02 December, 2011



EA acquires Superhero City maker Klicknation, adds to BioWare label

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 09:44 AM PST

The Klicknation development team behind Facebook titles like Superhero City and Age of Champions will now be known as BioWare Sacramento, following an acquisition by BioWare parent Electronic Arts.

The newly dubbed studio will join with existing studio BioWare San Francisco (formerly known as EA2D) to form a new BioWare Social business unit, the company announced today, with Klicknation CEO and co-founder Mark Otero at the helm.

While BioWare is best known for sprawling console RPGs like Mass Effect and highly anticipated upcoming MMO The Old Republic, BioWare San Francisco spun off the Dragon Age franchise into Facebook’s Dragon Age Legends, a minor hit with 140,000 currently active monthly users according to AppData.

“While developing social RPG experiences, we held BioWare as a role model for storytelling and game design,” Otero said in a statement. “Joining with BioWare and EA is an opportunity to realize our vision for bringing high-quality RPG titles to the fast-growing, highly-engaged core gamers looking for deeper experiences on social platforms.”

Klicknation is known primarily for its superhero-themed titles like Superhero City, one of the first Facebook RPGs to feature animated battles, and Age of Champions, which lets players join together for massive battles.

Together, Klicknation’s games currently draw around 350,000 monthly active users, according to AppData, a relative drop in the bucket compared to previous EA acquisitions like Popcap and Playfish, both of which draw millions of active users and cost EA hundreds of millions of dollars (terms for the Klicknation acquisition were not disclosed).

But the Klicknation purchase helps highlight the importance EA places on the social gaming market, which analysts predict will continue to grow at its current blistering pace for at least the next few years.

Despite the success of recent social releases like The Sims Social, EA still runs a distant second to market leader Zynga in the social gaming space, with roughly 57 million aggregate users compared to Zynga’s 215 million. For an idea of how important the market considers that difference, consider that Zynga’s recently detailed IPO will give the company a value over $1 billion higher than EA’s $7.8 billion market cap — this despite the fact that EA currently brings in over ten times as much revenue as Zynga.

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Where HP plans to take the cloud next (video)

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 09:08 AM PST

For “legacy” vendors like IBM, Dell and HP, there’s an interesting balance between maintaining existing products to support customers and introducing new products to keep up with changing environments and anticipate customers’ new needs.

At the CloudBeat conference today, HP CTO for cloud technologies Patrick Scaglia sat down for a frank chat about HP’s own practices in this area, including what changes the company has made to accommodate cloud-focused customers, what the company is doing in the present and where it sees the industry going in the near future.

The CloudBeat conference is wrapping up for now, but you can relive the magic by watching our other interviews with luminaries we’ve met with at the conference.

Filed under: cloud, video

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Kindle Fire ships over 3M units, may already be no. 2 tablet after iPad

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 08:22 AM PST


Amazon’s ultra-cheap Kindle Fire has already shipped between 3 and 4 million units and combined with news of excellent Black Friday sales last week, the Fire may already be the number two tablet after the Apple iPad.

As far back as August, analysts have predicted a less expensive, Amazon-made alternative to the iPad could sell up to 5 million units before the end of the year. Amazon appears to be making those predictions a reality with its Kindle Fire, which retails at $199 and can be used to read e-books, play casual games and download content like movies and TV shows. If it sells more than 5 million units, the Fire would be the best-selling Android-based tablet in the world, beating high-profile tablets from Samsung and Motorola.

The 3-to-4 million Kindle Fire unit shipping estimate comes courtesy of Digitimes. Citing unnamed sources, the report says Quanta — Amazon’s manufacturer — has already shipped up to 4 million units and will likely have 5 million shipped before the end of 2011.

The Kindle Fire launched Nov. 15 and features a 7-inch screen with 1024 x 600 resolution, a TI OMAP4 dual-core processor and 8GB of on-board storage. The tablet offers applications from Netflix, Facebook, Rovio, Electronic Arts, PopCap and more, which likely fueled adoption.

The Kindle Fire’s two largest competitors are the iPad, which retails for a minimum $499, and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, which runs for $249. The iPad does a whole lot more than the Kindle Fire but because it costs at least $300 more, penny-pinching consumers may not mind. The Nook Tablet offers better base specs and performance than the Kindle Fire, but it lacks a content ecosystem of movies, TV shows and music to download.

Filed under: media, mobile

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

The DeanBeat: Movie-like “set pieces” score big sales for video games

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

With games like Uncharted 3: Drake’s Fortune sweeping us off our feet this holiday season, gamers  are getting spoiled by video game “set pieces.” These are the crazy, over-the-top, movie-like action scenes that make your jaw drop. Like when Nathan Drake gets in a firefight on a cargo airplane with the ramp open and everything is being sucked out of the plane. As a player, you’re trying to get a bead on somebody shooting at you, but that damn wind just keeps blowing off your aim.

These kinds of scenes are usually the most memorable scenes in a game. But it was interesting to hear Justin Richmond, game director at Uncharted 3 creator Naughty Dog, describe how the developers went about creating these set pieces in our recent interview.

“One of the touchstone parts of Uncharted as a franchise is that you feel like you are playing in an action-adventure movie,” Richmond said. “What we try to do is we have these big amazing scenes that you would see in an action movie. In the previous game, it was a building falling down as a helicopter shot at you while you were inside the building, or the scene on the train where you were walking in a wobbly way on top of the train and were trying to shoot at the same time. In this one, it is the scene on the cruise ship where you are outrunning the rushing water and the scene on the cargo plane where you are trying to shoot while people are getting sucked out of the hole in the plane.”

Uncharted 3 doesn’t have just one or two of these scenes. It has one after another. The developers figure out the different elements they need from the characters, the environment, the physics, the game play, and the cinematics, or animated movie-like scenes and then put them all together for the net result: You feel like you are in control of the character as you play through a spectacular scene with many eye-popping scripted moments. They envision the set piece, and then build everything, including the story, around it. Hell, they might envision a set piece, and then tell Sony what kind of game console to make in the next generation.

That is exactly the kind of thinking that enables game developers to reach the top of their art form. They can entertain the daylights out of someone by stacking enough action into a game for 10 movies. That was how I described Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, which has set pieces such as a wild ride on a rubber speed boat as an entire fleet of Russian ships are attacked with missiles from one of their own submarines, or a scene where people are being sucked out of a damaged airplane and, in the midst of near zero-gravity, you have to shoot at terrorists who are floating in the air, just like you, before they get sucked out of the hole. (It’s interesting that the developers at Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games, the makers of Modern Warfare 3, chose the same kind of airplane-based set piece as Naughty Dog.)

In realistic games such as Electronic Arts’ recent Battlefield 3, there aren’t as many set pieces, and consequently, fans aren’t going as wild about them. In a Battlefield game, soldiers might jump off a helicopter and run into battle. But in last year’s Call of Duty Black Ops, as a soldier was sliding down a rope from a Huey helicopter, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter’s rotor and sent it spinning around. The soldier on the rope was swung around in circles and then crashed right through the window of a building. Then the soldier had to get up and get into a firefight with an overwhelming number of enemies. Which game would you rather play?

Set pieces have become a vital part of games that want to be like action movies. But if game developers push them too far, the audience won’t believe the experience. Or they might think it looks stupid. It’s a fine line. If you show a scene to a gamer that looks fake and feels fake, you’ll get a backlash. Sometimes, it pays to create tension without action, like in the scenes from the original BioShock, where you see shadows moving ahead that signal something bad is about to ambush you.  Maybe the industry will swing in a different direction and get tired of over-the-top action scenes.

But this year, these set pieces are the difference between games that might sell 10 million units and games that might sell 20 million units.

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Indie game developers look to Steam on the PC — instead of Xbox Live — for commercial success

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

Cthulhu Saves the World

Independent video game developer Zeboyd Games recently announced sales of its Cthulhu Saves the World + Breath of Death VII combo pack sold over 100,000 copies on PC digital retailer Steam in less than four months. In contrast, Cthulhu Saves the World has sold merely 20,000 copies on Microsoft's Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) service since December 2010, while Breath of Death VII has sold 55,000 copies since April 2010. Although Zeboyd Games founder Robert Boyd says the press release was not meant to be an intentional jab at Microsoft, it seems to drive home a point indie developers have been trying to make for quite some time: Xbox Live Indie Games is a lousy way to make a living.

Boyd voiced his dissatisfaction over the poor sales of his titles on the Xbox 360 console back in July in a blog post on the Zeboyd Games website. He said while both of his titles have sold well compared to other games on XBLIG, he thought the games could sell a lot better with a better platform and more visibility. "The sales for Cthulhu Saves the World were particularly disappointing – we put a lot of heart and soul into the game over a significantly longer period of development time and yet that extra effort didn't result in a similar increase in revenue," he said.

The Binding of IsaacSince releasing its titles on Valve’s Steam digital game distribution service on the PC, however, Zeboyd Games says it is ecstatic at the amount of success it's seen. "The days of worrying over whether or not we could support our families while making games we would want to play ourselves are behind us. Counter-intuitive though it may be, there is obviously a definite audience for quality console-style [role-playing games] that are aggressively priced on the PC."

Full told, there are 2,177 games listed in the indie games section of the Xbox web site. Microsoft says that indie game makers should market their own titles aggressively.

"Just like any other studio that makes games for Xbox, independent developers must put marketing efforts into their games in order for them to be successful," said Pete Isensee, principal program manager in the Xbox Advanced Technology Group at Microsoft.

