Entertainment Industry

Category: Mobile

Gree buys mobile game developer Funzio for $210 million

Modern War Funzio

Gree International Inc., a Japanese mobile game company, announced Tuesday that it had purchased San Francisco mobile game developer Funzio Inc. for $210 million.

The deal represents the second major acquisition of a U.S. company for Gree, which a year ago bought OpenFeint, a mobile social game platform company, for $104 million.

Gree and rival Japanese mobile game company DeNA Co. have been speculating in the U.S., where the market for mobile social games has exploded in the last three years thanks to Apple Inc.'s iOS devices and a proliferation of tablets and smartphones powered by Google Inc.'s Android operating system.

Both Gree and DeNA are betting that the U.S. market will mirror the surge in Japan's mobile games industry over the last decade and evolve into a multibillion-dollar business. DeNA placed its bet in 2010, when it paid up to $400 million for Ngmoco Inc., a Bay Area mobile game company. DeNA and Gree are profitable, largely owing to the lucrative mobile market in Japan.

With Funzio, Gree has kicked up its rivalry with DeNA a notch. The purchase gives Gree a development studio that created Modern War, Crime City and Kingdom Age -- titles that were among iTunes' top 25 grossing apps as of Tuesday.

The games are free to download, but Funzio makes money by selling bundles of in-game currencies for as much as $79.99 that let players advance more rapidly. Funzio estimates that more than 20 million players have downloaded its games.


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-- Alex Pham  



Google Play unifies books, music, movies, games

Jamie Rosenberg Google

With Google Play, the technology giant wants entertainment consumers to come play in its digital sandbox.

Seeking to create a single destination for digital media and entertainment, the Mountain View, Calif., company on Tuesday said it is pulling together its disparate books, music, movie and game efforts under one umbrella dubbed Google Play.

The initiative involves Google Music, Google Books and Android Market in such a way that visitors to those sites will be redirected to a single page, on tablets and cellphones that run Google's Android operating system as well as on Web browsers.

With tabs for music, books, movies and applications, Google Play mirrors similar efforts by Apple Inc., Amazon.com and Microsoft Corp. to become an entertainment and media hub. For a full report, see the story on our Technology blog written by Jessica Guynn.

"What we’re seeing is that consumers are identifying with ecosystems, which includes devices and a broad offering of services," said Jamie Rosenberg, Google's director of digital content. "So we're creating this notion that the consumer has a single relationship with Google as the ecosystem for their content."


Google Play Web

Rosenberg said unifying Google's various media initiatives also would benefit its content partners. A movie release with tie-ins to books, games and soundtracks could, for example, take advantage of Google Play's unified approach.

"It’s also a foundation for many things that we’d like to do in the future," he said. "Integrated merchandising is just one example that is enabled by this experience."

Android application developers said they welcome Google's changes, believing that the improvements in the user experience will help people find and use more of their products.

"The improved look and flow will make it easier for people to find games," said Adam Flanders, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Glu Mobile Inc., a San Francisco developer of more than 30 Android games such as Stardom and Contract Killer Zombies. "That’s great for us."

With more than 450,000 applications in Google's Android app market, triple the number from a year ago, developers are grateful for anything that can help boost their visibility.

By combining Google audience for all media, Flanders said his company can get in front of more potential customers.

"If they’ve got more eyeballs in the store looking for all kinds of content, there’s a higher probability of people finding one of our games," Flanders said.


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— Alex Pham

Top photo: Jamie Rosenberg, Google's director of digital content, at the Google Music launch event last year in Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times. Bottom screenshot of Google Play courtesy of Google.

News Corp. sells its Fox Mobile to investor group

News Corp. has sold off its wireless entertainment division, Fox Mobile Group, to Jesta Group, a real estate holding company that also makes investments in other areas, including technology.

The deal closed Wednesday morning, but financial terms were not disclosed.

News Corp. hadbeen looking to unload Fox Mobile, which sells games, ring tones and original videos for mobile phones and provides on-demand access to movies and television shows for the small screen. Its brands include Jamba, Jamster, Mobizzo and Bitbop.

The media conglomerate spent a total of $388 million to acquire Jamba, taking a majority stake in 2006 and buying it outright from VeriSign in 2008. The company reorganized its mobile group when it assumed full ownership of Jamba and formed Fox Mobile Group -- a vertically integrated mobile entertainment company that handled licensing, distribution and original content production.

