07 November, 2011



Publishing App Expo in NYC will focus on how to build money-making apps

Posted: 07 Nov 2011 09:00 AM PST

Mediabistro Publishing App Expo 200x200This post is sponsored by Mediabistro

Join Mediabistro at Publishing App Expo in New York, December 7-8, and get an inside look at how to build apps within budget, maximize discoverability, and monetize content across all publishing platforms.

The conference program features magazine, book publishing, and app development experts and leaders who will draw a comprehensive roadmap of the publishing app world. You'll hear from Lyle Underkoffler (VP of Digital Media, Disney Publishing Worldwide), Jeanniey Mullen (Global Executive VP and CMO, Zinio), Craig Ettinger (General Manager, Time.com), Adam Schneider (Manager of Business Development, Microsoft TAG), and more.

Session topics include:

  • A practical, hands-on tutorial on building a publishing app from scratch.
  • How to monetize your app and set up subscriber payment systems.
  • Impact of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet and the ramifications of Amazon’s new role as a book publisher.
  • How to maximize discoverability and profitability in book app marketplaces.
  • App update management, negotiating royalties, and keeping contact with readers.
  • Building a successful marketing campaign using apps.

View full program here.

Register with code "PAXVB" and receive a 15% discount on gold passport tickets. Sign up by this Wednesday, November 9, and you'll receive the discount on early bird rates. Click here now and save.

Filed under: dev, VentureBeat

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Why CNN’s ‘Black in America’ misses the point on race in tech

Posted: 07 Nov 2011 08:55 AM PST

Almost no one has seen episode 4 of CNN’s  documentary series “Black in America,” about race in the technology world, but a lot of folks are already jumping in on the race controversy the show’s promo has kickstarted.

A lot of folks need to shut up and wait till it airs.

Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley, is about the journey of eight participants in the NewMe Accelerator program for black tech founders, who bring their startup concepts to Silicon Valley in an attempt to make it big. The founders get access to mentorship from industry veterans and proximity to the hottest technology companies in the world. This classic bildungsroman tale is spiced up when the founders have to live together in a small Mountain View, Calif. house, which injects a little Real World-style drama into an already meaty storyline.

This past Thursday I was invited by the Black Founders of Silicon Valley to a screening of the documentary, and, to put it bluntly, I have to say that CNN missed the mark. While the documentary shines a bright light on a very taboo subject — race and merit in technology, never does it ask if people are actually going to use the products the founders so passionately believe in. How much traction do these companies have? How many customers? How big is the market? These are the nuts and bolts of business and the types of questions that guide investment decisions. Investors ask these questions to see if products are fulfilling a need or solving a problem. Some of the NewMe startups are solving problems, while others just aren’t.

Silicon Valley thrives on ideas, but there is bias in all of us. The extent to which we project race bias onto ourselves and the world is a subject of endless debate. Black in America does an admirable job of showing how racial prejudice is still alive and well. Two poignant scenes from the documentary really drive this point home. After a late night of hacking on his startup, NewMe co-founder Wayne Sutton is racially profiled by Mountain View police, who detain him and run his record to see if he has a criminal history. The cops couldn’t understand why a black man was walking through a residential neighborhood after dark, Sutton tells the camera crew, in a moment of raw emotion. Maybe it does happen, but it’s really hard to imagine Indian or Southeast Asian engineers being stopped on their way home because it’s late and the police don’t recognize them. Blacks and Latinos in this country know the routine.

In another gripping scene, Vivek Wadhwa, a NewMe mentor, advocates for the NewMe founders to get a white guy to front their companies, and they are gobsmacked. The notion that their ideas will play better if articulated from white mouths, cuts to the quick.

But here’s where the plot line gets a little thin. While the characters themselves were very compelling, their startups concepts were not. Few of the NewMe companies were tackling large problems or seemed to have a truly innovative idea that was going to disrupt existing markets. BeCouply wants to help couples have an epic social life, as co-founder Pius Uzamere says, and while I’ve been single for a while now, I was unaware that couples have a problem socializing. Uzamare’s laptop sports a huge MIT Alumni bumper sticker, and he was student body president, so there’s probably a pony in there somewhere. Could there be more than meets the eye with his mobile app? As with all consumer-facing startups, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Kloud.co was the most technical company of the eight featured in Black in America, and by far had the most defensible product. Kloud.co is a service that will allow its users to search for media of various types across services such as Twitter, Dropbox and Google Docs. Founder Hank Williams is a seasoned entrepreneur who started ClickRadio, a music streaming service, in 2000. Kloud definitely had the most tech behind it, and if Dropbox is $4 billion company, so too could it be. In his website bio, Williams says Kloud will change humanity.

