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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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May 7, 2009 12:58 PM

Microsoft to buy game company BigPark

Posted by Sharon Chan

Microsoft is acquiring BigPark, an interactive online gaming company based in Vancouver, B.C., according to a news release.

BigPark will be folded into Microsoft Game Studios to develop a game for Xbox 360. The two have been working on the game together for the past year.

The Vancouver company was founded by executives from Distinctive Software and Electronic Arts Canada who oversaw games such as "Need for Speed," "FIFA Soccer," "NBA Street" and "SSX," the release said.

The chief executive and co-founder Hanno Lemke will report to the general manager of Microsoft Game Studios, Phil Spencer.

The release did not include any details about how much Microsoft is paying for the company.

Update 1:41 p.m.: Microsoft does not expect to relocate workers from Vancouver to Redmond.

According to a statement from the company, the company will release details on their Xbox 360 project at this year's gaming conference E3.

Also interesting to note: Don Mattrick, Microsoft's senior vice president for Interactive Games, is chairman of BigPark, as well as one of its founders and investors. According to the news release, he disclosed his investment in BigPark before he was hired at Microsoft, and his involvement with BigPark is kosher according to Microsoft's code of conduct.

If anyone is looking for a job, it looks like BigPark is hiring. Check out their Web site.

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Xbox 360 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 25, 2009 1:58 PM

Nintendo offers Wii owners more storage, new 'Zelda' title at GDC

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Nintendo, the runaway leader in the video game business, is priming the market for its new Internet-connected handheld gaming system and adding storage capabilities to the best-selling Nintendo Wii.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said during the Game Developers Conference today in San Francisco that the Wii has now sold more than 50 million units since launching in 2006.

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Comments | Category: Game Developers Conference , Games & entertainment , Nintendo , Wii |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 23, 2009 4:11 PM

Nintendo fitness game surpasses 'Halo 3' in total U.S. sales

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Credit to games industry news site Kotaku for tracking this: When the NPD Group released February video game sales figures last week, Wii Fit, the fitness game for Nintendo's market-leading console, sold 644,000 units, topping the software charts.

And that was enough to surpass "Halo 3," in lifetime sales. The blockbuster from Kirkland-based Bungie Studios, exclusive to Microsoft's Xbox 360 console, has sold 5.9 million units in the U.S. since launching in September 2007.

Wii Fit just hit 6 million, NPD Group told Kotaku. Wii Fit passed "Halo 3" despite costing $30 more (it comes with a balance board, the creation of which I detailed in this story) and launching eight months after "Halo 3".

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Halo , Wii |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 20, 2009 6:01 PM

Repaired Xbox 360 finally reaches Nome

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Xbox in Nome.JPG In the end, Microsoft's customer service reps came through, though not with out a lot of haranguing on the part of the Gallehers of Nome, Alaska.

The family's quest to get their Xbox 360 console repaired under warranty -- which I first wrote about last week -- ended Thursday after a full two months of frustrating calls, e-mails and a letter to the company's top executives. A repaired console arrived at their home in the small town where the Iditarod Sled Dog Race ends via UPS delivery man Al Burgo (pictured).

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Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Miscellaneous , Xbox 360 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 20, 2009 12:50 PM

More people spent more time watching March Madness on the Web Thursday

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

boss button.JPGMore than 2.7 million people spent more than an hour each, on average, watching the first day of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship online. CBSSports.com just released stats for its free March Madness on Demand viewer (the high-quality player is built on Microsoft's Silverlight), which "continues to regularly exceed our most optimistic expectations," CBS honcho Sean McManus said in a statement.

There were 2.7 million unique viewers, up 56 percent from 1.75 million last year. Each viewer spent a little more than an hour, on average, watching games on the Web, compared to a little less than an hour in 2008. Viewers consumed 2.8 million total hours of live streaming video and audio yesterday, up 65 percent from 1.7 million, according to CBSSports.com.

And in reference to the discussion yesterday about productivity and March Madness, there's this: The "Boss Button," which hides the video player with a spreadsheet, was clicked 1.5 million times yesterday compared with 2.5 million times for the whole tournament in 2008.

Here's part of what you get when you hit the Boss Button. It doesn't exactly scream "hard at work," but it's better than nothing...

boss button spreadsheet.JPG

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March 19, 2009 4:19 PM

February game console sales continue to survive economy

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Despite mounting job losses and under-water mortgages, Americans kept buying video games last month. Total spending on the category was $1.47 billion in February, up 10 percent from a year earlier, according to data from NPD Group this afternoon.

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Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Nintendo , Sony , Xbox 360 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 19, 2009 3:03 PM

Is March Madness on Demand, powered by Microsoft Silverlight, contributing to nationwide productivity drain?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Watching the NCAA men's college basketball tournament on the Web at work is great. The on-demand player that CBSsports.com has built for March Madness on Demand, using Microsoft's Silverlight, is not perfect, but it's a great way to keep up with the tournament, live, while still "working."

I think the people behind the player might take a bit of pleasure in facilitating this "borrowing" of work time. There's a "Boss Button" on the player that brings up a spreadsheet. And the promo video that rolls when you launch the player exclaims something to the effect of, Forget that 2 o'clock meeting. There's a 2 o'clock tip off.

(Microsoft announced a test version of Silverlight 3 yesterday, by the way.)

But is the tournament, which is now easier than ever to watch at work thanks to the Silverlight app, really the productivity sink it's rumored to be? Staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas floated an estimate of $3.8 billion in lost productivity for the 2006 tournament, a figure that many people questioned (though many others did not) and Jack Shafer, writing at Slate, picked apart.

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Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Tech Economy , Video |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 12, 2009 11:53 AM

Woman struggles to prove to Microsoft's Xbox service agents that Nome, Alaska, exists

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Kim Galleher's nightmare may be coming to an end. The Nome, Alaska, mother has been trying since mid-February to get Microsoft to send her a shipping box so she could return her 13-year-old son's Xbox 360, which died of the Red Ring of Death in the depths of winter when going outside to play wasn't really an option. Microsoft extended the warranty on the Xbox 360, including shipping costs, in summer 2007, responding to what it called an "unacceptable" rate of hardware failures. But representatives at the company's repair center could not find a way to ship an empty box to Nome for the Gallehers to send back the game console for repair. Their address wasn't recognized, probably because the town of about 3,500 people on the remote Seward Peninsula has only post office boxes. And so began a month-long back-and-forth with Microsoft agents, nearing a dozen contacts, that starts to read like an Abbott and Costello routine, or an episode of the Twilight Zone, as Galleher put it.

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Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Hardware , Miscellaneous , Xbox 360 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 11, 2009 9:02 AM

Microsoft news roundup: Extension granted in EU case; Windows Mobile app store detailed; Man wants up to $1 million from airline that lost his Xbox 360

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The European Commission has given Microsoft another month to reply to the regulator's initial finding that the company violated European competition law. Specifically, the EC said the inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows since 1996 was in violation. The EC investigated after a complaint by rival Web browser maker Opera Software. The new deadline for Microsoft to respond to the EC's "Statement of Objections," issued in January, is April 21 after the EC granted its request for an extension, according to this Bloomberg report.

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Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Internet Explorer , Legal issues , Mobile , News roundup |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 24, 2009 6:15 AM

Microsoft Strategic Update: Ballmer tells Wall Street more dramatic cost cutting would be 'imprudent'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

With Microsoft's Redmond campus largely emptied out for the winter holidays, CEO Steve Ballmer crunched the numbers on the proper level of spending for his company against the current economic climate, which he has repeatedly referred to as a "reset" rather than just a recession. Ballmer said his own estimates for the weakness and duration of the downturn tend to be more severe than those of other business leaders he meets.

With that in mind, he settled on $27.5 billion of operating expenses -- a level the company aims to hold relatively steady through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and during its 2010 fiscal year. Ballmer made clear to financial analysts meeting in New York this morning for the company's annual strategic update that cutting back even more significantly -- say to $20 billion -- would be "imprudent."

"I think this is right," Ballmer said.

That should give some comfort to those wondering if the modest layoffs Microsoft announced last month were the beginning of a more significant reduction. Wall Street analysts and investors are pressuring companies in every industry to continue cutting costs as sales and profits slow dramatically.

The strategic update call just came to an end. Ballmer gave a detailed look at seven major business areas for the company. Check back here later this morning for more details.

Update, 7:50 a.m.: As he told Congressional Democrats earlier this month, Ballmer said Microsoft's corporate strategists have been evaluating past downturns -- particularly those driven by "deleveraging." The team read company annual reports from 1927 to 1938 to determine who did a good job managing through the Great Depression. "RCA, God rest them in peace, became our role model," Ballmer said. The company was able to dominate the television business because it continued to invest during bad times, he said.

Then he broke down how Microsoft plans to invest.

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Comments | Category: Advertising , Apple , Enterprise , Financial , Games & entertainment , Google , Microsoft layoffs , Mobile , Office , Online services , Open source , Search , Server and tools , Steve Ballmer , Strategy , Tech Economy , Windows , Windows 7 , Windows Azure , Windows Mobile , Xbox 360 , Yahoo acquisition , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 18, 2009 9:55 AM

Sony readies PlayStation 3 push with much-anticipated 'Killzone 2' on tap

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

After three straight months of declining video game console sales, Sony is hoping to start 2009 with a bang as one of the most-anticipated titles for the PlayStation 3 hits stores Feb. 27. With "Killzone 2," the company hopes to showcase the power of its game console and take some momentum away from Microsoft's Xbox 360. Killzone 2 screenshot.jpg

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Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Graphics and imaging , Halo , Sony |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 12, 2009 3:15 PM

January game console sales defy gravity

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

In January, Microsoft's U.S. Xbox 360 sales increased 34 percent and Nintendo saw sales of its market-leading Wii console jump 148 percent over the same month a year ago, according to NPD Group figures released this afternoon. Sony, however, saw its third consecutive month of lower PlayStation 3 sales, compared with the year earlier.

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February 5, 2009 12:00 AM

Microsoft's MSN launches new celeb gossip site Wonderwall

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft partnered with entertainment big shots BermanBraun Interactive to create a new entertainment and celebrity news site for MSN, called Wonderwall. "As long as MSN.com has been around, we've had an entertainment channel," said Rob Bennett, MSN general manager. But people had a hard time finding celebrity news and gossip among the existing Music, TV and Movies channels. "Celebrity content is sort of sprinkled throughout."

wonderwall.JPG

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February 4, 2009 5:27 AM

Video: German composer uses Microsoft Songsmith to give global recession a musical score

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A German composer, Johannes Kreidler, has found another interesting use for Microsoft's new Songsmith musical accompaniment software. His composition, Charts Music, derives melodies from stock-price charts of Lehman Brothers, Bank of America, GM and other major global companies and market indexes, as well as unemployment rates and other indicators. The melodies are plugged into Songsmith to create short, unsettling songs for each chart. Kreidler doesn't limit himself to traditional financial indicators. He also includes charts of Iraq War deaths and growth in the porn industry. [Update, 6:05 a.m.: Kreidler explains more about the how and why of his composition after the jump.]

Via the Telegraph.

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Comments | Category: Digital media , Games & entertainment , Music , Tech Economy , Video |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 23, 2009 10:27 AM

Is Microsoft Flight Simulator coming to an end?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


MICROSOFT

A screenshot of Microsoft "Flight Simulator X" depicting a float plan and the Seattle downtown skyline.

[Update, 11:39 a.m.: Microsoft is indeed closing Aces Studio, maker of one of its longest-running products, Flight Simulator, a Microsoft spokesman confirmed.

"Following our annual strategy review process, [the Interactive Entertainment Business] is making adjustments within our business to align our people against our highest priorities, and the closure of Aces is once of those changes," he said via e-mail.

Fewer details on the future of Flight Simulator.

"All we're announcing at this time is that we are committed to flying games," he continued.]

Game industry news site Gamasutra reports that ACES, the Microsoft game studio responsible for its iconic "Flight Simulator" program, was "heavily affected" by the company's first widespread layoffs. I've asked a Microsoft spokeswoman to comment and will update as appropriate.

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January 15, 2009 3:45 PM

What recession? December video game sales cap year of 19 percent growth

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Nintendo sold 2.15 million Wiis and 3.04 million portable DSs in December as consumers continued buying game systems despite the cratering economy. The U.S. sales figures show a 59 percent increase in Wii sales from December 2007. Microsoft sold 1.44 million Xbox 360s, up 14 percent from December 2007. The Sony PlayStation 3, the most expensive console of the three, actually did show signs of the slowing economy. Sales decreased 9 percent in December to 726,000 units, according to data released this afternoon by The NPD Group.

