05 November, 2011



Review: Why Dark Souls is the loneliest, most brutal game this year. And why you should love it.

Posted: 05 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PDT

It is dark. I have spent the last two hours stumbling and falling down a seemingly endless series of wooden platforms, facing off against attack dogs and ghouls, and being shot with poison darts. Finally reaching the ground, I find myself in a poisonous swamp, surrounded by giant mosquitoes and spiders. Somehow, I manage to cut a swathe through my enemies, only to be invaded by a dual-cleaver wielding phantom. Standing knee deep in swamp water, and barely able to move, I just manage to defeat this new foe. I struggle on, now poisoned and losing health fast. In the darkness, I see a tunnel, and inside is a bonfire. A safe haven in the gloom. A chance to replenish my health, and most importantly, a checkpoint of sorts. I am yards from the fire when, in a cruel twist of fate, I am invaded again, in retaliation for a previous transgression. This time there is no surviving. The phantom is upon me, and cuts me down where I stand. I must start my descent again. Welcome to the cruel and beautiful world of Dark Souls, one of the year’s big budget fantasy role-playing games created by From Software and published by Namco Bandai Games. While other blockbuster games are getting a lot of attention, this one could well be worth your time.

Dark beginnings

The spiritual successor to the 2009 PlayStation 3 exclusive Demon's Souls, Dark Souls makes its way onto both Xbox 360 and PS3, bringing with it much of the twisted fantasy look and feel of the previous title. With an understated approach to storytelling, Dark Souls greets the player with a brief and suitably dour cut scene (like a short animated film), followed by a tutorial level of sorts, during which you are pitted against an Asylum Demon the size of house, whilst armed only with a broken sword. This initial encounter sets the tone well for the game, with the realization that it is best to run, and resume battle when in a better position to put up a fight.

As you progress through the first few hours of the game, small hints are provided to help cope with the bleak world in which you find yourself, but the game never overtly extends a helping hand. In many ways this is the antithesis of popular trends in modern video games. Dark Souls doesn't provide invisible walls to stop you falling to your death, it doesn't throw constantly respawning enemies at you, until you reach a checkpoint, and it doesn't present you with glowing platforms, that will light your passage through the game. Instead Dark Souls is gaming in perhaps its purest form, where a minor mistake can cost you your life, and even the weakest enemy can be a threat, if you approach it without due diligence.

Character Creation

The underlying mechanics to Dark Souls are those of a role-playing game (RPG). Your character, which is initially defined by one of the pre-existing characters at first, can be developed in any number of ways, by investing the souls that you reap when defeating enemies into various categories, such as strength, vitality, intelligence and dexterity. By leveling up certain characteristics, you can design your character to excel at any combat style that you choose, including melee combat, magic or pyromancy.

Running in parallel to this character development is the huge range of equipment that can be found, bought or earned during the game, which will play a huge part in defining your playing style. Most of the weapons in the game can also be upgraded along certain paths, with the use of Titanite, and the kind assistance of blacksmiths. Towards the end of the game, I was regularly swapping the weapons, armor and rings that my character had equipped, to deal with different situations and enemies. This freedom to experiment and develop your in-game character plays a huge part in making them feel like a personal creation, rather than just a generic action-hero. It also helps heighten the emotional impact of the heartbreaking failure and very occasional sublime success that you will experience during the game.

Prepare to die

The world and character designs in Dark Souls are incredibly inventive and diverse, and I was often left staring with awe at the scenes that I encountered, venturing further just to see what I would find next. Each area slowly reveals new wonders, and creatures as yet unseen, sometimes lurking around a dark corner, or dimly visible in the gloom ahead, and often heard long before they come in to view. Doing battle with these creatures is often a brutal, tiring and drawn out experience, a far cry from the combos that you can effortlessly pull off in games such as God of War, or Bayonetta. Steel clashes on steel, magic attacks are blocked or avoided, and you soon realize that defense and evasion are of paramount importance. The often slow pace of the combat and the steady rewards of exploration lend the game a poetic feel, which is enhanced by the strange nature of much that you encounter on your journey.

