Pokemon Game Headed to iOS and Android (Yes, Really)

Pokemon

A Pokemon game is headed to smartphones, and not by way of some unknown, foreign developer snubbing its nose at copyright laws.

The Pokemon Company recently announced on its website that Pokemon Say Tap? is coming to iOS and Android devices in Japan this summer. Besides the small graphic below, there are no images of the game as of yet, which sounds like a rhythm game that has you tapping on Pokemon cards. It’ll be available free of charge.

It’s a surprising decision to see Pokemon come to iOS, given that the iPhone and iPod Touch are arguably direct competitors to the DS and 3DS. (Many would even say they are cannibalizing the handheld games market.) Throw in the fact that the game is free — a model that Nintendo President Satoru Iwata is not a fan of — and this is just bizarre. It’s not, however, the first time Pokemon have appeared on a non-Nintendo platform; remember that the Japan-only mobile application/game Pokemate was released in 2006.

Pokemon Say Tap

According to GamesRadar, the game will make use of music from the Black & White anime TV series. In other words, it doesn’t seem terribly likely that this is something that will ever be officially sanctioned for release elsewhere in the world. GR does point out it’s not especially difficult to make a Japanese iTunes account, so it might be possible to get the game in foreign markets without much effort.

The 3DS eShop launch brought with it the freebie Pokedex 3D. With the 3DS not selling as well as Nintendo had hoped, you would think it would do all it can to provide the system with more exclusive content. Giving away a game on smartphones doesn’t seem to make much sense even if it is something relatively small and insignificant.

Source: Kotaku Japan

By Chris Pereira

Gameloft Cutting Back On Android Development



If you were hoping to play games using Android, you may have to start looking into alternatives. Reuters is reporting that Gameloft has “significantly” cut back on its investment in Android games, and that it’s not alone.

“We have significantly cut our investment in Android platform, just like … many others,” Gameloft finance director Alexandre de Rochefort said at an investor conference.

Criticizing the Android application store, Rochefort said, “It is not as neatly done as on the iPhone. Google has not been very good to entice customers to actually buy products. On Android nobody is making significant revenue.”

iPhone games accounted for 13 percent of Gameloft’s revenue in the last quarter. Among others, they’ve developed Hero of Sparta and Brain Challenge.

“We are selling 400 times more games on iPhone than on Android,” Rochefort said.

By Kat Bailey

Wasteland 2 Kickstarter May Start an Admirable Trend

Wasteland 2 Kickstarter

The Wasteland 2 Kickstarter has already more than exceeded its goal of $900,000. With 25 days still to go, it’s approaching $1.5 million in pledges, a figure which will ensure the game lands on Mac and Linux in addition to PC. It’s nice to see a game like Wasteland that is nearly 25 years old get the opportunity for a sequel thanks to a new method of funding, but this particular Kickstarter may result in more than just a (very) long-awaited sequel being made.

The latest update on the Kickstarter, written by inXile boss Brian Fargo, recounts a story of how Fargo was kind to a young neighbor of his 20 years ago. He used this as the launching point to talk about a Kickstarter initiative he’d like to help start which he is calling Kick It Forward.

“And speaking of goodwill it occurs to me that we can harness the power of Kickstarter in a more meaningful way,” Fargo wrote. “Fan funding is bigger than me or Wasteland 2 as I have remarked before. The development community has come together to support us in ways that I didn’t think possible and our power as developers will ultimately come from us sticking together.”

Noting that “both gamers and developers have so much more strength than they realize,” he said he will be pledging money made by his Kickstarter-funded game to future Kickstarters. This won’t be money that fans have donated — there’s no need to worry about seeing your money go to a project other than Wasteland 2 if you pledge. Instead 5 percent of profits generated by Wasteland 2, tentatively set for release in late 2013, will be sent to other Kickstarter developers.

Kickstarter

The details of how other projects would be selected or what would happen if they fail to reach their targets were not shared. There is plenty of time for those details to be worked out, though, and in the meantime Fargo said he would have a badge created which other Kickstarter projects can make use of to indicate they will also pledge a portion of their future profits to other Kickstarters.

“Imagine the potential if another Minecraft comes along via Kickstarter and produces millions of dollars of investment into other developers,” Fargo said. “This economic payback will continue to grow the movement way beyond the current system. I hope others will join me with this idea and make this a true shakeup.”