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January 15, 2009 12:09 PM

Van Arsdale, CEO of Massive, Microsoft's in-game ad unit, to leave

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


Van Arsdale.

Microsoft veteran Cory Van Arsdale, who was installed as CEO of in-game advertising network Massive after Microsoft acquired it in 2007, is leaving the company this month, he said in an e-mail. Van Arsdale, who spent more than 14 years with Microsoft and was also a general manager in the company's Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group, said he's looking forward to spending more time with his family and then starting his own company in about six months. "By that time the capital and VC markets will have come out of their shells a bit, and the ideas I have cooking will be better developed," Van Arsdale said.

The move is not entirely unexpected as Microsoft named JJ Richards head of the in-game advertising group in early December.

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January 7, 2009 11:55 PM

CES: Q&A with Microsoft entertainment boss Robbie Bach

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, talked about layoffs ("you won't hear us comment"), the great 2008 for Xbox and its impact on profitability, Microsoft's deal with Verizon Wireless (creating a good mobile search experience is the key), where entertainment fits in Microsoft's mobile strategy and more. Read on for a condensed transcript of my conversation with him Wednesday afternoon.

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Comments | Category: Consumer Electronics Show , Games & entertainment , Mobile , Music , Personalities , Xbox 360 , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 7, 2009 6:30 PM

CES: Microsoft announces Windows 7 beta, partnerships with Verizon, Dell, Facebook

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is set to take the stage here now. Here's a rundown of the news he's planning to announce, along with some analysis, based on an advanced briefing from Microsoft and an interview earlier today with Robbie Bach, president of the company's Entertainment and Devices Division, who is expected to join Ballmer on stage. Check back for color from the speech and any surprises.

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Comments | Category: Consumer Electronics Show , Games & entertainment , Mobile , Search , Steve Ballmer , Windows 7 |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 5, 2009 5:00 PM

Microsoft says Xbox business had best year in its history

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft has closed the books on what it's calling the biggest sales year in the history of its game console business. The company has sold 28 million Xbox 360 consoles globally and now counts more than 17 million members to its Xbox Live service, which has become a highlight of the business.

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January 5, 2009 10:20 AM

CES: More predictions and a first wave of 'news'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A few more CES previews and predictions out today. "[D]efinitely underwhelming" is Kara Swisher's outlook on "the annual egregious gadgetfest in Las Vegas," as well as Macworld in San Francisco.

Mini-Microsoft turns attention away from the layoff scuttlebutt to note that the company has a heap of negatives piling up. "No where to go but up? Opportunity certainly abounds."

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December 29, 2008 10:45 AM

Sony's PS3 seen losing ground this holiday; Nintendo boosting Wii video

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Wall Street Journal's report today on the woes in Sony's gaming business is likely bringing smiles to faces in Redmond, where rivals Microsoft and Nintendo of America are based.

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December 19, 2008 9:16 AM

A very 'Halo' wedding

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Halo Bride and Groom.jpg

Desirai Labrada and John Henry met in December 2004 on Xbox Live. They were playing "Halo 2," the blockbuster second installment of the game series from Kirkland-based Bungie and Microsoft that helped fuel growth of Microsoft's video game business. She was in New York, he was in Florida. They logged on daily to play together, blasting away as love blossomed.

Now, they're planning a "Halo"-themed wedding for a gaming show in January. And their school -- Full Sail University, an entertainment-focused institution near Orlando -- sent out a press release to announce it. (Engagement photo of Labrada and Henry distributed by Full Sail University.)

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Comments | Category: Digital media , Games & entertainment , Halo , Miscellaneous , Online Communities , Personalities |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 15, 2008 12:15 PM

Pearl Jam releasing "Ten" for "Rock Band 2" video game simultaneous with album's re-issue

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

ten.jpg If you've always wanted to rock out with Eddie Vedder to "Jeremy," "Even Flow" and "Black" -- and who hasn't? -- your chance is coming in March. Harmonix, maker of the hit music video-game series "Rock Band," announced a deal today to release "Ten," the breakout album from Seattle band Pearl Jam, as downloadable content for the "Rock Band" games on the same date -- March 24 -- that the band re-issues the 1991 smash hit. Pearl Jam announced the re-issue of "Ten," including four new and expanded editions with remixes and other goodies, last week. ("Ten" album cover via Pearl Jam's Web site.)

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December 12, 2008 2:38 PM

Steam Hardware Survey: More than 68 percent of PC gamers running Windows XP

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

What do hard-core PC gamers have under the hood? Bellevue game maker Valve collects lots of data to answer that question through Steam, the game company's online PC games distribution platform, which boasts 15 million+ accounts globally. Today, the company relaunched a public results report from the Steam Hardware Survey and the top operating system is Windows XP 32 bit, which was running 68.7 percent of the computers surveyed in November.

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December 12, 2008 9:25 AM

Local family finds search for Wii 'amazingly difficult'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

This story on Nintendo's through-the-roof Wii sales -- in which a Nintendo executive reiterated the company's commitment to increase inventories in the U.S. by 50 percent to alleviate shortages -- doesn't jibe with the experience of reader Scott Milburn.

"For weeks, we have been searching for a Wii for our family this Christmas, and it is amazingly difficult," he wrote in an e-mail.

Read on for an account of their search.

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December 11, 2008 3:55 PM

'Gears of War 2' sells 1.56 million units, powers record November for Xbox 360

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's blockbuster first-party title for the holidays, "Gears of War 2," was the best-selling game last month, helping the company's Xbox 360 business turn in its best November yet. Microsoft moved 836,000 consoles in the U.S. compared with Sony, which sold 378,000 PlayStation 3s. But the big winner, according to NPD Group data released this afternoon, was Nintendo and its 2.04 million Wiis sold.

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December 11, 2008 3:39 PM

Nintendo had huge Wii and DS sales in November

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Nintendo had what it's calling industry record breaking sales of the Wii console and DS handheld system in November.

"We believe that Wii sales will top 2 million and DS sales will surpass 1.5 million for the month of November," Cammie Dunaway, Nintendo's executive vice president of sales and marketing, told me in an interview this morning. "And for both of these products, this is going to be a new all-time sales record for video game systems in any month outside of December."

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December 3, 2008 9:56 AM

Xbox news roundup: Microsoft 'cautiously optimistic' about games biz; Massive's video game 'upfront' and deals; more

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft is "cautiously optimistic" about its video games business, Shane Kim, vice president of games strategy and business development, told Reuters at the news service's Media Summit today. Kim said the business is on track for 20 percent this year, but "people are not projecting that kind of growth" for 2009. "Who knows, maybe flat performance will be considered a remarkable achievement."

The games industry had U.S. sales growth of 18 percent in October, according to The NPD Group.

Read on for details about Microsoft's in-game advertising deals.

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December 1, 2008 4:58 PM

Xbox 360 claims victory (over PlayStation 3) on Black Friday

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft says it sold 25 percent more Xbox 360s this Black Friday than in 2007. It also claims a 3-to-1 sales advantage over the PlayStation 3. No mention of the Nintendo Wii from Microsoft's press release, however. CNET on Sunday crowned the Wii "top product of the day," according to PriceGrabber and eBay.

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November 24, 2008 10:46 AM

Microsoft gets exclusive distribution of "The Guild" via Xbox, Zune, MSN

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

the guild logo.gifMicrosoft is adding to its stable of independent and original online video with a deal to distribute "The Guild," a popular Web-only show about a band of online gamers. Its second season will be available exclusively on Xbox Live, MSN and Zune, according to The Hollywood Reporter (via Reuters).

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November 14, 2008 8:24 AM

Microsoft news roundup: New exec in China; Microsoft Store launches online; Kirkland games startup

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A few items to catch up on this morning:

China Executive. Microsoft has named Simon Leung corporate vice president, chairman and CEO of Microsoft Greater China Region (GCR). He replaces Tim Chen, who left in September 2007 to lead the NBA's business in the Greater China region. Leung, who comes to Microsoft from Motorola, where he was a senior exec in charge of the Asia Pacific region, will be responsible for "the development and implementation of an overall regional strategy across all businesses, addressing the needs of the markets as well as the goals and objectives of the company. He will also be responsible for creating synergy among the sales, marketing, R&D, legal, finance, services, and other operations that Microsoft has in Greater China." Leung will work with Ya-Qin Zhang, who will continue as corporate vice president and chairman of the China Research and Development Group. Zhang was also appointed vice chairman of Microsoft GCR. Check out this great profile of Zhang my colleague Kristi Heim wrote this summer.

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November 13, 2008 3:30 PM

October video game hardware sales continue to grow, Nintendo leads

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Despite a worsening economy, all three current-generation video game consoles had better U.S. sales in October than they did a year ago, according to the latest figures from The NPD Group.

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November 11, 2008 11:01 AM

Microsoft, other tech companies outfitting hotels with latest gadgets

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The New York Times has an interesting look at how hotels are working with technology companies to provide guests access to video games, PCs and other gadgets. The first example is a partnership between Microsoft and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts to create computer lounges in the hotel lobbies, where guests can check e-mail and record video greetings using Microsoft software. But there's no mention of Sheraton's use of the Microsoft Surface tabletop computer in its Seattle, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston properties, which we reported on in August.

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Comments | Category: Devices , Games & entertainment , Miscellaneous |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 5, 2008 4:38 PM

Obama courted video gamers like no politician has. What will his presidency mean for them?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Thumbnail image for 1up image.jpg

1UP writer Sam Kennedy has a thorough review of where video games and politics crossed paths this campaign season and what impact President Obama might have on the industry. (I love this image they created to illustrate the story, too.)

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October 21, 2008 7:39 AM

Games news roundup: E3 making a comeback; Xbox Live Primetime delayed to spring; more

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Rumor has it that the Entertainment Software Association, which produces the E3 video game conference, will make an announcement today about the future of the event. Once a sprawling, raucous, free-wheeling event for fans, media and games industry insiders, E3 was dramatically scaled back each of the last two years and became less relevant. The E3 changes left an opening for shows such as the Penny Arcade Expo, held in Seattle, to fill the void for games fans. The new old E3 could have as many as 40,000 people, according to an anonymous source quoted by Newsweek's Level Up blog.

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October 16, 2008 3:29 PM

Price cut helps Xbox 360 in September video game sales, but still outdone by pricier Nintendo Wii

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's Sept. 5 price cut helped it sell 374,200 Xbox 360 consoles in September, a month when consumer confidence edged up slightly. (Little did we know...)

That was good enough to beat Sony's PlayStation 3 sales for the month, but not the Nintendo Wii, even though Microsoft undercut the popular console on price, according to U.S. sales data from The NPD Group.

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October 10, 2008 10:55 AM

Bungie says 'Halo 3: Recon' is its last in the series

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

GamesIndustry.biz reports that Kirkland-based game studio Bungie expects "Halo 3: Recon" to be its last installment in the blockbuster trilogy, which has probably done more for Microsoft's video game console business than any other title.

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October 9, 2008 3:23 PM

Microsoftie's research on making you hot(ter) gets big play in NYT

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

When Tommer Leyvand was a graduate student at Tel-Aviv University, he did some interesting work on software that "enhanc[es] the aesthetic appeal (or the attractiveness) of human faces in frontal photographs (portraits)." Now a part of Microsoft's Xbox 360 XNA team in Redmond, Leyvand's "beautification engine" has attracted attention with a write up in the Skin Deep column of The New York Times.

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October 9, 2008 10:05 AM

Microsoft unveils new 'Halo' titles at Tokyo Games Show, sets date for Xbox update

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's games unit made several significant announcements at the Tokyo Games Show yesterday including the confirmation of two new "Halo" titles.

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October 8, 2008 4:05 PM

Report: Blu-ray on the way for Xbox 360

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A hardware industry news and reviews site reported today that Microsoft is readying an external Blu-ray disc player for the Xbox 360. X-bit Laboratories, citing unnamed "market sources," reported that "Toshiba-Samsung Storage Technology Corp., a joint venture between Samsung Electronics and Toshiba Corp., has been contracted to manufacture external Blu-ray disc drives for Microsoft Xbox 360 game console."

(Update, 8:53 p.m.: A Microsoft statement shuts the door on this pretty hard. "As we've said before, Microsoft has no plans to introduce an Xbox 360 Blu-ray add-on.")

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October 7, 2008 12:46 PM

PBS video content to appear on Microsoft online game network, Xbox Live

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

File this under strange bedfellows: PBS, the national public broadcasting network, has struck a deal with Microsoft to distribute select content to Microsoft's audience of 12 million-plus gamers on Xbox Live. The deal, announced today, follows higher-profile content partnerships between Xbox Live and Netflix, among others.

