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Archive

Posts Tagged ‘editor’s pick’

Why online ad costs are now going up for the first time in years

June 19th, 2013 No comments
This story is part of a series exploring the convergence of design, technology, and commerce in the mobile industry. Find out more at MobileBeat 2013, July 9-10 in San Francisco. Read the full series here.

lets go shopping

For years, it’s been a truism: online advertising is cheap. For pennies or fractions of a dollar, you could reach thousands of consumers, paying only for those who clicked and, sometimes, only for those who buy.

Those capabilities aren’t going away, but for the first time in years, the prices you pay for online ads is going up. The core reason?

Google’s new “enhanced” campaigns.

Google’s enhanced ad campaigns are certainly enhancing one thing: Google’s revenue. After seven straight quarters of decreasing prices for clicks, Google ad prices rose 6 percent over the last three months — and they’re expected to jump another 5-10 percent in the next quarter.

Google cost-per-click ad price increases, early 2013
Source: Adobe

Google cost-per-click ad price increases, early 2013.

Why?

Google announced enhanced campaigns very quietly in February of this year. The enhancement that Google added was simple: baking mobile ads right in with desktop ads. It was a significant change that Larry Kim of search marketing firm WordStream called “the biggest change to AdWords in five years.” It’s a simplification for advertisers, and it’s a recognition on Google’s part that mobile is now core to the web.

It’s also a massive cash cow.

“Up to last year you could target desktop, tablet-only, or smartphone-only mobile ad campaigns,” Adobe’s Sid Shah explained. “Now you have one campaign, one bid, and you can give it a mobile adjustment factor to adjust it up or down for mobile.”

Regardless of the platform, tablet ads cost more than smartphone ads
Source: MoPub

Regardless of the platform, tablet ads cost more than smartphone ads — because they convert better.

The problem is that costs per click (CPC) and return on investment (ROI) have historically differed tremendously from desktop to tablet to smartphone. In general, desktop ads are the most expensive, smartphone ads are the cheapest, and tablet ads offer the best ROI. That’s because desktop ads convert well, smartphone ads don’t, and tablet ads cost like smartphone ads but convert like desktop ads.

Google knows this, of course, so when it launched enhanced campaigns Google added a “mobile bid adjustment” factor that enables advertisers to make their mobile ads 20 cheaper, for instance, than their desktop ads, or vice-versa. But advertisers are not using the MBA wisely.

“What Google recommends is a -20 percent to 0 percent MBA,” Shah, who is the director of business analytics for Adobe’s digital marketing division, told me yesterday. “But we found that MBAs should range all over the spectrum. Which makes sense – if you’re mobile-only, mobile does well for you, and the MBA should be positive, but if you’re doing mortgages, mobile won’t do well for you.”

Which means that although the CPC of mobile ads — particularly smartphone ads — should be a significantly small fraction of your desktop ads, they’re getting artificially boosted by Google’s bundling. This isn’t necessarily because Google is boosting the rate, but because the MBA that advertisers choose based on Google’s recommendation is not representative of the actual cost variations.

And because Google is the gorilla of the online advertising world — with about 50 percent market share of online ads and 56 percent of all global mobile ads — what it does affects the entire industry.

“Over the last three months, for the first time in seven quarters, CPCs went up,” Shah told me. “In the next quarter, CPCs will go up another 5-10 percent, year-over-year.”

Adobe's algorithm for optimizing online/mobile ad spend more closely approaches a fully optimized ideal, the company says.
Source: Adobe

Adobe’s algorithm for optimizing online/mobile ad spend more closely approaches a fully optimized ideal, the company says.

Adobe, which bought digital advertising firm Efficient Frontier in 2012 to build its online, mobile, and social advertising solutions, says that one solution is to work with independent agencies — such as itself — which can help advertisers optimize their spend better than Google, Facebook, or other major ad vendors do directly. The company’s Adobe Media Optimizer technology can help maximize ROI, Shah says, basing its bid and spend parameters on actual conversion and engagement data for your specific campaign.

“Our algorithm is actually working better than Google’s mobile bid adjustment,” Shah says.

In other words, I asked him, Adobe’s algorithm is working better for advertisers, while Google’s algorithm is working better for Google?

“You said that, not me,” Shah laughed.

Last year costs per click fell for the second year in a row, but the overall digital ad spend went up. It’s reasonable to assume, Adobe says, that the spend trend will continue, even while the costs trend has reversed.

Which means more money in Google’s fairly fat wallet, and perhaps a little less in yours.

Unless you get smarter with your spend.

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc


Filed under: Business, Enterprise, Entrepreneur, Media, Mobile Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Flywheel 4.0 drives through traffic jam of taxi apps (exclusive)

June 12th, 2013 No comments
MobileBeat 2013
July 9-10, 2013
San Francisco, CA
Tickets On Sale Now

FlywheelTaxiLightWhile ride-sharing startups are disrupting the cab industry from the outside, Flywheel is taking on this broken sector from within.

