WoW hits 8 million

12 01 2007

WoW hits 8 million from Guardian Unlimited: Gamesblog:

“Blizzard have announced that World of Warcraft has hit 8 million subscribers. Even if you assume that a substantial amount of these are lapsed accounts this is still a hugely impressive figure. Of course, this announcement is perfectly timed, with Burning Crusade – the first expansion pack for the game – released next Tuesday, complete with midnight store-openings around Europe.”





Super Columbine controversy continues

12 01 2007

The fall-out from the Super Columbine controversy continues. Since Aleks covered it on Wednesday and keith stuart chipped in today with the Technology column, things have moved on with several other competitors from the Slamdance Games competition dropping out in protest.

One developer and finalist, Jason Rohrer, has written an open letter to the remaining entrants pleading with them not to follow suite: “Everyone seems to be pulling out now, and I don’t think it’s the best move. That just leads to silence, and what we need is discussion.”

Hmm, I’m not sure the many thousands of lines of blog coverage the protests have prompted constitutes silence – I’d say it has kept the story on the global agenda. The alternative was to protest to a roomful of people at the festival itself – worthy, perhaps, but unlikely to capture the attention or imagination of the blogging public.

So far my favourite coverage of the upset has been on game designer Greg Costikyan’s blog, Game * Design * Art * Culture. First he ran his own defense of Super Columbine, then the next day a friend’s rather cutting and critical antithesis.

As far as videogame scandals go, this is a hell of a lot more interesting and relevant than Hot Coffee.





EA, Frontier and others question ‘games academy’ idea

12 01 2007

As reported by DevelopMag

Tiga loves it, EA doesn’t – MP Shaun Woodward’s suggestion that UK studios form an academy for games developers has ignited sector chatter, but opinions clash over the idea’s worth. Last week, Woodward told the Financial Times that the best way for the UK games industry to secure fresh talent “is to move into the hot seat itself; to come to the government and say ‘we want to put some money into an academy’.”

He described a ‘school for geeks’ that would not only serve graduates and students but also encourage young gamers “traditionally” left out of higher education to consider a career in games production as well.

Yesterday, development association Tiga stepped up to applaud Woodward’s headline-grabbing suggestion, which was in fact spurred by a meeting between the two in July ’06.

Tiga and its CEO Fred Hasson wants to see the industry put together an academy-style Centre of Excellence and has conducted research into the issue.

Explained Hasson: “The industry is crying out for more suitably skilled people to enter the sector. Skills needed to cope with the next-gen transition to larger studios and changing patterns of production are needed now. There are potential gains to be made by looking at how techniques and know-how from other closely related industries can inform the way we develop product. These are the issues we are exploring with companies and partners.”

A similar idea is also being put together by computer game and digital media agency Pixel-Lab, which according to managing director Toby Barnes is “further reaching than a ‘school for geeks'” and “would work along side the countries excellent post graduate courses and would develop a sustainable future for UK development”.

PERCEPTION PROBLEMS
However, the already-established and fast-growing games education sector has been left a little puzzled by Woodward’s outcry. From their point of view, such teaching is already available in the UK via established colleges and universities – and the idea of sending out a message that all gamers might make it in academia is mistaken.

“There has always been a perception among the ill-informed that someone who spends a lot of time playing games must be able to make them. There is obviously no link between the amount of time someone spends watching TV and their potential for a career in the BBC, so why are games seen as any different?” said Dr Jon Purdy of Hull University’s Games Programming MSc.

“I would suggest that there is a very good correlation between excellence in traditional academic subjects and suitability for employment in the games industry, just as there is in all technically demanding, creative and highly profitable industries.”

Purdy told Develop that numbers for the course are already falling due to lack of studio support, and that Woodward’s suggesting private sector money fund a games academy is a short-sighted. Instead the opposite is needed: “The only thing that suffers when specialist masters’ level games graduate numbers fall is the games industry. If the Government or games industry don’t give some assistance to the students wanting to do masters’ courses, like ours, there will be very few graduates entering the games industry from these courses in the near future.”

Meanwhile Electronic Arts UK, which runs a successful Universities program, has blasted everything about Woodward’s suggestion, from the use of the word ‘geek’ through to the fundamentals of the idea itself.

“As an industry the sooner we can shake off the perception that our companies are staffed by geeks the better. Geeks conjure up the image of social outcasts, nerdy disfunctionals who live for their work,” explained Matthew Jeffery, head of European studio recruitment.