But another developer who agrees with Boyd is Edmund McMillen. As co-founder of independent game developer Team Meat, which released last year's critically-acclaimed platformer Super Meat Boy, he's published titles on both the PC and Xbox 360 and sees Steam as the dominant platform for indie games.

“It's very easy to use, it's free, it has more games than any other distributor and they are extremely indie friendly. There’s really no contest there," he said.

McMillen's latest game, The Binding of Issac, an action role-playing game shooter loosely based on the Biblical story, was released on Steam on Sept. 28. He says it has sold around 200,000 copies so far. "Sales have been quite high, especially for a game that is so odd and alienating," he said.

A matter of quality

As a section within the larger Xbox Live online gaming service, Indie Games originally launched in 2008 under the name Community Games and can currently be found in the Games & Demos section of the Xbox Live Marketplace. It is generally viewed as an easy way for developers to create and sell their games on the 360 console. There's no need for a big studio, a large budget, or even formal training. Anyone with enough passion, time, and willingness to learn can potentially code and publish a game there using Microsoft's free Software Development Kit and XNA tools after undergoing a peer review process. But Boyd says Microsoft's failure to adapt its tightly-controlled approval system is a major problem.

"If this resulted in a higher quality library of games, it’d be fine, but it’s not," Boyd said. "Although there are usually only one to three new games on Xbox Live Arcade released each week, I can’t say that the quality is any higher than the average week on Steam (which tends to release games more frequently). In fact, a few of the XBLA releases are downright awful."

"The Xbox Live Indie Games service has fans at Microsoft that have done their best to help it succeed," he added. "Microsoft has run dashboard ads for the Indie Games Uprisings (promotions that were originally started by developers) and has run ads for various individual XBLIG titles as well. In fact, our own games were given a fair bit of promotion on Xbox Live in October. However, despite this, there’s a definite feeling that Indie Games is Xbox Live Arcade's ghetto and so the service and the individual games don’t get as much attention as developers would like."

Boyd spearheaded the Indie Games Winter Uprising last year in an effort to draw more attention to the indie games community and the quality of their work. This summer, a second Uprising attempted to do the same. One of the games showcased during the promotional event was the platformer Cute Things Dying Violently, the brainchild of 27-year-old programmer and game designer Alex Jordan. Jordan says his title has done well since its release on August 24, selling over 17,000 copies, and sees XBLIG as a great learning experience for developers. However, he thinks the service's inability to filter the good titles from the bad is a real problem. "The result is that people who approach XBLIG with fresh eyes see mostly crap and become jaded from there on out," he said.

Jordan says he'd love to get Cute Things Dying Violently on Steam and calls the PC "ground zero for the rebirth and run-amok success of indie games." By his own calculations, he says only four of the 24 developers who participated in the Uprising events are still creating games for Xbox Live Indie Games. Everyone else has moved on to PC or mobile.

It's not a case of "if you build it, they will come"

FortressCraftIt's certainly not impossible to find commercial success on Xbox Live Indie Games. FortressCraft, a sandbox building game released in April by Projector Games, is currently closing in on 600,000 copies sold, according to designer Adam "DJArcas" Sawkins. "That’s around 1.8 million dollars in gross," he said.

Having shipped 11 games on XBLIG so far, Sawkins says persistence is most important when it comes to indie success. He also says while Microsoft's choice of dashboard promotion sometimes baffles him, marketing is not the company's job. "The dash space is very limited, and a very successful indie game might bring in a whole $50,000 in revenue," he said. "Why would Microsoft give up space for something that might bring in a quarter million for an indie game that might only sell 1,000 copies?"

Microsoft recently posted a tip sheet for developers looking to raise awareness of their titles in the press, and Isensee says the upcoming Xbox 360 dashboard update on Dec. 6 will provide improved ways for consumers to find games from the indie community.

"Indie games on Xbox 360 are generating a growing revenue stream for developers," Isensee said. "In fact, the average revenue for the top 50 indie games is now well over $100,000 per title. When you consider the increasing install base of Xbox 360 consoles (over 960,000 consoles were sold in the U.S during the week of Black Friday 2011), it's clear that Xbox LIVE Indie Games is a great opportunity for developers."

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Explaining why to buy its stock, Zynga posts its IPO roadshow (video)

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 04:08 AM PST

Zynga has posted its pitch to investors in its upcoming initial public offering roadshow. The pitch is part of Zynga’s plan to raise $850 million to $1.15 billion in an IPO that values the company at $5.9 billion to $6.99 billion.

Zynga will deliver this 30-minute roadshow pitch to investors over the next nine days. It is expected to price its shares — now at a range of $8.50 to $10 a share — on Dec. 15 and begin trading as early as Dec. 16.

In the video, chief executive Mark Pincus explains the company’s mission to “connect the world through games.” Pincus says that “Play has become a core internet activity and it is the fastest growing activity on mobile.” He says Zynga is the leader in play, it has a scalable platform, a repeatable and profitable model, and its investment in social games is unmatched.

“We built the only scalable platform for social gaming and it delivers powerful network effects,” he said.

Pincus said that players are investing time in their hobbies and expressing themselves through play. CityVille is the most popular social game in the western world with 58 million daily users, Pincus said. He said a year ago Zynga grew CityVille to 20 million daily active users quickly because it was instantly social and it leveraged the Zynga tech stack.

Pincus said the company picks a category that will be popular with users, designs an accessible game that is easy to play, adjusts the game based on the data feedback, and grows it through powerful network effects. Pincus said the company has created 9 of the 10 largest social games of all time, with 227 million monthly active users, 54 million daily active users, or more players than the next 14 game companies combined on Facebook.

He said that social gaming will double to 1 billion users in the next five years. About 18 billion apps are being download and it will quadruple. About $9 billion is spent on virtual goods now and Zynga expects that to triple in five years. In the last year, Pincus said Zynga invested $500 million in the past year alone.

John Schappert, chief operating officer said there are 1 billion social network users among the 2 billion internet users. Zynga has a $1 billion slice of the $9 billion virtual goods market, which is a slice of the $49 billion gaming software market and the $1 trillion entertainment market.

“We believe it’s the most powerful business model in entertainment,” Schappert said.

The company generates about a quarter of the game, launches it, and continues to develop it over time. Players stay engaged for years, not just days or months. The free-to-play gaming model means players play for free and pay real money for virtual goods on an ongoing basis.In Empires & Allies, for instance, players can call in an air strike for 50 cents, or pay to join the VIP club in Zynga Poker for $5 a month.

Zynga games have been No. 1 on Facebook since January 2009. Zynga has four of the top five games. One of them is Zynga Poker, which is four years old.

On mobile, Zynga had 11.1 million daily active users in October, up from 991,000 a year earlier. That’s a much smaller share of the overall mobile gaming market. Zynga’s ad revenue is $55 million, up 162 percent from a year ago. Advertisers include Best Buy, which had a campaign where players in CityVille built 8 million new Best Buy stores in the game. Ads are just 5 percent of total revenues now, but are growing. The ads can be inserted long after the launch. While FarmVille launched in June 2009, the Lady Gaga sponsorship was launched in May 2011.

“Our games live on for years, and bookings continue to grow long after launch,” Schappert said.

Schappert said Zynga is a metrics-driven company and uses data to determine everything in its games. It constantly runs A/B tests. The company tested a new marketplace in FarmVille and saw a 9 percent increase in bookings simply because its appearance was better looking.

Schappert said the company will launch new games, enter new international markets, expand to new platforms from Google+ to Tencent to Zynga.com, and grow its markets in mobile.

“Why now?” Schappert asked. “We are entering the most active launch cycle in the history of the company.”

Dave Wehner, chief financial officer, said that Zynga has had 8 million customers buying virtual goods in the past year. Bookings grew 43 percent year over year in the first nine months of the year. He said FarmVille delivered record revenues in the ninth quarter after its launch, an indication of the longevity of Zynga’s games.

Older games continue to deliver as much revenue in 2011 as they did in 2010, Wehner said.

“In the last 12 months, we’ve made substantial investments in our development pipeline,” he said. R&D has expanded 2.5 times in the last nine months. Spending on infrastructure was $199 million, up from $62 million in 2010, as the company shifted from rented servers to Zynga’s own data centers, dubbed the zCloud.



Filed under: games, social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Zynga confirms plans to raise up to $1.15B at $8.9B valuation and start IPO roadshow

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 03:55 AM PST

Zynga plans to raise around $850 million to $1.15 billion at a $5.9 billion to $6.99 billion valuation in an initial public offering that will be priced on Dec. 15 and begin trading the next day. Counting options, the value would be $7.6 billion to $8.9 billion.

Finally setting its long-awaited initial public offering in motion, social game maker Zynga has set a price range for its offering and has unveiled its investor roadshow pitch for why company executives think it is a good investment. Zynga originally filed to go public in July 1.

Moments ago, Zynga filed new papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission that set the price range for its IPO at $8.50 to $10 a share. The company is reportedly planning to issue 100 million shares and go public on Dec. 16. Zynga is issuing about 14.3 percent of its shares. Total shares outstanding after the offering will be 699.3 million shares. Zynga may issue $15 million more than it previously indicated it would raise when it filed its original papers.

[Update: Zynga has 200 million or so options issued as well, which means that the fully diluted valuation is higher at $7.6 billion to $8.9 billion. If you add $2 billion in cash, from the $1 billion in the bank and the $1 billion to be raised, then Zynga's value would be more like $9.6 billion to $10.9 billion in terms of the total enterprise value.]

