01 December, 2011



HBO says cord cutting is a “temporary phenomenon”, HBO Go to stay tied to cable

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 09:01 AM PST

HBO Go, Game of ThronesAnyone hoping for a streaming-only subscription plan for the HBO Go service will be disappointed by recent comments from the company’s co-president Eric Kessler.

Speaking at an event in New York City yesterday, Kessler said there is no chance his company will make its original programs like True Blood or The Wire available to non-cable subscribers, according to a MocoNews report.

The HBO Go service is a streaming video extension provided to people who subscribe to an HBO package through a pre-existing cable or satellite provider, such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon or DirecTV. HBO's business model has transitioned away from relying on licensing from movies to bring in and maintain its base of customers. Now, the company produces original content like Game of Thrones and Entourage, which is worth the elevated cable bill for some customers. However, it seems the company has no plans to make those shows available through a streaming-only subscription similar to what’s offered by Netflix.

HBO currently has about 30 million paying customers, many of who take advantage of the company’s streaming options. As VentureBeat reported in late June, a third of its customers have downloaded the HBO Go iOS app, making it a success in the eyes of the company. HBO followed up with a similar app, MAX Go, for its sister network Cinemax in August. Yet, despite all of this digital activity, the company still thinks a streaming-only option isn’t worth bothering with.

Kessler also said his company sees cord cutting as a temporary phenomenon that will go away once the larger economy improves. (Although, people might also turn to illegal distribution practices like torrents or unofficial video streams.)

But I think its inevitable that HBO will transform into a streaming-only network. Right now, the company is getting a good stream of revenue through its partnerships with cable and satellite TV providers. But as costs rise and people cancel their service, HBO will have to revisit the cord-cutting business model.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Ogmento launches NBA augmented reality basketball game

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

Ogmento, a maker of augmented reality mobile games, is announced today the availability of its new game NBA: King of the Court.

The title is a kind of territorial conquest game meets basketball, with augmented reality that brings your location and objects around you into the game play. The deal is the second major branded title this year for Ogmento, which previously released an augmented reality game based on the film Paranormal Activity. The deal with the big-name franchise shows that augmented reality on smartphones has a chance to emerge as a gaming sub-genre.

Los Angeles-based Ogmento specializes in augmented reality games, which use your location and camera in your smartphone to put game-like overlays on the real world. With the new game, Ogmento and its users set up a bunch of basketball courts at locations around the world.

“It creates the feeling that you’re playing a casual pickup game,” said Brad Foxhoven, co-founder of Ogmento. “In Foursquare, people compete for locations. But we let you compete at the location, adding more of a gaming element to it.”

Then each player goes to a court and attempts to “rule the court,” much like a user becomes the “mayor” of a location in Foursquare. The player has to shoot a bunch of balls into a basket in a given time in order to take over the court. Once the player succeeds, they can move on to ruling other courts. You don’t always have to be at the exact location, as you can play basketball games from a mile away. But promotions that require you to take some action — such as taking a picture of a can of Mountain Dew at a certain store — can help verify that you are actually at a location where an advertiser wants you to be.

Brian Selzer, chief executive of Ogmento, said in an interview that he believes that fans will fight each other for control of key courts, such as a court at a hardcore sports bar, or invade enemy territory by taking over a Lakers court with rival Kings colors. Players who rule a territory can collect rent on it, earning virtual tokens. They can also compete at a higher level, battling for the regional, state, or national championships.

Now that the NBA walkout is over, Ogmento hopes that fans will pick up the free-to-play, location-based online game as a complement to enjoying pro basketball games. Players can win in-game coins or purchase them to create defensive or offensive power-ups, which make it easier or harder to take over a court. Players can also customize the courts with the logos of their favorite NBA teams. Later in the season, the NBA will start marketing for the game.

Over time, Ogmento will provide updates to the game including weekly challenges, time-based seasonal competitions, and location-specific promotional partners. Founded in 2009, Ogmento has 20 employees. It raised $7 million earlier this year. The game is available on the iPhone and Android.

Beyond the NBA game, Ogmento is working on games with other kinds of augmented reality effects. You can, for instance, take a picture of a business card and then attach a virtual object to it, such as ammo. When you give someone your business card, they can take a picture of it and collect ammo for the game, Selzer said.

Filed under: games, mobile, social

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The zCloud revisited: lessons from Zynga’s public-private cloud experience

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

In the recent past, we were proud to publicly unveil the private cloud computing infrastructure that we use to scale our social games — infrastructure that we internally (and affectionately) call zCloud. zCloud leverages both our internal infrastructure components and our public cloud partner, Amazon Web Services. This hybrid cloud, using private and public clouds in unison, allows us to scale our social games efficiently and effectively for our millions of daily players.

The first rollout of zCloud was focused on building an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model designed specifically for social games in terms of availability, network connectivity, server processing power and storage throughput. And as we built and deployed zCloud, we challenged ourselves to drive innovation past the concept of a hybrid cloud and ask what other services zCloud could provide to our social games. We wanted to understand how we could make Zynga's games faster, more reliable and easier to scale.

Before we could answer this question, we needed to understand the infrastructure requirements of each of our social games. Zynga is a particularly challenging environment to find exact computing requirements since each of our games is unique. Each one uses a variety of programming languages, storage mechanisms and social mechanics. On top of that, games continuously evolve, and we constantly explore the boundaries of new technologies to make our games more social.

To begin, our teams spent time building instrumentation for each layer of our application stack and understanding the existence of potential bottlenecks. We did this instrumentation both on zCloud and on AWS – this step was vitally important to help us understand our games' operating environments. In some cases, we found servers that were constrained by the multi-core CPU performance, in others we found that our networking throughput or storage I/O was a limiting factor or that we had over-provisioned memory on some servers. In a private cloud, you need to measure how your applications perform and build matching infrastructure.

Because zCloud is our own private cloud that we can manipulate and control, we were able to optimize our infrastructure to quickly alleviate nearly all of these potential bottlenecks. Public clouds, while exceptionally good at providing a wealth of services for a great number of customers and computing needs, often leave little flexibility for infrastructure optimization.  We found that we had to modify how our games operated for their environment.

The flexibility that zCloud provides for our games is another key to our ability to scale. When we conceived of zCloud, instead of thinking about building infrastructure for specific games, we thought about the need for every one of our games to operate on any server in any geography – or on every server in all geographies. It was essential that we understood the implication of this flexibility on networking, load balancing, storage, caching, security, application messaging, and so forth.

As the next step in building zCloud, we looked to build software and tools that allow us to operate and scale faster. These new automation tools allow us to provision services in minutes that used to take days to deliver and validate. We can now consolidate and correlate thousands of alerts into a single notification, associating specific processes for people to perform. We also built a reporting dashboard that shows both real-time and historical information about the performance of each game on zCloud.

It's this next set of zCloud services that has made our games perform faster, scale better and be more reliable. Our keys were instrumenting our application well, building the right infrastructure to match the application needs and thinking about the flexibility that a private cloud allows for our games.

