Mobile app news roundup: Tapjoy, GREE and the end of 2G

Kompu gacha ban hurts Komani’s earnings – The ban on the kompu gacha monetization mechanic has hurt Konami’s Q1 2013 performance quite significantly, reports Dr. Serkan Toto. The company’s social game sales dropped 22.5 percent to $102 million, from last quarter’s sales of $130 million.

Peak Android? — Analytics firm Strategy Analytics reports that Google’s Android operating system may have reached peak saturation in the U.S., reporting sales of Android devices have declined by 5 percent year-over-year.

50 layoffs at the Daily — More bad news for pioneering digital newspaper The Daily, as publisher News Corp announced it would lay off 50 full-time employees, and eliminated its Sports and Opinion sections.

Tapjoy secures core team from Viximo to open Boston studio – Mobile advertising and publishing platform Tapjoy as acquired the core team from social games distribution platform Viximo. The newest Tapjoy employees will help establish the company’s Boston studio and focus on developer relations and advertising sales in the Northeast.

Flurry adds targeting by “persona” – Mobile analytics company Flurry now allows developers to segment their audience into 23 interest segments the company is calling “Personas.” Example Personas include: Value Shopper, Bookworm, Personal Finance Geek and Fashionista.

DeNA’s progress in China – DeNA’s aggressive expansion into China appears to be paying off, the company already has 5 million Mobage users spread across 60 games, reports Dr. Serkan Toto.

100 million downloads for Temple Run – Indie hit Temple Run has been downloaded more than 100 million times. 68 percent of the game’s downloads have come from iOS, 30 percent from Google Play and two percent from the Amazon Appstore.

Tapjoy and SK Planet announce partnership – Also in Tapjoy news, the company has entered a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with SK Telecom affiliate SK Planet, South Korea’s largest telecommunications company. The partnership allows SK Planet to leverage Tapjoy’s monetization platform, and helps Tapjoy expand its global footprint through SK Planet’s T store which has more than 15 million subscribers.

AT&T to shut down 2G network by 2017 — An AT&T Securities and Exchange Commission filing reveals that only 12 percent of AT&T’s postpaid customers are using 2G phones. The company will switch off the entirety of its 2G cellular network by January 1, 2017 in order to deal with “significant spectrum and capacity constraints.”

GREE joins ESA — The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the organization which owns and operates E3 and provides legal services to game publishers, today announced the addition of mobile game company GREE to its membership roster. GREE’s membership follows E3 2012, where GREE had a significant presence.

This is Now shows off Instagram’s API potential — This is Now is a visual composition which uses real-time updates from Instagram. Users pick one of five cities (New York, Sao Paulo, London, Tokyo or Sydney) and are then taken to a page which instantly streams photos uploaded to Instagram from that city. Mark Zuckerberg remained tight-lipped about the lack of progress on Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram during the company’s first earnings call last week.

[Rumor] iPhone 5, iPad Mini set for Sep. 12 debut – iMore reports Apple will unveil the hotly anticipated iPhone 5 on Sept. 12, with the official release to follow on September 21. The site also alleges the Apple will unveil the 7 inch iPad mini on on Sept. 12.

E3 roundup: Day 4 in mobile app news

Namco Bandai brings robot crime-fighting to mobile with No Red T-Shirts — Namco Bandai today launched No Red Shirts for iOS devices. The game puts players in the shoes of Robo, a “law-loving, crime-hating police-bot whose single mission in life is to bring order to the streets.” Players hand out fines based on goofy crimes like wearing hats “unlawfully” and riding a bike while eating ice cream. The game is available for $2.99 in the App Store.

WeMade takes aim at Diablo with Project Dragon — Mobile developer/publisher WeMade Entertainment is showing off its latest mobile games at E3. The company’s putting the spotlight on Project Dragon: The Roar From The Dungeon, a newly announced mobile MMORPG that will reportedly appeal to Diablo fans. The company also has the following social mobile titles on display: Friend Fighter, Rhythm Scandal, Goblin Mobile, Hero Square, and Pet Island. WeMade says its first games will be available in the AppStore starting sometime in June.


