20 December, 2011




EA executive touts opening day for Star Wars: The Old Republic

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 10:08 AM PST

Electronic Arts has officially launched Star Wars: The Old Republic, one of the most expensive online games ever made, in a bid to grab a share of the lucrative massively multiplayer online games market that is dominated by Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft.

Electronic Arts executive and BioWare c0-founder Ray Muzyka (pictured center), co-founder Greg Zeschuk (left) and EA executive Frank Gibeau (right) rang the opening bell on the Nasdaq Stock Market today. In an interview with VentureBeat, Gibeau said the launch is going well, and, knock on wood, there are no hordes of angry players expressing their rage on Twitter.

“Our infrastructure is doing well,” Gibeau said. “We’ve had a pretty good experience so far.”

Analysts have said that as many as 1.5 million players may already be playing the game, which became available to beta players on Dec. 13. But Gibeau said he could not confirm that due to an earnings quiet period, “otherwise I will be wearing an orange jumpsuit.”

In our review, Henrich Lenhardt played the early version of the game for more than 40 hours and thought highly enough of the early experience to rate it 89 out of 100. The game takes place thousands of years before the time of the Star Wars movies and it allows players to play as Jedi Knights or other characters from the Republic or evil Sith characters as well.

The Old Republic has been in the making for more than five years was a major reason why the publisher purchased development studio BioWare (and the now defunct Pandemic) for $860 million in 2007. The game's budget is reportedly in the range of $100 million dollars to $200 million. The payoff could, however, be substantial, as users must shell out a monthly subscription fee ($12.99 – $14.99 depending on the term length) if they want to continue playing, as the $60 game comes with just one month of included server access.

“It is certainly EA’s most ambitious project to date,” Gibeau said.

Electronic Arts chief executive John Riccitiello stated that the game would be on a path to profits with half a million subscribers, a modest amount in light of World of Warcraft's 10.3 million player numbers. He said that the game needed 1 million subscribers to be nicely profitable. If Electronic Arts gets 1.5 million to 2 million subscribers, it will be enough to "make it look like a great investment and justify the purchase of BioWare Pandemic, Riccitiello said. The high-end numbers may seem overly ambitious, but in the past year, World of Warcraft has lost around 1.7 million paying subscribers, leaving plenty of former Warcraft fans ripe for the picking. Gibeau said the guidance on those numbers has not changed.

Still, it's a big gamble on a subscription business model that hasn't worked well for most others. MMORPGs like EverQuest II, The Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online switched from mandatory subscriptions to a free-to-play model with optional in-game purchases and reportedly increased both player numbers and overall revenue. Gibeau said he saw the industry separating into two parts, premium and free-to-play. He said players have shown they will pay for premium content such as Xbox Live and other Star Wars content. One of the keys is to have enough content beyond the launch day, and Gibeauu said that BioWare has lined up considerable content for that, including multiplayer flashpoints and new player vs. player options.

Gibeau said he believes the game is going over well with fans because BioWare has artfully worked in a compelling storyline into a traditional MMO. One of the big innovations is working in 200,000 lines of voice-acting into the story, so that users can experience a movie-like snippet whenever then hit a key point in the story. BioWare also fashioned the game so that the choices that players make really matters to the path they follow and the outcome of the game.

Beyond a big bet to make more money, the game is a major attempt to take the Star Wars fan base and bring it into the modern age of the MMO, ensuring that George Lucas's franchise lives on in the age of massive blockbuster games. And it is also aimed at bringing in a steady stream of revenue for Electronic Arts, elevating it and its developer BioWare into the stratosphere of the game industry, where respect and revenues go hand in hand.

If the game is a home run for EA, then the company will enjoy a cash-generating franchise for years to come, much like its EA Sports games that generate revenues every time a new sports season comes around. And it could give EA more financial might to take on its larger rival, Activision Blizzard, and fend off challengers such as Zynga in social games and smaller rivals in smartphone and tablet games. This kind of risk-taking is almost unheard of in the game industry these days.

Gibeau said the Star Wars game was just one of many bets that EA has made to make sure it can transform itself from a packaged goods retail product company to a digital online company. Other bets include investments in social and mobile games, he said.

BioWare began working on its first MMO around five years ago, opening a new satellite studio in Austin, Texas. The developer was then majority owned by Elevation Partners, which took a majority stake in two development firms, BioWare/Pandemic, for $300 million in 2005. Elevation partner John Riccitiello was then named CEO of Electronic Arts and EA announced it would acquire BioWare/Pandemic in October 2007, with the deal closing in 2008. One of the reasons that BioWare/Pandemic had doubled in value in just two years was that then-secret online game was expected to generate a lot of revenues in the future. EA announced that both LucasArts and EA would publish the BioWare Star Wars game in October 2008. At that time, BioWare co-founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk announced that the game has more content planned than all of BioWare's previous games, including the 2003 title Knights of the Old Republic.

Besides setting up the studio in Texas, EA also created its Origin online game distribution service and opened a 200-employee customer service center in Galway, Ireland, to handle support calls related to the game. Gibeau said that EA’s Mythic and BioWare in Edmonton, Canada, had also contributed.

Filed under: games

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Kayak releases updated and unified iPad and iPhone app, takes on TripIt

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 10:07 AM PST

Travel search site Kayak is releasing a new unified iPad and iPhone app today, replacing its standalone iPad app and adding a sleek itinerary-consolidation feature that seems poised to take on TripIt.

This is actually a major update to Kayak‘s free iPhone app that turns it into a unified app optimized for all iOS devices, including the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. The two-year-old standalone iPad app will be phased out, which means Kayak faces the tricky task of making sure all of its users switch to the new app.

The updated Kayak iOS app will introduce quite a few new features to iPad users. The design has been simplified, the search interface updated, and iPad users can finally search for rental cars. For those who actually book trips through the Kayak apps, there’s a great new autofill feature that makes it much easier to complete reservations. In the app’s settings, you can fill out a form with all of your information such as name, address, phone number, email and date of birth — most everything but credit card information. When you go to book a flight, car or hotel, the site opens within the Kayak app and the information is automatically populated, cutting down drastically on painful iOS-keyboard time.

But the coolest part of the update is the Trips feature. While not new — it was on Kayak.com and there was a read-only version on the old iPhone app — the feature finally gets to shine on the unified app. “It’s exactly what TripIt is, but free and better,” Bill O’Donnell, Kayak’s chief architect, said in an interview. Like TripIt, the Trips feature consolidates all of your travel details in one place that can be accessed from any of your iOS devices or through the Kayak site.

The tool isn’t just for travel booked through Kayak, it handles restarurant reservations and other third party bookings too. Anything you forward to the trips email address from your registered email is added. “You can write your hotel confirmation number on a cocktail napkin, take a picture and sent it to us, and we’ll add it to your trip,” said O’Donnell.

The company is also trying out a new feature that lets you book directly through Kayak instead of being taken to the third-party site. So far, only select hotels can be reserved directly through Kayak, but the company hopes to roll out the feature to other travel options soon.

The new app is fast and well-designed, and could be a much needed injection of positive press for Kayak. Earlier this month, Kayak pulled its advertising from TLC’s “All-American Muslim” reality show along with Lowes. The company denied it was bowing to pressure from conservatives, glibly saying in a statement, “the show sucked.”

Here are some screens of the consolidated app running on an iPad:


Filed under: mobile

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Flash games are still generating strong traffic and revenue growth for developers

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 10:00 AM PST

The Flash game market is thriving. Developers have sprouted up around the world. They’re creating mobile games based on their Flash web games, and they are making more money and getting stronger traffic, according to a survey of more than 1,000 Flash game developers by Mochi Media.

More than 60 percent of Flash game developers saw an increase in traffic and revenue in 2011 compared to 2010. The growth has been enabled by improved monetization and a better understanding of the best practices for Flash games and development platforms.

