James North-Hearn: New CEO of Foundation 9

26 03 2008

Sheffield

It was only last August that global studio group Foundation 9 bought Sheffield based Sumo Digital, and Sumo’s founder James North-Hearn has just become CEO of the so called “superdeveloper”:

North-Hearn briefly laid out his strategy for the company, saying: “When I worked with Infogrames and also with Gremlin, I was very studio-oriented. The first thing I want to do is spend some time with all of our studios, just to try to understand how they all tick, what we’ve actually got.

(CC image of Sheffield flats by paolo màrgari)

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Game Republic: License to Kill

25 03 2008

Goldeneye

Game Republic are holding an event on game licensing on April the 15th. From the site:

Speakers confirmed so far include Aaron Ludlow from Mastertronic. Keep an eye on this page for further updates. The session will be chaired by Northern games industry legend, Charles Cecil, Managing Director of Revolution Software.

(CC Image of the N64 in our office).





Nickelodeon Increases Game Production

20 03 2008

Spongebob

Yet more big media pushing into games: Nickelodeon plans to make a further 600 original flash games this year, and get 1000 more from other publishers. They’ve also reiterated a commitment to virtual worlds, and announced game development tools aimed at users rather than game developers:

— Nickgamestudio.com is a completely new vertical launch for the Nickelodeon Kids and Family Group. Launching in third quarter, Nickgamestudio.com will provide users with various tools to build new Nick-branded or original games and levels within existing games.

— AddictingGames Toolkits and Shockwave Gamebuilder: AddictingGame Toolkits and Shockwave Gamebuilder lets users create and upload their own versions of games and game levels using simple drag and drop editing tools, and a selection of art assets. AddictingGames has already seen huge success with the first of these games, Pencil Racer, launched in February.

— The-N.com Role Player: The-N.com users have spent years creating their own role-playing games on the site’s message boards. Groups of friends craft rich, collaborative stories, some of which have gone on for years. Role Player, launching in June, gives users new tools to create games, expanding and enriching these stories outside of the confines of the message boards. Users can invent their own worlds and characters, audition players, and customize different versions of their avatars to fit each game they’re playing.

They already have around 5000 games, and claim 80% of their audience play games. Yahoo have a copy of the full press release.





Henry Jenkins Interview

19 03 2008

Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins has been interviewed by Steven Johnson at SXSW, and Gamasutra has a piece up on it. As ever with Henry Jenkins, it’s a torrent of incredibly valuable insight, and I recommend you read it. While his blog is prolific, the Gamasutra piece creates a nice snapshot of some of his thinking:

Asked Johnson, “Do you ever look at a new technology and think, that is just stupid?”

“It’s a momentary flash in my mind,” admitted Jenkins. “But people don’t do things, in the end, that are meaningless. We may couch potato out sometimes, but that’s meaningful to us as well. So the challenge is to dig in and figure out what is meaningful about it to the person doing the activity. It may not be meaningful to me, but it’s clearly meaningful to the people engaging in it. People aren’t idiots. They do things for a reason. And the reason is usually very interesting. “

On TV and work:

Whereas Lost seems to push us in a new direction in terms of what it is to engage in a television experience. “

“It’s amazing how much time people have,” Johnson added. “One person creates a map from 45 freeze frames – it must have taken 3 days – and they put it in the discussion frame, and then other people chime in with corrections and additions. But the time commitment is amazing. “

“Rather than pathologize that, and say what’s wrong with these people that they spend so much time this way, let’s ask what’s wrong with America that these incredibly intelligent people are given so few opportunities to demonstrate their intelligence in their workplace,” said Jenkins. “Right?”

Johnson is not someone I’m very familiar with, but he too has some great insights. He says of moral panic:

“The young people who grew up with these interactive media – what are they like?” Johnson asked. “If you look at the broad demographic trends, they are incredibly good. They are the least violent since the 1950s, they are the most entrepreneurial on record, and the most politically engaged generation since the dawn of the television. Do we have a crisis here or an incredible opportunity? People seem to be more engaged generally than they’ve been since the rise of mass media. The idea that there’s some kind of reason for a moral panic at this time is very strange.”





The Lost Ring

19 03 2008

Tails loses rings

Jane McGonigal spoke a little bit about her new ARG, The Lost Ring, at GDC. It’s worth a look if you’re interested in them, since it’s probably the most ambitious yet: Eight languages, many countries, and running with the Olympic games. It seems to be the fulfillment of ambitions she’s had for a while. Here she was speaking about running ARGs in China a year ago:

How you would pull it off, I’m not exactly sure. That’s one of the things we’re working on, ARGs in China and India… The idea for that project is teens in American having to recruit allies across the world because missions will be taking place locally in, you know, Latvia, and Bangalore and you have to somehow get real people in these cities to play with you and work with you to solve stuff and coordinate. Coordinating with people in another state, that’s not really that big of a shift. So Hong Kong might be the city for that.

It will be fascinating to watch this unfold.

(Edit: Jane has posted her SXSW Keynote slides here)





Endemol Getting Into Casual Games

18 03 2008

BB Logo

Endemol have been flirting with games for quite a while, but a job posting on their website has tipped a bit more of what they’re planning. They’re creating a casual games team in Los Angeles.

Endemol Digital Media is creating a dedicated team to focus on casual game development

From the job description:

Establish a creative and technical casual game knowledge and resource center to be leveraged by the company worldwide

After being scoffed at by mainstream developers, casual is definitely becoming more respectable. I caught this quote on Dean Takahashi’s blog just after GDC:

The market for online casual games, from Tetris (estimated 60 million sold in lifetime) on cell phones to Bejeweled (350 million downloaded and sold on mobile phones) on computers, hit about $2.25 billion worldwide last year, according to Jessica Tams, head of the Casual Games Association. She says she no longer gets those funny looks when she talks about her group. Before, people would ask skeptical questions. Can you make any money with those? Are those real games?

“Now the question is how much money can I make how quickly?” she said. Even hardcore game companies want to make their games more accessible to wider audiences and so they’re asking how they can add casual elements to their games.

The differences between the culture and the business of games fascinate me. While casual games have been scoffed at by developers, and still are by hardcore ludologists, they’re starting to generate a lot of cash at the intersection between games companies and media companies in other industries. If the flow of business continues in this direction, it will invariably change the culture of game development, and also what it means in wider cultural terms to be a gamer.





Channel 4: £40M Digital Content Fund

18 03 2008

Channel 4

Channel 4 has stumped up £20M for a new digital content fund, the 4IP fund, totaling £40M with match funding and planned to grow to £50M. Based in Birmingham with Advantage West Midlands, the fund is highly experimental, aimed at new platforms on a trial basis for the next two years. More cities will be added as commissioning centres after the scheme launches in July. More details are at the Guardian.