Advertising has so saturated every facet of American life that it’s starting to lose potency—sort of like crack. And just like crack, long-term ad viewers need higher doses of the drug to achieve that elusive high. That’s the appeal (to advertisers, at least) of in-game advertising: it’s new, it’s fresh, and it just might make an impression on jaded eyeballs. In short, video game advertising has gone mainstream, and if you want proof, just follow the money.
Microsoft dropped a bundle to acquire market leader Massive a few months back, and now Intel has gone and purchased a piece of the advertising pie. The company recently invested a few million bucks in IGA, a firm that recently named Chris Deering, former president of Sony Entertainment Europe, to its board of directors. IGA now has partnerships with some of the largest tech firms in the market, industry insiders on the board, and US$17 million from a Series A round of venture capital funding.
Though the company is still not a household name, they’ve been mentioned before on Ars. At the beginning of this year, they were players in the dust-up over Subway ads in Counter-strike games, something that really steamed Valve (dreadful pun quite definitely intended), the game’s creator.
The intriguing thing about in-game advertising is that gamers don’t seem to mind. Though television viewers long ago found ways to avoid the siren song of commerce (the VCR, the mute button, TiVo), gamers often welcome the arrival of “name brands” in their digital worlds. What’s odd about this is that it seems to offer so little value to the customer. Consider the following statement from Intel’s Damien Callaghan, Strategic Investment Manager at Intel Capital. “The explosive growth of digital gaming is attracting millions of new users and is a key element of Intel’s vision for the Digital Home,” he said “IGA’s products enhance this opportunity by enabling game developers and publishers to earn additional revenue ensuring the continuation of a vibrant industry—an issue of importance to Intel and its customers.”
Note who’s left out of the equation: consumers. Basically, the gaming industry wants users to buy their products at retail and then watch constantly updated in-game ads. Unlike the TV model, which offers consumers a compelling free product in return for the advertising, the gaming industry offers nothing, not even a discount (though one could argue that games would be even more expensive without this extra revenue; whether this is true or not is a question for another day). Perhaps when the novelty of the practice wears off, gamers will be less tolerant of having their attention sold to advertisers. Or perhaps not; big-name ads lend a certain legitimacy to gaming that players seem to enjoy, which is good news to companies like IGA and to financial backers like Intel.
Electronic Arts has come a long way since its founding in 1982 by game pioneer Trip Hawkins. As of 2005, it had grown into the largest third-party game publisher, with revenues of over US$3 billion. The company grew rapidly through dominating the sports game market (including acquiring exclusive contracts with leagues such as the NFL), acquiring smaller studios, and obtaining licenses to popular IP such as the Harry Potter series.
While the company’s growth has been impressive, its recent stock performance has not. From a high of nearly US$70 in March 2005, the stock has dropped to its current value of US$42.81. To address the problem of underwater stock options, the company has proposed a new plan that will offer top executives additional shares and options. According to a proxy statement issued by the company, “underwater options may not be sufficiently effective as performance and retention incentives” and the company needs to “maintain competitive employee compensation and incentive programs that will assist us to motivate and retain our employees.”
The gaming industry in general has been suffering as sales have dropped off in anticipation of the next generation of console hardware. However, EA has had additional problems that have caused its stock prices to fall even more precipitously than rivals such as THQ and Activision. A combination of poor earnings results, layoffs, and settlements involving overworked staff have driven the stock down over the last year.
While the majority of these new stock rewards will go to upper management, EA has offered smaller stock programs for their rank-and-file employees for many years. When I worked there, even the lowliest peon was allowed to purchase a limited number of options at 75 percent of the current stock price. Even if the stock stayed flat, you could still make a small amount of money on this plan. If the stock continues its fall, however, employees currently under this plan will be in trouble.
The plan is subject to shareholder approval at EA’s annual meeting on July 27.
Research into the emotional and cognitive processes of other animals is a challenging thing, because you can't ask an animal what it's thinking at any given moment. Nevertheless, in recent years, evidence has piled up that indicates that many of the qualities once thought to be unique to humans, such as advanced planning and empathy for the needs of others exist in limited forms in other primates. Other works has found tentative indications that non-primates may share some of these traits.
The somewhat ambiguous evidence for empathy in non-primates are nicely summarized in a recent article that presents evidence that mice possess a specific form of empathy: they suffer when they see familiar mice in distress. The scientists subjected the mice to a painful procedure that caused a physical reaction, and placed a second mouse in a place where they could observe each other. Watching a mouse in pain was not enough to cause a physical response in a regular mouse, but when both mice were in pain, the response was significantly increased. This suggests that mice would have their display of distress enhanced by seeing others in distress.