The sense of scale in this game is at times truly breathtaking. Draw distances are huge, and threats yet to come can often be seen on a distant castle wall, or in the depths of a valley, sometimes hours before you will actually reach them. Whilst there is very little hand-holding in the game, it does lead you beautifully through the world, if you let it, allowing you to open hidden pathways that slowly reveal further areas to explore, and offering shortcuts to places already visited. In this sense, every section of the game that you beat offers further insight to the larger game world, and helps to create the feeling of a living, breathing environment, that is permanently affected by your movements and actions. Adding further to this impression is the fact that you will rarely see a loading screen or cut scene during your journey, barring boss battles, as each area blends seamlessly with the next, giving Dark Souls a great open world feel.

Seriously big bosses

At the heart of Dark Souls are a variety of boss battles. Each boss varies wildly in size and stature, but all are hugely intimidating when first encountered. Depending on the character type you are using, and the weapons you have crafted, these battles can either be surprisingly simple, or controller smashingly difficult. It is at these points that the game's multiplayer elements come into their own. Whilst connected to the online servers, players can view and leave messages for each other, offering helpful advice and words of encouragement. It is also possible to summon other human (and occasional AI) players into your game, in the form of white phantoms, to assist with getting through a level, or defeating a boss. With no communication available in game, other than a series of gestures, these meetings are often as understated and mysterious as the game itself. However, the feeling of kinship and mutual achievement that can be gained whilst teaming up with a fellow traveler, to take down a vast enemy, is incredible.

There are other online aspects to Dark Souls that take a different form to this direct assistance. It is also possible to invade another player's world, in order to kill them, stealing their souls and humanity. If this happens to you, then it is possible to 'indict' the invader, with their retribution for invading coming at a later date.  There are also certain covenants that you can join which may find you challenging fellow members for rewards, or being summoned to defend an area against intruders. These online aspects are beautifully integrated into the main game, and never give the feeling that you are being jarred from what is otherwise a very solitary and often lonely experience.

Difficulty level

Demon's Souls was a notoriously difficult game, and Dark Souls is also a very harsh and brutal challenge at times, but like its predecessor, it provides a deep sense of achievement and empowerment as you progress. You will rarely feel that your character is overpowered when entering a new area, but when revisiting an earlier stage, you can feel like a hero, albeit for a short while. At the same time, this feeling is always tempered by the realization that tougher times are to come, and the fact that even a simple mistake can cost you dearly, no matter how strong your equipment, or how high your level. Wade into battle overconfident or under prepared, and you can be cut down by even the weakest enemy. This is especially true if you find yourself surrounded and overwhelmed, a situation in which many of Dark Souls' numerous traps conspire to place you.

With many games now offering a paltry four or five hour single player experience, Dark Souls, by contrast, offers an incredibly deep campaign, that will take you weeks, or even months, to complete. My final playing time having beaten the game was just over 70 hours, and for some players that may be even longer, depending on how much time you wish to invest in crafting, leveling up, working for covenants and exploring for treasures. After you complete the game once, there is also the option to continue on to New Game Plus, in which you keep most of your equipment and your Soul level, but find that the difficulty level has increased. This, along with the previously mentioned multiplayer aspects to the game, means that Dark Souls has the capacity to keep you entertained for as long as you stick with it.

In a genre that can seem oversatured with product, Dark Souls really stands out from the crowd, with its powerful take on the action RPG. It offers no easy ground in terms of its difficulty level, but success in the game brings a feeling that is much more satisfying because of this. With a number of big name releases dominating the gaming market this winter, including the impending release of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I would encourage you not to let Dark Souls pass you by. It may well be a sleeper title, but it is one that can dominate your waking hours if you give it a chance.

In summary

Dark Souls offers a vast and mysterious game world, beautifully crafted and filled with magic and wonder at every turn. It offers a level of challenge that is missing from most games, inviting you to explore and discover its secrets for yourself. The mixture of RPG, action and subtle multiplayer elements is truly sublime, and is a great example of how to incorporate multiplayer features into a largely single player experience. Whilst Dark Souls may not be for everyone, if you wish to immerse yourself completely in a deeply personal adventure, and accept the challenges it throws at you, then you should embrace it with open arms.

