PlayStation Network…and we’re back. Sorta.

May 16th, 2011

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or perhaps a compound just outside Islamabad, chances are you’re aware that Sony’s Online services have been off line since the 20th of April. Just shy of one month later, Sony has begun restoring said services, much to the delight of online PS3 gamers (and Qriocity music listeners).

However, the green-lighting of services does come with a few restrictions. In a statement, Sony indicated that services began the restoration process this past Friday, including SOE’s portfolio of online games, as well as game forums and websites. The reactivation of these services comes with a standard “please change your password now,” requirement. A fair practice, but it looks like Sony might have started out of the gate with a stumble, as Engadget is reporting that eager gamers are experiencing difficulties in resetting their password, as Sony is being inundated with a massive amount of requests in a short amount of time. Sony points to ISPs that are automatically blocking or delaying the incoming email password change requests. Oye vey.

As a special, “Oops, our bad,” “Welcome Back,” package, sony is offering special game content to all registered members. Players will receive 30 days of additional game time plus an additional day for each day that SOE’s services were down (25).

And while rollouts have been confirmed in North America, South America, EMEA, Australia and New Zealand, there’s one market that’s suspiciously missing: Sony’s home country of Japan. The Dow Jones is reporting that Japanese government officials have given the green light a no-go, citing a few outstanding issues that Sony has failed to comply with. First and foremost, Sony has promised counter-hacking measures (announced on May 1), and second is further security surrounding the protection of users’ credit car number and other private data. Regarding the anti-hacking measures, details have yet to surface as to what has and what has not been implemented, for obvious reasons, but it would appear that Japanese officials aren’t quite satisfied. On the credit card and personal data front, Dow Jones indicates that Sony is already lobbying in talks with Japanese officials to assure compliance.

“Our main priority is the safety and security of our customers’ personal information,” said Kazuo Hirai, Executive Deputy President, Sony Corporation in a statement. “We are making consumer data protection a full-time, company-wide commitment, and have applied enhanced security technologies so that our customers can feel protected and confident about playing our games.”

GamersFirst appoint GTA creator David Jones to Advisory Board

May 13th, 2011

GamersFirst is reporting that they’ve recently appointed David Jones as the newest member of Reloaded Productions, were he’ll serve an advisory role for the upcoming APB Reloaded title.

“The opportunity to have David reconnect with us during the production of the new ‘APB Reloaded’ game has been great and it lets us take advantage of both a deeper understanding of the original vision of APB, as well as leveraging the strengths of the Free2Play model used in the new ‘APB Reloaded’ game,” said Bjorn Book-Larsson, COO and CTO of GamersFirst in a statement.

This is a major score for GamersFirst, as Jones’ pedigree is something to be marveled. He’s credited as the creator of the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise, as well as it’s MMO successor, “APB: All Points Bulletin”. Post GTA, Jones split from DMA Design (later to become Rockstar North) in 1999 to create Realtime Worlds in 2001. Seeking to recreate his success, Jones and Co. released “Crackdown” in 2007. Crackdown was an Xbox only affair, and offered up an action-adventure, third person shooter, published by Microsoft. Post Crackdown, Realtime Worlds put it’s full resources towards the creation of APB: All Points Bulletin, resulting in one of the worlds’ most customizable MMOs to date. Now coming full circle, APB Reloaded is slated for a May 18th Open beta, and presents players with a truly open-world of cops and robbers’ adventure.

“This game was my passion back when I was developing it with Realtime Worlds, and I’m extremely excited to be able to participate in fulfilling the long term vision for the title,” Jones stated. “After seeing what the team has done with the game thus far, I’m certain that APB Reloaded will become the title that truly breaks new ground for online game experiences, especially with transition to a free to play model.”

“Allowing players to try out key aspects of the game before committing to making purchases fits this game tremendously well” Jones added.

Again, on tap for May 18th, APB Reloaded is a free-to-play, third person MMO based in the modern-day fictitious city of San Paro. As the city crumbles to it’s knees, players choose their faction, Enforcers (the good guys) or Criminals (the bad guys). Having chosen sides, the battle ensues, with players battling for turf, committing or preventing petty crimes, and gaining reputation and respect within their chosen organization. APB Reloaded promises to deliver non-stop chaos, and offers up some of the most complete set of customization tools to date.