News Corp. has since cooled on prospects for the division, with Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey telling investors during an August earnings call that the company was "pursuing a process to potentially sell" the business.

The entertainment giant probably will play a more traditional role of licensing its movies and television shows to mobile platforms, in deals like one last summer, in which a new Samsung phone came with a copy of the film studio's blockbuster "Avatar" already loaded on the device. It also licenses the intellectual property for games and mobile applications, such as the Glee Karaoke app for Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPod Touch.

Fox Mobile will be renamed and become part of the newly formed Jesta Mobile Holdings, which will have headquarters in Berlin and Beverly Hills.

"We believe that mobile entertainment is an important emerging market and we are excited about this acquisition," Jesta Group President Jason Aintabi said in a statement.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski



RealNetworks renovates its GameHouse business to be more social

GameHouse Fusion First, there was ubiquitous computing. Now comes ubiquitous gaming.

RealNetworks, which is looking to cast off its games business as a separate company later this year, on Tuesday relaunched the division as GameHouse. The company's ambitious plans are to be a platform for online games that can be purchased once and played anywhere -- whether it’s on Facebook, an iPhone or Android.

Right now, games on Facebook often can't be played elsewhere. That's because it is a giant pain to create different versions of a Facebook game for other sites or devices. It's especially tricky for mobile phones, where some developers have to create hundreds of different versions of the game -- one for every type of cellphone out there.

John Barbour 1 GameHouse President John Barbour says he wants to change that with a new platform called Fusion. Here's how it works: A developer cranks a game through Fusion, which then generates hundreds of clones that can be played on any number of devices.

But that's just the beginning. Barbour also wants to tap into social networks, using games as the glue for people to interact with each other.

"People are looking for connected experiences," Barbour said. "By connecting devices, you connect people. The future is about truly interconnected gameplay, where I can play with my friends across multiple systems whether it's PC, mobile, iPad or social network."

But that's a ways off. To start with, GameHouse on Tuesday launched a Facebook app with more than 1,000 casual games, most of which are also on its own site, which attracts about 50 million unique visitors a month. Last year, the business generated $120 million in revenue, according to Barbour.

But compared with Zynga's Farmville, which attracts 31 million visitors a day, GameHouse's game plan could face some heavy competition on the social gaming front. In other words, it has to hoe a lot of fields to compete with Farmville.

-- Alex Pham

Photo: GameHouse President John Barbour. Credit: RealNetworks

FloTV drives mobile television beyond cellphones

I'll take that TV show to go, please.

Americans increasingly want their entertainment wherever and whenever they like, giving fuel for companies such as Qualcomm to sell services that provide just that.

The San Diego technology company, which offers its subscription TV service on cellphones via carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, is rolling out the service in three new places: cars, iPhones and your pocket, via a $249 hand-held device with a kickstand (pictured above).

Instead of the often-flaky 3G service offered by most carriers, Qualcomm's FloTV service uses a UHF channel to broadcast about 20 mobile channels, including ESPN, Nickelodeon, MTV and Disney Channel.

The subscription service is offered through cellphone carriers for $7 to $15 a month.

How's that working out? Qualcomm isn't saying, but judging by its recent announcements, FloTV hasn't taken off like a rocket. One potential explanation: obscurity. A lot of people don't know the service exists. And carriers have a laundry list of other features they want to push, so they don't always get around to selling the service.

To remedy that, Qualcomm will push its service on iPhones and iPod Touches by hitching a ride on something called the mophie juice pack. Essentially an extra battery disguised as a hard case for the iPhone, the device will have a tiny UHF receiver and Wi-Fi chip embedded to grab FloTV signals. Prices for this doohickey, due out this spring, have not been announced.

It's also reaching out to harried parents who have screens in their backseats to placate their kids. Working with Audiovox, Qualcomm is selling a kit that can be installed into existing rear-seat entertainment systems so that Susie can keep watching "Dora the Explorer" while Mom carts her off to soccer practice.

And last November, Qualcomm started selling its diminutive FloTV Personal TV with six months of free service. After that, it's $10 a month.

Why the rush? With free mobile DTV from local broadcasters approaching fast, Qualcomm may be feeling an urgency to get FloTV out there more quickly than cellphone companies have been taking it.

-- Alex Pham


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