11 February, 2012



GamesBeat weekly roundup: DICE Summit news and more

Posted: 11 Feb 2012 07:00 AM PST

Here's some of the stories that ran only on GamesBeat this week. We're running more stories exclusively on the GamesBeat section of VentureBeat now, particularly when the stories are mainly of interest to game readers. The broader interest stories are running on VentureBeat as well. And please visit the GamesBeat section to catch up on game news. We're ramping up our game coverage, so you'll find more and more news at GamesBeat.

Here's some of the stories that appeared exclusively on GamesBeat:

Valve's Gabe Newell offers update on Steam security breach

AIAS game of the year: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim takes home the top honor

Bethesda reveals Skyrim dragon mounts, house-building, Kinect shouts, and more!

Gameloft Live enters the social mobile fray on Android, coming to iOS soon

Tips and tricks: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

The Skylanders financial bet gets a lot bigger with Giants sequel

Review: The Simpsons Arcade takes us back to the bowling alley

David Jaffe to leave Eat Sleep Play when Twisted Metal is complete

Microsoft Flight takes off on Feb. 29
And don't miss some of our bigger stories in gaming this week, including coverage of the DICE Summit:

Call of Duty Elite: It's not a douche move — Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg

The DeanBeat: DICE Summit entices the game industry's insiders to Vegas

Ninja Gaiden's creator Itagaki pleads for game designers to create titles that change lives

Epic's Tim Sweeney predicts the next 20 years in gaming technology

How Google plans to avoid Facebook's "games ghetto" with Google+

The makers of Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command: iPhone is like an '80s arcade

Temple Run developer shares a behind the scenes look at making a runaway hit iOS game

Meteor Games to publish high-end online game Hawken in December (exclusive)



Filed under: games

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Instagram makes mobile photo-sharing more hip with filters, enhancements

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 05:30 PM PST

Mobile photo-sharing service luxInstagram updated its application today with a new filter, enhancement feature, and a makeover to its user interface.

Instagram lets you take a photo with your iPhone and layer it with different filters for that extra hip look. You can then connect it to your social networks and share it with the Instagram community. Now, the company is introducing a new, sleeker interface that’s easier to navigate. The updates include a new header, as well as different menu buttons on the bottom of the screen. The company explained in a blog post that these were the “first steps towards making it easier to understand and interact with our app.”

Notifications have also gotten easier to use by taking you directly to the referenced comment, photo, or profile when clicked.

The company has also added a new filter called Sierra. Filters are really what give Instagram its charm. They allow anyone to be a photographer with their phones. Sierra makes the yellows pop on your photos. If your photos don’t have exactly the look you want, or if they’re too dark, you can use Instagram’s new Lux feature, which automatically brightens dark photos and brings out more details, again catering to the amateur who loves beautiful photos, but may not know how to take them.

These updates aren’t the only love the application has seen lately. Kaitlyn Trigger, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger’s girlfriend, created an application that lets you turn your Instagram photos into virtual Valentine’s Day cards. She calls it Lovestagram.

hat tip The Next Web

Filed under: media, mobile

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Crowdtilt launches to group fund anything (and it means anything)

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 02:42 PM PST

Crowdtilt, a new group-funding site backed by startup incubator Y Combinator, has launched today to help you fund anything. The site lets you group fund any project or goal you can come up with, from trips across the country to buying a wedding gift.

“Essentially, we’ve taken our favorite elements of crowdfunding platforms and provided them for groups of friends instead” Crowdtilt chief executive and co-founder James Beshara told VentureBeat in an email.

Crowdtilt’s focus is on smaller groups of people who are pooling their money for a common goal, such as friends who want to rent a beach house. The process is what you’d expect if you’ve ever used Kickstarter, a popular crowdfunding site. The person who creates the campaign sets a “tilt” point at which the campaign will hit its funding goal and creates an expiration date. Right now the service is completely free, but that could change as the site grows.

Crowdtilt, while similar to Kickstarter, has a different setup and doesn’t cater to the same market. With Kickstarter, you are often investing a new product, company, or project and you reap some tangible benefit, be it a new gadget, a piece of art, or a screening of film. Kickstarter also has an application process to weed out certain projects. Crowdtilt lets you fund campaigns for whatever reason and at whatever amount your choose, no limits.

