It wasn't long ago that King.com (hereafter referred to as just King, as this is not 1997)
began to rule the casual game universe, having dethroned Zynga as top dog. Apparently their quick rise in popularity has given the company an Electronic Arts-style ego. Let's take a look at what they have done just this week, shall we?
First, the company successfully received
a trademark on the term "candy" in regards to similar games. While this may seem odd, the context is the thing that matters here. King is probably just trying to prevent Candy Crush Saga rip-offs, of which there are many, all using the word "candy" in their titles. They have already filed against one app in Apple's App Store titled All Candy Casino Slots - Jewels Craze Connect: Big Blast Mania Land. While this keyword rich title seems to focus little on the candy word, the icon simply says "Candy Slots" which was their undoing.
Following on the trademarking on "candy" comes an attempt to trademark "saga," a feat that will be significantly more difficult for the company. Its current project is trying to
defeat the trademark filing for The Banner Saga, a game that has absolutely nothing to do with any of King's own titles. After the inevitable outlast, King responded with a statement,
King has not and is not trying to stop Banner Saga from using its name. We do not have any concerns that Banner Saga is trying build on our brand or our content. However, like any prudent company, we need to take all appropriate steps to protect our IP, both now and in the future.
In this case, that means preserving our ability to enforce our rights in cases where other developers may try to use the Saga mark in a way which infringes our IP rights and causes player confusion. If we had not opposed Banner Saga's trade mark application, it would be much easier for real copy cats to argue that their use of 'Saga' was legitimate.
This is an important issue for King because we already have a series of games where 'Saga' is key to the brand which our players associate with a King game; Candy Crush Saga, Bubble Witch Saga, Pet Rescue Saga, Farm Heroes Saga and so on. All of these titles have already faced substantive trademark and copyright issues with clones.
King doesn't want to prevent them from using the name, only from owning it legally? That would prevent them from being able to protect against copycat apps, the very thing that King themselves is doing with their own trademark on "candy." Apparently in England no one has ever heard the term "double standard" - either that or King already owns the trademark on it.
After all of this, you would think King couldn't come up with any more bad ideas, right? Wrong. This bad idea comes from 2009, but came to light this week thanks to a developer that King hired to develop a game titled
Pac-Avoid. The game is a blue Pac-Man collecting coins and avoiding ghosts. The coins can be traded for power-ups, and ghosts can be killed after a power pill. While the game sounds a lot like Pac-Man (minus the color), it sounds even more like Scamperghost, a game created by Stolen Goose for MaxGames.com.
In fact, the games are almost identical. If the comments from
Scampershost designer Matthew Cox are correct, it was all on purpose.
We were in talks with Lars Jörnow at King.com to license our
Scamperghost game. Before the deal was closed - and certainly before any contracts were signed - MaxGames.com made a better offer, so we thanked King for considering our game and politely ended our negotiations.
As the story goes, King was offended and hired Epic Shadow Entertainment to clone the game for a mere $3,000. Epic Shadow shouldn't have done it, but King allegedly lied about the nature of the deal's cancelation, leading to them feeling as if they were in the right. Venture Beat has a complete recounting of the story
here. It is definitely worth the read.
The question this brings up is, is it impossible for a game company to see success without losing their minds? Discuss in the comments.
If you thought that
Spotify going free for mobile and tablets and Beats getting ready to enter the music-streaming space were both pretty big deals, Rdio hopes you didn't forget that they were doing big things, too. Following its announcement from October to offer free radio iOS and Android, this week Rdio has looked to put the final nail into the Pandora coffin by offering up free music for the web.
Already launched, Rdio will open up its 20 million songs to anyone who can access the Internet, for free. Rdio said it is also including new in-stream messaging to the service for those using the free version. "These new ads are short and sweet," Rdio said in the blog post, and those streaming music for free will hear things like new features, messages from partners and reminders of exclusive content to Rdio.
This is an improvement over the former subscription plan of $9.99 per month for unlimited listening, with a free trial that limited you to either six months or a certain duration of listening, whichever came first. There are still some limitations to consider if you're looking to sign up for the totally free experience. First, those listening for free won't be able to set their own playlists or browse via specific artists or songs. Instead you'll have the option of selecting to a huge list of presets. In comparison, Spotify allows free music to those on tablets, with ads, but those users can't save music for listening when they aren't connected to the Internet.
The effects of mobile gaming on more traditional gaming have been
well known for years, but Nintendo has fought this trend with all they have. Unfortunately, this has not worked out, with the Wii U being a sales disaster. The sales have been so bad that Nintendo has updated their annual financial forecast from $950 million in profit to $335 million in loss.
Even with these challenges facing the company there have been some successes. For example, the top console of 2013
was the Nintendo 3DS family. Nintendo has decided to accept their new position in the gaming community and embrace mobile gaming.
Satoru Iwata, international president of Nintendo said,
Given the expansion of smart devices, we are naturally studying how smart devices can be used to grow the game-player business. It's not as simple as enabling Mario to move on a smartphone.
If we think 20 years down the line may look back at the decision not to supply Nintendo games to smartphones and think that is the reason why the company is still here.
