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OP-ED: Netflix’s Failures Highlight Steam’s Strength

Netflix subscribers will find their movie selection gutted tomorrow, as the service removes thousands of movies and TV shows due to the end of its contract with the premium cable movie network Starz, which, while providing only around 5% of the overall Netflix library, just happens to offer some of the more popular content.


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The same thing happens to online game providers, from Netflix-like streaming services like OnLive, to more traditional digital distribution platforms like Xbox Live or Steam. With all this uncertainty one might be tempted to simply stick with physical media, but despite what its ardent defenders will tell you, the physical media sold by normal retail channels comes with a finite lifespan. Regardless of whether you stream, download, or buy optical discs, no game you purchase will last forever, and any streaming service will face periodic mass delistings like Netflix as contracts change every few years. Meaning downloadable game services may offer you the best chance of playing your favorite game thirty years from now.


Though OnLive hasn’t shaped the way we play games in the same way that Netflix changed the country’s viewing habits, the game-streaming service will one day have to cope with losing valuable content like Netflix. The value of the service to customers changes with every contract signed or partnership ended. While the same could be said of more traditional digital distribution services like Xbox Live Arcade and Steam, which allow users to download their purchases, those platforms utilize a set of robust policies that minimize damage done to their users — when a title disappears from either of those providers, those who previously purchased the game can still download it at will. Some may choose to wash their hands of digital distribution all together, but data degradation on physical media may very well render your disc-based games unplayable long before they’re removed from Steam’s catalog.


The ever moving pace of technological development turns the simple act of playing an older game into a trial. How many players purchased Chrono Trigger in 1996 and still have their SNES ready and TV connected? Does anyone still keep a 5.5-inch floppy drive connected to their machine just in case they just so they can play the original version of The Secret of Monkey Island at a moment’s notice? In principle, purchasing games stored on physical media means that one will have access to that game anytime and anywhere in perpetuity. In practice, it means hunting down the right hardware in the attic or basement (assuming you still have it) and overcoming numerous other challenges like how to hook a SNES or Genesis up to a modern TV. Even after one goes to all that trouble, the media, be it cartridge, disk, or CD, which stores the games has a very finite lifespan. Most NES cartridge batteries died years ago, along with most floppy discs, and a good portion of CDs or DVDs. Steady and perpetual data degradation cannot be stopped. A small number of hardcore gamers may choose to jump through the hoops necessary to preserve game data and maintain hardware, but most won’t. The troubles don’t justify the gain when we live in age where five or six dollars will allow you to play most (but by no means all) classic games on modern hardware via digital distribution.


The systems worked out to serve Origin or Steam customers after a delisting may not function for every title. In all likelihood, our collective Steam libraries are unlikely to make it to the end of the decade or beyond without losing playability on a handful of titles, but the convenience is worth re-buying old favorites on the cheap once a decade or so. Though critics of digital distribution make a fuss about the ability to play a game indefinitely, standard industry practices already place a de facto time limit on all games purchased. Meanwhile, the supposed “long-tail” of streaming services is subject to the whims and desires of individual publishers and their relationship with service providers. Maybe you won’t be able to download the same purchase of Dead Space 2 from Steam in twenty years, but will you jump through the hoops of finding a non-red ringed 360 capable of interfacing with a futuristic 4320p display, or track down whatever streaming service happens to host the game for the time being and subscribe? Players shouldn’t be forced into making a decision like this, but the business realties of the industry are more than enough to surpass any pro-consumer idealism, and they heavily favor downloadable digital distribution.

By Ryan Winterhalter

Wasteland 2 Kickstarter May Start an Admirable Trend

Wasteland 2 Kickstarter

The Wasteland 2 Kickstarter has already more than exceeded its goal of $900,000. With 25 days still to go, it’s approaching $1.5 million in pledges, a figure which will ensure the game lands on Mac and Linux in addition to PC. It’s nice to see a game like Wasteland that is nearly 25 years old get the opportunity for a sequel thanks to a new method of funding, but this particular Kickstarter may result in more than just a (very) long-awaited sequel being made.

