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Technology News: Gaming: Fast Times in Gaming, Part 1: Turbulent Transitions

By Ned MaddenFast Times in Gaming, Part 1: Turbulent Transitions

The video game industry is going through a fast-moving and sometimes painful series of changes as it adjusts to new technologies, new buying habits and a changing customer base. Online multiplayer gaming has proven to be a double-edged sword, a wide selection of handheld devices has become a conundrum for buyers and marketers, and expanding development budgets mean huge sales may only mean breaking even.

Succumbing to the primal pull of gameplay, millions of new consumers are joining the nearly ubiquitous adventure of exploring the pixilated worlds presented in video games, seeking personal recreation, relaxation, amusement, even escape -- and the industry is feeling the profound effects of that stampede.

Ginormous metamorphoses continue to roil the busy, merciless landscape of today's US$28 billion U.S. video game business, challenging traditional concepts of how leading PC and console titles operate and altering the very definition of the term "interactive entertainment." Innovations are transforming a variety of devices from PCs to TVs, consoles, smartphones and tablet computers, while trends like casual gaming, social Reach More Customers with Live Chat - Free Whitepaper

network games, smartphone apps, digital distribution, cloud computing, advergaming and motion controls are changing the very nature of gameplay itself.

And nowhere are the impacts of the forces at work more pronounced than in California and its three hubs of video game creativity -- Northern California, Los Angeles and Orange County, where companies come and go in a vibrant flux of continuous and sweeping aesthetic and artful destruction and renewal.

As always, money remains central to the challenges facing the video gaming industry. The biggest difficulty for the industry is reining in the cost of games, and the biggest issue facing the industry is the monetization of multiplayer online gaming, according to Michael Pachter, gaming research analyst and managing director at Wedbush Securities.

"Costs have escalated and expectations have increased to the point where only a small percentage of games are profitable, and most games require more than 1 million units sold to break even," Pachter told the E-Commerce Times. "The industry can't thrive if that remains the case."

Regarding multiplayer online gaming, publishers have trained consumers to expect hundreds of hours of online game play, with the consequence that these gamers buy fewer games than in the past, he noted.

"The industry has created a mismatch, where there are more people playing more hours than ever, but they're paying less for the privilege, while the cost of providing content continues to rise," Pachter explained. "This is unsustainable, and until the publishers figure out how to monetize online game play, they are likely to be only modestly profitable."

Sales of video games in 2010 were flat compared to 2009 totals, according to NPD Group, a consumer and retail market research firm. NPD estimates that consumers spent between $15.4 to $15.6 billion on all video game content (not including hardware). That comprises gaming content sales via all monetization methods, including new physical video and PC games, used games, game rentals, subscriptions, digital full-game downloads, social network games, downloadable content and mobile game apps.



Still a Growing Market

Nonetheless, entertainment software remains one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. economy, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. In fact, states PwC, the sector will remain "one of the above-average growth segments of the global entertainment industries through 2011."

According to video game sales tracker VGChartz, 17 games available on one or more video game platforms sold more than 5 million units in 2010. Nintendo, Activision, Take Two, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Ubisoft, Square-Enix and Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS) all produced 5m-level hits. Sequels reigned across all gaming platforms, and sales were dominated by Nintendo titles (with "Wii Sports," "New Super Mario Bros. Wii," "Wii Sports Resort," "Wii Fit Plus" and "Pokemon Heart Gold/Soul Silver Version" ranking in the top 10).

Star of the 2010 show, though, was definitely Activision's "Call of Duty: Black Ops." The seventh installment in the "Call of Duty" franchise made history with its last-quarter sales spree. A first-person shooter, "Black Ops" quickly achieved sudden and extreme success in the gaming world when it was released on Nov. 9. Activision sold a total of approximately 9.4 million copies of the game across multiple platforms (Xbox 360: 5,362,003; PS3: 3,769,572; PC: 279,107) in the very first week, subsequently announcing that "Black Ops" had become the biggest entertainment launch to date. VGChartz estimates that "Black Ops" generated more than $500 million for Activision. Including downloadable content and royalty breaks, not to mention the PC version, the game might have made closer to $1 billion for the company.