It’s hard not to like this idea — any project which succeeds on Kickstarter is doing so because of the fans’ support; there would be no profit to speak of in the first place if not for the generosity of the Kickstarter community. Generally speaking, the games being pitched on the site are a sort that publishers have no interest in (at least not without heavily modifying things so they are no longer true to the creators’ vision), so Kickstarter-funded game developers will have that in common and would hopefully want to support others in that position.

While we may not have seen a Kickstarter for a new Shenmue pop up, there are a number of projects that still appear to be worthy of funding. If other developers were to begin kicking in to ensure these games are made, it would only improve the chances of gamers seeing more innovative titles that publishers are unwilling to take a risk on.

By Chris Pereira

id’s RAGE May Be Coming to Android Phones

Shooter pioneers id made a nice show of Rage running on the iPhone at QuakeCon (above), but Apple’s device may not be the only phone to house the game. A job posting at Gamasutra shows that the company is seeking a full-time Android programmer to join id’s offices. The description states it is “looking for a talented and experienced programmer to help bring our next big Mobile game to the Android space.”

It’s important to note here that this job description may not be about Rage. id Mobile, though a relatively small part of id’s overall business, has produced a few other games, and they may be planning another we haven’t heard about. On the other hand, Android phones are comparable to the iPhone in terms of processing power, and the developer seems keen to get Rage out on as many systems as possible. We’ll keep an ear to the ground for official word.

By Steve Watts

How Windows 8 Could Change Casual Games

What do you think of when you read or hear the phrase “casual games?” Long considered a dirty word amongst a vocal minority of “hardcore gamers,” casual games are undergoing a transformation thanks to new distribution models that make gaming on PC easier than plug & play consoles. A newly leaked list of games available on the upcoming “Consumer Preview” version of Windows 8 provides a glimpse into the future of casual games, and it’s a lot more “hardcore” than you’d expect.


Windows 8


Similar to the Mac and Google Chrome app stores, Windows 8 will offer its own software portal for easy to install applications. Called the Window’s Store, it will carry the following 10 games during the preview period:

  • Hydro Thunder (presumably a port of Hydro Thunder: Hurricane)
  • Toy Soldiers
  • Reckless Racing
  • Angry Birds
  • Ilomilo
  • Rocket Riot
  • Full House Poker
  • Tentacles
  • Crash Course
  • Ms. Splosion Man
  • Wordament


Yes, I saw Angry Birds, but I also noticed Toy Soldiers and Ms. Splosion Man, two titles that you’d be hard pressed to call casual with a straight face. The Window’s Store’s (and all other app store’s) ability to provide players with easy access to games — thanks to low prices, easy installation, and providing a centralized location for nearly all software — means that those that stick to Angry Birds and Tiny Wings might also give Ilomilo a shot if they ran across it.


I’m not suggesting that my mother is going to abandon Peggle for Modern Warfare 3, but if she came across Ms. Splosion Man in an app store, she might try it out if the copy or screenshots sold her on it. By providing a central location for all software on a device, Apple and Microsoft ensure that casual gamers will encounter “hardcore games” alongside lighter fare. While XBLA and PSN technically provide the same service, is your mother or father going to seek out Rocket Riot on XBLA? But that same game might appeal to them if they saw it listed amongst the top apps for their device of choice, be it phone, tablet, or laptop.


Within three years, the “app” will become the main distribution model for video games. You and I, along with millions of others, will still enjoy our AAA disc-based console titles, but millions more will be playing games bought from an app store. Simply placing quality “hardcore” titles alongside the casual fare will help expand the audience for these games. The approach won’t work for everything, I don’t think Alan Wake would make much of a splash amongst the Cut the Rope set, but titles that feature engaging repeatable gameplay with minimal narrative elements, like Ms. Splosion Man, might do quite well.


This could create some major problems — Microsoft for example, doesn’t want to see their Window’s Store become a wasteland of $.99 software — but it will put deeper and more complex games in front of a willing audience, something that the industry desperately needs if it’s to avoid the fate of comic books, a medium that serves only an existing and shrinking fan base despite countless clumsy attempts to attract new readers.

By Ryan Winterhalter

Sonic 4′s Physics “Reworked” for Episode II

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II has been officially announced and is coming sometime in 2012, Sega revealed today.