Flywheel, formerly known as Cabulous, released major updates today to its application today that provides existing taxis and fleets with e-hailing technology.

Flywheel 4.0 for iOS has a new EasyPay feature that allows riders to pay from their smartphone, rather than paying with cash or a credit card. The company also added the ability to rate drivers and the best drivers will be rewarded with more rides. New Foursquare integration will also allow users to call a cab to a specific location, without knowing the street address.

These new capabilities give regular cabs the same benefits and conveniences as e-hailing and ride-sharing services like Uber, Hailo, SideCar, and Lyft. These companies all offer the ability to call a cab to your location via a smartphone app and track its progress, as well as a rating system that ensure quality and seamless digital payments. Consumers have responded well to this approach and despite legal battles, these startups are continuing to expand. Flywheel’s approach is to trick out traditional taxi cabs with these rider-friendly features so they can keep their business, while also increasing efficiency and cutting down on costs.

“Most city dwellers want to get fast, reliable and safe rides to wherever they are going,” said CEO Steve Humphreys in a Q&A with VentureBeat. “99% of all paid-rides in the US still go through taxis, but they can be difficult from a reliability and easy of payment standpoint. Taxis exist, in some form, in virtually every city in the world. Our vision is to create a more consistently reliable, convenient and cost-effective paid-ride experience anywhere. We believe the technical and consumer improvements engendered by the Flywheel app are critical to urban progress.”

Flywheel is essentially trying to move an old, stagnant, cash-based business online and adapt it to a mobile world that improves operations for taxis and the experience for consumers.

“Paid transportation is going through major, tectonic shifts,” Humphreys said. “External disruptors like Uber are forcing change at every level by cutting out much of the infrastructure that has been built up over the past two centuries. Flywheel is leveraging technology to help taxi fleets and drivers ward off the threat by these ride-sharing companies and, more specifically, non-trained and regulated, community drivers.

Transportation startups (like the ones mentioned above) present a significant threat to traditional taxis. They continue to raise money, enter new markets, and hire drivers, and are gaining increasingly large shares of the market. Humphreys said that rivals are trying to re-create the entire taxi infrastructure one car, one driver at a time, whereas Flywheel is giving  existing fleets and drivers tools to remain competitive.

Flywheel has over 2,500 regulated taxi cabs in its fleet and revenues have gone up by 5x since the beginning of 2013. The company also has list of dozens of fleets around the country waiting to be on-boarded.

It was founded in 2010 as Cabulous and rebranded as Flywheel in December 2012. It is backed by $8 million from Shasta Ventures, Rockport Capital, Sandhill Angels, and Band of Angels.

Photo Credit: Flywheel 


Filed under: Business, Lifestyle, Mobile Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Flywheel 4.0 drives through traffic jam of taxi apps (exclusive)

June 12th, 2013 No comments
MobileBeat 2013
July 9-10, 2013
San Francisco, CA
Tickets On Sale Now

FlywheelTaxiLightWhile ride-sharing startups are disrupting the cab industry from the outside, Flywheel is taking on this broken sector from within.

Flywheel, formerly known as Cabulous, released major updates today to its application today that provides existing taxis and fleets with e-hailing technology.

Flywheel 4.0 for iOS has a new EasyPay feature that allows riders to pay from their smartphone, rather than paying with cash or a credit card. The company also added the ability to rate drivers and the best drivers will be rewarded with more rides. New Foursquare integration will also allow users to call a cab to a specific location, without knowing the street address.

These new capabilities give regular cabs the same benefits and conveniences as e-hailing and ride-sharing services like Uber, Hailo, SideCar, and Lyft. These companies all offer the ability to call a cab to your location via a smartphone app and track its progress, as well as a rating system that ensure quality and seamless digital payments. Consumers have responded well to this approach and despite legal battles, these startups are continuing to expand. Flywheel’s approach is to trick out traditional taxi cabs with these rider-friendly features so they can keep their business, while also increasing efficiency and cutting down on costs.

“Most city dwellers want to get fast, reliable and safe rides to wherever they are going,” said CEO Steve Humphreys in a Q&A with VentureBeat. “99% of all paid-rides in the US still go through taxis, but they can be difficult from a reliability and easy of payment standpoint. Taxis exist, in some form, in virtually every city in the world. Our vision is to create a more consistently reliable, convenient and cost-effective paid-ride experience anywhere. We believe the technical and consumer improvements engendered by the Flywheel app are critical to urban progress.”

Flywheel is essentially trying to move an old, stagnant, cash-based business online and adapt it to a mobile world that improves operations for taxis and the experience for consumers.