"The dynamics of games content purchasing changed dramatically in 2010, with options ranging from the physical product to digital downloads on connected devices as well as in-store digital kiosks," said Anita Frazier, NPD Group industry analyst. "The increasing number of ways to acquire the content has allowed the industry to maintain total consumer spend on content as compared to 2009, and we should expect 2011 to be a growth year in the games industry as the consumer demand for gaming continues to evolve."

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) is the trade association that represents U.S. computer and video game publishers. According to an Aug. 2010 ESA study, "Video Games in the 21st Century: The 2010 Report":

  • The computer and video game industry added $4.9 billion to the U.S. economy in 2009.
  • The industry's annual growth rate from 2005 to 2009 exceeded 10 percent, more than seven times the growth rate of the U.S. economy as a whole.
  • The entertainment software industry directly and indirectly employs more than 120,000 people in 34 states.
  • Direct industry employees earn an average annual compensation of $89,781.


Game Player Data

The ESA's "2010 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry" show that 67 percent of American households play computer and video games. The research also reveals other interesting demographic facts about today's gamers and the games they play, including:

  • The average gamer is 34 years old and has been playing for 12 years.
  • Forty percent of all players are women, and women over 18 years of age are one of the industry's fastest growing demographics. Today, adult women represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (20 percent).
  • Twenty-six percent of game players are above the age of 50, an increase from nine percent in 1999. This figure is sure to rise in coming years with nursing homes and senior centers across the nation now incorporating video games into their activities.
  • Sixty-seven percent of homes in America own either a console and/or PC used to run entertainment software.
  • Fifty-eight percent of online game players are male and 42 percent are female. Forty-two percent of heads of households report they play games on wireless devices such as a cellphone or PDA, up from 20 percent in 2002.


Tremendous Trends

The prevailing direction of trends in the video game industry is toward increasing technological and societal complexity. Video games are driving advancements that serve gamers and non-gamers alike in the areas of business, education, health and more.


  • Going Casual. A mass audience of "casual" gamers (largely women), indifferent to (or even unaware of) hardcore gamer scorn, are currently using their PCs and cellphones to play games with simple rules that require minimal time commitment and no special skills. Game producers love "social" games and smartphone apps because of low production and distribution costs.



  • Social Games. Facebook Apps offers the top social network's 500+ million subscribers hundreds of free games to play -- including action, adventure, arcade, puzzle, racing and shooters. Social network games rank among the most popular games played in the world, with several products attracting tens of millions of players. "FarmVille," "FrontierVille" and "Mafia Wars" are examples of popular social network games. San Francisco-based social network game developer Zynga develops browser-based games that work both standalone and as application widgets on social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace.


  • Smartphone Apps. Admittedly, the nascent mobile/portable smartphone (handheld computers integrated with mobile telephones) gaming market has its problems, e.g., small screens and the fact that mobile games do not run identically across multiple platforms. But according to a study by ComScore, more than 45.5 million people in the United States owned smartphones in 2010, so a sizeable market does exist. And smartphone game tastes are definitely casual -- when Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) revealed its Top 10 Most Downloaded Apps earlier this year, the overwhelming majority of the games listed were amusing distractions in the vein of "Doodle Jump," "Angry Birds" and "Flight Control."



  • Digital Distribution. While today's most substantial game fare is still found in boxes on the shelves of the giant retailer GameStop, digital (online) game distribution is growing in popularity with the practice of delivering content without the use of physical media, typically by streaming games or downloading everything from the Web directly to the consumer's hard drive or gaming device. EA Games President Frank Gibeau has said that the company's future may lie in PC game downloads.
  • Cloud Gaming. Cloud gaming involves delivering hosted games over the Internet. Game time is sold "on demand," typically by the minute or the hour. The service is elastic - users can play as much or as little as they want at any given time. Everything is fully managed by the provider -- all the consumer needs is a personal computer and Internet access. Gaikai, OnLive and OTOY compete in this space. OnLive sells full games, provides demos, brag clips and the ability to watch other players play games (Arena). Gaikai advertises games via a webpage as demos. Main cloud-based gaming issues concern game "ownership" and subscription fees. Moreover, the broadband Internet connection needed to deliver that efficient streaming technology is out of reach for a lot of people.
  • Advergaming. Advergaming is the practice of using video games to advertise products, organizations and even viewpoints. With the growth of the Internet, advergames have proliferated, often becoming the most visited aspect of brand websites and turning into an integrated part of brand media planning in an increasingly fractured media environment. Advergames theoretically promote repeated traffic to websites and reinforce brands. Users choosing to register to be eligible for prizes can help marketers collect customer data. Gamers may also invite their friends to participate, which could assist promotion by word-of-mouth viral marketing.