The 2011 Flash Games Market Survey says that 80 percent of Flash game developers reside outside the U.S. now. Developers in the U.S., Great Britain and Canada accounted for about 56 percent of all Flash developers two years ago but only make up 37 percent of respondents this year.

Russia accounts for 6 percent, India 3 percent, Italy 3 percent, Ukraine 3 percent, and Brazil 3 percent.

And while Adobe has discontinued the development of a mobile version of Flash to run on mobile phone web browsers, developers are still adapting their Flash games so that they run on mobile devices via native apps.

About 62 percent of developers use app sales to monetize their games. About 38 percent use ads, and 11 percent use micro-transactions. That latter figure is growing but it is still an unusual way to make money from games, said Colin Cupp, product marketing manager at Mochi, in an interview.

“Flash is becoming more mature with more ways to monetize games,” he said.

About 60 percent of Flash developers say they make an online web game first to gauge market response before developing for mobile platforms. Android was the top target for mobile development, at 72 percent, followed by Apple’s iOS, at 67 percent.

Cupp said that developers are interested in Flash games with 3D graphics using new technologies. Most of the Flash developers who don’t work on it full time are students, and about 80 percent of them want to make games on a full-time basis.

The survey of 1,075 developers and publishers was conducted by Mochi Media, Adobe and FlashGameLicense.com.

Mochi Media will sponsor a Flash Gaming Summit 2012 in San Francisco in March 4. Early bird passes are on sale until Dec. 31.

Mochi Media offers an ad network, analytics, and monetization tools for Flash games with more than 150 million monthly active users, 55,000 games and 60,000 publishers. Mochi is based in San Francisco and is owned by Shanda Games in China.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, social

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First Round Capital rings in the holidays with “Friday” spoof

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 09:44 AM PST

First Round Capital is famous in these parts for its irreverent, awkward and often hilarious holiday e-greetings.

This year, the team and its family of startups pitched in to create an elaborate send-up of Rebecca Black’s soulless mistake of a song, “Friday.”

In the vid, you’ll catch glimpses of some of our favorite folks, from TaskRabbit’s Leah Busque to Turntable.fm’s Billy Chasen to Mashery’s Oren Michels to GetSatisfaction’s Wendy Lea.

And of course, there are the partners, including Josh Kopelman and Howard Morgan, “kickin’ in the front seat, sittin’ in the back seat.”

Sure, it’s autotuned and cringe-inducing, but a lot more hilarious than your average family holiday get-together.

Filed under: offBeat, VentureBeat

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Samsung’s Galaxy lineup is getting Ice Cream Sandwich in early 2012

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 09:23 AM PST

In just a few weeks, Samsung will start shipping Android 4.0, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich over the air to Galaxy device owners.

“We know you have been waiting, and we’re thrilled today to announce that we’ll start serving Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich to Galaxy Note and Galaxy S II in the first quarter of 2012,” wrote a Samsung representative on the company’s mobile division Facebook page.

The rollout will start with the company’s Galaxy S II, its latest high-powered smartphone, and the Galaxy Note, a stylus-enabled gadget that’s either a huge phone or a wee tablet — the jury’s still out.

Samsung also was the chosen manufacturer for the Android 4.0 lead device, the Galaxy Nexus. For that launch, Samsung got early access to Ice Cream Sandwich and a distinct time-to-market advantage.

Other Ice Cream Sandwich-upgradeable devices are set to include Samsgung’s Galaxy S II LTE, the Galaxy R (another Android smartphone), and the Galaxy Tab 10.1, 839, 7.7 and 7.0 Plus tablets.

With the upgrade, these tablets will be some of the first to run Ice Cream Sandwich; other models boasting the slick new OS have so far been sold out or available for preorder only.

Ice Cream Sandwich’s new features include a one-size-really-does-fit-all approach that makes the OS suitable for phones, tablets, TVs — just about any connected device, according to Google. Previously, Google had offered separate forks of the OS for different devices — the 2.X line was intended for smartphones, while the 3.X line (a.k.a. Honeycomb) was meant for tablets.

And in addition to all that delicious behind-the-scenes harmony, the OS brings consumers a flashy new interface with new colors, large images, and even a homebrewed typeface, the elegant humanist sans, Roboto.

Samsung is racing Sony to the finish line where Ice Cream Sandwich is concerned. The latter company announced last month it was bringing Ice Cream Sandwich to the entire Xperia line.

Filed under: mobile

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Nuance to acquire rival Vlingo to build a better Siri

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 09:19 AM PST

siri-iphone-4s-adVoice technology firm Nuance has agreed to buy its top rival Vlingo for an undisclosed sum, the companies announced this morning.

Nuance has been providing voice technology for years but has recently been getting a lot of attention for powering Siri, the well-advertised voice assistant on the iPhone 4S. Vlingo has been Nuance’s heated rival in the tech space, and interestingly enough, Nuance had sued Vlingo in court for patent infringement, while Vlingo bought its own set of patents to counter-sue Nuance and stop it in its tracks.

But the two are putting aside the lawsuits with the acquisition. Now they can work together to boost the power and innovation of natural voice technology. Most likely, they’ll do what they can to improve the highly-popular Siri and similar voice apps across mobile platforms.

"Inspired by the introduction of services such as Apple's Siri and our own Dragon Go!, virtually every mobile and consumer electronics company on the planet is looking for ways to integrate natural, conversational voice interactions into their mobile products, applications and services," said Mike Thompson, Senior VP of Nuance Mobile, in a statement. "By acquiring Vlingo, we are able to accelerate the pace of innovation to meet this demand."

Nuance appears to be on an acquisition streak in hopes of neutralizing the competition. Before Vlingo, Nuance agreed to acquire texting technology company Swype for a reported $102.5 million back in October. Nuance’s T9 predictive text software is a direct competitor to Swype’s technology, which lets people quickly draw from point to point on touch-screen keyboards.

Filed under: deals, mobile

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Netflix adds BBC Worldwide content for UK and Irish subscribers

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 09:11 AM PST

Doctor WhoStreaming video service Netflix has reached an agreement with BBC Worldwide to bring content to subscribers in Ireland and the UK, the company announced today.

In October, Netflix announced that it was launching its streaming video service to the UK and Ireland in early 2012. The BBC content deal is part of the company’s effort to compete with Amazon-owned competitor LoveFilm. The company also signed a multi-year licensing agreement with MGM Studios in November for exclusive streaming content rights.

BBC Worldwide content, which is currently available to Netflix subscribers in the US, includes popular British televisions series like Torchwood, Spooks, Doctor Who, Little Britain, Sherlock and more.

It’s unclear how big of a impact the BBC Worldwide content deal will have on Netflix, since much of the country has access to the BBC iPlayer, which stores much of the same content online for a short period of time. Yet, there is something to be said for keeping the content library as complete as possible. People are creatures of habit — meaning if you primarily use Netflix for watching videos, there’s a good chance you won’t look elsewhere for content.

[Image of Doctor Who via BBC Worldwide]

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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How to keep the customers you already have

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 09:01 AM PST

CRM, or customer relationship management, is at the top of everyone’s mind these days.

Just as important as attracting new business is developing and nurturing the relationships you already have. Doing so these days requires a sharp eye on the Internet (especially social channels) and equal parts patience and responsiveness.

Here are my top ten tips for keeping your customers satisfied, engaged and returning to do business with you again and again.

1. Let your customers write the rules of engagement.

There was a time when companies told customers how they could contact them; now, customers are in control.

Give customers options for communicating with you. When a customer is having an issue, he or she wants to get in touch with you in the fastest way possible. That may be by phone, via email, through support forums or even on social media channels like Twitter.

But with all these means of communication, you need to be much more vigilant to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. Be sure to monitor every channel and respond to outreach.

2. Track social media.

Social media has given the customer a very powerful voice, and if your business is the focus of an online public outcry, the results can be devastating.