The valuation is much lower than the $15 billion to $20 billion that was rumored as Zynga’s expected valuation when it first filed. By comparision, rival Electronic Arts is valued at $7.7 billion today. And Activision Blizzard is valued at $14 billion. The pricing shows just how volatile market valuations have been.

Mark Pincus, chief executive, isn’t planning on selling any shares. Pincus will control about 36 percent of the voting power of Zynga after the offering is complete.

The price of the offering is subject to change, given that Zynga will now begin a nine-day roadshow to pitch investors about why it is valuable. Still, the expected valuation is below previous estimates. Zynga’s profit growth has slowed and its user numbers have declined. AppData reports that Zynga’s monthly active users are about 215 million, compared with 232 million in July.

Zynga will trade under the stock symbol ZNGA on the Nasdaq stock market. In its offering statement, Zynga said it has 227 million monthly active users and 54 million daily active users. The company’s social games such as CityVille are played 2 billion minutes per day.

Just two weeks ago, the company said a third-party analysis had valued Zynga at $14.05 billion, which is about the same as Activision Blizzard, the largest video game publisher, with four times Zynga’s revenues.

But Zynga is still on top of the Facebook charts. CityVille, which is a year old today, still has 49.7 million monthly active users. And the newly launched CastleVille has more than 20.8 million users, making it one of the fastest, if not the very fastest, growing games in all of history. CastleVille launched just 17 days ago. Zynga said its games are played by more daily users than the next 14 social game developers combined.

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.

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.

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

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

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

Pincus closed the video by saying that Zynga is launching more new games than at any time in its history.

“We’re excited and we hope you are too,” he said in closing.

To view the video, click on this link.

Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

From castles to card games: a rundown of Zynga’s biggest titles

Posted: 02 Dec 2011 03:31 AM PST


Zynga is the most recognizable name in social gaming. Facebook members and iPhone owners alike have seen Zynga’s games continuously rise and fall from the top of the charts over the past few years, and with CastleVille’s launch earlier this month, it is unlikely that will change any time soon. The company is likely to go public soon and raise a ton of money, so we thought we would show this primer on Zynga’s social games so everyone can see what the fuss is all about. These simple, time-consuming titles have taken the  world by storm, bringing in hundreds of millions of users internationally since Zynga’s beginning in 2007.



Let’s begin with the most recent, and fastest growing, Zynga game – CastleVille, released on November 14, 2011. CastleVille follows closely in the footsteps of the other graphical ‘Ville games, focusing on maintaining a kingdom while fighting off monsters called Beasties and exploring the overwhelming Gloom that has swept over the land. The only way to advance into the Gloom is by increasing your Castle Level, which requires actions such as building protective walls. As your character levels up, more buildings, tools and perks become available.

Given its medieval oeuvre, CastleVille feels a little more like an RPG than previous outings, which might draw in some of the social game detractors and those who have tired of the repetitive formula of Zynga’s recent games. CastleVille aims to be yet another resounding success for the prolific company, and as we have reported previously, this title has surpassed CityVille as the fastest growing launch for a Zynga game yet. As of yesterday, CastleVille had 20.8 million monthly active users on Facebook, according to AppData.

Mafia Wars 2

Mafia Wars 2

If any of the Zynga Facebook games warranted a sequel, it had to be Mafia Wars. Mafia Wars 2 launched on October 10th, and this follow-up to one of the most infamous of Zynga’s arsenal of games completely overhauls the text- and menu-based original to keep it in line with the current generation of graphics and combat-fueled ‘Ville games. Of course, the sentiment is the same: make money, expand your turf, earn street cred and don’t get shot (too much). The Bone Yard is a nice addition for those feeling the need to take out their aggression on tiny avatars of other players.

The recent Zynga games (like many of the older Zynga games) have a specific formula to them, which might be why a game about gangsters feels strikingly similar to a game about medieval kingdoms and another game about a burgeoning empire on a group of islands. Regardless, Mafia Wars 2 is still bringing in over 11.3 million users a month, hanging in there as one of Zynga’s 10 most played games on Facebook.

Empires and Allies

Empires & Allies

Empires & Allies is one of the first of the genre-specific Facebook games by Zynga, and was released on June 1 of this year. It follows in the footsteps of CityVille and FarmVille in terms of resource management, but the story and combat are reminiscent of real-time strategy games. Players must lead an army against the villainous Raven to regain the glory of their nation. You are initially given a small island in which to militarize and begin your siege on the enemy, but expansion is encouraged as more islands open up. It’s the first real Zynga game where combat is the core game mechanic. But the cartoon style is meant to appeal to more than hardcore gamers.

This military-centric ‘Ville also offers a relatively robust player vs. player option for those looking to show off their impressive armies. You can choose to invade other players’ islands in order to take over some of their production and gain extra cash. Empires & Allies maintains 18.2 million members, all of whom can’t help but continue the battle.



Happy birthday to Zynga’s CityVille. Released on Dec. 2, 2010, the title is Zynga’s most popular game, consistently bringing in the most users of any Facebook game. In CityVille, players start off with a small plot of land to populate with houses and farms, growing in level and collecting rent until they can expand their land and their city alike. As you can tell from the screen above, investment in CityVille certainly pays off visually, with sweeping skyscrapers and crowded streets covering the terrain.

This socialized SimCity might not have quite as many gameplay elements as Empires & Allies or CastleVille, but the scope of progression and the grandeur of the cities has clearly grasped millions of players and refuses to let go. Even a full year after its release, CityVille receives over 49.7 million players every month. In other words, this is the biggest Facebook game of all time, and that title won’t be wrested from CityVille’s hands easily.

The Pioneer Trail

The Pioneer Trail (FrontierVille)

Another ‘Ville in the vein of FarmVille, FrontierVille, released on June 9, 2010, plops players in the midst of the Old West, tasked with fending for themselves among the wilderness. If you weren’t paying close enough attention, you might have mistaken this for FarmVille with a slightly anachronistic paint job, and you wouldn’t be too far off. Players farm, plant crops, raise animals, and basically complete FarmVille tasks in a new setting.

Lo and behold, over a year after its launch, Zynga decided to revamp FrontierVille with a new plot, new gameplay elements, and even a new name. The Pioneer Trail was born. This time, although the core FarmVille mechanics remain for those who prefer the Wild West to a modern farm, there is a fully fleshed out adventure players can embark on with three friends (NPCs or other players). This mode breaks the mold of Zynga’s other social games, with cutscenes, non-player characters, and even an ending, but it doesn’t stray too far from its roots in terms of actual gameplay. The Pioneer Trail is still inhabited by over 5.6 million monthly users.

Words With Friends
Words With Friends

Possibly usurping the Wars and the ‘Villes as the most recognizable Zynga property, Words With Friends was not actually designed by the company. Newtoy, Inc. was bought by Zynga after the release of both Chess With Friends and Words With Friends, released in July 2009. But Words fits rather well here in the middle of rundown considering Zynga’s very first title, Zynga Poker. Zynga’s acquisition of the With Friends series complements their original poker title perfectly, even more so now that Zynga Casino is on the way.

Words With Friends is basically online Scrabble with fantastic Facebook integration and simple asynchronous gameplay. Players can start a game with a random opponent or with a friend, either by username or Facebook handle. The game can be played at whatever pace the players choose, and multiple games can be played at once. The game still brings in over 12.3 million users a month. Earlier this year, Zynga With Friends (formerly Newtoy, Inc.) released their third title Hanging With Friends, another iOS success.



If FarmVille succeeded in anything (other than making gobs of cash), it helped break down the wall between gamers and non-gamers. Nearly everyone with a Facebook account planted some corn and raised a few chickens since FarmVille’s release on June 19, 2009, regardless of gender or age. Plus, the basic farming mechanics of FarmVille have appeared in several of the more recent Zynga games, further proving the basic formula’s longevity. FarmVille was Zynga’s first break0ut hit.

FarmVille might be the most simplistic of the ‘Villes. Players own a small farm in which they must plant crops, raise animals…and that’s pretty much it. As players complete these tasks, their level increases and more animals and crops become available to purchase. If you have any neighbors, you can visit their farms and help fertilize their crops and harvest the milk from their cows. Incredibly, FarmVille still rakes in a crowd of over 30 million farmers a month, right behind its graphically superior successor, CityVille. FarmVille recently passed up The Sims Social to become the second-largest game on Facebook again.



The father of the ‘Villes, YoVille, launched in May 2008, took a page from The Sims’ book and gave us a home to decorate and reside in, along with a static town to explore. This is yet another of Zynga’s purchases, one that later spurred them to continue the top-down, avatar creation, social games such as FarmVille and CityVille. YoVille is much simpler than Zynga’s successive games, mainly focusing on being social with other players’ avatars rather than reaching certain goals.

With all the new properties Zynga has introduced over the past few years, YoVille shows its age. The graphics and lack of any real gameplay might turn off new players, but the game still brings in over 2 million users a month, quite an impressive feat for a game as old as this.

Mafia Wars

Mafia Wars

Mafia Wars is the social game that started it all. No Facebook user has managed to escape at least one or two requests to join the Mafia since this game’s launch in early 2008. Mafia Wars, unlike most of Zynga’s more recent titles, including Mafia Wars 2, is a browser based game as opposed to a graphics based one. Players have a limited amount of rechargeable health, stamina, and energy with which to complete tasks and fight other players. Fighting stats are another factor determining which player is more likely to win in a fight.