  • Motion Controls. Motion control-based gaming appeals to casual and hardcore gamers alike. Controlling an onscreen avatar (a graphical image that represents the player) with nothing more than slight flicks of a wrist has been a dream of gamers ever since the Nintendo Power Glove. Nintendo's Wii, introduced in 2006, was the first wireless motion-capture gaming console-sensors allow players to dictate the movements of their onscreen avatars. Motion controllers with accelerometers are used as gaming controllers. Wiimote, ASUS Eee Stick, PlayStation Move, Xbox Kinect, and HP (NYSE: HPQ) Swing are a few motion controllers available in the market. Sixense TrueMotion uses a magnetic field for determining absolute position and orientation. Kinect's runaway success over the 2010 holiday season helped Microsoft vault into record revenue for its second fiscal ending Dec. 31, 2010. Eight million Kinects were sold within the hands-free controller's first 60 days of life. Sony (NYSE: SNE) didn't do too bad either -- more than 4 million PlayStation Move systems sold as well.

    Going With the Trends

    "Social and mobile games are two big challenges on the business side for the traditional, core video game industry," said Todd Northcutt, vice president and GM for IGN Entertainment's GameSpy Technology division, which provides online video game-related services and software. "Free and low cost alternatives to sixty-dollar shrink-wrapped games abound and the industry needs to figure out how to respond."

    Northcutt cited the challenge the Nintendo 3DS faces -- which system do parents chose for their children: the $229 iPod touch with 99 cent games, or the $250 handheld with $40 games?

    "For hardcore gamers the choice is obvious -- both!" Northcutt told the E-Commerce Times.

    While these new kinds of games present difficulties for the traditional video game industry business, they also present a huge opportunity, according to Northcutt.

    "We've seen some developers use social games as unique cross-promotional tools, like Rockstar's 'Red Dead' Facebook game, which was used to build pre-release buzz and offer those who purchased the 'full' game exclusive perks for playing both versions," he explained. "I think we'll see clever developers learn how to use these new game types and business models to enhance and augment their big-budget titles."

    David Perry is CEO of Orange County, Calif.-based Gaikai, a cloud gaming service based on the idea of playing games remotely on a central server, with the video footage fed to the home PC.

    "The biggest business challenge facing the industry is the transition from retail to digital," Perry told the E-Commerce Times. "It will take time and it will be fascinating to see all the new digital business models publishers come up with."

    Stay tuned for "Fast Times in Gaming, Part 2"



    Students tackle deforestation, win first prize with video game design



    Team Big Impact Bear won first place and $6,000 in the mobile game design category with its project "Forest Gun " that aims to prevent and reverse deforestation in the world....


    Click here for more information.




    Mobile Gaming Audience is Younger, Has Strong Female Presence

    In the charts provided, Flurry shows how the age and gender demographics are divvied up between the various platforms. On mobile phones, the average gamer age is 28, compared with 34 on consoles. Mobile gamers are also more heavily female (53%) than traditional gamers (only 40% female).

    Flurry MobileSocialGamerReport vsESA byAge resized 600

    Flurry MobileSocialGamerReport vsESA byGender resized 600

    More importantly (well, to game publishers at least), is the fact that there's a greater density in the 18-49 demographic on mobile than on traditional platforms. That means more disposable income. Says  Flurry: "iOS and Android devices are attracting users during their earning years versus, in particular their teenage years, where they likely cannot afford more expensive mobile devices."

