17 March, 2012



Design for hackers guru Kadavy talks white space, typeography, & more [video]

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 09:45 AM PDT

David Kadavy is the acknowledged guru of design for web and mobile hackers, and (lucky us) he took some time to chat with VentureBeat about those topics during South By Southwest Interactive.

In this clip, Kadavy talks about white space, the expansive history of typography, and his book, which ties up the whole shebang and which you, the solo hacker-entrepreneur type, should definitely check out.

We’ve still got more video interviews coming from SXSW, so stay tuned.

Filed under: dev, video

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How Germany’s Wooga took Facebook by storm (interview)

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PDT

After Zynga, the second-biggest player on Facebook isn’t Electronic Arts anymore. It’s Wooga, a Berlin-based studio that has become Europe’s largest social game publisher with more than 49 million monthly active users on Facebook.

The company was founded in 2009 by Jens Begemann (pictured above), Philipp Moeser, and Patrick Paulisch with the goal of making games for everyone, including the mass market and not just gaming die hards. Since then, it has only published six of them: Bubble Island, Brain Buddies, Monster World, Happy Hospital, Magic Land, and Diamond Dash. With that portfolio, the developer grew its monthly active users by 185 percent in 2011.

Now Wooga has raised $24 million in venture capital and has grown to more than 150 employees.  The company now faces a number of strategic decisions, such as doubling down on Facebook or spreading out to platforms such as Google+ or Zynga.com. We caught up with Begemann at the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Here’s a transcript of our interview.

GamesBeat: What did you talk about at GDC?

Jens Begemann: The talk was basically [about what we learned] from the first three years of Wooga. We were asked by the organizers here, because we now have nearly 50 million monthly active users. They wanted to know, “Where did you come from? How did this happen? Why this growth?”

We’re not doing anything magical. We’re just doing work. But I tried to sum up seven lessons that we’ve learned over the last few years. One of those is to focus on making our games very engaging in such a way that people come back often. We emphasize that instead of virality.

I think some other companies have been complaining that the virality of Facebook is not what it used to be. I think for us what has worked is focusing on engagement and making sure people come back. Every new user…you need to treat them like a small gold nugget — try to keep them. If you keep all of these new users, you’ve made a gold bar.

GamesBeat: So how does something like Diamond Dash do that?

Begemann: In Diamond Dash, it’s many, many things that are in the small details that you don’t see. We spent months on fine-tuning. When you hit a group of diamonds, how long does it take for the new gems to fall down? How many points do you get? How difficult is it to get this in-the-row bonus when the whole game world is on fire?

Basically, if you know the theory of flow, the game has to be challenging but at the same time can’t become too difficult. We ensure that people — from the very first moment on but also if they have played for a very long period of time — always feel challenged. They always have the feeling that they are under control, and they can create their own experience. It’s kind of similar to a triple-A title but obviously much more simple. It’s really about all these small little improvements that make sure people come back over long periods of time.

And then, of course — one element is using the social elements of competition in a good way. If you compete with your friends for a gold medal, that’s more interesting than playing alone or playing with strangers.

GamesBeat: How does that game monetize? Are you buying energy to play longer?

Begemann: Yeah, you can buy energy to play longer. You can also buy boosts. If you want to beat your friends, you can buy some extra boosts and get a bigger chance to beat them. All of those things you can also can be earned inside the game, so there’s nothing that’s exclusive through paying money. But, like in core games, you pay for having that faster speed-up.

GamesBeat: Do you think that one monetizes well relative to other social games?

Begemann: In terms of absolute numbers, we’re very happy, because the game is so big: 18 million monthly active users. Even if revenue per user is not so huge, overall that’s big. But yes, in terms of revenue per user, it obviously doesn’t monetize as well as Kixeye’s games. I think they have a very different model. Much less users, much more revenue per user. For us it’s truly mass market. That has also been our philosophy since the beginning. First, reach a huge audience, and then build monetization on top of that, instead of the other way around.

GamesBeat: From observing that game, it seems so short to me that it’s really hard to monetize. I suppose you can find people who really just don’t want to stop. [Laughs] Normally I just stop when I run out of energy.

Begemann: Diamond Dash is just a minute. [You can visualize it like this:] It’s like a bag of chips, where each chip is just one bite, but if you don’t pay attention, you finish the whole bag.

Diamond Dash is similar. Each round is just one minute, but some people really play for lots and lots of time. People who play with their friends enjoy it more. Many groups of people play in their offices when they’re on their lunch breaks. Everybody during this half an hour plays Diamond Dash at the same time. This group of 10 people or so, they send free lives to each other. It’s a Facebook gifting feature, so they can play for longer. Some of them also spend money on buying power-ups. But a game like Diamond Dash is definitely super-mass market.

GamesBeat: Zynga has started running a lot of ads in Words With Friends. Is that an opportunity for you guys as well, especially in these games that don’t monetize automatically?

Begemann: We don’t reveal detailed numbers. But overall, I think people underestimate it. Because of these huge user numbers, it’s possible to monetize quite well. And regarding advertising, I think that’s a potential growth opportunity for the future, but at the moment we’re very focused on doing a small number of things. There are tons of opportunities that we have, but for us, we really focus on growing on Facebook, growing our user base there, and improving our monetization there.

The second big focus is mobile. Advertising would be a good, additional growth opportunity, but at the moment, it’s too much of a distraction for us. It would take away the focus from our key growth.

GamesBeat: You guys have become a strong company. There are a handful of strong companies out there, and they’re starting to pursue different strategies. Kabam’s is going onto six different platforms, while you guys are sticking with Facebook. You have moved onto Google+. Do you know how many platforms you want to be on?

Begemann: Our focus, really clearly, is Facebook, and on mobile it’s iOS [iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch]. We like being on a small number of platforms. We have a great relationship with Facebook, and we like the iOS platform a lot. And over time, especially on mobile obviously, there will be more. I think it’s quite natural to think of Android and potentially also Windows Phone — I think that’s quite natural, but on the PC, we’re really happy with Facebook. Other companies may go to other places, but for us, it’s the right platform to focus on.

Filed under: dev, games, social

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Game makers embrace the iPad on launch day

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 12:23 AM PDT

Game developers and publishers expressed their support for the new Apple iPad as it launched around the world on Friday. One of the ways they did that is by modifying their games to take advantage of the new iPad’s outstanding display.

Gamers and game developers are so key to the mobile ecosystem that they can make or break the future of any new mobile device. And the new iPad will likely make them happy. As VentureBeat’s Devindra Hardawar pointed out, many of the best apps to show off the new Retina display on the new iPad will be games such as Chair Entertainment’s Infinity Blade II (pictured right). Soon, the subsidiary of Epic Games will release its Infinity Blade Dungeons game as well.

As you can see from above, the new iPad’s imagery looks better in Wooga’s Diamond Dash game. Jens Begemann, chief executive of Berlin-based Wooga, said, “On first sight, I found the retina screen nice but a less dramatic shift than when the iPhone 4 succeeded the iPhone 3GS. After using it all day, however, I can’t go back to the old one and non-retina apps look dated. Colors look brilliant and for the first time you spot fine details you didn’t see before.”

