News from the video game industry for the week of January 4
Every Sunday at Electronista and MacNN, we offer a one-stop look at a few of the significant events that occurred in the video game industry during the previous week. In this week's look back in the Weekly Game Replay, we discuss a new game in the Baldur's Gate series from Beamdog, the closure of Zombie Studios, Hellblade coming to PC, the lawsuit over EA using retired NFL player likenesses in Madden NFL moving forward, and Sony delaying the release of the PlayStation 4 in China.
Strange Origin account purchases, account activity reports surface on Reddit
A number of users of EA's Origin service have reportedly discovered their accounts have been accessed by unauthorized persons. Reddit users have complained about mystery purchases and other related activities conducted from their account without their knowledge, though it appears EA doesn't believe it to be down to an intrusion of its servers.
No mention of timetable or future titles to be added, COO laments Sony's refusal
Electronic Arts chief operating officer Peter Moore has given more context to the future offerings from its EA Access Xbox One game subscription service. The service will grow, with new additions to the offerings that users have access to for a subscription fee; in addition, old games will not be removed from the service as time goes on.
Regulator recognizes game can be played for free, but it's 'severely limited'
It appears that regulators are catching onto the idea that Electronic Art's (EA) Dungeon Keeper mobile game isn't really what could be considered a "free-to-play" game. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), an independent regulator of ads in the UK, ruled this week that ads promoting the game as free-to-play must not appear in the future.
Company demos Battlefield: Hardline, Mirror's Edge 2, sports games and Dragon Age: Inquisition
Electronic Arts (EA) CEO Andrew Wilson came on stage during the company's press conference at E3 to show off some of the projects that EA is bringing to next generation consoles soon, as well as in the longer-term future. Games including Battlefield: Hardline and Dragon Age: Inquisition were displayed, that are due out within the year, but also future projects such as Mirror's Edge 2 and teaser information from Bioware and Criterion.
Electronic Arts releases companion app for Titanfall game
Electronic Arts, the game publisher responsible for publishing Titanfall, has released a companion app for the game available for iOS, Windows Phone 8 and Android. Aiming to broaden the game experience, the companion apps offers notifications regarding the latest updates to Titanfall, in addition to personalized game statistics such as total kills, weapon load-outs and more. The app also features a second-screen map, allowing for reviewing teammates' location. The Titanfall companion app can be downloaded through iTunes, Google Play and the Windows Store.
ITA to promote VR and to collaborate on Virtual Reality technologies
A collective of companies working on virtual reality technologies is rebranding itself in time for the Game Developers Conference. The Stereoscopic 3D Gaming Alliance is now calling itself the Immersive Technology Alliance (ITA) and will continue to "foster a vibrant and diverse industry that content makers can support on a wide scale."
Meaning of 'truckload of money' comment in dispute
Games publisher Electronic Arts is denying claims that Apple paid it to make Plants vs. Zombies 2 an iOS exclusive. "A comment from an internal meeting taken out of context has created an unfortunate misunderstanding," the publisher says in an official statement. "Reports of a paid relationship between Apple and EA are factually inaccurate, and we apologise for any confusion." Apple has also denied that any money changed hands.
EA offers customers refunds for games bought through Origin store
EA has started to offer refunds for EA-published games bought through its digital marketplace, something that competitor Steam is yet to offer. Customers buying and downloading games through Origin have up to 24 hours from the first launch of the game, or seven days from the original purchase, to return the titles for a full refund. The Origin Great Game Guarantee, going live in 20 countries, will not apply to extra downloadable content.
Beats out Origin, GameStop
Apple has become Electronic Arts' "biggest retail partner as measured by sales," EA COO Peter Moore revealed yesterday during a conference call with investors. The achievement is particularly notable since it means Apple beat out EA's own Origin download service, and more traditional retailers like GameStop. In all EA made about $90 million from smartphone and tablet games during the last quarter, although the publisher hasn't explained how much of that came from iOS versus Android and other platforms.