    Remarkably, the audience for mobile gaming is also very, very large - larger, in fact, than the worldwide install base of console game leaders (Wii, Xbox, PlayStation) combined. That traditional console audience is estimated at 180 million. Mobile gaming is even larger than portable gaming (Nintendo DS and Sony PSP), estimated at 200 million. And it's larger than primetime TV watching, too, as has been reported previously - as any given primetime TV show can top just 20 million viewers.

    So how large is it? Flurry says it alone detects 250 million unique devices with over 750,000 coming online daily. It has seen over 300 million user sessions across all its games and apps, 37% of which are from games alone. But Flurry is only seeing a portion of the overall market - it only sees those devices where apps using Flurry's services are running. But it extrapolated from a sample of its users (around 60,000+ users) who self-reported age, gender and location to take a look at audience demographics in more detail - specifically, U.S. mobile gamer demographics.

    You can see those findings in the charts below.

    Flurry MobileSocialGamerReport byRegion resized 600


    Flurry MobileSocialGamerReport byAge Gender resized 600

    Flurry MobileSocialGamerReport bySex resized 600

    Flurry MobileSocialGamerReport byAge resized 600

    Flurry MobileSocialGamerReport byHHI resized 600

    Flurry MobileSocialGamerReport byEducation resized 600

    Flurry MobileSocialGamerReport byRace resized 600

    via readwriteweb.com


    I would have to add to this with the majority of the kids' I see playing on the phones, they are using their "mom's" phone and requesting games to be purchased and downloaded.  This could add to the data for the female range of gamers between older age categories.  Having said this, the moms are also playing some of the games which are discovered by their kids.     

    I would like to see the breakout of the type of games which the demographics are playing. 




    Google Finds It Hard to Reinvent Philanthropy

    He vowed to dedicate about 1 percent of Google’s profits, 1 percent of its equity and a significant amount of its employees’ time to the effort, which became known as Google.org, or simply DotOrg. “We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems,” Mr. Page wrote in a letter to potential investors.

    Although Google intended to tackle major problems like climate change, global poverty and the spread of pandemic diseases, it declared that DotOrg would not be “conventional” — a four-letter word in Google-speak. For starters, the organization would operate in part as a business, thus freeing itself from various constraints placed on nonprofit groups.

    Google hired Larry Brilliant, a public health expert and Silicon Valley entrepreneur with no experience running a major philanthropy, to lead DotOrg, which was set up as a business unit within the company. It then poached prominent experts in development, energy and public health from prestigious institutions like the Aga Khan Foundation, Goldman Sachs and the International Water Management Institute.

    “Google.org can play the entire keyboard,” Dr. Brilliant said in an interview with The New York Times shortly after his appointment. “It can start companies, build industries, pay consultants, lobby, give money to individuals and make a profit.”

    Nearly five years later, however, the hyperbole looks more like hubris. DotOrg has narrowed to just one octave on the piano: engineering-related projects that often are the outgrowth of existing Google products. Dr. Brilliant was sidelined in early 2009 after his loose management style created much disenchantment in DotOrg’s ranks.

    The company’s top executives rarely mention DotOrg, which is now run by Megan Smith, a business development executive who devotes only part of her time to the organization.

    Although Google gives tens of millions of dollars to charity each year and says the overall company is meeting its 1 percent giving goal, DotOrg itself is no longer making grants to nonprofit groups or financing new companies. Instead, it focuses on projects like using Google Earth to track environmental changes and monitoring Web searches to detect flu outbreaks. Most of the experts it initially hired have left, and Google, a company obsessed with numbers and metrics, struggles to measure DotOrg’s accomplishments.

    Google says it has changed its approach to philanthropy, but not its scope or ambition. Ms. Smith readily acknowledges that the organization has yet to prove itself, but she says it has already had a positive impact in various areas, such as public health and the environment.

    “We are a start-up,” Ms. Smith said in a recent interview. “The aspirational goals in the founding of DotOrg are long term. Our hope is to get to that point where we could have the impact that our founders hoped.”


    The article provides insight into what has happened to the "Google.org".