In what will be a fairly lengthy wait for an episodic series (as long as we don’t use Half-Life as the benchmark), Episode II will be coming more than a year after release of Episode I in 2010. Today’s announcement mentions that the physics are being “completely reworked” in this new game, which is very welcome news for those who felt that particular problem plagued Episode I. The game will also see the return of Tails, as the trailer above teases in not-very-subtle fashion.

Those who expected Episode II to be out in 2011 had that hope shot down this past summer. Sega opted to focus on Sonic Generations this year to celebrate the series’ 20-year anniversary.

The list of platforms for Episode II includes almost all of the same ones as Episode I — Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, iOS, and Windows Phone 7 — along with a new addition in Android phones with an Nvidia Tegra processor. The one missing platform here is WiiWare, which Episode I was available on. There was no mention of it in the press release and it has since been confirmed on the Sega forums (via Nintendo Life) that the game won’t be available on Wii.

“[T]he reason Episode I was on the Wii was because we wanted to bring the Sonic 4 saga to the widest possible audience,” wrote Sonic 4 brand manager Ken Balough. “Episode II unfortunately will not be coming to the Wii – for reasons most people have probably guessed, but that doesn’t mean the SEGA isn’t supporting Nintendo platforms, we have a very strong partnership and will continue to do so.”

By Chris Pereira

Last Year’s Steam Security Breach More Extensive Than Originally Thought

Last November, Valve revealed that hackers gained access to sensitive Steam user information, including user names, billing addresses, and encrypted credit card information. Via a message from company founder Gabe Newell, the Valve informed users of the security breach but added, “We do not have evidence that encrypted credit card numbers or personally identifying information were taken by the intruders, or that the protection on credit card numbers or passwords was cracked.”


Steam


Nearly three months later Valve is still attempting to assess the damage, which, according to a second message from Newell received by Steam Users today, was more extensive than originally thought. “Recently we learned that it is probable that the intruders obtained a copy of a backup file with information about Steam transactions between 2004 and 2008. This backup file contained user names, email addresses, encrypted billing addresses and encrypted credit card information. It did not include Steam passwords.” writes Newell.


While frightening, users shouldn’t lose any sleep over the news just yet. “We do not have any evidence that the encrypted credit card numbers or billing addresses have been compromised. However as I said in November it’s a good idea to watch your credit card activity and statements. And of course keeping Steam Guard on is a good idea as well.” adds Newell.


The incident is just one amongst many high-profile security breaches to take place in the last twelve months. Last year’s disastrous PlayStation Network breach seemed to trigger a wave of similar incidents. As alarming as these cases can be, you shouldn’t worry too much about the breach. As Newell pointed out, Valve did not uncover any evidence indicating that the hackers have broken the encryption on the most sensitive information. That said, Steam users should take some extra time to double check their credit or debit card statements in the coming months. Just because these hackers didn’t break Valve’s encryption yet doesn’t make it impossible or prevent the criminals from selling the files to those who can.

By Ryan Winterhalter

Complete Gacha Ban Would Spell Bad News for the Social Games Business

Japanese social mobile games

The social games business is still very young, meaning there are a lot of things still to be worked out as certain Japanese companies are finding out right now. A highly profitable sales tactic employed heavily by companies like GREE and DeNA may soon be deemed illegal in Japan, a move which would certainly put a damper on what is a rapidly-expanding portion of the industry in that country.

The issue involves complete gacha, also referred to as compugacha or konpu gacha in Japan. Gacha on its own involves money being handed over in exchange for a random item; this is acceptable in a legal sense. Where complete gacha becomes problematic is in the way it rewards players with a special item for completing a set of items which are obtained randomly. This can, as you might imagine, become an expensive proposition as attempting to collect all the parts of a set can require countless transactions. Comparisons have been drawn between it and gambling, which is largely illegal in Japan.

Over the weekend The Daily Yomiuri reported (via Wired) that sources had indicated Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency reached the conclusion that complete gacha is in violation of the law. The issue was raised after an increasing number of complaints were received from players who were subjected to high charges or, in some cases, from parents complaining about their children becoming addicted and spending enormous amounts of money. Five such complaints were filed in the 2010 fiscal year, but that number jumped up to 58 in fiscal 2011 as the practice became far more commonplace. The sources indicated social game companies would be told to stop using these sales methods or face punishment of some sort.