“Paid transportation is going through major, tectonic shifts,” Humphreys said. “External disruptors like Uber are forcing change at every level by cutting out much of the infrastructure that has been built up over the past two centuries. Flywheel is leveraging technology to help taxi fleets and drivers ward off the threat by these ride-sharing companies and, more specifically, non-trained and regulated, community drivers.

Transportation startups (like the ones mentioned above) present a significant threat to traditional taxis. They continue to raise money, enter new markets, and hire drivers, and are gaining increasingly large shares of the market. Humphreys said that rivals are trying to re-create the entire taxi infrastructure one car, one driver at a time, whereas Flywheel is giving  existing fleets and drivers tools to remain competitive.

Flywheel has over 2,500 regulated taxi cabs in its fleet and revenues have gone up by 5x since the beginning of 2013. The company also has list of dozens of fleets around the country waiting to be on-boarded.

It was founded in 2010 as Cabulous and rebranded as Flywheel in December 2012. It is backed by $8 million from Shasta Ventures, Rockport Capital, Sandhill Angels, and Band of Angels.

Photo Credit: Flywheel 


Filed under: Business, Lifestyle, Mobile Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Flywheel 4.0 drives through traffic jam of taxi apps (exclusive)

June 12th, 2013 No comments
MobileBeat 2013
July 9-10, 2013
San Francisco, CA
Tickets On Sale Now

FlywheelTaxiLightWhile ride-sharing startups are disrupting the cab industry from the outside, Flywheel is taking on this broken sector from within.

Flywheel, formerly known as Cabulous, released major updates today to its application today that provides existing taxis and fleets with e-hailing technology.

Flywheel 4.0 for iOS has a new EasyPay feature that allows riders to pay from their smartphone, rather than paying with cash or a credit card. The company also added the ability to rate drivers and the best drivers will be rewarded with more rides. New Foursquare integration will also allow users to call a cab to a specific location, without knowing the street address.

These new capabilities give regular cabs the same benefits and conveniences as e-hailing and ride-sharing services like Uber, Hailo, SideCar, and Lyft. These companies all offer the ability to call a cab to your location via a smartphone app and track its progress, as well as a rating system that ensure quality and seamless digital payments. Consumers have responded well to this approach and despite legal battles, these startups are continuing to expand. Flywheel’s approach is to trick out traditional taxi cabs with these rider-friendly features so they can keep their business, while also increasing efficiency and cutting down on costs.

“Most city dwellers want to get fast, reliable and safe rides to wherever they are going,” said CEO Steve Humphreys in a Q&A with VentureBeat. “99% of all paid-rides in the US still go through taxis, but they can be difficult from a reliability and easy of payment standpoint. Taxis exist, in some form, in virtually every city in the world. Our vision is to create a more consistently reliable, convenient and cost-effective paid-ride experience anywhere. We believe the technical and consumer improvements engendered by the Flywheel app are critical to urban progress.”

Flywheel is essentially trying to move an old, stagnant, cash-based business online and adapt it to a mobile world that improves operations for taxis and the experience for consumers.

“Paid transportation is going through major, tectonic shifts,” Humphreys said. “External disruptors like Uber are forcing change at every level by cutting out much of the infrastructure that has been built up over the past two centuries. Flywheel is leveraging technology to help taxi fleets and drivers ward off the threat by these ride-sharing companies and, more specifically, non-trained and regulated, community drivers.

Transportation startups (like the ones mentioned above) present a significant threat to traditional taxis. They continue to raise money, enter new markets, and hire drivers, and are gaining increasingly large shares of the market. Humphreys said that rivals are trying to re-create the entire taxi infrastructure one car, one driver at a time, whereas Flywheel is giving  existing fleets and drivers tools to remain competitive.

Flywheel has over 2,500 regulated taxi cabs in its fleet and revenues have gone up by 5x since the beginning of 2013. The company also has list of dozens of fleets around the country waiting to be on-boarded.

It was founded in 2010 as Cabulous and rebranded as Flywheel in December 2012. It is backed by $8 million from Shasta Ventures, Rockport Capital, Sandhill Angels, and Band of Angels.

Photo Credit: Flywheel 


Filed under: Business, Lifestyle, Mobile Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Consoles that won’t die: The SNES in 2013

May 3rd, 2013 No comments

SNES North American model close-up

Read more:
Consoles
that won’t die

For many gamers of a certain age, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, represents all that is good about their hobby.

Despite being 22 years old, the console remains timeless, with a lively second-hand market and committed playing community.

This year the SNES will go one step further, though, as it is receives two new boxed cartridge releases. Nightmare Busters is a lost gem that retro publisher Super Fighter Team is resurrecting, and Project N is a completely new game from WaterMelon Games of Muscatine, Iowa.