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October 7, 2008 9:30 AM

Microsoft and NYU partnering on research into video games that teach math, science

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft, New York University and several other New York-area schools are launching an initiative to study how video games can be applied to education. The Games For Learning Institute will "focus on evaluating computer games as potential learning tools for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at the middle-school years (grades 6-8)."

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September 23, 2008 1:08 PM

Microsoft launches largest advertising blitz for Xbox

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's big advertising push this fall extends beyond its Windows franchise. The company launched "the single largest marketing investment ever made in Xbox history" over the weekend.

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September 22, 2008 1:50 PM

Xbox Live gamers prefer Obama, 13 percent still undecided

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

We reported on a partnership between Microsoft's online gaming service Xbox Live and Rock the Vote in August. Part of the effort was a presidential poll, conducted Sept. 12 to 19. So, where do gamers come down on the race?

Of "nearly 100,000" Americans who participated in what Microsoft described as "one of the nation's largest unofficial election polls," it broke down like this:

Obama \ Biden: 43 percent

McCain \ Palin: 31 percent
Undecided: 13 percent
Other: 13 percent

Also of note, more than 55,000 voter registration forms were downloaded through the service. Xbox Live has more than 12 million members around the world. The majority are in the United States, but Microsoft did not provide data on how many are old enough to vote.

By way of background, recall last week's Pew Internet & American Life Project report on teen gamers that noted, "some particular qualities of game play have a strong and consistent positive relationship to a range of civic outcomes."

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September 19, 2008 11:34 AM

More from Microsoft's company meeting: Paper airplane record; Ballmer talked stock, drank honey?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Following up on yesterday's report from Microsoft's company meeting, during which CEO Steve Ballmer shared his views on the company's mobile strategy, here are some other tidbits gleaned from folks in attendance:

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September 17, 2008 9:57 AM

U.K. press reports: Google buying Valve; former Xbox boss Peter Moore speaks

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A few buzzworthy video games items out of the U.K. press this morning.

As my colleague Brier Dudley has noted, the Inquirer is reporting that Google is going to buy Kirkland-based Valve "any second now." Valve is a video game company with an industry leading distribution platform called Steam. (Update, 12:53 p.m.: Turns out that it ain't happening, according to MTV Multiplayer, which quoted a Valve spokesman saying, "complete fabrication." Oh, and Valve is now in Bellevue, not Kirkland.)

The U.K. Guardian Games blog has an interesting interview with former Microsoft Xbox boss Peter Moore, who left the company last summer to head EA Sports. Moore, who started at the Redmond company in January 2003, provides some candid assessments of life inside the Microsoft games business. Here are the bits I found most interesting.

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September 16, 2008 3:25 PM

Pew report says nearly all teenagers play video games, but that doesn't make them misanthropes

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is out today with a comprehensive report on teenagers and video games that is largely positive. Teen gamers are social. And "some particular qualities of game play have a strong and consistent positive relationship to a range of civic outcomes."

Kids, put down that homework and get back to the Xbox.

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September 15, 2008 1:59 PM

How many would-be NFL defensive coordinators bought Madden NFL '09?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The best-selling video game in August, according to The NPD Group, was Madden NFL '09. Nearly 2.2 million units were sold in the U.S. After reading a great essay on the game's namesake, John Madden, I'm wondering how many were purchased by aspiring (or actual) NFL defensive coordinators.

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September 15, 2008 10:44 AM

Fascinating account of 'The Game,' an adventure race organized by Microsoft execs, sheds light on tech culture

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Jonathan Martin writes in The Seattle Times' Pacific Magazine about an adventure scavenger hunt called The Game. The story is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about the mindset of high-achieving smart guys at companies like Microsoft.

Martin's story focuses on one particular running of the annual event in 2002, organized by Joe Belfiore, an 18-year company veteran and currently corporate vice president in charge of the company's Media Center line. He had been putting on these events since high school.

The Game, Martin writes, is meant to be the "ultimate test for the Renaissance man or woman. Or just a really good excuse to turn off your Blackberry, forget work, ignore spouses and have a hell-raising good time."

But the 2002 running ended with a tragic accident that left a participant paralyzed.

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September 3, 2008 2:01 PM

Microsoft cutting Xbox 360 prices

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft will cut the price of the Xbox 360 by $50 to $80 on Friday in a bid to woo more mainstream audiences to its games and entertainment system during the upcoming holiday shopping season.

The company announced the price cuts this afternoon, noting that its lowest-price Xbox 360 Arcade model, which will sell for $199.99 on Friday, will be the cheapest current-generation system, undercutting the market-leading Nintendo Wii.

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August 26, 2008 4:44 PM

Rounding up rumors of new 'Halo' titles

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Video-game news site Joystiq reported yesterday that the October issue of the Official Xbox Magazine (which is "official" in the sense that it has a licensing agreement with the company, not in that it speaks for the company) will carry an item suggesting a game studio other than Kirkland-based Bungie is at work on a fourth installment in the blockbuster "Halo" series for the next-generation Xbox, i.e., whatever follows the 360.

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August 14, 2008 3:36 PM

Nintendo continues to widen console sales lead in July

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Nintendo sold 555,000 Wii game consoles in July, according to U.S. market data just released by The NPD Group. The brought its total installed base in the U.S. to 11.4 million, more than 720,000 units ahead of Microsoft's Xbox 360, which sold the fewest units in July of the three current-generation consoles.

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August 11, 2008 11:54 AM

Who is playing video games?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Twenty-two percent of people who play video games fall into the "young heavy gamer" segment, according to just-released research from The NPD Group. That's apparently a reference to their usage, not their BMI.

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August 6, 2008 1:06 PM

Some can't get access to live Olympic video, replays on NBCOlympics.com

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


MICROSOFT

Not everyone can get all live video and replays NBC is putting online from the Olympics.

I wrote today about NBC's unprecedented online video presentation of the Olympics and its partnership with Microsoft. But it turns out not everyone gets to see the best features of the service, including live video, long-form event replays and NBC encore video.

People who don't have a television, tune in an over-the-air broadcast or subscribe to a cable provider that's not one of NBC's "distribution partners" are left out in the cold. NBC said this is a small slice of the U.S. audience, less than 10 percent by its own reckoning.

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July 23, 2008 11:07 AM

Microsoft, Sony producing original video content for online game networks

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft is co-producing a series of digital short films for distribution over the Xbox Live in another sign that online gaming networks are becoming more like all-in-one digital content distribution channels. Meanwhile, Sony is eyeing its own exclusive video offerings for distribution over the PlayStation Network, possibly in partnership with the company's formidable movie and television studios.

Updated, 4:03 p.m.: New comments from Microsoft after the jump.

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July 22, 2008 12:44 PM

Microsoft sharing revenue with amateur game developers

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

My colleague Brier Dudley is covering Gamefest, where Microsoft has announced a revenue-sharing arrangement for amateur video game developers. The company announced it will sell amateur-created Community Games over Xbox Live and give developers up to 70 percent of the proceeds, Dudley reported.

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July 17, 2008 3:38 PM

Wii passes Xbox 360 in total U.S. sales

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

NPD Group just released data confirming what Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime predicted in February. His company's Wii console sold 666,700 units in the U.S. in June, bringing its total install base to 10.9 million, taking the lead from Microsoft's Xbox 360.

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July 16, 2008 10:39 PM

Microsoft Q4 earnings preview

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft reports earnings for the fiscal 2008 fourth quarter and full year Thursday. It will also sharpen its forecast for the current quarter and fiscal year against a backdrop of grim developments in the broader economy.

At the same time, the ongoing pursuit of Yahoo could be coming to a climax in two weeks at Yahoo's shareholder meeting. But the drama that has unfolded in the last five and a half months has put an anchor on Microsoft's stock and called the company's online strategy into question.

So what are analysts expecting and watching for Thursday?

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July 16, 2008 5:53 PM

E3: It takes all kinds in the games industry

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LOS ANGELES -- I got an email yesterday from Bill Dugan of Torpex Games, a collection of video game industry vets who are bootstrapping it in the growing downloadable games market. He had good news: Their game, Schizoid, shipped last week.

As I head home from the E3 Media and Business Summit, Dugan's success was a reminder that the games industry is not all about the blockbuster titles and multi-million dollar marketing extravaganzas like this one.

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July 16, 2008 3:21 AM

E3: Video: Tour of game art gallery

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LOS ANGELES -- One feature of our revamped Microsoft Pri0 blog is video. Check out this tour of "Into the Pixel: An Exhibition of the Art of the Video Game" here at E3. Some of the images are beautiful, and very interesting. I think it gives a sense for how the games industry has matured and is a full-fledged, vibrant art form. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.


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July 14, 2008 10:29 PM

E3: The European campaign

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Too often, we focus on the video game (and Internet search) competition in the U.S., to the exclusion of the rest of the world. But on the games front, the battle for Europe during the current console generation is more interesting and perhaps more up for grabs than in the U.S.

And if Microsoft Xbox boss Don Mattrick wants to back up the claim he made today -- that "Xbox 360 will sell more consoles worldwide this generation than PlayStation 3" -- he'll have to win in Europe.

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July 14, 2008 2:05 PM

E3: Microsoft strikes up the bands as more musicians dive in to video games

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LOS ANGELES -- While players are still flocking to games with guns and swords, it's the axe that has been the surprise weapon of choice. That would be the electric guitar in "Guitar Hero," which has taken the games world by storm in recent years. As the popularity of music games has skyrocketed, more musicians are getting into the act and seeing video games as an important distribution channel, as illustrated in several announcements from Microsoft and its partners today.

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July 13, 2008 7:19 PM

E3: Microsoft cuts price on 20-gig Xbox 360, introduces new 60-gig model

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft today announced the Xbox 360 price cut that had been expected, but also announced a new 60-gigabyte model to hit stores in August.

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July 10, 2008 3:17 PM

Why Microsoft is lowering Xbox 360 price, and why it's not lowering price more

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The video game world seems pretty confident that Microsoft will cut the price of its Xbox 360 console by $50 on Sunday, a day before its big press conference at the E3 Media & Business Summit in Los Angeles. A story in The Wall Street Journal further confirms the rumors.

A $50 cut would lower the price of the Xbox 360 Pro version of the console to $300. So why is the company dropping the price now? And why not cut the price more to really put the pressure on Sony? Hint: Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division has a promise to keep.

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June 30, 2008 5:16 PM

Report: Microsoft to cut Xbox 360 price ahead of big industry event

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano




Price cut before E3?


The E3 Media and Business Summit is two weeks away, and it looks like Microsoft may be firing a shot in the console competition. The Hollywood Reporter quoted a retailer on Friday saying the company Xbox 360 Pro will see a price cut before E3, which begins with a Microsoft press conference on July 14.

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June 24, 2008 11:06 AM

Microsoft names insider as new interactive entertainment marketing chief

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Twelve days after announcing the departure of Jeff Bell, the former Chrysler Group marketer, Microsoft has chosen an insider to head the global marketing effort for its Interactive Entertainment Business, which includes the Xbox 360. Michael Delman, who joined Microsoft in 1990 as communications director, takes on the new job in August.

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June 4, 2008 11:16 AM

Video game advertising competition heats up with Sony, IGA deal

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

IGA Worldwide, a competitor of the Massive in-game advertising unit of Microsoft, announced a deal with Sony yesterday to sell in-game advertising on PlayStation 3 in Europe and North America. The move comes a day after Microsoft touted the success of its in-game advertising network on the Xbox 360, and also illustrates the different approaches the two console makers are taking to the business.

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May 28, 2008 3:03 PM

See you on the Xbox Pitch

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


COURTNEY BLETHEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Do you have that jersey in a size medium?

Here's our story confirming earlier reports that Microsoft's Xbox 360 is sponsoring the Seattle Sounders FC.

Some additional details: The company gets naming rights for the soccer field, which will be known as "The Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field." I suggested a few months ago that Microsoft build a new arena for the Sonics and call it simply the X Box.


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May 28, 2008 10:01 AM

Report: Microsoft's Xbox 360 to sponsor Seattle's new Major League Soccer team

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Seattle Sounders FC are set to announce a major sponsorship deal with Microsoft. The $20 million, five-season deal will put the words "'Xbox 360 LIVE' on the front of the Sounders' uniforms," according to the story, which cites unnamed "people familiar with the arrangement."

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May 15, 2008 5:50 PM

April console sales don't get "GTA IV" jumpstart, but who benefited more?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Nintnedo Wii came closer to breaking the 10 million unit U.S. sales mark in April, vastly outselling Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3, combined, according to NPD Group figures released this afternoon. That performance was despite the April 29 launch of the biggest title of the year for the latter two consoles -- "Grand Theft Auto IV."

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May 14, 2008 4:38 PM

Xbox 360 cracks 10 million sales in U.S.