The latest update on the Kickstarter, written by inXile boss Brian Fargo, recounts a story of how Fargo was kind to a young neighbor of his 20 years ago. He used this as the launching point to talk about a Kickstarter initiative he’d like to help start which he is calling Kick It Forward.

“And speaking of goodwill it occurs to me that we can harness the power of Kickstarter in a more meaningful way,” Fargo wrote. “Fan funding is bigger than me or Wasteland 2 as I have remarked before. The development community has come together to support us in ways that I didn’t think possible and our power as developers will ultimately come from us sticking together.”

Noting that “both gamers and developers have so much more strength than they realize,” he said he will be pledging money made by his Kickstarter-funded game to future Kickstarters. This won’t be money that fans have donated — there’s no need to worry about seeing your money go to a project other than Wasteland 2 if you pledge. Instead 5 percent of profits generated by Wasteland 2, tentatively set for release in late 2013, will be sent to other Kickstarter developers.

Kickstarter

The details of how other projects would be selected or what would happen if they fail to reach their targets were not shared. There is plenty of time for those details to be worked out, though, and in the meantime Fargo said he would have a badge created which other Kickstarter projects can make use of to indicate they will also pledge a portion of their future profits to other Kickstarters.

“Imagine the potential if another Minecraft comes along via Kickstarter and produces millions of dollars of investment into other developers,” Fargo said. “This economic payback will continue to grow the movement way beyond the current system. I hope others will join me with this idea and make this a true shakeup.”

It’s hard not to like this idea — any project which succeeds on Kickstarter is doing so because of the fans’ support; there would be no profit to speak of in the first place if not for the generosity of the Kickstarter community. Generally speaking, the games being pitched on the site are a sort that publishers have no interest in (at least not without heavily modifying things so they are no longer true to the creators’ vision), so Kickstarter-funded game developers will have that in common and would hopefully want to support others in that position.

While we may not have seen a Kickstarter for a new Shenmue pop up, there are a number of projects that still appear to be worthy of funding. If other developers were to begin kicking in to ensure these games are made, it would only improve the chances of gamers seeing more innovative titles that publishers are unwilling to take a risk on.

By Chris Pereira

Gameloft Cutting Back On Android Development




If you were hoping to play games using Android, you may have to start looking into alternatives. Reuters is reporting that Gameloft has “significantly” cut back on its investment in Android games, and that it’s not alone.

“We have significantly cut our investment in Android platform, just like … many others,” Gameloft finance director Alexandre de Rochefort said at an investor conference.

Criticizing the Android application store, Rochefort said, “It is not as neatly done as on the iPhone. Google has not been very good to entice customers to actually buy products. On Android nobody is making significant revenue.”

iPhone games accounted for 13 percent of Gameloft’s revenue in the last quarter. Among others, they’ve developed Hero of Sparta and Brain Challenge.

“We are selling 400 times more games on iPhone than on Android,” Rochefort said.

By Kat Bailey

Because We May Sale Makes Indie Games Cheap(er) for a Week

Because We May

Independent game developers have at their disposal a wide variety of methods for trying to boost sales. Some of these include banding together with other indie titles to generate publicity, as seen time after time with the Humble Indie Bundle and its many imitators. The latest such scheme doesn’t actually package unrelated games together or sell them at any price the buyer decides (as is the case with the HIB), but it is eye-catching in that there are a ton of indie games available right this very moment at heavily discounted prices.

The promotion, Because We May, runs for the last week of May (May 24 through June 1) and features games from Steam, iOS, Google Play, the Mac App Store, and the official websites of computer game developers. There is a wide array of titles available with more still being added, and none of this accounts for games that are on sale right now outside of the promotion (like Infinity Blade II, Grand Theft Auto III, and many of EA’s titles).

It’s always nice to see indie developers supporting each other, even if doing so also helps to attract attention to their own games. Some developers have gone so far as to make their games free during Because We May, and while that may be closer to a more appropriate price for some, there are some quality, standout titles.

