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Netflix for Wii

The other day, I blogged about the end of TV broadcast, and the rise of gamers viewing flicks via vidgame platforms.  Here's an addendum - Nintendo Wii looks to be joining in on the party.  

And here's my added two cents.  How about indie films made for vidgame platforms?  You may have heard about a film called Paranormal Behavior, made for $15,000 in a week - and now topping the box office with about $30 million in ticket sales.  It's a classic, minimalistic horror movie, perfect for the game crowd.  As more people get accustomed to watching films on their Xboxes/PS3s/Wiis, it's only a matter of time before filmmakers plug in too.

Ditching the TV for PC Viewing

Here's an interesting story in the Los Angeles Times.  It's about people watching media on their computers instead of TVs.  The big idea is that - with services like Hulu and Netflix - there's less and less reason to tune in to the Tube anymore.  To this, I'd add Xbox Live - which offeres Netflix streaming as part of its service.  

Speaking of Netflix, now the movie streaming service is coming to the Playstation 3. More than 12,000 movies will be available on the PS3 next month.

I have an old friend who refuses to own a TV, but has been watching stuff on his Xbox for years - not just streaming movies, but DVDs, etc.  The idea of not having TV service might seem odd to some, but a new generation is increasingly comfortable with the plan.

Sony Shows Off 3D Display

While Microsoft's motion-sensing cam - code-named Project Natal - has been garnering buzz, Sony isn't staying out of the hive.  Here's a video of a new 360 degree 3D image display from the company.  Gamers are already imagining what kind of new experiences can be rendered with such a device - as if it's the holographic chess board from Star Wars made real.  Between innovations like this and Natal (and of course the Wii and iPhone), the game industry is going through a period of explosive transformation.  Slowly but surely, the whole idea of the screen is breaking apart.  Gaming is becoming more immersive, more fluid, more mobile.  The Holodeck- the virtual world imagined in Star Trek - may be closer than it seems.

Duke Nukem Forever

Some intrepid gamers who are modifying the old Duke Nukem shoot 'em up for high-resolution playback.   Cool.  So where's Duke Nukem Forever - the long-awaited follow-up?

The aptly-titled shooter goes down as the ultimate shorthand for everything that can go wrong when a game gets too bold. Since the first game debuted in 1991, the franchise (which includes more than 15 titles) has raked in roughly $500 million.  The beefy, catchphrase-spewing, Ahnold-inspired Duke was a huge innovation - establishing the sort of political incorrectness, and giddy gore that would become the trademark of the Grand Theft Auto generation.  Fittingly, Take-Two Interactive, publishers of GTA, would eventually snap up the rights to Duke Nukem Forever (along with buying 3D Realms' acclaimed shoot 'em up, Max Payne, for $45 million). 

Oh, and it seemed so cool at the time.  DNF promised a cheeky, cheesy antidote to the grim late 90s shooters.   With 3D Realms staying tight-lipped, fans devoured every new bit of into online (lap dances!  Vegas!).   Then came the lag, the rumors, the engine switches (Quake II!  Unreal!).   Diehards hoped the delays were some elaborate viral marketing hoax, but couldn't avoid the stench of staleness setting in.  

After a tantalizing build-up of tweets, screenshots, and rumors this spring that seemed to indicate the game's release, the brawny first person shooter ended with a whimper.  Earlier this year, 3D Realms announced that it was shutting down for good and ending development on the title.  Gamers hoping for viral marketing ploy were quickly fragged by a post from the company's webmaster, Joe Siegel.  "This is not a marketing thing," he wrote, "It's true."  But with other Duke spin-offs, and maybe a film, in the works, the legend lives on.

 

Game Thieves and Digital Downloads

Need another reason to download games?   Here's one.   A postal worker got caught swiping games from Gamefly envelopes.

Meanwhile, there's more evidence that gamers are booting up downloads - especially during a recession.  According to this story in Reuters, premium downloads of online games is growing 50 to 100 percent per yer.  This is happening while game sales - so far in 2009 - are down by 14 percent.  Consider the difference between buying a new Madden game and getting it online:

"[The] exclusive downloadable five-on-five football game offers a $15 casual alternative to the fully-packed 'Madden NFL 10' console games, which retail for $40 to $60. It's not just the mainstream audience that's migrating to downloads. Chris Buffa, editor-in-chief of AOL's GameDaily.com, said as hardcore gamers have tightened their belts during the recession, they've opted for more affordable gaming options. 'Instead of going to the store and picking up three or four games, they're buying that one big game each week,' said Buffa. 'Personally, I opt for more downloadable content over retail releases because I get more for my dollar.'