He added, “Games feel more immersive and it’s even easier to get lost in a game and forget about the device you are using.”

The iPad is selling at the rate of more than 15 million a quarter. By comparison, Sony sells about as many units of the PlayStation 3 in a year.

Wooga revamped its Diamond Dash app to take advantage of the advanced resolution. Apple allowed game developers to increase the memory size of their apps from 20 megabytes to 50 megabytes for wireless downloading over the air. That means that game developers can double the resolution of their games without worrying about going over the air limit, which is important because many users only buy games that they can download over the air.

Gameloft, one of the largest mobile game publishers, said it had optimized four games for the new iPad. That means its games will take full advantage of the new iPad’s retina display, which doubles the resolution to 2048 x 1536 pixels, compared 1024 x 768 for the older iPads. Full told, Gameloft has more than 100 iOS (iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone) games.

“Gameloft is excited to support the new iPad,” said Gonzague De Vallois, senior vice president of publishing for Gameloft in Paris. “With its A5X processor, we can continue to showcase our unique development approach and creativity.”

Gameloft said it modified Order & Chaos Online, Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation, Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, and Gangstar Rio: City of Saints. Those games will run on the iPad and take advantage of the new display.

Namco released its Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy game, which was shown at the new iPad’s launch event last week, with a look that is optimized for the new tablet. Electronic Arts, Illusion Labs and others are also releasing new iPad apps.

Clearly, gamers are looking forward to the device. About 22 percent of users said that Angry Birds was their favorite app for the new iPad. About 19.5 percent cited Zynga’s Words With Friends, according to a survey today by Protect Your Bubble insurance.

“The new iPad is the best gaming platform I have ever seen for the mass market, super fast and great display,” said YuChiang Cheng, chief executive of World Golf Tour.


Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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PlayPhone buys mobile marketing firm SocialHour for $51.5M (exclusive)

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 05:42 PM PDT

PlayPhone has acquired mobile social marketing firm SocialHour for $51.5 million in stock, VentureBeat has learned.

Ron Czerny, chief executive of PlayPhone, confirmed the non-cash transaction in an interview with VentureBeat. The deal will help the company build a major social gaming network across platforms in the mobile market.

In December, PlayPhone launched its smartphone mobile social gaming network after signing up more than 3 million users worldwide. Now PlayPhone needs a mobile marketing platform to go with it to create incentivized or non-incentivized cross promotions for games on its network, Czerny (pictured) said.

“We’ve been following SocialHour for a while, and they have a very sophisticated program for marketing and lead generation on mobile devices,” he said.

San Jose, Calif.-based PlayPhone hopes to challenge rivals such as Gree/OpenFeint and DeNA/Ngmoco in the battle to create a huge social network of gamers on smartphones and tablets. PlayPhone’s entry into the competition is going to make the market a lot more interesting for developers and consumers, as the company hopes to differentiate itself through cross-platform game play, payments, and social functionality.

PlayPhone has created a free-to-play app that runs on the Apple iOS, Android, Flash, Windows Phone 7, and HTML5 platforms. The app lets players socialize with each other and play in the same online multiplayer game across different smartphone and tablet platforms.

While Gree/OpenFeint and DeNA/Ngmoco have strong bases in Japan, PlayPhone was founded much later and has a smaller number of users. But PlayPhone began building its mobile social network in 2010.

PlayPhone is already live and operating globally and has been operating a mobile game network for five years on feature phones. But it is only now launching on smartphones and tablets. The PlayPhone app runs in native mode on all of the major formats.

When a user logs into a game such as PlayPhone Poker, the mobile social network connects automatically. You can see that it does so with a PlayPhone icon in the corner of your mobile phone screen. You can activate it by tapping on the icon. When you get to the game’s first screen, you can see pictures of your friends who might be able to play the game with you.

The software development kit is on this link.

In the past, Czerny showed me how a player with an Android phone could play at the same PlayPhone Poker card table as someone with an Apple iPhone. The players could send messages to each other and chat back and forth. You can sign on once via Facebook and quickly access all games. You can buy poker chips via the Apple App Store through in-app purchases. But you can also buy poker chips via PlayPhone’s other payment options.

While you’re sitting at a poker table, you can invite a friend to play. The platform synchronizes the players, even if they are from a different platform. The mobile social network uses HTML5 as its interface. You can chat with friends in real-time while playing the game.

PlayPhone has its own virtual currency (Playcredits) and you can access various carrier billing and payment options, even on a closed platform such as Apple’s iOS. You don’t have to exit a game to pay for a virtual good. Czerny said the company has relations with more than 100 global carriers. PlayPhone is a preferred direct-billing partner with both AT&T and Verizon in the U.S.

PlayPhone has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Menlo Ventures, Cardinal Venture Capital, Coral Group, and Scale Venture Partners. It has 110 employees, including 22 joining from San Francisco-based SocialHour.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: games, mobile, social

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Google’s President of Enterprise Dave Girouard leaves to launch Upstart

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 05:16 PM PDT

Leaving Google behind, Dave Girouard is leaving to launch his own startup, backed by Kleiner Perkins, NEA, and Google Ventures.

The company is called Upstart, and it lets you “raise capital in return for a small portion of your future income,” according to the company’s website.

Upstart is aimed at funding people, not companies, VentureBeat has learned. Upstart makes no reference to equity on its site, indicating that it may be thinking of making cash loans to companies, much like a bank makes loans in return for getting paid back with interest — but we were unable to confirm this. Interest rates are extremely low right now, suggesting that many entrepreneurs would consider this a smart strategy. Giving up equity in return for cash is considered one of the most expensive ways to fuel a company’s growth.

“It’s a scary but exciting feeling to jump off the mothership to do my own thing!” said Girouard in an email to VentureBeat.

Girouard announced the news on his Google+ page, saying,

After eight wonderful and life-altering years, I’ve decided to leave Google to pursue my own adventure. I owe a lifetime of gratitude to +Larry Page +Sergey Brin and +Eric Schmidt and so many others at Google for giving me such an incredible opportunity. I don’t know if I’ll ever match the learning experience I’ve had here, but I’m going to give it one hell of a try!

Girouard was known for developing Google Docs into a Microsoft Office “killer” and promoting Google Apps software-as-a-service (SaaS) suite, which many companies use for their mail and calendars. At Google he managed teams responsible for sales, marketing, product development, and customer support. Prior to joining Google, he was senior vice president of marketing and business development at Virage, a provider of multimedia search and content management software.

Girouard spoke at DEMO Fall 2010.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Mike Daisey’s Apple-Foxconn podcast filled with “significant fabrications”

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 05:11 PM PDT

mike daisey

Popular radio show This American Life retracted “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” today, a popular segment detailing the mistreatment of Apple employees in China’s Foxconn factory.