As unique as Zynga's infrastructure needs may be, these are tenets that all businesses may want to consider when exploring cloud deployments.

Allan Leinwand is the chief technology officer for infrastructure and engineering at Zynga. He is responsible for all aspects of technology infrastructured used in the delivery of Zynga’s social games, from data centers to cloud computing. He was previously a partner at Panorama Capital and founded Vyatta in 2005. He spoke with Dean Takahashi, lead writer for GamesBeat at VentureBeat, at our CloudBeat conference this week.

Filed under: cloud, games, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Amazon App Store snags an Android exclusive with CrowdStar’s Top Girl mobile game

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 07:12 AM PST

CrowdStar‘s Top Girl mobile game is one of the top-grossing titles on Apple’s iOS platform. Now it is moving over to Google’s Android platform and will debut exclusively on the Amazon App Store. That means it will be available on the new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, which features a 7-inch touch screen.

CrowdStar said Top Girl will be sold exclusively on the Amazon App Store for two weeks after the launch. The title is the first major mobile hit from Burlingame, Calif.-based CrowdStar, which is making a big push in mobile as part of a strategy it calls Project Trident. With that plan, CrowdStar aims to be a big play on mobile and Facebook as well as expand into foreign markets.

"CrowdStar is entirely focused on Project Trident this year and Top Girl's Android launch is representative of that," said Blair Hamilton, head of studios at CrowdStar. "Now our 'Girl' social gaming franchise is thriving on Facebook, iOS, and Android."

Top Girl was released on iOS in May and surpassed 10 million downloads after 10 days. Three days after launching, it became the top-grossing game in the App Store, beating out Angry Birds and Zynga Poker. In the game, players create their own characters and engage in virtual shopping. They create fashionable avatars who can climb the fashion social ladder, collecting money by doing modeling jobs, buying new outfits, and going to popular clubs. The game also has a dating feature, where users can flirt and snag a boyfriend who will give them gifts.

Filed under: games, mobile, social

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Infinity Blade II review: more is actually more

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 07:00 AM PST

Infinity Blade II is debuting today, and the mobile game reminds us of the attractions of iterative game development. The risk is low, the potential for gain is high. While an innovative game can change the course of development in its own right and become the fastest selling game in iOS history, a well done sequel can polish what the first game got right to a high gleam, and add just the right amount of extras and enrichment to become something even sweeter. We’ve seen it with a series like Games of War, another Epic Games property, and now we can see it again with Infinity Blade II, my pick for the most console-like experience on the iOS platform to date.

Infinity Blade II (Epic Games & Chair Entertainment) is out for the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S. Yep, that’s right, only the high-end A5 processors in the latest of Apple’s magical devices can even play this bad boy.

And what a bad boy it is.

There’s something primal about the way combat happens in this game. It would seem as though, on paper at least, that swiping and tapping on a glass screen wouldn’t feel so damn, well, tactile. Infinity Blade, the first game, gave us all a sense of place and a sense of impact with stabbing, blocking, dodging and slashing our way through the same path of evil warrior beasts and humanoids again and again, only to die at the hands of the God King at the end of each hard-fought road. Death became us, though, as we were reborn after each successive death at the hands of our arch-nemesis, and we again picked up the heavy mantle of hero, trudging ever onward to our doom.

Infinity Blade II is a game of polish, solidity and ever-present light effects. The combat system is deeper, allows for more varied gameplay styles, and just feels dangerous. Weapons can again be upgraded with in-game earned money, but also not contain slots for enhancing gems of different shape and effect. New weapons can be purchased with the same in-game currency, which is also able to be purchased as an in-app micro transaction by the impatient or excessively rich.

Game play will seem suddenly familiar to players of the first game – move from place to place in the stunningly beautiful world with a tap on a pulsating circle, tap on the guardians in the way, and then fight. Fighting involves breaking the enemy’s attack with a series of blocks, parries, or dodges, then slashing across the screen as fast as possible to do as much damage. There are special attacks only available after a timed charging period is active, like the super strike button to the upper left of the screen, and magical attacks that are unleashed with a tap on the upper right onscreen button and drawing a rune-like figure center screen. It’s all great fun, most likely due to the intensity with which players must decide whether to block, parry, or dodge and in which direction. The sound effects and camera shake fully embrace the combat; more than once I found myself on the edge of my seat, slashing and parrying my way to victory. It’s all very palpable and intense.

In contrast to the first game, there are now three types of weapons: heavy, light, and dual wielded. The light weapon is similar to the swords of the first game; equipped with a shield, the protagonist warrior is a dead ringer for the hero of the first game, all shiny armor and fluid motion. The dual weapons are smaller, faster, and one is held in each hand. Parrying becomes easier, perhaps, but there is no shield to block with – a trade-off to be sure, even with a ducking motion now allowed. Dual weapons allow for faster combos, adding in tapping to the standard swiping or slashing motions of the single-handed sword/shield combo, and a special damage bonus comes in after a three hit combo is performed. The heavy weapons include axes and bizarre two-handed affairs, slower but doing incredible damage per connection with an enemy. Attacking in the same direction twice in a row allows a special attack, triggered by a slash in the same direction as an onscreen prompt, to do extra damage. Heavy weapons preclude dodging, so the directional buttons are used to block in those directions.

Visually, Infinity Blade II again sets the bar high for any iOS game, faster processor or not, wishing to compete. The world is brilliant, the lighting is much more realistically alive, the textures of characters and environments are richer, more detailed. Dust motes shine in the cathedrals, birds of prey fly off in the distance, cherry blossoms fall delicately to the ground. Big giant monster-things beat the ever-living crap out of the hero when a dodge is missed, or a block broken. The soundtrack, while suitably epic, is also at times creepy, even creating a subtle anticipatory soundscape, most notable after each new “rebirth” as the hero warrior stands on the brink of returning to the tower to free the Maker.

The story is new, here, too. We’re given tantalizing hints from early on that all was not what it seemed in the first game. The first scene includes a partner, a similarly armored woman with a crossbow and as many questions as answers. She plays a pivotal role in the final bit of the introductory scene, moving us forward to our first revelation. The storytelling is much more confident here, and – perhaps more interesting – much less melodramatic than I expected.

The menu screen has some interesting surprises – one tab touts a feature called ClashMobs – a massively social online challenge system – while another tab us that there will be new titans, new bosses, new areas, and – thank goodness – new weapons, shields, armor, magic rings and gems to collect. All these updates are promised to come free to game purchasers. If the first game is anything to go by, the chances are good that these are not idle boasts. The original Infinity blade had four content expansions during it’s little over a year lifespan. In addition, there are tabs to directly purchase the first game and a novel based on the infinity Blade universe, by author Brandon Sanderson, on the iBookstore. Now that’s cross media!