The APB Reloaded closed beta is currently underway, but the open beta begins on May 18th, with interested parties able to sign up directly at gamersfirst.com/apb.

Glu Mobile receives top honors at Google I/O 2011

May 12th, 2011

Google’s annual I/O conference always brings us a wealth of information, and this year is no different. Amongst the various announcements and items of focus, Glu Mobile Inc. has emerged as the Top Developer for Android. Adding to the honors, Glu’s social mobile game “Gun Bros,” has been named Editors Choice. The title has been a driving factor behind Glu’s success, already garnering more than 3 million downloads to Android devices within it’s first three months of release.

Glu points to these awards as proof positive of their development relationship with Google. From Google’s side, it noteworthy to point out that during the Google Honeycomb launch this past February, Glu’s Gun Bros was highlighted during a gaming demo. Likewise, when Google flipped the switch on in-game (or app) purchasing functionality, Glu published three of the six initial titles featured during the February launch event.

“We are honored to be named a Top Developer, as well as to receive the prestigious Editor’s Choice award for Gun Bros,” said Niccolo de Masi, Chief Executive Officer at Glu in a statement. “Our dedication to the Android platform, innovation in design and game play is evidenced through the popularity of our 3D Social Mobile games. We appreciate Google’s recognition of these accomplishments.”

Moving forward, Glu is showcasing their newest offering, Contract Killer, at this year’s I/O event. Attendees now have the opportunity to give Contract Killer a first-go on Android devices before the Friday, May 13th official launch date.

With this much cozy-cozy going on between Glu and Google, this author can only wonder how far off the acquisition announcement is?

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell guides Anti-AgingGames

May 11th, 2011

Building upon the theme of Gaming for Good, it would appear as though another be-better-through-gaming firm has recently entered the market, this time Anti-AgingGames, that seeks to provide scientifically based brain fitness games, specifically targeted at those 35 years of age and up.

Sure, memory trainers are a dime-a-dozen, but Anti-AgingGames believes that they’ve perfected the secret to staying razor sharp over time via additional components including concentration and focus exercises, as well as the key components of relaxation and stress reduction, both of which have been scientifically researched and found to promote healthy brain functions. The subscription based service also provides a number of daily tips on how to reduce early memory loss. This sage wisdom is brought to Anti-AgingGames from over 17.000 medical studies that indicate simple lifestyle changes can improve over all, long term, memory retention.

“The scientific community is making great strides in understanding what happens to our brains as we age. The good news is the adult brain does not stop developing, as had long been believed, and scientists are identifying a wide range of things — like regular exercise, socializing and engaging in mentally-stimulating activities — that can potentially maintain and even improve brain performance as we age,” says co-founder Elizabeth Amini in a statement. “Anti-AgingGames.com provides tools and information that can help reduce the risk of early memory loss and enable people to live full and productive lives.”

While Amini arrives at Anti-AgingGames via the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the other half of Anti-AgingGames is where the games industry experience comes to the table. Across the table from Amini is established games maker, and son of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, Brent Bushnell.

While Bushnell SR. wasn’t specifically “hands on” with the project, he, together with leading world-class neurobehavioral scientists, provided oversight and guidance. Games were/are specifically designed so that players can enjoy them in short intervals (social games?). And what would a good game be without a carrot and stick? Anti-AgingGames vows to release new content on a regular basis, allowing for ongoing training, as well as landmarks for users to monitor their progress over time.

“It has been disappointing to watch videogames become increasingly violent and complicated over the years and lacking in fun, socially engaging and educational features. I have long believed that video and computer games could be highly effective, fun educational tools, and I am pleased to see more activity on that front,” says Nolan Bushnell in a statement.

Startup Row Sham Bow raises $3M, Nintendo gets new VP

May 10th, 2011

From every gamer on the planet, we’d like to thank you EA. Not only for making great titles over the years, but for providing a solid training ground for a large number of independent startups founded by your former employees. Such is the case with new upstart, Row Sham Bow, yet another social games development house.

Founded by Philip Holt and Nick Gonzalez, both former EA vets, Row Sham Bow has recently announced a successful round of Series A funding, to the tune of $3 Million. This round of funding was provided by Intersouth Partners.