SNES controller graffitiThe 16-bit console wars

Released in North America in 1991, the SNES was Nintendo’s answer to Sega’s 16-bit Genesis. The head-to-head battle between these two consoles, and their respective mascots, Mario and Sonic, would define a generation of gaming.

Despite going up against an already established machine, the SNES could eventually declare victory in the 16-bit console war, shifting 49.1 million units worldwide compared to estimated Genesis sales of 29.5 million.

With the SNES bringing us the first installments of classic Nintendo series such as Super Mario Kart, Pilotwings, F-Zero, and Star Fox, many consider it as the greatest console of all time.

It’s quite fitting, then, that the SNES is seeing renewed interest from developers and publishers 14 years after Nintendo ceased its production.

Nightmare Busters

Brandon Cobb Super Fighter Team President
Source: Super Fighter Team

Super Fighter Team president Brandon Cobb.

Super Fighter Team is a dedicated retro developer and publisher, based in Santee, Calif. Its back catalog includes releases for Sega Genesis, Atari Lynx, PC, and Mac. This year, it’s working on the SNES.

“Since our company’s founding, back in 2004, there’s been a lot of excitement about the possibility of new Super Nintendo games appearing on the market,” says Brandon Cobb, the president of Super Fighter Team. “I can’t count the number of requests that have landed in our inbox. It was about waiting for the right title to come along, because we don’t put our name on just anything.”

The right title was Nightmare Busters, a run-and-gun game originally created by French developer Christophe Gayraud in 1994. The SNES version of the game got shelved, and didn’t ever see an official release.

Arcade Zone, the studio that Gayraud was working for, fell victim to a changing gaming maket, disrupted by the Sony PlayStation. “What happened is that Sony broke off the Nintendo distribution in Europe, refusing to take the product,” explained fellow developer Carlo Perconti to 1UP.com. “Without buyers and incapable of publishing them by ourselves, we had to close down Arcade Zone and interrupt undergoing developments, with profound regret. Other companies … survived and moved on to the PlayStation. We were at the wrong time at the wrong transition, the one which saw Nintendo’s European market become Sony’s European market. “

In the intervening years, Nightmare Busters has appeared as an unauthorized ROM, and a few homemade cartridges containing this game have found their way to eBay. Now finally, nearly two decades later, Nightmare Busters is officially entering production, with Super Fighter Team planning a limited release of 1,200 copies, all of which have already been preordered.

Nightmare Busters programmer Christophe Gayraud
Source: RetroGameSpace

Nightmare Busters programmer Christophe Gayraud.

Sadly, Nightmare Busters’ original creator will not see his game’s official launch. Gayraud passed away in April last year, at 46, following a heart attack.

“Christophe was one of the nicest guys I’ve had the pleasure to do business with,” says Cobb. “He was overjoyed at the prospect of Nightmare Busters finally getting an official release. Though he won’t be here with us to see it happen, I was at least able to break the news to him about the start of our preorder process. That ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ announcement meant a lot to him.”

What the heck is a Lynx cartridge?

Super Fighter Team has a long history of publishing games on “forgotten” consoles.  Founded in 2004, the company is responsible for the localization and release of Sega Genesis role-playing games Star Odyssey, Legend of Wukong, and Beggar Prince. It also published the 2009 Atari Lynx horizontal shooter Zaku from developer PenguiNet.

Nightmare Busters SNES title art

Cobb explains how tricky manufacturing authentic-looking cartridges is on consoles that have long ceased production. “One of the harder things is getting the plastic casing for the game boards,” he says. “For the Genesis, you can at least rely on an existing mold. When we did Zaku for the Lynx, however, our factory in China was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ because the Lynx is completely unknown over there. I had to send them an original game card by Atari so they could reproduce the case design to a T.”

As for publishing rights, it seems that the console manufacturers no longer care much for their old machines. “We contacted Sega of Japan ourself, in regard to publishing games for the Genesis,” says Cobb. “They don’t offer official developer licenses for the machine anymore, so they just told us not to use any of their trademarks on the products.”

Cobb won’t give a release date for Nightmare Busters yet, but it will ship sometime this year. “As soon as the official release date is confirmed,” he says, “it will be announced on our website and company Facebook page as well as by e-mail to all of our preorder customers and mailing list subscribers.”

So will it be worth the 19-year wait? Cobb says yes. “It embodies what all the top Super Nintendo games are: vibrant works of art.”

You can watch Gayraud playing Nightmare Busters in the video embedded below. It’s in French:


Filed under: Games

Pages: 1 2 3 View All

    


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Consoles that won’t die: The SNES in 2013

May 3rd, 2013 No comments

SNES North American model close-up

Read more:
Consoles
that won’t die

For many gamers of a certain age, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, represents all that is good about their hobby.

Despite being 22 years old, the console remains timeless, with a lively second-hand market and committed playing community.

