Archive for February, 2009

 

SOE confirms launch of Free Realms: Early April 09

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Hot on the heels of our coverage of John Smedley’s interview with Virtual Worlds News, Sony Online Entertainment confirmed the launch date of the PC version of their highly anticipated family friendly, free-to-play title ‘Free Realms’ at a press preview in London yesterday.  Associate Art Director Sebastian Strzalkowski also noted that the beta testing phase will commence within “a couple of weeks”.

While this launch is only for the online PC version, Free Realms is on track for a PS3 launch in Q3 09.  Bringing the free-to-play online with the PS3 somewhere between July and September could be a very wise move for SOE, as this will give them time to properly spotlight the project, as well as enough time to work out any kinks or bugs before the holiday shopping season gets underway.  The PS3 launch of Free Realms is slated to include additional exclusive content in order to celebrate the console platform launch.  The PS3 version will be available as a free download from the PlayStation Store.

The PC version of Free Realms streams from a launch website, with the initial client download clocking in at around 25MB.  Sony sees Free Realms as a multi-platform title, and Strzalkowski stated that a Mac version was “definitely on the list of platforms we want to develop for”, but could not confirm any details.  Also on the SOE radar are Flash and/or Java based extension to make the game playable on mobile phones (want to watch how fast this one rockets up the iPhone app store top 25 list?)

Confirming what Smedley discussed earlier this month, microtransactions are priority 1 in the revenue stream department.  Free Realms is slated to offer almost everything but the kitchen sink: Cosmetic upgrades, racing vehicles, and consumable potions to name a few.  These items will be available exclusively via SOE’s Station Cash service.  And lest we forget, SOE is also bridging the gap between real and virtual worlds with a Topps collector card series that ties directly into the game.

While microtransactions are a key focus for SOE in the initial entry to the free-to-play market, they’re not selling themselves short, and are offering an optional subscription service for $4.99 that provides players with VIP access to premium content.  Again, this is an optional service, and not necessary.  Should players not choose a subscription service, they will be required to opt into seeing in-game advertising and sponsorships, which if done right could even heighten the experience and add a ‘real-world’ touch.

Sony Online Entertainment is aiming the title at the 10 – 14 year old market, but from what I’ve seen, this is a fun and engaging title that is fully capable of spanning  multiple generations.  But don’t take my word for it, have a view of what John Smedley and Creative Director Laralyn McWilliams have to say about Free Realms (try to ignore John’s announcement that the title is slated for a Q2 release.  Even the best of planning can sometimes goes awry).

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Red Rocket Games announces first title: Mevo and the Grooveriders

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

We spotlighted Red Rocket Games back in December, and have quietly following the development of this Bellevue, WA/Shanghai, China studio.  Jung Suh, Gamefly co-founder and Scott Yu, former EA technical art director seem to have been cooking up some good stuff, and announced their first title today: Mevo and the Grooveriders.

Mevo and the Grooveriders sets out to be the first downloadable music/rhythm platform game for the casual PC market.  The goal of this casual game is for Mevo, the main protagonist to get his band, the Grooveriders back together and put the ‘fun’ back in the ‘funk’.  Moving Mevo around his world requires players to tap 2 keys (enter and space bar) simultaneously with the game’s music (think guitar hero) to re-energize Mevo and move him forward.  Players must work their way through five unique worlds (Ocean Jungle, Desert, Space, and Wormhole); all the while finding avatars along their path that will help Mevo unlock other levels.   As Mevo moves along in his quest, beat sequences become more and more complex, moving from basic single beat patterns to rapid beats, combos, sequences, and long-hold sustained passages.  By successfully completing challenges, players can then access new areas and songs, or be rewarded with in-game items including avatar parts that are needed to activate power-ups.

All of Mevo and the Grooverider’s tracks are original, produced in house with live musicians, and provide unique and groovalicious retro-funk that varies from organic jams right on through to electro-funk.

“Parents and kids, hardcore or casual – all players will be drawn to MEVO & THE GROOVERIDER’s great music, fun gameplay mechanic, beautiful art and very accessible yet challenging gameplay,” said Jung Suh, CEO of Red Rocket Games. “The game can also be customized to the player’s abilities and styles and, unlike other casual games, Red Rocket will be making updates to the game directly through patches to keep the action fresh and the gameplay fun and replayable.”