Group funding for charitable causes was Crowdtilt’s original purpose, but Beshara pivoted the company to what it is now. People have responded well and flocked to the site for their group funding needs. The site now has more than 3,000 users.

Crowdtilt originally started in Austin and launched a beta version of the service several months ago. The site is now available to the public and the company has moved its offices to Palo Alto, California.

Filed under: deals, media

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Here’s what we REALLY thought about this week’s news (video)

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 02:05 PM PST

Skyrim is awesome; Pinterest users need to calm the hell down; and Facebook users need to stay away from the gun cabinet.

In this week’s episode of VB Weekly, the VentureBeat writing staff takes a front seat, with a range of our editors and reporter spouting off about the stories they found most interesting.

This week, we’re talking about:

All our loud-mouthedness is in the video, and we welcome yours in the comments section below. Have a great weekend!

Filed under: games, social, video

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CIA website down, Anonymous says it’s responsible

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 01:41 PM PST

Anonymous masks

Anonymous bullhorn @YourAnonNews is claiming that the hacktivist group has taken down the Central Intelligence Agency‘s website.

“CIA TANGO DOWN: https://www.cia.gov/ #Anonymous,” a person behind @YourAnonNews tweeted.

CIA websiteThe attack took place roughly around 12:10 p.m. Pacific time on Friday, and the website is still down an hour later.

Anonymous traditionally has “F*ck FBI Friday,” in which it attempts to take down or release information about the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Last week, the group released a phone call regarding Anonymous that took place between the FBI and Scotland Yard.

The group recently took down the US Department of Justice website as well as a number of a record label websites in response to the shutdown of file sharing website MegaUpload. Low-orbit-ion-cannons (LOIC) were used to issue denial of service attacks to the many websites it was targeting at the time. Denial of service attacks send multiple data requests to a website in the hopes of overloading its servers, resulting in the website becoming inaccessible. These requests are also called “packets,” thousands of which can be quickly sent using LOIC.

Anonymous was also accused of providing links on Twitter, which would install LOIC on any computer that clicked the link. These links helped Anonymous recruit innocent bystanders to their cause, launching denial of service attacks from any of the computers that accessed the link.

A similar attack may have been used to take down the CIA website, although it doesn’t look like the group distributed any of the same links that helped take down the DOJ.

hat tip RT

Anonymous image via Shutterstock

Filed under: security

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Prepare for MacBook Pros that look like MacBook Airs

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 01:34 PM PST

MacBook Air

After sticking with a fairly consistent unibody MacBook Pro design for some time, Apple may be gearing up to bring design elements from its popular MacBook Air line into its more powerful models later this year.

The company is preparing a “top-to-bottom revamp” of the MacBook Pro lineup that will result in thinner unibody cases and solid-state hard drives and the loss of optical disk drives, sources tell AppleInsider.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard such talk, as rumors of a MacBook Air-inspired redesign for the MacBook Pro first started last year.  There’s also word that Apple is working on a 15-inch MacBook Air model, which could be related to this report.

That Apple will finally redesign the MacBook Pro this year doesn’t come as a surprise—the real question is to what extent. I have a hard time believing that Apple will completely remove the choice of larger traditional hard drives (SSDs are much faster but hold much less) from the MacBook Pro. And while the optical disk drive is easy to forgo on an ultraportable laptop, consumers who rely on the MacBook Pro as their only computer would certainly miss the ability to throw in a DVD.

There are benefits to completely dropping older hardware on the MacBook Pro. It would allow Apple to bring the quick boot and instant-on capabilities of the MacBook Air to its wider notebook lineup, and it would also significantly improve battery life. And of course, such a move would help Apple one-up Intel and the many Ultrabook manufacturers trying to ape the style of the MacBook Air.

AppleInsider says that Apple is prioritizing the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s redesign over the 17-inch model, but that’s par for the course for Apple.