May carry over some Battlefield 4 technology
Games publisher EA is planning to bring the Frostbite engine to iOS and Android, according to the company's website. "One of our most exciting current projects is called Frostbite Go, a mobile division empowering EA game developers with Frostbite’s proven excellent workflows and features to bring true Frostbite experiences to all major mobile platforms," the site's History page reads. Switching over to the This is Frostbite page, EA mentions "diverse targets from XBOX360 and PlayStation 4 to iOS and Android."
One purchase for both platforms, each is native
Electronic Arts, which has been embroiled in controversy over its botched launch of SimCity for Windows and was recently named "Worst Company in America" for the second year running, has confirmed that the Mac version of the latest instalment will launch on June 11. The Mac version is a native app, rewritten for OpenGL so that players get the best possible experience on the Mac. The news will be welcomed by Mac owners who already bought the PC copy, as they can get the Mac version free on EA's online portal Origin.
Service should eventually bring more EA games to Mac
Electronics Arts has released an initial alpha build of Origin for the Mac. On Windows Origin is the publisher's digital storefront and game launcher, now effectively required to play many EA titles. The software's arrival on the Mac should, eventually, increase the number of EA games Mac users have access to, so long as studios tied to the company can devote the time and money needed to build Mac ports.
Zynga 'blatant mimic', make games 'nearly indistinguishable'
Electronic Arts (EA) has filed a lawsuit against Zynga, claiming the social games developer has violated copyright law. The complaint focuses on Facebook game The Ville, where Zynga is accused of infringing on The Sims Social, EAs own casual gaming endeavor. EA believes The Ville "blatantly mimic[s] the entire framework and style of gameplay," making the two games "nearly indistinguishable."
Electronic Arts in mass layoffs rumor
Electronic Arts is allegedly in the process of laying off hundreds of employees after the completion of several big-name games. According to Startup Grind, the game publisher stands to lose between 500 and 1000 people (5-11% of its workforce) in the near future.
Apple, Path, Facebook, others in lawsuit sights
A new lawsuit (below) filed last week and uncovered on Friday by CNET could try and take Apple and key iOS app writers to task for alleged unapproved contact access. The potential class action case accuses those who've admitted to any access, such as Path, Twitter, and Instagram, of violating privacy by becoming "mobile radio beacons" that were "broadcasting and publicly exposing" contact lists to everyone. Questionably, however, it also names the developers of numerous other unverified apps of doing the same thing, including Beluga, Burbn, Chillingo, EA, Facebook, Foursquare, Foodspotting, Hipster, Gowalla, Kik, LinkedIn, Rovio (Angry Birds), and ZeptoLab (Cut the Rope).
Valve Steam Box would consolize PC gaming
Valve Software is entering the console race by developing its own hardware platform, new rumors brought up early Saturday. The approach outlined by The Verge would have typical PC hardware with a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and NVIDIA graphics, but it would serve as a fixed platform for three to four years. Developers would then target their games to the system, which as expected would use Steam as its primary way to get games.
Adds narrative, ties into Mass Effect 3
Electronic Arts has revealed that will soon be bringing a tie-in version of its Mass Effect sci-fi game series to iOS devices with a new game, Mass Effect Infiltrator. The game is an all-combat version of the console Mass Effect games, and ties into the current version, Mass Effect 3, by having the main character feed intelligence to Commander Shepard, the protagonist of ME3. Despite the combat emphasis, MEI will still feature some of the "decision points" of the console games.
Nintendo and Sony rethink unpopular SOPA bill
A quiet update to the list of Stop Online Piract Act supporters (PDF) has shown that Nintendo and Sony have backed away from the proposed bill. Both were originally endorsing the bill as of November but quietly removed themselves from the list sometime in the past month. Neither has acknowledged the change in attitude.