“The games sector is not in the midst of a talent crisis. Those touting this are obviously not creative in the way they are seeking to attract candidates and they need to focus on attracting talent not only from within the gaming industry but outside of it. With the appeal of Next Generation gaming we can attract the best talent from our finest universities, from film, TV, music, mobile, IT hardware and software, FMCG, retail and defence industries, to name but a few areas where great talent is.”

Jeffery explained that traditional graduates are EA UK’s priority for its recruitment plans in 2007, with the publisher-developer hoping to make sure over 30 per cent of its studio hires this year are graduates.

SHOW US THE MONEY

Some independent studios in the UK remain unconvinced as well, with Frontier boss David Braben telling Develop: “I would be wary of any special interest group running education. On the art side, our prime competitor for staff as an industry is the film business. On the programming side our prime competitor is probably the finance industry.

“We are simply looking for good solid candidates who are very good in their respective fields, with a broad knowledge of the associated disciplines – the knowledge we require is not particularly specialist. It is these good solid candidates that are hardest to find.

“Universities have been going downhill as they dumb down to attempt to meet the government’s ridiculous targets of 50 per cent ‘university’ attendance – resultant computer science graduates, for example, no longer have the knowledge they need, like basic maths.”

Another UK independent studio executive, which dubbed Woodward’s idea as ‘a games version of Hogwarts’, pointed out that it might be hard to get studios behind such a privately-funded venture because they would want assurances that they could cherry-pick the best students once they finished studies.

But there are already comparable establishments with games-exclusive teaching elsewhere in the world, if they are rare. Centre NAD in Montreal bills itself as ‘a finishing school for developers’ by offering an art and animation design course, while Germany is host to a Games Academy which has around 100 students learning games art, programming and level design – it even offers courses for would-be producers. Both of these schools are privately run from funds generated by tuition fees and donations.

And it’s money of course that will prove the main test for such an idea in the UK. Explained Tiga’s Hasson: “The key issue will be willingness to pay. We are working on the basis that few will want to put in funds for general training at present so that what we are doing now is investigating potential partners willing to pump prime this process, and developers willing to work with others.”





ELSPA says 2006 was record year for UK games industry // GamesIndustry.biz

11 01 2007

“ELSPA says 2006 was record year for UK games industry

Software sales up 7 per cent, FIFA most popular title

ELSPA has declared that the British videogames industry hit an ‘all time high’ in 2006 with a 7 per cent increase in the number of games sold – bringing the total figure to 65.1 million units.

All-formats sales totalled GBP 1.36 billion – a new record, according to ELSPA, and an increase of 1 per cent over the figure for 2005.

The majority of console games purchased were for PlayStation 2, followed by Xbox 360, Xbox, Wii and GameCube. PC titles did well, with software sales up 7 per cent – making 2006 the platform’s ‘best year ever’.

It was also a good year for handhelds – DS and PlayStation Portable software sales just trailed the figures for PS2, with Nintendo’s machine ‘slightly outdoing’ the PSP.

The best-selling game of the year was FIFA ’07 – one of four EA titles in the top ten. At number three it’s Need for Speed: Carbon, with The Sims 2: Pets at six and The Sims 2 at nine.

Konami’s PES 6 takes second place, while Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is in fourth followed by Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy at five.

Movie tie-in Cars is in seventh place, while Lara makes a comeback with Tomb”





Serial Programming a Format or a Genre

11 01 2007

“Is Serial Programming a Format or a Genre? Slippery Language in the Popular Press”

The New York Times is the latest authority to chime in on the controversy of the Fall 2006 television lineup, as people still debate about complex television and the failure of some of the new shows this fall.

By this point, I find that so much of the negativity surrounding seriality has become the way the failure of these various shows have been covered in the popular press, particularly in considering serial programming a genre. That’s the language used by reporter Edward Wyatt in this story. After first calling serial programming a ‘format,’ he later writes, ‘All of which has left some fans of the genre wondering whether it is worth committing to untested new serials, or better to wait and see if a new series will be around for more than a few weeks.’

That raises an interesting question. Serial programming is not new. Maybe there is a particular bent of serial programming to this new format, but the idea of storylines that connect from week-to-week has helped drive narrative interest in some shows for a long time now. But, to me, the serial format is a mode of storytelling, not a genre of story, at least not in the sense television genres are usually discussed in.