It’ll be interesting to see how Apple juggles its MacBook Pro and Air lines as they begin to more closely resemble each other. Most companies would be terrified about cannibalizing a successful new product, but Apple has already shown that it isn’t afraid to make sweeping changes if the result is better products.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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How sites like MegaUpload make millions from pirated video

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 01:28 PM PST

This story originally appeared on CNET and is republished with permission.

For the scope of this article, I am leaving all of the commentary on SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, and such aside for others much more well-versed than I to discuss.

A lot of people have been asking me the same question lately: Just how do file-sharing sites like MegaUpload — recently taken down by an international collection of law enforcement — make hundreds of millions of dollars a year and fund lottery-winner style lifestyles that include mansions and private jets?

It’s actually pretty straightforward. These sites use the same techniques as legitimate Web sites: search, social media, ad networks, and online payment processors.

Sites that feature links to illegal videos optimize for the keyword “links,” and users that seek such videos have learned to search for “links.” Generally, providers of legal content are not trying to land in searches for links; they are trying to land in searches for the word “videos.” So searching Google for a popular TV show such as NCIS followed by the words “free links” returns sites that feature links to pirated copies of the TV show.
Clicking on one of these Google links, such as TV-Links.com, returns a well-designed Web page featuring advertising from the likes of American Express and Hertz via retargeting ad networks such as Chango.

The page also features links to the latest NCIS episodes that are illegally hosted on download sites. Each link has a rating so that visitors will know when a file is no longer available due to a DCMA takedown. As there are numerous links available on numerous download sites, there is generally always an illegal copy available for viewing. It’s technically legal to link to illegally hosted copyrighted content, so these types of sites are seemingly doing nothing wrong.

Like many profit-oriented Web sites, clicking on one of these links actually takes you to a secondary page so that the site can generate an additional page view.
Clicking on a link sends the user to file-sharing sites such as VideoWeed.com that allow streaming video of hosted files, including retargeted ad networks ads from advertisers such as Virgin America.

After watching a set amount of video, users are incentivized to pay to watch more using their credit cards, processed by payment networks such as Skrill. You’re also offered the option to earn points towards viewing videos by accepting “offers,” such as a Netflix trial subscription.

If this all looks familiar and resembles so many media sites you come across, they’ve succeeded. That’s the intention.

Peter Yared is the CTO of CBS Interactive and has founded four e-commerce and marketing infrastructure companies that were acquired by Sun, VMware, Webtrends and TigerLogic. You can follow him at@peteryared.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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TaskRabbit gets fruitful, mulitplies with new open API

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 12:20 PM PST

Local-labor locating service TaskRabbit is opening up its tools and network to developers with a new API (application programming interface), the company announced on its blog Friday. This will allow third-party developers to integrate TaskRabbit features directly into their own apps and web sites.

With TaskRabbit, you can hire someone local (called a “Rabbit”) to run errands or do small bits of random work for you, including grocery shopping, data entry, and transporting all kinds of objects hither and yon. The new open API is set up to be used in two ways. One is by companies that look for short-term workers on a regular basis, say for user tests or focus groups. The other is with to-do list apps and other tools that individuals use to stay organized. Now these busy people will be able to find someone to tackle the tasks they can’t from within those apps.

Two to-do management apps have already taken advantage of the API, Astrid and Producteev. People who use those apps can outsource anything on their to-do lists without making a separate trip to TaskRabbit. User-testing company YouEye has integrated TaskRabbit into its site and is using it to hire test subjects.

The service is currently available in nine U.S. cities: Boston, New York, LA, Portland, San Antonio, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, and Seattle. It’s headed to Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston next.

The San Francisco-based startup has raised $24.7 million in funding so far. The latest round of $17.8 million was closed in December 2011. In January, TaskRabbit acquired SkillSlate, a New York-based service for people auctioning off their skills and time.

via AllThingsD

Baby bunnies image via ShutterStock

Filed under: dev, VentureBeat

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Shopping site Sneakpeeq raises $2.67M

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 12:04 PM PST

Social daily deals and shopping website Sneakpeeq announced Friday is has raised $2.67 million in funding.

