A Year In The Making, Machine Zone Launches Game of War, An Impressively Large MMO For iOS

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While iOS games started out as either simple physics or casual simulation titles when the platform launched about five years ago, the bar has gotten steadily higher and more hard-core. Midcore studios like Kabam started to rise in prominence.

Now the iOS platform might be seeing is most hardcore title to date – a very, very massive multi-player title from YC- and Menlo Ventures-backed Machine Zone.

The company, which started out doing text-based RPGs a couple years ago like iMob, is launching Game of War: Fire Age. It’s a title where players build and grow empires, train massive armies, forge alliances with other players to win kingdoms.

The game can handle hundreds of thousands of players concurrently in the same universe, which is not an easy technical feat. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, in contrast, typically handles a few thousand players simultaneously in a single realm. All movement on the game’s map is visible to everyone else.

“We wanted to take the company to the next level and be really ambitious,” said Machine Zone CEO Gabriel Leydon. “We decided to build some things that had never been done before. We had the capital to do it and the willpower.”

Leydon didn’t hire just typical game designers to build the title. He also found people who had experience in scaling massive systems. The game’s user interface is in HTML5 and is rendered natively, allowing the company to handle different screen sizes.

The other really cool thing about the game’s social capabilities is that there is a mechanical turk-like translation system where the players themselves translate chat in exchange for virtual currency rewards. That helps Game of War have really interactive play with a proper critical mass of users who can talk to each other, even if they don’t speak the same language. The in-game chat system helps Game of War get manage slang and gamer speak, which a third-party translation system probably wouldn’t handle correctly. If say, 50 players translate the same words in the same way, then the game will start using that translation automatically.

“It’s like a highly structured Facebook,” Leydon said. “My goal as a game designer was to create a feeling of what it would be to be a king, where you’d have a lot of people under you. You’d have to subjects, wealth and land.”

Assuming say, the game grows to 1 million players, there might only be 20 kings in the game. To reach that level, players have to woo others to form alliances with them. Within those alliances, there are ranks for different officers.

“This is a very hardcore game. This is not Candy Crush,” he said. “This is a complex system with a lot of potential trees of outcomes. If you’re the type of person that’s fascinated by systems like this, then this is for you.”

Machine Zone used to be known as Addmired, and rebranded last year when it took $8 million in funding from Menlo Ventures. Leydon said this is what the company took the round for, even though its older titles like Original Gangstaz and iMob 2 were pretty lucrative early on.


Honest Trailers Minecraft! So much yes!

Honest Trailers Minecraft! So much yes!

Minecraft gets the Honest Trailers treatment and it’s worth the watch. Anyone who’s a fan can relate to everything in the trailer as it really hits home but in a good old fashioned funny way. Give it a watch and let me know what you think.

The post Honest Trailers Minecraft! So much yes! appeared first on Don't Hate The Geek.

With New CEO Mattrick At Helm, Zynga Reports Loss of $16M And Revenue Decline Of 31%

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Zynga’s revenues for the second quarter of 2013 declined 31% year-over-year to $231 million in the midst of a challenging transition that saw former CEO Mark Pincus hand over the reins to Don Mattrick.

The company had a net loss of $16 million compared to last year’s net loss of $22.8 million during the same quarter (which also had $95.5 million of stock-based compensation expenses). If you account for that then, the company’s net loss was $6.1 million compared to last year’s net loss of $4.6 million based on non-generally accepted accounting principles. Zynga said when it laid off nearly 20 percent of its staff last month that it expected to see a net loss of between $39 million to $28.5 million so this is actually a slight earnings beat.

“We need to get back to basics and take a longer term view on our products and business, develop more efficient processes and tighten up execution all across the company,” wrote Mattrick in the release. “We have a lot of hard work in front of us and as we reset, we expect to see more volatility in our business than we would like over the next two to four quarters.”