E3 roundup: Day 3 in mobile app news

Freeze Tag shows off E3 lineup — Mobile developer and publisher Freeze Tag is showing off its new social mobile titles, Party Animals and The Grimm Reaper, this week at E3. Party Animals is set in a cartoon world where players build and customize their raucous parties. The Grimm Reaper, meanwhile, is a hidden object game set in the universe of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that has players going head-to-head with Death in order to save the world. Both of these games are freemium titles for smartphones and tablets. No launch date has been revealed for either title.

Wikipad game tablet details revealed — Wikipad announced its upcoming gaming tablet will be powered by the Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core mobile processor. The tablet will run on the latest version of Android 4.0 and is expected to hit stores sometime during Q3 2012.

E3 roundup: Day 2 in mobile app news

PopCap launching Bejeweled Legend in Japan — EA PopCap is launching its first self-published game in Japan with Bejeweled Legend. Available on the GREE network, the game was built by PopCap’s new Tokyo studio. Bejeweled Legend updates the puzzle game’s standard gameplay with a pirate-themed story and RPG progression designed to appeal to Japanese players. The game is now available on both Japan’s iOS App Store and Google Play.

Square Enix shows off new iOS titles — Square Enix revealed some of its upcoming slate of mobile games at E3. The company showed off a first look at Drakerider — a 3D RPG for iOS scheduled for release in 2012 — and Demon’s Score, a rail shooter for iOS and Android that was developed with the Epic’s Unreal Engine 3. Siliconera has Japanese trailers for both Drakerider and Demon’s Score.

Gameloft reveals E3 lineup —  Mobile developer Gameloft has revealed what it will have on display at E3 this week, and the list includes a mix of both established and original IP for both iOS and Android. Aside from tie-ins to “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Ice Age” and “Men In Black 3″ movies, Gameloft will also be showing off new titles like its racing game Asphalt 7: Heat, From Paris to Rio, strategy title Kingdoms & Lords, and its new sci-fi-themed civilization sim Cosmic Colony.

Samsung increasing Smart TV appeal by getting into cloud gaming — Samsung today announced a partnership with could game provider Gakai to create a new service called Samsung Cloud Gaming. The service will allow owners of Samsung’s LED 7000 series of Smart TVs to stream casual and AAA games without requiring an external console. Samsung has been bullish about acquiring content for its Smart TVs and has been courting casual game developers like Rovio to bring popular mobile apps to its Smart TV line.

Activision bringing Skylanders to mobile – Activision is taking its popular line of toys/video games Skylanders to mobile devices with the franchise’s latest installment Skylanders Giants, reports Pocket Gamer.

Disney follows Where’s My Water? with Where’s My Perry? – After the breakout popularity of Where’s My Water?, Disney is looking to continue the phenomenon with Where’s My Perry. The new version of the game keeps the title’s gameplay mechanics but replaces Swampy and its sewer setting with characters from the cartoon Phineas and Ferb. The game is scheduled for release in late June.

EA Mobile on partnerships, acquisitions, growing pains with Simpsons, Battlefield and Rock Band

EA Mobile is in a state of transition following EA’s massive restructuring efforts launched earlier this year. As the company works to bring all its franchises under a unified management team, the mobile games spaces continues to grow at a rapid pace. Nick Earl, senior VP and head of EA’s mobile and social segment, explains to Inside Mobile Apps how he hopes to keep pace with growth while learning from some of the mishaps EA Mobile has experienced in recent months.

Inside Mobile Apps: Catch us up on the state of EA Mobile. You’ve lost a lot of people to Zynga and EA itself is still actively transitioning from a packaged goods business to a digital goods business.