Overall, Infinity Blade II is a worthy successor to the already well-received original game. The game play, while similar in feel, is expanded enough to provide players of the original – as well as newcomers – a satisfyingly rich experience. It’s a fine day indeed when we carry around in our pocket or messenger bag such a compelling and graphically amazing video game, one that only a few short years ago would have been only seen on highly powered gaming consoles. Yes, Infinity Blade II is more of the same, but the first game was fantastic; this one is even that much more so. While owners of “older” Apple devices are out of luck, I highly recommend this game to owners of an iPad 2 or iPhone 4S; this is the benchmark, state-of-the-industry level game that everyone should have a chance to play. Our review score is 90 out of 100.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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Ex-Pandemic game veteran launches Ntro social discovery app

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 04:45 AM PST

Josh Resnick, the former president of game developer Pandemic Studios, used to work on heavy stuff like the Lord of the Rings Conquest video game. Now he’s doing apps that are light and mobile.

Resnick’s new startup, Nprogress, is launching its Ntro social discovery app today as a way for people to find others around them with common interests. A lot of dating apps do this already, but Resnick says his app does much more than the competition and fits into the category of “social discovery.” The app gets you to list the three interests they care about most. Then it finds local matches with people in the same city and sorts the matches by who is closest to you. Then it gives you a variety of ways to make contact with those people.

In contrast to dating apps with broad interests such as “travel” or “yoga,” Ntro lets you customize your interests as narrowly as you’d like to interests such as “Zombie Apocalypse fan,” Resnick told VentureBeat.

“It lets you discover meaningful interactions with people around you,” Resnick said.

The app is a very different business for Resnick, who was part of the BioWare-Pandemic business that Electronic Arts bought for $860 million in 2007. While the BioWare side of the business has done well, Pandemic’s games didn’t sell that well. EA shut it down in 2009 and Resnick left EA in 2010. He vowed to take six months off, but wound up taking off only two. Then he started Nprogress in his home in Los Angeles.

The team toiled for two years on its app. Resnick funded it himself for the first year and then raised $1.7 million in angel funding from investors Jarl Mohn, Gordon Crawford, Kevin Wall, Activation Media Partners, Baroda Ventures, SV Angel, Jeff Pulver, and Richard Crowell. Most of the investors are from the Los Angeles area, where the company is based.

The Ntro app is available now on both iOS (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad) and Android. The app will connect people in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area regions. The company will add more territories over time.

Resnick said the Ntro app is better than dating apps because it focuses on quality over quantity. It makes high-quality matches with people in your area. Nprogress will focus on marketing the app in the local regions so that it can grow its user base fast. Earlier this summer, the company tested the app at a couple of universities — the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley — and is now opening it up wider.

With Ntro, no check-in is required. The app runs in the background. Some apps that do that use a lot of battery power, but Nprogress says it took special care to create an app that checks in only a few times a day and therefore balances battery consumption with timeliness.

The app doesn’t share your location, personal info such as last name, or phone number. When it finds a match, it shows you a picture of the person and your common interests. Then you have several options to connect, such as an in-app text message. You can also add the person as a friend on Facebook. If you click “available,” that means you are open to connecting with the person. If you don’t want to connect, you can ignore the match or say “not now” and it won’t rematch you with that person for 24 hours. You can also block a person so you’ll never be matched again.

It gives you a variety of ways to make contact with someone, but it preserves the serendipity of running into someone by accident. Resnick said he thought about doing the app because he kept spending a lot of unproductive time at airports. Rivals include dating apps such as Grindr, Sonar, and Mingle. There are also a variety of networking apps for conventions. The app is free. In the future, Nprogress might add monetization such as targeted ads.

Filed under: mobile, social

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Sony loses two key executives from its North American game team

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 12:12 AM PST

Two key executives at Sony’s U.S. game business have taken off. And one of them, Rob Dyer, has joined Zynga to work on partnerships.

Scott Steinberg (pictured), vice president of marketing, has resigned. Dyer, who was senior vice president of publisher relations, also left recently, according to Industry Gamers. Steinberg evidently left without indicating his future plans.

Steinberg joined Sony in 2007 and served previously at Sega, Crystal Dynamics, Roxio, and Liquid Audio. Sony confirmed that Dyer had left to go to work at Zynga, where his title will be head of partner publishing. Dyer joined Sony in 2008 and previously was president of Eidos and also Crystal Dynamics. No replacements have been named.

It’s not clear why the two executives left. Earlier this year, Peter Dille, another longtime marketing executive, resigned his position as senior vice president of marketing. He took a long break and resurfaced at Tapjoy. Guy Longworth was named to replace Dille in October. He previously worked at Procter & Gamble.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Synopsys buys chip design software maker Magma for $507M

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 08:39 PM PST

In a big strategic shift for the chip design software industry, Synopsys said today it plans to buy Magma Design Automation for $507 million.

The deal leaves two juggernauts in electronic design automation software (EDA) — Synopsys and arch rival Cadence Design Systems — to battle it out as the software of choice for engineers who design electronic chips. Synopsys is buying Magma for $7.35 a share in cash, a 29 percent premium to Magma’s closing price today of $5.72

San Jose, Calif.-based Magma Design Automation is a publicly traded company. The merged companies will compete with Cadence and Mentor Graphics for billions of dollars in revenues related to tools that can be used to automatically design and lay out chips. Chips are so complex these days that they often have billions of components known as transistors on a single piece of silicon.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Synopsys reported fiscal fourth quarter revenue today of $390.5 million, up 4 percent over a year ago, and adjusted earnings per share of 46 cents.

The combined goal of the companies is to create tools that enable more profitable chips, meaning they create chips that improve performance, have smaller sizes and costs, and lower power consumption. Rajeev Madhavan, founder and chief executive of Magma, said the combined companies would ensure that chip designers have access to advanced technology to design chips at 28 nanometers and below. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter and the automated design tools are the only way to create complex chips with such tiny dimensions. The merger is subject to closing conditions.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Humble Introversion Bundle sales rising over 150,000 with 6 days left

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 08:20 PM PST

Humble Introversion BundleThe Humble Bundle releases have become quite an event in the world of indie gaming, and the recent Humble Introversion Bundle is certainly no exception. With six days until its completion, the Bundle has already sold over 150,000 copies, earning the developers and the supported charities over $630,000.

This edition of the Humble Bundle includes Darwinia, Multiwinia, DEFCON and Uplink, Introversion’s entire catalog, for any donation at all, but as always, there is an incentive to give more. Beating the average purchase will net buyers three more titles: Aquaria, Crayon Physics Deluxe, and the recently added Dungeons of Dredmor.

Keeping this package fresh so close on the heels of the Humble Voxatron Debut are two prototype tech demos, along with the source code to the four main games from the Bundle. Modders are now free to have their way with each of Introversion’s four releases, or as the developer’s suggest, “check out what an award-winning game looks like underneath all those pretty bitmaps, vectors, and textures!”

