Entertainment Industry

Category: E3 2010

E3 2010: MTV outsources Rock Band instruments, embraces dancing

JustDance MTV still loves Rock Band. It's making the instruments for Rock Band that is causing headaches.

That's why MTV has now signed a deal with a company called Mad Catz Inc. to produce the bulk of its instrument controllers. While Rock Band is very popular, the games have not been moneymakers for MTV parent Viacom in large part because of the cost of producing the fake instruments used in the game. The only instrument controller that Mad Catz won't be responsible for is a guitar controller that has six strings and actually works as a real guitar that is being produced by Fender, the iconic guitar manufacturer.

The new Rock Band 3 from MTV's developer, Harmonix Music Systems, will feature keyboards. That means that seven people can play the game simultaneously, including three singers, and it will likely require even better insulation in the basement. Harmonix has altered the game to make it easier for friends to jump in and start performing together while also adding new in-depth options for those who want to use the game to actually learn to play music.

MTV is also unveiling another game at E3 this week called Dance Central, which represents the first non-Rock Band game that MTV and Harmonix have produced. It uses Microsoft's new Kinect interface to track players' full body movements as they follow the moves of an on-screen instructor to mimic increasingly complex dance moves.

Harmonix has been looking to make a dancing game for several years, developers showing off Dance Central at E3 said, but could never devise a way to make one work until they saw a prototype of Kinect for the first time last year.

If Dance Central, which launches in November along with Kinect, is a success, it would add diversity to MTV's games business, which currently consists of only the Rock Band franchise.

--Ben Fritz


Company Town's E3 coverage

Beatles: Rock Band sales slow over holidays as music video game genre bombs

Viacom hopes the Beatles: Rock Band game sets stage for rebound

Photo: Players trying Dance Central at E3. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.

E3: Disney's Epic Mickey game reunites the iconic mouse with older, bitter brother [Updated]

Remember Oswald? Most people don’t. He was Mickey Mouse’s older brother, created by Walt Disney in the 1920s. Disney left behind Mickey’s obscure sibling in 1928 in a bitter contract dispute with his publisher.

Swearing never again to lose the rights of his characters, Disney’s insistence on complete control went on to become legend.

Fast forward 78 years to 2006. The Walt Disney Co. regained the rights to Oswald. How? Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger had made a swap: "Monday Night Football" announcer Al Michaels for the black-and-white mouse. When ESPN became the new home of "Monday Night Football," Michaels wanted to go to NBC to be part of its Sunday football package. 

Many assumed the trade was done to smooth out a historical wrinkle. This week, Iger revealed he had other plans in the back of his mind. Oswald was to be reunited with his younger brother in an unusual video game called Epic Mickey.

Epic Mickey Ears

[For the record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Oswald as a mouse. Oswald is a rabbit. Disney is describing Mickey and Oswald as brothers for the purpose of the video game.]

Slated for release later this year, the game gives Oswald a starring role as ruler of Wasteland, a misshapen cartoon world that Mickey had inadvertently devastated. We find Oswald, steeped for years in resentment over his younger brother’s meteoric rise.

In the game, the player assu

mes the role of Mickey, trapped in Wasteland, a strange parallel cartoon world inhabited by rejected and forgotten Disney cartoon characters. As Mickey, the player has to decide what he must do to correct his mistake.

Oswald’s journey from basement filing cabinets at Universal to Disney and into the game started in 2004, when the head of Disney’s video game unit, Graham Hopper, decided to pull the plug on future Mickey games after a string of poorly performing titles.

“We weren’t happy with the quality of the titles,” said Hopper, who asked a team of developers to rethink the company’s approach to games featuring Mickey.

They came up with a bold concept: Put Mickey in a dark world inhabited by Oswald. They showed the concept to Iger, who immediately set about acquiring the rights to Walt Disney’s first animated character.

“It’s a family reunion," Hopper said, then adding with a wink, "That's why it's epic."

If you think Oswald is angry, think how Al Michaels felt when he learned he was traded for a mouse.

-- Alex Pham

E3: Sony pushes 3-D future for video games

3DEE3 Sony Corp. is taking Hollywood's 3-D mania to the video game world.

At a news conference Tuesday, the first day of the video game industry's annual E3 conference, Sony executives hyped the ability of their PlayStation 3 console to display video games in stereoscopic 3-D, the same technology that has become the hottest thing in the movie industry this year.