Throughout its lifetime, Mafia Wars has increased in size by adding cities, which serve as expansion packs of sorts. Some of these cities have remained a permanent part of the game, but others, such as Moscow and Bangkok, were only around for a limited time. The original Mafia Wars, despite the introduction of its sequel, still has over 3.2 million users a month.

Zynga Poker
Zynga Poker

Of course, before Zynga invaded our social networks and mobile phones with farms, mafias, cities and castles, there was Zynga Poker, launched in July 2007. To this day, it remains one of the most played Zynga apps, with almost 29.6 million users every month. This is one of the most popular online poker games of all time. It functions like most other Texas Hold ‘Em games, but as with most of Zynga’s titles, players have the ability to level up. Leaderboards allow friends to compete for better rankings and everyone has the option to send gifts to their friends as well.

The game is available in a multitude of languages across nearly every platform imaginable, and it was recently announced that Zynga Poker would become part of a bigger Zynga franchise: Zynga Casino. All we know for now is that Zynga Poker and Zynga Bingo will be included in this package.


Zynga is a dominating force in today’s social gaming market. Despite the controversy and the shrinking profits, no one can deny the effect Zynga has had on gamers and (previously) non-gamers alike. These might be 10 of the most recognizable Zynga titles, but here are some of the others which still garner millions and millions of fans every month, including Zynga’s latest mobile titles:

Adventure World, Blackjack, CafĂ© World, Dream Zoo, Drop 7, FishVille, PetVille, Scramble, Treasure Isle, Vampire Wars, Chess With Friends, Mafia Wars Free, CityVille Hometown, Word Scramble, Hanging With Friends, Drop 7, and Word Twist.

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Is email still powerful in the age of social networks? (infographic)

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 07:58 PM PST

With Twitter at 300 million accounts and Facebook nearing 1 billion users, it's hard to imagine that email will remain a dominant source of communication in years to come.  In a world of short tweets and Facebook unified messages, why would one take the time to find an address and write an email? Simple – are you friends with your boss or clients on Facebook?  Okay, maybe they are (and yes, you should probably accept their friend requests).  This infographic (embedded below), courtesy of VisibleGains shows that email is here to stay. Consider this: more than three times the number of email accounts as Facebook accounts.

Facebook and Twitter may have growing user bases, but when it comes to messaging, email is king.  Each day, 188 billion emails are sent from nearly 3 billion accounts.  Facebook and Twitter don't even come close to this level of activity – a mere 60 million Facebook updates and 140 million Tweets are sent every day.

Even so, email gets a bad rap.  And understandably so: the enormous amount of spam and graymail (unwanted newsletters, promotions, etc) have created a terrible stigma for email, but social networks still aren't going to replace it.  Instead, email will evolve to become both a personal and social messaging tool.  If an email is personable and includes information the receiver actually cares about, there's huge potential to build a great relationship.

Looking forward, what's in store for the future of email? Is email dead? Many teens and Gen Y folk detest email.  And why not? The Siri's of the world are encouraging us to give up the keyboard and the speed up the nature of how we communicate altogether.  Still, business is business.  Email is still considered a professional medium, I'd find it hard to imagine all business conducted through poking and retweeting.

Brian Wallace is the President of NowSourcing, a premier social media firm specializing in infographic design, development and content marketing promotion. The company is based in Louisville, Ky. and works with companies that range from small business to Fortune 500.

Is Email dead?

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

WD resumes hard drive production after Thailand floods

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 06:39 PM PST

Western Digital, one of the world’s biggest storage companies, said today that it has resumed hard drive production in Thailand as flood waters recede in that country. But shortages will likely still happen in the current and future quarters.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company said in a statement today that the restoration of the company’s factories in Thailand had progressed  better than expected and that production has resumed this week. One-time charges will be about $225 million to $275 million for the December quarter, and the company is going to make a business insurance claim of $50 million and file an unspecified claim for business interruption as well. But now it believes its upcoming quarterly results will be at the high-end of its previous estimates, which were made in the midst of the flooding.

Specifically, the company said:

It restarted production of hard drives this week in one of its buildings in Bang Pa-in (BPI), Thailand, a week ahead of schedule. This factory had been submerged in six feet of water since Oct. 15. The area was pumped dry on Nov. 17, main power was restored on Nov. 26, and production restarted Nov. 30.

The company has also removed all submerged slider manufacturing equipment from the BPI facilities for assessment, decontamination and refurbishment. It has begun decontamination and restoring of its remaining buildings. WD expects to restart head slider production in BPI in the March 2012 quarter and begin production in a new WD slider factory in Penang, Malaysia at aboutt he same time.

The company’s other Thailand hard drive facilities at Navanakorn remain under approximately two feet of water. The industrial estate is expected to be pumped dry within ten days at which point the work of decontamination and refurbishment will begin.

WD said it expects revenue of $1.8 billion in the December quarter and gross margins at 18 percent to 23 percent. Net cash will likely be about flat in the December quarter compared to the previous quarter.

The company believes that hard drive industry shipments in the December quarter will be limited to approximately 120 million units due to production and supply constraints related to the floods. This number includes units that were in inventory at the beginning of the quarter. The company believes that demand for the December quarter is in the range of 170 million to 180 million units. The company believes that shortages will continue in the March quarter and beyond.

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Twilio and Zendesk are best buds in the cloud, where collaboration is easy

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 05:24 PM PST

zendesk twilio cloudbeat

Twilio and Zendesk are the perfect example of how the cloud supports collaboration not just between people, but between companies as well.

The two companies’ technologies fit so well together, you’d think they gave each other friendship bracelets. Twilio is a developer centric company, that focuses on providing application programming interfaces (APIs), allowing developers to more easily integrate telecommunications into their creations. Zendesk is a customer service center, which companies can add as a widget to their websites. It creates tickets for customer queries, and is branded as the company.

What is the natural connection between a customer service center and a telecommunications connector? Creating a call center for customer inquiries, something that both Zendesk and Twilio use for their own operations.

It’s these sort of connections that show how an amorphous cloud allows you to connect and use other businesses’ technology more easily. Twilio and Zendesk aren’t the only ones. Last week, when Tumblr wanted its users to call Congress to resist the SOPA, or Stop Online Piracy Act, it used Twilio deeply. The integration resulted in 87,834 calls to Congress.Intuit also uses Twilio as a security measure for payroll files. When access is requested, Twilio calls the employee with a five digit pin to be inputted before access is granted.

In the future, Twilio and ZenDesk plan on expanding future into the United Kingdom and other European cities. An effort that has shown that even the cloud can’t escape the regulations of the “real world.” Expansion into other countries requires following foreign telecommunication companies’ terms. Indeed, even in the US, Zendesk is regulated by the government. Its newest terms of services requires that you not create a Zendesk that competes with 911.


Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Movie studio DreamWorks takes to the cloud

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 05:20 PM PST

Hello, cloud? Hollywood is calling. That’s right. DreamWorks, the innovative motion pictures studio known for blockbuster animation flicks like Shrek, is so hip to the cloud that it’s now outsourcing 20 percent of its compute capacity to it.

So who’s the lucky beneficiary of all this Hollywood limelight? None other than HP, the world’s largest tech company in terms of revenue, but a relatively new entrant to the cloud services space.

“Last year, we were rendering five percent of our films in cloud. This year, we’re pushing 20 percent of our overall compute capacity to the cloud,” Derek Chan, head of global technology operations at DreamWorks, said at the CloudBeat conference in Redwood Shores, Calif.

Chan added that DreamWorks has been working with HP on cloud-related endeavors since 2003 and continues to work with the company because of its commitment to open technologies and transparency.

HP, which is generally perceived as being behind the curve in the cloud arena, operates a public cloud, based on OpenStack, and prides itself on its contributions to the open source movement, its growing ecosystem, and the visibility it offers customers, HP CTO of cloud services Patrick Scaglia said.

“The notion of building a web infrastructure at scale is important to us,” Scaglia said of HP’s decision to leverage both OpenStack and VMware’s Cloud Foundry.

And the strategy seems to be working, as HP has a least one big believer in powerhouse and uber-cool studio Dreamworks.

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Skyrim development tools being handed to gamers

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 05:01 PM PST

Any PC gamers interested in playing with Bethesda Softworks’ development tools, as used to create their hit game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, will get their opportunity in the new year.

The official Bethesda Softworks blog has revealed that these tools will be released to the general public in the form of a Creation Kit, in January 2012. The tools will help users to ‘mod’ the game, introducing elements of their own, and tweaking existing  features, which can then be shared with the community.

Even without the Creation Kit, the Skyrim community has begun successful modding (slang for modifying) of the game, with texture packs, translucent horses, giant chickens and, somewhat inevitably, naked ladies already doing the rounds.

Valve’s Steam Workshop is going to be integrated into the Creation Kit, making it easier than ever before for the community to share its work. As reported on the blog “You'll have free user content with the push of a button. The Creation Kit will bundle your mod and upload it to the Workshop, where everyone can browse, rate, and flag mods for download.” Bethesda go on to note that you will be able to do this from any web enabled device, including your smartphone.

Skyrim has had a strong opening few weeks, with over 7 million copies being shipped to stores. Bethesda Softworks is now visibly supporting its game post-release, with Patch 1.2 arriving this week, addressing some control and gameplay issues. The blog states that a further incremental patch will be coming out next week, that will fix issues like magic not calculating properly. It should also kill off the “rare, amazing backwards flying dragon” that has been recently sighted in the game.

Filed under: games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

The CloudBeat Innovation Showdowners are changing the cloud, check out who won

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 05:00 PM PST

innovation showdown winner

The cloud, like any industry, needs innovation and with that naturally comes founders looking to make your products better, or come up with something new.