The segment, created by author Mike Daisey after he visited China, aired on the radio show in January. It told a stirring tale of tired laborers, wanting relief from long hours, little pay, and sickness. This American Life host Ira Glass explained in a blog post that the show couldn’t “vouch for its truth,” and that the airing contained “significant fabrications.”

“Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast,” wrote Glass. “That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. … We’re horrified to have let something like this onto public radio.”

The show discovered these fabrications after a Chinese correspondent for radio show Marketplace chatted with Daisey’s Chinese translator. The translator helped Daisey on the same trip on which he based “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” She pointed out his factual errors, which he has also performed on stage.

Mike Daisey, who travels around the country performing his stories, responded on his website saying the piece was “not journalism” and should be taken as art:

“I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.”

The retraction puts a significant dent in the reliability of reporting on Foxconn’s and other factories’ worth ethic. Daisey makes the point that the New York Times‘ two-piece series iEconomy — which spurred this investigation into Apple’s fair labor treatments — should show the reality of these working conditions. Thus far, the Times piece has not been called into question.

This American Life is dedicating this week’s show to reviewing every error in “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” Check out the full transcript of the upcoming show below:

Image via Mike Daisey

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Oink security bug lets others download your content

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 04:58 PM PDT

After social mobile application Oink was shut down on Wednesday, the company behind the app, Milk, put up a “download your data” option so that users to grab their content one last time. It seemed, however, you could grab just about anyone’s content simply by typing in their user name.

However, Milk founder Kevin Rose has informed us that a unique hash has been added to each link to stop just anyone from accessing your content.

“For Oink it has always been that everything that a user does is public,” Rose told VentureBeat. “It’s posted to their profile pages; there’s no way to hide any of that data.”

Oink was an odd combination of Instagram, Yelp, and Foursquare, where people could take photos of their surroundings, add filters, rate what they’re doing, and check-in to various locations. It was obviously a little confused from the start, which may have led to its closing.

Pulse blogger Cristina Cordova was an Oink users, and when the announcement came out on Wednesday, she attempted to save her content. The Oink website asked her for her username or e-mail only, and then e-mailed a link to the data download.

Oink download link

The link (pictured right) is defined by a username, so if you input another person’s username, his data can be downloaded using the same link. Cordova swapped out her username for Oink founder Kevin Rose’s and it worked (you can check out his photos below). It seems the element of “security” here was the fact that a user only receives the download link if they have access to the associated e-mail account. But being able to manipulate the link itself is a vulnerability.

That being said, all of the information on Oink was intended for public consumption. Reviews, photos of places, public “check-ins” are open to the outside world. However, the oversight could be detrimental if used on the wrong application (imagine if Facebook had a bug like that).

“With Facebook it’s always tricky because there’s private and public data that’s inter-tangled,” Rose explained.

Rose was recently hired by Google. He confirmed the move today, stating that he and three others from Milk would be moving on to the search giant. What he will be working on has not been released.

Kevin Rose Oink Photos

Filed under: mobile, security, social

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How Rihanna’s tech team wrangled Facebook’s new listening features

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 04:08 PM PDT

Rihanna’s “We Found Love” was the most-listened to song on Facebook for 2011.

Granted, the whole listening-to-songs-on-Facebook thing is still a nascent feature at the beginning of 2012. But Rihanna’s digital team tapped AgencyNet to do some online promotion for her new album, and the Facebook title ended up being the pièce de résistance.

In this clip, AgencyNet executive vice president Alex Morrison joins VentureBeat for a casual chat about how musicians and techies are meeting in the middle over Facebook’s new music-sharing, listen-along features.

Filed under: media, VentureBeat, video

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OMGPOP’s Draw Something steals No. 1 spot from Zynga

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 03:56 PM PDT

Zynga has dominated the top charts of Facebook games for what seems like forever. So it’s surprising to note that Draw Something from OMGPOP has taken the No. 1 position in terms of daily active users this week, according to research firm AppData, which counts users on both Facebook and mobile phones.

Draw Something has 10.8 million daily active users (DAU), while Zynga’s Words with Friends has 8.6 million DAU. Almost all of those Draw Something users are on mobile, while Zynga’s Words with Friends users are split between mobile and Facebook. For OMGPOP, taking the lead is a remarkable achievement, considering that Zynga’s games have dominated for so long and Zynga can cross-promote its top games to players of its other popular games to get a continuous stream of new users.

On a monthly active basis, Zynga is still No. 1, with CityVille at 46.2 million active users, while Draw Something is at 16.2 million monthly active users. Still, Draw Something has been coming on strong over the past couple of weeks. The title is like a turn-based version of the board game Pictionary. [Update: an interesting fact: if you play either game on mobile but do not log in via Facebook, then AppData does not count you as a daily active user].

New York-based OMGPOP has been making games for years and has more than 25 million registered users, thanks to the Pictionary-like Draw Something game. Dan Porter, chief executive, said in an email that the game has taken off “because it is a super social, out of the box, hilarious and totally fresh game that players love, has a sense of humor and lets the players own the game.”

He added, “We never tell them what to do. It’s their game, and it’s the game that people with only one game on their phone play.”

Users have generated tens of millions of drawings inside the game. It took nine days to get to the first 10 million drawings, but now the game is generating 3,000 drawings per second and more than 10 million per day. There have been more than 30 million downloads on mobile and 1.5 billion drawings created.

Almost all of the growth has been organic. At the outset, OMGPOP was spending some money to acquire users, and those users accounted for less than 5 percent of downloads. The real explosion of the game has been happening on services such as Twitter and Instagram where people are posting drawings and looking for matches. It is spreading via old-fashioned word of mouth. Half of those who use the free version are upgrading to the paid version.

The growth has caused the company to scramble. OMGPOP thought more people would use Facebook to log in and play games, but many people are instead creating new mobile accounts. And OMGPOP didn’t think people would play more than 99 turns in a game, so it limited the games to 100 turns. The company is also challenged to store all of the new drawings that are being produced every day.

OMG was founded in 2008, with an initial focus on socializing traditional arcade-style games on the web. As the traffic shifted to Facebook, so did OMGPOP. Now it has reoriented to create social game experiences on iOS and Android.

It will be interesting to see how long OMGPOP can stay on top and if it can use this opportunity to launch more hits.

Filed under: games, mobile, social

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Roku exec shows off unreleased new hardware at SXSW

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 03:44 PM PDT

Roku’s product chief, Tom Markworth, sat down with VentureBeat at South By Southwest to show off the company’s latest, as-yet-unreleased bit of hardware: the streaming stick.

These teeny, weeny gadgets will connect smart TVs to a plethora of over-the-top content, and they’ll do so with Roku’s trademark ease of use and affordability. Markworth also talks about the entertainment/technology relationship, especially with regard to Roku’s interesting and still developing relationships with cable companies and content creators.

We’ve still got more video interviews from SXSW, unbelievable though it may seem, so don’t touch that button.

Filed under: media, video

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Cash in on mobile, the third-wave of e-commerce

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 03:42 PM PDT

Eighteen months ago, I bet my career on mobile. The result was the HotelTonight app, which provides discounted, last-minute hotel bookings. HotelTonight is representative of a broader trend: the third-wave of electronic commerce.