Sneakpeeq is attempting to replicate the shopping experience you’d have in a physical store. What type of experience? Well, think about walking into a fancy shop, picking an item off the shelf, turning it over, and checking the price tag. Sneakpeeq recreates that by, for example, making you click a “peeq” button to see a price rather than blatantly displaying them. The Peeq button brings to mind Amazon’s “add to cart to see the price” practice, which can be irritating. Sneakpeeq isn’t trying it to be annoying; every time you click the button, you can get a discount on your purchase. It still adds an extra step to the buying process, but at least it doesn’t feel like extra work. You get a specific amount of “peeqs” per day and can earn more by interacting with the site.

It wouldn’t be a social shopping site without some Facebook integration, and the company encourages you to share items you want to buy with your Facebook friends. Buy sharing, you get “badges” that you can redeem for discounts and more peeqs. Sneakpeeq also has a Facebook integration that can post to your timeline every time you “peeq” at a price.

Sneakpeeq joins the ranks of many other discount social shopping sites, such as Fab.com and LuxeYard. Most of these sites, Sneakpeeq included, focus on action-driven buying, which encourages shoppers to share products and interact with other shoppers to get better prices.

The new funding comes from Bain Capital Ventures, Metamorphic Ventures, Keith Rabois, Tim Kendall, Mike Murphy, and Vikas Gupta. It will be used for new site features, including gift buying, mobile apps, and video features.

Sneakpeeq is based in San Francisco, Calif.

[Title image (not pictured above) via Shutterstock.]

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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Mobilizing the masses: How Facebook can transform its mobile risk into success

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 11:51 AM PST

Among the many compelling sections of Facebook's landmark S-1 filing last week—which included Zuck's "The Hacker Way" founder's letter, its $1 billion in profits last year and of course, the money spent on private jets—one area really stood out among the numbers and hyperbole. The risk, and of course on the flip side, massive opportunity, that mobile represents to the future of Facebook.

In an admission that surprised many, Facebook revealed that while its monthly usage figures on mobile were of course jaw-droppingly huge, the company still hadn't figured out a way to make real money from those mobile users. As the S-1 states: "We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven."

Recent reports now state that Facebook is readying its first foray into mobile ads, with the launch of "sponsored stories" – a well-timed move if so, knowing that its mobile vulnerabilities would be revealed in the S-1.

So, now that Facebook is finally ready to commit to mobile revenues, how can it reap the rewards of having such a huge mobile user base (a stunning achievement of 425 million monthly active users)? What are the secrets behind encouraging high grossing user behavior across the mobile platform?

In my role as VP of Mobile at Badoo, I've experienced first hand the challenges and the rewards of scaling mobile users and revenues on a global scale. Here are some of the lessons I've learned:

Mobile ads aren't Always the easy answer

To allow ads or not to allow ads – that's the philosophical question that founders like Zuckerberg have long wrestled with. Facebook famously delayed advertising on its primary site until it had a critical mass of users that were already hooked into the experience, had willingly given up mounds of personal data, and who wouldn't desert the addictive platform if ads came along.

So when it came to mobile, they took the same approach. "Users first, revenues later." Of course, in the case of Facebook's mobile strategy, it turned out to be revenues "much later." But, many companies struggle to even get scale in terms of mobile users, and Facebook has managed that better than anyone – nearly half a billion monthly users.

And while we're on the topic of mobile ads, let's be clear, turning on an integrated ad platform is no simple task. And while the mobile advertising market is now projected to grow to $17.6 billion by 2015, for a long time, it's been the runt of the litter in terms of overall digital ad revenues. So while Facebook has been slow on the uptake, it's hard to fault them for prioritizing other revenue streams that speak to its Internet roots, while quietly building an unparalleled mobile user base.

The challenge for Facebook now is to "turn on" mobile ads effectively, without sacrificing users. At Badoo, we chose not to go the ad route and embraced a freemium model that enhanced the user experience and paid dividends across both web and mobile platforms.

Make the right decisions on what to mobilize

The features that have attracted millions of users and developers to the Facebook Web platform are not just the widely emulated social functions, but the FB “app” platform, messaging and credits, to name but a few. What differentiates mobile at this stage, compared to say, the Web four years ago, is that so much of what makes Facebook special on the Web has already been executed brilliantly on mobile.