To be fair, all startups stay in a half-baked state until they’ve got lots of users/customers, and have significant funding or both. (Color, for example, one of the most noted failed startups of the year, has $41 million in investment, and still lacks users.) While the “pivot” may be the most overused term in the Valley, most startups change their focus many times before they come up with something that sticks. Only after people have come to rely on the core product does it becomes much harder to change direction. I don’t think that the NewMe startups featured in Black in America are any more or less half-baked than the hundreds of startups I’ve seen. But CNN lays bare the added challenges the founders face because they don’t fit the pattern of previous successful tech CEOs.

In a deft maneuver sure to boost ratings, CNN ensnared TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington in a controversy when they posted a clip of him saying he didn’t know any black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Needless to say, the video caused quite a stir, and Arrington dutifully played along, howling that he’s not a racist and that he was duped by Soledad O’Brien. In making the conversation about one man, CNN ensured that the journalist with the most visible personal platform in tech told everyone that there’s a documentary coming out. Well played.

But one man cannot change the racial makeup of Silicon Valley, even if he helped bring much-needed attention to the subject. Ultimately what is going to change the perception of blacks in Silicon Valley is when a black founder creates a multibillion dollar startup that does what Twitter, Apple or Facebook have done to transform our lives. For potential investors the point is not only to create a company for its own sake, but to create extraordinary returns on investment. Greed is colorblind.

The tenacity it takes to make it as an entrepreneur, and to do so with so many obstacles, is a quality any investor should seek out in founders. At the end of the day, the ideas still have to stand on their own, and if they don’t, it’s not because of race. Customers too don’t care, as long as the product works. CNN does not answer the question of whether NewMe founders are creating something that people are going to use, and this is why it missed the mark.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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YouTube and Disney reach $15M deal to bring original content to the web

Posted: 07 Nov 2011 08:33 AM PST

PoohDisney and YouTube have reached an agreement to produce new Disney-branded content for the web, according to a New York Times report.

The deal, which includes a combine investment of $10 to $15 million, will have Disney produce original content and make it available exclusively on Disney’s website and though a new YouTube channel. Disney is planning to run user-generated materials on the channel on a regular basis, according to the report.

It’s an excellent deal for both companies because it helps them strengthen where they are the weakest. For Disney, the greatest area of weakness is in digital distribution as well as in drawing in a larger online audience. “It’s imperative to go where our audience is,” said Disney Interactive co-president James A. Pitaro in the report. He added that the company wants to “bring Disney’s legacy of storytelling to a new generation of families and Disney enthusiasts on the platforms they prefer.”

YouTube, on the other hand, stands to benefit by gaining an influx of premium original content. The Google-owned streaming site recently signed deals to bring a video rental service to the UK. And as VentureBeat previously reported, Google also put up $100 million for original YouTube content to capitalize on a new generation of people hungry for original content online.

Filed under: deals, media

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Chinese tech chiefs, including Alibaba’s Jack Ma, pledge to support government censorship

Posted: 07 Nov 2011 08:06 AM PST

Leaders of ten top Chinese tech firms, including Alibaba CEO Jack Ma, have pledged to uphold the censorship and surveillance goals of the Chinese government.

These firms met for three days in Beijing at the behest of the State Internet Information Office, according to a Reuters report. This meeting concluded with a report that the companies would “conscientiously safeguard the broadcasting of positive messages online” and “resolutely curb the spread of rumours online.”

Participants also included Sina Corp’s Charles Chao and Robin Li of Baidu as well as prominent Chinese ISPs.

The report also stated the companies would be cracking down on “online pornography, Internet fraud and the illegal spread of harmful information on the Internet.”

As an example, microblogging service Sina earlier this year began blocking messages about the Arab Spring uprisings. A search for "Egypt" on the service would return a message stating, "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results are not shown."