The first wave was connecting businesses to a network in order to send them electronic transactions. The second wave, which was enabled by the Internet, allowed users to access these electronic networks to perform transactions (aka e-commerce). The third wave, brought on by the mobile era, connects users via mobile devices for real-time, on-demand transactions.

This third wave of electronic commerce will significantly alter certain categories of commerce, particularly ones where the inventory is highly perishable.

For the airline industry, the progression was spread over half a century. The first wave was travel agents, the second wave was online travel agencies, and the third wave is currently allowing real-time flight changes and rebooking. Other categories like restaurant reservations (OpenTable) and food delivery (GrubHub), built their supplier networks simultaneously while building their websites, a complex and costly effort that took the better part of a decade.Now, they are bringing these services to mobile and unleashing entirely new use cases and unlocking significant value for their partners and customers.

Lastly, mobile has enabled the creation of services that embody all three waves of commerce, such as Uber (black cars) and Exec (executive assistants). These companies are building supplier networks and distributing their services on mobile devices, effectively bypassing the second wave of commerce (or making it irrelevant).

A successful second-wave company can face challenges when becoming a third-wave company, as the infrastructure, support services, and supplier connectivity were not originally built to handle real-time bookings. Orders need to be communicated instantly, as it's just as likely that a customer is ordering from within the walls of the business as from their home. Likewise, telling a customer that they'll receive an email response within 12 hours isn't acceptable if the support request is about an appointment that is scheduled to end two hours from now.

As third-wave services become commonplace, consumers will find more situations to purchase from a business. For example, by enabling a consumer to order dinner on their train home, Grubhub increases the frequency of food delivery orders. Likewise, consumers are booking hotels at the last minute if they have an unexpected late night in the office and saving time by avoiding a long commute. Thus, mobile is generating primary demand and growing the overall market for various categories of commerce, not merely time and device shifting. This new group of buyers leads to improved economics and better capacity utilization for businesses. Businesses with perishable inventory can even offer a discount to target these spontaneous consumers. After all, an empty hotel room, dinner table or spa studio generates no revenue. In addition to economic benefits, on-demand mobile transactions have a harder-to-measure but equally important societal benefit of improving our Gross Domestic Happiness. Simply put, life is more fun when lived spontaneously, without plans and schedules.

Mobile, with its powerful devices, consumer ubiquity, and advanced developer environments, is the best platform in history for launching a business. I'm fascinated to see what will happen over the coming months and years as the mobile landscape evolves and matures. I believe that app stores will further reward product quality rather than determine app visibility based on the size of marketing budgets. Apps will exchange information and collaborate to solve users' problems. Companies will hyper-target users with relevant marketing messages by bidding for user context, not keywords. Users will in turn accept and appreciate these offers, not be annoyed or afraid of them. New brands and services will emerge to fill remnant inventory with spontaneous customer demand. And, as a direct result, Gross Domestic Happiness will continue to rise.

Sam Shank is the CEO & co-founder of Hotel Tonight, founded in December 2010 in San Francisco, which provides easy mobile booking of same-day distressed hotel inventory.

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Smartphone with cash image via ShutterStock

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Three iPads later, Apple finally has a tablet that excites me

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 03:03 PM PDT

I can’t stop looking at my new iPad. Its high-resolution Retina Display screen had me intrigued since it was first announced, but now, seeing it in person, I can’t help but be entranced.

Text looks crisp, games are even more immersive, and I can’t stop browsing high-def movie trailers. Overall, the new iPad has won me over after only a few hours — and that’s a major accomplishment for any tablet.

First, some background: Even though I lead mobile coverage here at VentureBeat, I’ve yet to truly fall in love with a tablet, or the tablet category in general. Maybe you can attribute it to tablet fatigue. Aside from Apple’s tablets, I’ve been mostly disappointed with every other slate I’ve come across (I’m looking at you, every Android tablet maker in existence).

The iPad 2 has been my favorite tablet so far, but it still never found a way into my daily workflow. When I want to read something on the go, I use my iPhone 4S or Kindle. And if I want to browse the web, check e-mail, or do pretty much anything productive, I reach for my MacBook Air. The iPad 2 did many things well, but it unfortunately didn’t do anything better than my existing collection of devices, so it was mostly left on the sidelines.

But thanks to the new iPad’s Retina Display, which is the sharpest 9.7-inch screen we’ve ever seen, I’m already finding myself using it more, even though I’ve only had it a few hours. The difference between the iPad 2 and new iPad’s screen is like the jump between DVD and Blu-ray. Indeed, the new iPad’s value proposition is entirely centered on a huge resolution bump.

Here’s what’s really important about the new Retina Display: it finally gives the iPad a feature that you can’t find anywhere else. Few consumer computer monitors reach near the new iPad’s 2048 by 1536 resolution (Apple’s 27-inch Thunderbolt display is one of the few, as the commenter below points out, but it’s still not as dense as the iPad). The screen is also far beyond the 1920 by 1080 resolution of HDTVs.

Because of its high resolution, the Retina Display makes practically everything look better, even merely browsing the web. That alone is enough to make me reach for it — and it’s something every other tablet maker should take note of.

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual MobileSummit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of themobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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How LA’s latest incubator plans to bring a $1B VC fund down south

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 02:59 PM PDT

We’ve been covering quite a few companies from Science, the latest incubator to make a splash in the L.A. tech scene.

In the above clip, VentureBeat chats with Peter Pham, one of Science’s co-founders, about how Science companies may be light on tech but make up for it with an emphasis on real monetization. Pham also talks about Los Angeles as the new land of opportunity for Silicon Valley investors.

Keep coming back — we’ve got a lot more interviews from South By Southwest coming right up.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, video

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Where does Google stand on the native v. mobile web debate?

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 01:45 PM PDT

Google has a blockbuster success on its hands with its Android mobile operating system. But the company also recently launched Chrome for Android, a mobile web browser.

So we thought we’d sit down with a spokesperson for the Google Chrome team and grill him on exactly where the company stands on the mobile web versus native app debate. At South By Southwest, Chrome developer relations guy Paul Irish took some time to chat with us about exactly that.

Check out this clip, and stay tuned for lots more from SXSW.

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: dev, mobile, video

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Universal Music exec: music & tech are still friends after SOPA

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 01:24 PM PDT

At South By Southwest, we got a chance to talk with Jon Vanhala, Universal Music Group’s senior vice president of digital.

While some of us on the technology side see post-SOPA relations between our industry and the entertainment industry as strained, Vanhala feels that, although SOPA and PIPA put pressure on both parties, the collaboration and cooperation between music and tech has never been better.

Check out this clip, and stay tuned for more SXSW coverage.

Filed under: media, video

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Slimmer, Air-like MacBook Pros in production

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 12:43 PM PDT

Thin MacBook Pro

The next MacBook Pro, Apple’s premium line of laptops, will allegedly feature a slimmer unibody design for the 13- and 15-inch models.