This year the SNES will go one step further, though, as it is receives two new boxed cartridge releases. Nightmare Busters is a lost gem that retro publisher Super Fighter Team is resurrecting, and Project N is a completely new game from WaterMelon Games of Muscatine, Iowa.

SNES controller graffitiThe 16-bit console wars

Released in North America in 1991, the SNES was Nintendo’s answer to Sega’s 16-bit Genesis. The head-to-head battle between these two consoles, and their respective mascots, Mario and Sonic, would define a generation of gaming.

Despite going up against an already established machine, the SNES could eventually declare victory in the 16-bit console war, shifting 49.1 million units worldwide compared to estimated Genesis sales of 29.5 million.

With the SNES bringing us the first installments of classic Nintendo series such as Super Mario Kart, Pilotwings, F-Zero, and Star Fox, many consider it as the greatest console of all time.

It’s quite fitting, then, that the SNES is seeing renewed interest from developers and publishers 14 years after Nintendo ceased its production.

Nightmare Busters

Brandon Cobb Super Fighter Team President
Source: Super Fighter Team

Super Fighter Team president Brandon Cobb.

Super Fighter Team is a dedicated retro developer and publisher, based in Santee, Calif. Its back catalog includes releases for Sega Genesis, Atari Lynx, PC, and Mac. This year, it’s working on the SNES.

“Since our company’s founding, back in 2004, there’s been a lot of excitement about the possibility of new Super Nintendo games appearing on the market,” says Brandon Cobb, the president of Super Fighter Team. “I can’t count the number of requests that have landed in our inbox. It was about waiting for the right title to come along, because we don’t put our name on just anything.”

The right title was Nightmare Busters, a run-and-gun game originally created by French developer Christophe Gayraud in 1994. The SNES version of the game got shelved, and didn’t ever see an official release.

Arcade Zone, the studio that Gayraud was working for, fell victim to a changing gaming maket, disrupted by the Sony PlayStation. “What happened is that Sony broke off the Nintendo distribution in Europe, refusing to take the product,” explained fellow developer Carlo Perconti to 1UP.com. “Without buyers and incapable of publishing them by ourselves, we had to close down Arcade Zone and interrupt undergoing developments, with profound regret. Other companies … survived and moved on to the PlayStation. We were at the wrong time at the wrong transition, the one which saw Nintendo’s European market become Sony’s European market. “

In the intervening years, Nightmare Busters has appeared as an unauthorized ROM, and a few homemade cartridges containing this game have found their way to eBay. Now finally, nearly two decades later, Nightmare Busters is officially entering production, with Super Fighter Team planning a limited release of 1,200 copies, all of which have already been preordered.

Nightmare Busters programmer Christophe Gayraud
Source: RetroGameSpace

Nightmare Busters programmer Christophe Gayraud.

Sadly, Nightmare Busters’ original creator will not see his game’s official launch. Gayraud passed away in April last year, at 46, following a heart attack.

“Christophe was one of the nicest guys I’ve had the pleasure to do business with,” says Cobb. “He was overjoyed at the prospect of Nightmare Busters finally getting an official release. Though he won’t be here with us to see it happen, I was at least able to break the news to him about the start of our preorder process. That ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ announcement meant a lot to him.”

What the heck is a Lynx cartridge?

Super Fighter Team has a long history of publishing games on “forgotten” consoles.  Founded in 2004, the company is responsible for the localization and release of Sega Genesis role-playing games Star Odyssey, Legend of Wukong, and Beggar Prince. It also published the 2009 Atari Lynx horizontal shooter Zaku from developer PenguiNet.

Nightmare Busters SNES title art

Cobb explains how tricky manufacturing authentic-looking cartridges is on consoles that have long ceased production. “One of the harder things is getting the plastic casing for the game boards,” he says. “For the Genesis, you can at least rely on an existing mold. When we did Zaku for the Lynx, however, our factory in China was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ because the Lynx is completely unknown over there. I had to send them an original game card by Atari so they could reproduce the case design to a T.”

As for publishing rights, it seems that the console manufacturers no longer care much for their old machines. “We contacted Sega of Japan ourself, in regard to publishing games for the Genesis,” says Cobb. “They don’t offer official developer licenses for the machine anymore, so they just told us not to use any of their trademarks on the products.”

Cobb won’t give a release date for Nightmare Busters yet, but it will ship sometime this year. “As soon as the official release date is confirmed,” he says, “it will be announced on our website and company Facebook page as well as by e-mail to all of our preorder customers and mailing list subscribers.”

So will it be worth the 19-year wait? Cobb says yes. “It embodies what all the top Super Nintendo games are: vibrant works of art.”