Maio Wei, the country’s Minister of Industry and Information Technology, said these tech companies should also increase “tracking surveillance” of their users.

Chinese Internet censorship has long been part of the country’s online landscape. This fact often causes significantly more consternation for foreign-based companies than for China’s own native sons.

As Google found out last year during a prolonged battle over whether Google.cn would serve censored search results, "The Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement."

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Mobile data plan subscribers to hit 5B in 2016, according to Ericsson report

Posted: 07 Nov 2011 08:04 AM PST

Cell TowersEricsson, a company providing technology to the world’s mobile operators, predicts mobile data subscriptions will hit five billion in 2016, 10 times more than what it is now.

When you sign up for a smartphone, you are usually required to also sign up for a data plan. The application you downloaded, the e-mail you sent, the social app you updated, it all uses the mobile web, and whittles at the allotted amount of data per your subscription. These plans can be expensive and unlimited data plans are now being phased out by top US mobile providers Verizon, AT&T, and now Sprint, which recently killed off unlimited data for tablets. But they are also necessary to truly get the omnipresent, connected experience a smartphone or tablet can bring.

Ericsson predicts data usage is only on the rise, with 900 million subscriptions increasing to 5 billion in only 5 years. The reasoning? People are watching videos on their mobile devices much more often. Tablets are prime for watching video on the go, and smartphone screens have only increased in quality, including some crazy new innovations from companies such as Samsung. The company plans to release flexible screens in its 2012 mobile line-up.

Perhaps even more fascinating is the fact that 60 percent of our data usage in 2016 will come from users occupying only 1 percent of the Earth’s landmass, according to the report. Ericsson predicts in 2016, 30 percent of the world’s population will exist in high-density metropolitan areas, with around 1000 people per square kilometer.

Given the small land-share for so many people, it’s worrisome that Ericsson also reports that in 2011, 69 percent of people have used their devices for activities other than voice while commuting. Understandably, however, the majority of that usage in the US comes from both music listening, about 30 percent of commuters, and GPS, about 28 percent. Gaming comes in at around 14 percent as the third most performed activity.

The increase in data subscriptions, however, may mean more pressure on operators to provide better plans, download speeds, or a push to reinstate the unlimited data plan overall.

See some of Ericsson’s charts below:

Ericsson Chart 12Ericsson Chart 1Ericsson Chart 3

[Cell towers via Shutterstock]

Filed under: mobile

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The $249 Nook Tablet : Like the Nook Color, but built for HD media

Posted: 07 Nov 2011 07:52 AM PST

‘Tis the season of cheap tablets. Today Barnes and Noble announced its Kindle Fire competitor, simply called the Nook Tablet.

The company announced the $249 tablet today at a press event at its Union Square store in New York City, but as is often the case these days, details of the Nook Tablet were leaked last week, leaving little excitement for today’s reveal.

The Nook Tablet looks exactly like the Nook Color — but that’s not a bad thing. The Nook Color’s design was attractive, lightweight, and durable, so it makes sense for Barnes and Noble to revisit that design for its successor. And even though it’s a rehash, the Nook Tablet has far more personality than Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which is a fairly boring rectangular slate.

The 7-inch tablet packs in a 1.3 gigahertz dual-core processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM, all in a package that weighs in under a pound (it weighs about 400 grams less than the Nook Color). That means the Nook Tablet offers twice the RAM, and around 300 megahertz more processing power, than the Kindle Fire.

And with 16 gigabytes of on-board storage (upgradeable to 48GB with an addition 32GB SD card), the Nook Tablet packs in far more storage, making it better suited for storing lots of media.

You’ll have to find media for the device on your own though, since Barnes and Noble doesn’t have an integrated digital music and video store. The company says that it’s working on something that could help to solve that problem, but for now it’s satisfied with focusing on the multi-billion digital book, magazine, and textbook market.

Barnes and Noble spent quite a bit of time praising the Nook Tablet’s screen, even though it’s the same exact screen technology seen in the Nook Color. The tablet features an IPS display by LG with full lamination. According to Barnes and Noble CEO William Lynch, that means the screen offers far less glare and reflection than typical displays.