"A decade from now, when we look back at 2010, it will most likely be remembered as the year that Sony brought authentic 3-D to the video game industry," boasted Kaz Hirai, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment.

The company handed out 3-D glasses to thousands of attendees at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles to show a demonstration of its upcoming shooter game Killzone 3 in 3-D as well as other upcoming titles that will be produced in 3-D for the PS3, including its own racing game Gran Turismo 5, Warner Bros.' fighting title Mortal Kombat, Ubisoft's Shaun White Snowboarding, 2K Sports' NBA 2K '11 and Disney Interactive Studios' Tron: Evolution.

3-D video games are a long-term play for the industry, since they require a special type of television that  just recently went on sale and is thus far in very few homes. But Sony is making a big bet on 3-D throughout the company's line of electronic products, including televisions, cameras and movie projectors.


If successful, it could help boost the PlayStation 3 out of the third-place status among home consoles in which it has long been mired, because Microsoft is not focusing on 3-D for its Xbox 360 nor is Nintendo with its Wii. Sony has sold more than 35 million PlayStation 3's worldwide, while Microsoft has sold more than 40 million Xbox 360's and the Wii is at more than 70 million.

Tuesday was a big day for 3-D at E3 because Nintendo also showed off its upcoming 3DS hand-held console that displays games in 3-D that can be used without special glasses.

After its big 3-D segment, Sony also promoted its Move motion sensing controller for the PS3 -- essentially a more precise version of the controller for Nintendo's Wii -- which will go on sale starting in September. It also demonstrated upcoming games such as LittleBigPlanet 2, which lets players create their own levels, and a subscription service to access a library of online games on the PS3 for $50 a year.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: Audience members wear 3-D glasses at Sony's E3 news conference. Credit: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters. Bottom photo: Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Kaz Hirai at Sony's E3 news conference. Credit: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters.

E3: Nintendo in talks with three studios for 3-D movies on upcoming 3DS hand-held console [Updated]

  Nintendo 3DS
Updated, June 23, 2010: This post has been corrected to reflect that Nintendo is in discussions with movie studios to serve up 3-D movies on its upcoming 3DS console, but has not yet inked formal deals.

Nintendo gave Sony Corp. a poke in the eye Tuesday morning by showing off 3-D movie trailers from Warner Bros., Walt Disney Co. and DreamWorks on its upcoming 3DS hand-held console.

The Japanese game company stopped short of saying it has inked deals with the studios, but hinted that discussions were under way. Here's an excerpt from the presentation by Nintendo President Satoru Iwata:

"Nintendo 3DS is also capable of displaying 3D Hollywood movies. We are not announcing any specific plans this week, but at our booth you can find demonstrators showing you 3D movie trailers for releases from Disney, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks. You can see DreamWorks’ “How to Drain Your Dragon,” Warner Bros.’s “Legend of the Guardians and Disney’s Tangled, all playing in 3D on Nintendo 3DS. To our knowledge this is the first time any such 3D content has been demonstrated without the need to wear glasses."

Nintendo said it expected to ship the 3DS sometime during its current fiscal year, ending March 31, 2011, but Iwata declined to say whether the console would be on store shelves in time for the Christmas holidays.

Nintendo's announcement comes just hours before Sony is expected to unveil, at its own E3 press conference, 20 game titles in 3-D for its PlayStation 3 console. Sony has made 3-D movies, televisions and games a corporate-wide priority and is expected to evangelize on the technology this week.

Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo's U.S. business, sought to distinguish the 3DS from the competition by emphasizing that the console didn't require players to wear polarized or cumbersome active shutter glasses. Akin to lenticular 3-D images, the screen projects an illusion of 3 dimensions. The result is a picture comparable to 3-D with glasses. To perceive the effect, however, viewers must be positioned directly in front of the DS screen.

"Man! Those glasses!" Fils-Aime exclaimed in mock horror during Nintendo's press conference at the Nokia Theatre. "Don't be surprised to pay a hefty amount for those glasses. And for everyone in the room!"

The 3DS is similar to the current DS, except the top 3.5-inch screen will display 3-D images, while the bottom display is a touch screen. Equipped with three cameras (two on the outside casing), the DS lets players take 3-D pictures and share them with other 3DS owners. 