Nick Earl, Senior VP of EA mobile and social (pictured right): We view this as what’s going to be the beginning of enormous growth. The departure of folks hasn’t really affected our commitment and capability here. We believe this is going to be an enormous opportunity based on just how fast and explosive the mobile market is. You look at how the world has upgraded to smartphones and the adoption of the freemium business model and the move to [high quality] graphics, it’s really fueling the growth of this space.

Our approach is to take our franchises, of which we have very strong properties that we license or own across the board, and build these ecosystems that not only allow you to play via mobile but also allow you to interact via console and PC. We’re taking a very holistic view of building ecosystems that mobile is a part of. What we believe will happen is that mobile will be a huge growth area that will expose us to new customers, and whole new groups of gamers — whether they’re lapsed gamers or new markets — and just kind of jump in, whether it’s FIFA or The Sims, which is a good example of ecosystems that you could play anywhere, anytime.

IMA: You’ve had a couple of games with rough launches, and some games have been pulled off of the App Store entirely — like Battlefield 3 and The Simpsons. How are you struggling there?

Earl: With the Simpsons, what happened there is that we did a test and soft launch and everything was fine, we put it out for worldwide launch and demand was just so great that we crashed the whole system. We pulled it off the App Store and we’ve been hard at work over the last month or so to rebuild and address the infrastructure that runs the game. We’ve almost got that complete and we’re going to be relaunching the game shortly.

We believe it was a crucial learning experience for us [in] being ready for high-DAU games. [F]or something with really strong brand power, it’s going to drive high DAUs. So we’ve learned a lot about what the real numbers are for these kind of games and a lot about the technology that’s going to run them. So, painful in the short run, highly educational in the long run in terms of how we run the business.

IMA: What do you see as EA Mobile’s main challenge in the next 12 months?

Earl: The largest change is going to be building an experience that’s not an isolated experience on a given device but that’s part of a bigger experience. So you can, for example, tap into a FIFA game on your mobile phone, trade players, change who’s going to play left forward, change stats, and that night go home and all the stats and changes come down from the cloud onto your console or PC and you play in a tournament mode with your friends online based on the changes you’ve done during the day. There’s a lot of learning to create these cross platform ecosystem experiences and we’re one of the few companies positioned to go after this in a big way. And I think that’s what consumers are demanding.

IMA: EA is somewhat experienced with cross-platform — last year, you released Dragon Age Legends, which was supposed to be an HTLM5 cross-platform experience for social and mobile that tied into the console and PC versions of Dragon Age 2. It didn’t quite work out like you planned, but some of the cross-platform groundwork was in the final product on Facebook. What did you learn from that experience that will shape the cross-platform experiences you launch this year?

Earl: I wasn’t directly involved in that, so I can’t speak in depth on it, but I’ll just say in general that the learning we’re finding as we go after this is [...] that the experience has to be tailored to a given device, but it has to be part of a larger experience. So you’re balancing those two objectives. You want to create something expressly for a smartphone, or for a tablet, or a PC or a console — but you want to do it in a way where they speak to each other which allows the consumer to play anywhere anytime.

What we’ve learned as we go is one, balance those objectives. They’re not necessarily competing, but it takes a tremendous amount of planning, logistics and design to pull that off. There’s been a lot of learning on the technology in being able to integrate these devices, which is why we’re pursuing a strong infrastructure and a ubiquitous funnel — Origin — to be able to connect players. Those are two of the key learnings. The third would be the pure design challenge. We have a strong fundamental belief that [winning] in social and mobile — just like in console, as we’ve learned over the last couple of decades — comes down to quality above everything else. Quality is crucial and that comes down to a lot of factors; the design, the graphics and the way a game comes together. So our learning there is, hey let’s make sure we deliver the highest quality and map that anywhere anytime and that’s how we can win in the next stage of the industry.

IMA: So, if we’re talking about quality, let’s talk about Battlefield 3 on iOS. The app was pulled after low ratings. What was the learning there?