Taking a cue from Apple, Barnes and Noble says that it will offer support for the Nook Tablet inside of its retail stores.

The company is also reducing the price of its existing readers: The Nook Color has been slashed to $199, and the Nook Simple Touch is now $99. There are also big updates coming to both devices, which includes over 100 improvements for the Nook Color, and faster page turning and sharper text for the Simple Touch.

The Nook tablet will begin shipping next week.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Best Buy branches out with cloud, IT services with $167M mindSHIFT acquisition

Posted: 07 Nov 2011 07:28 AM PST

mindshare-bestbuyBest Buy has agreed to acquire IT and cloud services provider mindSHIFT for $167 million to help shift its footprint further from of retail, the company announced today.

This is an important move for Best Buy because the company is slowly becoming Amazon’s showroom floor instead of being a primary place people purchase electronics. mindSHIFT will give Best Buy a much better grasp at helping small and mid-sized companies with IT, cloud and enterprise services and will generally allow it to further branch out, similar to Best Buy’s 2002 purchase of Geek Squad. Best Buy also has a minority stake in Rhapsody’s music streaming service, after selling Napster to Rhapsody in early October.

“There’s no question that acquiring the skills, capabilities and clients of mindSHIFT has the potential to help expand Best Buy’s global services capabilities in the vast small and mid-sized business market,” said George Sherman, senior VP of Best Buy Services, in a statement. “As important, the mindSHIFT team will bring added experience, talent and resources to the remote support capability we have been building within our multi-channel tech service unit Geek Squad.”

Best Buy will start with a strong built-in base of business customers, as mindSHIFT manages data center, cloud and other services for more than 5,400 clients in the U.S. The types of businesses mindSHIFT has a proven track record with include mid-sized business, law firms, non-profits, financial services, health care and K-12 education.

mindSHIFT will continue to operate under the same name and management team. It has currently has 500 employees located in offices across the U.S., including Boston, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The acquisition is expected to close near the end of this year, pending regulatory approval.

Filed under: cloud, deals, enterprise

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Netflix and MGM sign deal to bring Hobbits (and more) to the UK, Ireland

Posted: 07 Nov 2011 06:56 AM PST

HobbitNetflix has signed a multi-year licensing agreement with MGM Studios to become the exclusive subscription streaming service in the UK and Ireland for much of the studio’s feature films, the company announced today.

The licensing agreement is set to kick off when the Netflix streaming service launches in the two new markets in early 2012, which VentureBeat first reported in October. The MGM content will be available to subscribers in a variety of different streaming platforms, including computers, television sets, tablets, game consoles, set-top boxes and mobile phones.

Some of the “first-run” content Netflix will get before other services are both parts to director Peter Jackson’s prequels to the Lord of the Rings trilogy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Also available are older MGM films like Fargo, The Usual Suspects, West Side Story and The Amityville Horror.

No pricing has been officially announced for Netflix’s UK/Ireland streaming service subscriptions. However, it’s likely to mimic fees charged in the states.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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SourceAudio solves major music industry problem with cloud licensing (exclusive)

Posted: 07 Nov 2011 06:00 AM PST

Music CloudSince the advent of broadband, the barriers to selling music on the Web have quickly evaporated. But the area of music licensing, an annoying splinter in the music industry’s foot, is still sluggish and inefficient.

Enter SourceAudio, a stealth startup in Los Angeles that is using the power of the cloud and web technologies to make music licensing a quick and nearly painless process. Using a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) setup where all music and documents are hosted and delivered via the cloud, the company eliminates the time-consuming process of finding the right person to license a song or sound effect, talking to lawyers and faxing documents.

“There isn’t a lot of technology centered around music licensing, but we think that should change,” Andrew Harding, SourceAudio’s VP of product, told VentureBeat. “With our system you can buy and use music quickly instead of the old methods that can take days. With our system licenses get done in real time, the purchase is made, the documents are delivered automatically and the music is cleared for use.”

SourceAudio has thus far partnered with more than 70 music and effects companies and hosts a collection of nearly 1.6 million tracks that can be accessed from individual company pages. (See the example below for a custom company page.) The company claims this collection is the largest database of music on the Internet available for licensing, and Harding expects more than 2 million tracks to be hosted on the network by year’s end. The network supports tracks in .mp3, .aiff, and .wav formats.

