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August 16, 2006

Big bucks in mobile phone gaming?

Posted by David Hunter at 9:39 AM ET.

Yet another consultant report of riches to be had in games for cell phones:

Mobile gaming sales will generate $7.2bn a year worldwide by 2011, growing from the $2.4bn sold in 2006.

According to Informa, which made this forecast, only five per cent of mobile phone users actually download games.

Informa predicts that Asia Pacific, which dominates mobile games sales, will account for nearly half the industry by 2011. It also says the USA is rapidly becoming the largest single-country market, thanks to its single language and small number of operators – factors which could constrain growth in Europe.

More by following the link. Microsoft does have plans in this area (see also [1]).

Filed under Microsoft, Mobile Gaming, Windows Mobile

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May 10, 2006

Sony goes high, Nintendo goes low, Microsoft goes first

Posted by David Hunter at 8:03 AM ET.

Today’s the start of the E3 gaming conference and as long planned, the three big game console vendors held their pre-show press events earlier in the week.

Sony led off the festivities on Monday to less than stellar reviews. Troy Wolverton at

I should have sensed trouble when Kaz Hirai, president of Sony’s PlayStation division in the U.S., waited nearly two hours into the company’s Monday night presentation to give the details that everyone wanted to know — when the PlayStation 3 will be launched, how much it will cost and how many Sony will ship. Let me tell you, two hours has rarely passed so slowly in my life.

It wasn’t just that Hirai waited until the end to get to the point of the press event. It was that everything in between wasn’t terribly compelling. Most of the game footage Sony showed was from demos at best. Few of the games generated much excitement. And the company had little to show off in the way of certain blockbuster titles.

Well, at least Sony can claim the prize for most expensive:

The PS3 will come in two configurations: one version with a 60GB hard drive that will cost $599, and a second with a 20GB hard drive that will come in at $499, SCE President Kaz Hirai said.

Those prices are significantly higher than Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which has two versions, one with a 20GB hard drive that costs $399 and another with no hard drive that retails for $299.

In an interview with CNET on Friday, SCE Executive Vice President and co-Chief Operating Officer Jack Tretton said, effectively, that the company believes consumers will pay whatever the next-generation console costs.

“People are going to perceive enough value” with the PS3, Tretton said, “that they’re not going to consider the price to be a barrier to entry.”

In addition to announcing pricing, Sony also said the PS3 will hit store shelves in North America on Nov. 17, six days after its Japanese launch on Nov. 11.

Hirai noted that Sony is committed to shipping 4 million PS3s by Dec. 31 and another 2 million by March 31, 2007. That means–if customers are not put off by the console’s high price–Sony could be in position to avoid the criticism Microsoft took for not being able to meet initial customer demand for the Xbox 360.

Trying for an apples to apples comparison pits the $499 PS3 against the $399 Xbox 360 and while the pricing is completely arbitrary, part of the difference is the Blu-ray high definition DVD drive included in the PS3:

More important, the Sony console comes with a high-definition Blu-ray DVD drive for playing movies. Standalone Blu-ray players are likely to cost close to $1,000 when they arrive later this year.

“The PlayStation 3 will look very inexpensive (compared) to the Blu-ray player,” said Van Baker, an analyst at research firm Gartner. “You’re paying 100 bucks for the privilege of having a Blu-ray player. It is a very aggressively priced movie player.”

But that raises another question: Will consumers consider the movie question when buying the consoles?

“It’s cheap for a Blu-ray drive and expensive for a game machine,” said Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Group.

As the rest of the article delineates, and we have discussed previously, the advisability of frying other other Sony fish while delivering a game console remains to be seen. One more point – the difference between the two PS3 variants isn’t just 40 GB of disk space – the cheaper $499 PS3 version is crippled in significant ways including no ability to watch those Blu-ray movies in high definition.

In a refreshing counterpoint, Nintendo, as expected, stuck entirely to the game business in their Wii game console press event:

Asked why Nintendo didn’t release pricing and availability information for the Wii (the company said only that the product will be available in the fourth quarter of 2006), Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo executive vice president for sales and marketing, told CNET that the company isn’t interested in diverting attention from the roster of 27 Wii games and the controller system it’s showing at the Electronic Entertainment Expo this week.

“We want (E3) to be about the gaming experience,” Fils-Aime said. “Price and availability information becomes a distraction from the playing experience.”

I sympathize with the point of view, but the lack of clarity about what is expected to be a lowball price left a lot of folks unimpressed and what they did show didn’t help that much. Troy Wolverton again:

Oh, sure, Nintendo announced there will be a new Zelda game that will be available at the launch of its Wii console. And unlike Sony, Nintendo showed off several real, playable games and promised that visitors to its booth at E3 would find 27 different games available to play on the Wii.

But as with Sony, even those highlights weren’t all that bright. Nintendo’s been promising — and failing to deliver — a new Zelda for several years now, so gamers will likely believe it only when they see it. And Fils-Aime declined to say how many of the games playable at E3 will actually be available on store shelves when the Wii launches sometime this fall.