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft this afternoon touted the 10 million unit milestone for its current-generation game console, noting that it's the first of the three major current-generation consoles to do so. It did not note that the Xbox 360 has been on the market a year longer than the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. The latter had 8.8 million units sold through March, according to The NPD Group.

Also, Microsoft was so close to reaching 10 million units at the last NPD report -- 9,896,600 through March, per NPD -- that it would have been more astonishing if the console didn't make it to the milestone, particularly in the month that saw the biggest entertainment launch in history with "Grand Theft Auto: IV."

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May 8, 2008 11:11 AM

Game retailers getting better at carding for M-rated content

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Federal Trade Commission reported today that video game retailers are getting much better about checking IDs before selling M-rated games, such as "Grand Theft Auto IV." That's the Entertainment Software Ratings Board's "mature" rating, suitable only for people 17 and over. I experienced this first hand when I got carded while trying to purchase "GTA IV" at the Game Stop in Northgate Mall last night.

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May 7, 2008 10:46 AM

"Grand Theft Auto IV" jacks title of biggest entertainment launch from "Halo 3"

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Take-Two Interactive today announced that "Grand Theft Auto IV" sold about 3.6 million units in its first day of sales. That works out to about $310 million. But here's the thing: Those are global sales figures. When Bungie and Microsoft delivered "Halo 3" last fall, they touted first-day sales of $170 million, but that was only in the U.S.

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May 5, 2008 9:01 PM

Microsoft updates Zune software, selling TV shows for $1.99

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft is improving the social network behind its Zune media player and online service, and adding TV shows and other video content to the Zune store.

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May 2, 2008 3:09 PM

Microsoft's star turn on 'CSI: NY' worth more than $1 million

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The business of branded entertainment and product integration is big and getting bigger. An analysis of the role Microsoft's technology played in Wednesday's episode of "CSI: NY" emphasizes just how sophisticated this form of advertising has become.

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April 17, 2008 2:54 PM

Nintendo declares victory in March video game sales

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

I assume NPD will be out with its monthly U.S. game industry figures later this afternoon. For now, Nintendo has chimed in early with an e-mail crowing about its sales in March: More than 720,000 Wiis sold, "representing the highest monthly sales total outside of" November and December, the holiday sales period.

Updated with the full NPD report after the jump.

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April 15, 2008 4:45 PM

PopCap's 'Bejeweled' used in N.J. marriage proposal; Nintendo prices Wii Balance Board; Peter Gabriel launches Web content 'Filter'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A few fun items for your afternoon perusal.

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April 8, 2008 3:52 PM

MTV News: Microsoft at work on a Wii remote-like controller for Xbox 360

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

In a pleasant break from the Microsoft-Yahoo news, an MTV News report out yesterday suggests that Microsoft is at work on a controller for the Xbox 360 that would mimic the successful motion-sensing remote controller for the Wii from Nintendo. Nintendo's top U.S. exec said in February that competitors would have a tough time copying his company's model.

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March 13, 2008 3:30 PM

Game consoles: Sony PS3 outsells Microsoft Xbox 360 for the second month in a row

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

For the second month in a row, Sony's PlayStation 3 outsold Microsoft's Xbox 360, according to U.S. sales data for February from The NPD Group.

As the two higher-end consoles duke it out, Nintendo's Wii, which is in the midst of several sought-after game and accessory launches this spring, continued to run away with the market.

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February 26, 2008 12:46 PM

Crab lovers, start your Xboxes: 'Deadliest Catch' game due in April

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

How to explain the phenomenon that is Discovery Channel's hit reality series "Deadliest Catch"?

The high seas, the extreme conditions, the danger, the payoff of a big catch of Alaskan king and opilio crab. It has all the elements of a great adventure game. So, no surprise, newly formed game publisher Greenwave announced today that "Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm," is due out for the Xbox 360 and PC in April, just in time for the show's fourth season.


ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Brothers Norman, left, Edgar and Sig Hansen have been crab-fishing aboard the Northwestern for decades. Now they're starring in a video game about it.

According to a press release, "The game was inspired by Sig, Edgar and Norman Hansen -- three brothers who have made their living crab fishing on the Bering Sea aboard their family's fishing vessel, the Northwestern." Again, no surprise to fans of the show that it's the Hansen brothers -- who seem to have taken best advantage of the new attention paid to their vocation -- that would work with game developers Liquid Dragon Studios on this project. Check out this 2006 Seattle Times story on their line of lingerie, among other things.

The local tie-ins don't stop with the Hansens, who are Shorewood High School grads.

Liquid Dragon Studios is in Bellevue. Greenwave is a "recently established" Seattle company whose offices are in Ballard not far from Fisherman's Terminal.

The game looks like it's packed with features to keep the amateur seafarer interested. Here's some more detail:

"Weather and fishing conditions are based on authentic weather and storm data and get progressively worse each season, increasing the challenge. The ultimate goal is to return safely each season, upgrade your boat and crew, and attempt to break Captain Sig Hansen and the Northwestern crew's actual lifetime catch of twenty million pounds."

To underscore the danger, the game will be the first to feature U.S. Coast Guard helicopters and boats.

The developers are also boasting "the best wave effects in a video game to date." We'll see, but if so, I hope they'll come out with a good surfing game next.

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February 19, 2008 9:12 PM

GDC: Industry giants unite to boost PC gaming

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

SAN FRANCISCO -- I'm here covering the Game Developers Conference for a few days. The show doesn't have the glitz and slick stage shows of the Electronics Entertainment Expo better known as E3, but for video game developers, this is the place to talk about their craft, network and show off the latest and greatest.

Developers are working on games for a variety of platforms, including mobile phones, consoles and PCs. In recent years, consoles have been the stars of the video game world, while PC games have been pushed to the back shelves of electronics retailers.

A group of industry heavyweights is seeking to change that and reverse the perception that PC gaming is dying. Today, on the sidelines of the conference, they announced the formation of the PC Gaming Alliance, a nonprofit group that will try to counter the perception that the platform is out of vogue. The PCGA plans to push information about the size of the PC gaming market and try to clear up consumer and game-developer confusion about hardware requirements.

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February 19, 2008 9:00 PM

Microsoft: Death of HD DVD format to have no material impact on Xbox 360

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

With Toshiba today making it official that HD DVD is done, Microsoft updated the statement they gave me last week about the company's plans for how to proceed with the Xbox 360's HD DVD player accessory. In last week's post, I discussed how the competing formats played out in the console battle between Sony and Microsoft. (Sony's PlayStation 3 comes equipped with the victorious Blu-ray Disc format.)

There's not much new from the earlier Microsoft statement:

"We do not believe the recent reports about HD DVD will have any material impact on the Xbox 360 platform or our position in the marketplace. As we've long stated, we believe it is games that sell consoles and Xbox 360 continues to have the largest next-gen games library with the most exclusives and best selling games in the industry. We will wait until we hear from Toshiba before announcing any specific plans around the Xbox 360 HD DVD player. HD DVD is one of the several ways we offer a high definition experience to consumers and we will continue to give consumers the choice to enjoy digital distribution of high definition movies and TV shows directly to their living room along with playback of the DVD movies they already own."

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February 15, 2008 12:08 PM

Microsoft, still supporting HD-DVD, doesn't close the door on Blu-ray

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

It's been a rough start to 2008 for the next-generation high-definition format backed by Microsoft, HD DVD, which is being eulogized around the Web today. The latest blow comes from Wal-Mart, which announced today that, by June, it will stock exclusively Blu-ray movies and players, in addition to its standard definition lines. And The Hollywood Reporter is quoting "reliable industry sources" who say that even HD DVD's prime backer, Toshiba, is expected to give up the format fight "sometime in the coming weeks." Netflix and Best Buy jumped on the Blu-ray bandwagon earlier this week.

All of which raises the question of what's next for Microsoft, which sells a $130 add-on HD DVD player for its Xbox 360. Unlike Sony's PlayStation 3, the device is not built-in. That helped Microsoft keep the price of the Xbox 360 lower at first. Sony has since cut its price for the PS3, and it bet on the winning hi-def horse, with a Blu-ray player built in to each box. In fact, the cheapest way to play high-def optical media through a game console now is to buy a $400 40-gigabyte Sony PlayStation 3. To match that, you'd have to buy an Xbox 360 for $350 and the $130 HD DVD add-on.

I asked a spokeswoman with the PR firm that handles Xbox for comment on Microsoft's plans if HD DVD should officially bite the dust. The company is sticking with it for now, but with caveats.

"Microsoft's plans for HD DVD won't change as long as they continue to see strong consumer interest and their partners remain committed. Sales of HD DVD players have remained brisk and there is a healthy catalog of more than 400 HD DVD titles offered at retail," she wrote in an email.

What about the possibility of switching to a Blu-ray player as an add-on?

"[I]t's too premature to say, but as Microsoft has long stated, Xbox is focused on delivering great high-definition experiences to consumers -- whether it's through HD gaming, digital downloads through Xbox LIVE Marketplace, optical media or IPTV."

So, gamers, would you like the option of a Blu-ray add-on for Xbox 360? And what would you pay for it?

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February 14, 2008 7:30 PM

PS3 outsells Xbox, but Wii beats both in January, and other notes on gaming

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

NPD's January figures on the U.S. video game industry are in. Nintendo keeps its monthly sales lead and Sony can gloat about besting Microsoft for the first time in this generation, while Microsoft looks for excuses.

Here's the break down:
Nintendo Wii: 274,000 units
Sony PlayStation 3: 269,000
Microsoft Xbox 360: 230,000

Analysis, and some predictions about the future of the console market, after the jump. And tune-in next week for much more on video games. I'll be reporting from the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

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January 22, 2008 2:07 PM

Boys & Girls Clubs to get Xboxes ... or at least the guy who makes them

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


MICROSOFT

Bach. Bringing Xbox 360s?


Boys & Girls Clubs of America today appointed Robbie Bach, president of the Microsoft division responsible for fun, as chairman-elect for 2009-10. Under his watch, Microsoft has plunged into the video game business with the Xbox and now Xbox 360 game console and the Zune digital media player.

Bach, officially president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, has long been involved with the BGCA, which serves close to 5 million kids across the country through guidance and leadership programs at 4,000 club locations. He was on the board of the Bellevue club, including a term as chairman. He's currently heading the national organization's Marketing Committee, which scored a free advertising deal with McCann Worldgroup (which also happens to be the primary agency serving Microsoft).

The BGCA's press release today was silent on whether Bach would hook 'em up with Xboxes. The group did note that Bach's tech expertise overlaps well with its goals of exposing kids to technology. Furthermore, its "national technology program, Club Tech, was launched in 2000 with a $100 million commitment in software and support from Microsoft."

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January 17, 2008 3:54 PM

Wii is best-selling U.S. game console in December and 2007

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Not a huge shock to anyone who followed the second season of hype around the Nintendo Wii, but NPD made it official today.

The market researcher's December U.S. video game industry report says the Nintendo Wii sold 1.35 million units in the month, bringing its total for 2007 to 6.29 million. Microsoft's Xbox 360 turned in a solid December, as well, with 1.26 million units sold, for an annual total of 4.62 million. Sony's PlayStation 3 did not break 1 million units for the month, though its predecessor, the PS2, sold 1.1 million units.

As for whether people were substituting Xbox 360s or PS3s for hard-to-find Wiis, NPD analyst Anita Frazier doesn't think so. "[H]ardware sales are most influenced by the kinds of games a consumer wants to play, and it would appear that the PS2 was a more likely 'substitute choice' in that scenario," she said in comments distributed with NPD's report. "Given the breadth of available content and the price point of the PS2, it's a mass-market friendly choice and will continue to be an important part of the games ecosystem for several years."

Life-to-date, Sony has sold 41.12 million units in the U.S.

Details on the hottest game titles in December after the jump.

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January 10, 2008 11:00 AM

Xbox Live had 900,000 simultaneous players; problems were 'growing pains'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

I had a chance to ask Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of global marketing for Microsoft's interactive entertainment business, about the problems some Xbox Live users experienced during the holidays. We talked Tuesday at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

The company's gaming network had 900,000 concurrent players -- perhaps more -- during the holidays, Bell said, noting that that's the most Microsoft has ever recorded. Based on Microsoft's just-reported total Xbox Live membership figure of 10 million, that's nearly one in 10 members online at once.

It turned out to be too much for the servers that run the gaming network, and as a result, some people weren't able to log on. Bell repeatedly said Microsoft feels terribly about it. But he noted that the service never went down. It's just that some people were excluded from the fun.

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January 8, 2008 2:22 PM

Pure speculation: Could Storm co-buyer bend Ballmer's ear on Sonics?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A group of Seattle women, led by former Seattle Deputy Mayor Anne Levinson, and including Microsoft executive Lisa Brummel, second from right, and former executive Dawn Trudeau, third from right, is buying the team from the Sonics ownership group for $10 million.