Gravonaut is one such game. It’s an old-school platformer very reminiscent of VVVVVV and is well-suited to iOS. It gets around the usual problems with touchscreen buttons in a platformer by functioning like an auto-runner, leaving the player to only flip the gravity back and forth to make it through levels. The music becomes tiresome over time and I never like it when platformers don’t allow you to see where you’re supposed to be jumping to, but anyone who is a fan of grinding through difficult platformers would be well-served to check it out.

Gravonaut

Anodia is another free game more than deserving of your attention. It may appear to be a fairly standard Breakout-style game, albeit a nice-looking one, but to leave it at that would be doing it a major disservice. Aside from the inordinately satisfying sound effects (there’s something about the ball bouncing around that just sounds so much better than most other brickbreaker games), the levels are much more inventive than other games’. Rather than finding different ways to arrange standard bricks, each level offers something different — light bulbs rotating around in a circle, brightly-colored circles that slowly move around the level (including into your paddle), colored targets that can only be taken out when a switch is turned to the corresponding color, and so on keep things fresh from level to level.

Invader Zurp also fits into this category of freebies demanding to be checked out. Imagine Boom Blox on rails and you’ll be on your way to understanding this game, which has you shooting missiles at various buildings and structures made out of bricks. This becomes a challenge because each structure has turrets which will shoot back at you, forcing you to find a balance between protecting yourself by shooting down incoming missiles and going for hidden blocks. The game isn’t without its faults, as I wish the structures collapsing provided some sense of feedback (there’s no crashing noise or anything) and at times I feel like I’m shooting at whatever the game wants, not what I’m actually tapping, but the way the game is structured — you seamlessly move from one structure to the next — makes for an addictive experience.

You’re not taking much of a risk by downloading any of these free games; bandwidth and time aside, there’s nothing to stop you from checking them all out for yourself. Doing the same with all of the games that still cost money would prove to be somewhat costly. While it would be impossible to evaluate them all, below are some of my favorites (outside of the big-name titles like Braid and Super Meat Boy) that are worth checking out at their original prices, let alone at their Because We May prices.

Anomaly Warzone Earth

Anomaly Warzone Earth (iOS, Steam, Android, Mac): What started out as a unique take on tower defense on PC — you’re in charge of managing the units moving along the path, not the towers — is an even better game on iOS. The removal of a physical character you control takes care of the only potential issue with playing the game on a touchscreen, and it looks great, especially on the new iPad. There is enough content here to justify the original $10 price on Steam; now for $4 (or $.99/$1.99 for the iPhone/iPad and Android versions) it would be a mistake to skip it.

Canabalt (iOS, Android): It may lack the depth of other auto-runners like Jetpack Joyride, which remains my personal favorite, but there is something to be said for how straightforward it is. There is no fluff whatsoever, only tight controls (it still counts as “controls” even if you only tap to jump, right?) and a great soundtrack. With new features possibly on the way, this is a perfect opportunity to start practicing for some multiplayer action.

Edge (iOS, Steam, Android, Mac): Another platformer that works well on iOS by not resorting to a virtual d-pad or joystick. Edge has a very minimalist look to it and is easy to pick up and get right away, although what I appreciate about it most is the replayability of each stage. Having prisms to collect and shortcuts to find gives you a reason to go back and play a level over even when you think you’ve managed to make it to the end in good time. Plus, any time you can play a game that makes you think about Tim Langdell and giggle, you have to do it.

Jamestown

Jamestown (Steam): A gorgeous top-down shooter, Jamestown’s graphics and soundtrack would be its most noteworthy features if not for how good the game itself plays. Cooperative play makes for an even more entertaining experience than playing solo; my only complaint is that multiplayer is local-only, though that should not stop shoot-em-up fans from checking it out.