Keep in mind that every donated penny’s destination can be delegated by the buyer, but thankfully the folks at Humble Bundle provide a default split between the developer(s), the charities, and the Humble Bundle company itself for the indecisive among us.

These developer-specific Humble Bundles might only be asides to the main Humble Indie Bundle releases, but it’s great to see a group of deserving games from a consistently terrific developer getting their time in the spotlight, regardless of their age.

This is the seventh release from the Humble Bundle team, following the Voxatron Debut’s release by less than a month. In fact, this is the fourth Bundle in as many months. Between these consistent releases, the promise of Humble Indie Bundle #4 coming soon, and the brand new Indie Royale delivering its deals every two weeks, gamers may need to start clearing some space on their hard drives to make room for the quickly approaching flood of indie games.

Filed under: games

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Saints Row: The Third stat tracker goes live – purple dildo kills 2 million

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 08:17 PM PST

Players of Saints Row: Third, the controversial open-world game from Volition and THQ, can now accurately measure the level of carnage they have created in the game, following the release of the stats and achievements tracker at the official website.

Stat tracking websites seem to be all the rage this winter, with EA releasing its Battlelog service alongside Battlefield 3, and Activision running its Call of Duty Elite service for Modern Warfare 3 players. THQ has now weighed in with its own stat tracking service, that allows players to see their achievements, view and leave hints, and share screenshots taken in the game.

As well as stats, the website also features a map which tracks events in the game in real time, helping to show where missions and secrets are located.

THQ has taken this opportunity to reveal some rather disturbing figures from the game:

  • 2 million people have been bludgeoned to death by the purple Penetrator "d-bat", also known as an IED (Inspirational Erotic Device)
  • 5.8 billion citizens of Steelport have met their demise at the hands of gamers around the globe while playing Saints Row: The Third. That's 19 times the population of the United States, roughly 85 per cent of the population of the world
  • Players have spent a cumulative  two years in their birthday suits streaking the streets of Steelport
  • In Whored Mode, 44 million pimps, gimps and prostitutes have been dispatched, roughly twice the population of Texas
  • Finally, 650 hot dog mascots have been overcooked to death by players using a flamethrower

We reviewed Saints Row: The Third earlier this week, and gave it a score of 82 out of 100.

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Zynga IPO set for Dec. 15 at $10B valuation?

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 08:15 PM PST

Social game maker Zynga is reportedly planning to go public on Dec. 15 at a valuation of $10 billion, according to a report by Reuters.

The valuation is much lower than the $15 billion to $20 billion that was rumored as Zynga’s expected valuation when it filed papers to go public on July 1. Reuters cited two unnamed sources close to the process.

The IPO will generate about $900 million in proceeds at a price of $8 to $10 a share and an initial float of 10 percent. Zynga declined to comment. Two weeks ago, the company said a third-party analysis had valued Zynga at $14.05 billion, which is about the same has Activision Blizzard, the largest video game publisher with four times Zynga’s revenues.

Zynga was founded in 2007 and has been riding the wave of Facebook’s growth and the popularity of lightweight social games, which are free to play. In those games such as FarmVille and CityVille, users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods.

“I think they must have realized that getting $14 billion or higher would be a tough thing in this market. We were wondering how they would pull that off,” said Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia, told Reuters.

Zynga has made money this year but its growth slowed in the September quarter. Zynga has already waited a long time for its IPO, but the market window hasn’t been right. Companies such as Groupon and Angie’s List have gone public, but the market has been volatile due to uncertainty in Europe.

Zynga’s top executives will go on an investor road show next week, according to Reuters. Another source told Reuters that Pincus will not sell shares in the offering, nor will Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are lead bookrunners on the deal, with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital, JP Morgan and Allen & Company also participating. Zynga reported net income of $30.7 million on revenues of $828.9 million in the nine months ended Sept. 30.

Filed under: games, social

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Call of Duty Elite password reminders sent out in plain text

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 07:22 PM PST

Activision’s troubled gaming service, Call of Duty Elite, has been sending out password reminders to its users in plain text.

Activision either stores player passwords on its servers in plain text format, or in some retrievable version, which makes the information susceptible to hackers if they found their way into the servers, according to a Eurogamer report.

Activision has insisted in a statement that: “All Call of Duty Elite personal data, including passwords are saved and stored using encryption.” It went on to say that “Call of Duty Elite does not store any sensitive data in plain text. Currently, the only time passwords are sent in plain text is upon request from the registrant and only to the registered email address.”

Most companies avoid emailing passwords in plain text format, as it presents far more risks than sending a password change request. Robert Siciliano, chief executive of IDTheftSecurity.com explains “systems where the user’s email is used to send a password change request that requires the user to enter a new password is much more effective and secure than transmitting an unencrypted plain text password via email.”

Activision has now responded to this issue, and promised to stop sending out passwords in plain text format. It is currently altering and testing its password recovery procedure to ensure passwords are no longer delivered in plain text — thus making the process more secure.

Earlier this year, Sony found itself in extremely hot water when the Playstation Network was hacked. The incident allowed hackers to steal customer passwords and credit card details because the data was not properly encrypted. This resulted in a lengthy outage for the service, and prompted Sony to beef up its network security.

Call of Duty Elite hit more than one million paid subscribers in six days following its launch on Nov. 8, but the service struggled to cope with this initial demand. Activision is now reporting that Call of Duty Elite has been stabilized, and although there are plenty of fixes still to come, users are now able to access the service and engage with it.

Filed under: games, security, VentureBeat

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Wal-Mart’s new app mines Facebook data to help you buy better gifts

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 07:00 PM PST

Wal-Mart, the mega corporation known for its mega discount stores, is ready to conquer a new mega frontier. It’s a land ripe with retail opportunity; it’s the land you already know as the social web.

WalmartLabs, the company’s seven month-old internal nerve center for social and mobile retail innovation, is releasing Shopycat, a Facebook application designed to help holiday and everyday-occasion shoppers skip stressful shopping nightmares and find better gifts for friends and family members.

“We’ve been working on how to add a social layer on top of e-commerce,” Anand Rajaraman, the head of WalmartLabs, told VentureBeat. “One of the key areas where we thought we could make a difference is in gift-giving … we thought if we could take a person’s interests and ‘likes,’ that are expressed on Facebook, and tie those with a vast product catalog, then we could make gift-giving much more enjoyable.”

Shopycat starts out as your elf-like assistant by featuring the Facebook friends you interact with the most, and providing you with personalized gift recommendations for them.

The application figures out friends’ tastes by mining and analyzing “likes,” status updates and declared interests, then matches that data against the Wal-Mart product catalog, and the catalogs of partner merchants such as Barnes & Noble, NBC Universal and RedEnvelope, to offer up a selection of suitable ideas.

For example, if a friend has repeatedly expressed his adoration of the Chicago Bears or has been known to quote from the beloved syndicated sitcom Seinfeld, Shopycat will come up with gift ideas best-suited for your passionate pal. If you want to question Shopycat’s judgment, you can click on a gift idea for a detailed explanation of why it was suggested. You can even spy on and tweak the gifts that Shopycat is recommending that your friends buy you.