By itself, that may not imply any emotional content, but the researchers also showed that familiarity with fellow mice enhanced the response even more: if mice had shared a cage prior to the procedure, they displayed even higher levels of pain-response behavior. A second protocol using a different trigger and resulting pain display showed that this form of empathy is not restricted to a single type of behavior. Mixing the stimuli, so that the two mice displayed different responses entirely, also confirmed the empathetic response.
The other result that stood out came when the mice were given two different doses of the pain stimulus. In these experiments, the effects averaged out: high dose animals responded less, while lower dosed mice acted as if they had received a slightly higher dose. Add it all up, and it looks like a mouse feels more distress when it sees another mouse in pain, and the situation is worse if it is familiar with that other mouse. The one thing the study wasn't able to detect was any display of distress in a mouse that wasn't subjected to pain, but it's possible that an examination of brain activity would reveal something that we can't detect by observation. All this, of course, would allow empathy to be assayed in the panel of mutant mice that are being developed, which we reported this morning.
Somewhere between journalism’s two worlds of “hard news” and “secondhand rumor” lies a third category: “your tax dollars at work.” These stories generally combine the veracity of real news with the craziness of watercooler gossip, making them especially tasty at the end of a long workday. To that end, let’s talk a little about the Defense Department’s interest in blogs.
Imagine yourself as a military planner for the US, someone charged with thinking about “information analysis” and “actionable information.” Where would you go to learn things that the world’s most expensive military does not already know? If you said “the blogosphere,” please consider a new career with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which is currently funding a US$450,000 study that attempts to mine blogs for “invaluable help in fighting the war of terror.”
How is this going to work? The study’s name is cryptic; it’s called an “Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information” (“Ontologically-based”? Aren’t we all?). The three-year project will seek to separate the wheat from the chaff using a radical new approach to information processing: counting the number of hyperlinks that point to a source. As the press release points out, “Within blogs, hyperlinks act like reference citations in research papers thereby allowing someone to discover the most important events bloggers are writing about in just the same way that one can discover the most important papers in a field by finding which ones are the most cited in research papers.”
This Brand New Approach™, one with no similarities to that used by the world’s largest search engine, will help analysts learn what topics are most popular among bloggers. Basically a Google Trends focused on blogs, the research hopes to clue warfighters into topics that have not yet made it onto the military’s radar screen, things like the Danish cartoon controversy that outraged the Muslim world, which was discussed on the blogosphere before it made headline news. Had the US military known about the controversy earlier (perhaps through a hypothetical, full-time US government presence located in every capital city in the world; call it an “embassy,” perhaps), Denmark could have been bombed before the situation got so out of control. Or something.
Somewhere in the caves of Waziristan, Osama bin Laden quakes beneath his turban.
Creative Technology has not had a good year, what with lackluster sales, inventory write-offs, and the shadow of a Microsoft media player looming ever larger. It's no surprise then that CREAF has been trading at historic lows. What is surprising is that in the last month the stock has rebounded significantly, up 20 percent. Why? Because of a patent fight with Apple Computer—but not like you may think.
After suing Apple over the "Zen" patent, the patent awarded to Creative for its "invention" of the portable media player user interface, Creative has found itself countersued by Apple for infringement. Lawsuits are currently pending in Wisconsin, Texas, and California, as well as trade complaints filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission. In Wisconsin, an interesting part of the court record has been reported.
“The parties will remain open to the possibility of
settlement,'' they wrote in the joint report to the judge. “No
specific settlement discussions are planned.''
Apparently, the mere possibility of settlement talks has given a significant boost to CREAF on the NASDAQ. But how can Creative settling over a patent they own help the company? Sound card enthusiasts know. They will remember the patent battles between Creative Technology and Aureal Semiconductor, which Aureal ultimately won. Unfortunately, that victory bankrupted the company. With a market cap that is approximately one-hundredth that of Apple, Creative is likely remembering that history too.
While it might be delicious ironing for Apple to do unto Creative what Creative did to Aureal, it would be far better for Apple if they could end this fight now. A cross-licensing agreement with a token settlement is a better deal than the chance—no matter how small—of Creative winning in court. After that, the marketplace would likely decide the fate of Creative, and the result of that contest is far more predictable.
In the months leading up to the launch of Google Checkout, there was a great deal of speculation that it was going to be a direct competitor to PayPal. We didn’t think so, and when the service launched last week, our suspicions were confirmed. Despite that, eBay has decided to bar the use of Google Checkout from its auctions, adding it to the list of payment services not permitted on eBay.