“It’s not common to find a strong team like the one leading Row Sham Bow,” said John Glushik of Intersouth Partners in a statement. “With proven experience developing for and leading gaming companies, this team is perfectly composed to lead a company that is creating innovative games and technology that will engage audiences in new ways.”

Holt was previously Vice President and Studio General Manager of EA Tiburon, while Gonzalez previously served as Chief Software Architect at the same EA studio. Oddly enough, Gonzalez was also under the employ of Massive Inc., serving as their Chief Technology Officer. Combined, Holt, who will serve as President and CEO of Row Sham Bow, and Gonzalez, who takes on the role of Chief Technology Officer, have a total of over 32 years of online technology development experience.

“We are excited to partner with Intersouth as we launch and grow our company,” said Holt in a statement. “We believe that having a highly respected venture firm like Intersouth make its first gaming investment in Row Sham Bow not only illustrates the opportunity we have, but also demonstrates the continuing value that Orlando has as an important game development center.”

Ed. note: All seriousness aside, if you’re not already familiar with the term Row Sham Bow, do yourself a favor and have a look at what the sub-text of this company moniker is. A message to EA?

Nintendo hires new EVP of Sales and Marketing

Shifting gears from startup to long-standing player, Nintendo of America has recently announced the appointment of a new Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Scott Moffitt.

In a complete antithesis of the Row Sham Bow situation, Moffit arrives at Nintendo with no video game industry experience. Instead, he’s spent his 20+year career dedicated to consumer goods, as he arrives from Henkel Consumer Goods, where he was responsible for top shelf brands including Dial, Right Guard, Tone, and Pure & Natural. If you’ve noticed the complete overhaul of both the Dial and Right Guard brands and presentation, you’ve seen Moffitt’s work first hand.

“Scott Moffitt makes a marvelous addition to the Nintendo team,” said Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime in a statement. “His expertise in driving growth will be a terrific asset as we build momentum for the Nintendo 3DS system and continue to reach new audiences for the Wii console.”

An interesting move for sure from Nintendo’s side. In an industry where ‘experts’ and ‘veterans’ tend to clutch to their own industry, it should be interesting to see where a consumer goods specialist takes the company. That’s not to say that there isn’t a great deal of overlap, but Moffitt’s inexperience in the industry might be seen as a detriment. With that said, it’s precisely this outside expertise that may drive Nintendo of America to new, never-before-seen heights.

Earn Facebook Credits by watching in-game video via Sharethrough

May 9th, 2011

Announced late last week, social video advertising firm Sharethrough has recently engaged in a Facebook Credits program that will allow gamers to earn Facebook Credits for watching sponsored, branded videos within their favorite casual game.  This new offering is part of a much larger test program, investigating ways for Facebook users to earn Credits, which may then in turn be used to purchase premium goods and content within social games and applications.

According to Sharethrough, the new program will see an integration of branded video content directly within titles on Facebook.  Those that choose to click-click and watch one of the aforementioned videos will receive a pre-determined amount of Facebook Credits for their time.  Likewise, Sharethrough points to the direct integration of brand video as a key element to social video advertising, a factor that ultimately drives higher levels of user engagement, as well as the sharing of this brand video content.

“Sharethrough exists to help brands succeed with content, not ads. This program is a huge validation of that vision, as it will create premium opportunities for brand video content to be seen and shared,” said Dan Greenberg, co-founder and CEO of Sharethrough in a statement. “We are thrilled to see Facebook provide game publishers with a powerful new way to monetize their games via Facebook Credits and for the lift that this will bring to the social video advertising industry.”

Up and running since 2008, Sharethrough has already demonstrated the power of in-game social video via top brands including Sony, Xbox, Victoria’s Secret, Nestle, and LEGO.  Their unique offering has been proven to deliver significant increases in overall brand metrics.  One of Sharethrough’s most recent campaigns netted a 108 percent increase in brand awareness, according to metrics firm Vizu.  Building on the power and spread of Facebook, Sharethrough reports that sharing rates for Facebook games are off the charts, some 270 percent higher than in-game advertising on other platforms.

New found monetizer or recycling of a dead horse?  Time will be the judge, but, “Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.”  Or not.

