting the price of the Xbox 360 in the near future since it’s already selling quite well, though a minor cut is possible. I think there will definitely be some interesting bundles this holiday season,” he noted, then adding, “I’ll go out on a limb as far as the Kinect MSRP cut goes. It’s been rumored that Kinect 2 will arrive with the Windows 8 launch at the end of October. It’s possible that Microsoft is clearing the channel in preparation of this (potential) new arrival.”
“If Kinect 2 does arrive this holiday season I’m sure they’ll put it in a bundle and there will have to be a few marquis games that use it in interesting ways. That’s a tall order, though, and if they’ve been able to keep it quiet to this point that would be a stunning feat!”
The Accuvant Labs research consultant showed attendees at the Black Hat conference a pair of demonstrations in which an attacking device could access a targeted handset and remotely execute files via NFC connections, such as those used by Samsung’s S Beam.
In his demonstrations, Miller showed an Android handset being compromised by way of the Beam file-sharing feature.
By way of initiating a peer-to-peer NFC session, typically initiated by tapping two handsets together, Miller was able to access a targeted handset and run code that allows an attacker to load an attack page without any notification or permissions.
In the second demonstration, Miller was able to exploit connections between NFC devices and Bluetooth components on the Nokia N9 to activate a handset, install and then execute files including a Powerpoint presentation.
The presentation was the result of several months of research in which Miller analyzed the NFC format from its most basic radio communications system to the high-level components that link NFC hardware to third-party applications.
The report noted that in most cases the range was limited to contact in which the attacking device was a few inches away or touching the targeted device. Miller commented that attacks from long distances are highly unlikely.
Miller’s conclusion was that in most cases, the weakest link in NFC is at the higher levels of the stack where more vulnerabilities can be exploited.
“The real attack surface is the browser, and that is pretty screwed up,” Miller commented.
The presentation was also part of an effort by Miller to pique the interest of researchers and developers in NFC security. He noted that in the case of his demonstrations, possible attacks could be spotted simply by enabling NFC connection alerts and permissions by default on handset.
Miller quipped, “Before you push a web page to me, for God’s sake give me the option to say no.”
Miller has a history of high-profile security presentations and discoveries. Between 2009 and 2011 he won a string of three consecutive Pwn2Own hacking contests and in 2011 the discovery of flaws in IOS lead to his banishment from Apple’s developer program.
Microsoft has taken a number steps to increase security of its Xbox Live service, including better communication with users and better verification for potentially fraudulent activity.
“The internet has transformed the way we purchase goods and services and added layers of convenience to our lives. Yet, disappointingly, online fraud increasingly victimises millions of unsuspecting consumers each year,” said Xbox Live GM Alex Garden on his official blog.
“That is why our resolve at Microsoft to battle fraud and our commitment to account security is stronger than ever. I hope you’ll take a few moments to protect your account today.”
He added that he had received a mass of emails from the service’s users, and this had “reinforced our belief that Xbox Live is not simply an online service but a community built upon the trust and investment of its members.”
The changes are listed in full below, and seem to be an attempt to combat some of the issues highlighted by sites like Hacked On Xbox.
- We’ve taken legal action to pull down online posts of gamertags, usernames and passwords gathered from malware or phishing schemes to help protect our members.
- Our Xbox LIVE Spring update included many behind the scenes improvements that help us build on security enhancements for the near future.
- We’re sending unique codes to the security phone numbers and secondary email addresses provided by members to verify authorization for Xbox.com purchases or account change attempts not stemming from a member’s trusted device.
The Finnish phone maker said the price cut, which first appeared over the weekend, was a “normal strategy” that gives a broader audience a more accessible price. A spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that even the Galaxy II S from Samsung had a $50 price drop after about the same time on the market. Nokia could not be reached for further comment.
However, many phones retain their retail value for many months or even years. Most analysts predicted the price cut when Microsoft announced that the Lumia 900 and other Windows Phone 7 phones would not run the Windows Phone 8 operating system when it launches in the fall.
Nokia reports its second-quarter earnings on Thursday, after having announced 10,000 job reductions last month. Nokia said it had poor sales of low-cost phones amid a small share of Windows Phone sales.
Nokia will provide an interim Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade to the Lumia 900 and Lumia 800 to mimic some features in Windows Phone 8. But the Lumia 900 only has a single-core processor that doesn’t support all the Windows Phone 8 features needed for top-flight video and gaming, analysts said. Many current smartphones have dual-core or even quad-core processors.