For all the makeshift Santas out there, Shopycat could be the perfect little helper this Christmas, but just don’t expect it to do all the hard work for you. The application currently only passes you through to websites where you’ll need to buy the gifts in question. Next year, however, Shopycat will let you buy directly on Facebook, Ravi Raj, VP of product for WalmartLabs, said.

Shopycat has the potential to permeate Facebook’s 800 million-member social network simply because it comes from a company that sees close to one billion customers walk into its stores each month.

“The most important thing about Wal-Mart is the scale of Wal-Mart,” Rajaraman said. “Its scale in terms of customers, its scale in terms of products and its scale in terms of technology.”

This means that a quest to dominate the social frontier will pit Wal-Mart’s Brobdingnagian bigness against tiny, lilliputian social commerce upstarts — Givvy, Imply Labs and a handful of others come to mind — already inhabiting the territory.

“The belief that we have is that we’re going through an inflection point in e-commerce because of two major trends: social and mobile,” Rajaraman said. “The whole of commerce is going to change, so the mission of WalmartLabs is to help reinvent the future and make sure that Wal-Mart is at the forefront.”

WalmartLabs, an 80-person group based in San Bruno, was established when Wal-Mart purchased Kosmix, a startup co-founded by Rajaraman that was working on a technology called “the social genome.” The technology, capable of mining social data to map the connections between people, activities and products, is now at the core of the Shopycat experience.

WalmartLabs also acquired social ad network OneRiot and mobile point-of-sale startup Gabble, and the group is now working on a next generation search experience for the Wal-Mart product catalog, an in-store social network (internally called “Storechat”) that will encourage customers to communicate with each other, along with additional mobile and social products.

People of Wal-Mart and the web: Prepare yourselves.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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NewsCred offers a better kind of newswire, raises $4M round

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 06:38 PM PST

NewsCred LogoDigital newswire service NewsCred has raised a new $4 million round of funding, the startup announced today.

NewsCred is basically a reinvention of the current newswire model made famous by the Associated Press. However, NewsCred doesn’t produce its own news, but it does intend to disrupt the traditional newswire business.

“We’re not trying to bash the AP, but with technology creating new digital distribution barriers you have to evolve. And that’s where we think there’s an opportunity”, NewsCred founder and CEO Shafqat Islam told VentureBeat. Unlike the newswires of old, which basically hook you into a fire hose of content for others to sift through, NewsCred wants to make the service much more user-friendly, while making money for the entire news industry.

The service collects news content (articles, photos, videos) from over 700 high quality publications, which range from international newspapers to talented news bloggers. Some of those include The Economist, Forbes, Telegraph, The Guardian, McClatchy/ Tribune Newspapers, Bloomberg, Reuters, the LA Times and more. All content is properly attributed to the original source and each source gets paid when content is used.

Customers who wish to have a steady stream of news available to them can sign up for a monthly fee, just like you would with an AP wire subscription. And as for the type of news, NewsCred has plenty of options. In addition to an in-house editorial team curating content, NewsCred uses an API to filter articles by topic, location, language, sources and date. The company organizes content into 20 categories and over 47,000 topics. Customers are charged based on the volume of news stories as well as the sources licensed.

slam said NewsCred is already providing some of its sources with six-figures annually. And mind you, this is essentially passive income for those news publication partners. They are already producing news and making profits entirely separate from the NewsCred wire, so for a smaller, yet dedicated news organization this could be a huge source of revenue.

Founded in 2008, the New York-based startup previously raised a $750,000 seed round from Floodgate, IA Ventures and Naval Ravikant. The new $4 million round was led by FirstMark, with participation from Lerer Ventures, AOL Ventures, Advancit Capital (Shari Redstone) and other prior investors.

Filed under: deals, media, VentureBeat

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Secure.me is awesome and creepy, keeps your & your kids’ Facebook pages in check

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 05:22 PM PST

Secure.meYou know how sometimes you stalk people on Facebook? Guess who 83 percent of all parents are stalking — their kids! And they are using Secure.me to help them.

Secure.me lets parents know what happened last Friday night by actively watching outgoing and incoming messages, wall posts, and status updates. It can search for previously designated keywords, provided by Secure.me or created by the user, and alert you when it finds them. Photo recognition technology watches for pictures with specific people in them, whether that person has been tagged or not, and can search across both the child’s photos as well as their network’s photos. Helpfully, it can also locate spam links and other security issues across the profile. It does all of this after simply being linked to the Facebook account.

According to Experian, 83 percent of moms and dads have either logged onto their child’s Facebook account or added their child as a friend. Even my mom is watching my younger brothers’ every Facebook move without them knowing (hopefully they don’t read this blog regularly). At first glance, Secure.me strikes me as a paranoid parent portal, regularly reporting on a child’s every online move, but it certainly has a place in the creepy world we call the Web.

The increased risks children face in the digital age are a legitimate cause for concern. There’s no doubt sexual content, violence, drugs, alcohol and a slew of other influences are easily accessible on the Internet. If you are the worrying type and can’t help but watch your children’s online moves, Secure.me is a fast way to get the facts.

There’s also one not-invasive use for the tool. If you use it to essentially stalk yourself, it can be an awesome product. It finds pictures of you you’re not tagged it, shows you if there’s a post you didn’t create, or a message your didn’t send, and more. Not bad.

Secure.me seems like a great way to keep your own profile in check, but parents should expect a tantrum from kids being put on social network surveillance.

Filed under: security, social

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How Google will be bringing Google+ to more Google web apps (video)

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 05:17 PM PST

Have you noticed how Google+ seems to be popping up everywhere lately?

We’ve taken deep dives into how Google+ is intended to unify all Google’s web products in the past. At the CloudBeat conference today, we stole a few precious moments of Googler Amit Singh’s time to chat about where Google+ will be popping up in the future.

Singh also talked a bit about how consumerization — a word that embodies concepts of simplicity, ease and beauty — is changing the enterprise and indeed, the cloud itself, and how non-Google+ users will fare in a Google+-ified world.

Stay tuned for more videos today and tomorrow from CloudBeat.

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Eucalyptus CEO: We’re an espresso machine, Amazon is Starbucks

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 05:13 PM PST

CloudBeat Marten Mickos

Eucalyptus Systems CEO Marten Mickos really likes metaphors, and when you’re talking about something as complex as cloud-based app platforms, they seriously come in handy.

While talking onstage at CloudBeat 2011, Mickos compared Eucalyptus’ open-source cloud software platform to an espresso machine because it gives clients the tools to make their coffee (in this case, cloud software) at home. He said a company like Amazon, however, provides the cloud in a much more commercialized fashion like Starbucks provides coffee.

“We make the best espresso machines,” Mickos said. “We give you the power of the cloud on your own servers. We love Amazon and we support their API, but if another big API comes along, we will support that as well.”