Take a look at what happened when Netflix raised its prices or when Bank of America started charging a monthly fee for use of debit cards.

Companies need to be keeping a close eye on what customers are talking about on Twitter, Facebook and other channels so they can react swiftly before a situation that could have been easily fixed blows up into a public relations nightmare.

3. Respond at the speed of the Internet.

The immediacy of the Internet requires real-time action when online complaints crop up. A quick response decreases the likelihood of a big fiasco.

Hire a community manager or appoint someone from your customer support team who to thoroughly monitor the social web for complaints about your organization. Then empower those individuals so they can act quickly to resolve complaints and issues.

One great example is how some hotels are now diligently searching the Internet for complaints and resolving them quickly — before guests even check out, in fact.

4. Apologize appropriately

There is a big difference between saying to a customer, "I'm sorry you feel that way," and saying to them sincerely, "I'm sorry."

When it's time to apologize, there are four simple steps to ensure the apology is made the right way and the customer is appeased.

First, give the reason for the error. Customers are more accepting to learn that a misstep was unintentional. Next, make the apology sincere and truthful. Apologies that are perceived to be insincere are worse than no apology at all. Then, take responsibility. Do not assign the blame elsewhere. Finally, offer a solution. Although the offered solution may not be exactly what every customer wants, most will be satisfied that one was offered, which in turn helps close the issue.

5. Be transparent.

Create a culture of transparency in your company.

Facebook is an example of a perceived lack of transparency — and a resultant customer backlash. Recently, the company admitted to tracking the web activity of its 750 million users even after those users had logged out of the site.

These are the kinds of things where even the biggest companies can lose customer loyalty. Long-term success comes to those companies that are open with their customers and win their trust.

6. Don't make the same mistake twice.

Only four percent of people complain about a single customer support failure. But 96 percent of people complain when they've been burned twice by the same company.

With so many tools available for customers to talk about when a company has failed them, it is absolutely necessary that companies take the required steps needed to ensure that mistakes happen only once.

7. Implement customer satisfaction ratings.

Customer satisfaction ratings and surveys are a great way to see where their customers are happy and where they aren't.

But surveys can offer a false sense of security. How many companies actually go the extra step and take action based on the information a survey reveals?

Make satisfaction ratings and surveys actionable; dont’ just accumulate data for data’s sake.

8. Keep your agents happy.

Not everyone is cut out for a career in customer service. It takes a special personality to spend an entire day listening to problems and finding solutions.

Your customer services reps are the voice of your company; they speak for you to your customers. It's important to rotate people through different tasks so they don't get burnt out.

If you make it easy for your customer service reps to deliver great service, they'll be happier and so will your customers.

9. The casual customer versus the steady customer.

A company's response to a customer complaint should depend on what kind of customer it is dealing with: a steady customer or a casual customer.

Steady customers tend to value the relationship with the company. Research shows that these relationship-focused customers are more amenable to recovery efforts, regardless of any compensation, than casual customers are.

An admission of wrongdoing and sincere apology can be more important than restitution. The company should communicate that it values the relationship with its customers.

Casual customers are less won over by proof that the company values them and may care mainly about getting a refund.

10. Stop problems before they start.

Don't wait for customers to tell you what's wrong. Instead, use tools to help you, your agents and your community manager to identify where your company's weak spots are.

As mentioned earlier, use surveys or customer satisfaction ratings to do this. Knowing where your customers need help gives you the power to create useful content for them, or better staff for when your help desk is at its busiest.

Zack Urlocker is COO of Zendesk. He is responsible for all the company’s customer-facing areas, including sales, marketing, business development and services. He has more than 20 years of experience in the software industry and has held executive management positions at MySQL, Active Software, webMethods and Borland. He is a frequent speaker and writer about disruptive technologies and business models.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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The war of the smartphones: T-Mobile vs. the iPhone

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

This sponsored message is brought to you by T-Mobile.

Uber-awesome iPhone? Whatev. It seems like every six months there's a new iPhone because Apple keeps "improving" the offerings and announcing their next baby. Time to step back from the hype and scratch below the surface of the smartphone war. There's more out there than just the almighty fruit of the Apple tree.

T-Mobile's fastest 4G Android-Powered smartphones do, in fact give the iPhone 4S a run for its money. Have a need for speed (and who doesn't in this digital world)? Then you'll love the Android's faster dual core processors. And for those who like their tunes right away, T-Mobile's 4G network combined with their fastest smartphones offer maximum theoretical download speeds of 42 Mbps on both the HTC Amaze 4G and Samsung Galaxy S II. After all, the iPhone 4S' max theoretical download speed is a mere 14.4 Mbps.

Bells and whistles have become necessities. Many T-Mobile smartphone devices offer larger screens and Google Voice Search. Sophisticated photo software, available on certain models, make your point-and-shoot cameras look like child's play.

Want the most connected, versatile plan for your buck? Right now, T-Mobile offers two lines for $49.99 per line, including an unlimited data, talk, and text plan. And that includes up to 2GB of high-speed data. With T-Mobile's fastest smartphones, you can combine this plan with fast downloading on the T-Mobile 4G network (America's largest).

View the footage. Spread the word. T-Mobile's stylized smartphone videos are fused with humor, stop-motion animation, old-school graphics, and straight-up logic to make one massive point: T-Mobile's Android-Powered phones don't just go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 4S, they leave it in the dust.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

SweetLabs adds Kabam games to Pokki tool bar for app-like experience on desktops

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

SweetLabs is announcing today that Kabam’s social games will be available on its Pokki app platform, which delivers a one-click app experience to the desktop computer.

That means that Kabam games such as The Godfather: Five Families (pictured above) will show up on the Pokki icon bar, which integrates with the task bar at the bottom of the screen in Windows computers. So you’ll see an icon for the Kabam games and other apps that you use frequently, with a number on each icon that shows the number of alerts that have been sent to you within the application.

The idea behind Pokki is to create an easy-to-use app platform on the desktop that replicates the kind of experience that users enjoy on smartphones and tablets.

“We are spoiled by fantastic experiences on smartphones and tablets. There are 1.25 billion people using Windows and no one has brought an app experience to them,” Chester Ng, co-founder and chief marketing officer of SweetLabs in San Diego, Calif., told VentureBeat.

The partnership benefits Redwood City, Calif.-based Kabam because it gives the company a lot more exposure to users. Just by glancing down at the tool bar, users see notifications from games such as the Godfather, Dragons of Atlantis, Thirst of Night, and Edgeworld. You can buy the apps in the Pokki app store, which has about 100 apps now. The app also allows Kabam to more effectively spread beyond Facebook — one of the company’s strategic goals. It will help Kabam reach more gamers and get them to return to the games more often.

“The desktop is like waterfront property,” Ng said.

SweetLabs began working on Pokki about 18 months ago and launched a beta version in June. The Pokki bar has other apps such as Instagram, Facebook, Rdio, Gmail and Twitter. With the Twitter Pokki app, usage went from 5 hours a month to 9 hours a month during the beta period, and users are opening Twitter 18 times a day now.

SweetLabs was able to get those apps in part by holding a contest for developers. It is holding another contest for game developers now with a $50,000 prize for the best new game for the Pokki app platform. The winners will be announced in March at the Game Developers Conference.

SweetLabs has raised more than $21.5 million to date, including a $13 million round from Intel Capital, Google Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners in September. Besides Pokki, SweetLabs also runs the Open Candy ad network, which offers recommendations to users when they are downloading and installing apps. Open Candy has powered more than 400 million desktop app installs since launching in 2008.

SweetLabs has 65 employees and was founded in February, 2008. Ng said the Pokki system works with Windows 8 as well. Over time, Ng said the Pokki app platform will run across multiple operating systems, making it a true independent app store.

Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

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T-Mobile has “no Plan B” after AT&T deal falls apart

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:56 AM PST

t-mobile-womanT-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom apparently put all of its eggs in AT&T’s basket. Now that AT&T’s $39 billion T-Mobile purchase has been squashed, thanks to pushback from the US government, DT is scrambling once again to find additional funds for its US carrier.

"There's no Plan B," T-Mobile spokesman Andreas Fuchs said, according to the New York Times. "We're back at the starting point."

Deutsche Telekom will receive $4 billion in spectrum and assets from AT&T as compensation for the deal’s failure to close. The company will also form a “mutually beneficial roaming agreement” with AT&T. But DT still needs a longer term solution to keep its T-Mobile business afloat, which has been losing subscribers and profits over the last few years. (Notably, T-Mobile remains the only U.S. carrier without the iPhone.)

"With the spectrum we're getting, we have a better chance of expanding the network in many markets," Deutsche Telekom CEO René Obermann said during a conference call today. "That is not a final solution. In the long-term, we need more spectrum and network capacity. We are working on that."

It’s unclear what lies in T-Mobile’s future. The company has invested heavily in HSPA+ technology for its “4G” network (the technology is faster than typical 3G, but technically not 4G like LTE) and it has landed a handful of interesting Android smartphones. But T-Mobile’s phone variety remains limited, and without the iPhone it won’t be able to effectively compete against AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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U.S. sees its heaviest online shopping week in history

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:54 AM PST

The U.S. saw its heaviest week in online shopping ever, with consumers spending $6.3 billion in the week ended Dec. 18, up 14 percent from a year ago.

Market research firm comScore said that e-commerce spending to date for the first 48 days of the holiday season hit $32 billion, up 15 percent from the corresponding days last year. With two weeks to go, it’s already clear this will be the busiest holiday shopping season ever in terms of e-commerce spending.

In the most recent week, four days exceeded the $1 billion sales market. The final weekend before Christmas saw $1.04 billion in sales, the second-heaviest weekend of spending on record.

"With only a few more days until Christmas, the preponderance of Americans' late season holiday shopping will shift to brick-and-mortar retail, although the procrastinators among us will still be able to take advantage of expedited shipping and buy online up to and including the day before Christmas Eve with the guarantee of having their gifts delivered in time for the holiday,” said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. “In total, we will see another $5 or $6 billion in e-commerce spending over the remainder of December to finish off what has clearly been an outstanding season for online retailers."

Filed under: VentureBeat

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YouTube calls 2011 “the year of the unexpected performer”

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:42 AM PST

In its annual roundup of the most-watched videos of the year, YouTube paid homage to its greatest success stories: the out-of-the-blue surprise performers.

In 2011, YouTube “was once again doing what YouTube does best: giving people a global stage,” said a company spokesperson in an email to VentureBeat.

From Karmin’s cover of Chris Brown’s Look at Me Now (a wild success receiving rave reviews — err, comments) to Rebecca Black’s disastrous troll of a music video (which nonetheless propelled the hapless girl into Internet stardom, a sympathy shout-out from Lady Gaga and a Katy Perry video), the past year wasn’t so much a break from the norm as it was a celebration of YouTube’s most interesting premise, that of giving a voice to any goober with a webcam.

We won’t bore you by embedding all the most-watched videos of the year — we think we’ll all be better off for not hearing “Friday” ever again — but here are some hand-picked favorites.

Third Most-Watched Video of 2011: Jack Sparrow, ft. Michael Bolton

Thanks to Andy Samberg, we now know that the aging crooner is a huge cineophile.

Most-Watched Political Video: Zack Wahls Speaks About Family

During a public forum in the Iowa House of Representatives, one young man made a simple statement that resounded around the world. Wahls, who was raised by two women, gave same-sex marriage advocates fodder for positive discussions in a heated political climate.

Tenth Most-Watched Music Video: Katy Perry, Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)

This eighties movie-inspired clip features the adorkable Miss Perry and a slew of eighties period characters, from Kenny G to Debbie Gibson. Before the vid hit the ‘Tube, Perry tweeted, “I told someone about my new music video I just filmed & they responded with ‘Wow, that’s gonna break the Internet.’”

Most-Viewed Proposal Video: Greatest Marriage Proposal EVER!!!

Yeah, we’re losing our privacy megabyte by megabyte, but we’re also sharing heart-warming moments in one another’s lives. Here’s one man’s elaborate, “awww”-inspiring proposal to his bride-to-be.

Second Most-Watched Family Video: Telling my dad that I am gay – LIVE

As the military repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen all over the globe were at liberty to speak openly about their orientation. The 21-year-old Randy Phillips had been anonymously posting videos to YouTube for five months leading up to the repeal. On September 20, he finally revealed himself to the world — and his father.

Tenth Most-Watched Video of 2011: Cat mom hugs baby kitten

Finally, we conclude this list with the thing that makes YouTube truly great: freakin’ cat videos, man.

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Razer raises $50M for gaming peripherals

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:38 AM PST

Gaming peripheral maker Razer has raised $50 million in a financing round to expand its business of offering “no compromise” gaming products.

IDG-Accel China Capital Fund led the round, the first venture-financed investment for the company beyond previous angel investments.

After years of making only peripherals, Razer recently entered the gaming PC hardware market with the announcement of its new $2,800 Blade gaming laptop, which recently began shipping pre-ordered units in time for the holiday season.

Carlsbad, Calif.-based Razer first unveiled the Blade in August as "the world's first true gaming laptop." The company emphasized its 17-inch LED screen, high-end graphics hardware and six-hour battery life — all packed into a sleek, combat-knife-inspired case that's less than an inch thick. The Blade also sports a unique "switchblade" user interface, which includes 10 adaptive tactile hotkeys and a LCD multi-touch panel displaying in-game information along the keyboard.

Razer faces competition from a number of existing gaming PC specialists like Alienware, which offers a range of gaming laptops starting at $899. The Blade will also compete against smartphones and tablets, which are increasingly becoming the go-to devices for many consumers' mobile gaming habits.

"We took a long time raising our first VC round as games like Battlefield 3 kept us pretty busy recently," said Min-Liang Tan, co-founder and chief executive of Razer. "More importantly, we took our time selecting an institutional investor as we wanted to find a partner that understood our commitment to gaming and our no-compromise attitude to designing products. Plus these guys didn't freak out when we disappeared for a week in the middle of the deal when Skyrim launched."

Tan said that board meetings start with a game of Counterstrike and the losers have to buy coffee. Razer’s focus is on building a cult brand around its products for gamers. The company started in Singapore in 1998 with a focus on making computer mice for gamers, who are notoriously picky about the speed and sensitivity of their mice. Razer catered to the professional gaming community, signing up Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel as one of its sponsored players. Over the years, the company added keyboards, audio equipment, mouse surfaces, and console controllers.

Razer will use the money to invest in technology, expand and innovate on its portfolio of designs. And, of course, pay for the video game habits of management.

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Older gamers buy virtual goods more often younger gamers

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

The older you are, the more likely you are to buy virtual goods in mobile social games. That’s the conclusion of a survey by mobile gaming community MocoSpace.

The report found that gamers aged 25 to 35 spend the most time playing social games on mobile devices, but gamers over 45 spend exponentially more on virtual goods than their younger counterparts. The three-month survey polled nearly 500,000 gamers on Boston-based MocoSpace’s network of 22 million users.

Age correlates directly with the amount of money spent on virtual goods in social games. Gamers over 35, who made up 18 percent of those surveyed, were responsible for 42 percent of virtual goods purchases. By comparison, gamers aged 18 to 25, who were 43 percent of those surveyed, were responsible for only 18 percent of the purchases.

The 25- to 35-year-old demographic is by far the most active in social gaming. Players in this age group spent nearly twice as much time gaming as any other group, but only 22 percent of them bought virtual goods. Those 45 and older spent the least amount of time playing games, but 70 percent of them bought virtual goods. It makes sense because older demographics have more disposable income, and younger people have more disposable time on their hands.