One of the Seattle women buying the Storm WNBA franchise from Clay Bennett is a senior Microsoft executive. Lisa Brummel, senior vice president of human resources, has a close relationship with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, whose name has been floated as a could-be white knight to keep the Sonics in Seattle.

Another buyer is Dawn Trudeau, who was general manager of the Consumer Product Group at Microsoft, leaving the company in 1998, after 14 years, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman.

The story of how Brummel came to be the boss of human resources is well known. It involved some heavy recruiting by Ballmer.


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January 6, 2008 10:42 AM

CES: Microsoft hints at possibilities for advertising in video, mobile, gaming

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft has made clear its intentions to become an advertising company. Today, in a session at the International Consumer Electronics Show, executives in charge of advertising within the company's Entertainment and Devices Division outlined their strategy for giving advertisers a way to reach consumers online outside of the Web browser -- where search and banner advertising currently represents the majority of online ad spending.

Mark Kroese, general manager of marketing and strategy within the Entertainment and Devices Division, said the off-browser focus areas include ads in and around video games, mobile devices and video.

Those three categories represent about 25 percent of online advertising spending, compared to 75 percent for traditional Web-based advertising. And all three categories are growing faster than search advertising, and of course, much faster than traditional advertising venues, which are contracting.

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January 4, 2008 3:36 PM

Xbox Live holiday outages prompts class action lawsuit

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's Xbox Live network suffered some outages over the holidays, and the company yesterday offered subscribers a free arcade download as an apology. But that wasn't enough for three Texans, who this afternoon filed a class action lawsuit against the company, alleging breach of contract.

The complaint describes the December outages -- chronicled on blogs and elsewhere -- that kept people from "accessing online play for several weeks. ... Xbox Live continues to deny subscribers access and has even issued apologies for their failure to correct server problems."

Interruptions in play kicked "many Plaintiffs offline" and "displayed messages such as 'Server Error.' " Others could not get online or use match making and account recovery features "despite paying for these services in their yearly subscription dues. Many Plaintiffs purchased new subscriptions specifically to play online during the holidays."

The complaint alleges that Microsoft knew increased holiday Xbox sales would lead to a bump in Xbox Live subscriptions and game-play on its servers, but the company "failed to provide adequate access and service to XBOX Live and its subscribers."

The outages in December, the plaintiffs allege, constitute a breach of the Xbox Live subscription contract. Xbox Live users pay $30 to $50 a year for access to the gaming network.

Here's a nine-page PDF of the complaint. I've asked Microsoft to comment.

Update, 5 p.m.: Via email from a Microsoft spokesman: "Microsoft only recently learned of the lawsuit, so we are not in a position to comment at this time."

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January 2, 2008 11:07 AM

Xbox marketing director now at YouTube

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

AdWeek reports that Chris Di Cesare, a veteran at Microsoft who was most recently director of creative marketing for Xbox, is now the director of marketing at Google-owned YouTube.

Di Cesare moved to the online video site two months ago after 12 years with Microsoft during which he led the marketing team for the launch of "Halo 2," according to this slightly dated bio from Microsoft. AdWeek reports that he was also involved with the launch of the Xbox and Xbox 360 consoles.

The marketing position is new at YouTube. Di Cesare will report to the site's co-founder, Chad Hurley.

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December 27, 2007 11:41 AM

Apple world: Rent flicks on iTunes; order coffee on iPhone; find community at Apple stores

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Financial Times, quoting "a person familiar with the situation," says Apple is in a deal with movie studio 20th Century Fox to rent digital movies through iTunes, potentially making a key link in the digital entertainment chain.

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December 14, 2007 8:29 AM

Wii shortage benefits North Bend; Wii 'rain checks' under the tree

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Fresh off of the report of his company's blow-out performance in November, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime held a conference call with reporters and analysts this morning to crow a bit and offer an update on manufacturing and distribution of the best-selling Wii.

"We expected Wii to perform extremely well within the historic launch parameters of the video game industry," he said. "What we didn't expect was to write an entirely new chapter in that history and to do that so fast."

The 6 million units Nintendo has sold in the U.S. since the Wii was launched in November 2006 is "unheard of in our industry," Fils-Aime said.

Nintendo has maxed out its production at 1.8 million a month. That's the limit because of supplier capacity, Fils-Aime said. The North American market received about half of that capacity in November with the remainder going to Europe and Japan.

To make sure the units coming into the United States get to retailers as quickly as possible, Nintendo has tripled its work force at its North Bend distribution facility, Fils-Aime said. (This summer, Nintendo reported about 1,000 employees in Washington state, though the company didn't break out how many were at North Bend.)

Fils-Aime said Nintendo is trying to "alleviate frustration" among shoppers who have not been able to find a Wii. He also discouraged people from paying resellers more than the full price of $250.

For parents who want "something to put under the tree," Nintendo is launching a rain check program with retailer GameStop. On Dec. 20 and 21, shoppers can pay up-front for a Wii and get a certificate guaranteeing them a console some time in January. Fils-Aime said there are "tens of thousands" of these rain checks that will be available across GameStop's roughly 3,000 locations.

He also said Nintendo expects sales to continue at pace after the first of the year.

"We have no date targeted for when our production no might change, either up or down" from 1.8 million units a month, Fils-Aime said.

Hotly anticipated new accessories, including a wireless wheel for driving games and a balance board for a new fitness program, are due out early next year -- maybe in time for those New Year's resolutions.

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December 13, 2007 3:31 PM

Nintendo outsells all comers in November

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

NPD Group just released its November video game sales figures and it was a whopper of a month. U.S. video game industry sales came in at $2.63 billion in November, up 52 percent from a year earlier.

In the hardware race, Nintendo's products were the clear leaders. The Wii console sold 981,000 units in the U.S. and demand is still unfulfilled.

"The Wii had its best-selling month yet, besting last December by 60 percent," NPD video games analyst Anita Frazier said in comments released with the November stats. "Since there is still an evident inventory shortage at retail, it's difficult to say just how high sales could be if you took that issue out of the equation."

Microsoft's Xbox 360 also had a hot-selling month, its second-best since December 2006, according to Frazier, with 776,000 units sold.

The previous-generation Sony PlayStation 2 outsold the current-gen PlayStation 3 by 30,000 units: 496,000 PS2s were sold, compared with 466,000 PS3s.

In the portable category, which Nintendo's PR people have been urging reporters to take a closer look at, the Nintendo DS sold 1.53 million units. Sony's portable, the PSP, sold about a third as many units.

On the games front, the leader was "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare." A total of 2.01 million copies were sold. More than three-quarters of the titles were purchased for the Xbox 360 with the remainder going to PS3 owners. The No. 2 game was "Super Mario Galaxy" for the Wii, with 1.12 million units. "Assassin's Creed" made a strong debut, selling 1.36 million copies -- again, split about three-quarters to one-quarter in favor of the Xbox 360. (NPD ranks software sales by platform, so even though "Creed" moved more total copies, it didn't take the No. 2 spot from "Mario" because it was split across two platforms.)

Frazier noted that "Assassin's Creed" was the "best-selling new IP" -- meaning not a sequel -- in the month it was launched. "Gears of War" last owned that distinction.

There was plenty of coverage during the month of two more peaceful titles thought to appeal to a broader audience: MTV's new "Rock Band" and the established "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" from Activision. The latter title sold 967,000 copies -- on the PS2 -- plus 426,000 on the Wii and about 500,000 more on the other platforms (PS3 and Xbox 360) for a total of 1.9 million.

As for "Rock Band," Frazier said in her e-mailed comments that its 382,000 total sales may be viewed as disappointing, but initial shipments were limited. "This is the kind of title that can easily build momentum in December and beyond as word of mouth spreads," she added.

NPD offered an interesting subtext in this month's report. Microsoft has touted its strong game and accessories attach rate -- the average number of games and add-on hardware products sold per console. But the Wii had a stellar month for accessory sales. "Four of the five best-selling accessories for the month were Wii controllers," Frazier said. "The Wii Zapper, which debuted in November, sold 232,000 units. The second-best selling accessory for the month was the PS3 wireless controller at 282,000 units."

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December 11, 2007 2:55 PM

Pokemon USA president resigning, and did you know there's a Bellevue office?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

When we got an e-mail informing us of the pending departure of Akira Chiba, president of "Seattle-based" Pokemon USA, we were a bit perplexed. Seattle-based? We didn't even know Pokemon USA existed, let alone had an office here.

Well, the company in charge of the ultra-popular kids entertainment brand in the United States does in fact have a 45-person Bellevue office that handles the trading-figure game, trading-card game and more product-focused stuff, said J.C. Smith, marketing director of Pokemon USA. It's not quite a headquarters, though. The "Seattle-based" descriptor was in error.

So what's Pokemon USA doing here? Being close to Nintendo is part of it -- Pokemon has been a popular title on several Nintendo platforms -- although most of that relationship is managed out of the New York headquarters, Smith said.

Anyway, the outgoing president, Chiba, "joined Pokemon USA in 2002 when the company's New York office was established, the brand's first corporate headquarters outside of Japan," according to the company's release. He's off to "to pursue other opportunities" and will be replaced by Kenji Okubo, previously executive vice president and head of Pokemon USA's Seattle office, effective Jan. 1.

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December 10, 2007 4:06 PM

'Halo 3' named Dew most-addictive game, but did others have a chance?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft sent out a news release about the Xbox 360 titles that cleaned up in Spike TV Video Game Awards last night. Clearly, a strong showing. But I'm somewhat skeptical -- maybe cynical -- about one particular category that "Halo 3" won.

First, let's recall the marketing hype and consumer-product tie-ins that proliferated around the launch of "Halo 3" in September. Mountain Dew and Microsoft served up a "Halo 3"-branded drink called Mountain Dew Game Fuel, which boasts an "invigorating blast of citrus cherry flavor and added caffeine for maximum intensity." It was billed as the first beverage co-branded with a video game.

Now comes the Video Game Category of "Most Addictive Game fueled by Mountain Dew," which Microsoft pointed out in its press release as "the only category with consumer online voting." The nominees are: "The Orange Box," from Valve; "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock," from Activision; "Wii Sports," from Nintendo; and "Halo 3," from Microsoft Game Studios.

Is it any surprise that the first video game branded paired up with a beverage would win in the category sponsored by that beverage? Or maybe this was legitimately the fan favorite for most-addictive game -- also plausible. Thoughts?

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November 29, 2007 3:53 PM

EA boss calls in-game ad revenue forecasts 'wildly high'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

I'm thinking Alex St. John over at Wild Tangent would agree wholeheartedly with John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, the biggest video game publisher, who said today:

"You can't be as bullish as analysts are on in-game advertising and be sane," he said. "In-game ad expectations are wildly high."

One widely reported forecast by the Yankee Group has in-game ad revenue reaching $971 million by 2011 up from just $77.7 million last year.

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Riccitiello's comments came in an interview with Dow Jones.

Microsoft, for one, has been particularly bullish on in-game advertising, acquiring the Massive Network for as much as $400 million, according to unconfirmed reports, last year. Here's an in-depth look at Massive's business from earlier this year.

That deal and others helped build hype around the nascent in-game ad business, Riccitiello told Dow Jones. EA, which controls several top titles in the sports category that advertising leaders say are a natural fit for in-game promotions, is cranking out about $30 million a year from in-game ads -- a small slice of total revenue.

I spoke with St. John earlier this month. He says in-game advertising is much less efficient than other options his company offers in the category of around-game advertising. Particularly for casual games, more flexible models are working better at Wild Tangent. Some examples include giving advertisers the opportunity to sponsor game play sessions; and giving players the choice of viewing a short pre-roll ad while a game is loading, or paying for the game session.

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November 27, 2007 4:04 PM

Activision CEO says console prices need to drop

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Activision today boosted its outlook for the December quarter and fiscal year on the strength of two hot games, "Call of Duty 4" and "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock."

CEO Bobby Kotick, perhaps feeling flush with that success, started dishing out advice to some other big players in the video game business.

At the Reuters Media Summit, Kotick suggested that Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3 will have to come down in price to $199 to gain the mass-market appeal Nintendo has achieved with the Wii.

"The Wii at its [$250] price point is now setting a standard and an expectation, and people say, 'Well, the Wii is less complex technically.' I don't think that really matters as much to the consumer. ... In the next 24 months they all will need to be at that $199 price point, and you can imagine Nintendo will be down to the $129 price point over the next few years," Kotick said, according to this Reuters story.

The PS3 is down to $400 for the 40 gigabyte version. The Xbox 360's least-cost alternative is $280.