You can watch Gayraud playing Nightmare Busters in the video embedded below. It’s in French:


Filed under: Games

Pages: 1 2 3 View All

    


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Consoles that won’t die: The SNES in 2013

May 3rd, 2013 No comments

SNES North American model close-up

Read more:
Consoles
that won’t die

For many gamers of a certain age, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, represents all that is good about their hobby.

Despite being 22 years old, the console remains timeless, with a lively second-hand market and committed playing community.

This year the SNES will go one step further, though, as it is receives two new boxed cartridge releases. Nightmare Busters is a lost gem that retro publisher Super Fighter Team is resurrecting, and Project N is a completely new game from WaterMelon Games of Muscatine, Iowa.

SNES controller graffitiThe 16-bit console wars

Released in North America in 1991, the SNES was Nintendo’s answer to Sega’s 16-bit Genesis. The head-to-head battle between these two consoles, and their respective mascots, Mario and Sonic, would define a generation of gaming.

Despite going up against an already established machine, the SNES could eventually declare victory in the 16-bit console war, shifting 49.1 million units worldwide compared to estimated Genesis sales of 29.5 million.

With the SNES bringing us the first installments of classic Nintendo series such as Super Mario Kart, Pilotwings, F-Zero, and Star Fox, many consider it as the greatest console of all time.

It’s quite fitting, then, that the SNES is seeing renewed interest from developers and publishers 14 years after Nintendo ceased its production.

Nightmare Busters

Brandon Cobb Super Fighter Team President
Source: Super Fighter Team

Super Fighter Team president Brandon Cobb.

Super Fighter Team is a dedicated retro developer and publisher, based in Santee, Calif. Its back catalog includes releases for Sega Genesis, Atari Lynx, PC, and Mac. This year, it’s working on the SNES.

“Since our company’s founding, back in 2004, there’s been a lot of excitement about the possibility of new Super Nintendo games appearing on the market,” says Brandon Cobb, the president of Super Fighter Team. “I can’t count the number of requests that have landed in our inbox. It was about waiting for the right title to come along, because we don’t put our name on just anything.”

The right title was Nightmare Busters, a run-and-gun game originally created by French developer Christophe Gayraud in 1994. The SNES version of the game got shelved, and didn’t ever see an official release.

Arcade Zone, the studio that Gayraud was working for, fell victim to a changing gaming maket, disrupted by the Sony PlayStation. “What happened is that Sony broke off the Nintendo distribution in Europe, refusing to take the product,” explained fellow developer Carlo Perconti to 1UP.com. “Without buyers and incapable of publishing them by ourselves, we had to close down Arcade Zone and interrupt undergoing developments, with profound regret. Other companies … survived and moved on to the PlayStation. We were at the wrong time at the wrong transition, the one which saw Nintendo’s European market become Sony’s European market. “

In the intervening years, Nightmare Busters has appeared as an unauthorized ROM, and a few homemade cartridges containing this game have found their way to eBay. Now finally, nearly two decades later, Nightmare Busters is officially entering production, with Super Fighter Team planning a limited release of 1,200 copies, all of which have already been preordered.

Nightmare Busters programmer Christophe Gayraud
Source: RetroGameSpace

Nightmare Busters programmer Christophe Gayraud.

Sadly, Nightmare Busters’ original creator will not see his game’s official launch. Gayraud passed away in April last year, at 46, following a heart attack.

“Christophe was one of the nicest guys I’ve had the pleasure to do business with,” says Cobb. “He was overjoyed at the prospect of Nightmare Busters finally getting an official release. Though he won’t be here with us to see it happen, I was at least able to break the news to him about the start of our preorder process. That ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ announcement meant a lot to him.”

What the heck is a Lynx cartridge?

Super Fighter Team has a long history of publishing games on “forgotten” consoles.  Founded in 2004, the company is responsible for the localization and release of Sega Genesis role-playing games Star Odyssey, Legend of Wukong, and Beggar Prince. It also published the 2009 Atari Lynx horizontal shooter Zaku from developer PenguiNet.

Nightmare Busters SNES title art

Cobb explains how tricky manufacturing authentic-looking cartridges is on consoles that have long ceased production. “One of the harder things is getting the plastic casing for the game boards,” he says. “For the Genesis, you can at least rely on an existing mold. When we did Zaku for the Lynx, however, our factory in China was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ because the Lynx is completely unknown over there. I had to send them an original game card by Atari so they could reproduce the case design to a T.”

As for publishing rights, it seems that the console manufacturers no longer care much for their old machines. “We contacted Sega of Japan ourself, in regard to publishing games for the Genesis,” says Cobb. “They don’t offer official developer licenses for the machine anymore, so they just told us not to use any of their trademarks on the products.”

Cobb won’t give a release date for Nightmare Busters yet, but it will ship sometime this year. “As soon as the official release date is confirmed,” he says, “it will be announced on our website and company Facebook page as well as by e-mail to all of our preorder customers and mailing list subscribers.”

