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Microsoft’s gaming phone March 11, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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Do I have to mention the picture again? I didn’t think so. Anyway, this is a quick update. In one of my last entries, I mentioned Sony’s take on the PSP phone. So for completeness sake I feel I should mention the competition: this week, at GDC, Microsoft announced their new mobile phone OS.

Windows Phone 7 will have access to Xbox Live Arcade. On the programming side, the new version of XNA, the 4.0 release, will offer support for the platform, which by the way means developers will be able to create games for Windows 7 phones in a cost free environment.

As I mentioned when talking about the PSP phone, the key to this kind of initiative is software. And both companies are betting on their console markets to succeed. In that sense, I have to say Microsoft will get a head start. Live Arcade is right now a much stronger media distribution solution than the Playstation Network.

By the way, with the Live Arcade + XNA approach Microsoft rivals iPhone development, which is also free. What about Sony? The Japanese giant was apparently going that route, at least as far as sales are concerned, with the low priced PSP Mini games. However, development still depends on an expensive SDK. Maybe that indicates Sony might choose not to go that route and follow the more traditional game development/distribution model, keeping the publisher in between and charging for the development kit, like Nintedo does with the DSiware.

Which approach is better? I prefer the iPhone/Microsoft one by far. But that’s obvious because being both gamer and a programmer, I am biased. But let’s be fair, if I were a publisher or a manufacturer, things would be far less evident.

See you space cowboys…


OnLive + iPad = beauty January 29, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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onlive + ipad

Don’t fall for the picture. I put that together. But when I thought of it, I just had to share.

In one hand we have the iPad, a wireless device with 3G capabilities and a screen big enough for good input and interesting gameplay. On the other hand we have OnLive, a system that streams games, allowing players to enjoy high quality games while requiring very modest hardware requirements. Is everyone connecting the dots?

Let me just say this won’t happen. Apple wants people to use the App Store. But I would love to see OnLive and Apple making this work. Anyway, the doors are open and this merge of remote play + movement freedom will occur eventually, with or without the iPad.

Not that‘s something I would definitely want to buy.

See you space cowboys…

Apple’s new big thing: iPad games? January 29, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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Let’s face it: the iPhone hardware is nothing special.

In Brazil, it took us a while to get it and I only understood its success when I saw the App Store. Their slogan, “there’s an app for that”, is the key to the iPhone popularity. Apple made the App Store very accessible and pushed it really hard. As a result, the flood of applications made the iPhone an awesome device, much better than other phones/smart-phones with better hardware but far less software.

This Wednesday Apple unveiled their new product, the iPad. The iPad is a tablet and Apple expects to have with it the same success the iPhone had. Many predicted the same software based strategy would be used for the new device. And while there’s certainly competition, mostly with Windows based tablet PCs, I suspect a strong application base will make Apple prevail.

It is so much easier to find a bunch of applications you want, go to a store and say “I want an iPad”. The alternative is to find a bunch of Windows apps you want, research which tablet best suits your needs (RAM, HD, processor speed, screen size, video card, …), try to find a store that sells it and hope everything runs. And you will probably leave the store with the certainty that you didn’t make the best possible choice. Check this great video on TED. You’ll see what I am talking about (boy, this video deserves its own post. But don’t wait, watch it now).

But I digress. I want to talk about the impacts of the iPad in the games industry. So let’s talk about games.

Amazon recently announced they would be stimulating application and game development for the Kindle. Together with the iPad, it starts development for intermediate sized platforms, between smart-phones and PCs (let’s face it, a notebook is a PC). I don’t see a big revolution in game programming: everything indicates we’ll program games for the Apple tablet the same way we do for the iPhone. And the Kindle is not as powerful, most likely supporting simpler games.

That being said, the bigger screen and processing power will stimulate more complex game design. I for one like to exercise my brain as much as possible so more complex games, meaning probably more complex code, are a good thing.

Also, the software base for the iPad is already spreading its wings. Gameloft and EA presented games for the new platform, we know Unity will run on the device and Mark Rein, from Epic Games, vented the possibility of having Unreal Engine running on the iPad too. And in the end, if a lot of publishers decide to invest in the platform, we’ll have some great games, no doubt. And that alone should make the iPad a gaming hit.