The game can also be customized to suit player’s own preferences and unique playing styles.  Regardless of level, players will be rewarded with avatars, dance packs and badges to help them make their way through the game or wear with pride on the game’s online portal and community.

Red Rocket plans on making updates to the game directly through patches in order to keep the action fresh, and players coming back for more.

Other key Mevo features include:

  • Personalization – Players can personalize their MEVO with 17 body sets, 23 headsets and 6 dance sets, including customized avatars and costumes, such as Ninjas, British Dandy, Reindeers, Pumpkins, and more. Some avatar pieces/sets even have additional power-ups associated with them, such as score multipliers or invincibility.
  • Community – MEVOWORLD.com offers players a place to create and showcase profiles of MEVO characters and customized avatars. Badges can also be proudly displayed within the community, and the site will feature leader boards and high scores. When users share their own levels, the community will also be able to vote on their favorites.
  • Great replayability – Players can replay the game with many variables, including trying to acquire different badges, achieving perfect play through, experiencing all of the alternate endings, or finding all the power-ups, avatars and dance packs throughout the levels. The game will also be updated directly through patches, unlike other casual games.

Mevo and the Grooveriders from Red Rocket Games is scheduled for a March 2009 release.

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fatfoogoo on twitter and twestival

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

We’ve been flying a bit under the radar on this one, but it’s time to let the cat out of the bag: fatfoogoo is on twitter.  We’ve been slowly adding lots of interesting people from all over the business and gaming community and not only adding our own little bits, but more so, doing a lot of listening.  There are plenty of game community and industry folks actively participating on twitter, and lots of great news and opinions to be read and heard.

We’re also proud to announce that we’ve taken more than a passive interest in the twitter community, and are donating a Nintendo wii as the grand prize drawing in tonight’s Vienna westival event.  Twestival is a collection of over 185 cities around the world that are coming together not only to facilitate a twitter meet up, but to do so for a great cause, charity:water.

In September 2008, a group of Twitterers based in London UK decided to organize an event where the local Twitter community could socialize offline; meet the faces behind the avatars, enjoy some entertainment, have a few drinks and tie this in with a food drive and fundraising effort for a local homeless charity.

The bulk of the event was organized in under two weeks, via Twitter and utilized the talents and financial support of the local Twittersphere to make this happen.

Around the world similar stories started appearing of local Twitter communities coming together and taking action for a great cause. Twestival was born out of the idea that if cities were able to collaborate on an international scale, but working from a local level, it could have a spectacular impact.

By rallying together globally, under short timescales, for a single aim on the same day, the Twestival hopes to bring awareness to this global crisis.

charity: water is a non profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations by funding sustainable clean water solutions in areas of greatest need.
But don’t just take out word for it, check out charity:water founder Scott Harrison’s video about the event.

http://www.vimeo.com/3170682

The foogoo team will be in attendance at tonight’s event, stop by and say hi, or tweet us!

Cynthia Lederer – @_whitenoise_
Dan Taylor – @MountainDan
Daniel Petri – @massiveattack55
Johannes Sperlhofer – @timeactor
Martin Herdina – @iznogud
Moritz Bayer – @ViennaMoB
Patrick Krippner – @locoloki
Patrick Pachner – @Adamantos
Ritchie Pettaur – @datadirt
Stevie Case – @killcreek
Thomas Stagl – @herrstagl

 

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UC Irvine lands $3M for further study of Virtual Worlds

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Billed under the title ‘Can the same technologies you use to play hard also help you work hard’, The University of California at Irvine has recently been awarded a $3M grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study emerging forms of communication.  The study will incorporate elements of MMO’s and Virtual Worlds including World of Warcraft and Second Life, and aims to help organizations collaborate and compete more effectively in a global marketplace.  This new grant ups the ante from previous UC Irvine studies, as they were granted a $100K grant from the NSF last year for an ethnographic study of World of Warcraft.

“Many technologies have come out of computer-based games, and their concepts appear to have real potential,” said Richard N. Taylor, director of UCI’s Institute for Software Research, which is conducting the three-year study. “This grant will determine how emerging technologies can be used or modified to support serious group work.”