Unlike PayPal, Google Checkout is not primarily a consumer-to-consumer (C2C) payments service. Google’s new service appears to be focused primarily at small businesses while aiming at larger sites down the line. As it is currently situated, it’s not going to turn into a C2C service anytime soon. There is no provision for sending payments to those without merchant accounts and no way to send money to an e-mail address, as is the case with PayPal.
So why the hate from eBay? In perusing eBay’s Accepted Payments Policy, Google Checkout would appear to meet criteria such as financial, privacy, and antifraud protection; not involving precious metals or other noncash services; and regulatory concerns. However, a couple of bullets point from eBay’s list of criteria for who makes the cut stand out: "the identity, background and other business interests of the payment service sponsor" along with "whether the payment service has a substantial historical track record of providing safe and reliable financial and/or banking related services."
Although Google Checkout is a new product, the company is hardly a newcomer to the payments scene. In addition to accepting and processing payments through Google Video, the company has also been handling billing and payments for AdWords for years. That leaves the first item, business interests.
PayPal’s big attraction for many buyers and sellers on eBay is that it’s an easy-to-use C2C payments service. Just about every Power Seller at eBay accepts PayPal. Those high-volume sellers, many of whom also accept credit card payments processed via means other than PayPal might find Google Checkout a compelling alternative to PayPal. It carries the Google brand, which seems to be well-trusted by a number of consumers. Most importantly, it’s cheaper: 20¢ and 2.0 percent of the total payment, versus the 30¢ and 2.9 percent of the total charged by PayPal. When a Power Seller is running hundreds of auctions per month, that seemingly small difference can add up.
By choosing to bar the use of Google Checkout, eBay runs the risk of alienating some of its highest-profile and most prolific sellers. Some high-volume sellers may resent being forced to use PayPal instead of the cheaper Google Checkout alternative, which has even been folded into a couple of eBay auction management services used by the auction house. At best, eBay comes off looking petty and frightened of potential competition from Google. At worst, the online auction house could lose large customers.
A key factor that will help determine how successful Windows Vista will be in the early stages of its initial release is how many independent software vendors (ISVs) convert and create software for the new operating system. Vista tantalizes ISVs with its many new features; Windows CardSpace, Windows Presentation Foundation, and Windows Workflow Foundation to name a few. And just in case those and the many other new APIs aren't enough, Microsoft is getting set to introduce a new program for "MicroISVs" called Project Glidepath which is intended to help smaller ISVs create software for the new operating system.
Think of Project Glidepath as an all-in-one, DIY ISV preparation kit for Windows Vista. It includes hints and instructions for writing software for Vista, tips on how to master the technical aspects of Vista, and an overview on the basics of doing business the "Vista way." For instance, one feature of Project Glidepath is a how-to that covers the art of writing a press release. Considering that this is a program for smaller ISVs, many companies may find some use for that type of tutorial. In terms of development, Glidepath will have a Visual Studio 2005 add-in that will provide templates for building applications using the .NET Framework 3.0.
This type of project has the potential to be very helpful to smaller companies that lack the time, money, or personnel to really train for Vista, but still want to get something out the door around the time of the operating system's release. Frankly, many development shops have no clue what Vista has in store for them, and Glidepath looks like a great place for them to start learning.
If you're interested in learning more about the program, check out the new Project Glidepath website.
It has been a common complaint among video game players that sports games don’t change much from year to year. Update the rosters, tweak a couple of controls, maybe add one more motion capture move, and boom, you’ve got another US$60 game on the shelf. If you’re just another gamer sitting on your couch, such criticisms will likely be ignored by the industry, but when you’re a star athlete featured on the cover of Electronic Arts’ biggest hit, your words may end up carrying more weight.
At least, that’s the hope of Shaun Alexander, running back for the Seattle Seahawks. In a press appearance in New York last week, Alexander offered (registration required) his ideas about how EA’s aging Madden series could be made better. “Madden has always been great,” he said . “But it’s always been one-on-one, just you and another person, and real football is a team game.”
Alexander continued: “You should be able to make a team and play together with your friends. Like if you have 10 friends, you could all play different positions and be in 10 different houses and play together over the Internet. Or maybe you just have like five people, and you control the skill positions and the program controls the other guys.”