Messaging? You’ve got that out of the box on mobile, or you can download apps that will talk to any one or all messaging platforms. Apps? As a mobile developer, I have loads to choose from and they are really rich. I can even get them to talk to Facebook and get access to the social gold mine they’ve built. Credits? Yes. (Although paying for anything on mobile globally is still a challenge.)

And in the latter case, the value chain is very long, from banks and card processors, through mobile carriers, aggregators, specialist payment providers and even Google, Amazon, Apple, etc. – none of whom will want to hand over this key part of their business to Facebook (although some might be too dumb to prevent it).

So Facebook's challenge has a meta-layer – not how to “port” FB to mobile, but what to mobilize, and how to pull users from apps they might already be using. How they can offer people more than they're already getting?

Build high grossing user behavior into the DNA of your mobile app

When it comes to mobile apps, analysts predict that in-app purchases and a freemium approach will become the dominant apps business model in the future, and that paid apps will decline as a main source of revenue.

So when considering how to make a freemium model work for your mobile app, you should think about the following:

  • Are you making your users do the work? If you're asking users to make purchases from within a free app, you need to make sure that purchase is a no-brainer and that it leads to some tangible and instant gratification.
  • Is there a logical flow to the user experience, where purchases make sense? In Badoo's case, we offer "Super Powers" which are micro-payments that help you stand out in an online crowd. If you want to meet new people using our app, Super Powers will help, so even though the core of our product is always free, there is real value from upgrading your account.
  • Are you thinking beyond games? While Zynga regularly tops the chart of high grossing free apps, there is life beyond social games. So think about how to make your monetized features fun and engaging in different ways. And always link it back to the core user experience, and how an in-app purchase could deepen your relationship with your user.
  • Location-based behavior can help encourage higher grossing user behavior, but remember users buy into products and services – not technologies. Your location-based services need to add to your product, rarely are they a product in themselves.

Think global, but respect local

There are many challenges inherent in scaling a mobile strategy globally. There is clearly huge diversity in terms of mobile user behavior, platforms and devices, as you look region by region, country by country and even sometimes city by city.

So, how can you build something that represents your global brand, but is local enough to appeal to every user and therefore unlock a high percentage of revenue-generating behavior?

It's a lot of work. At Badoo, we've spent the last 18 months designing and deploying to acquire millions of users in 180+ countries onto our multiple mobile platforms including iOS, Android, Blackberry and WAP (for non-smartphones). And when you think about the hugely complex billing and carrier aspects of a global mobile deployment, which need to be carried out without a whiff of disruption to the user experience, it's easy to see why mobile engineers are in such high demand. It's a huge job, it isn't easy and it takes time.

We built location-based behavior into the core of our product, guaranteeing local relevancy to every user, wherever they were in the world. But getting them there, keeping them there, and encouraging them to make purchases, was and still is, a mammoth undertaking.

There's currently no good substitute for the hard work of identifying local partners for things like payment integration. In our case, our London location and hugely diverse team from over 25 countries gives us a great head start in building out our local services globally.

Interestingly, when it comes to our mobile revenues, we've found that our mobile web users are almost as likely to pay for additional features as our app users. This insight provides some useful cues for companies looking to build a mobile audience that goes beyond “early adopters” in highly developed countries and into the global mainstream.

While apps are clearly hugely successful, and we've talked about the potential for in-app monetization, there's still plenty of room for the mobile web, particularly when building a global product. Don't neglect core mobile web users at the expense of iPhone and Android users if you want to build a truly global path to mobile monetization.

Wrapping up

Facebook has consistently innovated and executed at a rate that has left most of us breathless over the last few years. While its mobile revenue strategy might have taken a back seat until now, the revelations in the S-1 have surely lit the fire. The path to mobile monetization still has many turns ahead, so it will be interesting to see how Facebook explores the global mobile opportunity.

Matt Woolf is VP of Mobile at Badoo, the largest social network for meeting new people, with more than 136 million users worldwide.