-- Alex Pham

Photo: Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo's U.S. business, introduces the 3DS at Nokia Theatre on June 15, 2010. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press

E3: New Tron game one of growing number in 3-D, shrinking number based on movies

TronEvolution When Tron: Evolution hits shelves this November, it will be on the front end of one trend in the video game industry and the tail end of another.

Walt Disney Co.'s game will be released in digital, or "stereoscopic," 3-D for the PlayStation 3. It's one of the first games released with the new technology that has become so popular in Hollywood after the success of James Cameron's movie "Avatar."

The game serves as a prequel for Disney's December movie "Tron: Legacy," which will be in 3-D as well. Video games based on new movies have become rarer as publishers focus more on properties they own. For much more on the trend and what it means for the movie and game industries, see the story in Tuesday's Times.

With game budgets already frequently exceeding $20 million, 3-D is an extra investment that makes the stakes for their success even higher. Sony Corp., maker of the PlayStation 3, is expected to promote 3-D in a press conference on the first day of the E3 industry conference Tuesday. 3-D has been a top priority for the Japanese electronics giant on a variety of its devices, including televisions, cameras and the video game console.

It is likely to unveil several upcoming 3-D games that it is producing. On Monday, Electronic Arts announced that its upcoming action game Crysis 2 will be released in 3-D for the PlayStation 3, PC and Microsoft's Xbox 360.

In the case of Tron, Disney-owned development studio Propaganda Games has a team that has ranged  between 15 and 20 people working for about five months to add 3-D elements to the game.

Given the minuscule number of televisions bought by consumers so far that are capable of displaying 3-D images, it's an investment that won't immediately pay off.

"There's obviously an initial cost in developing any new technology and 3-D is no different," said Darren Hedges, head of Propaganda. "Disney has been very cognizant of embracing new 3-D technology with movies like 'Alice,' with ESPN and with video games. We want to be a leader and we want to make sure we do it right the first time."

In the case of Tron: Evolution, players with a PlayStation 3 and a 3-D television will see soaring discs, "light cycles," and other weapons and vehicles from the game popping out of their screens. However, the actual content in the 3-D game, Hedges said, will be virtually identical to the standard version of the game.

As prices fall and more compatible devices come to homes, Hedges predicted, 3-D will become common in video games, particularly for the action and sports genres.

That could make for an unusual sight in the office of many game production studios.

"Bizarrely, yes, there are developers wearing 3-D glasses around our offices all day," Hedges said.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A scene from Tron: Evolution. Credit: Disney Interactive Studios.

The Morning Fix: Box-office trading gets closer to reality. Michigan says no to cannibalism. Rupert Murdoch goes after BSkyB

After the coffee. Before buying a vuvuzela to annoy my neighbors.

Box-office betting. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission voted to approve a vehicle that will clear the way for professional traders to bet on movie ticket sales. The movie industry's D.C. lobbying arm, the Motion Picture Assn. of America, has fought hard to stop this in its tracks, fearing that trading on box office could be manipulated and hurt the industry. Veriana, the company that got the approval, now has to stop legislation that would ban box-office futures trading. Veriana Chief Executive Rob Swagger blasted the MPAA and the legislation and promised to start lobbying Capitol Hill this week. The first movie traders could bet on is Sony's "Takers." That one stars Matt Dillon, and as much as I like him, it's been a while since he had the lead in a hit. His co-star, Zoe Saldana, is the flavor of the month right now, so maybe that will give the movie a little lift, but it still sounds risky to me. More on the decision and reaction from the Los Angeles Times and Variety.

Rupert wants control of BSkyB. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has made a bid to buy a controlling stake in British Sky Broadcasting, a satellite pay TV service. News Corp. already owns 39% of BSkyB and has offered $11.5 billion for the rest. BSkyB officials are willing to talk to Murdoch about a deal, but they want a higher price. More from Bloomberg and the Telegraph.

State-sanctioned piracy? North Korea's Central Broadcasting service showed the South Africa-Mexico World Cup match, but it didn't have the rights to do so. The Wall Street Journal says South Korea is looking into whether its coverage of the match was ripped off by the North Korean station. If it was, will North Korea be fined or will South Korea just arm every citizen with a vuvuzela and have them blow north?

Fresh ideas needed. With many of the summer's big-ticket movies flaming out, Vulture reports that Hollywood wants (gasp) original ideas for scripts instead of more remakes and sequels. Not to be too cynical, but I'm willing to bet that for every example of a recent script deal for an original concept that this story mentions, I can go find one based on an old TV show or movie.

