Friday, February 25, 2011

Off to GDC

On Monday, I will be flying out to San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference, GDC. Unfortunately, I will not be iterviewing Nintendo president Satoru Iwata or Sony Computer Entertainment president Kaz Hirai. I have got an interview slot with Hideki Konno confirmed, though, who is 3DS project manager. Other interviews are yet to be confirmed. If I have any time during the week, I will keep you updated.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Activision to buy Take-Two?

Activision Blizzard, the world's largest publisher, is rumoured to be interested in buying its rival Take-Two. Such a move would bring the various Rockstar studios and series like Grand Theft Auto under the same roof as the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft franchises. Activision recently cancelling the most recent instalment of True Crime, a game that is similar to Grand Theft Auto, may be seen as cosying up to Take-Two and its portfolio.

"There are very strong rumours amongst people at a very senior level within the global business," a senior executive told MCV this week. (...) It could be that the killing off of True Crime: Hong Kong, a title that was believed to be almost entirely complete prior to cancellation, is being seen as a possible sacrificial lamb to benefit the fortunes of Grand Theft Auto and is simply fuelling the rumour. (...)

Earlier this week Take-Two reported a seven per cent year-on-year increase in net profit to $40.8m for the quarter ending December 31st 2010. Since Friday February 4th shares in the company have risen 11.6 per cent. Activision has a proven track record of big-money moves, with its 2008 merger with Blizzard proving a resolute success. It's also not afraid to shut under performing developers and, conversely, plough seemingly endless resources into projects in which it has confidence.

In 2008, Electronic Arts attempted such a buy-out which Take-Two successfully fended off. But new stakeholders are thought to be more open to the idea of selling the publisher. MCV points out, though, that the contracts for the key developers within the Rockstar studios will expire in 2012, unless they are renewed. This includes the Houser brothers, creators of the GTA franchise.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Xperia Play officially announced

The Xperia Play or PlayStation phone, which has become known as the industry's worst kept secret, has finally been officially announced. The device will be the first Android smartphone that will be PlayStation certified and it will launch in all relevant territories in March.

The slide out game pad reveals a digital D pad, two analogue touch pads, two shoulder buttons and the four PlayStation icons: circle, cross, square and triangle. Qualcomm’s optimized Snapdragon processor with a 1Ghz CPU and embedded Adreno GPU graphics processor deliver silky smooth 60fps play-back 3D mobile gaming and Web browsing with minimal power consumption so Xperia PLAY users can enjoy long hours of battery life and game time. (...)

XperiaTM PLAY will run on Gingerbread (version 2.3), the latest version of Google’s AndroidTM platform. The XperiaTM PLAY will also be the first PlayStation Certified device. This means it will have access to PlayStation® game content provided through the PlayStation® Suite initiative, currently under development by Sony Computer Entertainment and due to launch later this calendar year. (...)
Sony Ericsson has partnered with key publishers in the gaming industry to deliver a rich, vibrant ecosystem at launch and post launch with many leading new titles available via the AndroidTM Marketplace. Leading franchises coming to Xperia™ PLAY includes EA’s Need For Speed, Sims 3 and a world-first multiplayer version of FIFA 10 for mobile. GLU Mobile/Activision will be bringing Guitar Hero while Gameloft’s titles include Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell. Sony Ericsson is also partnering with Unity Technologies, using its award-winning development platform, to ensure a continuous flow of high quality 3D game titles.

I, for one, am quite excited about the Xperia Play and will have to manage purchasing the device alongside the 3DS now. I find myself often not having my DS on me, but wanting to play. And I personally would greatly enjoy titles from ´WipeOut´ to ´Vib Ribbon´ on the go. This is precisely the deep and immersive gaming experience I cannot currently get on any phone. I can even do without a great amount of exclusives on the system and still be excited for it.