Some of SourceAudio’s bigger partners include Premiere Networks, which syndicates most of the top radio shows in the country like Glenn Beck, Jim Rome, Sean Hannity, and Leo Laporte; and Cutting Edge Film Scores, which created the score for the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech.

“Ideally, we’d like to partner with all music buyers and all music sellers to make this process easy,” Harding said. “We’re in talks with several major broadcast networks and music labels, but we can’t mention any specific names right now.”


The company generates revenues with a combination of hosting music tracks and taking a small cut of each licensing deal. Pricing to be part of the SourceAudio network increases as your company hosts more tracks. For example, hosting between 1 and 499 tracks costs $99 a month, while hosting between 250,000 and 499,999 tracks costs $999 a month. Ideally, if you were a record company with an extensive catalog, you could steadily add tracks to be licensed and move up the scale of pricing. SourceAudio additionally takes a 7 to 10 percent cut of each transaction, a rate that Harding says is fair for making the process work.

SourceAudio was founded in 2007, but it’s making waves now thanks to the team more seriously focusing on selling the product and strong word of mouth. “We spent a lot of time signing up the first 10 to 15 clients, but most of the rest came from word of mouth,” Harding said. “They heard about our way to make this process work and were excited to do business with us.”

Harding thinks one reason the company is finally picking up traction is because music and media companies are finally embracing digital solutions — streaming services like Spotify and MOG and cloud services like iTunes Match show that the labels are finally willing to give the web a real chance. Sites like YouTube and Vimeo have also recently shown an interest in licensing as well with music store partnerships. At BillBoard’s insistence, SourceAudio will be making its first big push this month at the BillBoard FutureSound conference in San Francisco.

SourceAudio currently has just five employees, but it’s a tightly knit and experienced team. The company is led by CEO and co-founder Geoff Grotz, who created GameTrailers.com, which was sold to MTV Networks in 2005. SourceAudio VP of Technology Ryan Cramer also comes from the GameTrailers.com family and was a lead programmer. And on top of being SourceAudio’s VP of product, Harding is also VP of product development at MTV Networks. The company is self-funded at present, with the majority of funding provided by Grotz.

CloudBeat 2011CloudBeat 2011 takes place November 30 – December 1 at Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, CA. Unlike any other cloud events, we’ll be focusing on 12 case studies where we’ll dissect the most disruptive instances of enterprise adoption of the cloud. These case studies will highlight the core components of the cloud revolution: security, collaboration, analytics, mobile usage, increased productivity, and integration. Join over 500 executives for two days packed with actionable lessons and networking opportunities as we define the key processes and architectures that companies must put in place in order to survive and prosper. Register here. Tickets are limited!

Filed under: cloud, media

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Urban Airship gets $15.1M from Salesforce and Verizon, thinking hardware

Posted: 06 Nov 2011 09:00 PM PST

Urban AirshipUrban Airship, a mobile development platform, announced a $15.1 million third round of funding led by strategic investors Salesforce.com and Verizon Wireless.

Mobile developers face a lot of challenges, but two main ones exist: getting people to download your application, and getting people to use it. Urban Airship is focused on the latter. Other than having a great app, there are different ways to engage people, and ultimately get them to execute in-app purchases, buy other apps from the same creator, and generally boost the ranking of the app itself. Urban Airship helps developers with push notifications, in-app purchases and reporting on how well these actions are performing.

“If you’re going to interrupt the user, you better have a really good reason and have something actionable,” said Urban Airship chief executive Scott Kveton in an interview with VentureBeat.

Kveton has spent his time with Urban Airship creating partnerships, performing acquisitions and making sure the products the company puts out are useful for both the developer and the user. Though, some liken push notifications, despite the fact they’ve opted to receive them, like the “pop up window of mobile.” To which, Kveton says that developer is not using the notifications in a positive, engaging way.

To avoid this, Urban Airship uses “rich push,” which makes push notifications action-worthy. These push notifications can take you to video, audio, maps, web apps and more, which theoretically make people want to engage with their push notifications more often. Developers can see which notifications are driving the most traffic with Urban Airship’s reporting tools.