    It walks you through the years of operation since it's inception and how it has struggled to find it's footing in recreating a new impact to philanthropy by providing both financial and technology resources to solving some of the world's largest problems.

    It is good to know at least Google was willing to try and like most startup ventures, it may not stumble upon the right formula or hit with their first attempt.


    4 Social Trends Impacting the Future of Online Fundraising

    heart charity imageGeoff Livingston co-founded Zoetica to focus on cause-related work, and released an award-winning book on new media, Now is Gone, in 2007.

    Social fundraising is becoming a buzzword within the cause space. The growing trend allows citizens to create their own fundraising campaigns independent of, but still benefitting non-profits. These efforts use a middle platform or set of tools to create grassroots communications across traditional social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

    While Facebook and Twitter continue to dominate the general social networking space, there is a need for middleware platforms to provide additional functionality when it comes to causes. These solutions also incorporate traditional outreach mechanisms like e-mail. Causes, Crowdrise, Jumo, and Razoo are some of the early leaders empowering individual fundraisers, donors and non-profits with grassroots functionality.

    “Obviously, people/orgs want to capitalize on the best feature of Facebook — the wealth of social data,” said Holly Ross, executive director of the Nonprofit Technology Network. “What they don’t want to [deal] with is the Facebook UI etc. When Facebook is a platform and not just a site, you get the best of both worlds. An additional feature is that some of these third-party tools also integrate with your donor database, so you can actually track which of your supporters are participating, and what that participation yields for you.”

    Here’s a look at how these early leaders are starting to shape the social fundraising marketplace, and some of the challenges the rise of middleware brings.

    1. The Rise of the Independent Free Agent

    Because these platforms support individuals engaging in their own citizen philanthropy activities, they are attracting free agents — people who want to operate outside the domain of a 501c3. These free agents feel empowered to fundraise for a cause they care about without management. When their efforts are completed, a check is cut for the non-profit, and the individual can walk away or choose their next project for the cause.

    As independent philanthropists continues to rise, more influence may transfer to them, making efforts and experiences a critical piece of the puzzle. Causes, a recent recipient of $9 million in venture funding, is expected to move towards a more individual-centric experience over the course of 2011.

    “Philanthropy is going to become a more donor-centric experience, and non-profits will not be able to ‘own’ the donors, as people in the sector commonly say,” said Matt Mahan, the vice president of social impact for Causes. “Individual donors can talk to each other and discuss what’s working via the Internet. This creates more transparency, accountability, and a more enjoyable experience with donors. And this will cause non-profits to become more responsive and better.”

    2. The Importance of a Social Good Identity


    net image




    At the core of the fundraising platforms’ approach to the individual is the concept of a social good identity. Facebook and Twitter provide general identities for people, but they don’t allow someone to delve deeply into their philanthropic side. This lack of definition also prevents opportunities to connect based on shared interest in social good.

    Whether or not there’s a real market for a place to connect and explore social good identity remains to be seen. Prior attempts at creating social good communities like TechSoup’s NetSquared and Idealist have done well within the causes space, but they have not translated to the general public.

    Several platforms like Crowdrise and Causes see themselves transcending that gap and breaking into the general public marketplace. “If Facebook is the platform where people assert ‘This is who I am as defined by who my friends are’ and Twitter is where people say ‘This is who I am as defined by what I’m doing right now’… Crowdrise is where people proclaim ‘This is who I am as defined by what I’m doing to make the world a better place,’ ” said Jeffrey Wolfe, co-founder of Crowdrise.

    3. The Challenge for Middleware Platforms


    frogloop image




    Social fundraising can be a challenge for non-profits. Often, while raising money for the cause, there are fees ranging from 2.9% to 8% (credit card fees plus transaction fees). In addition, some of the platforms protect the individual’s privacy and don’t provide non-profits contact information, denying them the opportunity to build a file of contacts.

    Each platform has strengths and weaknesses in this regard. Some of the weaknesses from the non-profit’s perspective are the very strengths that make the platforms attractive to individuals. But generally, non-profits have to decide whether to plunge into the space and support it.