When it comes to differentiation, Eucalyptus’ open-source nature separates itself from competitor VMWare, which does well with its closed approach to virtualization.

“We have a different mindset than the others,” Mickos said. “It’s hard to challenge the closed-source companies, but we do with a strong business-model.”

Mickos also talked about how companies, generally speaking, are adopting cloud services. He said that conservative companies shouldn’t take the plunge to the cloud just yet because standards are still being figured out. However, he noted that some “old-fashioned” organizations are adopting the cloud.

“The cloud is for early movers, but sometimes those organizations can be seen as old-fashioned,” Mickos said. “The U.S.D.A., for example, uses a Eucalyptus cloud to help and connect farmers. And other government agencies are going for it as well.”

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AT&T and T-Mobile discussing joint venture if merger fails

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 04:37 PM PST

Contrary to previous statements, AT&T and Deutsche Telekom are working on a backup plan that would take place if U.S. regulators don’t approve the $39 million sale of T-Mobile.

The “Plan B” both companies are discussing involves forming a joint venture that would pool wireless network assets, according to a Wall Street Journal report that cites unnamed sources familiar with the matter. A joint venture of this nature has the potential to expand AT&T’s wireless capacity much in the same way a merger with T-Mobile would.

While its unknown exactly what the terms of such a joint venture would be, some analysts are speculating that it could involve having both carriers use T-Mobile’s wireless spectrum, while T-Mobile would retain its customer base.

The news of a backup plan is the latest symptom that suggests the merger isn’t going to happen. Earlier this week, AT&T reported that it intends to pay $4 billion in the fourth quarter 2011 to Deutsche Telekom, which the company agreed to forfeit if a merger with T-Mobile failed to pass approval. Both company’s also withdrew their application from the FCC. And then yesterday, reports surfaced that AT&T was in discussions with Leap Wireless to sell off much of T-Mobile’s assets in a last-ditch effort to gain approval from the Department of Justice.

Filed under: deals, mobile, VentureBeat

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Google Enterprise VP explains how Google Apps is being steadily adopted

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 04:32 PM PST

Amit Singh CloudBeat

Amit Singh, VP for enterprise at Google, is really high on Google Apps. Not just because it’s his job, but because many people are choosing it over Microsoft Office and he’s seeing real examples of how it works better.

Companies like Jaguar, Genentech and Motorola have already adopted Google Apps, and the company is picking up traction with more companies looking for cloud-based document and communication solutions. On stage at CloudBeat 2011, VentureBeat Editor-in-Chief Matt Marshall highlighted Journal Communications as a 3,000-employee company that has rigorously adopted Google Apps. Journal Communications owns the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, 33 radio stations and 13 television stations.

Singh said it wasn’t hard to convince communications professionals to switch to Google Apps because they appreciate real-time editing and collaboration abilities. They liked being able to use the applications through the browser, which means less time is dedicated to local software.

“They showed an editor and showed a real person writing a story,” Singh said. “They were seeing the changes in real time. The point was ‘how quickly can I get this in?’ and their demands were being met.”

Singh said Google’s social network, Google+, is part of what’s bringing the tools to enterprises and re-shaping the social plane. Although Google+ is a consumer-focused product, business can use the social product in certain cases to help them communicate faster.

“Imagine Circles with your teams,” Singh said. “Imagine meetings with your teams with Google Hangouts. As more and more people adopt it, the whole idea will be simpler.” The Google VP also noted that Google Hangouts and Google Apps can help with worldwide collaboration.

When it comes to competing with and taking criticism from Microsoft, Singh said the company is happy to be competing and that most people are switching from exclusively using Microsoft to Google. And there are even more customers to come.

“We’re past the early adopters,” Singh said. “We’re moving to mainstream companies and large corporations. In the next few weeks, we’ll announce another set of Fortune 500 companies.”

Watch the CloudBeat 2011 livestream here.

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

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VMware scraps company-issued phones, lets employees bring their own

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 04:18 PM PST

BYOM, or bring your own mobile, is the new mantra at virtualization software-maker VMware. The 10,000-person strong organization, founded in 1998, has chucked its company-issued phone policy in favor of something more hip to the modern mobile times.

VMware told all employees to BYOM a few weeks ago, Javier Soltero, CTO of SaaS and application services, said at the CloudBeat conference in Redwood Shores, Calif. (We’re livestreaming the event. You can watch it here.)

The radical change is actually a logical one for VMware, even if it does present new challenges in bill management, Soltero said.

“The rapid adoption of tablets and smartphones clearly means that employees have a different type of computer,” Soltero said. “The point of the post-PC era is that we’re working a little differently; we’re not tethered to a desk … and there’s got to be room for digital devices to lead that transformation.”

But aren’t there inherent security risks in letting employees BYOM? “We’re at a point today that you do have the ability to revoke access to email, exchange and calendaring environments for a device that isn’t in your control,” Soltero said. “Solving this problem has created tremendous opportunity [for VMware].”

He’s right. The company released a new product called Horizon Mobile Manager designed to help corporate IT departments effectively manage employee-owned smartphones. The product, in essence, virtualizes the employee’s mobile device by letting the organization run a separate, corporate-managed environment on the phone, and secure access to centrally managed data, apps and services.

Clearly the BYOM policy is less about winning favor with employees — but that’s a nice bonus, we’re sure — and more about showing potential clients the advantages of VMware’s Horizon Mobile Manager.

Filed under: cloud, mobile, VentureBeat

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Microsoft “not even relevant,” says Box CEO Aaron Levie

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 04:03 PM PST

Aaron Levie CloudBeat

Aaron Levie, the dynamic co-founder and chief executive of cloud-based file sharing company Box (until recently known as Box.net) doesn’t hold back when it comes to his competitors.

“If [Microsoft] Sharepoint happened to work, that’s what we kind of do,” said Levie at the 2011 CloudBeat conference.

Box claims about 77 percent of the Fortune 500 as its customers, though admittedly the integration is mostly department-wide, as opposed to company-wide. Proctor and Gamble, however, made a difference for the already successful company. P&G realized it had to do something different with its IT strategy, and Box stepped in. Like many of the Fortune 500 companies, P&G also started with a single department: Pampers.

“We brought diapers to the internet,” Levie jokes. “It was bottoms up.”

It was the start of large-scale adoption for Box. You have end-users who need a good interface, and then you have IT managers who need deep tools to control and, in essence, squeeze the file sharing software for all it’s worth. In order to stay afloat, cloud companies — particularly file sharing ones — need to develop for both kinds of customers. That’s what people in the industry refer to as the “consumerization of IT,” the ability to cater to both.

Levie’s company has had the good fortune to take advantage of a major shift in the way companies do business. According to Levie, there’s a shift away from the vertically-integrated company, like Apple, towards companies that specialize on the core parts of their business and spin off or outsource everything else.

“We think the world is moving away from the integrated vertical stack,” said Levie. “It drives complacency and cost increases.”