Meanwhile, Nintendo executives are again banging the scarcity gong and reporting the best week of Wii sales since the console hit the market. Here's Reggie Fils-Aime from an AP story: "I couldn't find a single Wii system on the shelves -- literally as I was walking into a Wal-Mart at 11 a.m., someone was walking out with the last one."

I wonder if that shopper thanked Reggie.

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November 26, 2007 12:40 PM

For 'Cyber Monday' shoppers: Some video game notes

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A few interesting articles and tidbits from the gaming world today:

The New York Times has an interesting take and detailed history of the battle of the bands raging between "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" from Activision and MTV's "Rock Band," two hot-selling, multi-platform titles.

Microsoft today announced another social-networking feature that will be added to the Xbox Live Dashboard with a Dec. 4 update. Gamers will be able to expose their friends lists to everyone or just their own friends. You know the old song, make new friends, but keep the old. That's the idea here. The company's press release on this feature noted there are now 8 million people on Xbox Live.

No big surprise here, but November online video game sales in the weeks before "Black Friday" were up 134 percent from a year ago, according to comScore. That's the fastest growing e-commerce category and outpaced the overall growth rate for retail e-commerce (excluding travel sales) of 17 percent in the period.

Update: Sony just crowed about its Black Friday sales. Here's the digits: PlayStation 3 sales up 245 percent from Black Friday 2006 (when the new console had been on the market only a matter of days and was significantly more expensive than competitors' consoles). Since dropping its prices and introducing a 40 gigabyte model Nov. 2, PS3 sales are up 298 percent.

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October 18, 2007 3:32 PM

'Halo 3' drives huge month for Xbox 360

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

As promised, Microsoft's top video game title, "Halo 3," on sale for less than a week in September, fueled the company's broader video game business, according to just-released numbers from researcher NPD Group. (Update: Turns out NPD counts September differently than I do. Their September is longer, so the figures in this story actually represent 12 days of sales.)

NPD analyst Anita Frazier called the 3.3 million copies of the game sold in the U.S. last month "phenomenal." That figure was nearly double the total units sold under the next nine best-selling titles in September. (It also includes copies that eager fans pre-ordered online in the months of hype leading up to the game's release.)

"True to its name, the game rubbed off on hardware sales too -- the Xbox 360 realized it's best month ever in unit hardware sales outside last holiday season," Frazier said in a statement. "If ever there was a doubt that great content drives hardware acquisition, this should put that doubt to rest."

For the first time in several months, Microsoft's Xbox 360 outsold the Nintendo Wii, which also had a stellar September.

Here are U.S. console sales for September, from NPD:

Xbox 360, 527,800

Wii, 501,000

PlayStation 3, 119,400

PlayStation 2, 215,000

Next month's report will show whether today's PlayStation 3 price cut by Sony will juice its sales.

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October 18, 2007 10:47 AM

Holiday shopping for game consoles gets interesting

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Not surprisingly, Sony is lowering the price of its PlayStation 3 console ahead of the holiday shopping season. The price of the top-end 80 gigabyte model was cut by $100 to $499. It also announced a new 40-gigabyte model for $399 -- cheaper than Microsoft's highest-end Xbox 360.

In August, Microsoft announced a price cut of its own: The low-end Xbox 360 "core" costs $280; the midrange version is $350; and, the high-end "elite" system is $450.

Sony's move comes on the same day the NPD Group is expected to release its latest market-share figures for September. This will be the first month to show the impact on Xbox 360 sales of the blockbuster game "Halo 3," which generated $170 million in U.S. sales in the 24 hours after it was released Sept. 25. Microsoft executives had expected perhaps a third of "Halo 3" purchasers to buy an Xbox 360 at the same time. Check back this afternoon for details.

Meanwhile, here's what the U.S. market looked like in August, according to NPD (the first number is August sales, the second is life-to-date sales):

Wii: 403,600; 4 million

Xbox 360: 276,700; 6.3 million

PlayStation 2: 202,000; 39.1 million

PlayStation 3: 130,600; 1.75 million


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October 8, 2007 3:28 PM

Toyota advergame on Xbox Live to promote Yaris

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

People on Microsoft's Xbox Live gaming service can download a free game that's actually an advertisement for a car. The game, Yaris, debuted today, according to this New York Times story. It's the first free advergame to be distributed over Xbox Live Arcade, the story says.

The Times' coverage goes over the other advergames that Microsoft's Xbox team has been involved in, most notably the ones promoting Burger King, which were sold with burgers and fries, only at Burger King restaurants. Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division President Robbie Bach told an audience earlier this year that he wasn't expecting the success of the Burger King promotion.

"If you had asked me a year ago, 'Gosh, you're going to do a promotion with the Burger King on Xbox Live Arcade and it's going to generate headlines in the business press about how we lifted Burger King's sales,' I would have been truly surprised," Bach said at Microsoft's Mix conference in May. "... It had a demonstrable impact on their financial results."

More companies are jumping on the video game advertising bandwagon, as the Yaris example illustrates. There are several different flavors of video game advertising, and Microsoft is wading deeper into all of them. Check out this story on the workings of Massive, the in-game advertising network Microsoft acquired.

Sony, too, is moving on its own into in-game advertising, according to this story from paidContent.org.

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September 17, 2007 1:46 PM

It's official: Too much Internet use can kill you

Posted by Kristi Heim

A man in China dropped dead after playing online games for three days straight, according to reports from Chinese media today and this story.

The 30-something man from Guangzhou died Saturday after being rushed to the hospital from the Internet cafe, the Beijing News said. Exhaustion was given as the most probable cause.


CANCAN CHU/GETTY IMAGES

Most of the customers at this Internet cafe in China are students.

It's hard to know how much of this is real and how much is state propaganda designed to discourage Web addicts. Chinese authorities have been cracking down on Internet content and Web-surfing activities, including banning new cybercafes and limiting the time users can spend playing games online.

As for this poor guy from Guangzhou ... maybe his avatar can live on in Second Life.

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August 22, 2007 9:43 AM

'Halo 3' at IMAX impresses

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Nate Robinson, one of our intrepid interns, went to last night's sneak preview of "Halo 3," and brought back this report. And be sure to check out his video footage below -- including a fan who says that when the game comes out "it's going to be the biggest skip day of the year."

Seattle videogame fans were privy to a special treat Tuesday night, courtesy of hometown superstars Bungie Studios. The team behind the upcoming blockbuster "Halo 3" reserved the Seattle Center's Imax theater for a one-of-a-kind preview to show off their game's new features to, perhaps, the crowd that would appreciate it the most.

More than 500 people turned out for the event, far more than Bungie had expected, said Bungie staff writer and community figurehead Frank O'Connor. The Kirkland-based team had decided just the day before to hold the preview, but such short notice wasn't a problem for the Halo faithful -- some of whom waited in line for 12 hours and came from as far away as Oregon.

Those who made it into the theater were rewarded with the first public gameplay demonstration of "Halo 3's" single-player campaign, as well as a quick glimpse at the new multiplayer-specific gameplay options. Bungie showed off a few new vehicles (the Chopper, a motorcycle from Hell, and the Elephant, an enormous drivable base) and weapon types (some long-awaited, some wholly original). The majority of the campaign demo was spent tooling around in the game's third mission, Tsavo Highway, but the fans, who cheered heartily at every opportunity, clearly didn't mind.

The new multiplayer options, however, appear to add more than just new toys and refinements to a solid formula. New to "Halo 3" is a game type dubbed "The Forge" -- a mode in which the players are free to manipulate the environment as they see fit on-the-fly, promising a seemingly endless variety of gamplay options normally reserved only for mod-friendly PC games. This, combined with the previously announced ability to save, play back and edit video replays of matches, means the game's famously popular multiplayer just got that much better and hard to put down.

"Halo 3" comes out Sept. 25 for Microsoft's Xbox 360.


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August 21, 2007 8:45 AM

More perspectives on in-game advertising

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Adweek has a broad look at the market for in-game advertising and the fact that it has not lived up to the hype of just a year ago from in-game advertising purveyors, including executives at Massive.

This story provides great ad-industry context to help understand our recent profile of Massive, which Microsoft acquired, and its business model. I also focused more on how Massive fits into Microsoft's advertising strategy.

The Adweek story outlines several gripes advertisers and analysts have with dynamic in-game advertising as it exists today, including:

Lacking impact and interactivity;

Effectiveness, execution and measurement tools remain "iffy";

Distribution mainly to the PC (read: hard-core gamers), but not as much happening on the consoles (read: the TV in the living room).


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August 9, 2007 9:29 AM

Pearl Jam concert lyrics censored by AT&T

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Pearl Jam was rocking out at Lollapalooza on Sunday, per usual, this time riffing on Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" during a performance of "Daughter." Lyrics criticizing the president were cut from AT&T's Web cast of the event.

According to the Seattle band's Web site, the lyrics "George Bush, leave this world alone" and "George Bush find yourself another home" were censored.

The concert organizers did a bit of reporting to find out what the hell happened: "When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the Web cast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them."

PJ was not happy:


This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media. ...

If a company that is controlling a Web cast is cutting out bits of our performance -- not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations -- fans have little choice but to watch the censored version.

What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it's about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.

The band plans to post an uncensored version of its performance on its Web site soon.

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August 9, 2007 8:20 AM

Get ready for 'Halo 3' marketing blitz

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Clear the streets. The "Halo 3" parade is beginning.

Microsoft today announced that the third installment of its hit video-game series, due out Sept. 25, has already sold more than 1 million preorder copies.

Brier Dudley explored just how important the success of "Halo 3" is to Microsoft in his column Monday.

Now comes the marketing effort that underscores that importance. In addition to the preorder "news," Microsoft lifted the lid on its marketing plans for the game, and the "Halo 3" branded Xbox 360 is just the beginning. Think major motion picture, Microsoft says.

The company is doing promotional deals with consumer brands that it says set a precedent in video-game marketing.

Mountain Dew is rolling out the first beverage co-branded with a video game, Mountain Dew Game Fuel, which boasts an "invigorating blast of citrus cherry flavor and added caffeine for maximum intensity." (Warning: Do not pour beverage into Xbox 360, it will not improve performance.)

Should you choose to leave your Xbox 360 for long enough to hit up 7-Eleven, treat your "Halo 3" withdrawal tremors with "Halo 3" Slurpee cups and other in-store promotions.

If you need a new car, Pontiac would like you to come down to select showrooms where you can play the game before it's released. And 1,000 people who buy a G6 GXP Street will get a copy of the game. (This seems like a promotion that might be a better fit with "Grand Theft Auto." Then again, maybe not.)

Burger King, which has successfully partnered with the Xbox 360 in the past, will plaster the "Halo 3" marketing materials on its giant cups of pop and French fry containers. (They're called FRYPODS. Does Steve Jobs know about this?)

Comcast is also getting into the act with user-generated content and video downloads related to the game.

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August 8, 2007 1:17 PM

EA, Microsoft revolving door spins again

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft today announced that John Schappert has been named to head the company's Xbox Live efforts in a newly created role within the Interactive Entertainment Business.

Schappert comes to Microsoft after nearly 10 years with Electronic Arts, the No. 1 video game publisher. If that sounds like a familiar career path, it is. On July 17, Microsoft announced that Peter Moore, head of the Interactive Entertainment Business, is leaving to become president of EA Sports. In his place, Microsoft hired Don Mattrick, who's last job before coming to Microsoft as a consultant in February was with ... wait for it ... EA.

Schappert was an executive vice president at EA in charge of central technology, operations, EA online and the office of the chief creative officer, according to Microsoft's announcement today.

Schappert's purview at Microsoft is the Xbox Live online gaming network, which has more than 7 million members. In addition to multi-player games, the network offers video downloads and communication services, such as instant messaging. He will also oversee Microsoft's casual games business.

So, should the growing roster of EA alums at Microsoft and vice-versa raise the hackles of competitors?



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August 8, 2007 10:11 AM

Analysts give insight on 'connected console' market

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

As Microsoft's Xbox 360 price cut takes effect today, analysts are taking a broad look at the marketplace and focusing on additional features beyond playing games.

Billy Pidgeon, a veteran analyst with IDC, notes that the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii all have the ability to connect to the Internet and store downloaded content, giving rise to three new business models beyond hardware and software sales: "premium subscription fees, paid downloadable content (DLC), and a fledgling advertising market."

He said in a press release that the "use of connected consoles is expanding the business opportunities and cash flow this console cycle" and has "huge potential."

The IDC report predicts:

"Revenue derived strictly from connected consoles will grow from $981 million in 2007 to $10.5 billion in 2011. In 2007, online console revenue will be 2.5% of total global video game market revenue, including console and hand held hardware and software revenue. By 2011, revenue from connected consoles will represent 18.6% of total market revenue."