The two thinner models are said to have gone into production, according to a report from Digitimes, a Chinese tech blog that has previously broken news about Apple products prior to an official announcement. In addition to the slimmer size, the new MacBook Pros are also reportedly dropping their optical drive support.

If true, the news would confirm that Apple is trying to unify its line of laptops by making them all more similar to its ultra-thin MacBook Air.

It’s worth noting that there are some benefits to dropping older, bulky hardware on the current MacBook Pros, as VentureBeat’s Devindra Hardawar previously reported. Specifically, 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. It could also help Apple gain an advantage over Intel and the many Ultrabook manufacturers trying to mimic the MacBook Air design.

The elimination of space as well as the lack of optical drive would mean that both the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros wouldn’t necessarily be considered as “work-horse” production machines. That said, consumers who need a more powerful laptop can always upgrade to the 17-inch MacBook Pro model, which likely won’t get the ultra-thin treatment.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Hacker jailbreaks new iPad already — but “just a first step”

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 12:43 PM PDT

As gadget hounds are tearing into their new iPads, a hacker has revealed that he’s already successfully jailbroken the tablet — though it’s far from a final release.

iOS hacker MuscleNerd posted the above screenshot on Twitter, but added that this is merely the first step towards getting a jailbreak ready for eager hackers to use. By jailbreaking your iOS device, you can run unauthorized apps and install things like widgets, which Apple doesn’t support. MuscleNerd says there’s no ETA on when the final jailbreak will be released.

His work basically opens the floodgates for his group of iOS hackers, the infamous iPhone Dev-Team, to work on a more polished hack. He also posted a screenshot of the Cydia jailbreak app repository running on the new iPad, further proof that his hack was legit.

The hacker and his group were the first to release an iPhone 4S jailbreak, and he also pointed out a legal method way to get Siri on your iPhone 4. Today’s hack shows that no matter how much Apple tries to lock down iOS, hackers will always find a way in.

Via The Verge

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Google in trouble in Europe and U.S. for Safari privacy violations

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 12:37 PM PDT

Google is being investigated by regulators in the United States and the European Union for circumventing Safari’s privacy controls, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The story starts about a month ago, when the WSJ broke the news that Google and a few other advertisers had been bypassing default privacy controls on Apple’s mobile and desktop browser Safari and depositing cookies, which can track browsing habits. The big issue is that Safari blocks cookies by default, and Google had written code to get around that.

After getting wind of the issue, Microsoft investigated and found that the same practice was affecting people who used Internet Explorer, where cookies are also blocked by default.

Google removed the code from its site to remedy the problem, but clearly enough damage had been done. Now, U.S. state and federal agencies and France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) are investigating Google’s privacy missteps.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Google to see if this practice violates a settlement reached between the search engine and the U.S. government last year. Terms of the agreement prevent Google from misrepresenting its privacy policies, reports the WSJ. If the FTC finds Google in violation, the company could face a hefty fine. The company would be charged $16,000 per violation, per day, which could add up to a lot of money.

In Europe, the issue has been added to the CNIL’s European investigation of Google, which includes recent changes the company made to its privacy policy, which went into effect March 1.

VentureBeat reached out to Google and received this response:

We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. We created a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google's servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for personalized ads and other content. However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. We will of course cooperate with any officials who have questions. But it’s important to remember that we didn’t anticipate this would happen, and we have been removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers.

Filed under: security

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Tim Cook reportedly questioned Path CEO after iPhone privacy fiasco

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 11:54 AM PDT


After social network Path was caught red-handed for copying personal data from people’s iPhones, CEO Dave Morin apologized for the major screw up and moved on. But before the apology came, Morin was reportedly dragged into Apple CEO Tim Cook’s office and “grilled” over the infraction.

Path’s misstep was criticised by industry watchers and led to the revelation that many apps did the same thing Path was caught doing. Before the Path flare up, popular iOS apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Foodspotting, and Yelp were also sending private data to their servers, mostly without getting consent first. But since Path was first, it will be remembered best for the incident.

The story about Morin and Cook comes from BusinessWeek, which has written about Apple’s struggle to control the 600,000+ apps in the App Store. Anonymous sources told BusinessWeeks that Morin “got hauled into Apple's headquarters to be grilled by Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and other executives.”

Apple is known for the control it exerts on its products, and we’re sure the company was upset that Path (and many other apps) were violating its Terms of Service.

Path was allowed to keep its app in the App Store after creating a prompt that makes a user give permission to use personal data. It has recently launched version 2.1 of its app, which inches the app closer to having an open API.

Filed under: mobile, social

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Microsoft says it won’t show next Xbox at E3

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 10:25 AM PDT

Microsoft confirmed today that it will not show any new Xbox hardware at the video game industry’s big E3 trade show in June.

That is sure to disappoint fans and developers who are anxiously awaiting information about the next-generation console, nicknamed the Xbox 720. But if Microsoft has no plans to launch it this year, it’s the smart thing to do. An announcement in June for a box that launches in 2013 would simply dry up demand for the current generation. The unveiling is important because an entire ecosystem depends on Microsoft’s game platform, and developers need to get to work on next-generation games.

“While we appreciate all the interest in our long-range plans for the future, we can confirm that there will be no talk of new Xbox hardware at E3 or anytime soon,” Microsoft said in a statement. “For us, 2012 is all about Xbox 360 …  The console is coming off its biggest year ever — a year in which Xbox outsold all other consoles worldwide.  Xbox 360 didn't just outsell other consoles, it also outsold all other TV-connected devices like DVD players, as well as digital media receivers and home theater systems. And in our seventh year, we sold more consoles than in any other year — defying convention.”

The company added, “This year, we will build on that Xbox 360 momentum.  With Halo 4, Forza Horizon, Fable: The Journey, and other great Kinect games on the way, our 2012 Xbox lineup is our strongest ever.  This year, we will deliver more TV, music, and movie experiences for Xbox 360 — as we'll make it even easier to find and control all your entertainment. And this year, Xbox games, music, and video are coming to Windows 8 so people can enjoy their Xbox entertainment wherever they go.”

Meanwhile, Capcom senior vice president Christian Svensson told Gamasutra that the console makers should pay attention to how the game business has changed — with the responsiveness, quick turnaround on updates and launches, and easy distribution — thanks to smartphones, tablets, and online gaming.

Sony previously said that it would not talk about a PlayStation 4 at E3, leaving Nintendo alone to talk about the Wii U hardware at the big trade show.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

[Photo credit: Flickr, Mel B]

Filed under: games

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Buddy Media CEO explains the new-new Facebook marketing

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 10:25 AM PDT

Hot off an acquisition, Buddy Media CEO Mike Lazerow took some time during South By Southwest interactive to chat about how Facebook’s changes to branded Pages are having a huge impact on social media marketing.

With a recent overhaul to Pages for organizations, Facebook made some interesting statements about advertising versus storytelling and pitching your customers versus engaging them. Lazerow, who runs one of the biggest Facebook marketing firms around, talks about what all this means, as well as what the social network’s first foray into mobile ads is all about.