So will it be worth the 19-year wait? Cobb says yes. “It embodies what all the top Super Nintendo games are: vibrant works of art.”

You can watch Gayraud playing Nightmare Busters in the video embedded below. It’s in French:


Filed under: Games

Pages: 1 2 3 View All

    


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Consoles that won’t die: The Atari Jaguar

April 25th, 2013 No comments

Another World Atari Jaguar screen

Read more:
Consoles
that won’t die

Out of This World (known as Another World outside of North America) is a true gaming classic, hitting systems as diverse as the Super Nintendo and iOS since its 1991 arrival on the Commodore Amiga. Creator Eric Chahi has now given his blessing to one more adaptation of the game on an unlikely console.

French computer scientist Sébastien Briais is the man at the heart of the project, and the platform of choice is the Atari Jaguar, a powerful machine that’s notorious for being one of the worst-selling video game consoles of all time.

Jaguar: Atari’s last console

Atari Jaguar console close upAtari led the video game industry in the late ’70s and early ’80s. But this dominance was a distant memory by the time of the Jaguar’s 1993 release — Atari never recovered from the Crash of 1983 that almost killed home gaming in America. Despite claims that its new console was technically superior to its rivals and some impressive software from Atari, the Jaguar simply didn’t sell.

A lack of support from third-party publishers such as Activision, Electronic Arts, or Capcom led to an understocked games catalog, and Atari had more or less accepted defeat by the time the new kids on the block, the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, released in 1995.

Atari’s report to stockholders that year was bleak: “From the introduction of Jaguar in late 1993 through the end of 1995, Atari sold approximately 125,000 units of Jaguar. As of December 31, 1995, Atari had approximately 100,000 units of Jaguar in inventory … . There can be no assurance that Atari’s substantial unsold inventory of Jaguar and related software can be sold at current or reduced prices if at all.”

Out of This World

Briais is an enthusiastic Jaguar programmer, and despite the console’s retail failure 20 years ago, he is confident that it will prove a worthy home for Chahi’s classic cinematic adventure game.

“The story began in 2007 when I attended the Atari Connexion in Congis not far from Paris,” says Briais. “This event was organised by the Retro Gaming Connexion. Eric Chahi was invited to the event, and he was very enthusiastic to see some crazy people still having fun coding on old hardware. Some friends of mine and I asked whether he would let us adapt Another World for the Jaguar.”

Eric Chahi GDC 2
Source: Official GDC/flickr

Out of this World creator Eric Chahi speaking at the European Game Developers Conference in 2010

Eric Chahi recalls his first meeting with Briais with equal clarity. “The event organizers presented me to [Briais' programming group] The Removers,” he says. “They asked me if it would be possible to port Another World on Jaguar. I was impressed by their ability to code on this machine. These guys sounded like crazy people, so I immediately said, ‘Yes.’”

But the Out of This World Jaguar project remained just a concept until 2010, when Briais finally had the time to seriously work on it. Chahi provided Briais with the original Atari source code, along with the latest data and enhanced graphics from the 15th anniversary edition. “I gave Seb technical info on the game engine,” he says, “and later I resized the graphics to the native size of the Jaguar so that there is no dithering [scattering of pixels to make up for a limited color palette].”

With Chahi’s support, Briais managed to not only get the game running but take it to a stage where it was outperforming the original. ”About one year ago, [Eric] came to my home and tried a beta version,” says Briais. “I think he was quite impressed by the console, as the game runs very smoothly on it.”

“It was like jumping into an alternate reality in the past where someone coded Another World on this computer,” recalls Chahi. “I was amazed by the quality of this version. Seb coded it in assembly language  using the advantage of the Jaguar hardware. It is one of the best versions, clearly. The code is so well optimized that if the frame rate is not limited, it can run maybe at least five times faster than the original with all the enhanced graphics.”


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Threeview: SimCity reviewed by a critic, an analyst, and an academic

March 11th, 2013 No comments

simcity2013

They wanted to play SimCity. They really did. And maybe they will soon. But our guest writers who are reviewing the city-building simulation had the same server-connection issues everyone else did in the days shortly after the PC game’s release (see our coverage here).

Publisher EA and developer EA Maxis say the problems are going away, but our Threeview just couldn’t wait. Our analyst reviewer dished out his lowest score yet, strongly criticizing the failures surrounding this big launch. Our academic reviewer (a SimCity fan and expert) was much more generous with his critique, but that could be because he didn’t exactly review the game itself (see what he does below). Meanwhile, our own in-house reviewer was the only one among the three to actually play SimCity.

Here are their thoughts.