The CAA confirmed an investigation was taking place, Nikkei reported yesterday, although the agency claimed it had not yet rendered a decision.

Yomiuri recounted the stories of two young boys, one who spent 400,000 yen (approximately $5,012) in one month, and another who spent 120,000 yen ($1,504) in only three days on games containing complete gacha. Bloomberg also mentioned one user who managed to rack up a whopping 4 million yen ($50,107) in charges over a two-month span. The games themselves are often free to play, although the charges players can accrue are anything but.

These are extreme examples, to be sure, yet it’s important to note that complete gacha is an important aspect of these companies’ bottom lines. The stock for both GREE (owner of the mobile-focused social networking service of the same name) and DeNA (owner of the Mobage cell phone social gaming network) have taken a significant hit, with each falling the maximum 500 yen on Monday before rebounding a small amount today. Those declines represented a 20 percent drop for DeNA and 23 percent for GREE; the latter resulted in founder Yoshikazu Tanaka, Japan’s youngest billionaire, losing $704 million according to Bloomberg.

kompu gacha example

The two, and mobile/social games in Japan as a whole, have been massively successful as of late — a rare bright spot for the Japanese gaming industry, and in fact its entire technology industry. Following their rise to prominence in Japan, overseas expansion has been targeted: GREE recently purchased U.S. developer Funzio, while DeNA obtained U.S. developer ngmoco and its Plus+ social gaming network in 2010 before signing a deal with Disney to develop mobile games earlier this year. But if the companies suddenly find themselves losing out on a significant revenue stream, that could put a real damper on their plans to grow internationally.

GREE and DeNA each instituted a limit on spending for teenagers last month so that, depending upon a player’s age, he or she could spend no more than 5,000-10,000 yen ($63-$126) per month. That may not be enough to save the companies from having the Japanese government intervene, which seems like a strong possibility, and analysts do not paint an optimistic picture if the CAA does indeed decide to ban complete gacha.

“This raises questions about whether the sector’s growth in Japan is sustainable,” analyst Yusuke Tsunoda told Nikkei. Another analyst, Mitsuo Shimizu, told Bloomberg, “The situation remains severe,” also adding, “Their profitability is at risk, depending on the government’s decision.” Makoto Sengoku agreed, stating, “The market for social games may shrink if the warning is issued.”

While DeNA would not comment on the matter, GREE expectedly attempted to downplay the impact of a complete gacha ban. “Even if the ‘complete gacha’ is abandoned, it won’t rock the foundation of GREE,” said Ryutaro Shima. “We will consider introducing new services to spur sales.”

Upheaval in the social/mobile games market would not be shocking in the slightest given its relatively young age. Just last year, concerns were raised about free-to-play game players in the U.S. spending large sums of money on microtransactions/in-app purchases, some of which can cost as much as $100. Complaints about this led to an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

With the Japanese games business hardly at its peak, this could prove to be a major setback for one avenue that it was doing exceptionally well in. And it’s not only companies focused on this market that will be impacted — Konami and Capcom are among more traditional game makers with intentions of exploring the space, and so they too would be losing out with a ban on complete gacha (which was reflected when their respective stock prices took a hit yesterday). This might please gamers who don’t wish to see these companies spending any resources on what they don’t consider to be “real” games, although publishers will no doubt look to find other revenues streams beyond complete gacha if that is no longer an option for social/mobile games. Whether they’re able to do so as effectively as they can now, however, is something we’ll have to wait to see.

[Complete gacha example image courtesy of The Daily Yomiuri.]

By Chris Pereira

The Problem With NPD Numbers and the Incomplete Picture They Draw

NPD Group

The NPD Group’s monthly games industry reports continue to be widely covered in the media, and it’s easy to understand why. With game publishers hesitant to make a habit of sharing sales figures, the NPDs, as they’re often called, supposedly give us somewhat of a glimpse as to which games are succeeding and which are failing. Criticisms of the NPD Group’s numbers have becoming increasingly common over time, to the point where the question is now being asked whether the media ought to ignore the numbers outright.

That’s the position taken in a new piece by the Penny Arcade Report, and it’s one I find myself agreeing with. Regular readers of 1UP’s news section may have noticed a distinct lack of coverage of the NPDs as of late, dating back to before the change in how news was handled. I personally don’t give a second thought to the numbers anymore — a far cry from the days when I would be highly anticipating them every month. Rather than having multiple pieces per month analyzing and dissecting whatever could be deduced from the numbers, the NPDs are something that rarely cross my mind at this point. And there are a variety of reasons for that.