In terms of its investors, Urban Airship had a previously established relationship with Verizon, as the preferred developer for push notifications in the Verizon developer network,” according to Kveton. Having advice and capital from a top three mobile carrier opens even bigger door for the company, however. Indeed, this is an opportunity for Urban Airship to go hardware and have its push notifications products baked right into the handset.

“This is a great way for us to have a close relationship with Verizon and take our relationship to the next level,” said Kveton. “We’re thinking hard about when we want to dig deeper into the devices themselves.”

As far as Salesforce goes, Kveton says the company recognized Urban Airship for its established mobile cloud strategy and wanted in on the action. Urban Airship already has a plugin with Heroku and sees that as a start to furthering its own cloud initiatives. (Interested in cloud? Heroku general manger and Salesforce global Platforms teams lead Byron Sebastian will be speaking at VentureBeat’s CloudBeat conference.)

The new capital injection will be used to expand the company beyond these goals with Verizon and Salesforce, and is to be used for hiring and opening offices in Europe and Asia, along with more acquisitions.

“We wanted to take a significant round because we feel there’s a pretty unique opportunity to grab some market share right now,” said Kveton.

Until then, the two and a half year old company is busy integrating its newest acquisition, SimpleGeo, into its culture and fitting the new technology to its own.

[Blimp via Shutterstock]

Filed under: dev, mobile, VentureBeat

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Indie game sensation Minecraft surpasses 4 million copies sold

Posted: 06 Nov 2011 07:27 PM PST

MinecraftIndie sandbox building game Minecraft has sold over 4 million copies on the PC, according to the game’s official website. That number is close to blockbuster territory for any video game, and it shows that the indie game movement is alive and kicking.

The brainchild of Swedish developer Markus Persson, Minecraft allows players to use their own creativity to construct a variety of structures in a textured, cubic 3D game world. A Survival Mode adds the extra challenge of constructing buildings with limited resources while fending off advancing monsters. Although he is always looking to implement new features, Persson says fun and accessibility are his main design goals.

“I make sure to play the game a lot, and I’ve built my share of towers, and flooded my share of caves,” he writes on the Minecraft website. “If something ever doesn’t feel fun, I’ll remove it. I believe that I can combine enough fun, accessibility and building blocks for this game to be a huge melting pot of emergent gameplay.”

Minecraft began development in 2009 and quickly gained recognition for its simplicity and creative freedom. It has won a number of awards, including “Game of the Year” from Rock, Paper, Shotgun and PC Gamer UK, and was one of 80 games chosen to be in the Smithsonian’s “The Art of Video Games” exhibit. Still in its beta testing phase, Minecraft has over 16 million registered users who have recreated everything from the Taj Mahal to the U.S.S. Enterprise. Its success, obtained without the help of a major publisher or distribution service like Steam, is impressive.

Persson’s company, Mojang, recently celebrated its one year anniversary and is preparing for its first ever MineCon event in Las Vegas. The weekend-long convention will celebrate the official launch of Minecraft on the PC, and will feature a demo of the Xbox 360 version due out in 2012 as well. Fans hoping for a ticket are out of luck, though. MineCon has officially sold out.

Filed under: games

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Hey, entrepreneurs, we’re living in a bubble

Posted: 06 Nov 2011 11:21 AM PST

No, not that kind of bubble.  The bubble we're living in is actually much more dangerous than the classic tech bubbles that inevitably come and go, because this particular bubble may well prevent American entrepreneurs from playing a leading role in shaping the future.

A classic tech bubble inflates expectations of what's possible — and ultimately dashes the hopes of many investors and entrepreneurs. But it also leaves new technologies and a handful of great companies in its wake.  Hence the t-shirt that one of my investors pointed me to: "Please God Just One More Bubble."  We are probably in one of these bubbles now.  But this isn't the bubble I'm worried about.

The bubble I'm worried about is much more dangerous precisely because it constrains our thinking about what's possible.  The bubble I'm worried about is a 20th Century Bubble, which imprisons the minds of too many American entrepreneurs.

Arguably, the defining economic event of the 20th century was the rise of the American middle class.  Fortunes were made by entrepreneurs who built companies to serve this American middle class.  Car companies, energy companies, electronics companies, pharmaceutical companies, financial services companies…  Indeed, much of the Fortune 500 grew up by serving America's growing middle class.