Earl: Be very careful with whom you work. That was done by an external studio managed by an internal producer. We found that that particular developer just didn’t have the skill and capability to deliver the game that we wanted. And the end of the day, that’s our responsibility and we took full responsibility for it. You’ve just got to be really thoughtful about what teams build your games, and about the communication factor, the logistical equations behind having teams work together to deliver quality. It was still early on for us, relatively speaking, so we were still trying to figure it out how to do a shooter on mobile, so it was just something where we had not developed that core expertise.

IMA: And the issue with Rock Band Mobile? Why did a notification go out telling users the game would no longer be playable on their device?

Earl: It was just an error. That notification should never have gone out and it won’t happen again. It’s still available. That was just a learning problem with notifications and an internal communication mishap. We don’t see that happening again.

IMA: Going forward, are you looking to staff up your own internal studios or will you acquire or partner with external studios to get that level of quality you’re looking for?

Earl: I think you’re going to see both happening. Acquisitions where we can pick up great talent anywhere in the world. We’re always looking, we have a very active corp dev team that’s always trying to seek out those opportunities. We are staffing up.

One thing that makes us kind of different, again getting back to core IP or franchises, when we staff up teams, regardless of where they’re based whether it’s Beijing or Shanghai or Vancouver or Montreal, if they’re working a franchise, they all roll up to the same management. This is a coordinated effort with the recent organizational changes that we’ve made, we put this into place across the entire company. Really for the first time, every single franchise, regardless of where it’s being developed and on which device, is under one management team. So we think there’s a much better level of coordination and drive toward a single vision of that franchise. That has not always been the case and that’s one of the core learnings and key organizational changes we’ve made in order to adapt to this new growth space.

IMA: So are you soured on partnering with third-party studios?

Earl: Not necessarily. We have really strong relationships — for example, we’re doing a social game with Insomniac. We believe Outernauts is going to be a great [model] of how to partner with external groups.

There are other examples of how we partner well. We’re bringing out World Series of Poker, which is getting a worldwide launch over the next two weeks and we’re showing it at E3. That’s a different kind of partnership — it’s an IP partnership. It’s on iOS initially and we’ll follow on Android. What’s interesting about this game as a poker app, you can play on phone or tablet and if you win enough points, you can earn your way into having a real seat at the World Series of Poker tournament in Vegas. That’s a great example of a partnership that adds huge value to the customer experience. We’re way more thoughtful and very careful about how we partner with different studios, but we’re not soured on it. We’re just smarter about how we do it.

IMA: So you’ve got Chillingo on your mobile publishing side — are you going to do more with social game publishing? Or was Outernauts a by-product of your preexisting relationship with Insomniac?

Earl: We’re not ready to talk about that yet. We’re open minded about how we can take advantage of our publishing capabilities. We have a long history of very strong publishing partners through the EA Partners group. We’re still evaluating what the right path is, but [Insomniac] is an existing relationship, they’re just such a strong studio and such strong designers that we felt it made sense to partner this way. It’s still up in the air as to how we’re going to go down that path. What I will say is that we have a very strong infrastructure, we nailed it with Chillingo and mobile so we want to continue to expand there and just see what happens on the social side.

IMA: So how does PopCap fit in? They have their own IP that’s already killing it on mobile and still going strong on social.

Earl: They’re following the exact same playbook. Six labels cover all development for EA and PopCap is one of the six. They have a unique set of properties that have been very strong on mobile. Bejeweled Blitz is our number one earner on mobile. But they’re really going after the same integrated, holistic view going forward and again [we can] take advantage of PopCap’s innovation and design and match it up with the infrastructure and publishing capabilities of EA to pursue this initiative. They’re absolutely key to this whole initiative as much as EA Sports, as much as Maxis.

IMA: How does Origin fit in? You’ve called it a funnel, but it’s also an online store. Are we going to see it become more integrated with mobile games?

