In a keynote conversation with Entertainment Software Association boss Mike Gallagher at the Digital Entertainment World conference, Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore talked about industry lessons learned as the business transitions more to digital games.
For now, games remain a hybrid of physical and digital, and the quick sales of the new consoles are enabling the industry to coalesce around two great platforms that offer a tremendous competitive environment, which ultimately benefits the market. While he believes the console sector’s in great shape, Moore does see mobile gaming thriving, and digital revenues should surpass that of physical game sales in just two years, he said.
Looking back at the music industry’s transition to digital (which it still hasn’t recovered from), Moore said that the games industry must embrace “creative destruction” – there’s nothing an industry can do to stop a shift in consumer tastes and habits. The most important thing for EA – and much of the industry is headed this way with the digital transition – is that games are becoming live operations. That means they require a massive infrastructure with customer service and global billing. Moore noted that it’s a completely different industry now, with a global network running live ops, and gamers deserve their games to be always up and available, and it’s EA’s job to provide this access. Moore acknowledged that EA is still learning a lot about what that takes.
The online environment has been incredibly valuable to EA in building a direct customer relationship. Moore said that EA’s customers used to be the retailers, but now they’re the gamers. In fact, EA has tripled its customer facing support staff resources in the last five years. It’s changing how the publisher interacts with, and markets to, gamers. He eschews “marketing” and prefers “engaging”. Social media has become crucial to success, and Moore noted that on Twitter a gamer will get a response from EA within 30 minutes to resolve a problem.
On the marketing end, Moore said that EA’s TV spend is down 20 percent while the company has actually doubled its digital spend and engagement. Social media and community management are changing the rules. Don’t spend tens of millions on TV to see if it lifts sales, Moore said; instead game companies can more effectively use digital channels and focus on performance-based marketing.
“TV ads today are chum in the water. It attracts customers, then reel them in with digital media so you can engage instead of pushing a message out,” he remarked.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Taiwanese contract manufacturer, which has built a lot of Apple’s iPhones and iPads, has struck a deal with Google to build robotics for the company.
Google declined to comment this afternoon and Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Andy Rubin, Google’s former Android lead and now the head of the company’s robotics efforts, recently went to Taipei to meet with Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou about the deal, reported the Journal, citing unnamed sources.
The deal would benefit both companies, giving Google a robotics manufacturer and giving robotics technology to Foxconn for its manufacturing business.
“Well, that should speed up development cycles for Google,” said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. “Foxconn is one of the industry’s largest contract manufacturers and what they do best is build things. Google, on the other hand, invents things but its core competency isn’t building things, particularly hardware, quickly and efficiently.”
The pact, he added, would bring hardware manufacturing scale to Google — a must, if Google wants to mass produce robots at an affordable price.
“Pretty soon we’ll have an army of Google robots, like in Star Wars II,” said Kerravala.
Google, a company known worldwide for search, Android and its ubiquitous Maps service, has been taking a deep dive into robotics in the past six months or so. The company announced late last month that it was acquiring DeepMind Technologies, a London-based artificial intelligence (AI) company.
In December, Google bought Boston Dynamics, a robotics company known for its four-legged BigDog robot, as well as six-foot-tall, 330-pound humanoid robot, Atlas.
Those acquisitions came on the heels of a six-month buying spree in which Google bought seven other robotics businesses.
In addition, Google has been working for the last several years to develop autonomous automobiles. The self-driving car effort has logged thousands of miles on the road and even had Google executives approaching Detroit car makers in the hopes of finding business partners.
Did a British Spy agency linked to GCHQ attacked hacktivists of the Anonymous and Lulzsec collectives, according to leaked US National Security Agency (NSA) documents?
NBC published documents obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showing that the group codenamed the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) proactively attempted to shut down and spread misinformation throughout the Anonymous collective.
The leaked document allege that the unit attempted to phish Anonymous members and launched attacks designed to disrupt and infiltrate its networks as part of an operation called Rolling Thunder.
The documents show the spies mounted a sophisticated espionage campaign that enabled intelligence officers to phish a number of Anonymous members to extract key bits of information.
The documents include conversations between intelligence officers and Anonymous members G-Zero, Topiary and pOke in 2011.
One log shows that a GCHQ spy duped the hacker pOke into clicking on a malicious link dressed up to look like a news article about Anonymous. The link used an unspecified method to extract data from the virtual private network (VPN) being used by pOke.