"We're seeing parents go from spending money on buying games for their kids, to spending money on virtual goods in games for themselves,” said Justin Siegel, chief executive of MocoSpace.

The results also suggest that different monetization methods may work for different age groups. If younger gamers spend the most time in games, an ad-based model may be more profitable than a purely virtual goods-based approach.

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Intuit releases debit card to be used with its mobile GoPayment system

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 07:41 AM PST

GoPayment Debit CardMobile payments are on the rise, but what about when a small merchant needs to make a payment? Intuit is releasing its own debit card, tethered to its mobile payments service GoPayment to help business owners keep the cash organized.

“In addition to helping them get paid, we're helping them make payments," said vice president and general manager of Intuit's Payment Solutions division Chris Hylen in a statement. "This is just the beginning. Intuit will roll out new, innovative features for GoPayment that help users make payments in a variety of ways."

Intuit’s GoPayment is a competitor of Silicon Valley darling Square, which allows small businesses to accept credit card payments through an Android, iPhone or iPad. GoPayment is also compatible with Blackberry devices. The technology works by inserting a small card reader into the audio jack of the mobile device. You then download the associated application, which read the incoming card data, takes care of the check out experience, and allows you to process signatures.

Mobile payments are an increasingly popular topic of technology innovation, as more and more people are willing to use it. Square recently announced that Sir Richard Branson, business mogul behind the Virgin brand, invested in the company’s $100 million round of funding. Just last week, the company signed its one millionth merchant to the service. From the consumer side, comScore reports that 38 percent of those who own a smartphone have made a mobile payment. Even during this year’s Cyber Monday, some businesses such as PayPal, saw a jump in mobile purchasing. The trust is growing.

But small businesses have their own payment needs outside of serving their customers. Many small business owners use their own bank accounts to fuel their businesses on a day to day basis. In order to help maintain a needed level of separation, Intuit now allows you to transfer funds onto a GoPayment prepaid debit card. Transactions made during the GoPayment process will populate to the card for your business use. You can also transfer money back into your bank accounts from the card. The card is issued by Bancorp Bank, is licensed by Visa and is accepted wherever Visa debit cards are accepted.

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Scalado’s innovative mobile photo tech powers 1 billion devices

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 07:32 AM PST

After secretly making phone cameras better for the last decade, Swedish software company Scalado announced today that its mobile photo technology is now featured in over 1 billion devices.

Scalado provides advanced solutions for taking, viewing, and editing pictures on your phone. You probably own a Scalado-powered phone right now without knowing it (it’s found in many Android phones, though not in iPhones).

The company is likely counting old and obsolete devices in its figures, but it’s still impressive, especially in the budding mobile software arena. Scalado says it now controls over a third of the mobile imaging market, and its software will be included in at least 500 million devices every year.

The company's early innovations include Random Access JPEG, a patented technology that made it easy for 2002-era phones to deal with photos; CAPS, a software development kit that made managing multi-megapixel pictures more CPU- and memory-efficient; and SpeedTags, technology that made JPEG optimization on mobile phones near-instant. Many of Scalado's more recent technologies, including zero shutter lag shooting (pictures get taken as soon as you hit the shutter button), burst shot, and high-definition range shooting, are built upon SpeedTags and are included in the company's Camera SDK.

While mobile camera hardware has definitely improved over the last decade, innovation on the software end has been just as important. Scalado deserves some credit for paying attention to mobile photo software when few other companies did. Now, with many phone cameras featuring sensors that surpass some point and shoot cameras, Scalado will have even more of a chance to shine.

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Amazon attracts last-min shoppers with free 2-day shipping on all Kindles

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 07:29 AM PST

kindle-79In a push for last-minute and impulse buys, Amazon is offering its customers free two-day shipping on the four most-recent Kindle models before the end of the day on Dec. 21.

Amazon has been making an aggressive push for its new Kindle line up, especially with the Fire, which it hopes will be a vehicle for media content sales. Last week, the company said it had already sold “millions” of the Fire, and it was currently selling 1 million units with the Kindle branding per week.

To push Kindle sales for the year even further, the company is offering customers who order by 8 p.m. PT on Dec. 21 free two-day shipping on four Kindle models: the $79 Kindle, $99 Kindle Touch, $149 Kindle Touch 3G and $199 Kindle Fire. Each product fills its own niche, but if I had to guess which of these would be the best-selling, I’d guess the $79 Kindle for the crazy-low pricing and the $199 Kindle Fire, for being a cheap Android tablet that can play Angry Birds, read books and watch movies.

Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, the fourth-gen Kindle and Kindle Touch back in late September and began selling the Fire and Touch models in mid-November. By the beginning of December, Amazon had shipped between 3 and 4 million Kindle Fire units, which could mean it is already the number two tablet by market share in the U.S. after the Apple iPad.

Will you be buying/receiving a Kindle for the holidays this year?

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Man who pirated Fox’s Wolverine film sentenced to a year in prison

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 07:08 AM PST

WolverineIf you’re going to spend a year in prison for an extreme act of piracy, you may want to at least make sure the movie you’re uploading to the internet illegally is worthy of the crime.

Arguably, a big-budget,cheesy super-hero isn’t worth a year in jail in my opinion, but federal courts disagree. The 49-year-old New York man who uploaded Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine to MegaUpload in March 2009 — a full month before the film hit theaters — was sentenced to a year in federal prison Monday, reports Deadline Hollywood.

In addition to pirating a “workprint” copy of the film, Gilberto Sanchez also publicized the upload on several websites that allowed others to download a digital copy. Although Fox was able to get the video removed from MegaUpload within a day of being uploaded, the damage was already done.

The judge described Sanchez’s actions as "extremely serious”. In addition to the prison sentence, the judge also put him on a one-year supervised release and a several computer restrictions.

I’m surprised Sanchez didn’t get a more severe sentence since the movie he uploaded didn’t even have a chance to make money in the theater.

[Image via Twentieth Century Fox]

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A sunny day for Google, invests $94M in solar power projects

Posted: 20 Dec 2011 06:40 AM PST

While the implosion of solar power company Solyndra has seemingly cast a shadow on the viability of the solar industry, that hasn’t stopped Google from investing $94 million in photovoltaic (generating power through solar radiation) projects in California.

Google says it’s investing the funds in four photovoltaic projects near Sacramento, Calif. which are being built by Recurrent Energy. The investment brings Google’s total clean tech portfolio to over $915 million. At this rate, Google’s clean tech investments will likely reach $1 billion within the next year.

“We've already committed to providing funding this year to help more than 10,000 homeowners install solar PV panels on their rooftops,” writes assistant Google treasurer Axel Martinez. “But this investment represents our first investment in the U.S. in larger scale solar PV power plants that generate energy for the grid—instead of on individual rooftops. These projects have a total capacity of 88 MW, equivalent to the electricity consumed by more than 13,000 homes.”

Google is making the investment together with KKR, which is today forming a new venture for solar projects, SunTap Energy. This will be KKR’s first clean tech investment in the U.S.

Solyndra ended up falling apart because it couldn’t compete with the falling solar panel prices from competitors. The company received a $535 million loan from the Department of Energy, a move which has undergone quite a bit of scrutiny over the past year. The failure of Solyndra is definitely a warning sign for the clean tech community, but hopefully more high-profile investments like Google’s will serve to rekindle excitement in clean tech, and specifically solar power.

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Sony PlayStation Vita sells over 321,000 units since Japan debut

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 10:07 PM PST

The Sony PlayStation Vita has sold 321,407 units in the first two days of sales in Japan, according to market researcher Famitsu.