Nine founders presented at VentureBeat’s CloudBeat conference with ways to make IT mangers feel more comfortable with the cloud, ways to use the cloud as a customer service center and more. We grabbed our four judges Luis Robles a venture capitalist with Sequoia Capital, Robert Abbott a general partner with Norwest Venture Partners, John Lee a director at SVB Accelerator, and Steve Phillpott chief information officer at Amylin Pharmaceuticals.

Check out our competition contestants and find out who won!

Cloudify makes it easier for companies to move into the cloud. The transition for an IT department can be daunting, but Cloudify’s platform as a service, allows mangers to access and regulate the move to the cloud and cloud usage there after. The company built it’s platform on the Ruby coding language, and used Amazon’s Web Services API, to allow IT managers access to AWS’ software archives. One implemented, you can watch cloud usage and set limits on spending, an issue many companies have dealt with. It also allows for credit card purchases.

myERP chief executive Francois Nadal believes that business apps are too complex and haven’t changed in the last ten years. So, he created a search based manager, which houses all the separate applications we employ in small businesses today. These include a customer relationship manager, invoicing, project, accounting, inventory and more, all integrated into Google Apps.

Nadal says, “You don’t need to understand myERP, myERP understands you.”

The search function understands natural language, such as “What is my profit?” and a drop down will show the profits and loss sheet, with editing capabilities. myERP is focused on small to medium sized businesses, and considers itself in competition with QuickBooks.

In the BYOD, or bring your own device, world that businesses are moving toward, security and control are big concerns for IT managers. Oxygen Cloud tries to solve for the BYOD desires of both the business side and the IT side. Employees on the business side want to be able to access files from anywhere, on the phone, iPad and on their computers. There’s no real way to be synced up other than using file sharing products DropBox or Box, which usually gives IT managers the security willies. So, Oxygen Cloud created its SaaS product that allows IT managers to connect not to an Oxygen Cloud server, but rather their own server. They can control who is able to access specific files, and pull files back in seconds when a person has been taken off permissions.

OfficeDrop also connects head quarters and workers in the field through file sharing, but it doesn’t end with the ability to share and manage users. Its mobile application allows small businesses to create and share files in the field. The company used the example of a cleaning service. At the end of a job, cleaners would need to fill out a proof of completion sheet, and take a picture of their work for the executives back at head quarters. Using the mobile app, workers can scan the completed sheet and take the picture of their cleaned room, which is created into a file and sent to the file share dashboard.

OfficeDrop does offer a freemium model, but has a subscription model for larger businesses.

For TalkDesk, “phone is still king.” That is to say, customers still want to talk to someone on the phone when they are looking for customer service. But this is a very hefty expense on the small business side. To lift a bit of the load, TalkDesk using Twilio’s APIs created a way for people to call in and be directed to appropriate employees within the SMB, avoiding creating and employing an entire call center. But it goes deeper than a voice over IP application. You can choose numbers in different locations and countries, and dedicate them to different causes, for instance, sales. After you’ve chosen the “agents” or employees in your business who will receive these calls, you can tag them with a certain department. This leads the application to direct the call to that specific person.

The application keeps a record of calls, transcripts and contact information associated with the calls, and allows you to input contacts as well. If you have an existing CRM, you can tether it to TalkDesk, which supports Salesforce, Google Contacts, SugarCRM, and more.

Storing your data and applications in public or private clouds doesn’t have to be an anxiety-ridden experience. At least that’s the promise of VirtualSharp Software.

The company makes next-generation disaster recovery tools for clouds. Its value proposition is that its potentially lifesaving service requires no installation and is fully automated.

VirtualSharp has several dozen paying customers, CEO Carlos Escapa explained to the judges, and has just added new features to enable public cloud providers to offer disaster recovery services.

Visier, a startup going after report-hungry organizations, hopes to revolution the analytics market. Its approach is to do most of the heavy-lifting, automate analytics and eliminate the time it takes for a company to go from analytics to reports — a process, strategies and solutions head Dave Weisbeck said, normally takes most organizations nine months to complete.

Visier’s first product, workforce analytics, is an application that takes in an organization’s employee data and spits out insights and predicators on things like attracting and retaining top talent.

If small businesses are going to market themselves effectively and standout from the crowd, they need great business management tools that run on mobile devices. Xiimo thinks it’s mobile-friendly dashboard and point-of-sale system is the key to small business success.

The startup makes software that enables the small business owner to publish and distribute promotions, accept mobile payments, manage loyalty incentives and programs, track customers and manage the entire purchase process. The system integrates with Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook for easy social distribution, and connects to PayPal and Kiva for financial assistance.

And the winner of the Innovation Showdown is…

Zadara Storage meanwhile, explained co-founder Mark Spowart, provides enterprise-class storage in public clouds. The startup allows customers to build their own private virtual storage arrays in the cloud. “Every time we give you an element, we dedicate it you,” Spowart said.

The solution is meant to replicate the standard data center array and help organizations bring IT applications into the cloud that could otherwise exist there securely, provide them with privacy and individual user control, and let them create virtual arrays in seconds.

Filed under: cloud

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

With 10M players a day, Zynga’s CityVille is about to hit its one-year anniversary

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 04:17 PM PST

Zynga‘s CityVille turns one tomorrow and it’s still the No. 1 game on Facebook.

With more than 10 million daily active users, the game has proven that a social game can still have a lot of staying power, even though the barriers to entry for new Facebook games are low and lots of new rival games appear on the social network every day.

The social game has more than 49.7 million monthly active users on Facebook, according to AppData. That makes it the No. 1 app by far. Ranked at No. 2 is FarmVille at 30.9 million and The Sims Social — which was the biggest threat to CityVille just a month or so ago — at No. 3 with 30.4 million users.

Electronic Arts’ The Sims Social started growing like weeds in August, but more recently it has slowed and CityVille has begun to widen its lead over the EA game.

Zynga says there are 1,482,404,157 neighbor connections that have happened in CityVille and 4.5 billion bandits have been captured.

CityVille has 41 percent male players and 53 percent female. (The rest are undetermined). The most popular CityVille cargo ship destination is Paris. Average CityVille sessions per player is five.

Filed under: games, social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Why MarketScout uses Heroku over other PaaS providers

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 04:01 PM PST

Abhinav Keswani MarketscoutMarketScout is a lean Australian startup that’s dependent on other cloud services to make it run, so when it came to deciding on a Platform-as-a-Service provider, the company had an important decision to make. They chose Salesforce-owned Heroku and still use it today.

MarketScout CTO Abhinav Keswani talked with AdWeek reporter (and former VentureBear writer) Anthony Ha on stage at CloudBeat 2011. Keswani explained that the company, which acts as large-scale research platform for other businesses, chose Heroku over competitors like Engine Yard and Rackspace because it could help the company develop the form and function of the product rather building the infrastructure to serve the product.

“At the outset, we believed that we needed an elastic platform to help us deploy our application,” Keswani said. “We wanted to build a scalable architecture to serve our enterprise customers. And Heroku has a rapid deployment lifecycle that assists with frequent iterations of change.”

In an interesting parallel, Heroku has grown up and added more abilities as MarketScout has grown as well.

“The platform has changed with added functionality and the ability to support multiple languages,” Keswani said. “No platform-as-a-service today could survice with just one language.”

Keswani especially liked the fact that Heroku offers you a choice and doesn’t keep you from leaving if you want to move the applications.

“What happens if you don’t use Heroku tomorrow?” Keswani said. “The offering they have actually allows you to move it to somewhere else. It’s not as easy as waving a magic wand, but you can relocate if you want to.”

Sydney, Australia-based MarketScout was founded in mid-2010 and currently has 10 employees. The company is currently self-funded but exploring opportunities for a large first round of funding.

Filed under: cloud

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

The “cloud” bubble: Avoiding the jargon & finding the money (video)

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 03:50 PM PST

If you’ve had just about enough of “leveraging infrastructures” and “cloud-based platforms-as-a-service” and 10-year-old engineers raising $100 million for fancy-sounding vaporware, this is a good interview for you to watch.

Vineet Jain has been around the block when it comes to tech industries, and the guy knows how to turn a trend into a profitable business. Previously, Jain founded and sold Valdero, a supply chain software provider. These days, he’s working on Egnyte, a hybrid cloud technology company.

At the CloudBeat conference today, we talked with Jain about how the current bubble — including a few “cloudy” companies — is likely to pan out, and what to make of expensive-sounding technologies in a rapidly evolving business environment.

The CloudBeat conference is wrapping up for now, but you can relive the magic by watching our other interviews with luminaries we’ve met with at the conference.

Filed under: cloud, video

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

South Park RPG? Yes — Matt Stone & Trey Parker to collaborate with THQ, Obsidian on new game

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 02:34 PM PST

South Park

The foul-mouthed residents of South Park are coming soon to the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in a new role-playing game from publisher THQ and developer Obsidian Entertainment.

Game Informer broke the news earlier today when it revealed South Park: The Game as the cover of its January issue. THQ and Obsidian will collaborate with South Park Digital Studios on the project. Series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone will oversee development of the game, as well as write the script and perform the dialogue.

As the new kid in South Park, it’ll be up to the player to make friends and defend the town from a wide range of threats, according to Game Informer. THQ describes the game as an “epic role-playing adventure” that will allow the player to explore the Colorado town like never before.