Last quarter, COO David Ko said the company was in the midst of a “pause” to re-evaluate its entire game slate and that this decision would be financially apparent in this quarter.

This quarter’s revenue is projected to be even lower in the range of $175 million to $200 million, with a net loss of $43 million to $14 million.

Through the company’s pivot onto iOS and Android, Zynga has had to compete against older and historically smaller rivals from the Facebook platform like King and Kabam. Both of those companies have fared well with King’s Candy Crush Saga bringing it the top grossing spot and numerous Kabam titles in the top 25.

In contrast, Zynga just has its longstanding Poker franchise in the U.S. top grossing 25. Even today, nearly 70 percent of the company’s monthly active users remain on the web.

The losses in Zynga’s user base from not being able to hold onto its core Facebook customers are staggering. The company’s level of daily active users is not much higher than half of where it was a year ago at 39 million this quarter compared to 72 million in 2012. It also saw 187 million monthly active users, down from 306 million users in the same time period a year before.

The company’s launches like Draw Something 2 have also underperformed without any slots in any of the top 100 charts and Zynga’s other big mobile launch, Running With Friends, remains in 45th place in the U.S. top grossing chart. Zynga had six major releases this quarter including War of the Fallen, Draw Something 2, Battlestone, Solstice Arena and Running With Friends.

But older franchises like FarmVille and FarmVille 2 continue to do well as both games have grown combined bookings by 29 percent year-over-year.

Zynga’s struggles in diversifying away from Facebook and missing the pivot to mobile ultimately convinced Pincus to give up the CEO role, although he remains chairman of the board and serves as chief product officer. It’s now Mattrick’s 15th day on the job.

Xbox 360 dashboard update beta in October

Microsoft is getting ready to launch a major update for its Xbox 360 dashboard later this fall, with beta testing to roll out in October. The revamped interface will mean easier, faster navigation, and integration of more Kinect voice commands to search for movies, music, games, and more.

VentureBeat got an early preview and had generally positive things to say: “Overall, it’s a big improvement on the user interface.” The upgrade is all about making the process of accessing content much faster and making content more discoverable. This is especially important because of the growing amount of content on the Xbox 360, which has already gone way beyond just games.

The interface redesign looks like a step towards merging Xbox LIVE with Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8. The new dashboard interface uses large tiles that are reminiscent of the Windows Phone 7 Live Tiles and the scrolling is sideways rather than up and down, similar to what we’ve seen with the Windows 8 tablet UI.

The update also brings more Kinect integration for improved speech and gesture commands, a new Beacon feature for non-expiring game invitations to friends, a more integrated and less restricted Microsoft Bing search, and YouTube support.

Zynga Won’t Pursue Real-Money Gaming License In The U.S.; Shares Drop 13% In After-Hours

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Zynga is giving up what many investors had hoped might be its trump card: a real-money gaming business in the U.S. The company, which has been testing out real-money casino games in the U.K., said it won’t be pursuing a U.S. license after all in its second quarter earnings report today.

Sources tell us this is a decision to focus and not spread the company too thinly between real-money gaming, diversifying onto mobile and maintaining a core on Facebook. If it weren’t for the political and legal complexities of opening up real-money gaming in state after state, the business could have been interesting for Zynga, especially considering how long Zynga Poker has dominated both on the Facebook platform and on iOS and Android. None of Zynga’s social casino games, which use virtual currency, are affected by this. Shares declined 13 percent in after-hours to $3.02.

In the release today, Zynga said:

Zynga believes its biggest opportunity is to focus on free to play social games. While the Company continues to evaluate its real money gaming products in the United Kingdom test, Zynga is making the focused choice not to pursue a license for real money gaming in the United States. Zynga will continue to evaluate all of its priorities against the growing market opportunity in free, social gaming, including social casino offerings.