Sony has pinned a lot of hopes on the Vita, which is the company’s answer not only to the Nintendo 3DS gaming handheld but popular gaming apps on smartphones and tablets as well. Enterbrain, which is the parent of Famitsu, estimates Sony Vita sales will reach 1.4 million in its first week on the market. That’s a respectable number.

But the Vita sales have apparently fallen short of the Nintendo 3DS, which sold 371,326 units in its first two days.  Also, looking to the past, the previous-generation NIntendo handheld, the Nintendo DSi, sold 170,779 units in its first two days while the PlayStation Portable sold 166,074 units on its first day and sold out the original shipment of 200,000 by its second day.

Considering early reports of problems Vita buyers have experienced, the Sony Vita may experience a fluctuation in sales during its first week.

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LightSquared’s latest problem? It may run out of money

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 08:05 PM PST

lightsquaredWholesale wireless network startup LightSquared is in danger of running out of money by the second quarter of 2012.

The information comes from the company’s latest financial statement reviewed by Reuters. The statement indicated that LightSquared might able to continue operating unless it can raise additional capital and financing.

LightSquared’s business strategy involves building out a high-speed 4G long-term evolution (LTE) wireless network, and leasing the use of it to outside companies. Those companies would then power their devices or run their wireless service on LightSquared’s network. The company, which is funded by Philip Falcone’s $5 billion Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, took a $427 million net loss for the first nine months of 2011.

“If the company fails to obtain the necessary financing on a timely basis, the execution of the company’s business strategy could be materially delayed, costs could materially increase or the company may have to discontinue operations or seek a purchaser for the business or assets,” according to the financial statement.

The availability of cash is hardly the only problem that the startup faces. LightSquared’s LTE network operates on a portion of the wireless spectrum that causes interference to GPS. That interference has the potential to prevent the estimated 500 million GPS-enabled devices and services — like airplane tracking, clock synchronization, weather forecasting, emergency communications and several others that are in use — from working properly. While the company claims to have engineered a solution to the interference problems, the most recent government tests prove otherwise.

U.S. Regulators are still reviewing LightSquared's LTE network to determine the extent of interference problems with and won't allow the company to deploy without approval.

If LightSquared ceases operations it could jeopardize wireless solutions for a number of high-profile companies, including Best Buy, Leap Wireless, Sharp and several others. Also worth noting is the startup’s agreement to pay Sprint $9 billion to build out its LTE wireless network infrastructure.

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BestVendor grabs $3M to help professionals find great apps

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 06:33 PM PST

Consumer-facing applications get all the love, but professionals need apps too, right? Yes, says, BestVendor, a startup that aims to help business folks find the best web, mobile and desktop applications. Now, the company has $3 million in fresh funding to complete that mission.

The just-hatched company focuses its attention on the lesser-loved class of applications — you know the super important category of apps that help us perform better at work — and operates a recommendations and reviews site for business professionals, modeled after Yelp.

BestVendor was founded in January 2011, and launched its open beta in early November. Today, just one month later, more than 4,800 users, who each have shared, on average, 13 of their favorite applications, turn to BestVendor for apps-for-work recommendations, the company said.

The site operates around the sharing-is-caring mantra of today’s social web. “Ten years ago it would have seemed weird that we all share our resumes online using Linkedin. We're working towards a world where professionals are sharing the tools they're using online and it becomes part of their identity,” BestVendor co-founder Jeff Giesa told VentureBeat in a previous interview.

The idea seems to have merit: Business folks always want to find the best apps and app makers could really use the additional publicity (so long as it’s good, which may not always be the case). And while the business model is a bit unclear — Giesa said the model is to help business application providers, particularly SMBs, acquire new customers — investors have decided that BestVendor is worth at least a $3 million wager.

In total, the New York-based company has raised $3.6 million in funding across Series A and seed rounds. The latest round was co-led by RRE Ventures and SoftBank Capital. Lerer Ventures, Old Willow Partners and David Tisch also participated in the round.

[Image via sarchi/Flickr]

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Veteran Wall Street analyst rates Zynga an “outperform”

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 05:12 PM PST

Zynga has taken a beating in its first two days of trading as a public company, with the stock closing at $9.05 a share today, down almost 10 percent from its initial public offering price of $10 a share on Friday.

But a well-known video game analyst came out with a report today that says Zynga will “outperform” the stock market and hit a price of about $12.50 a share within a year. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, issued a 34-page report today that examined the business closely and concluded that “Zynga is well-positioned for revenue growth due to its dominant market share among social game publishers, its track record of releasing very popular and durable games of the highest quality, and its myriad opportunities to expand beyond Facebook.”

[Update: Another veteran game analyst, Atul Bagga of Lazard Capital Markets, also initiated coverage with a "buy" rating today, setting a price target of $12 a share. See more on his report at the bottom].

Pachter noted that Zynga has a big opportunity to expand its advertising revenues, given that the company has more than 200 million monthly active users. Zynga’s ad revenues were 73 percent of its total revenue in 2008, but the company scaled that back to improve the user experience in games. Now, ad revenue is only 6 percent of 2011 revenue year-to-date. If Zynga made $1 in ad revenue from each of its users each month, that would create revenues of $2.4 billion. Pachter thinks that a small increase in ads would boost revenues without alienating users. Branded virtual goods, sponsorships and engagement ads would likely be welcomed by users.

Pachter, a longtime video game industry analyst, was also optimistic about Zynga’s ability to migrate its social games to mobile platforms and monetize them. He said the 12-month price target reflects an estimate of 9.5 times 2013 adjusted EBITDA (earnings before income taxes, depreciation and amortization). Earnings are expected to grow about 93 percent in 2012 and 25 percent in 2013.

Other points that Pachter emphasized:

– Zynga is the leading social game developer and publisher, with six of the top 10 games on Facebook. The company has more monthly active users than the next 12 social game developers combined. Zynga’s titles are durable too, as many of its hits were released before 2011, and Pachter says the quality of Zynga’s games continues to improve. Empires & Allies, for instance, gave Zynga’s players a taste of combat and strategy for the first time. That helped Zynga reach more hardcore gamers, who spend more money. Pachter says that CastleVille, released in November, is like CityVille on steroids, with more built-in longevity and monetization. CastleVille currently has 37.1 million monthly active users, not far from Zynga’s market-leading CityVille at 48.8 million.

– The key to making money from the games, Pachter said, is accumulation of resources. If players lose patience with the time it takes to gather resources, they are more likely to pay to speed up that time. Players can also ask friends to provide them with resources, and that request on its own constitutes a free advertisement for the game, helping a title to spread from friend to friend. That is why Zynga’s games are so viral.

– The company is well-positioned for long-term growth. The company launched several major games such as Adventure World, Mafia Wars 2, and CastleVille — all late in the year — and those are likely to contribute to revenues in 2012. Wedbush believes Zynga revneues could grow from about $1.2 billion in 2011 to $1.53 billion in 2012. Longer term, drivers include growth in the number of Facebook users, growth in the number of games played by Zynga players from the current 1.4 per player, and increased monetization of the Zynga player base.

– Revenue growth areas include mobile. At 11.1 million daily active users on mobile, Zynga’s mobile usage grew 10-fold over 2010. Mobile could be 10 percent of Zynga’s revenue by 2013, up from 7 percent in 2011, Pachter said.

– By 2015, Wedbush believes Zynga could grow revenues to $4.5 billion.

– Growth in China is a big opportunity. Zynga has a deal with China’s Tencent social network in a deal where Tencent keeps 70 percent of the revenue. But it provides Zynga with protection against piracy and access to around 700 million users. China revenues are expected to grow from $11.6 million in 2011 to $46.5 million in 2013. International revenues grew to 35 percent in 2011, compared to 32 percent a year earlier.

– Zynga can use its Project Z platform to expand its games beyond Facebook.

– Zynga will likely expand more rapidly in the future. Pachter believes the company will launch 8 to 10 games a year and retire maybe four or five older ones.