Stay tuned, we’ve got a bunch of interviews still to come from SXSW.

Filed under: video

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Confirmed: Kevin Rose and the Milk team join Google

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 10:19 AM PDT

Kevin Rose

Tech entrepreneur Kevin Rose and several key people from startup incubator Milk have joined Google, confirming yesterday’s rumors.

“I’m beyond excited to announce that the Milk crew (Kevin Rose, Daniel Burka, Chris Hutchins, Joshua Lane) is joining Google!,” Rose wrote in a status update on Google+.  “It's been a privilege to use Google products over the years (I still remember begging for a Gmail invite) and I can't wait to be a part of the amazing team that is shaping the future of the web.”

Rose is well known in the tech community, both for his previous role as co-host of Screen Savers on the now defunct TechTV cable channel and as the co-founder of community news sharing site Digg. More recently Rose had moved on to found startup incubator Milk, which received a $1.5 million investment from Google Ventures. Milk’s sole product Oink was shut down Tuesday, presumably to pave the way for the Milk team’s arrival at Google.

"Kevin Rose has an incredible track record of executing on big ideas, and we're looking forward to working with him and his team from Milk on our social efforts across Google,” a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat.

While few details have been released about exactly what Rose’s role will be at the company, many predict that he and the other talented Milk staffers will help inject some life into Google+.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

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PayPal VP justifies the company’s new digital wallet [video]

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 10:16 AM PDT

PayPal’s announcements have been all over the news lately, and at South By Southwest, vice president of global product and experience, Sam Shrauger, took some time to explain the company’s new approach to consumers and their money: the Paypal digital wallet.

The company is going up against everyone from old-timers like Google to newcomers like AmEx’s Serve with its new system, and Shrauger thinks it has a few stand-out features that set it apart from the competition.

Stay tuned for more from SXSW Interactive.

Filed under: video

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Peter Relan on how to get two iPhone games into the top 25

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 09:50 AM PDT

Peter Relan wants to build a mobile gaming empire, one app at a time. The chief executive of CrowdStar and chairman of game incubator YouWeb has pivoted from Facebook games to mobile games in a big way. His company formed a mobile game studio and has focused so far on making games for girls and young female teens.

CrowdStar’s Top Girl and Social Girl titles have both cracked the top 25 in the past. And the company plans on doing that a lot more in the future. We had the opportunity to talk to Relan recently about his success with iPhone games. Here’s a transcript of our talk:

Gamesbeat: How tough is it to get two games in the top ranks of the Apple App Store? If you have one in the top 30 and you launch a new one, how much help does that new title get from the fact that there’s another title up there cross-promoting it in some way?

Peter Relan: I think you get some, but I can tell you, it has to stand alone. If you’re lucky, you’ll get 10 to 20 percent of the user base cross-promoting. Let’s say the two titles are roughly the same size. 80 to 90 percent of the second title still has to get its users and stand on its own and monetize that, completely independently. So I do think that it’s a help. But it has to stand alone.

GB: It looks like some other companies think you need to have five or 10 games out there just to get that cycle of cross-promotion going. Sort of like Zynga on Facebook.

Relan: It’s true, they do. You’ve got to have five to 10, yeah. And so I think everybody’s trying to build a portfolio of several games to get the cycle going. That sort of network effect, it cannot happen with just two. We feel like Top Girl and Social Girl, they are good in their own right. Until you have five or 10 there’s no way that you can say Top Girl is helping Social Girl that much.

GB: So then the rest of your strategy is to come out with more games, right?

Relan: Oh, yeah. We will absolutely come out with more games on mobile. We will hope to see the benefits. I just thought it was interesting that without those benefits, the sort of network effect of your titles, that we’re already ahead, because we’ve got two. Most people, even with the network effect, just have one in the top-grossing 10.

GB: Do you worry about the ability of stand-alone games to get to the top? I think some people worry about, say, the cost of acquisition, the money you have to spend to advertise and get a title to go way up. It seems like an independently produced game might not have as good a chance to get up to the top anymore.

Relan: I think that top-grossing is hard to crack. You see a lot of titles making it near the top, so that the hit effect of a top three … I feel like the iPhone gives you a good opportunity. If you look at Facebook, for example, it’s hard to get into the biggest games on Facebook. I think the mobile environment still gives you a good shot at that. The hit effect, if you will. Look at Temple Run. I mean who knew? Top-grossing is hard to crack. You have to get a big user base and have the best monetization engines. Getting both right is a rare thing.

GB: How high did both of your games get? What was the peak ranking?

Relan: On grossing, Top Girl reached number 10, and Social Girl on top-grossing. Social Girl I don’t ever think became number one, but I do believe it hit the top couple or so.

GB: What are some common threads between those two games, that made them more likely to get up to the top? 

Relan: Both of the monetization engines are strong engines. Top Girl’s monetization engine is very focused on shopping and dressing up. We know that for the target audience, it’s pretty good. That’s a very strong mechanic. For Social Girl it’s a different monetization engine; it’s more about managing your friends and relationships, your boyfriend, your cliques and friends. A little less emphasis on shopping, a lot more emphasis on your virtual friends and your virtual boyfriend. Again, different mechanics, but the monetization engines behind both perform strongly for each mechanic. And then I think the production quality is one thing that is common across the two. We do believe in the CrowdStar art style, the production quality, the avatar, and the way it moves. These are very important elements. A lot of the competitive, top-grossing games still out there are about worlds. They don’t all focus on a high-quality avatar. That’s a commonality across both games, a very high-quality avatar engine that is just beautiful. You don’t see that in a lot of games. You see worlds and farms and pets, whatever, but if you look at the tower games or the town games, they’re all non-avatar-focused. 

GB: The genre where you guys appeared, can you talk about the originality of the games there? Did it bump into two or three other similar fashion-shopping games? And was anybody trying to knock off you guys?

Relan: You see knockoffs. The clones are very poor quality. I think the production quality of our games is so much higher that the cloning effect doesn’t matter. I’ll give you an example. Dress Up Valentine by SGN. The production quality, if you look at it, is so poor compared to what we have. One of the clones was even pulled off the App Store. But I’m looking through the top 50 right now, and there’s only one clone, Dress Up Valentine. There’s nothing else here, really. It’s pretty difficult to make these games at the quality level. The game design, the game engine behind it, is using all of our experience from the last three or four years. These clone guys come in, they look at our game, maybe they try it, they get up in the top three with some marketing, and then it goes away. In the top 100 there are only two that are even close.

GB: I hear about these bots that can download a lot of brand-new games and get them up on some of the lists. It sounds like that doesn’t really work, that you can hire 5,000 Chinese folks to vote for your game or download it, but then it just doesn’t go anywhere after that.