Dead Space, Need for Speed among EA discounts
Publishers Gameloft and Electronic Arts have announced their annual holiday sales for iOS games. EA in particular has dropped prices on over 100 titles, including both iPhone and iPad games. Some high-profile offerings in the collection include Dead Space and Tetris for the iPad, and NBA Jam for the iPhone; in all cases, apps are temporarily 99 cents.
Sony sued over addition of PSN do-not-sue clause
Sony is being sued for the new clause in its PlayStation Network end-user license agreement that protects it from just such things, Geek reported on Tuesday. The addition was made in September and prompted games developer EA and software giant Microsoft to make similar changes. Under the terms, PSN gamers must agree not to sue Sony if their accounts are hacked in the future or if anything else goes wrong.
GameStop takes tablet pilot program live
GameStop's mobile plans became real Friday after the company started up a tablet test program to sell tablets online and in stores. Android tablets like Acer's Iconia Tab A100, ASUS' Eee Pad Transformer, and Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be available in 200 of its stores. Each will have both access to Kongregate's Arcade app store as well as seven free games, including EA's mobile versions of Dead Space and Madden as well as Sega's Sonic CD.
ATT dates and prices Xperia Play 4G
AT&T on Thursday set out launch details for its promised version of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play. Now called the Xperia Play 4G, it expands on the original both with 14.4Mbps HSPA (technically 3G) and the inclusion of Sony Ericsson's own DK300 media dock and a music cable for RCA-equipped speakers. Gamers also get a better game loadout on the PlayStation phone, which brings in Dungeon Defenders, The Sims 3 and Tower Bloxx to existing titles like Crash Bandicoot, Madden NFL 11 and Gameloft titles.
Lodsys sur-reply to Apple faces poor prospects
Lodsys showed potential strain in its lawsuit after it issued a sur-reply to Apple's own response. Originally submitted earlier in the month but just discovered Monday, the response makes the questionable claim that Apple can't motion because some of the app developers sued challenge the validity of the patents. Similarly, it contends that the license it has with Apple doesn't make it a licensor and makes generic claims towards Apple having not somehow satisfied a "heavy burden."
Razer swings first ever real 7.1 headphones, more
Razer swung out a wide range of gaming hardware and accessories on Tuesday that included a few extras for Apple users. For everyone, the Tiamat 7.1 is billed as the first true 7.1-channel surround sound headset. By packing five drivers in each earpiece and coordinating their output, it can replicate not just the seven main satellite points but the subwoofer channel as well. Owners can individually adjust the output of each channel and revert to a regular stereo signal if they like.
Google Plus makes game support official
Google ended a string of leaks Thursday afternoon with official game support on Google+. The primarily Flash-based games come from majors in web games and some from Facebook, including Zynga titles like Zynga Poker as well as Rovio's Angry Birds and PopCap's Bejeweled Blitz. In a direct jab at Facebook's tendency to put all updates on the main news feed, Google added that games, their status updates, and their achievements would only show in a Games tab.
Apple has necessary information, defendants say
Four major parties defending themselves against Lodsys' legal accusations are actively petitioning the court to accept Apple's intervention request. Game publishers Atari, Electronic Arts and Square-Enix were joined by Quickoffice in sending a letter to the court yesterday, urging it to grant Apple's motion. All four companies are being represented in the matter by the same lawfirm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The first three have yet to even be served their summons however, and state that they are stepping in early to "ensure that their voices are heard in connection with the pending motion to intervene."
Eon-Net loss may hurt Lodsys too
A recent decision in a patent lawsuit from Eon-Net against Flagstar Bancorp might pose trouble for Lodsys in its own attempts to skim royalties. Discovered today, a ruling late last month hit Eon-Net with Rule 11 sanctions for conducting what was cast as "extortion" through its practices. The company had submitted over 100 infringement lawsuits but each time gave the targets a settlement that would be cheaper than defending the case, effectively forcing companies to pay.