Pachter also pointed out some risks for Zynga. Those include changes in game releases, a possible loss of interest in Facebook over time, changes to the economics of its Facebook agreements, inability to create more hits, increased competition, and higher demand for video game console games. Zynga is also spending a lot on game development and other research and development. R&D cost about $400 million in 2011 and it could hit $516 million in 2012. Stock-based compensation could also cost Zynga $400 million a year.

Pachter noted that EA’s team in China is working on a version of SimCity for Facebook, and that could take a toll in Zynga’s games, especially CityVille.

In a report for Lazard Capital Markets, Bagga said the company is a leader, has a meaningful advantage with a large user base, it understands users and their playing habits, and it knows how to manage its audience. He expected continued momentum on Facebook and higher monetization per user, driven by improved conversion of players from free to paid status and by advertising. And he is positive on Zynga’s attempt to create its own social network with Project Z.

Like Pachter, Bagga sees games-as-a-service to be a new and powerful category serving social gamers with an estimated compound annual growth rate of 30 percent over the next five years. Social mobile gaming, meanwhile, could grow at a compound annual growth rate of 34 percent over the next five years. Social mobile games could grow from $1.2 billion in 2010 to $5.2 billion by 2015. On a global basis, mobile games could grow from $3 billion in 2010 to $8.4 billion by 2015.

Since Zynga leads the fast-growing Facebook games category, it is logical it should have  higher valuation than its rivals. Ad revenue in social games could grow 35 percent CAGR over the next five years, Bagga said.

Games are a hit-or-miss business, but Zynga is less likely to launch and invest heavily in misses because it can do A/B testing and quickly figure out what works or doesn’t work with its audience. Zynga also has plenty of new markets it can enter, Bagga said.

Many have noted that Zynga’s conversion rate, or percentage of users who buy something in a free-to-play game, is a scant 2.5 percent. But this percentage has been growing, from 1.7 percent in 2009, but it is still much lower than the 10 percent to 25 percent rate in China, Korea and Japan.Bagga said that the average revenue per daily active user for Zynga was 6 cents a day, up 66 percent from 2009.

Bagga also noted that real-money wagering of poke could become legal at some point the U.S. and Zynga’s poker game could benefit from that, as real-money online poker could be a $3 billion to $5 billion market in the U.S.

Bagga noted that “whales,” or users who pay huge sums for goods, represent a dependency risk for Zynga. Typically, Bagga said 5 percent of the paying users account for 50 percent of the total revenue. While he acknowledges Zynga’s revenue growth is slowing, he believes the strong pipeline of titles coming will renew that growth in 2012. And despite the growing competition, Zynga  has grown its market share of gamers on Facebook from 52 percent to 58 percent in three years.

Bagga believes that Zynga could also launch games in the hardcore sector of social games, currently occupied by rivals such as Kixeye and Kabam. The monetization on these games is much higher than in simulation games.

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Kinetic energy may power our home and gadgets starting in 5 years

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 05:09 PM PST

SoccketIn the next five years your shoe may be what powers the battery in your cell phone. Engineers are harnessing the power of kinetic energy and one IBM employee thinks widespread usage of the technology isn’t far off.

Harry Kolar, an engineer with IBM, described harvesting energy from human movements as bodies becoming “an energy-generating machine,” in a blog post about what energy changes may occur in the next five years. In essence, we create energy from many of the little activities we do throughout the day. This includes the simply click of a heel on the ground, jogging and biking. It’s similar to the hamster on the wheel scenario. This time, however, it’s on a much larger, human scale and only takes energy from our regular activities. Kolar explains the energy collection could come from a small device and antenna implanted into the sole of your shoe, measuring each time it comes in contact with the ground, or even simply bends. Similar devices could be implanted on the spokes of bike wheels, or even attached to pipes to catch energy from running water.

“This science — parasitic power collection — pulls and transmits energy created by the slightest movement.” said Kolar in the blog post. “Think about the possibilities.”

Kolar also predicts that we will figure out how to best harness wave and tidal energy. Currently, we have floating energy receptacles, which harvest wave energy, but they are clunky and may have a negative impact on the environment around it. When we think of pollution, we usually think about plastic bags and bottles floating in water, confusing fish into thinking it’s food, and hurting the environment. This is certainly one kind of pollution, but rarely do people consider noise to be pollution. If you’re a person raised in the quiet countryside, trying to fall asleep to car alarms and sirens may feel intrusive. Well, this is the same for fish and marine animals who have to listen to hums and whirrs that exist from man-made machinery.

Soccket ball“My team is working with The Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland to use real-time streaming analytics that monitor the underwater noise and track its potential impact on the marine environment,” said Koler. “That data will be shared across the wave energy industry to help build a clearer picture of how this type of technology can be safely, sustainably used and controlled.”

Others are already taking advantage of this parasitic power collection, with the goal of powering third world countries through soccer. Yes, soccer. Soccket has created a durable soccer ball that when kicked around for only a half hour can power up an LED light for up to three hours. The balls are made specifically for communities with little resources and sometimes rough terrain. The ball replaces kerosene lamps, which according to Soccket are the equivalent of smoking 40 cigarettes a day.

Kinetic energy will play a big role is where we get out energy from, and we’re already starting to develop way of capturing it. It’l be important to keep innovation rolling over the next five years as Kolar believes we’re running out of resources — and quickly.

“With populations growing and electricity demand expected to grow at 2.2 percent per year to 2035 (according to the World Energy Outlook 2010),” Kolar explain, “Our current energy infrastructure is just not enough.”

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Apple knocks HTC (and Android) on its side with patent victory

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 05:03 PM PST

Come April 19, 2012, Android-powered HTC smartphones may be a bit harder to find on store shelves in the U.S.

In its final determination, the U.S. International Trade Commission has ruled that HTC violated two claims of an Apple patent — the patent deals with software that turns phone numbers and addresses into actionable links — and has ordered a ban on the import and sale of infringing HTC devices. The ruling goes into effect on April 19, 2012.

The case dates back to March 2010, when Apple first filed a complaint against HTC for violating 10 different patents. In its first ruling, the ITC found that two of Apple patents were being infringed upon by HTC. Today’s decision, which followed HTC’s appeal of the initial ruling, found HTC in violation of just two claims of a single patent — though it still comes with a weighty limited exclusion order prohibiting the sale of select Android-powered HTC devices in the U.S.

HTC, for its own part, seems to be unfazed — at least externally. The Taiwan-based company told Boy Genius Report that it was prepared for the ruling. “Our designers have created alternate solutions for the '647 patent,’ a representative said.

But the Droid Incredible, Evo 4G, T-Mobile G2, Nexus One and other HTC devices running Android 1.6 to 2.2 could be affected by Monday’s ITC decision, according to Gizmodo.

So what the heck is this all about? At the center of the ruling is U.S. Patent No. 5,946,647, a seemingly simple invention that covers technology most of us probably take for granted: Clickable and actionable phone numbers, addresses and other data points.

For those looking for a meatier description, here’s the official patent descriptions for both claims:

Claim 1: A computer-based system for detecting structures in data and performing actions on detected structures, comprising: an input device for receiving data; an output device for presenting the data; a memory storing information including program routines including an analyzer server for detecting structures in the data, and for linking actions to the detected structures; a user interface enabling the selection of a detected structure and a linked action; and an action processor for performing the selected action linked to the selected structure; and a processing unit coupled to the input device, the output device, and the memory for controlling the execution of the program routines.

Claim 8: The system recited in claim 1, wherein the user interface highlights detected structures.

The matter is of varying significance, depending on who you talk to. The ruling could have more widespread implications and affect the makers of other Android-powered devices, or it could do nothing more than force Google to release an Android update.