"Our goal is simple: to put creative talent first," said Danny Bilson, EVP Core Games, THQ. "Matt and Trey are arguably two of the most important comedic talents of their generation. Bringing their vision of South Park to the interactive space is a dream-come-true.”

South Park: The Game is scheduled to be released in the second half of calendar 2012.

Image via GameInformer

Filed under: games, media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

myERP simplifies cloud-based business management with new app

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 02:32 PM PST

myERPmyERP, a cloud-based business management suite for small and medium-sized businesses, just got a major upgrade with a simplified and refined interface.

CEO Francois Nadal took the stage today at CloudBeat 2011 to participate in the conference’s Innovation Showdown, and to show off how the new app works. The application looks almost like a Google search bar, and when you input bits of information, the app recognizes natural language and opens up other boxes to help you get your work done. For example, typing “create new customer” opens a panel where you can add customer information. Or, if you type a customer’s name, that person’s data appears in a new panel. "Show my leads" will pop up your active business leads.

The simple-but-powerful application can help business users with CRM, accounting, invoicing, project tracking, inventory management and document tracking. So far, the application has attracted more than 45,000 registered users from more than 100 countries. Nadal expects the new application to convince many more business customers to sign up.

“With myERP, small businesses can avoid buying multiple expensive and complex applications that don’t talk their language and don't even communicate with each other,” said Nadal in a statement. “There is no need for special training or support to learn how to use myERP.com. If you can type, you can run your company and get your business done.”

myERP is free for two users, and each additional user costs $29 per user per month. Nadal stands behind the product enough that he’s comfortable letting two users tap into the service for free because he’s convinced they will like it enough to get more people involved. You can sign up for the app from the Google Apps Marketplace or direct from myERP.com.

San Francisco-based myERP currently has 15 employees and has raised $4 million in capital from Altos Ventures, Siparex and a few other angel investors.

Watch a video of myERP’s simplified app in action below:

Filed under: cloud, enterprise, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

CIO says supporting iPhone and iPad led to 92% reduction in broken devices

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 02:26 PM PST

After switching to support Apple mobile devices internally at RehabCare Group, a physical therapy provider with more than 9,000 employees, the company saw a 92 percent reduction in broken devices, CIO Dick Escue said.

Escue recounted the healthcare provider’s switch to support Apple products a few years ago at the CloudBeat conference in Redwood Shores, Calif (you can watch the livestream here). He referred to Apple’s decision to support Microsoft Exchange as one of the biggest and most important moments for his IT department.

“When the CEO got an iPhone — that was the changing point,” Escue explained. “[The CEO] said that it was the easiest-to-use computer that’s ever been created, and that nobody had to teach him how to use it.”

Escue also detailed that when he joined the company in 2006, he decided to make user experience — not privacy or security — the number one priority of the IT department. With that philosophy in mind, he said, “it didn’t take long to solve compliance issues.”

The CEO’s new found love for the iPhone, the IT department’s fresh appreciation for consumer technologies, and the company’s interest in employee satisfaction all contributed to the big Apple shift. Today, RehabCare, which was acquired by Kindred earlier this year, supports its more than 10,000 physical therapists who use iPhones, iPod touches and iPads on the job, Escue said. And all staffers are taking far better care of their devices because they have personal content such as family photos saved on them, he added.

The company also takes a progressive attitude toward cloud computing, and embraces consumer-facing technologies and products — Apple devices, Salesforce and Google, for instance — for most of its mobile and communication needs. “All the innovation is coming out of the consumer side of the world,” Escue said.

Filed under: cloud, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Social TV startup Miso closes $4M round from Khosla, Google Ventures & others

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 02:19 PM PST

miso logoSocial TV service Miso has raised a new $4 million round of funding, the startup announced on its blog today.

Miso's service, which has about 250,000 users, works by allowing people to check-in, rate, comment, earn badges and complete quizzes while watching things on television. As VentureBeat previously reported, Miso has partnered with satellite and cable television service providers such as DirecTV and AT&T’s Uverse, to allow users to automatically pull up the show they’re currently watching through iOS or Android mobile devices.

With additional funding, Miso can continue to forge new partnerships with TV networks (such as the one it has with Showtime’s hit series Dexter). As I wrote in late September, this particular social feature has the potential to add a lot of depth to TV shows with a strong following. Shows like Doctor Who and Chuck, which fans routinely watch multiple times, would definitely benefit from Pop-up Video-style notifications.

Founded in March 2010, the San Francisco, Calif.-based startup previously raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Google Ventures, Keith Rabois, YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, and early Google employees Georges Harik, Richard Chen, Thomas Korte and Kurt Abrahamson.

The new $4 million round was led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from Google Ventures and Hearst Interactive Media. The 12-employee company has now raised a total of $6 million in funding to date.

Miso faces competition in the marketplace from similar services like GetGlue, SnappyTV and Foursquare.

Filed under: deals, media, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

How “the cloud” is changing the UK’s Meteorological Office (video)

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 02:04 PM PST

So this lady from the weather agency walks into a cloud conference…

While it sounds like a setup for a bad joke, it’s actually the setup for an interview with Michaela Drummond of the Meteorological Office, the UK government agency for all things related to weather and climate change.

At the CloudBeat conference today, we caught up with Drummond to chat about how cloud technologies are changing the workflow for Met Office workers, many of whom are now able to easily work remotely and from mobile devices. We talk about the Met Office’s transition from SharePoint to Huddle and how Drummond sees collaboration changing over the next few years, too.

Stay tuned for more from CloudBeat today, and check out other interviews with luminaries we’ve met with so far at the conference.

Filed under: cloud, video

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Google+ hangouts now support phone calls, too

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 01:53 PM PST

Here’s a new feature for you Google+ users: You can now make phone calls from a hangout on Google’s social network.

It’s a great feature for when you want to, say, rope a non-Google+ user into a Google+-powered meeting or conference call.

For example, the VentureBeat team frequently uses hangouts in our weekly staff meetings to wrangle our nationwide staff into face-to-face communication. But for the non-users (me!), we’ve also had to use a separate conference call line. It’s logistically messy, and Google has apparently just made it a lot easier.

The new feature will be available first in hangouts with extras, the hangouts lab where users can help test new features. Calls within the U.S. and Canada are being supported first, and calling is free.

It seems like a small feature; however, enterprise use of hangouts for conference calls and meetings is an important use case for Google+ as a whole. And all those paying Google Apps customers will surely appreciate the added flexibility of phone-friendly hangouts as Google+ moves from an experimental social product to a mature and pervasive backbone for all Google’s web apps.

“Today we're making it possible to make phone calls from inside a hangout, so you can dial people into the room from wherever they're at,” Googler Jarkko Oikarinen writes on his Plus profile, noting that it’s “helpful for party lines and conference calls alike.”

Oikarenin goes on to outline the steps for bringing a telephone user into a Google+ hangout:

  1. Start a hangout with extras, and click “Invite” at the top of the window.
  2. Click the Phone tab on the left side of the window. Enter the phone number you are trying to call.
  3. Click “Call now.”

Filed under: social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Zynga: Beyond the IPO

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 01:37 PM PST

Three years ago, Mark Pincus told me that he was going to make Zynga more valuable than EA within five years. It took him only two.

Zynga is a remarkable venture story, and the company's impending IPO is a huge moment for the games industry — it marks the coming of age of the West's leading proponent of casual, free-to-play gaming.

With the timing for the company's roadshow now seemingly confirmed, what should we expect from Zynga as it goes public? The answer reflects Pincus' exceptional level of ambition and has implications both for how investors should think about the company and how other developers manage their go-to-market strategies.

Zynga's topline is driven by two factors: the number of daily active users (DAUs) across all platforms, and the average amount that these users pay per day to play the games (average bookings per DAU, or ABPU). Since the DAU levels for each title typically erode from an early peak, the company's total DAU count is built upon the subsiding foundations of its previous titles. So, to grow its DAU count, Zynga has to release more popular titles more frequently.

This is exactly what the company is gearing up to do as it enters the busiest launch schedule in its history. It recently launched Castleville on Facebook and Words with Friends, Poker, and Farmville Express on mobile. Imminent additional releases include Zynga Casino, Zynga Bingo and Hidden Chronicles on Facebook, and Mafia Shakedown and Dream Zoo on mobile. Of these, Hidden Chronicles and Dream Zoo are the most important because they represent beachheads into new game genres for Zynga.

This hectic release calendar has been supported by aggressive hiring of business and technical talent, as well as 15 games studio acquisitions so far this year. Alongside these investments, the company's quarterly cost base has doubled from $136 million in Q3 2010 to $275 million in Q3 2011.

We don't know how these new releases are going to perform, nor is it possible to get a great sense for what Zynga's release schedule will look like over the next year. But, let's suppose that Castleville matches Zynga's best-performing recent release, Cityville (this may be conservative given Castleville's blockbuster start), and let's also assume that Zynga releases one additional Frontierville-sized game every three months throughout 2012. Under these assumptions, we would have a business that held DAUs roughly flat throughout 2012 at near-peak levels for the company.

[Figure 1. Zynga historical and projected DAUs (millions). "Actuals" data is from AppData and includes historical data from AppData Pro.]

Zynga reports on both bookings and revenue in its S-1 materials. Bookings is a better indicator of cash generation than revenue because it reflects when Zynga collects payment from the user (net of Facebook's payment terms), whereas revenue maps to the lifetime utility of the purchased good. For similar reasons I focus on "bookings minus costs" rather than "earnings before interest and tax" as the profitability metric (for a longer explanation see Pascal Emmanuel Gobry's TechCrunch article).