What we have here is a question about genre and h”





Convergent thoughts on the iPhone

10 01 2007

Having previously argued that convergence is something tech companies seem to show huge appetite for yet consumers seem to show little appetite for, I’ll now happily admit I may be wrong. I finally see a convergent device that makes sense, that would appear to appeal to me almost completely. It just seemed that Apple had to make it, that’s all. If they can actually launch the thing – on time, in sufficient numbers, globally – and it lives up to even half the promise of their near-perfect presentation, then convergence becomes a pragmatic, useful, beautiful reality.

iPhone

Apple iPhone

NB: In a stunningly mistimed announcement – the absolute opposite of a slow news day for the mobile market – it should also be noted that Nokia has announced the N800 and N76 smartphone/mobile computers. Their deal with Vox is also worth noting. The latter is interesting, strategically, but I can’t see it making the front pages tomorrow, somehow.





Relentless unveils Buzz title for schools market

10 01 2007

Developed in partnership with the Department of Educations and Skills, Buzz: The Schools Quiz will feature over 5000 questions based around Key Stage 2 National Curriculum content.”We’re incredibly excited about this project. Learning games like this will, we hope, give teachers an extra tool in the classroom,” said David Amor, creative director of Relentless.

“Using the buzzers and the quiz format means the game is instantly accessible – and works on the basis that kids learn more when they’re having fun.”

A preliminary version of Buzz: The Schools Quiz is being shown at BETT, the educational technology show running this week in London, with school trials due to take place before the title goes into full production.

The game will also introduce Teacher Features, allowing teachers to create a quiz around one particular subject, or set parameters for modes such as team play and game progression.

“Buzz has proven itself a hugely successful family home entertainment franchise for over 750,000 UK PlayStation owners,” commented Ray Maguire, MD of Sony UK.

“Taking this proven format into the educational sector with brand new curriculum-relevant content created by teachers seems a potent new addition to the teacher’s portfolio,” he added





Developing a UK centre of excellence for videogame development

7 01 2007

In 1933 the British Film Institute or BFI as it is now known was created to promote greater understanding, appreciation, access and support for the film and television industries in the UK. Its main aims were to encourage public appreciation of film, advise educators, carry out research and act as a mediator between industry, teachers and their audiences. In 2007 we are in a very similar position with the UK videogame industry and the time is right to take this opportunity and create a future for growth.

For the last two years Pixel-Lab has been lobbying government, working with regional development agencies and most importantly industry to create a centre of excellence (physical or virtual) that would build upon this countries excellence in game development and provide a sustainable future. Last week Shawn Woodward called for a school for geeks . We should not be looking at industry for the first steps – the major players in this country are American or Japanaese and are indifferent about where their talent stems. We have a number of UK players who are committed to the UK continuing its development excllence but we need more than this. The first steps need to come from government. A new industry needs supporting, it needs catclysts and it needs to be led. There is a demand from industry for higher skilled workforce, for investment in technology, and for more smaller new companies to be formed, and we need to develop the supply of organizations who can create these.

Seventy years after their foundation, the BFI continues to develop new audiences and filmakers with a passion for cinema. They are proud of their expertise and knowledge and while building on their reputation as the guardian of film past, they are championing the very latest in cinema technology and working with young filmmakers to understand British Cinema.

The BGI will sit at the epicentre of videogaming incubation, research and teaching. By creating a dynamic environment for growth the BGI will provide the catalyst for creating a mature future for videogame development, one the UK deserves. If one word will encapsulate the work of the BGI, it is passion – a passion for videogames and videogame culture in all its forms. To an outsider looking in, the BGI’s passion for games will be obvious. The BGI will be the guardian and champion of videogaming in this country.
If further supported how much additional impact could the games industry have on the GDP of UK plc?
How much is being spent on games courses in academia with no central lead?
How are regional development agencies making up their own strategies with little conversation between them, and a lack of centralized support?
How will the UK ensure it’s heritage in videogames is developed?
How will the UK continue to innovate and develop its creativity?
With US and Japanese publishers buying up UK development studios at a rapid pace and those independent studios who are left working in an environment that will only allow the very strong to survive, who will offer a haven for independent content creators?
A centre of excellence is the anwnser to these questions and many more.
• A campus of new and established game companies equiped with all the tools needed to survive and grow over the next few years.
o The centre will create a pool of talented, experienced individuals with a real portfolio of game that developers and publishers will snap up on graduation. This will follow the model provided by the London Film School, New York film School, RADA, or the ARRTS centre in the UK;
• The incubated companies will have access to good students for in-house projects; The opportunity to influence the formation of the next generation of games engineers;
• Input and access to leading-edge research;
o Joint ownership of intellectual property (IP) arising from the Centre and the opportunity to develop it for subsequent wealth generation;
o Obvious publicity benefits, such as visibility at conferences, in academic papers and press coverage;