Rating: 90 out of 100

Filed under: games

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ShortForm shows the full potential of Google TV’s new channels

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 06:00 PM PDT

ShortForm LogoOf the eight different examples listed on the Google TV’s new channel spotlight page, ShortForm’s channel demonstrates the full potential of the search engine giant’s internet TV platform.

Last week, Google launched a new version of its Google TV software for streaming set-top boxes and smart TVs. Among the new features is the addition of new channels (a.k.a. web apps) of content from a variety of different media partners, such as NHL, Vevo, New York Times and Crackle.

But not all Google TV channels are created by media companies. For instance, ShortForm is actually a social network that lets users (called Video Jockeys or VJs) create and curate their own channels of content using video clips from YouTube, Vimeo and others — sort of like having your own version of Comedy Central’s Tosh.0.

The most popular VJ channels on ShortForm are then featured on the company’s Google TV channel.

“We designed the ShortForm Google TV web app for the 10-foot experience,” said ShortForm CEO Nader Ghaffari in an interview with VentureBeat. And by “10-foot experience” he means an experience that’s comparable to how you’d watch a regular television channel from a cable or satellite provider.

VJ channels are essentially just playlists of video clips. You don’t have to click the play button for each video to begin either, as the channel is intended to remain streaming until you direct it to stop. The interface is pretty simple and you can easily navigate between different videos and VJ channels with a basic remote control. If you don’t have a Google TV enabled set-top box or smart TV, you can check out ShortForm’s channel via Google’s Chrome web browser. You’ll need to substitute the arrows on your keyboard for the remote control.

One thing you won’t get through the Google TV web app are the social features available on ShortForm’s website. In August, the startup added the ability to let users watch channels concurrently as they’re curated by the VJ. Users can also communicate with each other via a chat room on the website. Ghaffari said these social  feature’s aren’t available through the Google TV web app because it would take away from the 10-foot experience. You can, however, invite friends over to your house to watch the VJ channel on a big screen, which is a pretty fair trade-off.

The Google TV integration is part of ShortForm’s push to make the service available across multiple platforms. The company also recently launched a new features that allows anyone to embed VJ channel’s on a Facebook fan page or website. It’s actually pretty useful, especially if you have a YouTube channel full of original content that rarely sees traffic beyond the confines of YouTube itself or individual blog posts.

ShortForm has over a million monthly visits and more than 3,000 active VJ channels since launching to the public in 2010, according to Ghaffari. The San Francisco-based startup has raised a total of $1.3 million in funding from NetService Ventures, Individuals' Venture Funds, Seraph Group and others.

ShortForm Google TV screenshot

Filed under: media, social, VentureBeat

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Developer of Twitter for iPhone departs company

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 04:53 PM PDT

Loren Brichter, the founder of Atebits, the creator of the iPhone app Tweetie and the mastermind behind Twitter for iPhone, has completed his last day at Twitter.

“Today was my last day at Twitter. Taking some time to figure out what's next. Really proud of the way the team has grown,” Brichter wrote in a tweet posted to Twitter Friday afternoon.

Brichter has been developing Mac applications since 2007. As the founder of Atebits, Brichter developed Tweetie, a popular Twitter client for the iPhone. Twitter acquired Atebits in April 2010. Brichter then went on to spearhead development on Twitter’s iPhone, iPad and Mac applications.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Groupon closes at $26 per share, down from $30 peak but above $20 start

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 02:48 PM PDT

Groupon (GRPN), the popular daily deal company, saw brisk trading on its first day of public trading, peaking at $30 per share and closing the day at $26 per share.

That puts the company’s market value at $16.5 billion. Market value is the value of a company’s total number of shares — equal to the total number of shares multiplied by share price.

Overall, the share price increased 30.5 percent from an opening price of $20 per share, which was announced after the market closed last night.

Earlier this morning as trading started, GRPN quickly jumped to $28 per share, peaking at $30 per share at 10:48 a.m. Eastern Time.

Still, some analysts are concerned about the value of Groupon stock as a long-term investment.

"If you look at the company's prospectus, they say they expect to see losses for the foreseeable future," said Dun & Bradstreet tech specialist Lee Simmons in a call with VentureBeat last week.

Analyst Rocky Agrawal, who has previously written on VentureBeat about Groupon’s “tricky” math in SEC filings, said that Groupon stock was “a terrible investment” but that he would still be buying it.

