Matthew Roszak

In The Press Blog

OnLive gets on exclusive demo for Red Faction Armageddon

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OnLive will get the exclusive PC demo of Red Faction Armageddon, marking the first time that any major new video game will be available only to PC gamers through Onlive’s cloud gaming service.

That may not sound like a big victory. But OnLive, the games-on-demand service, has labored long to get the inside track with game publishers by pitching its ability to merchandise games in non-traditional ways. The Red Faction Armageddon demo shows that the publishers see value in giving an exclusive to OnLive.

OnLive offers instant gratification with its games-on-demand service that debuted in June, 2010. Users log into OnLive and immediately play games that are computed and stored on OnLive’s data centers. Users don’t have to download anything and don’t need a high-end computer to play high-end games.

THQ’s Red Faction Armageddon game debuts on June 7 on the PC, PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. So OnLive players will be able to try out the sci-fi action thriller game 12 days before the game is available.

The announcement comes on the heels of OnLive’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that it was adding high-quality games such as Borderlands to its PlayPack subscription library, which is akin to Netflix in that it gives gamers access to dozens of games for monthly subscription fee ($9.99). Steve Perlman, chief executive of OnLive, believes that these announcements show publishers are seeing success with OnLive’s business approach and want to cash in on it more. He says this is the beginning of a number of similar exclusives coming soon.

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Our next set of speakers for GamesBeat 2011

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Today we’re revealing the second set of speakers for our third annual GamesBeat 2011 conference. Our slate of speakers will include David Ko, senior vice president of mobile games at Zynga, the world’s largest social game company; Si Shen, chief executive of mobile social platform company PapayaMobile; and Peter Relan, founder of YouWeb, the incubator that has created such social/mobile gaming companies as OpenFeint, CrowdStar, iSwifter and Sibblingz.

This GamesBeat 2011 conference takes place July 12-13 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

We’re delighted to have Zynga at the event because it has disrupted traditional game markets and found new audiences with its social games on Facebook, where it has more than 247 million monthly active users. But in mobile games, the market is wide open and the company needs a good strategy as it expands into mobile.

David Ko will do a fireside chat entitled, “Mobile as the Next Evolution for Social Gaming.” Ko will discuss the incredible opportunities for innovation in mobile social gaming, as well as different business models and their respective challenges in the market. In the online social gaming space, immense growth and adoption on the PC has led to a natural extension into mobile – the largest opportunity for the market.  Social gaming companies are rapidly innovating and developing experiences that leverage the unique attributes of the mobile device to better engage users and reach critical mass. Ko will provide an overview of this evolution.

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Omar Hamoui’s Churn Labs creates Gnonstop Gnomes

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Omar Hamoui sold AdMob to Googlein 2009 for $750 million. Now he’s back — with gnomes.

The Gnonstop Gnomes social app is the first product of Churn Labs, an incubator that Hamoui created after he left Google last October. The app is the sort of zany thing that entrepreneurs can come up with when they just follow their own sense of curiosity.

Hamoui and Haider Sabri presented the app at the Techcrunch Disrupt conference on Monday in New York. With the app, you take pictures with your iPhone or Android camera and insert an image of an animated gnome into the picture. The app records the location of each picture and so you can follow the path that the gnome has followed.

“We are looking at areas of technology that haven’t been fully explored or fully charted,” Hamoui said. “We don’t care how crazy it is or silly it is. We think that by being there and seeing what we learn, we may bump into interesting projects.”

It’s an amusing app. But the gnome is interesting in that it can only live on one device at a time. The social part comes in when someone else “lyfts” the gnome from your phone to their phone. They do so by grabbing the gnome from your screen and making a lifting motion. You are essentially getting a “drag and drop” motion between devices. The new owner of the gnome can take pictures of it and then pass it along to someone else. It’s pure an experiment in social gaming right now. You could send a gnome on a mission to get to a landmark and then see if it gets there.