As a flailing economy sees more and more companies opening the doors to worldwide collaboration, Virtual Worlds are looking more and more attractive to these businesses.  To grow and promote efficiency and productivity, these companies are turning to virtual worlds as a place where workers can collaborate thousands of miles apart from each other, while still being in the same ‘virtual’ room.  The UC Irvine study aims to help in this area, applying lessons learned, and yet to be learned in large-scale multiplayer online gaming, social networking, and file and media sharing.

In order to keep feet and minds grounded here on planet Earth, UC Irvine researchers will gain ‘real world’ perspectives by collaborating with five organizations from aerospace, telecom, transportation and electronics sectors, along with the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana.  Some of this real world perspective could make it’s way into virtual world testing, as Irvine scientists are already speculating about plugging real world engineering specifications into virtual worlds like Second Life to test and develop personal rapid transit systems.

“Advanced information and communication technologies can lead to breakthroughs in productivity and boost morale, but they can also be problematic and unsuccessful, leading to wasted investments,” said Walt Scacchi, senior research scientist and project leader. “One goal of this research is to understand the conditions that lead to failure or success.”

UC Irvine scientists Walt Scacchi, senior research scientist and project leader, and Richard Taylor will be joined by Alfred Kobsa, Cristina V. Lopes, Gloria Mark, Bonnie Nardi and David Redmiles in their studies.

Ed. Note: This announcement couldn’t have come at a better time, as PC World’s Darren Gladstone recently published a piece regarding including your game playing skills as a resume builder.  Give it a read here.

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Virtual World there.com adds four new major players

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Creators of the social virtual world Makena Technologies have recently announced that they’ve added four new partners participating in their virtual merchandise marketing program.  Virtual inhabitants of There.com may threads by Blair Wear and virtual sports memorabilia creator Beelya, as well as Fandango and the Academy of Country Music.

“The Academy has always been on the forefront of fan interaction, and There.com is just one more way we can engage consumers in a fun and cutting-edge way,” said Lisa Lee, senior director at the Academy of Country Music. “Now the millions of fans who tune into the Academy of Country Music Awards can order both real world and virtual world merchandise to support their devotion to the country music format.”

These new additions now join other virtual world marketplace offers within There.com, including NBC, who introduced virtual Tshirts, hoodies and sweatshirts from Battlestar Galactica, House, Psych, and Conan O’Brien back in November.  NBC has also recently extended their merchandise partnership with Makena to now offer goods from HEROES, 30 Rock and The Office.

“Despite tough economic times, the virtual goods market continues to flourish as people look for inexpensive forms of entertainment,” said Michael Wilson, CEO of There.com. “NBC and our new partners understand both the expanding opportunity in the virtual goods category and the importance of branded merchandise as a form of self-expression for our members.”

Each retailer has a custom storefront within There.com where users may purchase any one of these virtual goodies.  Beelya will also be offering autographed replica jerseys from well know athletes including Brett Favre and Larry Fitzgerald that inhabitants can use to decorate their virtual pads, hailing a new option for there.com members: in world Sports Memorabilia.

“We saw tremendous potential between Beelya’s exclusive content offerings in sports and There.com’s experience and efficiency in bringing branded virtual goods to their users,” said Mark Faggiano, co-founder, Beelya. “Users said they wanted sports-related virtual goods to enhance their experience in-world. We wanted to provide them with the opportunity to express themselves in There.com as sports fans, something that up until now has not been possible to do in virtual worlds.”

These new four brand partners now join a host of other virtual merchandise storefronts within there.com including Coca-Cola, Scion, K-SWISS, bebe, and the Humane Society of the United States.

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Runic Games on track to release new free-to-play this year

Monday, February 9th, 2009

We all know the phrase, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’, and while I’ve still yet to figure out exactly what that means, Reading Sid Shuman’s interview with Runic Games boss Max Schaefer put me one step closer to understanding.  You might remember that Max, along with Travis Baldree and a host of other former Flagship Studios employees jumped off that sinking ship and decided to have a go at it themselves with Runic Games.

Max Schaefer is an industry veteran, having worked on Blizzard’s Diablo II and Warcraft III, as well as producing Flagship’s Hellgate London, and the now, nowhere to be seen, free-to-play title Mythos.  And while I’ve covered the big ol’ drama over at Flagship Studios regarding their IP and who owns what and where what may or may not be played, Schaefer and co. seem to have put that debacle well behind them and are currently hard at work developing a yet to be named free-to-play action RPG.  In his interview with gamepro.com’s Sid Shuman, Schaefer discusses the upcoming title, the business model, and challenges facing indy developers in a less than ideal economic climate.