Obviously Nintendo is not the first to mobile-enable their franchises. The Xbox brand is available on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles, Windows 8 computers and Windows Phone devices. The PlayStation brand is available on the PlayStation 3 and 4 consoles and select Android phones. Obviously, major publishers have also published major franchise games themselves directly to mobile platforms.
So, what would a Nintendo mobile expansion look like? We don't exactly know. Iwata said,
We must take a skeptical approach whether we can still simply make game players, offer them in the same way as in the past for 20,000 yen or 30,000 yen, and sell titles for a couple of thousand yen each.
It seems that they are even considering even abandoning first party hardware in favor of a mobile gaming platform for existing mobile devices. Would they start with just a simple port of existing titles or would they have a whole new suite of titles just for the new platform? Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain: it can't go any worse than the Wii U.
Starbucks released an update to their mobile app this week after reports surfaced about private information being stored in the clear. The information being stored was email, username and password and was accessible to anyone who connected the phone to a computer. Obviously, a stolen phone with the Starbucks app on it could give direct access to a user's credit card information from any device.
Starbucks made the decision to not encrypt the data in a misguided attempt to make the app easier to use. They claim that they believed storing the data directly would require the user to login each time, which is, of course, not correct. We have all used apps that do not require us to login each time, but do not store our secure information insecurely.
Let's take, for example, Facebook. We all use this app on our mobile devices every day and we never seem to have to log in, unless we abandon it for an extended period. Somehow, even with this seemingly identical scenario, Facebook does not store your data in the clear.
So, what is the real scenario here? Laziness on the part of the development team. Lee Cocking of security firm Fixmo said,
Any app that stores usernames and passwords should be protecting their users by encrypting their data - especially applications oriented towards financial transactions. The risk of not protecting sensitive information is significant data leakage and potential financial losses.
In addition to making the application and any data contained within, such as payment ability, insecure, this breach of the public's trust also makes other information insecure. Since so many people use the same or very similar password across multiple systems, by gaining access to the Starbucks data, a hacker could gain access to other sensitive information.
The moral of the story here is that you should be weary of the information that you give to mobile applications. Just because the company is well-known doesn't mean it can be trusted in the mobile space. In fact, ask Target about how a trusted retailer can breach the public's trust even without their own knowledge.
Last month, I promised that after I reported
Black Friday sales numbers for both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, that I would bring you the full holiday numbers once they became available. This week, I have December numbers and financials for the entire year for the gaming industry, so I guess those will have to do. All of these numbers are for the US.
We'll start with the total sales for the year, and while the overall gaming industry dropped over two percent compared to last year, things are still looking up for all parties involved. Digital sales saw a huge boost this year, going up almost $1 billion to $24.67 billion, compared to $23.97 billion from last year. Retail sales on the whole, as mentioned, were down to $12.97 billion from $13.27 billion the year prior. Hardware sales were naturally up by five percent to $4.26 billion. Console and portable game sales are lumped together and saw a drop of 9 percent year-over-year to $6.12 billion and accessories were up 3 percent to $2.6 billion. It should also be noted that the loving, caring bunch of PC enthusiasts saw their overall sales drop from $7.09 billion to $6.34 billion this year, an 11 percent decrease.
For video game sales, it should be no shock to anyone that
GTA V took home the top spot, with COD: Ghosts and Madden NFL 25 rounding out the top three. Also on that list were Battlefield 4, Assassin's Creed IV, NBA 2K14, COD: Black Ops II, Just Dance 2014, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition and Disney Infinity. Skylanders was left off the top ten this year.
And now for the console sales, which took center stage as the "Flame War of the Year," consuming the Internet from June through Christmas. The top selling hardware for the month of December was, you guessed it, the Nintendo 3DS. Oh, you wanted Xbox One versus PlayStation 4? Both consoles experienced issues in the distribution chain and would sometimes have trouble keeping up with supply. Some would argue this was done intentionally, but regardless of the reasoning, customers sometimes left stores empty-handed. Here's what we know, though. Microsoft moved 908,000 Xbox Ones in December and 643,000 Xbox 360s. Sony has not yet provided specific numbers, and has only said that its moved 4.2 million PS4 worldwide, leaving out how many sold here in the States for comparison. However, Dan Race, a spokesman for Sony, said that,
According to the latest NPD report, PlayStation 4 remains the cumulative leader for next-gen console sales in the U.S. since its launch on Nov. 15. We sold every PS4 available at retail in the U.S. and were out of stock in December due to overwhelming consumer demand. It's clear that the PS4's gaming and entertainment features are resonating with large audiences and we're doing our best to provide additional inventory in all of the 53 countries where it's available.
So, there's that. I was certainly hoping for more well-rounded and definitive numbers from all parties involved here but I guess we will have to wait a bit longer to find out who came out the true winner. It is interesting to read that Sony has come out with worldwide numbers, after first attacking Microsoft for doing the same when it came to the Xbox One's first week sales report. So, until we see more official statements from these two, I guess I'll end this in the way most things go lately: Everyone's a winner!