The company has successfully grown average bookings per DAU (ABPU) over the past couple of years at the rate of 4% per quarter. This increase has been fairly consistent following a decrease in Q3 2009 associated with the massive acquisition of new Farmville users diluting the harder-core Texas Hold-em and Mafia Wars users. The rate is subject to a complex set of forces, including Zynga's increasing monetization expertise and shifts in audience composition (e.g. towards higher-paying mobile audiences, but towards non-US audiences that typically monetize less well). Since these forces are likely to remain broadly consistent from 2011 into 2012, let's assume that the 4% trend also holds.

Coupling these revenue forecasts with the following cost assumptions gives us the bookings and "bookings minus costs" results in Figure 2 below (these forecasts are entirely my own, I have not seen the company's roadshow materials nor spoken to company executives or investors on this topic, and all my analysis is drawn from public sources).

  • Decreased costs of revenue (web hosting, payment processing, and salaries for customer support and infrastructure teams) as a percentage of bookings from 28% to 27%
  • Increased R&D by $7 million per quarter for three quarters, then held flat. Zynga has made very significant investments in its game development teams to produce the pre-IPO slate of releases. The company has declared that its level of R&D investment will continue to grow, but I have assumed at mid-year 2012 that R&D spending levels out. This assumption implies R&D falls as a percentage of bookings from 40% to 36%
  • Increased sales and marketing from 15% of bookings to 17%, reflecting Zynga's need to attract different demographics, as well as increased competition
  • Grew G&A at 5% per quarter in terms of absolute dollars, implying a decrease in G&A as a percentage of bookings from 13% to 12%

[Figure 2. Zynga historical and projected quarterly bookings and "bookings minus costs". Based on data from Zynga's S-1 filing.]

The analysis implies that Zynga's topline shows good growth, but our measure of profitability, bookings minus costs, is modest at 5-10% of bookings. This forecast, of course, rests upon our DAU assumptions for 2012, but even if we double the DAU numbers for 2012's four "New Game" releases, the 2012 bookings minus costs figures would not match the 2010 figures ($318 million in 2012 vs. $332 million in 2010).

The reason for this is not that Zynga isn't a great business or can't command rich margins; 2010 proved that it can. It is because the company has chosen to invest so dramatically in R&D. Between Q3 2010 and Q3 2011, Zynga's bookings minus costs margin went from 39% to 4%; increased R&D spending was responsible for $75 million of the $139 million increase in costs. It would be fairly easy for Zynga to trim R&D and deliver near-term growth in quarterly cashflow to public investors, but it seems likely to me that Zynga will continue to forego high levels of profitability in 2012 in favor of maintaining its capacity for investment.

Looking forward
To say Pincus has ambition is to make a massive understatement. Having made Zynga more valuable than Electronic Arts, I believe he's moving on to a broader ambition – to become the social gaming layer for the entire web.

Zynga will probably invest over $500 million in R&D in 2012. Much of this will, of course, go to launching new titles to identify rich new genres of social gameplay, but it seems likely that significant sums will also go towards implementing Zynga's platform vision. We don't have many of the details, but the announcement last month at the Zynga Unleased event of the company's gaming platform "Platform Z" and its "Z tag" gaming identity system appear to be important components of a future that is both broader and potentially less dependent on Facebook.

It is clear that Zynga is building a social layer for gamers that will sit above the underlying platforms – Facebook, Google+, and the web. Platform Z's features will be tailored to the needs of gamers, offering live chat, content sharing, gifting, gamer tags, and the ability to conveniently connect with similarly-skilled players who are not friends in real-life. This should provide a better gaming experience for users and increase their loyalty and time spent with Zynga brands (the business already does an excellent job at cross-selling its users among titles).

Zynga has remained noticeably silent on whether it will make these platform features (plus back-end capabilities such as analytics) available to third-party developers, but my bet is that it will. At Zynga Unleashed, Pincus said, "We aren't the company that will make the next hit game. We are trying to do something broader than that. We want this experience to make up a platform for play."

A platform that is available to all game developers and that is backed by Zynga's financial and technical resources would have a great shot at becoming the world's de facto social gaming layer.  That is an ambition worthy of Zynga's second act.

If Zynga were to make its platform available to third-parties, developers would need to consider how to respond. Zynga's value proposition is most attractive to more creatively-focused developers that do not want to build their own analytics and social capabilities. The larger players such as EA and Disney will stick with their own publishing solutions and may offer rival platforms to Zynga.

Mid-sized developers will face the hardest decision. Social gaming companies that are currently considering renting their own back-end platforms to third-parties will need to make sure their own offerings can compete before committing to the costs of supporting their platforms.

What does all this mean for public investors? The financial analysis described above is not predictive, but it suggests to me that Zynga is not shaping its business to deliver high margins next year. I believe smart investors considering buying Zynga stock at the IPO will understand they are betting on Zynga's long-term platform vision, not on 2012 cashflow.

Andrew Cleland is a partner at Comcast Ventures.

Filed under: deals, games, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Why Oracle’s customers have been clamoring for a public cloud (video)

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 01:27 PM PST

At the CloudBeat conference today, we caught up with Oracle VP Rick Schultz and asked him to elaborate on Oracle’s upcoming public cloud offering.

Fresh off a session about public and private cloud technologies, Schultz spoke about the importance of choice for Oracle’s customers — choice in layers of cloudiness (if you will), choice in public and private options, et cetera.

And while Schultz says private cloud offerings tend to be the most popular choice right now for Oracle’s customers, interest in a public cloud option has markedly increased recently — a trend Schultz expects to continue.

Stay tuned for more from CloudBeat today, and check out other interviews with luminaries we’ve met with so far at the conference.

Filed under: cloud, video

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Eloqua CEO talks about how SaaS empowers companies

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 01:20 PM PST

Joe Payne Eloqua

Marketing automation firm Eloqua is in a “quiet period,” but that didn’t stop CEO Joe Payne at CloudBeat 2011 from talking about his company and how the basic SaaS services it provides are transforming business.

For reference, Eloqua offers various SaaS services that help clients with analytics to help predict revenue performance and its IPO, which could happen in the next few months, could help validate just how important and big marketing automation is right now. It filed for an estimated $100 million IPO in August, and it is now one of the most successful marketing automation businesses running today.

“Just because someone is in the cloud, it doesn’t mean it’s a viable business,” Payne said. “Eloqua is a real viable business and we work with all sorts of companies. We work with HP and lots of small companies that compete too.”

Payne said that he expects customers to keep using Eloqua’s services over time, and because it is so easy to switch SaaS providers, there’s pressure to maintain a strong, reliable experience.

“Ninty percent of my revenues will come from customers using Eloqua today,” Payne said. “Our entire focus is to make our customers successful, not to just sell to you.”

Payne broadly spoke about SaaS as a powerful tool because of its ability to synchronize teams no matter where they are in the world.

“The reason to use SaaS is ease of use,” Payne said. “I can have my same accounting team in London securely using the same software as my accounting team in D.C. When you use SaaS, you can buy only what you need and start small. You can grow into your business. If your business contracts, you can pay less.”

In a final note during his session, Payne said his company was making other companies perform better and, because of that, he felt good about his mission and challenged others to see if they felt the same.

“My company’s orientation is to make you successful,” Payne said. “I wake up every day, and I know I’m adding value. That’s different in the software industry. Ask someone at Oracle if they feel good about what they’re selling.”

Filed under: cloud

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Japanese PSP-to-Vita transfer program has limited support from major game publishers

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 12:46 PM PST

Sony today revealed an initial list of retail PSP titles that will be transferable to Japanese Vita systems for a fee via a download program. However, the list covers less than half of the former Sony portable’s library of games, and leaves out many releases from some major Japanese publishers.

The Vita, which launches in Japan Dec. 17 and worldwide in early 2012, does not include a drive for the Universal Media Discs used to play PSP games. As a solution to that backward compatibility problem, Sony revealed the Japanese UMD Passport program, which lets PSP owners register their UMD game purchases so they can download Vita-compatible versions. Although, it costs game owners about $5 to $19 per game to do this.

Today, Sony Japan revealed a list of 262 UMD titles (out of the over 600 total titles) from PSP’s library that will be available on Vita through the Passport program. While the list includes many popular titles from Sony as well as major publishers like Atlus, Tecmo Koei and SNK Playmore, Siliconera points out that key publishers like Square Enix, Namco Bandai, Konami and Capcom are not represented.

That means several PSP titles from major franchises  — like Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Tekken and Monster Hunter  — won’t be transferable to the Vita when the system launches. Though it’s largely unknown in the west, Capcom’s Monster Hunter series consistently top sales charts in Japan and has been known to cause significant hardware sales spikes when games are released. Not having it available might end up being a big deal for some Vita owners.

Of course, that’s not to say that some of those major publishers won’t eventually open up their entire PSP libraries for Vita download. As we’ve previously seen, many publishers have slowly started offering more of their classic games for sale on digital marketplaces, like the Wii’s Virtual Console and Sony’s PlayStation Network. And while it’s typical for a vocal (loud) group of hardcore players to demands backward compatibility of old games on new systems, the majority of game consumers largely ignore the issue.

Still, with limited (and somewhat costly) support for the passport transfer program in Japan (as well as no official plans for similar programs in North America and Europe), the launch of the Vita may represent a larger break with Sony’s portable past than some gamers had hoped.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Paying for the petabyte future, one gigabyte at a time

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 12:45 PM PST

Storage session panelists, left to right: David Cerf, Crossroads; Kevin Brown, Coraid; Jerome Lecat, Scality; Dan Crain, Whiptail Technologies; Andreas Sundquist, DNAnexus; Andrew Reichman, Forrester Research.