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How EA’s John Riccitiello sees the past few years of struggle

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Like many seasoned executives, Electronic Arts chief executive John Riccitiello believes that learning from failure is essential to success. He said so in a recent commencement speech at the Haas business schoolat the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated in 1981.

Riccitiello’s speech revealed a few tidbits about how he has dealt with the past few years of struggle at EA. It also shows why he has stayed the course on a major effort to turn around EA’s business and adapt to a new world of games, even though others have taken pot shots at his strategy.

“I’ve had first-hand experience with failure, and I have had the opportunity to learn and recover from it,” Riccitiello said.

EA has had to deal with mass layoffs, a decline in the core game business, a shift toward high-quality games, the crash of traditional licensed games, and the rise of mobile and social network games. Dealing with that change and facing criticism along the way hasn’t been easy, Riccitiello said.

In the early 2000s, EA was by far the most successful company in the video game business. EA ruled on the market-leading PlayStation 2 platform and had a huge market capitalization and was on every “best of the best list.” By 2008, the story was much different. With the transition to the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the Wii, EA’s product quality suffered, its development costs skyrocketed, and EA had stopped growing.

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Work hard, play hard: Students get a free Xbox 360 with Windows 7 PCs

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Great news for college students (and perhaps not so great news for parents): Microsoft announced today that it will offer a free Xbox 360 with 4 gigabytes of storage (a $199 value) to any student who purchases a Windows 7 computer for $699 or more.

It’s a smooth move for Microsoft, since it gets Xbox 360s into even more dorm rooms, gives students one more reason to go with a Windows PC instead of a Mac, and is a great way to get rid of its low-end Xbox 360 stock (the 4GB unit doesn’t come with a hard drive).

Even better, Microsoft is allowing students to purchase any Windows 7 PC over $699 — though it recommends a few specific models like the sexy Samsung Series 9 ultraportable.

Apple has offered students similar deals in the past by offering them a free iPod Touch. But by offering students a free Xbox 360, Microsoft will also ensure that it has a presence on their televisions. At this point, the Xbox 360 is more than just a game console — it’s an entertainment centerpiece thanks to its support for Netflix, Last.FM, and Microsoft’s Zune Market.

Students can take advantage of the deal by purchasing a PC in online stores including Dell, HP and Microsoft’s with their .edu school email address. Additionally, students can bring their school ID to Best Buy or a Microsoft Store to purchase their computers in person.

The offer will be available from May 23 to September 9 — which should give students plenty of time to pick their preferred computers. I also suggest students check in with their schools to see if they offer additional discounts on Windows 7 PCs. Most higher education IT departments offer discounts on computer hardware and software.

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Zynga acquires DNA Games, 14th acquisition in 12 months

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Zynga said today it is acquiring social game maker DNA Games. That’s the 14th acquisition Zynga has made in 12 months.

Zynga is in a race to acquire talent to make more social games for Facebook (where it has more than 250 million monthly active users) and other platforms such as mobile.

DNA Games was founded in 2009 by Jon Lee and Shaun Haase. They have created hits such as Casino City, Slot City and Bar World. Zynga says it will use their expertise in creating next-generation games. Lee will serve as the general manager of the studio, which will report to Mark Skaggs, senior vice president of product development.

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Adknowledge and Ansca Mobile cater to mobile game makers

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Adknowledge and Ansca Mobilehave teamed up to help mobile game developers make money with their apps.

Adknowledge is a long-tail ad network, with monetization platforms for games and other apps. Ansca Mobile is a game engine that allows developers to create games without knowing much programming.

By combining their platforms, the two companies will make it a lot easier for app makers to monetize their mobile apps on the iOS (iPhone etc.) and Android mobile platforms.

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LA Noire lives up to the name “movie-like” video game

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A packed crowd of over 200 film fans filled the SVA Theater in New York City during the recent Tribeca Film Festival to watch LAPD Homicide Detectives Cole Phelps and partner Rusty Galloway track down “the red lipstick killer” in LA Noire.