IGN acquires UGO; combined, reaching 70+ million

May 6th, 2011

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has had a strong tradition of acquisitions and mergers, save for that minor $580 million MySpace incident. It would appear as though News Corp. is at it again, this time their popular gaming and internet media services provider IGN has successfully acquired UGO’s entire network of owned and affiliated properties. With combined forces, IGN/UGO will now reach a global audience of more than 70 million, across a variety of go-to destinations.

“This instantly catapults us to another level and positions us to serve and entertain tens of millions more fans. We look forward to providing an even richer service for users and advertisers. We are now actively considering a range of options to maximize IGN’s long-term value,” said Roy Bahat, President, IGN Entertainment in a statement.

Pre-acquisition, IGN’s reach covered approximately 40 million monthly visitors from across the globe. From UGO’s side, approximately 30 million monthly visitors crossed paths with one of their various web properties. Two of UGO’s most popular destinations, UGO itself, and 1UP will now find a home amongst IGN’s premium destinations including GameSpy, FilePlanet, Direct2Drive, and TeamXbox. Likewise, UGO now has access to IGN’s retail partner GameStop.com. And while the gaming focused properties are key in this acquisition, IGN has much to offer, as their reach extends beyond gaming, and crosses over into lifestyle offerings including IGN’s AskMen.com. Given the combination of popular male destinations, News Corporation is projecting that they will now reach one in four men online.

IGN currently holds the #1 spot for video game sites (according to IGN), and this acquisition now expands IGN’s media and product offerings lineup, a factor that eager advertisers are sure to take note of, as the coveted 18-34 demographic is IGN’s specialty.

“The combination of IGN and UGO will create the complete ‘go to’ online destination for video game enthusiasts. The breadth, depth and quality of the content available through these sites will be unparalleled. This is a terrific combination for our viewers and our advertisers,” said Ken Bronfin, President of Hearst Interactive Media.

Nexon: Q1 revenues up 59 percent

May 5th, 2011

Free-to-play/Microtransaction based games maker Nexon is reporting that it’s North American business unit, Nexon America, grew a healthy 59 percent in year-over-year first quarter revenues. Traditionally a slow season for the gaming industry, Nexon has beat the odds, making this growth particularly notable. The secret sauce behind Nexon’s impressive showing? A steady release of new content, resulting in increased user engagement and sales of microtransaction based items.

“Our success is the result of our ability to deliver engaging content that our players find valuable, whether they are playing for free or purchasing items in our games,” said Daniel Kim, CEO of Nexon America. “The substantial growth we are experiencing in North America is a reflection of how well Nexon is doing globally. We are growing our traditional MMOG business as well as expanding into other platforms such as the mobile and social games, which will help to expand our global reach and the number of people playing our games.”

In addition to their currently available Atlantica Online, Combat Arms, MapleStory, Vindictus, Dungeon Fighter Online, Mabinogi, and PopTag!, Nexon plans on a second appearance at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, and will showcase Dragon Nest, Nexon’s yet-to-be-released offering, as well as Vindictus. Dragon Nest is slated for a summer release for free-to-play PC gamers in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. According to Nexon, the title will combine fast-paced action alongside an engaging storyline and a the distinctive Nexon art style. Naturally, the title will be free-to-play, and microtransaction supported.

Likewise, as we recently reported, Nexon is teeing up a Facebook version, MapleStory Adventures, of the long running MapleStory franchise. And while Q1’s numbers are certainly impressive, with a Facebook launch of a perennial favorite, as well as a new “full” game, Nexon’s Q4 numbers should be poised to be off the charts.

EA to acquire Firemint, Glu Mobile partners with Blammo Games

May 4th, 2011

Redwood City, CA based EA games has recently announced their intentions to acquire Melbourne, Australia mobile development studio Firemint. Driving the acquisition is Firemint’s impressive lineup, including their Flight Control and Real Racing for iPhone and iPad. While the deal has yet to close, reports indicate that the hangup is not monetarily related, and that the sign off should occur within the next four weeks.

“The Firemint team is remarkable for its critical and commercial success,” said Barry Cottle, Executive Vice President and General Manger of EA Interactive in a statment. “Having them as part of EAi will accelerate our position as worldwide leader in game development for mobile devices and online gaming platforms.”

The acquisition of Firemint arrives on the heels of EA’s acquisition of Mobile Post Production, a smartphone cross-platform development and porting firm, clearly indicating that EA has big plans in store for it’s mobile division.