The documents allege pOke was not arrested, but that the information acquired during the phishing attack was used in the arrest of Jake Davis, who was known as Topiary, in July 2011.
Davis’ arrest was taken as a key victory for law enforcement. British citizen Davis was believed to have acted as a spokesman for many Anonymous cells and is credited as having written several of its statements.
A GCHQ spokesman declined The INQUIRER’s request for comment on NBC’s report, but reiterated the agency’s previous insistence that all of its operations are carried out within the letter of the law.
“It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework,” read the statement.
Experts in the security community have questioned the GCHQ’s argument. Corero Network Security COO Andrew Miller said that the secret unit’s use of blackhat tactics was at the very least morally questionable.
“We have to remember that cyber-spooks within GCHQ are equally if not more skilled than many black hat hackers, and the tools and techniques they are going to use to fight cybercrime are surely going to be similar to that of the bad guys,” he said.
“Legally, we enter a very grey area here, where members of Lulzsec were arrested and incarcerated for carrying out DDoS attacks, but it seems that JTRIG are taking the same approach with impunity.”
The campaign against Anonymous is one of many revelations from the leaked Snowden files.
The files initially were leaked to the press in 2013 and detailed several intelligence operations carried out by the UK GCHQ and US NSA. Documents emerged in January alleging that GCHQ and NSA used mobile apps such as Angry Birds to spy on citizens.
Walt Disney Co is making plans to lay off several hundred people in its interactive unit, the division that includes gaming products and the Disney.com website, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week.
The job eliminations are expected to begin after Disney releases its quarterly earnings today, the Journal said. Playdom, a social gaming business Disney acquired in 2010, is one division expected to see cutbacks, the newspaper said.
Disney is trying to turn around the interactive unit, which has about 3,000 employees. Its new Infinity video game enjoyed strong initial sales after its release last August, helping the division report a $16 million profit for the quarter that ended in September, an improvement from the $76 million loss a year earlier.
A Disney spokeswoman had no comment.
“We’ve reached an agreement to join Yahoo to help build the next generation of communications and community products,” Tomfoolery CEO Kakul Srivastava, a Yahoo alum, said on the company’s blog, confirming reports earlier in the week that Yahoo was in talks to buy the firm.
Terms were not disclosed, although a previous report in The Wall Street Journal cited a price tag of roughly $16 million. Yahoo could not be immediately reached to comment. The deal is expected to close in the next few days, San Francisco-based Tomfoolery said.
Tomfoolery’s flagship product was Anchor, which provided various networking functions aimed at businesses such as group chats, file sharing, and email and voice calling. The software combined features that could otherwise be found in separate services like Facebook or Microsoft Outlook.
Anchor could be accessed from the Web, though it was focused on iOS and Android-based devices. As of Wednesday new user sign-ups were disabled, Tomfoolery said in its announcement, and the product will be shut down upon the deal’s closing.
In its announcement, Tomfoolery said it would be building “the next generation of social Yahoo products.” Few other details were given, though Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has said that growing the Internet company’s offerings in the area of social media would be an important element in Yahoo’s mission to attract users and advertisers.
Japan’s SoftBank and German telecom operator Deutsche Telekom are close to a deal that would merge T-Mobile US with Sprint, eliminating one of the four major mobile competitors in the U.S., according to the Nikkei news agency.
SoftBank would pay more than 2 trillion yen ($19 billion) for a stake of up to 70 percent in T-Mobile, which is the fourth-largest mobile operator in the U.S.,Nikkei said, citing unnamed sources. SoftBank already owns a majority of Sprint, the country’s third-largest carrier. T-Mobile is majority owned by Deutsche Telekom.
The Wall Street Journal had reported earlier this month that Sprint was studying regulatory concerns about such a deal and might make an offer for T-Mobile in the first half of next year. The Nikkei story, posted on Wednesday in Japan, said the parent companies of Sprint and T-Mobile were in the final stages of talks on a possible deal. SoftBank might make its offer as early as spring 2014, Nikkei said, roughly matching the earlier report on timing.
A $19 billion price tag for T-Mobile would nearly equal the $21.6 billion that SoftBank paid for 78 percent of Sprint earlier this year.
Combining Sprint and T-Mobile would create a carrier with nearly 100 million customers, close to subscriber parity with AT&T and Verizon Wireless, each of which has more than 100 million. However, U.S. regulators might block such a transaction in order to preserve competition in the nation’s wireless industry. When the government shot down AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile in 2011, some regulators cited the need to keep four major rivals in the market.