At first I don’t think many will focus specifically on the iPad. After all, the iPhone base is too big and developers, specially smaller ones, are probably better off making games that run on both platforms. But if Apple succeeds and the iPad becomes the new big thing, it will certainly be a very interesting gaming platform.

I am probably already writing too much. If you want to check other takes on the subject, take a look here and here.

See you space cowboys…

d for the

Cogs in the Brazilian games industry machine January 22, 2010

Posted by Cesar in working me.
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brazilian flag + marcus fenix

Gamasutra recently published a great article from Divide By Zero CEO James Portnow. In the article, Portnow makes a very interesting analysis of Brazil as an ecosystem for the games industry, investigating aspects from law and taxation to technical quality and piracy.

If you are just looking for the conclusion, here it is:

Now is the time to get into Brazil. The margin is right. If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds are about three to one that the Brazilian industry never gets off the ground. But at the same time, I’d say the return on resources invested in Brazil at this point will be at least ten to one if the industry does get past its infancy. I also believe that foreign entities have an opportunity to better those odds of the Brazilian industry becoming successful.

I find the probabilities he estimates very interesting. It’s like analyzing pot odds in poker: in a nutshell, it means he does not think his pair of 8s will win, but if it does he’ll get much more than he put on the table.

While I do agree with most of what is in the article, I believe some remarks are in order.

First let’s talk about piracy. It truly is, like Portnow says, an elephant in the room. In Brazil, every time there’s a debate about the games industry, the subject comes up. It is almost boring. I think Brazil will not bring the numbers down any time soon to be honest. And to expect the government to drop taxes on external games to something that would cause an impact is a distant dream. That being said, I noticed a significant improvement with the new generation of consoles. No one bought original PS2 titles. On the 360, however, I believe the piracy percentage is better. Unfortunately, like someone mentioned in a comment on the aforementioned article, most of these purchases are made from stores that get their products illegally across the border. Nonetheless, while it is still a crime, it puts some of the money back into the games industry (probably in Miami somewhere) and I think that represents an improvement. Microsoft also officially distributes 360 games in Brazil. I don’t have the figures, but I would love to know how that’s going.

Anyway, even a small drop could make the market very interesting, as the base of gaming platforms is very significant. Mexico also had a high piracy rate, above 90%. When NAFTA came and games became cheaper, it dropped to around 80% if I am not mistaken (if someone has the exact numbers please let me know. I couldn’t find them). And while that’s still a huge percentage, those 10-15% meant a huge increase in sales, enough to get the Mexican games industry going.

I found it very curious, however, that Portnow didn’t talk to Abragames. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the association actions or not, it is an important organization that could have added even more depth to what already is a great article. I also had the pleasure of working at TecToy Digital and went back to visit one and a half years later. Boy did they grow. They are behind the Zeebo platform and are a sound example that game development can go very well in Brazil.

The other interesting point I would like to have seen in the article was the 2008-2009 financial crisis. It had a major impact in the Brazilian games industry and the waves are still propagating now in 2010. I fell victim to that, when in 2008 Gameloft shut down their development studio in São Paulo as a measure to cut costs during the crisis. And I know other game studios struggled with the lack of new projects. For that reason, I would say the industry in 2010 is still crawling back to where it was in 2008. So when you look at the industry now, you have to dig deep to get past the crisis ripples and see the actual potential for game development in the land of Samba and Bossa Nova.

Finally, my experience as a game developer in Brazil, specially when helping with recruitment, is that Brazil has a long way to go in a whole cultural aspect associated to game development. Until recently (I’m talking 2004-2005) the industry was so small it wasn’t considered a career option. That means students fresh out of the top universities in Brazil were getting to the market lacking the drive or the background to jump right into game development. But that’s slowly changing. With that cultural change alone, with the undergraduates knowing the number of opportunities in game development is not so small, we should have a pretty qualified work force. The quality of the computer science/engineering courses in Brazil is well known and a reason to be proud.

So all in all, I have more faith in the Brazilian game developers than James Portnow. I think the cards on the table are low and that pair of 8s has a good chance of winning the pot.

See you space cowboys…

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