When asked specifically about Mythos, and how it’s development influences Runic’s new title, Schaefer responds,

“We’ve begun work on a game that is very much in the spirit of Mythos. We’re starting from absolute scratch, of course, but we’re still committed to the idea of an easy to play, action-RPG. This time we plan to start with a single-player version, and then expand to an MMO.”

“…we’re already running around randomly generated dungeons, killing monsters, equipping the loot that drops, quaffing healing potions, and opening chests. The basic feel of the game play is already there. It’s not ready for screenshots quite yet, but it won’t be long!”

“Our goal is to release the single player version of the game this year, and we’re well on track for that. The MMO will be a couple years later in all likelihood.”

An interesting approach.  Instead of biting off the entire MMO piece, Runic is going to release a single player version first, presumably work out the kinks and develop player interest and a community, and then take on the whole enchilada once it’s reached a ‘polished’ stage.  Smart.

Speaking to the free-to-play, microtransaction based business model, Runic is clearly in touch with what gamers want, and likewise what they do not want,

“We love this model [microtransactions] for MMOs for a lot of reasons, among them that people can play the game and decide if they like it or not at no cost at all. We fully expect a good portion of our players to never pay a penny. Those who want to speed things up or buy extras for their characters can do at their discretion. Done properly this is a fantastic way to run an MMO.

Like I mentioned above, we also plan to a single player version first, though. This will be sold at a low price point, and primarily available by digital download. We’ll probably get boxes on shelves as well — we’d like to get it as widely available as possible.”

Naturally, Schaefer gives a nod to the Asian free-to-play phenomenon, and talks about how it’s currently influencing Runic’s development,

“We are using many of the Asian MMOs as inspiration, as they’ve done such a great job with their communities. Our game will play much differently, of course, but we think those social features will match beautifully with the Diablo action style.”

And now to address that 900 pound Gorilla in the room; just how does a small independent gaming studio survive in today’s economic climate?

“The days of publishers freely throwing around big money are over. The biggest challenge young developers face is cost control. Publishers want games faster, cheaper, and better. It’s up to us to make it happen. We’ve structured Runic as a small, tight crew operating with full consciousness of the economic realities. Thus, we’re emphasizing efficient production pipelines, robust tools, and partnership with experienced and talented publishers who know how to run this type of game. Game developers have to continuously adapt to moving targets, and startups especially have to stay small and nimble. We learned a lot from the mistakes we made at Flagship Studios, and hopefully emerged smarter and better developers as a result.”

All in all, it sounds like the Runic folks have indeed learned some lessons from the Flagship incident, and are forging ahead with some great ideas, a great new title, and an outstanding business model.  While I couldn’t find them listed on the GDC site, here’s to hoping that Schaefer and Co. make it down to San Francisco for the convention, as I think we’d all like a look at those screenshots, and perhaps a hands on review.

 

Social Network hi5 introduces hi5 Games

Friday, February 6th, 2009

San Francisco based social network hi5 has recently announced the launch of hi5 Games, a vehicle for users to further interact with their social network contacts and meet new people.  With over 60 million unique visitors per month, hi5 is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing social networks.  hi5 Games will be presented in a fun and socially integrated gaming environment.

Setting itself apart from other social networks, hi5 focuses on deeply integrating social context within game content.  Their integrated messaging, challenge, and invite features also seek to make it a more compelling gaming experience with existing friends and easier to find new friends.

Staying true to their commitment of delivering fun and interactive ‘social entertainment’, hi5 Games represents a new and important monetization opportunity using hi5 coins.  hi5 Coins is the systems’ proprietary virtual currency, and will allow users to purchase premium content, advanced gaming features, and status upgrades via direct transactions.  In addition to these microtransactions, hi5 will also offer advertisers new and immersive options within hi5 Games, thereby allowing brands to better engage their ideal target audience.