Along with the growing significance of computer gaming in the UK – both with regards to its cultural impact on society as well as regarding its economic importance to UK plc. – emerges the need to facilitate a multitude of relationships, support programmes and information exchanges. For example:
• As government learns about the economic promise of a thriving games sector it needs to understand how best to support the industry;
• Independent developers require up-skilling in many areas ranging from basic management skills to learning about newest industry trends in the UK and abroad;
• Computer games is a new industry that requires investment and support services;
• Global publishers and small developers require a forum that facilitates information exchange between the two groups; and
• Children, parents, government and companies all need to better understand how players interact with computer games content.

In the UK, the games industry is not primarily based in London but in the UK regions and nations. The Midlands, North East, and the South East all boost an impressive list of computer games companies. This uncommon decentralisation of the sector provides a chance to establish a sector support organisation with national reach and ambition in one of the nations and regions and to support government’s drive to foster economic and cultural development outside the capital.

In short, in the games sector, there is a real argument to be made for the establishment of an institution similar to the British Film Institute – an organisation which fosters sector culture and advances the understanding and literacy of industry practitioners, government and citizens. Moreover, as recently established media support organisations such as FACT in Liverpool have increasingly started to gap the bridge between cultural support and business support, there is an argument to be made for equipping a “Games Institute” with business and management support and training remit.





Assassin’s Creed story-line is more complex than we are led to believe

5 01 2007

Veronica Mars actress Kristen Bell has just given an interview to IGN TV in which she talks about her voice role in forthcoming next-gen adventure, Assassin’s Creed. The game was thought to be a historical slice n’ dicer, revolving around an assassin who gets caught up in a Holy Land conspiracy. But it turns out (as, in fact, the developer has always hinted) that this may only be part of the story.

When asked about the game she replies…

“It’s sort of based on the research that’s sort of happening now, about the fact that your genes might be able to hold memory. And you could argue semantics and say it’s instinct, but how does a baby bird know to eat a worm, as opposed to a cockroach, if its parents don’t show it? And it’s about this science company trying to, Matrix-style, go into people’s brains and find out an ancestor who used to be an assassin, and sort of locate who that person is. It’s very, very cool, and I’ve seen all the graphics for it.

Theories pointing in this direction have been floating around since E3. Rolling demos of the game have shown anomalies like visual glitches, suggesting that we’re watching video footage (well, we are watching video, but I mean video within video…), and also a few seconds of a thoroughly modern setting where the words “access your genetic memory” can be seen.

This is interesting stuff. Rarely do videogame developers care so much about story that they dripfeed information in this way. Indeed, most of the time we wouldn’t care, as the narrative surprises just aren’t that interesting when divorced from the gameplay. But this is quite a neat, cinematic idea.

I hope this is a sign of things to come from next-gen development. We have been waiting a decade for developers to start thinking ‘look, it’s pointless boasting about graphics as everything looks amazing now. So let’s just some up with a startling idea instead’. Maybe the time has come.





BGi becomes a reality

5 01 2007

After 3 years of Pixel-Lab campaigning and discusing the BGI (UK Games Academy) Ministers are starting to talk about it.

The creative industries minister Shaun Woodward has called for developers to solve the problems facing recruiters by forming an academy to educate those looking to get into the games industry. Speaking to the Financial Times today, he said that the “best way for the video games industry to have the talent and the skills it wants is to move into the hot seat itself; to come to the government and say ‘we want to put some money into an academy’.”

What he called a “school for geeks” would not only target those looking to get into games but those usually left out by traditional academia: “You might have kids who traditionally have quite a difficult time coping with traditional academic subjects but happen to be the most amazing gamers… you have to look very creatively at the kind of educational background you want.”

“They’re now recognising that ‘actually we’re huge, maybe we need to build our own institutional bricks’,” the minister added of the games academy. “You see television and films schools but we don’t have a video-games school. Why not? Because [the sector] is so new. And yet we’re the third largest manufacturer in the world.”

Woodward said he was confident that there would be private sector support for the theorised initiative – although he was not pressed further on whether the support would be from developers, publishers, or third party financers.

A number of studios around the world already have links to established universities and colleges, and EA even has its own EA University program, however there is no such dedicated games academy such as the London Film School, for instance.