One can imagine the startled looks on the faces of attending EA executives as their star spokesperson started giving his opinions about how their game could be improved. Sports games have long offered multiplayer options for people sitting at the same console or computer—when I worked at EA, I once participated in an impromptu tournament of NHL 2000 where we daisy-chained eight Microsoft Sidewinder game pads together and played four-on-four on the same screen. Unfortunately, it has always been difficult to find enough people willing to sit down in one place. With the advent of always-on Internet connections like Xbox Live, however, there are new possibilities for sports games that have yet to be tried by any major publisher.
Counterstrike, for example, remains one of the most popular games online due to its fast action and reliance on good teamwork over button-mashing. Why haven’t we seen any first-person sports games? While some may claim not being able to see the whole field would make gameplay difficult, if everyone is controlling an individual player all the time it could work, although it may require changes to the user interface. Wouldn’t it be cool, though, to see the entire world spin about madly when your player gets tackled?
Integration with online gaming services could also mean that gamers could organize themselves into teams, and the performance of each team could be tracked. While it would be difficult to arrange times for all players to get together, serious teams could sign up for tournaments that could be broadcast live to anyone interested in viewing. While the idea seems far-fetched, remember that top Starcraft players in South Korea currently make six-figure incomes and have lucrative endorsement deals for doing just this sort of thing.
At the very least, it would be nice to see a new version of Madden that wasn’t plagued by bugs and missing features. When even your official spokespeople are asking for something new, maybe it’s time to listen?
Black holes pose a bit of a mystery in some respects. One such mystery is the disk of matter that accumulates and spirals into the whole, called an accretion disk. The fundamental problem in understanding such a disk is that measurements show that angular momentum is lost as matter moves closer to the black hole before falling in. If angular momentum were not lost the matter closer in to the black hole would rotate much faster than measured, like the spinning ice skater that draws in their arms. In terms of a fluid, we would say that the disk had some viscosity, however, in fluids viscosity is essentially a product of collisions. Unfortunately, the density of accretion disks rule out collisions and gravity being the only significant mechanisms for removing angular momentum.
Now observations performed with the Chandra X-ray observatory have shed some light on where the angular momentum goes. The researchers observed a black hole with an accretion disk that was oriented edgewise towards us. This allowed the researchers to observe which species were in the disk and their tangential speed. They found that the disk is mainly composed of ions, which, as they orbit the black hole, generate a strong magnetic field. This magnetic field generates friction in the disk, which looks a bit like wind, slowing the circulating matter, destabilizing the orbit and allowing it to fall into the black hole.
Although these observations don't eliminate every other possible mechanism for slowing the rate of spin, their measurements show that the maximum amount of angular momentum removed by the magnetically generated wind is in very good agreement with the amount of angular momentum loss observed. However, since the disk is not exactly edge on to us, it is likely that the magnetic wind is not quite sufficient.
Ellen Feiss is coming to the big^H^H^little screen. The movie, titled Bed and Breakfast, is being shot in France.FlyingMeat has released version 3.0 of their awesome app, VoodooPad. I remember using the pre-1.0 versions in college to take notes and while this app continues to get better and better, my personal need for its use has dwindled. That doesn't mean it's not super-useful to students and people who take a lot of notes or just want to organize their lives better: "New features in this release include: tabs, full screen editing,
palettes, search improvements, support for super big documents,
Linkback, embedding PDFs and other files, script plugins, custom
shortcuts, merging and splitting documents, custom text styles, and
more. In addition, the company is now offering VoodooPad 3.0 Pro, which
offers triggers, custom meta data pages, a built in Web server for
sharing documents with friends or co-workers, and document level
Mac Geekery has posted an article on optimizing your AirPort connection: "Interference. It’s the biggest problem these days with wireless ethernet
and it will kill the speed of your connection. A 54Mb connection is
capable of 6.9MB/s at 100% performance. You won’t see 100% performance.
You’ll be lucky to see 90% (6.2MB/s). But after cleaning up much of the
interference with my base stations, I did see 56% of maximum two rooms
Market Share by Net Applications shows that Safari's share of the browser market has grown 65% over this time last year: "In June 2005, Safari's market share came in at 1.93 percent. In June 2006, Safari's market share comes in at 3.19 percent. "Apple shares with us, via their "Pro tip of the week" how to put your Mac to sleep via the keyboard : "Want the fastest way to put your Mac right into a deep, sleepy-bear
hibernation-like sleep (no whirling fan, no dialogs, no sound — nuthin’
— just fast, glorious sleep). Just press Command-Option and then hold
the Eject button for about 2 seconds and Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz."
GoogleGrab is an OS X and Windows application that downloads images from Google's Image Search directly to your hard drive.Creammonkey (gross name) is an input manager for Safari that works like GreaseMonkey for Firefox and Trixie for IE6.