Apple counters Lodsys in new intervention call
Apple on Monday countered Lodsys' resistance to intervention with a final argument of its own. A call for a court hearing argued multiple points, focusing most on the importance of the patent license covering in-app purchases. It argued that the license itself was enough interest to require an intervention and that it had a clear business motivation to get involved: developers were considering boycotting "core products" because they didn't want to be sued.
Slip inevitable for anyone, says Hawkins
Apple is ultimately headed towards a fall, and probably after the departure of CEO Steve Jobs, says Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, now with developer Digital Chocolate. The latter develops casual games for several platforms, including the iPhone. "If you look at any institution in history -– look at the Roman Empire –- anything in history, and what it looks like when it's peaking," Hawkins tells IndustryGamers.
Lodsys expands to target major game developers
Lodsys continued its rapidly widening lawsuit campaign Thursday by trying its hand at attacking major game developers. A larger complaint (below) now adds Atari, EA, Rovio, Square Enix, and Take Two over in-app purchases in their mobile games. The expansion singles out major games and isn't limited to just iPad and iPhone titles, going so far as to target Rovio's versions of Angry Birds for both Android and iOS.
EA pushing for a $1B digital business
EA has confirmed that it has established an agreement to acquire PopCap, a game publisher best known for mobile titles such as Plants vs. Zombies and Bejeweled. The buyout will cost EA at least $750 million, which includes $650 million in cash and $100 million in stock. PopCap will also be entitled to additional cash compensation based on EA's future earnings through the end of 2013.
EA label president very impressed by Wii U
At an interview with EA Games Label President Frank Gibeau at E3, Games Industry learned [sub. required] the games publisher is very excited about the upcoming Nintendo Wii U console. Gibeau is especially impressed by the console's ability to reproduce HD graphics and access game experiences in what he describes as a completely novel way. He went on to say Nintendo's methods run parallel with what EA plans for its FIFA, Madden and game lineups.
NPD gives Xbox 360 lead in May despite new low
New NPD data unveiled Monday night showed the video game business at a rare low with Microsoft getting the most benefits. Although it hesitated to give full numbers, it had the combined hardware and software sales in May at their lowest point since October 2006 based on a "light slate of new releases" led mostly by LA Noire and Brink. The Xbox 360 was the top system of the batch at 270,000 units and was up 28 percent, making up 34 percent of the revenue, while the Wii's continued fall was the primary drag on the industry.
Increasing hegemony affects iOS gaming
Game publisher Electronic Arts says it has acquired Firemint, the developer of titles like Flight Control and Real Racing. Firemint dates back to 1999, and currently employs about 60 people. The terms of the deal have yet to be announced, even though the acquisition process is expected to wrap up in four weeks.
Dead Space, Scrabble among high-profile titles
Publisher Electronic Arts has launched a special Easter weekend sale of iOS games, discounting over 30 of them to 99 cents each. Both iPad and iPhone titles are included in the promotion. Some notable iPad games include Scrabble, Tetris, Risk, Monopoly and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Of special interest is Dead Space, a high-profile title which was recently given special graphics enhancements for iPad 2s.
BlackBerry PlayBook to come with 7digital music
RIM late Tuesday scored a deal to give the BlackBerry PlayBook a preloaded music store. 7digital's store will be preloaded on the tablet and give access to about 13 million pay-per-track songs. The store is the most popular on BlackBerry phones and is one of the few to have an international scope, having grown beyond Europe to reach the US two years ago.
We play the first live PlayBook games at MWC
RIM used the opportunity of Mobile World Congress not just to unveil plans for HSPA+ and LTE versions of the BlackBerry PlayBook but to get its first genuine 3D game roster ready. EA will be first out of the gate with native ports of titles like Need for Speed: Undercover and Tetris. We had the chance to try them ourselves and have a quick round-up of performance and whether it's a better experience than on an iPad or a Galaxy Tab.
