Technology

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from the L.A. Times

Category: Electronic Arts

Angry Birds jumping from iPhone, Android to game consoles, report says

AngrybirdsAngry Birds, one of the best-selling smart phone apps ever, with a reported 36 million copies downloaded, looks to be using its success to catapult itself into the world of heavy-duty gaming consoles.

That means the game will appear sometime next year on the Microsoft X-Box 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii sytems, according to a report from the BBC, which quoted Rovio CEO Peter Vesterbacka.

The addictive game, where the player fires birds out of a slingshot in an effort to obliterate their piggy adversaries, has been a hit both on Apple Inc.'s iPhone and the many phones powered by Google's Android operating system. It generally costs 99 cents to download, and users are entitled to frequent updates that add new levels.

In October, game giant Electronic Arts bought Chillingo, the company that publishes Angry Birds on the iPhone and iPad, for $20 million. But the creator of Angry Birds, Rovio, was not part of the acquisition.

If you're curious what the game looks like, check it out being played on an iPad in our recent review of tablet computers.

RELATED

EA buys Angry Birds publisher Chillingo

Tablets coming for the holidays, but is it time to buy one yet?

IPhone, iPad games fly under the radar at E3 2010

-- David Sarno

Photo: Angry Birds on the wing. Credit: Rovio.

Microsoft unveils Windows Phone 7 handsets, due in AT&T stores Nov. 8

Microsoft Corp., hoping to reestablish itself as a serious competitor in the smartphone market, unveiled the first handsets that will run on its new mobile operating system Windows Phone 7. SamsungFocus_ATT_2_web

AT&T customers will get their Windows Phone 7 offerings before other carriers -- with the Samsung Focus handset arriving in stores Nov. 8 and phones from HTC and LG coming "a few weeks later," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at the event in New York.

"When Microsoft first showed us Windows Phone 7, we knew it was going to be a winner," said Ralph de la Vega, AT&T's chief executive of mobility and consumer markets. "It was different than anything we have seen."

T-Mobile and Sprint will begin offering Windows Phone 7 handsets next year.

The latest moves by Microsoft comes as the technology giant tries to catch up in the burgeoning smartphone market, which is currently dominated by Research in Motion's BlackBerry, Apple's iPhone and Google's Android software.

Some features of the first three phones:

Samsung Focus 

-- 4-inch "Super AMOLED" screen, touted to be the sharpest display of Windows Phones

-- Thinnest of all Windows Phone 7 phones at 9.9 mm

-- 5 megapixel camera HTC_Surround_ATT_3_web

-- 8 GB storage

HTC Surround

-- 3.8-inch screen

-- Kickstand on the back of the phone

-- Dual Dolby surround-sound speakers 

-- 5 megapixel camera with an LED flash that can shoot 720p video

-- 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor

LG Quantum

-- Slide-out QWERTY keyboard

-- 16 GB storage

-- 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor

Integration with Microsoft's Office software suite was shown off at the event, where it also was announced that video-game heavyweight Electronic Arts will have games, including Sims 3, available at launch that will integrate with Microsoft's Xbox 360 home console.

LG_Quantum_ATT_3_web  "It's a different kind of phone," Ballmer said. "It gets you in, gets you out and back to life as fast as humanly possible."

One thing the phones won't have until early 2011 is a copy and paste feature.

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photos: Samsung Focus (top), HTC Surround (middle), LG Quantum (bottom). Credit: Microsoft Corp.

Disney in talks to buy social games company Playdom

Walt Disney Co. is in discussions to buy game developer Playdom Inc. for as much as $750 million, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The Hollywood entertainment giant wants to get into social and mobile games to market its shows and characters.

Playdom has scheduled a board meeting next week to decide whether to accept the buyout offer, the people said. The two sides have been negotiating for more than two months.

"I'm pretty sure it's going to happen. The money is pretty big," said one person. But, he cautioned, there is still a chance the deal will fall apart.

Playdom is concerned about the amount of risk that Disney wants it to shoulder, the person said.

L.A. investment banker Michael Montgomery said Playdom offers Disney strong leadership, opportunity for growth and a toehold in a hot market that is shaking up the multibillion-dollar gaming industry.

The Mountain View, Calif., gaming company plays second fiddle to Zynga Game Network Inc. in the red-hot and increasingly crowded space of social games that are played on Facebook and elsewhere. These games have developed a significant following, generating revenue from advertising and virtual goods. Last year Electronic Arts Inc. bought Zynga rival Playfish for more than $300 million.

Zynga, led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Marc Pincus, is the hottest start-up in Silicon Valley, on track to generate $835 million in revenue this year and contemplating an initial public offering. Internet giant Google Inc. is rumored to have invested in Zynga, with which it is exploring a partnership.

Disney is already an investor in Playdom through its venture capital fund, Steamboat Ventures, and recently participated in a $33-million financing round. Playdom, which has raised a total of $76 million, has itself has been on a buying spree: It's been snapping up game studios to compete with Zynga, which it trails in users and in revenue.

