Monthly Archives: October 2019

EA shuts down 25 game servers, including Madden 09

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EA’s financial problems from last year, it seems, are continuing to have repercussions. Even after cutting 1,500 employees in November, the publisher is still looking to reduce operating costs. As a result, the company is killing off a number of game servers on three separate dates in the coming months.

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February 2 will see the largest number of game servers shut down, followed by a few more on February 9. While many of these games are a few years old and on older systems (such as FIFA 07 for PC), some of the games on the list are shockingly recent. The most surprising shutdown revelation is Madden 09 on all platforms, which will occur on April 6. Of course, no plans have been announced to turn off servers for Madden 10, but fans have got to be wondering if they’re only going to be able to play that game’s online mode for roughly a year before it, too, is shut down.

It makes sense to shut down many of these servers, since they cater to what are most likely a small number of gamers at a significant expense to EA. However, the shutdown of servers for titles like Madden 09 and NASCAR 09 seems like a heavy-handed attempt to force players to pick up newer entries for these series. It’s a shame that EA is having such problems that it is forced to such drastic measures, but it’s even more of a shame that the company is using such tactics on general consumers. Here’s the full list of affected games:

April 6, 2010 Online Service Shutdown

Madden 09 for PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Wii and Xbox 360

February 9, 2010 Online Service Shutdown

FIFA 07 for PC Madden 07 for Xbox 360 Madden 08 for PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii and Xbox 360 NHL 08 for PC Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 07 for PC UEFA Champions League 07 for PC

February 2, 2010 Online Service Shutdown

Facebreaker for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 Fantasy Football 09 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 FIFA 07 for PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2 Fight Night Round 3 for PlayStation 2 March Madness 07 for Xbox 360 NBA LIVE 07 for PlayStation Portable and Xbox 360 NBA LIVE 08 for PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii NBA LIVE 09 for Wii (Europe only) NBA Street (2007) for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 NCAA Football for 08 PlayStation 2 NCAA Football for 09 PlayStation 2 NASCAR 08 for PlayStation 2 NASCAR 09 for PlayStation 2 NASCAR 09 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (Europe Only) NFL Tour for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 NHL 07 for PlayStation Portable and Xbox 360 UEFA Champions League 07 for Xbox 360

A year in gaming quotes: Kotick, Beatles, Tony Hawk

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2009 certainly was a busy year for gaming. We’ve had curious console refreshes, boycotts of blockbuster games, and more peripheral-laden games than you can shake a stick at. We even got to shoot people in an airport. And what better way to celebrate the year that was 2009 than by looking at some of the more interesting things said by games industry folks. Here is your 2009, in quotes.

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“We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.”

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, speaking at the Deutsche Bank Securities Technology Conference in San Francisco. While Kotick may not be all that popular among gamers—and quotes like this are a prime example why—it’s hard to argue with his business sense. Kotick has earned $37 million in stock options since the November launch of Modern Warfare 2.

“I don’t trust Valve.”

Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, revealing his misgivings about Valve and its digital distribution platform Steam. However, it seems that Pitchford is in the minority, as most of the developers we spoke to were actually in favor of using Steam as a way to sell their games.

“As for L4D2, things seemed balanced and ‘tight’ and did not feel like a rushed job. While we were visiting their offices, we personally witnessed what can only be called a small army of artists, coders, mappers hard at work, which explains the rapid transformations in artwork that we’ve all seen.”

Left 4 Dead 2 boycott leader Walking_Target after seeing the game in action. Some gamers were upset over the quick release of a sequel to last year’s co-op hit L4D, but after a free trip to Valve HQ, it seems that there’s no longer an issue.

Will New Super Mario Bros. Wii outsell Modern Warfare 2 this holiday season?

“On a single platform… absolutely. I say that unequivocally.”

Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime claiming on GameTrailers TV that New Super Mario Bros. Wii will outsell Modern Warfare 2 over the holiday season. While there’s still some time, NSMBW has quite a bit of catching up to do. According to NPD data, NSMBW sold 1.4 million units in November, while MW2 sold 4.2 million on the Xbox 360 and 1.9 million on the PlayStation 3.

“We sold 26 copies. We weren’t necessarily expecting instant great success, but damn.”

Nick Marroni, owner of iPhone developer MEE, in a press release revealing the sales of the studio’s game iLikeCereal!! Marroni’s case is indicative of the iPhone gaming landscape at large, where the expectation for a low price point and the sheer number of titles in the app store makes it difficult for indie developers to achieve much success.

“The Beatles: Rock Band is nothing less than a cultural watershed, one that may prove only slightly less influential than the band’s famous appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964.”

The New York Times’ Seth Schiesel, in his review of The Beatles: Rock Band. While critically acclaimed, The Beatles: Rock Band wasn’t quite the overwhelming hit it was expected to be. The 360 version of the game was only the fifth best selling title in September, behind games like Halo 3: ODST and Wii Sports Resort.

“Most snarky critics had their minds set before ever seeing/playing the game. I’m proud of what we created; it’s innovative, responsive & fun.”

Tony Hawk tweeting about the largely negative reception of Tony Hawk Ride. The highest rated version of the game, on the Nintendo Wii, currently holds an average score of 53 percent on Metacritic.