T-Mobile has proved a scrappy competitor since emerging from the failed AT&T deal. In the past year, in a successful bid to make gains against its bigger rivals, the company has introduced new service and device-purchase plans that other U.S. carriers have emulated.
Apple confirmed the acquisition but would not say why it purchased the company, which specializes in analyzing Twitter data and providing insights into current sentiment on a variety of topics.
The Wall Street Journal, which reported the news earlier, cited people familiar with the deal as saying Apple forked over more than $200 million.
“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.
Topsy did not respond to requests for comment.
The iPad and iPhone maker often does what it calls “bolt-on” acquisitions, small deals to acquire technology that then gets integrated into existing or future products.
Apple’s main effort in social media has revolved around Ping, a music-centered social sharing network that was at one point integrated into its iTunes app. The service, which lets users post music tracks they liked to a newsfeed, didn’t catch on and was shut down.
But the California gadget maker has been increasingly making it easier for people to share photos, videos and news through its devices and directly to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
It also operates iTunes Radio, an online streaming music service that competes with Pandora and could benefit from Topsy’s data on consumer sentiment.
BlackBerry Ltd sought to reassure its leery customers and partners that it was financially stable and “here to stay,” even though it announced massive layoffs and sources say it is in talks to sell all or part of the company.
In an open letter published in 30 news outlets across nine countries, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company stressed that its customers can continue to count on BlackBerry and its products, despite the challenges it is facing and the changes it is undergoing.
BlackBerry’s products have struggled to compete against the likes of Apple Inc’s iPhone and the numerous devices powered by Google’s Android operating system.
A new line of smartphones that run on the BlackBerry 10 operating system has also failed to re-ignite sales, prompting the company last month to announce that it would slash its global workforce by more than a third.
“Our customers read a lot about BlackBerry these days, as we make the headlines quite often – this has created a lot of noise and confusion” Frank Boulben, the company’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview.
“We want customers to know that they can continue to count on us – we are here to stay. We have substantial cash on our balance sheet and we have no debt. We are restructuring our cost base and this is a very painful transition, but it will make us financially stronger and we want to get that message directly to our customers.”
The open letter is being distributed via social media channels and was published in Tuesday’s edition of newspapers across the globe, including the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal in the United States, and the Globe and Mail and National Post in Canada.
The company’s future was further thrown into question after it announced this summer that it is weighing its options, including an outright sale.
Sources have told Reuters that the company is in talks with Cisco Systems, Google Inc and SAP about selling all or parts of itself. Such a deal would be an alternative to a preliminary, $9-a-share offer by a group being led by BlackBerry’s biggest investor, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd.
Last week, BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin also said that they are considering a bid to buy the smartphone maker.
Boulben said the uncertainty is the reason why BlackBerry is publishing the letter, which highlights the company’s strengths from its security offering to its device management capabilities and its mobile messaging platform.
“Whoever is interested in BlackBerry understands that the company has world class products and services. These are products and services that customers can continue to count on.”
Thirteen people have been indicted, accused of being members of the Anonymous hacktivist group and allegedly involved in Operation Payback.
Operation Payback was the retaliation against payment firms that Anonymous put in motion following their blocking of Wikileaks donations.
The 13 are accused of taking part in a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and the US Department of Justice filed a federal grand jury indictment in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. The indictment charges them with conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to protected computers.
Anonymous is a loosely linked digital rights collective. In its early days it pulled together volunteers from all walks of life.
Operation Payback struck a number of organisations including Mastercard, Visa, Paypal and the Motion Picture Association of America. The attacks lasted between September 2010 and January 2011. As well as retaliating against payment providers, part of Operation Payback was aimed at parties thought to be involved in a campaign against The Pirate Bay.
Agence France Presse (AFP) has seen the indictment and named those indicted in it. They are Dennis Owen Collins, Jeremy Leroy Heller, Chen Zhiwei, Joshua Phy, Ryan Russel Gubele, Robert Audubon Whitfield, Anthony Tadros, Geoffrey Kenneth Commander, Austen Stamm, Timothy Robert McLain, Wade Carl Williams and Thomas Bell.
According to AFP the 13 alleged Anonymous members “planned and executed a coordinated series of cyber-attacks against victim websites by flooding those websites with a huge volume of irrelevant internet traffic with the intent to make the resources on the websites unavailable to customers and users of those websites.”