Well, you have to draw a line somewhere. Michigan denied a tax break to filmmaker Andrew van den Houten, who wanted to shoot "The Women," a horror movie with a cannibalism theme in the state. It would have been his second movie featuring cannibalism to be shot in Michigan. Now though, some states are starting to take a closer look at the movies applying for tax breaks instead of just rubber-stamping a yes to every application. The New York Times sinks its teeth into this one.

Read the fine print. The Daily Beast looks at a bunch of reality shows and shockingly discovers that sometimes the cash and prizes promised winners don't always materialize quite the way participants might have hoped.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Lots of E3 News, including ESPN doing a deal with Microsoft's Xbox and Richard Branson getting back in the game. Also, the romance between Hollywood and video game makers is starting to cool. 

-- Joe Flint

Betting on box office is risky. Following me on Twitter is safe. Twitter.com/JBFlint

E3: Virgin's Richard Branson dives back into games

  Richard Branson Virgin Gaming

Richard Branson, who jumped 407 feet from the top of the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas in 2007 to promote Virgin America's domestic flight service in the U.S., took a virtual leap back into video games.

Branson announced a joint venture with WorldGaming.com, a small Canadian start-up, to launch on Tuesday Virgin Gaming, a service that lets thumb jockeys duke it out for cash. Because of its potential association with gambling, such betting is only allowed in 39 states, including California.

As chairman of the Virgin Group, Branson has been a billionaire with a flair for showmanship. When he bungie jumped off the Palms, he threw out free airplane tickets. At a press conference held on the eve of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, the British industrialist pledged that Virgin Gaming would give away $1 million in cash and other prizes over the next 12 months.

The endeavor is Branson's second dive into video games. His company's Virgin Interactive unit published console and computer games from 1981 to 1998 before he sold the business to Electronic Arts.

"Virgin loves to jump in where there is a gap in the market," Branson said. "As a brand, we're one of the most respected. ... Obviously, gaming is one of the most important for this generation."

Branson jokingly added, "I lost both my children for three to four years to gaming."

And we're sure he's hoping he won't lose a portion of his $2.5-billion net worth on Virgin Gaming.

-- Alex Pham

Photo: Richard Branson, center, with William Levy, left, and Zack Zeldin, the founders of WorldGaming.com. Credit: Alex Pham / Los Angeles Times

E3: Microsoft stays silent as a mime on Kinect pricing [Updated]

Xbox 360 Kinect Updated 7:33 am, June 15: Microsoft won't say how much it will charge for Kinect, but retailer Gamestop is: $149.99, via pre-order.

Updated 2:55 pm, June 15: A Microsoft spokesman said the GameStop price is "speculation," intended to attract pre-orders.

Microsoft, in a double-barreled media blitz Sunday night and Monday morning, was eager to tell the world every detail about its newest game technology, Kinect -- everything, that is, except the price.

Kinect is designed to connect to Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console and let players navigate and play games without a game controller or remote control. Kinect consists of three sensors -- a depth sensor, a camera and a microphone -- on a motorized device the size of a giant candy bar.

Microsoft, at a press conference held a day before the opening of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, highlighted several demos showing how the device can recognize faces, read hand and body gestures and understand a dozen or so verbal commands such as "pause," "stop" and "play music." Instead of using a remote control, users can navigate through menus by using their hands in a way similar to the way character Tony Stark swiveled through virtual screens in "Iron Man 2."

So far, so good. The flow of information, however, stopped short of naming a price for Kinect, which is slated for launch this year.

Turns out Microsoft is in an awkward position here. On the one hand, its video game unit, headed by video game veteran Don Mattrick, is under orders from Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to be profitable -- or at least not hemorrhage money the way it did in the early years. 

On the other hand, Microsoft wants average consumers and families to buy in.

The problem is that the cost of Kinect will come on top of the cost of an Xbox 360, which is currently priced at $200 to $300. The Wii, in contrast, is $200 and includes a Wii remote and the Wii Sports suite of mini-games. It doesn't take a math genius to guess which system a cash-strapped consumer will choose.

But Microsoft is hoping to change the equation by offering sweeteners -- it announced a multi-year deal to be the exclusive console provider of live, on-demand games broadcast by ESPN. Subscribers of its Xbox Live Gold online game service will have access to 3,500 live sports events at no additional cost.