“Unless the company substantially changes its business model, investing in Groupon will be like investing in a leaky bucket,” he wrote yesterday in a column.

“All of that said, I've put in my request with my broker for shares in the IPO because Groupon has scientifically engineered its IPO to inflate share prices.”

At the end of the summer, Groupon announced that in spite of revenue gains, it was still showing staggering net losses of $102.7 million for both the first and second quarter of 2011, a figure that was nearly three times the $36 million loss from Q2 2010.

The company’s IPO saw several delays leading up to and in the aftermath of the late summer and early fall’s market tubulence.

Groupon began with an offering of just 5 percent of its total shares for public trading starting November 4 and added 5 million shares late Thursday.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Mark Zuckerberg is the ninth most powerful person in the world, says Forbes

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 02:18 PM PDT

On Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg falls somewhere between the pope and Warren Buffet.

Not bad for a hoodie-wearing college dropout.

Zuckerberg (pictured above onstage with pal Andy Sandberg) is listed as the world’s ninth most powerful person on the Forbes list; he is also number 14 on the Forbes 400 and number 52 on Forbes’ Billionaires list (number 22 in the list of U.S. billionaires).

So, why does Forbes place Zuckerberg, the social networking king, in such high regard?

In its write-up of the young CEO, Forbes says, “What the CIA failed to do in 60 years, Zuck has done in seven: knowing what 800 million people — more than 10 percent of the world’s population — think, read and listen to, plus who they know, what they like and where they live, travel, vote, shop, worship.”

And while his Forbes profile says the entrepreneur is single, don’t get your hopes up ladies (and/or gents): Zuckerberg’s engagement was announced over the summer in a slip of the tongue from Bill Gates.

We last caught up with Zuckerberg (from a distance only, unfortunately) at f8, his company’s developer conference.

"Millions of people have spent years curating the stories of their lives," he said from the San Francisco stage to a crowd of thousands.

"The next year is going to be defined by the apps and the depth of engagement that is possible now that everyone has their networks in place and connections established," he said.

The conference was also where Zuckerberg unveiled Timeline, the radical new redesign that is coming soon to all Facebook profiles.

Facebook has also recently been in the news for its ground-breaking work in open-sourcing its super-green data centers — a move that was prompted by Zuckerberg’s top-down philosophies on using and creating open-source projects.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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The life and death of tweets, according to a week’s worth of Klout data

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 01:24 PM PDT

Why did that all-important, life-changing tweet you feverishly posted lose steam after just a few minutes? Odds are, it’s because you’re just not influential enough.

Klout, the startup that measures a social media users digital influence, analyzed a week’s worth of retweet data and researched the correlation between the life of tweets — as determined by the spread of retweets — and Klout scores. The startup specifically looked at the half-life of tweets (pictured below). The half-life of a tweet is the point when half of all retweets happened before that point and half occurred afterward.

As expected, it turns out really high Klout scores do equate to longer-lasting tweets. The startup determined that tweets originating from a Twitterer with a Klout score of 75 or higher last hours longer on the information network than tweets from those with a score that falls below that threshold.

“Influencers with a Klout Score above 75 have a half-life up to 70 times longer than those with a score between 30 and 70,” explained Andras Benke, the researcher behind the Klout study.

“The top echelon of users have content that not only gets spread more but actually lasts longer,” Klout marketing manager Megan Berry said when we pressed for more information.

According to the data, if you have a Klout score between 75 and 80, the half-life of your tweets is 2 hours and 45 minutes. The half-life of a tweet jumps to 5 hours and 15 minutes for users with Klout scores between 80 and 85. That’s not too shabby when compared against the half-life of tweets for those with scores between 40 and 70. This sad group of folks, which includes yours truly, will find that their tweets reach the half-life point after just five minutes. So our tweets do get dispersed via retweets, as the second chart ilustrates, but they die off rather quickly.

VentureBeat pinged the company to find out just how many users fall into each of the half-life buckets. Klout stayed mum on the specifics, but did share that the average score is 20, and added that a score of 50 or more puts the Klout user in the 95th percentile of users.