Cottle also adds, “The added technical expertise of MPP, combined with the creative talent of Firemint and our EAi studio teams, fuels EA’s leadership in delivering top selling, high quality games across mobile phones and smartphones, tablets and future digital interactive entertainment platforms.”

Glu Mobile and Blammo Games

Just up the road a bit (so to speak), San Francisco, CA based publisher of 3D social and mobile games, Glu Mobile has recently announced a partnership with Blammo Games. Along with Blammo Games’ IP, Glu Mobile now has a direct link to founder Christopher Locke, who’s been the driving force behind social successes including Smurfs’ Village and Zombie Café. Likewise, Locke served as external producer on the hit title ‘Lil Pirates.

“I am excited to collaborate with Glu on their upcoming titles,” said Locke in a statement. “Glu has asserted themselves as innovators in high-quality, freemium gaming and a leading contributor to the iOS and Android ecosystem. Blammo Games collaboration with Glu will undoubtedly produce unique, captivating gaming experiences for consumers.”

The partnership will see Glu on the publisher seat for the next two upcoming Blammo Games titles, with a projected timeline of 12 months. Both offerings are expected to integrate Glu’s technology and tools, ultimately resulting in further market penetration of the Glu Games Network. Sweetening the deal, Glu has the option on the table to renew the agreement for any sequels that may develop from these initial offerings, as well as the option to purchase a 25 percent stake in Blammo.

“We are pleased to establish a long-term publishing relationship with Mr. Locke and his new studio, Blammo Games,” saidNiccolo De Masi, CEO of Glu in a statement. “Glu and Blammo Games share a keen focus on bringing high-quality mobile titles to market and we look forward to leveraging Mr. Locke’s unique talents to produce dynamic and enduring mobile gaming franchises for Glu gamers.”

DeNA weighs in with $393M Q4 sales numbers, $1.38B annual

May 3rd, 2011

Japanese social and mobile games company DeNA has recently reported their fourth quarter and fiscal year results, totaling $393 Million and $1.38 Billion, respectively.  This fiscal quarter figure represents a 67.5 percent increase over the previous years’ Q4 numbers.  Additionally, this increase now sees DeNA reporting it’s sixth consecutive quarter of increased revenues, resulting in an achievement of the firm’s goals, raking in a massive $1.38 Billion in sales for the fiscal year.

“DeNA has met, if not exceeded, every goal we set for the company,” Tomoko Namba, CEO, DeNA, said in a statement. “We are very pleased and proud of our exceptional year in sales. Our diverse catalog, market expanding strategies and dedication to leadership in technology has fueled our global growth. We are looking forward to making our social mobile platform for games, Mobage, truly global in the coming year.”

DeNA’s success is attributed largely to their expansion of a number of their Mobage Open Platform titles.  This expansion arrived for both in-house and third-party titles, bringing the numbers up to 1000+ available titles within the network.  Likewise, DeNA decided to eliminate the brand-schism, and homogenized it’s Mobage brand, replacing the Mobage-Town moniker in Japan with a unified Mobage.  This consolidation arrives just months before DeNA plans a release of the Mogabe product lineup to Western markets.

While DeNA may have suffered a blow via the acquisition of OpenFeint by competitor GREE, their plans to head West haven’t been dashed.  The company has charted what they believe will put them on the top in this new market via a multi-pronged attack.  OpenFeint may have gone to GREE, but don’t forget that DeNA also has their own feet on the ground with the acquisition of ngmoco, as well as mobile app studio Gameview.  And now that they’ve got the IP in place, the company has also struck major deals with carriers, least of which being Japan’s NTT Docomo, as well as providing for a device to play on, with a Samsung deal leading the way.

Looking forward, DeNA is projecting a massive growth rate, and the spoils of war that come with it.  The firm is indicating that 2014 will see a $2.4 Billion operating income, primarily based on the expansion of Mobage, as well as their Open Platform/X-Border/X-Device offerings in Japan, China, North America, and Europe.

And while DeNA may be celebrating a healthy lining of the coffers, the Japan based company did take pause, and noted that in response to the devastating earthquake(s) and Tsunami, they’ve made major donations to humanitarian relief efforts, as well as opening their doors to employ persons from affected areas.