Disney recently bought Tapulous, which makes music-related games for Apple Inc.’s iPod and iPad. Its ESPN sports cable channel announced a deal with Playdom in May.

Technology blog TechCrunch first reported the acquisition talks, causing a stir in Silicon Valley. Playdom and Disney could not be reached for comment.

-- Jessica Guynn

IPhone, iPad games fly under the radar at E3 2010

 

Apple's iPhone and iPad could be seen throughout the Los Angeles Convention Center during the E3 video game expo last week. Just not on display in most booths.

The touchscreen phones were in the hands of text-message-happy attendees and exhibit staffers. Ardent bloggers working to hastily document and broadcast every detail on the show floor carried iPad tablets under their arms.

These devices are extensions of many people's daily lives, but at a conference geared toward game-industry insiders, Apple's hardware is far from sexy.

Of the many game publishers at E3 that sell games on Apple's App Store, we found just one with any sort of formal display for the iPhone and iPad. That was Walt Disney Co. -- which, by the way, has a seat on its board for Apple chief Steve Jobs.

Several iPad and iPod Touch units (they can play nearly all iPhone apps) sat on a pair of small tables positioned in corners of Disney's booth, overshadowed by large rooms showing Epic Mickey and Tron: Evolution on consoles.

"In their overall budget we're much smaller, but I think it's something that Disney really sees as big and growing," said Disney Mobile's Tom Smith. "They want to be there. They want to be showing all of these great brands on these great devices."

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3-D gaming without glasses? Nintendo 3DS faces technological hurdles

Nintendo-dsi-xl
Days before Nintendo is set to release the DSi XL console, the company flashed some bits of info about a new hand-held game device it plans to show off at the Los Angeles E3 expo in June. Tentatively titled the Nintendo 3DS, the device plays three-dimensional games without users needing to wear special glasses.

The Japanese company was mum on details. But the system will succeed the Nintendo DS series and offer backwards compatibility, meaning it will play the old games, according to a statement. To do so, we could assume the Nintendo 3DS will have some of its predecessor's key pieces of hardware -- two screens, at least one of which is touch-sensitive, and a microphone.

Nintendo plans to release the product in the next 12 months, the company said in the news release. A spokesman declined to comment further, but multitude of questions need to be addressed before then.

With 3-D technology still very much in its infancy, especially one that doesn't require glasses, Nintendo will have to pull off some magic. Some exhibitors at the Consumer Electronics Show in January were showing off picture-frame-sized video screens that can project 3-D images without needing glasses. They weren't impressive.

Inherent in glasses-free 3-D is a predetermined viewing area. A filter on the screen redirects light to give the impression of an image popping out at the viewer, explained Tom Zerega, chief executive of the no-glasses 3-D technology company Magnetic 3D.

Because the gadget is designed for personal use, Nintendo has the luxury of planning for just a single user, rather than having to accommodate several vantage points. However, current glasses-free technology restrains the user from moving outside a small viewing zone.

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Electronic Arts slashes 1,500 jobs [Corrected, Updated]

EA Logo Electronic Arts today said it will cut 1,500 jobs by the end of March, or more than 16% of its workforce, the vast majority of them through a restructuring plan aimed at saving the company $100 million a year.

The video game publisher announced the cost cuts even as it proposed to pay as much as $400 million to acquire Playfish, a London-based developer of free-to-play games for social networks such as Facebook and Bebo.

“We are making tough calls to cut costs in targeted areas and investing more in our biggest games and digital businesses,” EA Chief Executive John Riccitiello said in a statement.

Though EA did not release details of where the layoffs would occur, EA Chief Financial Officer Eric Brown said research and development would be hardest hit, since that represents the bulk of the company's employee base. Even studios with established game franchises will be hit. EA's Tiburon Studio in Florida, which makes the Madden NFL games, will see 51 jobs go, or 8.5% of the studio's roughly 600 workers, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The dual moves, one aimed at trimming expenses and the other at boosting EA's future cash flow, were announced amid a report that its quarterly revenue was up 2% on a non-GAAP basis to $1.1 billion during the second quarter ended Sept. 30. Net income of $19 million was up from $20 million loss a year earlier.

On a GAAP basis, which defers a portion of revenue for games that can be played online, EA's sales fell 13.5% to $788 million. Net loss widened to $391 million, up from $310 million a year ago.

EA's shares, which closed up 53 cents to $19.53, see-sawed in after-hours trading following the earnings release.

Corrected, 1:53 pm: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported a net income of $20 million in the second quarter of last year. In fact, EA lost $20 million that quarter.

Updated, 5:27 pm: This post has been updated to reflect current stock price and details on layoffs at EA's Tiburon Studio in Florida.

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

EA buys Playfish for $400 million, jumps into social games

Electronic Arts, looking to jump into the exploding market for games on social networks, this morning said it has agreed to buy Playfish in a deal valued at $400 million.

The transaction calls for $275 million in cash, plus $25 in retention bonuses for executives of the tiny London-based developer of games such as Pet Society and Restaurant City. It also includes up to $100 million in bonus payments should Playfish meet certain, undisclosed financial targets.