Facebook on Android phone photo: Johan Larsson/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Ninja Gaiden’s creator Itagaki pleads for game designers to create titles that change lives

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 11:33 AM PST

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tomonobu Itagaki was at the top of his game. The legendary Japanese game design leader of Team Ninja, known for his sunglasses and leather pants, was making top-selling games in the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden fighting series.

Itagaki left Tecmo-Koei, the owner of Team Ninja, in mid-2008 and got into a bitter lawsuit with his former company over royalties. It was a wrenching separation, and Itagaki finally related his version of events yesterday at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas. Speaking through a translator on stage, he talked about what happened during a dark episode in his career and how he bounced back to create a new game development company, Valhalla Game Studios.

Itagaki said he originally wanted to be a novelist when he was in high school. He wanted to know the techniques to move people. Books and movies, he believed, were tools to move the thoughts and hearts of people. But he also spent a lot of time in gambling halls. To win, he said, you needed to control your rivals heart and emotions.

He read books such as The Red and the Black by Stendahl, The Stranger by Albert Camus, The Old Man the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and the novels of Raymond Carver. When he was young, he didn’t quite grasp these books. But over time, they became relevant to his career in games.

In that career, he said he learned to focus on the “Happy Three.” This included the happiness of the audience, the happiness of creators, and the happiness of game publishers. Only two or three times in his game-making life did he achieve all three of these goals. For public companies, he said, the fourth requirement for happiness is shareholders.

“It is much more difficult to achieve the Happy Four than the Happy Three,” he said.

He managed to do that when he was creating the PlayStation 2 version of Dead or Alive. He created the game in part to help Tecmo go public. But the game production got started way too late to be a launch title for the PS 2. The game ran off schedule and a sales general manager came to him to borrow a copy of the game, which was still in development. Itagaki gave it to him. Then Itagaki said the disk was sent off to manufacturing for publication, even in its unfinished state. The company made huge profits and the IPO was a success.

“But I thought I would quit making games,” Itagaki said.”An incomplete game was released.”

Some coworkers didn’t mind that. But Itagaki became depressed. He stayed at home for several months. He drank alcohol from morning to night, “but no matter how much I drank I could never get drunk.” His wife suggested he watch movies and bought him a lot of DVDs.

“It was more like just looking at the screen than watching movies,” he said.

One DVD film touched his heart, the Armageddon action movie that starred Bruce Willis, directed by Michael Bay. Itagaki watched the movie over and over again. It had a song sung by Steven Tyler for his daughter Liv Tyler. Itagaki had a three-year-old daughter of his own. Finally, she told him she didn’t want to watch this movie anymore, because the father dies. The film brought tears to Itagaki’s eyes. He kept on drinking and crying. It was, Itagaki said, such as stupid life he was living.

“What a stupid decision I had made,” Itagaki said. “I died as a game developer without even making something for my daughter.”

He decided he had to stop hiding, fight for his family and friends, and returned to work.

“There were many people waiting for me,” he said.

Itagaki pushed to make a version of Dead or Alive for the Xbox, not Sony’s platform, because it was the most powerful platform. He used Steven Tyler songs in the games, because he thought that Aerosmith and Armageddon saved his life, family, and career.

He eventually left the job and became an independent game developer. There was a lawsuit and other controversy, and Itagaki did not directly address the details of his departure.

He is now making a game called The Devil’s Third for THQ. He only has to worry about the Happy Three for that game and is a stockholder himself. He urged game developers to make games that can personally inspire people to change their lives.

“Do whatever you want to do with all your passion, to make everyone happy,” he said. “Not just for your own satisfaction. Make something that can change the life of your audience. I believe video games have such power.”

Mark Cerny, a fellow game developer, said he was touched by Itagaki’s talk. He noted that while Itagaki looks tough on the outside, his talk in Japanese was genuine, polite and heartfelt.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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For the first time, Apple’s iOS generates more web traffic than Mac OS X

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 11:23 AM PST

Chitika graph comparing web views for iOS vs. Mac OS X
iPhones and iPads now account for more web traffic than Macs, according to a study by ad network Chitika.

Chitika measured the percentage of its ad impressions that were delivered to iOS devices and the percentage going to OS X devices. According to the firm, iOS has been steadily gaining ground since August, 2011, while OS X has lost 25 percent of its market share since September.