Of course, Klout’s retweet analysis is only valid if you buy into the company’s methodology for assessing social media influence. And after the startup radically reworked its formula a week ago, who could blame you for second-guessing it?

[Kenneth Young for Snapfocus/Flickr]

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Apple captures 52% of phone industry profits with just 4.2% of the market

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 01:08 PM PDT

Even though Android is handily winning the mobile market share battle, Apple is still trouncing everyone else when it comes to actually making money from its phones.

In the last quarter, Apple snapped up 52 percent of total handset industry profits, while the iPhone accounted for only 4.2 percent of global phone market share, according to Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley. And that was for a quarter where Apple ended up disappointing Wall Street analysts.

Walkley expects Apple’s December quarter to more than make up for its last (and he’s not the only one), with iPhone sales hitting 29 million. He predicts that Apple will sell 104.4 million iPhones for the fiscal year 2012, and 140.8 million in fiscal 2013.

Come the next quarter, Walkley predicts that Apple will command 60 percent of industry profits (jaw, meet floor). Apple was close to reaching that goal in the second quarter, when it reached 57 percent of industry profits (likely because of the Verizon iPhone).

Apple has been ruling phone profits for some time now — Asymco’s Horace Dediu had a great analysis of Apple’s revenues versus other major smartphone companies in August — but the company’s continued ability to make piles of cash is still worth pointing out. One reason is Apple’s command of its supply chain, which allows it to get high-quality components at far better prices than its competitors.

And of course, it helps even further that Apple has full control over its hardware and software ecosystem, which means the company is making even more from every iPhone sold thanks to app and media purchases, as well as advertising.

Via AllThingsD

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Yet another senior exec leaves Apple; VP of global security departs

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 12:11 PM PDT

Apple vice president of global security John Theriault has left his position at the company following an investigation over a lost iPhone 4S prototype earlier this year.

Theriault led the investigation of the lost phone, which was first reported missing by an Apple employee in July. As part of the investigation, Apple allegedly offered a cash reward to the person responsible for finding the phone. Upon learning the identity of the iPhone 4S finder, Apple security officials visited the man’s residence and posed as San Francisco Police officers to search for the device. Local law enforcement is still investigating the case, according to a report from 9to5mac.

Prior to joining Apple in 2007, Theriault was chief security officer and vice president at pharmaceutical company Pfizer and a former FBI special agent. While at Apple, Theriault is well-known for leading an anti-counterfeit team in 2008 to curb the growing number of counterfeit Apple products in China.

Theriault’s departure is the latest of Apple’s top executives to leave the company for one reason or another. Previously, Apple SVP of Retail Ron Johnson left the company to become clothing retailer J.C. Penny’s CEO. Also, SVP of Mac OS X Bertrand Serlet, VP of iAds Andy Miller and Siri co-founder Dag Kittlaus have left the company as well over the last few months.

The departures don’t necessarily mean that things are turning sour with Apple’s management. With Steve Jobs taking a leave from the company’s day-to-day duties last year as well as his passing last month, many may have felt it was time to move on from Apple.

Filed under: security, VentureBeat

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Call of Duty Elite gamer social network delayed on PC

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 11:47 AM PDT

It looks like the Call of Duty Elite gamer social network for the PC will not be ready in time for the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 on Nov. 8, according to the One of Swords blog created by Activision Blizzard.

In a Q&A with Activision social media manager Dan Amrich, Beachhead Studio Head Chacko Sonny cites data security as the reason for the delay. Without a central server hub to store statistics, many of Elite’s competition features will become unfair, he says. Beachhead Studio, a division of Activision Blizzard, is in charge of creating Call of Duty Elite and has been working on it for two years.

“We're as committed as ever to the PC, but the need to ensure a safe PC environment is greater than ever,” Sonny said. “It's really extensive.  We need more time to get there, so Elite on PC will not launch on Day 1.  We're working our butts off to make it happen, but we won't release it until we know that PC gamers can enjoy Elite as it's meant to be.”