Today, most American entrepreneurs continue to be focused on building businesses that are fundamentally about serving the American middle class (daily deal entrepreneurs, you know who you are).

That's fine, except for one thing: the defining economic event of the 21st century is likely to be the rise of the global middle class.

Who's going to shape this next century (or, as President Obama might put it, "win the future")?  Sadly, at this point, I wouldn't bet on American entrepreneurs, most of whom are living in a 20th Century Bubble.  No, I'd bet on entrepreneurs in emerging markets, the folks who deeply understand the growing global middle class — because they're a part of it.

But American entrepreneurs do have a shot — if we have the courage to learn about markets half-way around the world.  Only then will we be able to create products and services that address the needs of the global middle class.  Or products and services that address the needs of other companies that are in turn serving the global middle class.

Will we be at a disadvantage, because we are not truly of these markets?  Yes.  On the other hand, we've had a century to accumulate knowledge about how to serve those who hunger for a better quality of life — and knowledge about how to serve companies that are in turn serving those who hunger for a better quality of life.  Why can't we take this knowledge and apply it in new markets?

We can.

If you need proof, check out a New York start-up called Peek that is is kicking some serious smart-phone butt in emerging markets.  Or check out a recent winner of the MIT $100K competition, Sanergy, that is enabling a network of franchisees to provide consumers in emerging markets with sanitation systems (read: toilets) that convert waste into energy.

Sadly, for every Peek or Sanergy, there are hundreds of start-ups that are the result of 20th Century Bubble thinking.  And that's a shame.  Because the future will likely belong to those who aren't in the bubble.

And the stakes are high.  In fact, I would argue that what's at stake is that other middle class — the American middle class.  If we can't build new companies that capitalize on the defining economic event of the 21st century — the rise of the global middle class — how can we possibly create enough jobs to sustain the American middle class?

Here's hoping that the next wave of entrepreneurs has the courage to look to the future.  Here's hoping that the next wave of entrepreneurs has the courage to look beyond our borders.  Here's hoping that the 20th Century Bubble bursts soon.

Photo of Josh GreenJosh Green (@joshuabgreen) is the co-founder and CEO of Panjiva (@panjiva), an intelligence platform for global trade professionals that got its start by helping companies serve the American middle class.

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Interview: Modern Warfare 3′s creative director discusses blowing up the world, carefully

Posted: 06 Nov 2011 09:00 AM PST

As part of VentureBeat's Modern Warfare 3 coverage leading up to our definitive review and the game's release on Nov. 8, I had the chance to sit down with three of the pivotal members of the Call of Duty team to discuss the upcoming game, complain about Veteran difficulty, and talk about developer Infinity Ward's take on Nazi zombies.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is poised to go head-to-head with EA's recently released Battlefield 3 for the first-person-shooter blockbuster crown this holiday season. With Battlefield 3 claiming a mammoth five million sales in its first week, the biggest ever release for the publisher, co-developer Sledgehammer Games has no small expectations to live up, especially considering last year's Call of Duty title accumulated over $1 billion in revenue. So how is the game? Here’s our edited interview with Bret Robbins, creative director at Sledgehammer Games, whose last gig was the original Dead Space.

VentureBeat: You were telling me that you mostly worked on the single-player portion of Modern Warfare 3.

BR:That’s right.

VB: Obviously, World War III is not a thing that many games have tackled. How do you go about taking on such a delicate subject matter while still providing the requisite entertainment?

BR: You blow up a lot of cities, is what you do. We’re creating a huge, like a summer blockbuster story and experience. You try to go for the biggest and craziest moments and set-pieces and locations you can come up with. You try to do it in a very believable and authentic way, so it feels like this could actually happen.

VB: Speaking of that, blowing up everything is kind of like the Independence Day route, where it’s just like a popcorn movie. Modern Warfare is, like you said, much more believable, much more realistic. Yet the Resistance crew (Insomniac Games) can’t even blow up one church in England without suffering a huge negative backlash. So how do you go about destroying the entire world without those kinds of repercussions?