The first thing contributing to this situation was the NPD Group cutting back on the amount on information it freely shared with the public. It is a market research company, first and foremost, and it makes its money selling its extensive reports to, in the case of the videogame industry, retailers, videogame publishers, and console manufacturers. The data it shared with the press starting in 2006 was only a cursory glance at what it had to offer, but it was a tremendously helpful resource for providing additional insight.

In late 2007, it announced plans to reduce what it distributed. It wasn’t until three years later, in 2010, that it actually implemented this change, stripping out the hardware and software numbers from its monthly reports. A year later, it followed up by putting an end to analysts sharing its data. Now, beyond a numberless-top-10 list (which combines platforms, hurting its usefulness) and a few numbers (including total sales and amounts spent on videogame hardware and software), it’s been left up to publishers to share any numbers with us. More often than not, they’re disinclined to do so. Even with the occasional bone we’re thrown, that mitigates this only so much.

Much more importantly, the face of the industry has changed dramatically. Anytime NPD numbers are covered, there is a major point that is often not highlighted strongly enough: These figures account only for sales of new, physical games sold at retail in the United States. While it’s easy enough to understand the numbers only cover what’s sold in the United States, the fact that they are retail-only means they can be awfully misleading.

One example of this is in the way PC games have always been underrepresented in the NPDs. The Penny Arcade Report points to the recent example of XCOM: Enemy Unknown; by all accounts, it’s an excellent game, but it didn’t make the NPD’s top 10 list for October (the month it launched in) and sold an unspectacular-by-today’s-standards 114,000 units. PC is the platform you’d expect the game to do best on, and public Steam data would seem to suggest the PC version alone exceeded that mark. But just look at the NPD data, and you’d have no idea that was the case.

XCOM Enemy Unknown

This is true of any game with a strong PC or PC-only presence, particularly those which are available through Steam. In the past few years I can think of only one or two PC games I’ve bought at retail, and are therefore accounted for by the NPD’s numbers (which, mind you, don’t actually get sales data from every retailer in the country). The dozens of digital PC games I’ve bought, most of which I’ve gotten through Steam, might as well not exist, as far as the NPDs are concerned. Steam accounts for a major portion of digital PC game sales, and no doubt of PC games in general. Particularly considering that Valve is a private company, it has no incentive to ever share sales figures with the NPD Group, or anyone at all outside of the developers and publishers it works with. Even if other digital storefronts, like Origin, were to share data with the NPD, it would still be a very incomplete data set without numbers from the goliath that is Steam.

Beyond the lack of comprehensive sales figures of your average PC game is the hole which represents things like free-to-play and subscription-based games. World of Warcraft may be past its peak, but it still commands a significant number of subscribers representing a huge amount of revenue, and yet the release of a new expansion is the only way the monthly NPD numbers will ever provide any indication that interest in WoW remains. Other huge hits, meanwhile, have no chance of their success being reflected by the NPDs, because they are free-to-play games. Whether it’s Team Fortress 2, a mobile game, League of Legends, or FarmVille, these games are nowhere to be seen in the NPD lists irrespective of how they compare to those in the NPD’s top 10, which are treated as the top moneymakers in any given month.

The major problem with the NPD numbers is not so much what they claim to be when you examine the fine print, but the way they are portrayed. I do believe the figures can have some value, but only with a great deal of context — and even then, that value is quickly eroding as the industry becomes more and more digital-centric. (When even Nintendo is providing downloadable versions of its games, you know it’s a significant movement.)

Despite this, NPD numbers continue to receive far more attention than they should based on all of these qualifications that have to be made about them. The problem, of course, is the lack of a superior alternative to turn to; if such a thing existed, NPD numbers would have been left behind long ago. But ditching the NPD numbers, or at least paying less attention to them, means having less data — even if that data is less-than-ideal, to say the least — with which to work. But it can be very misleading to operate under the assumption that the entire industry is struggling when NPD numbers can only show that part of it — new, retail sales — is experiencing any difficulties. So while we might have to deal with having less information, in my estimation it would be better to move on and acknowledge our ignorance rather than carry on as we are.

By Chris Pereira