The missing variable is what Microsoft will charge for Kinect. To keep costs down, perhaps Microsoft will spend less money to promote that bit of information than it has spent unveiling Kinect's other features.

-- Alex Pham

Image: The new, slimmer Xbox with a Kinect device. Credit: Microsoft.

E3: ESPN comes to Xbox 360 game console

ESPNXbox Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN has struck a deal with Microsoft to make its content available to users of the software giant's Xbox 360.

Under the terms of the deal, subscribers to Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold service will be able to get access to ESPN3, the sports juggernaut's broadband channel that carries a wide range of sporting events including Major League Baseball and the NBA as well as tennis, golf and college sports.

Subscribers to Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold service, which costs about $50 a year, will get access to the live sports events at no additional cost, as long as they also subscribe to Internet service through a cable company that provides ESPN3. Those include Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Cox. This is the first time ESPN has agreed to release the content directly through a device that connects to a television, putting ESPN3 in more direct competition with traditional cable TV service.

Microsoft sees the deal as another way to expand its Xbox 360 beyond games into a full fledged entertainment device, said Ross Honey, a Microsoft executive who handles non-gaming partnerships for the the Redmond, Wash., technology company.

Microsoft has garnered a distinction for having a console with the most intense, gritty and complex games. That reputation, unfortunately, turned off average consumers, and Microsoft has labored in recent years to add features that would appeal to more mainstream players. Among other things, Microsoft added Netflix movie streaming, Last.fm streaming music and Facebook to its Xbox Live online service, which players access through an Internet-connected Xbox 360 console.

"Xbox Live will change the way you watch movies, listen to music and connect with friends," said Don Mattrick, who heads up Microsoft's games business.

ESPN had been discussing a deal with Microsoft for more than two years, said John Kosner, senior vice president of ESPN Digital Media. He said his company was particularly attracted by the interactive components Microsoft is adding to ESPN programming, including polls, trivia and the ability to connect with other users rooting for the same team.

"To me, the eye opener is having a live sports game experience in this video game world," Kosner said.

-- Ben Fritz and Alex Pham

Photo: ESPN commentators Josh Elliott and Trey Wingo demonstrating the ESPN 3 on Xbox 360 at Microsoft's E3 press conference Monday. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.

E3 brings game industry news, Kinect and a close look at Activision

If you live or work in downtown L.A. and notice a surprising number of grown men with ponytails this week, there's a reason: E3 is happening at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

As 45,000 professionals from the $45-billion video game industry descend on a city where traditional non-interactive media is usually king, there's sure to be a lot of news about the future of video gaming. It's also a good opportunity to look at the state of the industry, which we'll be doing all week in The Times and right here on Company Town.

KinectHere are a few of the big stories we have already covered, as well as things to look for this week:

  • Activision Blizzard Inc., the largest video game publisher outside of Japan and one of the largest entertainment companies in Los Angeles, has come under fire for its legal battle with the creators of the hugely successful Call of Duty games. But it's not the first time Activision Chief Executive Bobby Kotick has been at odds with game creators or gamers themselves. On Sunday, The Times took a look at Activision, Kotick and what the company's past and present conflicts really mean. Read it here.
  • One of the biggest unveils at E3 is Microsoft's new gaming technology code-named Project Natal and now officially called Kinect, which tracks users' movements without a physical controller. Microsoft showed off what Kinect can do with a splashy Cirque du Soleil show Sunday night (pictured right), and The Times got an early peek. On Monday, Microsoft will hold a news conference to announce specific games for Kinect, as well as other games and entertainment services for its Xbox 360 console.
  • The other major console manufacturers, Sony and Nintendo, will hold their news conferences on Tuesday. Other news could pop up in news conferences held by publishers such as Electronic Arts and Ubisoft on Monday afternoon. We'll cover any interesting announcements from all of them on Company Town, but we helpfully put together a checklist of key trends to look for at the show, including 3-D and the return of the shooter, right here.

Look for breaking E3 news, as well as closer looks at notable games and interviews with industry players, here on Company Town all week. In addition, Times reporters Ben Fritz and Alex Pham will be tweeting from E3.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A Microsoft-sponsored Cirque du Soleil show for its Kinect peripheral. Credit: Elisabeth Caren / Associated Press


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