Zynga has long been exploring real-money gaming. It partnered with operator Bwin.Party to offer titles in the U.K. Then last November, the company took its first steps toward real-money gaming in the U.S. by applying for a “preliminary finding of suitability” from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

It’s not that this option is forever off the table. It’s just that the company is in the middle of a significant platform transition now, and real-money games – which would probably only be available to players in Nevada at first anyways – could be distracting.

Zynga’s New CEO Don Mattrick Says It Won’t Be Quick Or Easy To Get The Company Back On Track

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Don Mattrick, the new Zynga CEO announced at the beginning of the month, offered his initial on-the-job observations today during the conference call discussing the company’s second-quarter earnings.

Mattrick (on the right of the photo with Zynga founder and former CEO Mark Pincus) started out by offering some positive commentary, saying that the company “caught lightning in a bottle” and “achieved in only a few years what most companies took a decade or more to do.” However, he acknowledged, “We’re missing out on platform growth that Apple, Google, and Facebook are seeing. In short, we can do better.”

So how is he going to try to turn things around? He said he’s going to be working with the company’s leadership to “challenge previous assumptions” and to focus on “business fundamentals – which, candidly, we’ve struggled with over the past year.” Mattrick predicted that there will be two to four more quarters of volatility as the company tries to find a new direction.

“Getting a business back on track isn’t easy and isn’t quick,” he said.

Pincus, now Zynga’s chief product officer, was also on the call, and among other things, he said he was impressed that Mattrick set up his desk in the middle of the Farmville studios. Both Pincus and Mattrick described their relationship as one between “partners”.

Mattrick said he’s also going to discuss his priorities on this call – I’ll update this post when he does.

Update: Later in the call, Mattrick said his priorities for his first 90 days on the job include “getting under the hood” to evaluate the business, identifying the real market opportunities, improving product quality, looking at how people are deployed across the company, and reassessing the product pipeline. He also suggested Zynga is a young company that has “the ability to break some bad habits” but that while he’ll be in listen-and-learn mode initially, “When it becomes clear what change is necessary, I’ll move quickly and decisively to do what’s in the best long-term interests of our players, our employees, and our shareholders.”

He concluded, “There are some good winds at our back, and my job is to get our sails up and Zynga pointed in the right direction.”

Oculus Rift Will Be a “No-Motion-Sickness Experience,” and 4K Display in the Works, CEO Says

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Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe pledged today that the company’s upcoming virtual-gaming headset, the Oculus Rift, will not cause people to get motion-sick when it launches.

And that still-unannounced consumer launch date definitely won’t be in 2013, Iribe noted.

Iribe, who appeared at D: Dive Into Media in February, discussed “The Future of the Rift” at the Gaming Insiders Summit today in San Francisco. He said the combination of improving screen quality and decreasing latency between motion in the game and virtual-reality vision will make the new class of games – or at least the ones not designed to cause motion sickness – nausea-free.

“It is going to work,” Iribe said. “It’s gonna work for everybody.”

The CEO used his own experience to back up the claim: His own company’s previous hardware made him sick within two minutes, every time he tried it in the past. But with the latest internal build of the Oculus Rift, Iribe said he played for 45 minutes straight with no issues.

Iribe also dropped two new notes about the Rift’s use cases: The headset will eventually have a 4K display, and it might work with big gaming consoles, as well as with PCs and mobile devices.

“You can’t imagine what it’s going to look like when it’s 4K,” he said. “It’s not now, but it’s coming.”

As for consoles, Iribe talked up the Rift’s ability to project 2-D content on an IMAX-like field of view. Curiously, the way he chose to describe that 2-D-within-3-D experience was, “You can play Playstation 4 or Xbox One on this IMAX screen at home.”

Now, that’s far off from an official announcement, but, as founder Palmer Luckey told me back in May:

There’s no technical reason that the Rift can’t work on consoles. It has standard input/outputs, it wouldn’t be a lot of work. It’s just a matter of console manufacturers deciding to license it as a peripheral. They’re the gatekeepers.