Trainyard (iOS): While directing trains to their destination initially seems like a far-too-easy task, the difficulty in Trainyard quickly ramps up. The ability to have two pieces of track on each tile adds a great deal of complexity, as it opens up the door for requirements like not allowing two trains to touch one another. It also requires you to pay attention to the order in which trains will go, as the tile will swap between tracks as a train drives over it. The rules are slowly taught to you over time and are not difficult to comprehend, although that doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself scratching your head as you search for a solution.

By Chris Pereira

id’s RAGE May Be Coming to Android Phones

Shooter pioneers id made a nice show of Rage running on the iPhone at QuakeCon (above), but Apple’s device may not be the only phone to house the game. A job posting at Gamasutra shows that the company is seeking a full-time Android programmer to join id’s offices. The description states it is “looking for a talented and experienced programmer to help bring our next big Mobile game to the Android space.”

It’s important to note here that this job description may not be about Rage. id Mobile, though a relatively small part of id’s overall business, has produced a few other games, and they may be planning another we haven’t heard about. On the other hand, Android phones are comparable to the iPhone in terms of processing power, and the developer seems keen to get Rage out on as many systems as possible. We’ll keep an ear to the ground for official word.

By Steve Watts

How Windows 8 Could Change Casual Games

What do you think of when you read or hear the phrase “casual games?” Long considered a dirty word amongst a vocal minority of “hardcore gamers,” casual games are undergoing a transformation thanks to new distribution models that make gaming on PC easier than plug & play consoles. A newly leaked list of games available on the upcoming “Consumer Preview” version of Windows 8 provides a glimpse into the future of casual games, and it’s a lot more “hardcore” than you’d expect.


Windows 8


Similar to the Mac and Google Chrome app stores, Windows 8 will offer its own software portal for easy to install applications. Called the Window’s Store, it will carry the following 10 games during the preview period:

  • Hydro Thunder (presumably a port of Hydro Thunder: Hurricane)
  • Toy Soldiers
  • Reckless Racing
  • Angry Birds
  • Ilomilo
  • Rocket Riot
  • Full House Poker
  • Tentacles
  • Crash Course
  • Ms. Splosion Man
  • Wordament


Yes, I saw Angry Birds, but I also noticed Toy Soldiers and Ms. Splosion Man, two titles that you’d be hard pressed to call casual with a straight face. The Window’s Store’s (and all other app store’s) ability to provide players with easy access to games — thanks to low prices, easy installation, and providing a centralized location for nearly all software — means that those that stick to Angry Birds and Tiny Wings might also give Ilomilo a shot if they ran across it.


I’m not suggesting that my mother is going to abandon Peggle for Modern Warfare 3, but if she came across Ms. Splosion Man in an app store, she might try it out if the copy or screenshots sold her on it. By providing a central location for all software on a device, Apple and Microsoft ensure that casual gamers will encounter “hardcore games” alongside lighter fare. While XBLA and PSN technically provide the same service, is your mother or father going to seek out Rocket Riot on XBLA? But that same game might appeal to them if they saw it listed amongst the top apps for their device of choice, be it phone, tablet, or laptop.


Within three years, the “app” will become the main distribution model for video games. You and I, along with millions of others, will still enjoy our AAA disc-based console titles, but millions more will be playing games bought from an app store. Simply placing quality “hardcore” titles alongside the casual fare will help expand the audience for these games. The approach won’t work for everything, I don’t think Alan Wake would make much of a splash amongst the Cut the Rope set, but titles that feature engaging repeatable gameplay with minimal narrative elements, like Ms. Splosion Man, might do quite well.


This could create some major problems — Microsoft for example, doesn’t want to see their Window’s Store become a wasteland of $.99 software — but it will put deeper and more complex games in front of a willing audience, something that the industry desperately needs if it’s to avoid the fate of comic books, a medium that serves only an existing and shrinking fan base despite countless clumsy attempts to attract new readers.

By Ryan Winterhalter

Pokemon Game Headed to iOS and Android (Yes, Really)

Pokemon

A Pokemon game is headed to smartphones, and not by way of some unknown, foreign developer snubbing its nose at copyright laws.