Cloud storage is easy, but if you’ve got a lot of data, the costs can escalate quickly.

Case in point: DNAnexus, a startup that is storing DNA data so researchers can access and analyze it through a web interface, is using Amazon Web Services (AWS) to power its applications, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) to store data.

The company now has half a petabyte of data stored in the cloud, at a cost of 11 to 12 cents per gigabyte per month. Additionally, Amazon charges 11 to 12 cents per gigabyte for data downloads. That adds up to a total cost of tens of thousands of dollars just for storage.

Like an old-school dime store hooking kids on nicotine with free cigarettes, Amazon makes it easy to get started.

“Amazon has made it very attractive to send data to them — they don’t charge for that. But they do charge when you want to get that data out of the cloud,” said Andreas Sundquist, the CEO and co-founder of DNAnexus.

Add up the costs, and Amazon looks like it’s about the same price as local storage.

“I can go to Fry’s and get a hard drive — and that’s what it costs to store data on Amazon for a month,” said Sundquist.

Despite the costs, it’s beneficial to have the data stored closely to the computing and web resources that Amazon offers. AWS has given DNAnexus flexibility and computing power it couldn’t have easily accessed otherwise.

Sundquist spoke on a panel discussion at CloudBeat 2011 today with vendors from four storage providers: Crossroads, Coraid, Scality and Whiptail.

The consensus of the panel: Initial costs, also known as capital expenditures (CapEx, or what you’d spend at Fry’s for that hard drive) are only part of the story. For large-scale enterprise storage, you’ve also got to account for network management, storage management, maintaining all those storage servers, ensuring that your storage area network is compatible with the rest of your applications, and so on. Therefore, the cost per gigabyte of raw storage is misleading.

“It’s a metric that doesn’t make any sense,” said Jerome Lecat, the CEO of Scality.

For that reason, it’s smarter to focus on the total cost of ownership per month, and in that light, Amazon doesn’t look like such a bad deal.

“Amazon is 70 percent cheaper than what legacy companies do, typically,” said Forrester analyst Andrew Reichman, who has studied the comparative costs of different storage solutions. “The biggest difference is you don’t need to pay for excess capacity. You only pay for what you do send to Amazon.”

For instance, if you have half a petabyte of data, you’d actually need to purchase 2 petabytes of storage capacity, in most cases, Reichman said. Cloud storage gives you the ability to pay for just what you use.

However, Amazon’s costs are higher than some of the alternatives. If you have the ability to build your own storage system in a datacenter, the companies on the panel are all able to offer you cost-effective alternatives so you can build your own cloud storage.

  • Crossroads specializes in making tape storage work with modern storage systems, by essentially making the tape drive act like a USB drive. Because tape can be stored without requiring power — all you need is more cabinet space — it’s particularly economical for vast quantities of data. Crossroads storage can cost less than 1 cent per GB per month, or 1/10 the cost of Amazon, especially at the largest scale (exabytes of data).
  • Coraid uses commodity hardware and Ethernet cabling to replace expensive FibreChannel and storage arrays. Using these pieces, it was able to sell the U.S. Department of Defense a $1 million storage contract with a “buy one petabyte, get the second petabyte free” deal. Coraid storage has a total cost of ownership of 5 cents per GB per month, or about half what Amazon charges.
  • Scality offers software that makes storage networks work more efficiently, making it easier to add more capacity as needed — like “building an Amazon S3 at home,” Lecat said. Scality-based storage also costs about 5 cents per GB per month, all-in.
  • Whiptail creates solid state storage-based systems that are more expensive than traditional spinning hard disks, but which are extremely fast. While it doesn’t charge by GB per month, its total cost of ownership works out to about 10 to 12 cents per GB per month for the largest scale installations.

Despite the advantages, it seems that DNAnexus will be sticking with the public cloud for now.

“The nice thing about Amazon is, I don’t have to think about what sort of storage device it is stored on. If I need to double my storage, I just do it,” said Sundquist.

Photo credit: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat. Panelists, left to right: David Cerf, Crossroads; Kevin Brown, Coraid; Jerome Lecat, Scality; Dan Crain, Whiptail Technologies; Andreas Sundquist, DNAnexus; Andrew Reichman, Forrester Research.

Filed under: cloud, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

iPads in the enterprise: CEO ego is driving adoption

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 12:44 PM PST

iPads have taken over the boardroom, and corporate CEOs and their egos are to thank for the somewhat surprising trend. At least, that’s the consensus among a panel of cloud computing and enterprise experts who gathered to discuss the reality and implications of mobile devices infiltrating the office.

“Apple is killing it in the enterprise, and they’re not even trying,” Alan Masarek, CEO of Quickoffice said in a season entitled “The year of Cloud Commuting” at the CloudBeat conference in Redwood Shores, Calif.

“Tablets started as lean-back devices, and usage would peak in the mornings and evenings, Masarek said. “But even that’s beginning to change … there’s been huge pickup during the day … and a ton of note-taking.”

“The iPad is a bonafide genuine business device,” Andy McLoughlin, EVP of strategy and co-founder of Huddle, added. McLoughlin said when he first started seeing iPads in office meetings he thought it would be a passing fad. But the trend is actually here to stay, he said, because executives are taking their iPads to meetings to capture information that they can then have access to later via the cloud. This reality means that app makers need to make their iPad applications first rate, he added.

But it was years before the enterprise opened its arms and accepted Apple’s iPhone into the mobile fold, so why has the iPad been able to leapfrog this long adoption cycle? The panel talked about new business environment factors, the large-screen form factor and access to cloud services as logical explanations, but perhaps it all boils down to CEO ego.

“The tablet is corporate bling for executives,” moderator and Forbes contributor Tom Taulli said. “When you get the ego going, you can sell a lot of software in the organization.”

Nick Mehta, CEO of LiveOffice, concurred. “This is the first situation where the top is driving technology adoption,” he said. “The CEO gets one, he goes to the IT department and he asks, ‘why don’t we support this?’”

Still, iPads, or tablets in general, are not viable desktop or laptop replacements, Vineet Jain, CEO and co-founder of Egnyte, said. Serious work requires other devices, he argued. “When you need to reference four things simultaneously — bullshit, you can’t do that [on an iPad].”

Filed under: cloud, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Former BioWare/Pandemic boss raises $15M for mobile-web gaming studio

Posted: 01 Dec 2011 12:21 PM PST

Rumble Entertainment, a new mobile and browser-based game developer and publisher, announced today that it has raised $15 million in a first round of funding led by Google Ventures and Khosla Ventures.

The large amount of funding shows that the mobile game market is still a hot frontier in games that venture investors still believe in, despite the fact that it has been hot all year. The team at Rumble includes game industry veterans from Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard, and we’re not talking about a group of game testers, either. Rumble’s CEO is Greg Richardson (pictured), the former CEO of BioWare/Pandemic, which was purchased by Electronic Arts in 2007 for $860 million.

Also involved is Mark Spenner, founder of EA2D (now BioWare SF) at Electronic Arts. He will act as Rumble’s executive vice president of games and John Yoo, lead designer of World of Warcraft, has also joined the team. Rumble’s Redwood CityCalif.-based headquarters boasts a team of 25 members.

While the all-star pedigree of Rumble’s core executive team is impressive, assembling a star-studded cast isn’t uncommon in the crowded mobile and browser-based gaming world. What will set Rumble apart from the competition is its overarching approach to game development, the company said.

Rather than churn out city and farm simulators that bring in droves of gamers for a month or so before the heard moves on, Rumble is instead combining the addictive and accessible social elements of free-to-play games with a console-style experience with big production values and strong user engagement.

Richardson said in an interview, “The future of video games points not at the casual audience, but rather people who know they love video games.” The vision of Rumble is to “successfully marry what makes console and PC games wonderful in terms of engagement and immersion with the lifestyle of not always being in front of a big-screen television.”

When people think of console-like experiences on mobile, their thoughts almost always turn to Infinity Blade, as well as the newly released Infinity Blade II. Regarding that game from Epic Games, Richardson said, “It’s an inspiring indication of where the market could go.” “But I think they’ve just barely scratched the surface in terms of potential and in terms of game design.”

He added, “The thing that they did that’s close to the old world way of thinking is that they’re still charging for the download. They’re not embracing the notion that users, I think, want to play games if they fall in love with them. And if they do, have the monetization driven in a way that feels indicative of the kind of value they’re getting. Not that they have to pay up front or that they’re feeling manipulated by the game to invite a hundred friends or, you know, just having some silly energy bar being bolted onto the game.”

But Rumble Entertainment isn’t just about creating its own mobile and browser-based titles. Instead, they’re also offering a publishing platform for other world-class developers to utilize. While the team isn’t ready to talk about their own games, or what games they’re looking to publish, Richardson did say that they’re talking to several developers who have a great idea for a game and could need everything from capital investment to a functional analytics package to customer relationship management. Richardson said, “It’s all about finding the very best developers in the world and letting them do what they do best, which is letting them make great games.”

Richardson wasn’t ready to dive into specifics about either of the two Rumble games currently in development, but he did say that the debut title would ship in the first quarter of 2012. He also said that the company’s games would not launch on just one device or channel, meaning that their first title will likely hit both Facebook and a mobile marketplace simultaneously. We’ll have more on Rumble Entertainment as it develops in the coming months.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now