Call of Duty Elite is a new online service designed to enhance the franchises’ multiplayer experience through stat tracking, organized tournaments, additional game content and more. Some of its features will be free of charge, while others will be offered through a premium membership. PC users, though, will be able to use the service for no cost once it launches. ”Elite for PC will be about access to your own stats, or those of your friends. Basically establishing a circle of trust,” said Beachhead Studios’ Product Director Noah Heller. “And because it will have some reduced functionality, it will be free for everyone.”

Filed under: games

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State of the blogosphere 2011: Using social networks for self-promotion

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 11:23 AM PDT

For its annual look at the blogging world, Technorati surveyed 4,114 bloggers in 45 countries. This year, the focus was on why and how they blog, their connections with brands and how they use social media.

Meet the bloggers

Those surveyed are mostly hobbyists (61 percent) who don’t post daily. In fact, only 11 percent of surveyed bloggers were posting on a daily basis. Thirteen percent of bloggers are doing it for extra income on the side, and only 5 percent are bonafide professional full-timers bloggers. Of the pros, 37 percent say it makes up the majority of their income. The remainder of the bloggers are doing it to promote a brand or company — 13 percent are entrepreneurs and 8 percent are corporate.

For the most part, the bloggers are educated, married parents between 25 and 44 years old. Though still mostly male (59 percent), there was a gender shift from last year when 64 percent were men.

Eighty percent have been blogging for over two years, and half for over four years. Bloggers are juggling an average of three different blogs, up from two last year. It’s interesting that bloggers are maintaining or increasing the amount of time they put into their blogs after launching, instead of losing interest or moving onto the next new thing.

Inside the blogger’s toolbox

The term “blogosphere” isn’t used much anymore, as the lines between blogs, micro-blogs, and social networks blur. Are Tumblrs blogs? (Yes!) Do people actually still use LiveJournal? (Yes!)

WordPress is the blogging service of choice, with 51 percent of bloggers using it. It was followed by Blogger (21 percent) and Blogspot (14 percent). The rest of the bloggers were scattered among TypePad, Moveable Type, LiveJournal, Tumblr and other tools.

Social media continues to be a hop topic, with the majority of both hobbyist and professional bloggers using Facebook, Twitter, and new kid, Google+. The average number of Twitter followers for a blogger is 847. If they’re a professional blogger, that number jumps to 1,674.

Professional bloggers used Twitter more in general, and 90 percent of the pros are using it to promote their content. Automated tools for promoting blogs on Twitter are very popular, with 40 percent of all bloggers using them to automatically syndicate their posts, though they supplement it with other tweets. Thirty seven percent of bloggers link their Twitter and Facebook accounts so they only have to post once.

But social media use wasn’t limited to the big three. LinkedIn was the next most popular social network, followed by YouTube and Flickr. However, Facebook and Twitter will still the best tools for promoting blogs and bringing in traffic.

Of social media, the biggest traffic drivers are Facebook and Twitter, followed by LinkedIn, YouTube and the scrappy StumbleUpon, which had the most impact on pro bloggers. For all traffic sources, the top two drivers are still Facebook and Twitter, but a lot of traffic also comes from tags, comments, Google, Technorati and general SEO (search engine optimization).

The business of blogging

Two thirds of bloggers post about brands, and a third do reviews. Any blogger with a notable following can tell you about the influx of PR attention. Some welcome it, such as the beauty bloggers who test out free products and post reviews of them. Others are hilariously less comfortable with the pitches.

Brands are very aware of the power of bloggers, and they’re aggressive if not always thorough. According to the survey, a third of hobbyist bloggers are approached about twice a week by brands, and two thirds of professional bloggers get approached an average of eight times a week. Some respondents reported getting as many as 250 and 1,000 pitches a week.

But bloggers aren’t wowed by their relationships with these brands — 60 percent feel they’re not treated as well by brands as the traditional media. Bloggers overwhelmingly feel that brands weren’t knowledgeable about their blogs, and they weren’t interested in building relationships. Less than 25 percent of respondents said brands provided value.

When bloggers do strike a deal with a brand, most keep it above board: 86 percent of bloggers disclosed when a post was sponsored or paid, and 58 percent disclosed when they were reviewing a product they had received for free.

If not these brands and PR people, who are bloggers really influenced by? In a meta spin, the answer is: Other bloggers. When asked what their biggest influences are, 68 percent of bloggers said other blogs. That number was just 30 percent in 2010. They are also influenced by (in order) friends, social media, print media, family, major news websites and television. Less than 10 percent reported being influenced by brand representatives, just slightly more than were influenced by web portals like Aol.