“The product is not euphemistic for me, nor is it a punchline, I did not purchase it to hate it, though I did purchase it—and at great cost. Even if I didn’t particularly like it, I thought, perhaps one of our sons may find some use for it, their minds untainted by the expectations engendered by three decades of electronic play. They can’t get penetrate the tutorial, though, so densely knit are the ambiguities of their infernal demon plank.”

Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins in response to Hawk’s dismissal of the negative reception of THR.

The PSP Go was released this year to much criticism from consumers and press alike.

“This new iteration of the platform is what would happen if a facepalm was turned into a piece of hardware.”

Our very own Gaming Editor Ben Kuchera in his review of the PSP Go. Though a nice looking piece of hardware, the Go is plagued by numerous issues—most of which stem from the handheld’s lack of a UMD drive—that have held it back from making much of an impact.

“I knew that I wanted to control my destiny, so I knew I needed revenues, right f***ing now. Like I needed revenues now. So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book to… just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I dont know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it. We did anything possible just to just get revenues so that we could grow and be a real business… so control your destiny. So that was a big lesson, controlling your business. So by the time we raised money we were profitable.”

Mark Pincus, CEO of social game developer Zynga. The developer behind popular Facebook games like FarmVille and Cafe World, it recently came to light that Zynga knowingly subjected players to “scammy” offers in an attempt to raise capital.

“Hey, if Activision liked it, then they should have put a ring on it. Oh great, now Beyonce is going to sue me too.”

The always funny Tim Schafer on the publishing controversy surrounding Brutal Legend. Originally set to be published by Activision, the game was dropped and eventually picked up by EA. Then Activision attempted to cash in on the game they passed on.

“You are completely reliant on IW.NET. There are no server lists. There are no dedicated servers.”

Infinity Ward Creative Strategist Robert Bowling on the PC version of Modern Warfare 2. The game irked a good deal of the PC gaming community after it was revealed that it wouldn’t support dedicated servers.

We leave the rest up to you: what quotes from the talking heads, pundits, analysts, and industry pros stand out in your head?

Government skeptical wireless can open up broadband market

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Earlier this week we wrote up a Department of Justice brief urging the Federal Communications Commission to reallocate as much spectrum as possible for the wireless industry. Wireless, the DOJ says, is the best chance we’ve got at creating a more competitive broadband landscape. “Given the potential of wireless services to reach underserved areas and to provide an alternative to wireline broadband providers in other areas, the Commission’s primary tool for promoting broadband competition should be freeing up spectrum,” the DOJ told the FCC on Monday.

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But now comes a policy letter from the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) suggesting that the wireless fix may not be so clear cut.

“Although early projections from [the] industry are encouraging, it is premature to predict when, or even whether, these wireless broadband services will provide the competitive alternatives that can benefit consumers of all services, including wireline,” NTIA chief Larry Strickling wrote to the Commission.

A duopoly, at best

It’s not like Strickling disagrees with DOJ’s assessment of the problem. Both agencies think that the national broadband market isn’t competitive. They both cite the FCC’s Broadband Status Report, released in September. That survey concluded that most households can access the services of two fixed broadband providers, max. “50-80 percent of homes may get speeds they need from only one provider,” the report added.

And NTIA concurs that it’s unlikely that wireless broadband providers are going to do much heavy lifting to fix this problem in many areas of the United States. Given the hefty fixed costs of expansion, chances are that only the densest areas of the US will see further middle mile development. “The economics of providing wireline broadband Internet access service suggest that market forces alone may not produce additional entry,” Strickling warns.

So can wireless fill the gap? Maybe. “The fact that some wireline customers seem willing to switch to wireless service suggests that the two offerings could become part of a broader marketplace,” NTIA speculates. But the letter advises the FCCkeep several factors in mind. First, a big chunk of the wireless industry is owned by AT&T and Verizon. Are they really going to market their wireless products as an alternative to their wireline offerings?

“Finally, we need to be mindful of how future developments in the applications and Internet services markets can affect demand for broadband,” Strickling notes. “Are there ‘killer’ applications on the horizon that will be supported by wireline providers but not wireless?”

Clear signs

What does NTIA say the government should do about this? Commerce still thinks the FCC should mobilize to make more spectrum available for wireless by reallocating the commercial bands and government licenses. But, as DOJ noted, the big bugbear is who gets the licenses after they’ve been freed up. And Strickling agrees that just running a vanilla auction exposes the process to the risk that the incumbents will buy up the spectrum for no other reason than to warehouse it.

The rest of the letter offers a litany of recommendations similar to the DOJ’s, especially the need for clearer consumer pricing and policy disclosure rules. You can expect the controversy over Verizon’s $350 early termination fees to serve as the principal flashpoint in this area.

But how much will clearer rules matter if consumers have no or few choices among broadband providers? As the FCC makes more spectrum available, it seems likely that pressure is going to come on the agency to set up sale rules that don’t favor the incumbent telcos. DOJ’s letter explicitly mentioned Clearwire, T-Mobile, and Sprint as the competitive carriers “that could provide broadband services comparable to those of existing providers.” That’s a pretty clear sign of the kind of outcome at least one arm of the government favors.