“For our target audience of 15 to 24 year-olds, social gaming represents a major expenditure of time and money around the globe. hi5 Games is just one of a range of immersive features that will further engage our users, both keeping them on the site longer and driving them towards new forms of monetization for our business,” said Ramu Yalamanchi, founder and CEO of hi5.

hi5 Games kicks things off by offering players a variety of casual games in sports, arcade, strategy and card genres.  The site will be adding additional games on a monthly basis.  hi5 Games launch highlights include Disco Bowling, Pool, and Mahjong.

Any hi5 Games players out there?  We’d love to hear your feedback: Leave a comment below…

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Multiplayer Social Games company Iminlikewithyou names Dan Porter CEO

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

New York based multiplayer social games company Iminlikewithyou.com has named Dan Porter as its new chief executive officer reports VentureBeat.  First up on Porter’s agenda?  Getting the company on track with monetizing it’s social games and continued expansion.

Porter comes to Iminlikewithyou from his previous position as Senior Vice President at Virgin, where he was in charge of venture investing and corporate development for Virgin North America.  The move to Iminlikewithyou is certainly a shifting of gears for Porter, as he now heads up a company with less than 10 employees.  Conversely, Iminlikewithyou is well funded, having received $1.5M to date from Spark Capital, Baseline Ventures, and Betaworks, as well as getting off the ground with individual angel funding from Ron Conway, Marc Andreessen, and Kevin Rose of digg fame.

Iminlikewithyou has humble beginnings, resembling something more akin to a dating site, has refocused their efforts over the years, and now brands itself as a social games portal.  Porter reports that the site has proven compelling to regular users as the iminlikewithyou sees between 500k and 1M visitor per month.  Combined, these users have spent over 50 million minutes on the site in January alone.  Porters hopes for the site include monetizing via virtual goods microtransactions and subscriptions.

Some of the most popular titles on the site include Balloono and Blockles.  Iminlikewith you currently caters mainly to the 15 – 25 age group, and is evenly split between males and females.

And while iminlikewithyou does face a number of steep competitors including playfish, and Big Fish Games, there is a high potential there, as iminlikewithyou holds one key component that the others do not: a thriving social network operating outside the realm of it’s games.

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Frogster announces free-to-play Runes of Magic release date

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Mark your gaming calendars folks, as Frogster Interactive has announced the official release date for their highly anticipated free-to-play MMORPG Runes of Magic: March 19th.  During their three month open beta, Frogster has seen over 450,000 players explore and battle their way through Taborea, and it’s time to bring the title out of beta, and into the full light of day.

“Since the open beta test launch is December, the population of Taborea has soared and we have been working closely with our community to fine tune the  Runes of Magic  experience”, said Daniel Ullrich, Director of Product Management at Frogster, “We look forward to welcoming thousands of new players to Taborea during the next few weeks, as we get ready to fully launch  Runes of Magic “.

Seeking to redefine the free-to-play genre, Runes of Magic offers players a host of extensive features.  With already over 1000 quests for players to venture forth on, Runes of Magic portrays a thrilling story line set in an atmospheric fantasy setting.  Players have six main classes to choose from, and when combined with a secondary skill class, players are presented with 30 different possible character combinations.  Frogster is banking some of there revenue on customizations to player’s individual virtual homes, which they can then decorate via microtransaction purchases.  Naturally, Runes of Magic incorporates today’s ‘standard’ MMORPG features including a crafting and reputation system, PVP, and dungeons and boss-monsters.

Developed by Taiwanese Runewalker Entertainment Ltd. in just three years, the studio will provide players with fresh content updates scheduled every three to four months, including fee add-ons and updates.

Features

  • Free2play: no monthly fees, free download
  • More than 1.000 quests and quest series on launch
  • Versatile spell- and attack-combinations
  • No zone boundaries thanks to seamless architecture
  • Dungeons: Instanced and tile based as well as persistent
  • Individually developable skills and spells
  • Dynamic item system with hundreds of runes for upgrading
  • Optional PvP system with arena battles and guild wars
  • Epic crafting system with the chance to improve existing items
  • Personalization of player houses through individual furnishing
  • Customisable user interface with the option to use Add-Ons
  • Map and radar system to find dealers, resources and quests easily
  • In-game auction houses for trading items

Runes of Magic kicked open the beta doors, in both German and English in mid December 2008.  Interested parties can download the game client and start their free-to-play adventure at www.runesofmagic.com.

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