Check out more statistics from the annual survey here:

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Zynga reports a profit for third quarter on eve of IPO

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 10:36 AM PDT

Zynga reported net income of $12.5 million in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, down 54 percent from $27 million a year ago, according to an updated S1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The performance isn’t stellar, but it’s not so bad as to suggest Zynga’s planned initial public offering is in trouble.

Revenue was $307 million in the quarter, up 80 percent from $170.6 million a year ago. In other words, Zynga is working harder for the profits it gets by generating a lot more revenue compared to the past.

In the second quarter, Zynga reported only $1.4 million in profits on $280 million in revenue, so the third quarter report is an improvement on a quarter-to-quarter basis.

The company updated its stats, noting it has 230 million monthly active users, down from 232 million when it first file for an IPO in June. It has 58 million daily active users in 175 countries. Those users play 2 billion minutes a day and engage in 4 billion in-game user-to-user connections a day.

Zynga said that, according to AppData, its games are played by more daily active players than the next 14 social game developers combined. Zynga said it has four of the top five social games on Facebook, based on daily active users.

Cumulative revenue to date is $1.5 billion since 2007. Zynga now has 2,789 employees, compared to 2,543 at the end of June.

Zynga said that data mined from its users provides it with more than 15 terabytes of data per day. The company analyzes that data to customize its games to fit user preferences. As of Sept. 30, Zynga had $926 million in cash. Zynga also has a $1 billion line of credit and hasn’t used any of that yet.

According to AppData, Zynga has 36.9 percent of the market for daily active users for social games on Facebook. Electronic Arts has been gaining with the launch of The Sims Social this summer, but the rate of gain has slowed and EA has 10.9 percent market share.

In the third quarter, Zynga’s average number of daily active users was 54 million, compared to 59 million on June 30 and 49 million a year ago. The average monthly active user number was 227 million, compared to 228 million on June 30 and 203 million a year ago.

The average bookings per user — or bookings for a period divided by the number of daily active users — was .058 cents on Sept. 30, compared to .051 cents on June 30 and .049 cents a year ago. Over time, that means Zynga is making more money per user.

Zynga provided a breakdown of the percentage of revenue generated by major titles. FarmVille was responsible for 27 percent, FrontierVille for 16 percent, Zynga Poker 15 percent, Mafia Wars 14 percent and CityVille 11 percent. That means that none of the games launched this year generates more than 10 percent of Zynga’s revenue.

Zynga apperas to be investing heavily in new games, research and development spending totaling $282 million for the nine months ended Sept. 30, up 188 percent from $98 million a year earlier. Sales, marketing, cost of revenue, and general and administrative costs are all up substantially as well.

Zynga said ad revenue was down $12.9 million in the quarter as the company reduced the number of in-game offers to improve player experience.

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, Zynga issued 34.9 million shares of Series C preferred stock for $485.3 million in proceeds. But it also bought back 27.5 million private shares for $283.8 million during the same period. During each period, Zynga periodically estimates its own valuation, with help from third-party analysis firms. In May, it determined that its value was $14 billion. In August, the value was reaffirmed at $14 billion.

That is interesting since Zynga’s value back in January was $4.9 billion, and because Zynga hasn’t said precisely how many shares it will issue and at what price/valuation.

Zynga’s cloud computing infrastructure is one of the biggest in the world. The company is able to add up to 1,000 servers in a day to handle changes in demand for games, and Zynga delivers more than a petabyte of data per day in new content.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Whoa, really? CBS chief exec reveals ad-supported Apple TV streaming service

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 10:31 AM PDT

Television network CBS’ chief executive, Les Moonves, accidentally revealed details about an ad-supported Apple TV streaming video service, during the company’s quarterly earnings call Thursday.

In August, we reported on rumors that Apple was plotting its own streaming video service to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. The service, called iTunes Replay, would make use of Apple's recent advances into the cloud by allowing iTunes customers to stream movies from Apple's servers and re-download them to other devices, (such as Apple’s $99 Apple TV set-top box). Apple was reportedly negotiating with several major movie studio for licensing agreements. So, it’s reasonable to presume that Apple was also discussing agreements with TV networks like CBS.