Relan: Yeah. If a game fundamentally doesn’t perform, you can push it up all you want and it still won’t make money. What’s the point? The point is not to get into the top three. The point is to make money. That’s one. Two, if the game fundamentally isn’t high-quality and engaging, it won’t stay up there. The top-three list is always being competed for, so that stuff, in my opinion, is highly, highly overrated. You either have to build a network of five or 10 games, or on a stand-alone basis the game itself has to be fundamentally appealing. Those are the only two strategies. This gold-farming stuff isn’t going to work. If a game isn’t good, it’s not going to get up there; and if it’s good, it’s going to get up there anyway.

GB: How do you look at the cost of user acquisition? Fiksu put out their index information for the month of December and said that the cost of acquisition was higher in December than it’s ever been.

Relan: Yeah. But the good news is, again, unlike Facebook games, in mobile you do see a big holiday rush in December. It’s a store, it’s the App Store, so it does have that retailing effect. The cost since December hasn’t stayed up. I would say, year on year, comparing January of last year to January of this year, the cost of user acquisition has doubled. But it’s still half of what it was in December. December has a very unusual effect. That doesn’t mean costs aren’t going up. We have acquired over 10 million users in mobile just with these two games, and we have over two and a half million, almost three million monthly active users right now, just on these two games. Those, I would say, are based on costs that were much lower than they are right now. But December’s an anomaly. December you’re talking about two or three-dollar CPI. That’s an anomaly.

GB: That’s not sustainable, I guess?

Relan: The trend is clear. It’s getting more expensive. But it’s not the December numbers. We feel pretty good about continuing to invest in more user acquisition right now.

GB: I wonder, though, does the industry itself have some kind of big problem, where if the cost of user acquisition is going up, the amount of money you can raise these days may not be as high as it was last year?

Relan: Yeah.

GB: There’s also the question of how long you can hang on to a customer. What’s the lifetime value of a customer now? If that shrinks, this whole formula doesn’t sound good, right?

Relan: Right. The economics are dependent on customer acquisition costs, which are higher right now, trending in a way that is offset by two things. One is lots of discovery, because the market is growing so fast. Let me give you some numbers. For iOS, we think the estimate is 120 million or 130 million iPhones sold this year. Of which 60 percent will be upgrades, let’s say, and 40 percent will be absolutely new devices. Maybe 50 million new users are coming online. I remember when Facebook was growing by 50 – 100 million users a year, right? But these are highly qualified users that have expensive devices. So they’re very monetizable. And by the way, they’re going to ship 60 or 70 million iPads this year, most of which are not upgrades. So I would say we’ll see 100 million new iOS users coming online this year, between iPhone and tablets. And their average revenue per user (ARPUs) are much better than the ARPU was when Facebook was adding users, because Facebook was mostly international. If Apple continues to drive growth of monetizable users, then the economics continue to work. Which, I think, is what we will discover this year. For those who have products, who have a strategy, we think it works. For new entrants I would say it’s getting tough. The learning curve you’ll go through, by the time you crack it, a lot of the user base on mobile will have been exploited. You remember the old Facebook days, right? There were the big four or five companies in gaming. CrowdStar, Zynga, Pocket Gems, Backflip. You can name the companies that are clearly in a position to grow their user bases at an economic level that works. New entrants coming in today, just starting out, doing a one-off game and trying to build a business, I think it’s very tough.

GB: Do you see some value in teaming up with others in some kind of network? The way that Applifier got companies together on Facebook.

Relan: Informally, that’s going on, even in the mobile space. People are doing what are called traffic exchanges. ChartBoost and MoPub are both enabling that, so there are players like that already making it happen. At scale, I would say it remains to be seen. There are initiatives that I can’t speak about in that area. My guess is that you will see some experimentation, or not just experimenting, some serious investment in that area this year to bring down customer acquisition costs. We’ll see what happens there. But yeah, experimentally, on a sort of low scale, it’s already happening.

GB: Tapjoy or Gree or Ngmoco. They’re offering solutions?

Relan: I think that today it’s more ChartBoost and MoPub, those type of things. I think that Ngmoco and Gree are going to take it to the next level. When I say it’s going on at a lower scale, I meant ChartBoost, MoPub, Tapjoy. The higher-scale stuff, I think it will be the Ngmoco network, the Gree global platform launch that they’re talking about. Zynga, if it does something. Those will be the big ones that will officially create networks of users that are much larger than these smaller networks of users. I would put Tapjoy, MoPub, ChartBoost into a “what’s going on today” category of network exchanges. Much lower scale. But the big guys I think are going to step in this year.

GB: What about the value of some of these independent app stores? Are they also good for the industry in some way? GetJar, Amazon?

Relan: On Android, yeah. On Android, absolutely. I think that on Android, curated app stores are very valuable. Google Marketplace is not highly curated. You look at Amazon’s app store for example, we’re very pleased with it. We were one of the first people on it. Performance is good, Kindles are shipping well, there are some other devices too, absolutely important for the Android marketplace. Maybe there’s a little bit in other app-store-like applications that promote games, but on Android I don’t really see a choice. I think you’ve got to have curated app stores, because of the nature of the environment. It’s a very horizontalized device, operating system, app store. You need that vertical sort of integration, full stack, to make it work well. But if somebody’s purely in the app store business on Android, I would say even that’s useful. This curation is an important thing.

GB: The size of the company you must have in order to come up with a game every two or three months, what would you say that is now?

Relan: Our goal is a game every quarter. We have some of our resources still on Facebook, but honestly, even on Facebook we really want to see the mobile web come along, the Facebook Spartan or whatever it was called. It’s still not really exploding, it’s just slow, because of the technology that has to be built. We still have some investment in Facebook, and we’re hoping that mobile will accelerate. Much of our investment today is in mobile, and we’re 150 people. To produce a game a quarter of high quality and with a strong monetization engine, yeah, I would say 100-plus, minimum. It’s hard to do that many games and run them. Again, I’m talking about free-to-play, virtual goods games with a service. You can always make something, stick it up there, and move on to the next thing. Arcade games. But it would take 100 people or more to really do them systematically and then run them, if you want a game a quarter or five or six games a year. Let’s say five or six games a year, that’s what our plan is. You’re looking at that kind of investment.

GB: Mark Pincus (CEO of Zynga) mentioned that CityVille has more than 100 people working on it, just to do all of the updates for the service now.

Relan: Facebook is a different animal. I was talking about mobile. Facebook games, to produce at Zynga’s scale, probably take more than 100 people, and then to maintain and run them probably takes 100 people plus. It’s a very unique situation. I don’t think Zynga’s position on Facebook reflects the industry. That’s the one thing that is different, I think I said to you. They have 70 percent of the market on Facebook. To feed such a giant market, you have to have thousands of people. It’s a billion-and-a-half people industry, and they have over a billion of it. The mobile industry, though, they don’t have anything close to that. So I don’t see those kinds of investments required in mobile games yet. It’s starting to remind me of the early Facebook days. Earlier you could do a game with a couple of people, three or four people, and put it out there; now you’re starting to need tens of people to build and run mobile games, virtual goods-based. But it’s not into the hundreds. Zynga on Facebook is a very unusual, special, one-off situation.