“If Google can implement this popular feature, which users of modern-day smartphones really expect, without infringing on the two patent claims found infringed, this import ban won’t have any effect whatsoever,” patent expert Florian Mueller said, calling the victory of medium value to Apple. “This ruling falls far short of anything that would force HTC out of the U.S. market in the near term.”

“That said, Apple has made some progress. It now has one patent that it can also assert against other Android device makers,” Mueller added. “Apple needs to find several more patents of the ‘data tapping’ kind — or, alternatively, one or two fundamental patents for which there’s no viable workaround — in order to really have competitive impact with its many litigations targeting Android.”

So it’s a blow, for sure, but one that Android and HTC can potentially recover from. Of course, here again we find Apple continuing to take an aggressive stance in protecting its intellectual property. The company is also embroiled in a legal battle with Samsung over the Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets.

VentureBeat has reached out to Apple for comment and will update this post should the company release a statement on the ITC’s decision.

[Image via laihiu/Flickr]

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Google launches Person Finder to help Philippines typhoon victims

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 03:37 PM PST

phillipines-google-person-finderGoogle has created a Person Finder tool to help people in the Philippines locate missing persons after tropical storm “Sendong” devastated parts of the country late last week.

The death toll from Sendong has been reported to be over 900 and that number is expected to rise further as more floating bodies are discovered, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The storm did not feature especially heavy winds, but the torrential rains created mudslides and horrific flash floods that caught people unaware.

Google’s Person Finder tool allows users to input names to either find a person or file a report for a missing person. The tool is in English and Filipino, and as of Monday afternoon 200 reports were filed. On top of helpful information, the tool also spotlights how to donate to the Red Cross in the Philippines online or through text messaging.

The search giant also created a user-generated Crisis Map dedicated to tracking typhoon Sendong. The Crisis Map can help users find various evacuation centers, donation drop-off points and updates from multiple relief agencies. The map above shows the current state of the Crisis Map as of Monday afternoon.

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A look at 2011 through Flickr’s eyes

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 03:24 PM PST

Royal WeddingPhoto website Flickr found the best photos representing 2011, and compiled them in a visual representation of what this year meant to people all over the world.

Over 70 million people use the Flickr to upload their photos, organize them and share them with friends and family. Nearly 3.5 million photos are uploaded a day. Because of the constant stream of activity, Flickr has a comprehensive view of current events from all different user perspectives. In all, Flickr hosts around 6 billion photos and videos total, and it’s growing.

In order to keep up with where all these events are taking place, Flickr introduced geo-tagging to their photo uploads, which can added manually or through its Organizr service. Geo-tagging allows you to associate a picture with a specific location, and there are entire groups and forums around how to use the data surrounding geo-tagging. So far, over 250 million photos have been tagged with a location. Google’s Flickr competitor, Picasa, also allows you to “map” photos, or add longitudes and latitudes to the picture, which will then show up for that location on Google Maps.

The group of photos shows celebrations from Egypt’s Revolution and the fall of Hosni Mubarak, to the Royal Wedding in the UK, to the beginnings of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City. Check out the galley here and below.

Arab Spring via papacamera

Egyptian Revolution via sierragoddess

Space Shuttle Discovery via NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Japanese Earthquake via IFRC

Royal Wedding via The British Monarchy

Death of Osama via The White House

Joplin Tornado via Aaron Fuhrman

Vancouver via K-Rock Design

Space Shuttle Atlantis via nasa hq photo

South Sudan via babasteve

Harry Potter via ·•●❤ Ginny Le ❤●•·

Hurricane Irene via captainkickstand

9/11 Ten Year Anniversary via jasonepowell

Occupy Wall Street 1 via david_shankbone

Occupy Wall Street 2 via pweiskel08

Steve Jobs via louisemarston

World Series via Gregula

Armistice Day via The Higgs Boson

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Minecraft developer makes new ‘Minicraft’ game in just two days

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 02:57 PM PST

The developer of Minecraft, Markus Persson (aka Notch), has created a new game called 'Minicraft', in just two days. The game is entered in the Ludum Dare  indie game development competition, which invites single handed developers to create and submit a working game in under 48 hours.

It’s a small thing, but Persson’s Minecraft, which we reviewed today, turned into a rare runaway commercial hit for an indie game and it will be interesting to see if he can do it again.

Minicraft draws a lot from Minecraft, in that it involves the collection and use of natural resources to build items. The game looks a little like an early Legend of Zelda title, with its top down perspective, and it offers players a series of island to explore. A simple but addictive approach to resource gathering helps give the game a whimsical charm not a million miles from that of its big brother.

Taking place four times a year, the Ludem Dare (Latin for ‘to give a game’) competition invites entries from solo developers, based around a particular theme. This winter’s theme is 'Alone' and the Minicraft game sits comfortably under that umbrella, given that "the goal of the game is to kill the only other sentient being in the world, making sure you’ll be alone forever."

Minicraft is up against over 700 other competition entries, which cover a multitude of gaming styles and genres. The games will be judged on nine different categories, including innovation, fun, graphics, audio, humor and mood. The winner will be announced on Jan. 9 when the judging period ends.

The winner of the last Ludem Dare competition (#21) was a flash game called 'Flee Buster' by ChevyRay Johnston, which combines three different arcade escape games in one.

Alongside the main competition, Ludem Dare also runs a 'Jam', a slightly more relaxed affair, which invites teams of developers to come up with games in 72 hours. There are some fantastic entries this year, not least of which is 'Together Alone' , a short but sweet puzzle game with more polish than you would think possible, given the time limitation.

There are no physical or cash prizes for the Ludem Dare competition, with the organisers emphasising the fact that "your prize is your product." Participants are actively encouraged to take their games "above and beyond" the competition, by aiming for inclusion on gaming platforms such as iOS, Android, Steam and major flash gaming sites, such as Kongregate.

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Here’s what Hollywood & Silicon Valley are spending on SOPA

Posted: 19 Dec 2011 02:21 PM PST

Whether you support or oppose it, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is costing a fortune — more than $2.5 million so far.

Reported contributions to the congressional sponsors of SOPA have been pouring into Washington from the West Coast.

Entertainment organizations in Southern California and Silicon Valley elites have donated $2,508,573 to date; unfortunately, only about a fifth of that amount has come from organization that want to stop or drastically change SOPA.

SOPA is a controversial piece of legislation, to put it mildly. The bill and its sister bill, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), are designed to protect copyright on the web, but they do so at a potentially devastating cost to the online freedoms to which we’re accustomed.

For example, if a website is accused of containing copyright-infringing content such as a song or a picture, the site could be blocked by ISPs, de-indexed from search engines and even prevented from doing business with companies such as Paypal.

Maplight, an organization that tracks spending on congressional campaigns, recorded the amount of donations made to various members of Congress that support SOPA and PIPA using data from the Center for Responsive Politics. WHat Maplight found is that companies that have stated an opposition to SOPA (or have stated that the language in SOPA is too strong) have donated a total of $524,977 to SOPA’s sponsors.

Most of these organizations are in the technology industry, including web companies and software companies.

On the other side of the debate are the many faces of the entertainment industry, including cable companies, television and film studios, record labels, radio stations and many others. These SOPA supporters have donated nearly two million dollars to the congressional sponsors of the bill.

We used Maplight’s data to create these quick graphics illustrating the breakdown of spending from pro-SOPA and anti-SOPA organizations.

The House Judiciary Committee is set to vote on the bill on Wednesday, December 21. A previously scheduled vote was delayed due to the need for technical expert advice.

However, many technical experts of the highest order, such as the inventors of the components of the Internet, have already very clearly expressed their opposition to SOPA. In an open letter to Congress, luminaries such as Vint Cerf and Esther Dyson spoke out against the legislation, saying, “If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure.”

Also, Wikipedia may see a day-long blackout to protest the bill.

To contact the congressional representatives voting on SOPA before the committee makes its decision, check out the resources available at AmericanCensorship.org.

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