Pet Society Playfish, a privately held company, does not release its financial data, but has said the venture is "substantially profitable," so much so that it has not touched the $21 million in venture money it raised in its last round of funding.

With just 125 employees, Playfish has focused on a lean operation with fewer than a dozen games played on popular social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. Though rudimentary, the games have attracted hundreds of millions of players. The fact that they are free to play is part of their appeal, but so is their social nature and the fact that players can pull their friends into the games.

EA, based in Redwood City, Calif., has been expanding its reach into free-to-play online games that make money by charging small amounts for extra features.

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

Need for Speed sales race past 100 million copies

NFS SHIFT 4
Screen shot of Need for Speed Shift, released in September. Credit: Electronic Arts.

Need for Speed, Electronic Arts' racing franchise, has raced past the 100 million copies mark, making it one of the top five bestselling video game properties of all time. (The other four franchises in the elite 100-million club are the Sims, Mario, Pokemon and Grand Theft Auto.)

Developed in 1994, Need for Speed has evolved from a game made by a dozen developers to roughly 100 designers, programmers and perfectionists who obsess over cars. EA has cranked out 15 Need for Speed titles, but it wasn't until Need for Speed Underground came out in 2003 that sales got turbocharged. Since then, EA has moved 60 million copies of the game.

Over the years, the franchise has undergone a couple of remodels. The first came with Underground, which shifted the franchise away from "aspirational" Lamborghinis to street-style racers made from customized compacts and souped-up sedans. EA developers knew they had street cred when they began to see body shops build actual parts based on the game's vehicles.

And as computer graphics became ultra-realistic, even car manufacturers got into the act. Nissan, for example, used the game rendering of its 370Z sports car to help unveil the vehicle at last year's Los Angeles Auto Show.

The brand got its second makeover this year. 

"We started to develop different versions for different audiences," said Keith Munro, EA's vice president for global marketing. "We noticed we had fans who liked an authentic simulation experience. But we also had others who wanted an over-the-top arcade style with hyperbolized physics."

The goal: Develop three titles to address different audiences.

The first, Need for Speed: Shift, came out in September, catering to players who wanted an authentic, visceral racing simulation. In November, Need for Speed: Nitro will hit the street offering freewheeling arcade play. Developed for Nintendo's Wii console, Nitro is designed to be easy to pick up and play. And sometime next year, EA plans to open up Need for Speed: World Online, a free-to-play game with Hollywood style chase sequences.

There is fierce competition among racing games -- Gran Turismo, Project Gotham Racing and Forza Motorsport are all formidable franchises with their own ultra-loyal fans. EA is hoping that its three-pronged strategy will help drive sales of Need for Speed's next 100 million copies. On your mark....

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

Video game sales slip 6th month in a row

Madden NFL 10
Madden NFL 10 tops chart of best-selling games. Credit: Electronic Arts.

Boom! Not even John Madden and his trademark expressions could avert the crash in video game sales in August, which fell 16% from a year ago.

The drop was the industry’s sixth consecutive monthly decline, according to a report released today from market research firm NPD Group Inc.

That means sales of games and game consoles must grow 14% in the last four months to the year in order for 2009 sales to be flat with 2008, said NPD analyst Anita Frazier.

Last month, even sales of Madden NFL 10, a popular football simulation game developed by Electronic Arts Inc., were down from a year ago, prompting EA Chief Executive John Riccitiello to say, “It is discouraging that one of our highest-rated and best-marketed Madden titles in years is facing strong headwinds.”

Here are last month’s top-selling titles:

  1. Madden NFL 10 (Xbox 360)
  2. Wii Sports Resort (Nintendo Wii)
  3. Madden NFL 10 (PlayStation 3)
  4. Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)
  5. Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)
  6. Madden NFL 10 (PlayStation 2)
  7. Dissidia: Final Fantasy (PlayStation Portable)
  8. Wii Fit (Wii)
  9. Mario Kart (Wii)
  10. Fossil Fighters (Nintendo DS)

Source: NPD Group Inc.

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter@AlexPham.

John Madden talks about the virtual gridiron, the Madden Curse and life outside of the broadcasting booth

John Madden
John Madden in 2002 on the field in Foxborough, Mass. Credit: Ida Mae Astute / Associated Press.

John Madden, the NFL legend and former broadcaster, made his call in April when he announced his retirement. But that didn't mean the 73-year-old was out of plays. Madden still relishes his role as an advisor to the video game franchise that bears his name, Madden NFL.

Although the game, published by Electronic Arts, already shipped last Friday, it is continually updated via downloads on Internet-connected game consoles such as the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. That's a feature Madden fully plans to take advantage of as he analyzes the sport from a custom-built viewing room designed to let him tune in to every live football game.

His analysis of these games will make their way into weekly updates of the game, which can also accommodate changes in the lineup due to injuries other game changers.

Madden spoke to the Times yesterday about how he's tackling his role as the go-to coach of the virtual gridiron with renewed vigor, and whether he believes in the "Madden Curse," coined because athletes appearing on the cover of the video game have been prone to suffer injuries.
To read an edited transcript of the conversation, click continue reading.

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