In short, they are accused of having conducted a digital sit-in protest
The layoffs would affect all departments, according to the report in the Wall Street Journal that relied on anonymous sources.
BlackBerry wouldn’t comment on how many jobs might go, and issued this statement: “We will not comment on rumors and speculation. As previously stated, we are in the second phase of our transformation plan. Organizational moves will continue to occur to ensure we have the right people in the right roles to drive new opportunities in mobile computing.”
Analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates said he didn’t believe the layoff report was completely accurate, based on his conversation with a BlackBerry executive on Monday. The 40% layoff might only apply to Canadian workers as the mobile phone maker moves more of its operations to the U.S. to be closer to markets, Gold said. BlackBerry is headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario.
“The executive said they are indeed laying off folks in Canada. The proposed 40% layoff may be true in Canada… but I don’t think it accurately reflects what’s happening overall,” Gold told Computerworld.
The layoff report came on the same day that BlackBerry unveiled its Z30 smartphone with a 5-in. display, a larger phone than its Z10 introduced earlier in the year.
In recent days, unnamed sources also disclosed that BlackBerry could be sold off in parts to private parties, minus its smartphone business.
The layoff and sell-off reports depict a Canadian company on the brink of extinction, at least as a publicly traded company. Once a dominant player in the smartphone space, IDC recently indicated BlackBerry’s total share of smartphones will shrink below 3% in all of 2013. About 5,000 BlackBerry workers lost their jobs in 2012, part of a cost-cutting effort by CEO Thorsten Heins.
The layoffs are part of rolling job cuts that have been ongoing for several weeks, the people told the paper.
“I can confirm a small number of employees were laid off today,” a company spokesman told the newspaper, without providing additional details.
BlackBerry, which has bled market share to rivals including Apple’s iPhone and phones using Google’s Android technology, said last month it was weighing its options, which could include an outright sale.
News of the layoffs was first reported by Canadian technology blog Cantech Letter.
BlackBerry could not immediately be reached for comment outside of regular U.S.business hours.
An undated post on eBay’s Deals blog titled ”What’s the Deal with Bitcoins Anyway” featured a two-minute video encapsulating many of the pros and cons of the virtual currency.
Accompanying text next to the video reads: “The jury’s still out on whether bitcoins will become ubiquitous and stand the test of time, or whether new innovations might eventually take their place. What do you think? Are bitcoins the real deal?”
When questioned, an eBay spokeswoman said the company has not changed its payment policies. “The video is strictly informational,” she said.
The post indicates that one of the largest e-commerce vendors is taking notice of Bitcoin, which has been gaining traction with smaller online merchants but has been hampered by ongoing concerns over regulation.
There are some oddities around eBay’s Bitcoin blog post.
Although the post solicits users’ opinions, there doesn’t appear to be a way for customers to tell eBay what they think. The post only includes buttons to share the content on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
Ebay’s Deals blog is generally focused on just that: price discounts on merchandise such a Canon camera lens, pairs of Reebok boots, foam nunchuks are just a few examples. When looking at the stream of posts on the blog on its main URL, the bitcoin post does not appear.
The informational bitcoin video is hosted on YouTube, apparently posted on Aug. 20 by someone going by the moniker “B Sil.” Comments are disabled on the video, which has received more than 8,4000 views, and it appears B Sil has not posted other ones. The video has been circulated on other bitcoin-related websites since that time. The video concludes by stating on the screen that it is brought by eBay Deals.
Ebay’s interest in bitcoin would mark a significant development. A few major Internet sites, such as WordPress and Reddit, now accept bitcoin for subscriptions, but the virtual currency has yet to be used by a major e-commerce site.
If anything, Bitcoin represents a threat to eBay-owned PayPal, which dominates e-commerce payments. Bitcoins can be transferred using peer-to-peer software anywhere in the world for a fraction of the fees that PayPal charges to merchants.
Similar to cash, Bitcoin transactions are irreversible unless a vendor wants to give a refund. That eliminates the risk of chargebacks, or when card companies penalize vendors for accepting a fraudulent transaction.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in April, eBay CEO John Donahoe said bitcoin is a disruptive technology, and there may be ways to integrate it into PayPal.
The subsidiary would be called BBM Inc, the newspaper said.
A BlackBerry spokeswoman told Reuters the company cannot comment on rumor and speculation.