That plays well to Box’s strengths, since it can offer IT services that aren’t core to most companies’ businesses.

Perhaps more important than complacency is the fact that these vertical giants are starting to get more distracted due to the breadth of their offerings. Levie reminisced on venture capitalists in 2008 asking him, “Shouldn’t Microsoft just own collaboration in the enterprise?” And while at the time the answer was yes, today the leadership has changed hands to cloud startups with more focus, he said.

“Microsoft is so far behind that it’s not even relevant to talk to them,” Levie said.

Indeed, even Google is missing the mark.

“The best thing that ever happened for us is that Google got really distracted by the social networking wars,” said Levie. “They have not invested in enterprise offers as much as they could have, and I think that has left a massive amount of opportunities for startups.”

Box itself has seized on these growth opportunities. Recently, the company received an $81 million follow-on round that valued the cloud company at $600 million. Box announced its developer network titled /bin, or the Box Innovation Network, in addition to finally completing one of its hardest quests: Purchasing the box.com domain name and dropping “.net” from its own name.

Currently, the company has over 300 employees and has its sites on international expansion for the next year. International customers amount to about 20 percent of Box’s customers and 50 percent of its traffic.

Filed under: cloud

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Whitman says future of webOS will be decided in two weeks

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 03:49 PM PST

HP-TouchPadNew HP CEO Meg Whitman has a tough decision about what to do with webOS, so she’s given herself a little more breathing room by saying the final call will come in two weeks.

HP, which bought webOS-creator Palm last year for $1.2 billion, is in a precarious position about what to do with the troubled mobile operating system. After HP axed the HP TouchPad and then saw incredible demand for the discontinued device at a $99 fire-sale price, it was unclear what the best course of action would be. Many rumors have swirled about what the final fate of webOS, with sources saying Amazon wants the OS and a new report suggesting HP will keep webOS working for printers.

Whitman’s latest remarks on webOS came in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro that was spotted by The Verge. On top of saying the decision would come in two weeks, Whitman said “we need to have another operating system,” which presumably means Windows 8. But Windows 8 on tablets won’t come until 2012, so we’ll have to just see what happens with webOS and the 600 or so employees HP still has working on it.

In early November, Whitman said the company still was unsure what to do with webOS. "It's really important to me to make the right decision, not the fast decision," she reportedly said at the time to a room full of HP employees.

Filed under: mobile

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Heroku powers the New York Marathon as Platform as a Service (PaaS) picks up the pace

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 03:45 PM PST

Today, businesses can do all their application development in the cloud, thanks to Platform as a Service (PaaS) technology. This is a fast-moving trend in enterprise technology, and while it sounds dry, things start to get very interesting when it touches people’s lives.

For example, shoe maker Asics created a very visible PaaS web application for the New York City Marathon that tracked the position of runners through radio frequency identification (RFID) stickers on the bottoms of their shoes. The Asics app, SupportYourMarathoner, collected data from tens of thousands of runners at once, and beamed that information to the Web. The tool also let online viewers send personalized video messages to their friends and family members in the race, which played on screens along the marathon route.

It was a pretty hefty task, and one example of what could be accomplished with PaaS and the help of a company like Heroku.

Byron Sebastian, Heroku’s general manager and the vice president of platforms for Salesforce, was on hand today at CloudBeat 2011 to describe how PaaS is transforming enterprise application development. Heroku is a hosting platform that helps developers build and deploy applications created with Ruby on Rails, Node.js, and JavaScript and other popular programming languages. The company now hosts 500,000 applications from developers, which is an increase of 500 percent since the company was bought by Salesforce in December of 2010, said Sebastian.

The company is working with enterprises on a number of fronts. Social applications are becoming important to a growing number of businesses. Enterprise customers are also looking for ways to use mobile devices, such as the iPad, in their processes. Platform as a Service is at the heart of making business applications social as well as mobile. Heroku has developed the Heroku Facebook App Package, making it easier for developers to quickly build and scale up Facebook applications to take advantage of the social network’s enormous user base, and customer’s growing reliance on all things social.

Sebastian said that Heroku is a knowledge base that continually evolves. The data from older applications creates a richer experience. "The person who deployed the 500,000th application got much more value than the person who deployed a year ago," he said.

You can check out live video coverage of CloudBeat here: http://venturebeat.com/cloudbeat-2011-video/

Filed under: cloud, dev

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Big hardware & software companies are spreading FUD about the cloud (video)

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 03:34 PM PST

Chief information officers get pitched on “the cloud” more than the rest of us, but when it comes to dealing with legacy vendors — the big boys like Dell, HP and IBM — they might hear a lot more fear, uncertainty and doubt (a.k.a. FUD) than the rest of us, too.

At the CloudBeat conference today, we sat down with Scott Bils, a partner at Everest Group, a consultancy with an eye on the cloud. Bils told us quite a bit about the wool that vendors sometimes try to pull over executives’ eyes, and he gives some choice advice for CIOs considering new cloud technologies.

Stay tuned for more from CloudBeat today and tomorrow.

Filed under: cloud, video

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How Netflix went from DVDs to cloud-based video & where it’s headed next

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 03:30 PM PST

At the CloudBeat conference today, we got to talk to Netflix’s cloud architecture guru, Adrian Cockcroft.

Cockcroft took a moment to explain the massive changes Netflix had to go through to transition from a physical DVD rental company to a worldwide streaming video service. Of course, Netflix didn’t simply need the huge amount of bandwidth required for streaming video; it also needed to roll it out at human scale, and fast.

It was a tall order, and the company chose to work with Amazon Web Services to fulfill it.

Cockcroft also tells us a bit about how Netflix will continue to scale as its streaming media services branch out across new regions around the globe.

Stay tuned for more from CloudBeat today and tomorrow.

Filed under: cloud, video

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Cloudwashing: More money for less tech (video)

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 03:14 PM PST

At the CloudBeat conference today, we got to catch up with Randy Bias, CTO and co-founder of Cloudscaling.

Bias works with large enterprises and telecoms on cloud solutions for massive-scale applications — they call their products “the world’s largest clouds,” in fact.

So he knows a thing or two about what holds water in his industry and what doesn’t. In this brief interview, we chat about “cloudwashing,” the practice of applying an expensive-sounding “cloud” sticker to a run-of-the-mill technology.

Stay tuned for lots more from CloudBeat today and tomorrow.

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eBay lobbies Congress to keep sales tax off the Internet

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 02:00 PM PST

eBay is trying to prevent a new law from being passed that would require sales tax for online purchases.

Currently, online shoppers only pay sales tax on items purchased from a seller in the same state.

But a new proposed law, the Marketplace Equity Act of 2011 (or the Marketplace Fairness Act in the Senate), would allow states to collect sales tax from any buyer “without regard to the location of the seller.”

The tax would be waived for “small sellers,” which the bill defines as sellers with revenues less than $1 million annually.

The act has bipartisan support and is currently sponsored by 15 members of the House of Representatives.