The Pokemon Company recently announced on its website that Pokemon Say Tap? is coming to iOS and Android devices in Japan this summer. Besides the small graphic below, there are no images of the game as of yet, which sounds like a rhythm game that has you tapping on Pokemon cards. It’ll be available free of charge.

It’s a surprising decision to see Pokemon come to iOS, given that the iPhone and iPod Touch are arguably direct competitors to the DS and 3DS. (Many would even say they are cannibalizing the handheld games market.) Throw in the fact that the game is free — a model that Nintendo President Satoru Iwata is not a fan of — and this is just bizarre. It’s not, however, the first time Pokemon have appeared on a non-Nintendo platform; remember that the Japan-only mobile application/game Pokemate was released in 2006.

Pokemon Say Tap

According to GamesRadar, the game will make use of music from the Black & White anime TV series. In other words, it doesn’t seem terribly likely that this is something that will ever be officially sanctioned for release elsewhere in the world. GR does point out it’s not especially difficult to make a Japanese iTunes account, so it might be possible to get the game in foreign markets without much effort.

The 3DS eShop launch brought with it the freebie Pokedex 3D. With the 3DS not selling as well as Nintendo had hoped, you would think it would do all it can to provide the system with more exclusive content. Giving away a game on smartphones doesn’t seem to make much sense even if it is something relatively small and insignificant.

Source: Kotaku Japan

By Chris Pereira

Grand Theft Auto III to Cost $5 on iOS and Android Next Week

Grand Theft Auto III iOS

In just over a week’s time, one of the most influential games of the last generation of consoles will be playable in its entirety on your phone.

As previously announced, the 10-year anniversary of Grand Theft Auto III’s release (it came out on PS2 on October 22, 2001) is being celebrated with the release of it on iOS and Android devices. Only more recent hardware will be capable of running it, at least at launch — additional support for other devices could come later. For the time being, you’ll need one of the following to play it:

  • Apple iOS Devices: iPad 1 & 2, iPhone 4 & 4S, iPod touch 4th Generation

  • Android Phones: HTC Rezound, LG Optimus 2x, Motorola Atrix 4G, Motorola Droid X2, Motorola Photon 4G, Samsung Galaxy R, T-Mobile G2x
  • Android Tablets: Acer Iconia, Asus Eee Pad Transformer, Dell Streak 7, LG Optimus Pad, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 and 10.1, Sony Tablet S, Toshiba Thrive

Grand Theft Auto III: 10 Year Anniversary Edition will go on sale on both the App Store and Android Marketplace on December 15. It’ll be avilable for $4.99, half the price of what you can expect to pay for it on Steam on any given day.

Grand Theft Auto III Android

Visually the game appears to look just as it did in 2001. The obvious catch is playing the game on an all-touchscreen interface doesn’t sound like the most ideal way to play, particularly when there were complaints about the shooting aspects of the game when it was played on a controller. We’ve gone hands-on with it and Rockstar seems to be doing what it can to deal with the issues (one solution: only displaying buttons when they are needed), but your miles may vary when it comes to dealing with the controls yourself.

As of yet GTAIII is the only old GTA game confirmed for iOS and Android. While there would be a “technical challenge” in porting Vice City and San Andreas, ports of the two have been deemed “very possible” by Rockstar. I wouldn’t mind seeing GTA2 as well — Chinatown Wars showed an overhead GTA game can (mostly) work with touchscreen controls, and the Zaibatsu aren’t about to help themselves.

Grand Theft Auto III Android

Screen 1 from iOS version; 2 and 3 from Android version

By Chris Pereira

Disney’s Lucasfilm Acquisition Makes the Future of Star Wars Games Unclear

Star Wars Disney

The Walt Disney Company made a major acquisition this week, purchasing Lucasfilm from George Lucas in a $4.05 billion deal. Along with Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, this puts the Star Wars brand in the control of Disney, which has already announced its intention to release a new Star Wars film trilogy, the first entry of which is scheduled to arrive in 2015. LucasArts, Lucasfilm’s videogame subsidiary best known these days for its Star Wars games, also now finds itself under the Disney banner, a move which could turn out to have a profound effect on the videogames we see coming out of it in the future.