Two sources familiar with the company’s thinking, who declined to be named because they are not authorized to discuss the matter with the media, told Reuters the company has reallocated internal resources and personnel to work exclusively on fine-tuning the BlackBerry Messenger service ahead of its launch on competitors’ devices.
However, there is no immediate plan to spin off the unit, one of the sources said, adding that BBM for Apple’s iPhone and devices using Google’s Android should be available to consumers in the next few weeks.
The instant messaging service has about 60 million users who send billions of messages a day. BlackBerry has sought to add value to the service, even as the popularity of the company’s own handsets shrinks, by adding video calling over WiFi and working to make the service available to users of other devices.
The company has already announced plans for BBM Channels, which would allow advertisers to promote special deals or to target markets narrowly.
BlackBerry is also considering making BBM available for desktop computers, the Journal said, quoting a person it said was familiar with the matter.
BlackBerry said earlier this month it was looking into options for the company, which could include an outright sale.
BlackBerry’s shares were 3 percent lower at C$10.63 on the Toronto Stock Exchange early on Tuesday afternoon. They have lost well over three-quarters of their value since a peak in early 2011, and are down more than 7 percent so far this year.
The growing popularity of ad blocking — driven by users’ frustrations with intrusive, distracting or just-plain-ugly-and-noisy ads — threatens the free-for-all model of the Internet, said PageFair, a company that’s helping content publishers audit the problem and try to stem some of the bloodletting.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Neil O’Connor, CEO of Dublin-based PageFair. “Ads are becoming more aggressive to capture eyeballs, but that forces more people to install ad-blocking software. It’s a lose-lose situation.”
But without ads and the revenue they generate, most content publishers cannot sustain operations. Sans ad revenue, the only options are to charge for access — the path taken by publishers like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times — or fold the tent.
PageFair mined its data from the past 11 months and found some surprising nuggets about ad blocking.
“We started this because we were a publisher ourselves, in the game space,” said O’Connor. “We wanted to know how many of our users were dropping out by installing ad blockers, and thought it was maybe as high as 10%. But we found that 30% were blocking our ads. That was shocking to us.”
On average, 22.7% of the users who browsed to the several hundred sites monitored by PageFair since September 2012 used an ad blocker, but the range was very wide, from just 1.5% to 65%.
The more technically savvy a site’s audience, the more likely they will block ads, said O’Connor. Game-related websites, for instance, deal with an average ad-blocking rate of 30%, the highest of any category. More mainstream websites, however, have a lower percentage of ad-blockers: The average for travel sites is around 5%.
“The severity of ad blocking on a given site is positively correlated to the technical ability of its audience,” said O’Connor in a report PageFair published Wednesday.
That’s because browser ad blocking relies on add-ons, which not all users are comfortable installing, or even know exist. AdBlock Plus, which offers add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and most recently, Internet Explorer, is the best known.
Firefox users block ads more than those running any other browser, said O’Connor, perhaps because the Mozilla browser has long trumpeted its add-on ecosystem. Also, AdBlock Plus has supported Firefox the longest of any browser.
According to PageFair’s data, 37% of Firefox users block ads. Google’s Chrome took second place with a 30% blocking rate. IE’s rate was miniscule, under 1%.
“It’s not only our opinion; the industry sentiment is also that Windows RT has not been successful,” Shen told the Wall Street Journal last Friday at a Taipei earnings conference.
Asus now makes the VivoTab RT tablet, which runs on an ARM processor. In the future, it plans to focus on Windows 8 tablets that run on X86 chips from Intel because those tablets have compatibility with older Windows apps that RT lacks, Shen said.
Last week, Asus Chairman Jonney Shih said Windows RT has not been promising and said Asus is putting time and energy into devices running Intel chips.
The Shen confirmation comes a day after Nvidia said it expects revenue to drop as much as 40% this year from the Tegra processor used in some Windows RT tablets and some Android tablets and smartphones. The Tegra 3 runs in the VivoTab, as well as Microsoft’s Surface RT and Lenovo’s Yoga 11 tablet.
Microsoft wrote off $900 million in July to make up for steep discounts on its own Surface RT tablet. Analysts believe Microsoft will continue as the sole maker of Windows RT devices.
Windows RT tablets only garnered 0.5% of the tablet market in the second quarter, IDC said this week. That means about 200,000 shipped in the second quarter, the same amount as the first quarter.
Windows 8 tablets have fared better, with 1.8 million shipments in the second quarter and 4% of the market, IDC said.