As of February, 2011, the iOS market share surpassed OS X for the first time, with both notching approximately 8 percent of overall web page views.

It’s worth noting that this study applies only to web pages within Chitika’s network, but the company says the data set includes hundreds of millions of ad impressions. Because the web-based data applies to devices that people are actually using, not what they’re buying, it’s an interesting correlation to sales-based data. In the first quarter of 2012, for instance, Apple sold 37.04 million iPhones, 15.43 million iPads, and just 5.2 million Macs.

It’s not quite the death of the desktop, but mobile devices are gaining ground on their traditional brethren, at least within the Apple-centric world.

Still, Apple CEO Tim Cook is unlikely to be worried about one of his products losing market share to another, as Ars Technica’s Jacqui Cheng noted.

“There is cannibalization, clearly, of the Mac by the iPad, but we continue to believe that there’s much more cannibalization of Windows PCs by the iPad,” Cook said on Apple’s most recent quarterly earnings call, “and there’s much more left to cannibalize.”

Hat tip: BGR

Chart courtesy Chitika.

Filed under: mobile

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Apples to oranges: Google and Amazon are too timid to copy Apple’s retail success

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 11:23 AM PST

There is a strange duality in the world of brick and mortar tech stores today. In the last four years CompUSA, Borders, and Circuit City all went out of business. Many expect Best Buy to follow in the near future. At the same time, Apple has opened over 300 retail outlets worldwide. And recent reports indicate that Microsoft, Amazon, and Google plan to follow Apple’s lead.

The new Google store, which Bloomberg reported on yesterday, will be a relatively small affair outside its European headquarters in Dublin. Like Amazon, which has plans for a small Seattle shop, the search giant is trying to make it clear that it’s simply dipping its toes in the water. “We've not made any decisions, it's simply a planning application,” Google told Bloomberg by email in its typical engineer speak.

When Apple launched its first retail stores back in 2001, as MacWorld notes, there were plenty of doubters. “I give them two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake,” quipped one executive in BusinessWeek. Arne Alsin of Alsin Capital Management said in an article for TheStreet.com, "It’s desperation time in Cupertino, Calif.," and, "this move is fraught with problems."

These days, of course, Apple’s retail stores are credited with helping to drive the rabid adoption of its smartphones and tablets, boosting its profits to historic highs. But for the first two years, the company posted a loss on its retail division. And this was during a time when Apple didn’t have the mountain of cash it does today to backstop losses.

But like many of the Apple projects led by Steve Jobs, Apple never doubted itself or made excuses for its foray into retail. And that’s the thing that stands out about the recent moves by Amazon and Google; they lack commitment and ambition. Instead of the flashy glass temples that Apple erected to woo luxury consumers, Amazon and Google are planning small, tentative outposts.

Microsoft is the one company with a big stake in the future of phones and tablets that seems willing to open stores. But it too is avoiding any flagships in major cities, preferring to roll out small efforts in regional malls.

As consumer electronic shops and bookstores (remember those?) become a thing of the past, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google should follow Apple into the retail business with a bold hand. Otherwise, their forays are doomed to fail.

Filed under: mobile

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Call of Duty Elite: It’s not a douche move — Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 11:16 AM PST

Eric Hirshberg, chief executive of Activision Publishing, talked about the role that creative people should play in  making decisions about running a video game business. Too often, he said, creative people leave it to the business experts. But creative people shouldn’t sell themselves short, as Hirshberg learned in the last 18 months running the division that includes Call of Duty franchise.

With the launch of the latest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Activision Blizzard (the parent company) made some controversial moves. One of them was to create the Call of Duty Elite social networking service for game fans. The service offered things like networking with friends, videos, service enhancements. But the controversial idea was that Activision wanted to charge a subscription fee for the premium version of the service. When bloggers heard about that, they revolted, Hirshberg said, because they thought that Activision would charge for things that used to be free.

“It’s a douche move,” said Neils Hansen (pictured on big screen below), a blogger who runs the Gunn Shop report on YouTube. He said he couldn’t believe that the company would alienate its core gamer base by charging money. He organized a protest to boycott the Elite service, even before he fully knew what it was.