One thing is for sure. It’s telling that FCC, NTIA, and the DOJ are already having this conversation long before the FCC has worked out how to free up more licenses for wireless, suggesting that everyone is quite serious about getting that done as fast as governmentally possible.

Opera expands mobile SDK lineup amid losses

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The growing popularity of WebKit in the mobile and embedded space is eroding the demand for commercial mobile Web browsing technology, but Opera has managed to stay in the game on handheld devices and set-top boxes. The company announced this week at CES that it will be extending its mobile SDK lineup and launching a beta of Opera Devices 10 for Windows CE.

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The SDKs have gained some of Opera’s latest enhancements to its HTML rendering engine, such as support for HTML5 and CSS3 features—including CSS transforms. The SDKs also offer some unique features from Opera’s desktop and mobile browsers, including the Opera Turbo accelerator which uses server-side rendering to reduce the network overhead of loading pages.

Opera is aiming for broader adoption on Linux set-top boxes with some new features in its Web Widgets system, which has been enhanced on Linux to support interaction from TV remote control devices. The Linux SDK also supports hardware accelerated rendering and DirectFB.

On the Windows front, the new Opera browser for Windows CE could attract some interest from hardware makers that are shipping Windows CE on low-cost ARM-based smartbooks. We saw several such devices debut for under $100 last year. If Opera offers competitive licensing costs that don’t inflate the price of the devices, it could be a good replacement for Internet Explorer on products of that nature.

Opera’s mobile technology is still as strong as ever, but it’s unclear if the company’s business model is sustainable in a market that increasingly demands open source solutions. Opera suffered roughly $2 million in losses last quarter and is struggling to find niches where there is still strong demand for its products and services. In related news, Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner—who I interviewed during the Mobilize conference last year—has stepped down and will shift into an advisory role. His successor is Lars Boilesen, the company’s chief commercial officer.

Google launches a utility as DOE funds data center efficiency

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For many traditional IT companies, the lure of energy efficiency efforts is two-fold: data center costs are becoming dominated by power use, so greater efficiency will both save them money and provide them with products and services that they can sell to other companies. These efforts also fall nicely in line with the goals of the Department of Energy, which is now using some of its stimulus money to fund data center efficiency projects from companies like Alcatel-Lucent, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Yahoo. Meanwhile, Google has decided it needs greater control over the power coming in, and will be launching its own utility, which will focus on supplying it with renewable energy.

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The new DOE grants were announced on Wednesday. “By reducing energy use and energy costs for the IT and telecommunications industries, this funding will help create jobs and ensure the sector remains competitive,” stated DOE head Steven Chu. “The expected growth of these industries means that new technologies adopted today will yield benefits for many years to come.” The total funding was relatively small, at $47 million, but (like many DOE-funded efforts), it will require matching money from the industry involved, which will bring the total expenditures up to over $100 million.

The funding(PDF) will cover the full data center ecosystem, from facility cooling to software that helps cut the drain of idle hardware. Some of them have gone to traditional enterprise research centers. For example, IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center has received two awards, one for developing facility-scale liquid cooling, the other for monitoring and controlling cooling systems. Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs will get two as well, for developing methods to monitor network-wide traffic flows in order to optimize power use, and another for liquid cooling systems, as well.

Hewlett-Packard’s award will go towards the development of an integrated, modular server unit that integrates the cooling and power conversion hardware into the unit. Yahoo will get one to help it build one of its passive-cooling data centers, which itdescribed in detail in the past.

But some of the more interesting projects are going to smaller companies and the academic world. Santa Clara’s SeaMicro will be testing physicalized servers with hundreds of processors that may see a 75 percent energy saving. Caltech will get money to develop software for load balancing across multiple data centers. Columbia University will be getting an award to develop technology for making better use of power once it’s on the CPU; the plan is to make better use of the power the CPU receives, cutting losses by 10 percent.

Google Energy

Google wasn’t on the DOE’s award list, but the company has done extensive work to optimize the power use of its data centers and obtain renewable energy for its facilities. But the company has gone significantly beyond that, funding a variety of renewable energy technology companies via its Google.org initiative. Apparently, however, the company wants a bit more control over the power it uses, as the company has launched a subsidiary called Google Energy and applied to trade energy on the wholesale market. Essentially, the company is dissatisfied with the renewable offerings being made by its utilities, and wants to make sure it has more options available to it.

Presumably, the move will ultimately allow it to buy power from some of the renewable companies that it’s funding via Google.org.

Right now, it’s clear that these enterprise companies see lots of opportunity in the renewable and energy efficiency markets, and are scrambling to take advantage of them (creating some strange bedfellows in the process, like the Yahoo-DOE arrangement). But an interview with Bill Weihl, the Google executive who runs their green energy initiatives, highlights a danger of the current environment: it’s highly dependent on the stimulus money. “At the end of 2010, when the stimulus ends, we’re going to drive off the biggest funding cliff the energy field has ever seen,” Weihl said. The key question will be whether these companies have made an irreversible commitment to efficiency before we drop off that cliff.