Frankly expectations for the Wii are beginning to match the expected low price.

Lastly, Microsoft and Bill Gates got to revel in being considerably ahead of the competitors with the Xbox 360:

Surprise appearance by Microsoft company founder wows gamers with unified platform vision and first look at “Halo 3.”

Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates today staked the claim that the Xbox 360™ system will have a 10 million-unit head start by the time the competition enters the market and more than 160 games by the end of the year. Gates went on to outline the company’s bold new vision to connect millions of Xbox 360 gamers with hundreds of millions of Microsoft® Windows®-based PC and mobile gamers from around the world through the Xbox Live® online entertainment network. Gates made the announcements at a press conference to open the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the largest annual confab for the interactive entertainment industry.

Dubbed “Live Anywhere,” the initiative puts gamers at the center of a ubiquitous always-on world where their digital identities, games, friends and digital entertainment are always accessible through the familiar Xbox Live interface, regardless of location or device. The plan also clears the way for groundbreaking cross-platform gameplay scenarios, with participants using Windows-based PCs, mobile phones and Xbox 360 consoles to play together simultaneously.

By this time next year, Microsoft expects more than 6 million gamers to be connected to the Xbox Live network. In addition, more than 25 million casual gamers are currently playing games on MSN® Messenger and MSN Games.

More on the cross platform gaming by following the link and here; and more on the Xbox 360 lineup here including the planned day one availability of Grand Theft Auto IV. Also Microsoft announced that they would have their own HD DVD high definition DVD player (price unspecified) available as an Xbox 360 add-on before Christmas and it likely won’t offer high definition movie playback either.

It’s too early to say how this will all fall out, but it looks to me like Microsoft has a fighting chance to make significant gains in the game console market. As for Sony and Microsoft both trying to have their game consoles gain widespread acceptance as home entertainment centers, I’m suspicious that neither will come to pass and that their gaming success will come in spite of those attempts.

Filed under Blu-ray, Coopetition, HD DVD, Hardware, Live Anywhere, Microsoft, Mobile Gaming, Nintendo, PC Games, Sony, Technologies, Windows Mobile, Xbox

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February 10, 2006

Microsoft part of open gaming alliance for mobile phones

Posted by David Hunter at 7:09 PM ET.

John Blau at PCWorld:

Several big companies in the mobile phone and gaming industry, including Microsoft and Nokia, are teaming to support an open gaming architecture designed to lower development costs, speed up delivery times and create richer content, the group said Friday.

In addition to Microsoft and Nokia, the mobile gaming development alliance includes Electronic Arts, Symbian, Samsung Electronics, Texas Instruments (TI), Activision, Digital Chocolate, Ideaworks3D, Konami, MontaVista Software, SK Telecom, Square Enix, and Tao Group.

By working together, the group hopes to streamline the process for developing games for multiple handset models and operating systems, and reduce the current platform fragmentation in mobile phone gaming market.

Given the variety of phones and operating systems (Windows Mobile, Symbian, Linux) it’s going to support, it’ll have to be the Swiss Army knife of architectures. The first reference implementation is expected in 2H2006 though, so they must have a pretty good idea of what the end product will be. More details in the full press release.

Filed under Alliances, Coopetition, Linux, Mobile Gaming, Open Source, Symbian, Windows Mobile

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November 23, 2005

Microsoft to blitz mobile phone games?

Posted by David Hunter at 10:25 AM ET.

Business Week scores an interview with Chris Early, studio manager for Microsoft Casual Games Group. Here’s the intro:

With the new Xbox console out, Redmond’s next target is games for mobile phones, with plans to overhaul the business as we know it.

Now that Microsoft has unveiled its new Xbox 360 gaming console, what’s next? Games for the small screen. The Redmond giant is getting ready for yet another entertainment push, this time into mobile-phone games. Until recently, Microsoft has licensed its successful titles, such as Halo, to specialized mobile-game publishers like In-Fusio, which churned out smaller, simpler versions of the games for cell phones.

But Microsoft wants a bigger slice of the fast-growing market. Researcher In-Stat estimates that the mobile-game business is poised to leap from $203.8 million in 2004 to $1.8 billion by 2009. So during the first half of next year, the company will unveil a major mobile push, says Chris Early, studio manager for Microsoft Casual Games Group. Expect to see a lot of marketing buzz — and yes, new mobile games, such as Hexic and Mozaki Blocks, for cell phones.

Microsoft’s has an ambitious agenda. The company plans to sweep up the best mobile games around (aggregators Mforma and Jamdat, beware!). It also hopes to completely change gaming as we know it by connecting mobile, Xbox-based, and PC-based gameplay into one coherent experience.

Hit the link for the full interview.

Filed under Executives, Mobile Gaming, PC Games, Windows Mobile, Xbox

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