Meanwhile, a study from the NPD Group indicates gamers are not always aware of the additional features in their next-generation consoles:

"While playing games is the primary function of all video game systems measured in the study, it should not come as a surprise that, despite marketing efforts to educate the consumer, awareness of functions that extend beyond gaming are comparably lower.

"... PS3 owners are downloading additional content as frequently as Xbox 360 owners, but unlike 360 owners, the majority of owners and likely purchasers are simply unaware that this is even possible on a PS3. Were awareness higher, one could logically deduce that download activity would increase as well."

NPD analyst Anita Frazier said additional features will become more important in the future, but "currently the importance of these features and the awareness among consumers of these features is far from universal. To make headway in this 'next-gen' race, manufacturers still need to be primarily concerned with the quality and entertainment value of the games themselves."

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August 7, 2007 10:21 AM

Why Microsoft didn't acknowledge Xbox 360 price leaks

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

"What a surprise," Billy Pidgeon, the veteran video games analyst at IDC, said sarcastically when asked about the Xbox 360 price cut Microsoft announced last night.

Really there was no surprise. Everyone saw this coming. Not because of Sony's price cut -- which turns out to be not much of a price cut at all, once the $500 60-gigabyte PlayStation 3s sell out and all that's left is the $600 80-gigabyte version. In fact, another analyst, Van Baker with Gartner, said he didn't see any serious pressure from the marketplace for the Xbox price cut. (He also doesn't see Microsoft competing with Nintendo for the same set of customers, something other analysts and executives might disagree with.)

No, the reason everyone saw it coming was because, well, we saw it.

"There are people at certain big box retailers that like to leak fliers," said Pidgeon, referring to the scanned copies of print advertisements from Circuit City and Toys R Us, which appeared at game-enthusiast sites such as Joystiq last month, showing the exact price cuts Microsoft just announced.

I asked Xbox 360 group product manager Aaron Greenberg why, when there was this obvious evidence the cuts were coming, executives decided to stay mum and make the announcement on their own terms. Here's what he said:

It's interesting, we've had some internal debate here about like how many people really read some of those blogs. I mean while there's been some fuzzy, camera-phone photos like, we haven't seen any mainstream media covering it. I think it's still been pretty much in the speculative space and you know, for us, we know there's always a risk that when you're timing with prices like this and you want to have real, serious integration with retail -- every major retailer is doing a big Sunday ad -- these things are always at risk and we wouldn't trade the risk of those leaks for not having the retail tie-back, so we felt like we made the right bet there. But still we also don't want to just take the leaked news and feel like we have to confirm stuff when certain details are there; some of it's right and some it's wrong. We want to be able to, as we planned, announce it when we're ready to.

Another little detail that came out of Monday's announcement: the limited edition "Halo 3" version of the Xbox 360, priced at $400, and decked out in green and gold, and, Greenberg said, it will have the same HDMI (high-definition multimedia Interface) connection as the "elite" version, which goes on sale tomorrow for $450. The upside of an HDMI connection is that it is a single cable that carries both HD video and audio signals.

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August 2, 2007 2:13 PM

Grand Theft Auto IV delayed until 2008

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

This could put a damper on the holiday video game season: "Grand Theft Auto IV," one of the most-anticipated games of the year, will not be released until sometime in early 2008, according to publisher Take Two Interactive Software.

The game's release is being moved from the company's fiscal fourth quarter, which ends Oct. 31, to the second quarter of its 2008 fiscal year, which ends April 30, 2008, "due to additional development time required to complete the title," according to a statement on the Take Two's investor relations Web site.

The game was to be released for Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 simultaneously.

That apparently complicated development.

"Certain elements of development proved to be more time-intensive than expected, especially given the commitment for a simultaneous release on two very different platforms," Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick said in a statement.

"GTA IV," the next installment of the controversial and wildly popular game that features car jacking and hooker-shooting, was going to be one of a triumvirate of titles to drive Microsoft's Xbox 360 during the all-important holiday season, the other two being "Madden NFL '08" and Microsoft's exclusive "Halo 3" title.

Update: It appears the schedule for the Xbox 360-exclusive "GTA IV" episodic content remains unchanged by this. According to the statement, the episodic content, which will be available via download from Xbox Live, is still in the 2008 line up, where it always has been.

Could this delay help Microsoft when "GTA IV" is ultimately released? The first installment of the episodic content was due in March 2008, according to comments from Take-Two CFO Lainie Goldstein during the company's June 11, 2007 conference call. Goldstein also acknowledged that Take-Two will be paid in two $25 million chunks for the two exclusive installments of episodic content -- for a total, eye-popping price tag of $50 million (a figure that has not been confirmed by Microsoft).

If the first episode of Xbox 360-exclusive content is released in March 2008 -- it's hard to imagine it coming before the game itself -- that would put it within weeks of the release of the game itself.

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July 31, 2007 1:31 PM

CBS Sports exec on for video game broadcasts

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

I got a chance to speak with Rob Correa, senior vice president of programming for CBS Sports, this afternoon about the broadcast debut of competitive video-gaming last weekend. CBS Sports filled an hour of its Sunday broadcast with the World Series of Video Games' Louisville, Ky,, tour stop.

Correa didn't give out any audience data, but noted that summer afternoons are not exactly prime time.

"Sunday at 12 noon in late July is not the easiest time period to get people to watch, but all in all we're satisfied," he said.

He acknowledged that the video game broadcast was a departure from the network's usual sports programming -- highlighted by March Madness and the Masters -- but he still expected some audience overlap.

"Every audience overlaps some ... particularly in sports," Correa said. "We don't have [demographics] yet, but clearly we figured it would be potentially a younger audience than a lot of our core sports programming."

Correa said it's too early to tell whether video games will become a regular part of CBS Sports line up. Two more WSVG broadcasts are planned this fall; a third episode scheduled for August was postponed, he said.

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July 30, 2007 11:27 AM

Why play video games when you can watch them on TV?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Did anyone tune in to CBS on Sunday to watch the World Series of Video Games' Louisville, Ky., tour stop? Yeah, that's right. Video games were broadcast on network TV on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of summer.

There were plenty of articles previewing this apparent first, but I've yet to see anyone report on the broadcast, prompting the question: Did any one watch it?

CBS' schedule lists another WSVG broadcast coming up Aug. 19, and the WSVG itself had a blog item back in May crowing about the four-episode deal it linked with the network.

I've put a call in to the folks at CBS Sports to ask whether they were satisfied with the initial broadcast and whether this might join the Masters and March Madness as regular events on the broadcaster's calendar.

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July 26, 2007 1:55 PM

FAM: Bach reiterates profitability in fiscal 2008

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Robbie Bach is breaking down the Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division to kick off the afternoon session here. He reassured investors who have watched the division lose billions of dollars over the last several years.

"We said last year we are going to drive this business to profitability in fiscal 08," Bach said. "We are right on track to do that. ... And we believe we can have sustained profitability going forward."

He gave no indication of how much profit the division might deliver.

Like CEO Steve Ballmer did this morning, Bach lamented the $1 billion charge the company took in the fourth quarter related to the quality problems with the Xbox 360. He reiterated that it was something the company had to do to stand behind its product.

"Certainly a key focus for us right now is quality," Bach said. He said there's no specific component to blame for the rate of Xbox 360 hardware failures, but rather it was a Microsoft design problem with multiple components involved.

Despite the charge, he sees the business reducing its manufacturing costs.

"We are right on track with where we expected to be with cost reduction. That is a key driver in this business," Bach said, offering no detail about when that cost saving would translate to a price reduction.

"We have a very specific plan with what we're going to do with pricing. We're just not going to talk about it today," he said. (The company today announced a lower price for its HD DVD player, sold as an accessory to the Xbox 360.)

Bach quickly reviewed other areas:

Music: He said the Zune music player has sold more than 1 million units since launch and has about 10 to 12 percent of the hard-drive based player market.

"You are going to see us continue to invest in this business," Bach said, adding that it will likely be a three- to four-year effort.

This year, the company, as it has said, will release new Zune software, devices and features. He also plans to invest in expanding the Zune brand out of the "hardcore niche music space" where it is now.

Video: Bach said the company will expand its Xbox Live video download service -- currently the largest provider of on-demand video content -- to Europe and Canada in the coming year.

Communications: Bach said Microsoft aims to grow Windows Mobile's lead over Research In Motion during the 2008 fiscal year. He said the company expects more than 20 million Windows Mobile phones to be sold this year. Noting the high turnover in mobile phones, Bach said Microsoft wants to make more end-users aware that they are using a phone running Windows Mobile.

"We want them to go in and ask for another Windows Mobile phone," he said.

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July 26, 2007 8:17 AM

Microsoft lowers price on Xbox 360 ... DVD player

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Speculation about when or if Microsoft would drop prices on its Xbox 360 game console was rampant earlier this month, after Sony lowered its prices on the competing PlayStation 3.

Starting Aug. 1, Microsoft will drop the price of an Xbox 360 accessory: The HD DVD player will now cost $179, down $20, and come packaged with five free HD DVD movies during the month of August.

The announcement was made at the Comic-Con International convention in San Diego.

I'm in Redmond for Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting, which will feature presentations from Chairman Bill Gates, CEO Steve Ballmer, CFO Chris Liddell, COO Kevin Turner, division presidents Jeff Raikes, Robbie Bach and Kevin Johnson and other top executives.

Check back here throughout the day for updates from the event.

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July 25, 2007 9:46 AM

EA Sports, Microsoft make in-game advertising deal

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft and EA Sports announced today that five of the video-game publisher's biggest titles will be incorporated into the Microsoft's in-game advertising network.

The titles are: "Madden NFL 08," "NASCAR 08," "NHL 08," "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08," and "Skate."

Advertisements will be placed in the games via the Massive Network, which Microsoft acquired last year.

It's doubtful that Peter Moore, the Microsoft video games executive who is leaving to head EA Sports, had much to do with negotiating the deal, terms of which were kept private. I'm asking about that and will post a response here.

(Because in-game advertising is handled by Massive, which sits within Microsoft's Online Services Division, Moore, who is part of the Entertainment and Devices Division, had nothing to do with the deal, according to an e-mailed statement from a Microsoft PR firm.)

During the E3 Media and Business Summit earlier this month in Santa Monica, I had a chance to talk about in-game advertising with Jeff Bell, corporative vice president of global marketing in Microsoft's video games business.

Bell brings an interesting perspective to the discussion because before coming to Microsoft, he was with DaimlerChrysler, where he worked on the Jeep brand. He tried several game-related advertising strategies including in-game ads (his team helped get Jeep as the vehicle featured in Microsoft's "Zoo Tycoon" game) and adver-gaming. He was also named Interactive Marketer of the Year by Advertising Age in 2005.

From our conversation, this EA deal sounds like just what Microsoft is looking for.

I asked him what role the company sees for in-game ads, and how much advertising is appropriate.

Bell: "I think there we do know and the data is overwhelming, that if you're in a reality based game, people don't want to see Acme. They don't want to see Blogo Shoes. They want to see 7-Eleven and they want to see Adidas. And so, from that standpoint, both from a product realism, as well as an advertising realism, they would like to have the real thing.

"I think where you cross over is you're not going to be seeing Massive or advertisements in 'Mass Effect.' So science fiction doesn't make as much sense.

"For us, I think we tend to focus more on the sports franchises, the reality based driving franchises, Tony Hawk, obviously has been a pioneer in that particular realm of being able to present things in the real world, real advertisements that can attract that audience."

He said EA is leading the way with advertising in sports games, but because of the slow and complex process of negotiating advertising agreements with sports leagues, franchises and stadiums, the area is just now building momentum.

I also asked Bell if he thinks game buyers should get a price break on games that carry a lot of advertising, the reason being that now publishers have a new revenue stream to tap.

Bell: "It's an interesting question, but it's so theoretical at this point, meaning that the business is still driven by the revenue from the sales of the games themselves that, there, I think we're all interested in the growth of the advertising model, but it is at present only a very small part of our overall revenue."

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July 24, 2007 10:34 AM

Wii sales in June continue to lead the pack

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

NPD has released its June U.S. video game sales report and the Nintendo Wii continues to outpace Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3 in U.S. unit sales:

Wii: 381,800 units
Xbox 360: 198,400 units
PS3: 98,500 units

Sony's PR firm sent out a note last night citing preliminary data that shows the impact of its recent console price cut:

"PS3 sales have increased by more than 135 percent at the company's top five retailers since the new $499 price was announced two weeks ago on July 9. During this same two-week period, total PlayStation hardware sales have increased by 161 percent, software by 15 percent and peripherals by 60 percent."