“We had a summer of criticism,” Hirshberg said, speaking at the DICE Summit game conference in Las Vegas.

But Hirshberg said he believed from his creative background as an artist and advertising executive that games are not products, they’re brands. While people buy products, Hirshberg said, they “buy into brands.” That means that brands are a cultural phenomenon built around products such as games that inspire people to buy those products over and over again. By treating Call of Duty as a brand, Hirshberg said, the company could get away from the traditions that held that a game was a product that sold for $60. After all, in 2011, Call of Duty was a top ten topic of conversation on Facebook; it was the only entertainment brand with a product you could buy on the list.

To convince game players that there was a core Call of Duty experience, Activision created a campaign with the tag line, “There’s a soldier in all of us,” showing people of all sorts engaging in faux combat, as the weekend warriors who play games like Call of Duty. The company also created a service that players could buy into on a year round basis, delivering them new map content, vidoeos, shows, contests, and community features that could make Call of Duty into an ongoing experience, not just a product.

The company had a chance to turn around attitudes by appealing to the hardcore fans and the culture of Call of Duty. Activision then announced Call of Duty XP, a live event in Los Angeles where it would announce Modern Warfare 3 and Elite as part of a gigantic fan appreciation event. The event involved everything from paintball on a real Call of Duty map to eating at a Burger Town restaurant, which is a fictional chain in the Call of Duty games. The event was a huge success, generating $21.5 million in media impressions, 175 million Facebook impressions, 10 mil Twitter conversations, 9.8 million YouTube views, and huge livestream traffic.

Finally, at the Call of Duty XP event, Hirshberg revealed the price. It was $4.99 a month and it included all of the map packs that would normally cost gamers about $60 a year. It was a price that generated annual subscription revenue for the company. And Hansen, the Gunn Shop blogger, came back and said that he would eat his words and subscribe. It wasn’t, after all, a douche move. Activision could only accomplish something like this by establishing Call of Duty as a brand, guaranteeing gamers a unique experience, and getting the gamers to buy into the value of what it offers, Hirshberg said.

Elite had a rocky launch and it is far from perfect, he said.

“This is not a victory lap and we had technology stumbles,” Hirshberg said.

But the company has 7 million sign-ups and 1.5 million paying subscribers so far. That’s a success, and one that forced Activision to look to what it could learn from creative concepts, not just business ideas. The new tagline for Elite, Hirshberg joked, is, “Call of Duty Elite. It’s not a douche move.”

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Iran ‘celebrates’ 1979 revolution anniversary by blocking encrypted websites

Posted: 10 Feb 2012 09:40 AM PST

CensorshipMost modern governments celebrate the anniversary of a national revolution day by making it an official holiday where people routinely get off work, eat food that probably isn’t healthy, and spend quality time with family and friends.

If you live in Iran, however, the government celebrates by blocking access to all websites using the “HTTPS” protocol, which includes sites from Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and basically any banking web service. Essentially, this means the internet is useless. Multiple sources reporting about the new internet restrictions, including Kabir News , believe that its related to the 33rd anniversary of the 1979 overthrow of Iran’s monarch leadership.

The restrictions are speculated to remain in place for the next few weeks at most. It also comes at a time where Iranian government authorities are enacting tougher web restrictions that drastically slow down connection speeds, require all local ISPs to keep records of all subscriber data, and force internet cafe owners to add video surveillance to record the faces of all patrons.

This isn’t this first time Iran has decided to clamp down on public decent by censoring the internet. The government routinely cut off internet access in response to the large amount of protest surrounding the country’s 2009 “elections”, which were believed by many to be little more than a puppet show. The government also recently sentenced U.S.-born Iranian citizen Amir Mizra Hekmati to death for developing games with a pro-westernization stance.

As for the current situation, plenty of code-savvy folks on Hacker News are already suggesting possible workarounds. (Obviously, the Iranian leadership hasn’t seen Serenity or they’d know you can’t stop the signal, Mal.)

[Internet censorship image via ShutterStock]

Filed under: media, security, VentureBeat

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