"The nation’s retailers — both big and small — deserve to compete on a level playing field, and our bill provides the framework by which states can have the authority to compel remote sellers on the Internet to remit taxes due on purchases made online,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) in a statement.

"The exemption for small E-tailers will ensure that online start ups and small sellers will not face the same compliance requirements that are easily adopted by large online retailers."

Overstock will join eBay tomorrow at a congressional committee hearing to oppose the act. Amazon.com, however, supports the act.

eBay general counsel Todd Cohen told Cnet the company would support a sales tax bill with a much broader exception for small sellers. He also gave data that showed a year-over-year decline in small online retail businesses (those with less than $10 million in annual revenue) even as entities such as Amazon.com and established real-world retailers with an online presence grew.

The act is also supported by Sears Holdings, which includes Sears, Kmart and Lands End. A spokesperson for Sears stated, “This bill will level the sales tax collection playing field for all retailers… Although many customers don’t realize it, under current law, they have an obligation to pay taxes on all purchases. Most retailers calculate and collect the tax at the point of sale, as required by law. However, online-only merchants currently do not have to collect the tax broadly, leaving the customer with the responsibility of saving receipts and filing and paying use taxes for those purchases on their state income tax returns. This bill closes a loophole that has given a significant and unfair competitive advantage to a handful of online-only retailers, while hurting those that create jobs and invest in local communities.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Take Two CEO attacks Zynga for “sketchy” metrics and biz model

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 01:30 PM PST

Zynga‘s tens of millions of regular players and burgeoning revenues have many investors excited about its fast approaching Initial Public Offering, but Take Two CEO Strauss Zelnick is definitely not one of them.

Zelnick attempted to throw some cold water on that fiery excitement yesterday with comments that cut directly into some of the  social gaming leader’s perceived weaknesses.

Speaking at the Reuters Global Media Summit, Zelnick said he saw “disclosure issues” at the company, adding that investors should be made aware of the specific rate which old customers are frequently churned out for new ones in the company’s games.

“I would argue being the No. 1 player in [social gaming] is complicated, which is why Zynga hasn’t gone public yet because their metrics are sketchy,” Zelnick said.

The Take Two executive went on to call Zynga a “direct marketing company” — a term that raises images of pyramid schemes and late-night infomercials. He also took the company to task for having a player base where “ 97 percent… don’t pay them anything,” unlike Take Two and other traditional game publishers. He also noted that acquisition and marketing costs were increasing for Zynga, which has seen its profits fail to keep up with revenue growth in recent months.

Zelnick’s comments come days after a New York Times report suggested widespread employee dissatisfaction at Zynga. The company recently came under fire for allegedly issuing an ultimatum to employees, demanding that they return existing stock options or risk being fired. Zynga, however, claims that the incident is "based on hearsay" and showed Zynga "in a false and skewed light."

Earlier this year, Zynga failed in its attempt to purchase casual game giant Popcap for $750 million, due in part to the heavily measured, productivity-driven work environment in place at the FarmVille maker. The New York Times also reported that Angry Birds maker Rovio turned down a reported $2.25 billion offer from Zynga earlier this year.

Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

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So long childhood: GamePro magazine has been shut down

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 01:06 PM PST

After 22 years of publication, popular gaming magazine GamePro‘s U.S. operations have been shut down by its parent company IDG, VentureBeat has learned.

Multiple sources within the magazine confirmed that GamePro employees, including executives, received phone calls first-thing this morning with the dreaded news. GamePro’s U.S. website, which has been online for 13 years, will be incorporated into a gaming channel at sister site PCWorld on December 5. The majority of GamePro staff will be laid off.

“Basically, the entire [Gamepro US] portfolio is being shuttered,” a source at the magazine told VentureBeat.

The few remaining GamePro Media employees, including current president Marci Yamaguchi Hughes, will move to GamePro Custom Solutions, reports IndustryGamers. There they will create custom content for vendors and events.

The news comes after GamePro’s website saw its highest traffic ever last week (page views were double the normal amount, our source said), and after the company released its first quarterly magazine earlier this month (monthly print issues were too costly to keep up).

Even though moving to a quarterly publication schedule wasn’t a good sign for GamePro, employees were still proud of the final product, which was larger and featured higher-quality paper than the monthly issues.

The shutdown is a case of “creative success not falling in line with business success,” our source said. GamePro’s international operations, which include magazines in Spain, France, and Germany, will continue to operate. Though I can’t imagine that employees working at those locations are confident of their job security.

IDG will retain ownership of the GamePro brand, which means that it could eventually revive U.S. operations (don’t hold your breath for a new print magazine though). According to our source, it’s still unclear what’s going to happen to GamePro’s legacy content, some of which is “very valuable.”

GamePro was perhaps the first gaming magazine I began reading as a child, and it definitely helped to foster my unhealthy addiction to gaming. While the magazines quality wavered over time, I thought it was headed in a fine new direction with the recent website revamp and slick print design. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see GamePro reclaim its former glory.

Filed under: games, media, VentureBeat

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Nintendo’s 3DS Circle Pad Pro hitting Europe Jan. 27 with new Resident Evil

Posted: 30 Nov 2011 12:58 PM PST


Nintendo has announced that the controversial Circle Pad Pro attachment — which adds an extra thumbpad to the right side of the 3DS’ face buttons — will be coming to Europe along with the January 27 launch of Resident Evil: Revelations.

The game, which will be available for sale by itself and in a bundle with the Circle Pad accessory, doesn’t require a second thumbpad to play. However, the attachment will allow for what Nintendo calls “traditional twin stick shooter” play for the first-person title — allowing for easier, independent control of the player’s viewpoint. Capcom and Nintendo have not revealed European pricing for the game or the attachment.

Since its unveiling in September, many gamers have seen the Circle Pad Pro as a cumbersome, bulky and costly attachment that introduces a control feature that should have been included on the original 3DS hardware in the first place. Others have criticized the attachment for requiring its own AAA battery for power, rather than drawing energy from the 3DS’ rechargeable power supply.

The add-on is set for release in Japan on December 10, where it will come packaged with Capcom’s Monster Hunter Tri G or sold on its own for 1500 yen (about $20). A number of upcoming Japanese games have announced optional support for the Circle Pad, including Konami’s Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D, Namco Bandai’s Ace Combat 3D: Cross Rumble, Tecmo Koei’s Dynasty Warriors VS and Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance.

Nintendo has yet to announce if, or when, the Circle Pad Pro will hit North American shores. Resident Evil Revelations will launch in North America on February 7, though Capcom has confirmed the game won’t be bundled with the Circle Pad in the region. The game itself will be priced at the higher-than-normal price of $50, which is duelarger-than-normal 4GB cartridge memory costs, Capcom said.

Though 3DS sales fell well below initial expectations at launch, the system’s sales nearly tripled after a recent $80 price cut.  Sales have continued to accelerate during November, more than tripling between the weeks of November 6 and November 20 in the U.S.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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