Moonves said the network turned down Apple’s proposal to bring CBS content to its new service because the deal involved splitting the advertising revenue over time. This type of deal is very similar to the agreements Hulu has with ABC, NBC and Fox. Moonves said CBS’ strategy is to obtain money from streaming media providers upfront in exchange for a licensing agreement, which is why you’ve never seen CBS shows on Hulu.

Until recently, CBS’ strategy meant it was missing out on lots of potential revenue. However, the network recently reached streaming agreements for its older TV content with both Netflix and Amazon, which guarantees CBS money upfront in exchange for the licensing. CBS also recently reached a similar agreement with several service providers for licensing rights to CW programs, which CBS jointly owns with Time Warner. Moonves said the network is receiving "hundreds of millions of dollars" from streaming media providers, such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

As for the credibility of Moonves’ comments about the Apple TV ad-supported service, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s unintentionally revealed information during an earnings call. GigaOm’s Ryan Lawler points out that Moonves also leaked information about a CBS content licensing agreement with Netflix’s Latin American market a full month before Netflix officially announced its international expansion.

Obviously, we don’t know if Apple is still working on a streaming video service. If the service is ad-supported for television content, that would explain why the company is hesitant to add access to Hulu Plus on the Apple TV.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Apple relies on frickin’ lasers to shine light through metal

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 10:04 AM PDT

While you likely haven’t thought much about how Apple gets those green lights to shine through its metal products, like its webcam indicators on the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, doing so was a significant problem for Apple’s design mastermind Jony Ive.

The big issue, as Businessweek explains, is that it’s impossible to shine light through metal. The eventual solution: lots of lasers.

Sources tell BusinessWeek that Ive assembled a team of manufacturing experts to figure out the problem. They eventually found that they could use a laser to create tiny holes in metal that, while virtually undetectable by human eyes, could allow light to come through.

The group also discovered a US company whose laser equipment could be modified to create the tiny holes. The unnamed company’s machines typically sold for around $250,000, but Apple ended up forming an exclusivity agreement with it to purchase hundreds of machines. Now Apple uses the laser to create green indicator lights on a slew of aluminum products, including the Apple Trackpad and wireless keyboard.

The laser solution is indicative of Apple’s design creativity, but it’s also a fitting example of the operational extremes the company will go to for its products. As BusinessWeek points out, Apple also went to great lengths to create its unibody aluminum MacBook cases, helping to create new tooling equipment for manufacturers. Apple now plans to double its supply chain spending to $7.1 billion, Businessweek reports, which means we’ll likely see plenty more interesting manufacturing decisions from the company.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 hits the online auctions ahead of release

Posted: 04 Nov 2011 09:34 AM PDT

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is expected to break video game sales records when it goes on sale Tuesday. But it looks like a number of copies of the first-person shooter game are already available in online auctions.

Sellers are offering photos of the plastic cases for the game. We already know that at least one of the two disks in the game package was stolen from a shipping warehouse last week. Pirated copies began to emerge soon after, and Activision Blizzard dispatched investigators to politely ask the pirates to surrender and delete their copies or face fines of $5,000.

The Modern Warfare 3 games are a hot commodity and pirates hope to cash in on the sales, which in legitimate channels could top 20 million units sold. Microsoft Xbox Live director of policy and enforcement Stephen Toulouse posted on his Twitter account that those caught playing the game before pre-release may encounter trouble, saying “Playing early may impact your account.”

Piracy has always been a problem with video games, especially for PC titles. But the pirates go after Call of Duty because it's the big prize. Every year, a cat-and-mouse game ensues. Activision Blizzard closely monitors manufacturing in the weeks leading up to shipment, since it only takes one stolen disk to set off the viral spread of pirated copies. But it's hard to stop inside jobs. Here’s an example of a site where piracy discussions are happening.

And now with the online auctions, it looks like legitimate copies are being sold for anywhere from $59 to $175. As far as piracy goes, the same thing happened before last year's launch of Call of Duty Black Ops and the year before that with Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. But sales of the franchise keep climbing.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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