Xperia Play due for Verizon and tested by us
Sony Ericsson as promised tonight unveiled the Xperia Play. The Android 2.3 flagship is the first to support PlayStation Suite and is designed to not only run PS1 and original games with PSP-style controls but to run them well. A 1GHz Snapdragon with an Adreno 205 graphics core runs many games at the full 854x480 resolution at 60 frames per second.
Google Chrome Web Store goes live
Google today formally launched the Chrome Web Store, its portal for web apps on both the Chrome browser and Chrome OS. The section lets users buy apps that they can access from a central launcher and which behave more like traditional apps, in some cases working offline. Many work with Flash but can use strict web standards and work for all platforms.
v1.1 to introduce new box, 25 new levels
Games publisher Chillingo -- best known for their runaway iOS hit Angry Birds -- has revealed that their popular physics-puzzle iOS game Cut the Rope has sold over three million copies, and that a new update coming soon (v1.1) will debut a new "Cosmic Box," Retina Display graphics, improved scoring accuracy and 11 new achievements.
EA gives first sign of PSP2 in works
Game developer EA in an interview late Tuesday acknowledged that it had seen at least details of Sony's PSP2. Senior VP Patrick Soderlund wouldn't say whether it included the actual hardware or target specifications but noted that a software firm had to have access. Silence was necessary because of an established relationship with Sony, he explained to CVG.
Fender Stratocaster Rock Band priced and dated
Fender today unwrapped details of its signature controller for Rock Band 3, the Stratocaster Guitar and Controller. The device is both a full-fledged electric guitar based on the Squier as well as a peripheral for the Harmonix game's realistic Pro Mode. Controls on the body steer both the game and the instrument's output.
Amazon Kindle gets first paid app months later
Amazon has quietly put up the first paid, third-party app for the Kindle. EA's Scrabble has been released for both the third-generation and second-generation six-inch Kindles as well as all versions of the Kindle DX. Despite the 3G and Wi-Fi links, the app only supports single-device multiplayer and not online games.
EA My Garden shwos Nintendo 3DS much faster
EA today showed off a first game for the Nintendo 3DS that backs beliefs that the handheld is using a much faster platform than initially suspected. The garden creation game My Garden has both much more geometry than a typical DS/DSi game but has high dynamic range effects for bloom and depth of field to create a soft background. Many of the in-game objects also have their own individual shadows.
Amazon Kindle gets UK-native store
Amazon on Thursday opened the UK Kindle Store, its first e-book shop outside of the US. The store gives access to a smaller 400,000-book library but scraps the extra fees that would come from downloading books outside of the US. Prices for popular books ranges from as little as £2.79 to as much as £11.25; most are under £10.
Gaikai partners with Intel, Limelight Networks
Game streaming platform Gaikai has just announced two new partners in Intel and Limelight Networks. While details weren't released, Gaikai will use Intel's six-core CPUs and solid-state drives to handle the games. The devices will then be installed within Limelight Networks' infrastructure.
Editorial tackles web gaming
With E3 just finished, it's time for the market to start evaluating game companies. But as EA, Ubisoft, Activision, and others continue to get all the headlines, social-gaming companies don't get the kind of respect their bigger competitors do. This may have to change with larger platform supporters, including non-traditional Apple, as they may be ignoring an untapped market.
Mad Catz to sell Rock Band 3 gear with MIDI hooks
Mad Catz unwrapped the final details of its whole instrument line for Rock Band 3. The headlining Wireless Keyboard Controller is now confirmed to not only handle 25 keys and two octaves of range but has MIDI support to work with computer audio editors and hardware like mixers. It can also double as a controller for the bass and regular guitars.
Harmonix to tie Rock Band 3 to 25-key instrument
The mystery controller for Rock Band 3 was revealed today to be a real keyboard. Although deliberately limited to 25 keys, the peripheral will work as a true MIDI keyboard and should theoretically work with computers depending on the version of the controller. The game's more realistic Pro mode should use all 25 keys and, according to USA Today, will pan across the screen to show all the notes.