In addition to strong console sales, games for Nintendo's systems are topping the chart. The company had six of the 10 best-selling software SKUs in June (four for the Wii and two for the hand-held Nintendo DS). Microsoft had three titles in the top 10 and Sony had one, but it was a title for the PlayStation 2.

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July 17, 2007 1:19 PM

Xbox boss reschedules career

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft confirmed this afternoon that Peter Moore, the head of the company's video games business, is resigning for personal reasons. Those reasons? He and his family want to get back to the San Francisco area and he got a job as president of EA Sports, the sports label of leading game publisher, Electronic Arts.

Replacing Moore is Don Mattrick, a game industry veteran who spent 23 years with EA.

People attending the Casual Connect gaming conference in Seattle this morning might have caught a scent of this news coming. In opening remarks at the show, Mark Cottam, CEO of MumboJumbo, noted that Marc Whitten, general manager of casual games at Microsoft, would be subbing for Moore, who was billed as a keynote speaker.

"Unfortunately, Peter Moore had a last-minute scheduling change," Cottam said.

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July 12, 2007 5:37 PM

E3: Games gain cinematic qualities

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- For years now, developers have been trying to incorporate more cinematic elements into their video games. Some of the games on display this week at the E3 Media & Business Summit are starting to reach the goal of looking and acting like immersive movies.

Today I talked with a couple of developers to find out how and why they're doing it.

I should note up front that the guys I talked to are squarely within the Sony fold and they spent a lot of time explaining how none of what they are doing would be possible without the expanded storage capacity of the PlayStation 3's high-definition Blu-ray discs and the processing power of its Cell Broadband Engine.

Tam Antoniades, co-founder of studio Ninja Theory, drew the most direct parallels between film production and the forthcoming "Heavenly Sword," an action-adventure game that was hands-down the best looking title at E3, to my eyes anyway. It's exclusive to the PlayStation 3 and one of the titles Sony hopes will attract hard-core gamers to the platform.

"'Heavenly Sword' was shot over six weeks and it was shot just like a movie," Antoniades said, noting that the budget was comparable to that of a mid-sized motion picture: somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million.


Sony

Performances by actors, including one playing Bohan, were recorded through digital motion-capture technology to give the game "Heavenly Sword" a cinematic feel.

As many as five professional actors were on the set, each covered with hundreds of diodes that allow the digital capture of their movements and facial expressions. In addition to facial expressions, the actors voices and full-body movements were captured as well. While games such as "Tiger Woods Golf" have captured facial expressions using this technique, "Heavenly Sword" marks the first time that actors' facial expressions, movements and voices have been captured simultaneously for a video game, Antoniades said.

The actors rehearsed their parts and "actually played the entire game as a [theatrical] play," before filming began, Antoniades said. The scenes were shot with multiple actors on stage together, allowing them to "play off each other as they would in a movie or a play," Antoniades said, adding that this too was a first for the industry.

The performances are then rendered for the cinematic sequences that carry along the game's story -- evil army invades, red-head heroine gets magical sword, starts kicking butt -- in between fight scenes that are animated in a more typical way, but still look awesome. The appearance is not photo-real, but that's by design. "We did go for a stylized look," Antoniades said. The skin tones, textures and details of the characters were impressive.


Sony

Another richly rendered character in "Heavenly Sword" is Nariko.

The cumulative effect of all this detail and content is to provoke empathy for the characters in the game, creating a more immersive experience. "Just like when you watch a big movie, you feel for the characters," Antoniades said. "... I think that from this point on, a lot of games are going to have to go down this route if they want to have great stories."

It's still not quite on par with the special effects we see in movies -- think Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Antoniades said the movie industry uses equipment costing millions of dollars to create a frame of action with a computer-generated character in it. (Gollum, not coincidentally, was played by Andy Serkis, who has a starring role in "Heavenly Sword" as the invading King Bohan.) Video games, on the other hand, have to generate their images with technology that costs far less.

"The fact that you can approach almost cinema-level [quality] on a home console is amazing even to us," Antoniades said.

The technology inside the PlayStation 3 is by far the most powerful of the current generation of game consoles -- and also the most expensive. But it's the high-capacity Blu-ray, along with the powerful processor cores, that allow developers like Antoniades to cram in the rich detail that makes their games so beautiful and realistic. "Heavenly Sword" is a 29 gigabyte game. A typical DVD can hold about 9 gigabytes.

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July 12, 2007 10:05 AM

PopCap gets Retro

Posted by Kristi Heim

PopCap Games has acquired Chicago-based game developer Retro64 for an undisclosed sum, the Seattle casual game maker said this morning. The deal will allow PopCap to bring new action and puzzle games into its library of computer game titles. In addition, Retro64's Chicago office has become a PopCap development studio, managed by chief producer Mike Boeh, who was director of technology for Rollingstone.com before founding Retro64. Retro64's arcade style games include Venice, Water Bugs and Platypus.The company takes its name after the Commodore 64 computer, popular in the 1980s, and the fast, simple games created to play on it.

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July 11, 2007 11:54 AM

E3: New, slimmer, lighter PSP

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Sony Computer Entertainment made some additional hardware announcements here. This one is focused on the company's PlayStation Portable, or PSP.

An enhanced PSP will be 33 percent lighter, 19 percent slimmer and with a longer battery life, among other new features. It can also be hooked up to a television to display PSP content on a larger screen.

In September, the enhanced model will be available in black, silver and a "Star Wars" design. Each one is packaged with additional content such as games and videos and will sell for $200.

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July 11, 2007 11:39 AM

E3: Sony shipping 10 million PS2s this year

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Jack Tretton, Sony Computer Entertainment's president and CEO, started his presentation as a digital avatar inside the PlayStation Home environment. The 3-D customizable online space, similar to Second Life, is a big push for Sony and Tretton said it has been greatly improved since it was announced in March.

"Everyone here is extremely proud of PlayStation Home," he said. "This is the kind of innovation that Sony is known for."

He said the presentation will feature "games, games and more games" -- 50 games across the company's major platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, the portable PSP and the PlayStation Network. That's in stark contrast to Nintendo's event earlier this morning, which focused on new controllers and expanding the video-gaming audience (see posts below).

Tretton reviewed the company's recent PlayStation 3 price cut. He then moved on to the platform that made Sony the undisputed leader in the last generation of video game consoles: PS2. It has an 118 million-unit install base, seven years into its life cycle, and Sony plans to ship 10 million units this year.

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July 11, 2007 11:28 AM

E3: On the set with Sony

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

CULVER CITY, Calif. -- The traveling media circus of E3 made its way a few miles inland from Santa Monica for the Sony press conference, starting presently.

The event is in a giant sound stage -- Stage 16, to be precise -- at the company's movie studios here. Despite the size of the space, I'm cramped in the back.

Outside, Sony was serving Bloody Marys. Let's see what they're serving for the PlayStation 3.

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July 11, 2007 9:58 AM

E3: 'Wii Fit' turns game machine into personal trainer

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Reggie Fils-Aime described how Nintendo is aiming to improve mental health with a range of puzzle games and educational software for the Nintendo DS handheld device.

The "Brain Age" franchise has already sold 15 million titles and new titles from Ubisoft promise to help improve spelling and even be a virtual "life coach."

But the big news, saved for the end of the press conference is "Wii Fit." Fils-Aime said this "effectively takes our big lead in audience expansion and laps it."

Three fitness trainers are on stage now, each standing on a weight-sensing pad. The game depicts a movement, such as a one-legged stretch. The player, or exerciser, follows along and the pad gives you feedback on how you're doing.

A video about the game depicted yoga, push-ups, step aerobics and other exercise movements and balance movements. There are more than 40 activities in the game. The game prompts you with tips.


Nintendo

The Wii Fit -- a new controller from Nintendo -- allows players to perform different exercises or actions.


Shigeru Miyamoto, senior managing director, general manager, of Nintendo's Entertainment Analysis and Development Division -- a rock star in the company -- took the stage to introduce this game. He said through an interpreter that he's more excited about this than some of the higher-profile games announced today.

Miyamoto said the device that they were using is the Wii Balance Board. It's very thin. It can measure your weight and balance shifts while standing on the board. It can be used as a new interface for games that allows you to use your full-body movement for input. It's wireless and can be used anywhere in the room.

Another feature measures your body mass and graph changes in your Body Mass Index over time

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July 11, 2007 9:41 AM

E3: Wireless Wii Wheel for Mariokart

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Reggie Fils-Aime just announced the Wii Wheel, a wireless steering wheel for use with "Mariokart Wii," a forthcoming release of the classic Nintendo franchise for the company's current-generation console.

"Like the Wii Zapper, this custom steering wheel has the potential to level the track for beginners while offering a new feel, even if you first started racing with Mariokart 15 years ago," Fils-Aime said. (Was it really that long? Yikes!)

"Mariokart Wii" will be available during the first quarter of 2008 and will feature real-time online multiplayer races and battle mode. Fils-Aime suggested that the number of players who can participate at once might be higher than in past versions.

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July 11, 2007 9:19 AM

E3: Nintendo ups the controller ante with Zapper

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Reggie Fils-Aime just announced "the first offspring of the Wii Remote and Nunchuck."

He showed pictures of a plastic housing that holds both pieces of the motion-sensing control of the Wii in a gun shape.

"The Wii Zapper: On one hand it's a new housing for both the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk, but the real news is what it represents for game play," he said. The Zapper will "change the dynamics of the first-person shooter" category of video games.


Nintendo

The Wii Zapper houses the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.

Capcom is developing a special "Resident Evil, The Umbrella Chronicles," that uses the Zapper. Other third-party developers are working on games for it, too.

It will go on sale for $19.99, and be packaged with Nintendo software as well.

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July 11, 2007 9:05 AM

E3: Reggie is happy 'because everyone's a gamer'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Nintendo opened with a montage of news clips and advertisements for the Wii and Nintendo DS. Then Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America, took the stage.

"My name is Reggie and I am ... happy," he said, riffing on the introduction he gave at this show in 2004. "To us, today is more than a press conference or a business meeting, we see today as a celebration."

He said the celebration extends beyond Nintendo.

"We think this E3 marks a conclusive turning point for the video game market, welcoming more players and more opportunity to our form of entertainment," Fils-Aime said.

Here's a number: 69 percent of all game industry growth comes directly from the sales of Nintendo products, he said.

Another one: A third of Nintendo DS players are women. In households with a Wii, the regular players include: 95 percent of males under 25; two-thirds of men 25 to 49; one-third of women in that age group. in the over-50 age group, 1 in 8 men are playing regularly, along with 1 in 10 women.

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July 11, 2007 9:05 AM

E3: Reggie is happy 'because everyone's a gamer'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Nintendo opened with a montage of news clips and advertisements for the Wii and Nintendo DS. Then Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America, took the stage.

"My name is Reggie and I am ... happy," he said, riffing on the introduction he gave at this show in 2004. "To us, today is more than a press conference or a business meeting, we see today as a celebration."

He said the celebration extends beyond Nintendo.

"We think this E3 marks a conclusive turning point for the video game market, welcoming more players and more opportunity to our form of entertainment," Fils-Aime said.

Here's a number: 69 percent of all game industry growth comes directly from the sales of Nintendo products, he said.

Another one: A third of Nintendo DS players are women. In households with a Wii, the regular players include: 95 percent of males under 25; two-thirds of men 25 to 49; one-third of women in that age group. in the over-50 age group, 1 in 8 men are playing regularly, along with 1 in 10 women.

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Games & entertainment |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 11, 2007 8:49 AM

E3: Nintendo is tee'd up

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- We're waiting on Nintendo's press conference, due to start in about 10 minutes. The setting is a bit less dramatic than Microsoft's was last night. It's a pretty standard set up inside the Santa Monica Civic Center.

The decorations Nintendo chose speak to its strategy: About a dozen pictures of people of all ages playing with a Wii remote or quizzing themselves on a Nintendo DS. There's plenty of gray hair on the models in the photos and a fair number of people with perplexed but pleased looks on their faces, as if to suggest this is the first time they've played a video game, but they actually like it.

Check back for updates as the conference gets going.

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Games & entertainment |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 11, 2007 8:49 AM

E3: Nintendo is tee'd up

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- We're waiting on Nintendo's press conference, due to start in about 10 minutes. The setting is a bit less dramatic than Microsoft's was last night. It's a pretty standard set up inside the Santa Monica Civic Center.

The decorations Nintendo chose speak to its strategy: About a dozen pictures of people of all ages playing with a Wii remote or quizzing themselves on a Nintendo DS. There's plenty of gray hair on the models in the photos and a fair number of people with perplexed but pleased looks on their faces, as if to suggest this is the first time they've played a video game, but they actually like it.

Check back for updates as the conference gets going.

Comments | Category: Games & entertainment , Games & entertainment |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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