GB: What are some big events that you might expect to happen in 2012?

Relan: One will be the introduction of social platforms at scale from the two Japanese companies and maybe one or two others. That’s a big event. There will be a very big holiday Q4. Christmas last year was big. You see that a lot of people got their games ready, cost per installs went up. I think today it’s 50-50, arcade versus virtual goods-based games, in the top-grossing, top 30 or 15 of each.

I expect that to swing towards free-to-play virtual goods games this year, by Christmas. They’re fundamentally much more immersive. You see people returning. We’re seeing the trends on that, returning daily active users and all that. I would expect acquisitions, like in the Facebook days. It’s not an easy market to crack. The learning, the understanding of distribution and monetization, how it all works, it’s very different on mobile. Extremely different from Facebook. So those are the big three.

Dream Zoo didn’t do so well. CityVille didn’t do so well on mobile. The mechanics that Zynga used on Facebook that did so well don’t do the job on mobile. They have to design it completely differently. We’ve done that with Top Girl and Social Girl. They’re completely different game mechanics built for mobile. You’ve seen how Zynga tried twice with big properties. CityVille Hometown Edition or whatever they called it. It’s just not there. They introduced it around the same time we did Top Girl, last summer. Top Girl continues to stay up there.

We did not take It Girl and move it over. We designed that game from scratch for mobile. Eight months later, still performing well. CityVille comes in, it’s nowhere. Entered at the same time, nowhere on the charts today. But Zynga learns, they’ll learn. They learn fast. They clone [chuckles], Be careful, I’m not discounting them, I’m just saying, they didn’t crack it on their own. It’s a different skill set, the whole way you run and manage and build these games on mobile.

GB: And right now there’s 130,000 publishers going after that, right?

Relan: Yeah. As I’m saying, though, it’s like Facebook. There were a million app developers. And now today there’s the big four or five on Facebook. We are no longer one of the biggest on Facebook, but we are one of the biggest on mobile, for reasons related to what I said earlier. Until the Facebook mobile web comes out, I’d rather compete in an industry where there isn’t one guy with a 70 percent or 80 percent share. That just leaves you with a very small share to compete for. Here,100 percent of the market is available. I can get a lot of people going for it. There’s a lot of people going to Facebook as well, hundreds of thousands of apps. So we had value once on Facebook, we’re very confident we’re doing it on mobile. We are there as one of the top developers. I just don’t think that Apple and Google are intending to create a structure for Zynga like Facebook created. I think Facebook was a very special, unique environment, where engagement on Facebook was dependent on Zynga games. Whereas games were engaging on smartphones well before Zynga showed up. Right? I think that, generally speaking, there’s a lot of competition. But we moved early, we got two top grossers out there, and we’re ahead of the curve. It doesn’t bother me that there’s a lot more people competing. We did that on Facebook, we came out as one of the top developers, we’ll do it again.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: games, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Under GameStop, Kongregate sees big growth in virtual goods business

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 09:47 AM PDT

Life under GameStop’s ownership has been good for Kongregate, one of the largest destinations for free indie games on the internet. But the changes that are rippling through the game industry are also buffeting both Kongregate and GameStop, the world’s largest operator of game retail stores.

One of the biggest changes is in how Kongregate generates money, Kongregate cofounder Jim Greer (pictured) told VentureBeat. During the past year, Kongregate doubled the number of virtual goods-based games on the site and tripled virtual goods revenue. Virtual goods now make up 80 percent of revenue. That shows that even web-based companies that are outside the sphere of Facebook can take advantage of the new business models that are disrupting the game business.

The company launched the virtual goods program around 18 months ago and has had to keep updating its capabilities, adding achievements and rewards. It has made its site more social and, at the Game Developers Conference last week, launched a new batch of social applications programming interfaces so developers can take advantage of things such as game activity feeds, which will show up on a user’s profile page and on the Kongregate home screen. Those social features will help games spread by word of mouth more easily on Kongregate.

“We are doubling down on our belief that there is a place on the web where players who are serious about games can come gather, socialize, and play,” Greer said.

All told, Kongregate has 50,000 games available, most of them free or free-to-play (where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods). Most of the 15.5 million users are hardcore gamers, but they’re the kind that prefer free indie games. Those who come to Kongregate via GameStop’s stores spend about seven times more than a typical web gamer.

Another big change that will hit Kongregate is new competition from Zynga, which has launched its Zynga.com online game site for people who are really into social gaming. Zynga will publish third-party games from outside developers and publishers such as Rebellion and Konami.

“Their motivation is to create a better experience for games on their own site,” Greer said. “That is what we have discovered as well. As the viral channels have turned down on Facebook, more game developers are willing to move off Facebook to the web. Facebook is a place to socialize and play games. We’re the opposite: a place to play games first, and then socialize. Kongregate is mostly about the games, just as Xbox Live is.”

Kabam, a major Facebook game developer, for instance, signed up to put its games on Kongregate. The difference between Zynga.com and Kongregate is that you can create your own gamer identity on Kongregate and play anonymously if you wish, whereas you’ll use a Facebook or Zynga real-world identity on Zynga.com. That means the two sites will likely attract different audiences.

As a division, Kongregate has 35 employees, compared to about 20 when it was bought. It has about 14,000 game developers. Kongregate takes a 30 percent split on transactions. But developers don’t have to spend money to advertise on Kongregate, since Kongregate promotes their games on its site.

Conversion rates, or the percentage of users who buy something, is about 1.5 times to 2 times higher on Kongregate than on Facebook. The gamers stay for a long time, so the cost of user acquisition and the lifetime value of Kongregate users is higher, Greer said.

The big hits on Kongregate include card-based role-playing game Clash of the Dragons (pictured at top), Wonderputt casual golf (pictured middle), and Defenders Quest tower defense role-playing game (pictured lowest). Asian online game publishers have published a lot of titles on Kongregate.

Kongregate has the benefit of being on display in GameStop stores, which get 500 million visitors a year.

“We’re getting a lot of traffic that way,” Greer said.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

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Lenovo planning to release Windows 8 tablet on Day 1, says report

Posted: 16 Mar 2012 09:14 AM PDT


Lenovo will have a Windows 8 tablet ready for the new operating system’s launch day later this year, according to a report by The Verge.

This isn’t terribly surprising considering that Lenovo has already shown much interest in Windows 8. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, we were able to check out Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga tablet/laptop hybrid, which has Windows 8 running on it. With that in mind, we certainly expected Lenovo to create a stand-alone tablet for Windows 8 as well.

Dell has also indicated that it would offer a business-class tablet on the day that Windows 8 ships. Nokia, HP, Asus, and several other manufacturers are expected to put out Windows 8 devices before the end of the year as well. Nokia design head Marko Ahtisaari just admitted in an interview that he is spending one-third of his time developing a tablet, which is expected to run Windows 8.

While there’s still no release date yet, Windows 8 is expected to be released late in the third quarter of 2012.

Check out a hands-on video with the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga below:

Lenovo IdeaPad screenshot: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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