 

Videogames Recover

Good news for all you game makers out there.  This week, the Wall Street Journal reports that videogames are looking to score a comeback. See more below:

WSJ 10/14/09

Sales of video-game software have been on the decline for six consecutive months, but analysts expect a return to positive growth when sales data for September are reported Thursday afternoon.  U.S. game sales in the month of September will be released late in the day Thursday by the NPD Group. On average, analysts are expecting software sales to grow about 15% compared with the same period last year, according to a tally of forecasts by MarketWatch.

Game sales have been showing declines for the last six months, as the slumping economy and tough comparisons have made the current year a difficult one for the industry.  By the end of August, total industry sales were $9.07 billion, according to NPD data. That's down 14% from sales for the same period last year.

Analysts widely expect the current year's total sales to come in flat with last year, but the sector will need to have a strong holiday-sales period to get to that point. Several of the year's most anticipated titles, including "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2," have yet to hit store shelves.  "Overall, September sales and retail data indicate that the preholiday season is off to a good start," said Jesse Divnich of Electronic Entertainment Design and Research, a game market-research firm, in a report this week. "These results will bring some much-needed pressure relief to both publishers and retailers alike amid concerns the economy may still have posed a threat to holiday-season performance."

The Videogame Killer

I've blogged quite a bit about the impact of the iPhone on gaming.   In my opinion, it's a good thing - fostering the kind of independent development we saw back in the days of the Commodore 64 and Apple II (funny how Apple was behind the first wave of game innovation too).  Instead of needing $50 million and a team of dozens of programmers, two guys in a garage can code and distribute the next big thing on their own.

But for established publishers/developers, this kind of bottom-up revolution could be a killer.  By porting their Triple-A titles to mobile platforms like the iPhone (in effort to cash in), they may actually be devaluing their content.   This is something on the mind of game industry analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan, who tells Bonus Round that "the iPod touch is the most dangerous thing that ever happened to the publishers, ever, and they don’t get it for two reasons.  One, if you put Madden on the iPod touch for $10, you just cheapen the value of Madden. Whether it’s the same experience or not, and it’s not, why would I ever spend $60 for Madden if I can get it for $10 on my iPod touch?”

iPhone Rock Band

It's hard to imagine a multiplayer game like Rock Band transitioning to the iPhone.  But MTV announces today that the play-with-music hit is going mobile.

The coolest part - using Bluetooth, multiple players will be able to connect and jam together.  It's not the same as playing on the plastic guitar or drum pads, but could add some nifty new touches.  I imagine that the motion-sensing software will create a new kind of experience - shaking the phone, maybe, to trigger drum beats.  There's already a music game called Tap Tap Revenge that has been pretty successful in the mobile market. It remains to be seen how well Harmonix's innovations will translate. 

For more, read here.  And check out my feature on the making of The Beatles:  Rock Band in Spectrum magazine.  

The "Seismic Shift" in Gaming

Last week, I attended the NY Games conference, where developers talked at lenght about the impact of digital distribution on the industry.  The talk is spreading.  The buzz building for the upcoming London Games Conference has a similar theme, reports Spong.  Speakers are focused on what they call the "seismic shift" at play.

As Spong puts its: "...the conference speakers will reveal that 40 per cent of companies in the sector will also be 'under prepared' for the sheer pace of the digital model's takeover."

What does "under prepared" mean?  We'll have to see.  But most publishers are still operating under the old model of selling huge games on plastic discs.  The future is heading toward the opposite - small games digitally delivered.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  If you think about it, some of the most played and enduring games require little bandwidth - Tetris, Scrabble, Bejeweled.  The bigger games can still exist in this ecosytem, but need to be reinvented so that they can be consumed in bite-sized portions. 

Virtual Economies and the Real Things

Edward Castronova, a telecommunications professor at Indiana University, is studying how virtual ecomomies might shed light on our embattled ones offline.  

I covered the underworld of online economies in a feature story for Spectrum magazine, which you can read here.

Here's one interesting nugget from Castronova's work, according to Reuters:

"After studying 314 million transactions within the fantasy world of Norrath in 'EverQuest II,' including trading in-game goods like armor, shields, leather, herbs and food, the researchers were able to calculate the GDP of one of the game servers (the back-end computer that hosts thousands of players in one world). As more people opened accounts and flocked to Norrath, spending money on new items, researchers saw inflation spike more than 50 percent in five months."

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IEEE Spectrum’s gaming blog was retired in 2010, but it is preserved here for archival reference.

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