    “At the end of the day though, ‘social fundraising’ will not be a silver bullet for raising money for your non-profit,” said Allyson Kapin, editor of the Care2 Frogloop blog. “Using multiple channels (e-mail, your website, direct mail, telemarketing, etc.) to raise money will bring in the dough!”

    Razoo is differentiating itself by making its grassroots tools more non-profit friendly. “We make it incredibly easy for non-profits to raise money, giving them everything they need,” said Sebastian Traeger, CEO of Razoo. “From the ability to tell their stories, to receipting donors, handling refunds and customer support, to simple, robust reporting, to tools to empower peer and team fundraising to widgets to distribute throughout the web — all with no setup or monthly fees, and transaction fees of just 2.9 to 4.9%.”

    4. Team Focus for Social Fundraising


    maasai image




    One unique development is the rise of teams in these platforms. Causes, Crowdrise and Razoo all have added multi-person functionality to enable grassroots fundraising for groups of people. Whether it’s friends, competitive fundraising groups, offices, school clubs or civic groups, people can now enjoy the autonomy of an independent grassroots platform not seen before in the non-profit sector.

    One example is musician Glen Hansard’s campaign on Crowdrise to buy two much-needed trucks for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT). People join the team as a show of support and others join to fundraise. One person on the team put on a concert for her friends to raise money, another did a bake sale, another offered to build websites for donors. Showing a higher level of connectivity, two of the team members that had never met before just went to Kenya together to volunteer for the MWCT.

    “Social fundraising, where fundraisers and charities involve their friends and supporters, is incredibly effective,” said Crowdrise’s Jeffrey Wolfe. “It takes an individual team leader or charity that inspires their squad to set personal fundraising goals, feel connected to the team, and fully engaged in the campaign.”

    Razoo is also putting resources into supporting teams: “Since teams represent the future, we plan to pour our efforts into making them more fun, social and easy,” said Razoo’s Sebastian Traeger.

    The Future?

    The future of online giving is still uncertain. What is clear is the early market leaders will try to cement their role in the space this year. “The non-profit software market is defined by a few big names and then oodles of niche product that fill very specific needs,” said NTEN’s Holly Ross. “We see this in every single software type. So I think that we’ll see these early leaders continue to get more robust, but I see a lot of other players continuing to enter the space.”

    There is also hope that if successful, the social fundraising middleware platforms will not only do well, but successfully grow online donations as a whole. Perhaps it’s an ideal, but it sure seems worth the strenuous effort.

    “If we can power philanthropic identity, we can create more philanthropic activity because it’s easier,” said Causes’ Matthew Mahan. “As people interact with each other, and see millions of people interacting, it will become a more worthwhile experience. It’s part of making the experience more meaningful. We think this is a win-win, and that people will end up donating even more.”

    More Social Good Resources from Mashable:

    - Why Video Games Are Scoring Big for Social Good
    - 5 Facebook Giving Campaign Success Stories
    - 4 Innovative Social Good Campaigns for Education
    - 3 Ways to Empower Social Media Giving This Holiday Season
    - 5 Creative Social Good Campaigns for the Holiday Season

    Image courtesy of iStockphoto, cpopik

    A nice article by Geoff Livingston which I thought I repost on social trends impacting the future of online fundraising.

    As social interactions are moving more and more towards the connections on the web and social networks such as facebook, non-profits are pressured to find out ways to shift and reach their potential benefactors.

    The traditional gala's, silent auctions, and special sponsored events for fundraising won't go away it is just there are just not as many are usually able to participate hence limiting the reach. Social media has brought on a new set of mechanisms to reach new supporters as well as allow themselves to be a representative agents for the cause amongst those around them. People generally want to give but it makes more of an impact to them if it is tied to someone who they know or is involved in the cause.

    This article lists out challenges that are being faced:
    1) The rise of the independent free agent
    2) The importance of social good identity
    3) The challenge for middleware platforms
    4) Team focus for social fundraising

    As Geoff points out, "the future of online giving is still uncertain". I do believe this is only going to expand and experimented upon as to come up with the unique mechanisms to help propel non-profits communicate and fundraise in the new medium of social networks and connected mobile space.