As far as Star Wars itself goes, I find it difficult not to be at least somewhat optimistic. Most people would agree the series’ high points have come when creator George Lucas has been less hands-on — just look at The Empire Strikes Back as compared with the prequel trilogy. This new deal reduces Lucas’ role in the new films to that of a “creative consultant,” which reminds me of the honorary chairman role that the ‘Father of PlayStation,’ Ken Kutaragi, once filled. Without knowing what the new movies will be about or who will direct them, it’s impossible to say with any degree of certainty how they will turn out. It’s been noted that Disney’s acquisition of Marvel resulted in this year’s excellent Joss Whedon film The Avengers, which bodes well for the future of the Star Wars films. And, as the Penny Arcade Report points out, “We have nothing to lose by Disney making more Star Wars films, and it’s not like they can get any worse.” The prequels really put the film series in a position where things can only get better from here.

Where things have generally been positive quality-wise for the Star Wars franchise, especially over the past decade-plus, is the videogame business. BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic is arguably the single best Star Wars game to-date, but there have also been many other quality titles released since 2000: the Rogue Squadron series, The Force Unleashed, the Lego games, Jedi Knight II, Battlefront II — even The Old Republic was okay, if too derivative for its own good. Going back further, you can also cite the likes of TIE Fighter, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back as examples of strong Star Wars titles. Although there have been duds in the mix, too, LucasArts has been able to deliver high-quality Star Wars videogames in the past.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

While that may remain true in the future, the manner in which we play those games could dramatically change — and in a way which is unlikely to sit well with many fans. During a conference call regarding the Lucasfilm acquisition, Disney CEO Bob Iger was asked about plans for videogames going forward. According to TechCrunch, he said the company is “likely to focus more on social and mobile than we are on console.” Gulp.

This perhaps should not come as a surprise; it fits right in with the trend we’ve seen from Disney Interactive Studios in recent years. Videogames are an important part of Disney’s future, but not necessarily in the form we typically think of them. DIS has made a concerted effort to shift from traditional, console-based games to the increasingly popular social/mobile space. It has acquired developers like Wideload Games (makers of the recent iOS title Marvel Avengers Initiative) and Tapulous (Tap Tap Revenge) while laying off staff at, and then outright shutting down, studios such as Black Rock (Pure, Split/Second) and Propaganda Games (Turok, Tron: Evolution).

Look at DIS’ website and the types of casual and mobile games it features — Where’s My Water, Where’s My Perry, Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure, Kinect Disneyland Adventures — tells the whole story. There are some exceptions to this, with DIS publishing the upcoming Epic Mickey 2 and Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, but it stands to reason that what we can count on most is seeing more of a social- and mobile-games presence from Star Wars going forward.

Iger didn’t completely rule out the possibility of non-social/mobile Star Wars games being made. In fact, he said console games would be looked at “opportunistically,” but that external studios would be used to develop such titles. In addition to those it makes itself, this is something LucasArts has done previously, turning to developers like BioWare, Pandemic, and Traveller’s Tales to develop Star Wars games. Rumors in the past have suggested LucasArts would put an end to internal development (fueled by multiple rounds of layoffs), while others said it would begin handling all development internally.

Internal development has continued in spite of all this, and LucasArts is currently at work on one of the most promising (at least visually) Star Wars games in years, Star Wars 1313. If Iger is intent on having all development of Star Wars console games handled externally, that puts 1313 and LucasArts development staff in an undesirable position. Asked about the status of the game and any others it may have in the works — last year it was hiring for an FPS, an aerial combat game, and an action-adventure game, the latter of which may be 1313 — the company told IGN, “For the time being all projects are business as usual. We are excited about all the possibilities that Disney brings.”