BR: Without getting sued by everyone? Yeah. Very carefully, is how you do it. How do you go about blowing up the world…? You just come up with scenes and moments that would make sense within the story. So you don’t do it just for the sake of blowing everything up, just for the fun of it. Does this make sense? Should the characters actually be here at this time? Does this fit the plot? You want it to be exciting, but you also want it to make sense. It can’t just be gratuitous, it can’t just be fantasy. It needs to be real missions, things that you think could possibly happen, given the extraordinary circumstances that you’re creating. So it’s always walking that fine line of believability and insanity and crazy action.

VB: Each Modern Warfare game has incrementally upped the ante, so to speak. The first one had an atomic explosion where the helicopter crashes and you have a couple of minutes where your character just crawls out and then dies. The second game had No Russian and not one but two playable characters die. How do you go about topping that without blatantly making it seem like you’re trying to top yourselves?

BR: What you don’t do is say, we’re just doing this to top ourselves. Like you say. It needs to be something that’s authentic, that actually moves the plot forward. We have some moments in the game that I think are pretty shocking, that push the envelope a little bit. But like I said before, it’s not a matter of trying to be gratuitous about it, doing shocks for shock value. You always want to push yourself and see if you can push the limits of the medium, and storytelling. We’ve got such a big audience for this game that we want to deliver something that’s memorable. Experiences that people are going to be talking about the next day after they played it, talking about with their friends. It’s really a matter of creating something unique.

VB: Aside from No Russian, there’s typically not been a lot of civilians, non-military characters that get wrapped up into the scenes and levels in Modern Warfare games, even when fighting on neighborhoods and at burger joints. Now that you’re going on a global scale, has that changed at all?

BR: Yeah, I think… We wanted to show, certainly in some particular cases, we wanted to show the effect of war. What happens if a modern American city gets attacked? What would that be like, what would you see? If you were walking down the street, what would happen? Civilians are part of that, innocent people are part of it unfortunately. But at the same time, it’s really a soldier’s story, it’s about how the soldiers, how the professionals, the elite professionals would react to that kind of situation. What they would do, believably. We worked with a lot of military consultants, guys that really know what they’re doing and how they would respond to these crazy situations. We just do it as realistically as we can, based on what they would do.

VB: Did you get a chance to play Homefront?

BR: I did not play Homefront, unfortunately. Sorry.

VB: There goes that entire line of questioning…

BR: [laughs] I know it, I know about it, but I don’t…

VB: It had some interesting similarities with the whole world war kind of thing going on. They did a big emphasis on innocent people, non-military people dying, stuff like that…

BR: Gotcha. We have some of that, but…

VB: No spoilers, I understand. The other thing is Veteran difficulty. Typically, whenever an Infinity Ward game comes out, no matter how many controllers I break, or how many pillows I scream into, I have to beat it, I have to have those achievements for beating it on Veteran. It’s like a badge of honor, you know? But it can also be pretty frustrating. You’re just running around and then you die without seeing where it came from. The enemy AI has this sixth sense. How do you go about balancing Veteran difficulty in line with the story that you’re trying to tell, and still make it a fun experience?

BR: That’s a big challenge, to make sure it’s not too frustrating. I think if you bought the game and went straight to Veteran, you better be pretty good at the game to do that. It’ll be a slower game and absolutely more challenging. I think you’ll still enjoy the story and enjoy all the moments just as much…

VB: Especially since you’ll play them like 20 times…

BR: [laughs] Exactly, you’re gonna see them a lot. We just do a lot of game balancing. We bring a lot of players in, we have them play, we record how they play, we keep the maps so we know where they died and how often they died, we do that on every difficulty level. We do that on Veteran as well. I personally do a lot of the game balancing, so if I’m seeing an area that’s clearly where people are dying 50 times, we make it easier. I want it to be challenging, I don’t want it to be impossible. The main thing I don’t want you to do is to ever stop playing. I want you to play all the way through, I want you to see all the great stuff we created, I want you to get to the end of the campaign and see how the story wraps up and everything. I don’t want you to play on Veteran and just get totally frustrated and throw the controller down. So it’s a balance. We basically do a lot of testing to make sure everything’s tight and playable and fun.

VB: I hope so, otherwise you’re gonna have an e-mail from me on Nov. 8th…

BR: I hope it’s a good one, when it comes.

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