Earl: We’re going to do that step-by-step as the technology is made available. Ultimately, Origin is ubiquitous funnel that’s going to bring users in, match them with the kind of games we think they’re interested in. It’s a cash register, it gives us the telemetry that we need to understand what kind of games they’re playing and how we can continue to improve the experience.

The success of Origin that we’ve had so far as an online store — I think it’s number two right now — we think this is just the beginning of how big this service is. So every game inside the company is going to support it and attach to it, and the funnel in how we acquire potential users is going to come from Origin more than anywhere else. We think this is a huge competitive advantage in the long term, so kick the creation of a platform, matching it to really quality IP that are available anytime anywhere is really the singular vision for the company.

IMA: What do you think of the growing competition from GREE and DeNA entering North America?

Earl: I don’t know if I can speak directly about what they’re doing or not doing. We view everyone as strong competition and we don’t take anyone for granted. Any kind of innovation in the marketplace, whether it’s business innovation, tech or game innovation — we watch closely. We feel that we have a strong core mission in terms of the cross-platform approach and quality games and at the end of the day that’s what really matters. That’s what’s going to make a difference more than anything else.

IMA: What are you showing at your E3 booth today?

Nick: I can tell you a few games — Word Series of Poker, Outernauts, a massive update to Scrabble. It’s been out there for a while, but we’ve done an intense facelift to Scrabble in terms of user experience and user interface. We’re showing that on Facebook and iPhone. It’s a good example of play anywhere, anytime.

IMA: Is this the second or third facelift for Scrabble? As you say, it’s been around for quite a while and it was completely cross-platform as of last year.

Earl: This is the second time we’ve done a key update. This one is profound in many ways — it’s in fluid canvas on Facebook, giving us lots more real estate to do chat and online dictionary. We have leaderboards so that you can see which friends are playing at what time and how they’re doing, how you stack up against them. It’s really easy with one click to get into a game. The [amount of time] it takes to start playing a game is much faster. It’s got a fresh look to it and you have the ability to play words when it’s not your turn. That’s just a sample of the improvements. On the phone, you can swipe between different screens from the chat to dictionary to the game itself, to the discovery page that lets you find your friends and start games with them. Pretty significant improvement for Scrabble and it follows the same path we’ve been on. We believe it’s the real word game out there and this is going to take it to the next level.

E3 Roundup: Day one in mobile app news

Microsoft SmartGlass adds mobile, tablet integration to Xbox 360 — Microsoft announced a new Xbox feature called SmartGlass at its E3 press conference. The technology will let players use smartphone and tablet owners use their devices as supplementary controllers and remote controls for their consoles. Users will also be able to use their devices to surf the internet and watch videos streamed from their console. SmartGlass will be supported on Android,  iOS and Windows Phone.

Sony rebrands PlayStation Suite as PlayStation Mobile, signs deal with HTC — Sony’s PlayStation Certified branding is coming to non Sony-made Android devices. During the company’s E3 press conference, Sony revealed that HTC will be its first third-party partner for the newly renamed PlayStation Mobile software framework. Gamers with PlayStation certified devices (such as HTC and Xperia phones, and the Sony PS Vita) will be able to download original PlayStation titles for use on touch screen devices.

2K reveals mobile lineup for 2012 — 2K has announced it will be releasing five mobile games in 2012. The titles include the licensed political title Comedy Central’s Indecision Game, Fiasco the Cat Starring in House Pest, GridBlock: The Puzzle Game You’ll Flip Over, Carnival Games MiniGolf and Herd, Herd, Herd. 2K will begin releasing the games this sumer.

Molyneux’s first game post Microsoft is mobile — The first game from industry veteran Peter Molyneux’s new studio 22 Cans will be an experimental mobile game Curiosity. The game will be released on iOS and PC within six weeks, reports Develop.

Nyko releasing Android controllers — Gaming accessory maker Nyko will be making a line of controllers specifically designed for Android smartphones and tablets according to Polygon. The company is also releasing an app called Playground that will allow users with the controllers to use them with games that do not natively support the controllers.

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