The qualification that statement starts out with is not the most reassuring thing in the world. Disney may very well deem it more cost-effective to rely entirely on external developers for console games, in which case it will hopefully recognize the potential 1313 has shown and allow development to continue. Epic Mickey 2 is, after all, being developed at the Disney-owned Junction Point Studios, and that may indicate Disney is not completely against the idea of internal development of non-social/mobile games. What may end up happening is development on 1313 continues but LucasArts begins to primarily rely on external developers for any future console-game development (Star Wars and otherwise), including what may be the inevitable Star Wars VII tie-in.

An interesting point that could easily be missed in all this excitement over Star Wars is the fact that LucasArts handles other properties, too. In addition to the Indiana Jones franchise, it also has a treasure trove of adventure games, including Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. It has shown some support of its adventure games in recent years between the re-release of certain titles on Steam and the revival of Monkey Island with the Special Edition releases of the first two games and the Tales of Monkey Island series.

That said, while it’s easy for gamers to not realize this acquisition means new ownership of these classic properties, it’s even more likely Disney itself will pay them little, if any, attention. It’s clear Disney sees Star Wars as the big prize in this purchase, and with its videogame ambitions focused primarily on the social/mobile space (and external development of any console games), adventure games with limited mass-market appeal are unlikely to have much of a future.

The only thing that seems clear at this point is that more Star Wars games are coming. Whether any of them end up being the sort that gamers with no interest in social or mobile games care about remains to be seen. With a renewed emphasis on delivering new movies and leveraging the Star Wars brand across the board, I would expect to see more games, not fewer, and that includes core-oriented console/PC games — it just may be that it’s up to developers like BioWare to make them happen.

By Chris Pereira

Amazon Introduces a Value-Priced Android Tablet: the Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire



Along with a set of three new, more traditional-style Kindle e-readers, Amazon today revealed what we all knew was coming: the Kindle Fire, an Android-powered tablet that may have just single-handedly killed off every other Android tablet on the market.

The Fire sports a 7-inch, multi-touch screen with a 1024×600 resolution. It measures in at 7.5 inches x 4.7 inches x 0.45 inches and weighs 14.6 ounces. The iPad, by comparison, has a 9.7-inch screen with a 1024×768 resolution, weighs 1.33 pounds, and measures in at 9.5 inches x 7.31 inches x 0.34 inches.

One significant difference between the Fire and iPad is that the Fire will run on a heavily-modified version of the Android operating system, though it will still have access to Android apps like Pandora, Netflix, Facebook, and so on. The Fire doesn’t have a camera or microphone, and its only physical button is for powering it on and off (i.e. changing the volume won’t be as convenient as it could be).

The Fire will, for now, be Wi-Fi-only. A version with a larger screen will reportedly be released in 2012.

Other noteworthy aspects about the device is its fairly small 8GB of storage. That might be an issue if you wish to load up on your own content, but any and all Amazon digital content will be stored in the Amazon Cloud. The web browser uses Amazon’s new Silk technology where web pages are pre-loaded on Amazon’s servers, making them faster to load on your device. (The browser also supports Flash, one thing the iPad can’t say.)

Kindle Fire

What really sets the Fire apart from other Android tablets is the price: it will cost only $199, far less than competing tablets and a full $300 cheaper than the lowest-priced iPad. The low price is possible because Amazon is banking on users taking advantage of the content it can easily provide — books, movies, TV shows, magazines, and music. Included with the Fire will be a 30-day subscription to Amazon Prime, the $79-per-year service that grants free two-day shipping on anything sold by Amazon as well as access to its Netflix-style movie and TV show-streaming service.

With gaming being the most popular use for tablets, it’ll support plenty of games — we’ve already seen Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, Peggle, and Plants vs. Zombies among the games available for it, and there’s a great deal more waiting on Amazon’s Android marketplace. Assuming the device catches on — and at $199, that seems highly likely — support from game developers will continue to be there.

The Fire can be pre-ordered now and will be released on November 15 in the United States.

By Chris Pereira