But the action on the big screen, set during 1947 Los Angeles, wasn’t a movie. LA Noire is the latest video game from publisher Rockstar Games. And in contrast to many video games that have forever claimed to be “movie-like,” LA Noire really is movie-like (see video here), from its captivating story to its use of an outstanding new facial animation technology that brings video game characters to life, as if they were actors in a movie.

Rockstar, a division of Take-Two Interactive, is the maker of bestselling genre-defining titles like the modern-day crime drama Grand Theft Auto IV and the western Red Dead Redemption. And the red lipstick murder was an actual case involving the murder of nurse Jeanne French, which remains unsolved to this day.

In the game, players will find the culprit, although the names and persons involved in the real case were changed for the sake of interactive entertainment. A total of 20 cases are featured in the new crime game.

Over the past five years, Brendan McNamara and his Syndey, Australia-based Team Bondi development studio have been immersed in 1940s Hollywood. Considering the distance between Australia and Los Angeles, that’s quite an achievement. Rockstar Games built a studio in Culver City, Calif. to house the new Motion Scan performance capture and facial capture equipment that was designed for this game.

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Will PlayStation Network’s improved security be good enough?

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After a 24-day outage, Sony has announced that it has begun restoring the PlayStation Network on a region by region basis.

Kaz Hirai (pictured) said in a video that the company has rebuilt the security system of the online gaming service, which has 77 million registered users. Hackers attacked the network on April 19, forcing Sony to close the network as it fixed the security and investigated the hack.

Sony’s security measures start with users, who must immediately reset their passwords upon signing back in. Sony said it has worked with several respected outside security firms to implement new security measures that strengthen safeguards against unauthorized activity and provide consumers with more protection of their personal information.

Sony has added new security systems including additional software monitoring. It is also doing penetration and vulnerability testing. That means it is hiring security experts who will attack the system, as if they were criminal hackers, in hopes of finding vulnerabilities. Sony can then beef up the security.

Sony has increased levels of encryption and additional firewalls. That means that if hackers break into one part of the system, they won’t have access to all parts of the system. Sony also has an early-warning system for unusual activity patterns that could signal an attack.

One of the companies working with Sony on improving security is Symantec, the antivirus company. Symantec worked with Sony on relocating its network from one data center to another.

Hirai said Sony did not rush to get the services back online at the expense of security measures. He said that personal information is being guarded with some of the best technologies available today.

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A blockbuster month: video game sales rise 20 percent in April

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Video game sales rose 20 percent in April as a series of big titles finally pumped some life into the core console game business.

It was the biggest monthly year-over-year increase in a long time. The industry can thank sales of blockbusters such as Mortal Kombat and Portal 2 (pictured), as well as strong sales of Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing system and Nintendo’s new 3DS handheld device.

The sales figures are closely watched because they’re a good measure of the health of the multibillion-dollar industry. These figures suggest that core games are finally coming back after the recession and free games took their toll.

Total physical channel sales — games sold at stores for consoles, PCs and handhelds — grew 20 percent to $961.2 million from $802.4 million a year ago, according to market researcher NPD. The figures are strong despite 10 days of an outage for the PlayStation Network, which may have put a damper on Sony PlayStation 3 game sales during the month.

The overall video game sector, with accessories included but not PC games, grew 21 percent to $930.7 million, up from $771.5 million a year ago. Hardware sales were $279.9 million, up 12 percent from $249.5 million a year earlier. Console and portable game sales were $503.2 million, up 26 percent from $398.5 million a year earlier. Accessory sales were $147.6 million, up 20 percent from $123.5 million a year earlier. Console, portable and PC game sales were $533.6 million, up 24 percent from $429.4 million a year ago.

The sales are a welcome relief for game publishers after a relatively weak March. In March, despite the launch of  Nintendo’s new handheld 3DS, sales were down 4 percent to $1.53 billion.

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