In fact, it can be expected that the device will see ports both from older PlayStation home consoles, as well as from the PlayStation Portable. Yet that may be all the Xperia Play needs in order to be successful. Some media outlets sound quite bullish on the Xperia being superior to other current smartphones.

The company also wants to define itself as superior to Apple's iPhone, which Xperia Play is from a gamer's perspective. Assuming a similar games library and similar application pricing, what would you rather have? A 3.5-inch touchscreen? Or a 4-inch touchscreen with an alternative slide-out gamepad that employs familiar d-pad and button controls?

Meanwhile, Sony insists that the Xperia Play's high-powered sibling, the NGP, will not kill off its predecessor, the PlayStation Portable. I am slightly cynical here, remembering Nintendo's three pillar strategy of supporting their home consoles, the DS family and GameBoy handhelds.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Smartphone maker HTC invests in OnLive

Taiwanese Smartphone manufacturer HTC will buy a significant share in the gaming streaming service OnLive. They will "spend $40 million on 5.33 million preferred shares in the OnLive Inc, HTC said. HTC did not specify how big its share in the company would be after the acquisition." HTC also invested in mobile video service provider Saffron Digital.

HTC is best known for building the first touchscreen-based PDA phones with the MDA series and have built the Experia for Sony Ericsson, the original Google phone, as well as its successor Nexus One. They are also expected to announce more tablets at next week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, following the Shift, a tablet / UMPC hybrid, which preceded the iPad. While HTC almost exclusively built Windows Mobile handsets in the past, they now have their emphasis on Android devices.

So why is the company branching out like this? I would like to suggest that HTC has clear ambitions to establish Android as the main platform for meaningful, i.e. deep gaming in the smartphone market and it wants to build the handsets to go along with it. The Financial Times author Robin Kwong believes that HTC is poised to become a major content provider in the mobile arena.

HTC has already started hiring staff to work towards the possible launch of an online store, and it is now busy striking up partnerships with content distributors. These deals make sure that when the store comes online, HTC will have content to sell that is distinct from rival Android phonemakers such as Samsung or Motorola.
OnLive, for example, had just said at CES that it was expanding to mobile devices as well as home TVs and PCs. It’s not hard to see them now integrating their service into HTC’s smartphones. (...) OnLive already has an application on the iPad – though that doesn’t support actual gameplay. Its CES announcement also said it was integrating its gameplay service into Vizio’s tablets and smartphones. In Saffron’s case, even though HTC is acquiring the entire company, Saffron will remain an independent agency free to also offer its services to others, such as its current customers Nokia and Sony Ericsson.
In theory, this means that Samsung and others could also turn to OnLive and Saffron to replicate what HTC has done. But in reality, it seems more likely that HTC will remain much closer to these companies because of its share ownership.

After Sony announced PlayStation Suite, which will bring older PlayStation games to Android phones, the platform is set to dominate mobile gaming in the smartphone space. Perhaps, HTC will also be building the Xperia Play, the PlayStation phone, which will also be officially unveiled in Barcelona. Certainly, HTC aims to be the leading manufacturer of mobile gaming phone hybrids.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Redesign live

Finally, the promised redesign is now live. It is still in its beta version, I am afraid. It will take me a while to convert the linklist into the new design, so please be patient there. I also hope to be able to include the site search function again in the near future. Please also note that this blog has undergone a name change and will now officially be available through the URL while the old URL will, of course, remain active. But the new name reflects that I have never exclusively written about one specific console, but all home consoles and portables.

You will also notice that the console images and image tabs in the posts have vanished. They will also gradually disappear from older posts, as they no longer fit the main design. This will open up the rather rigid post structure of the past and enable me to write anything from short news alerts to long articles. And speaking of long articles, I expect my article on Nibris to appear very soon. Now the studio website has disappeared and Nibris successor Bloober Team is about to hit the stock market, I want to include all the recent developments.

Please let me know how you like the new design. I ask for your understanding that there will be little tweaks here and there. I very much appreciate all of you coming to this website and hope that I can now serve you better.