SimCity: The critic’s review

  • By Dean Takahashi, GamesBeat lead news writer
  • Note: Turned in before launch

Dean TakahashiIt’s a joy to see SimCity return in a better form than it has ever been. It is wonderfully complex but very easy to play. The title is a massive undertaking, and it has come together beautifully overall. Hopefully, EA will be able to improve the connected parts of the game, and the experience will become more fun with more players.

The game is as enchanting as it was when it first debuted so many years ago.

Read the full GamesBeat review.

Final critic’s score: 90/100


SimCity: The analyst’s review

michael pachter

SimCity is a great game, and if this review was about the game, I’d give it a 95 review score.  Unfortunately, this review is about the impact the game will have on EA’s financials, which will likely range from “not much” to hurting them.  The fact is that the game doesn’t work.  The sad fact is the game’s failure to work is completely due to EA’s affirmative decision to require a persistent server connection.

The spin from EA appears to be that the “always connected” requirement is due to the fact that so much data must be handled by its servers, and the company believes that most consumers’ PCs are not up to the task. I can’t call BS on this, because I truly don’t know if it is true, but the perception among gamers appears to be that the “always connected” requirement is due to digital rights management, which is intended to prevent piracy. Apparently, few players are able to play the game for more than 20 minutes to 30 minutes without serious latency, and I have seen several reports of corrupted data. It is fatal for a city-building game to fail to save the city its players build.

Regardless, the “always connected” game is buggy, to the point of being unplayable for many people.  The SimCity franchise can reasonably be counted on to sell 500,000 copies a year and should have been expected to sell 1 million to 2 million in 2013; due to its bugginess, it isn’t clear that this year’s version will come close to the 1 million unit threshold, and if the bugginess continues, it is highly unlikely that catalog sales will be strong.

The question I cannot answer is whether EA can turn off its “always connected” requirement.  SimCity would be a great single-player game offline, and its online functionality should not be difficult to sustain for a company that manages online multiplayer for so many other games. It appears that a desire to boost [online store] Origin account activations coupled with paranoia over piracy clouded EA’s judgment, and the result is a failing score. The issues with latency and corrupted sessions have spurred outrage on the Internet, and I believe these issues, if not remedied soon, will cause lasting damage to the EA and SimCity brands. Accordingly, until the bugs are fixed and gamers can rely on a near flawless experience, I must assign SimCity a score of 50.

Final analyst’s score: 50/100


SimCity: The academic’s review

  • By David Thomas, Ph.D., researcher at the University of Colorado, Denver
  • Blog: Buzzcut
  • Note: Turned in five days after launch

David ThomasOne of the joys of working as an academic is hearing people say, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” As I stare, once again, at the “unable to connect” message glaring at me where the new SimCity ought to be, I think: Well, since I can’t play, at least I can still do a little scholarly probing.

Fortunately, even though the game is having well-documented fits and starts, the instruction manual works just fine. So I’m going to review what I know while EA fixes the game.

Besides, what I really want to know is: Has SimCity has gained any smarts around engaging players with the challenge of actually running a city?

So to the manual I go. And here’s what it looks like from that perspective:

  • The Mayor: Just like every other SimCity game before, you get to play Stalin. The people? Let them complain! These buildings are coming down for the greater glory of the state.
  • Multiplayer: Interesting. Real cities evolve in complex webs of negotiation. I guess trading with other players sounds interesting.
  • Global market: I’m intrigued. A city that has to wheel-and-deal resources to stay afloat? Now that is something a teacher could sink his teeth into.
  • Mixed-use zoning: Nope. My dreams of building a transit-oriented commercial development with a mix of residential units remains just that — a dream. You get three zoning options, and that’s that.
  • Sewage: Sounds nasty. Then again, pollution has always had a place in SimCity. This sounds like a challenging addition to the troubles you face as Mayor.
  • Upgradable, plopable buildings: One of the central pleasures in this game is seeing your city grow. Showing a more effective government through an upgraded city hall sounds like a great improvement in the interface.
  • Boats: From Hong Kong to New York City, well, you know, boats.
  • City specialization: While it’s neat to think about flavoring the kind of city you want to build from the beginning, do you really want to run a coal town?
  • Weather: Yeah, still no weather. And for those of us that live in places where mayors come and go based on their ability to keep the snow plows running, I’ll say, “We’re still waiting.”

Which, of course, brings us to curvy roads. For would-be junior designers intent on replicating the disorienting rat’s nest of the American suburb, maybe curvy roads seem like a cool new feature And, certainly, if you want to cook up a city with a European feel, then the curves come with the territory. But to my eye, the prototypical SimCity looks like a vaguely futuristic version of the same Northern Californian burgs Will Wright had in mind when he first designed the [original] game. And other than curves to work around tough geographical features, there’s no reason to layout that grand ring circling your city.

That said, I’m looking forward to playing the game. It might not be any more useful for teaching about cities than the other games in the series. Still, curvy roads and sewage look like fun.

Final academic’s score: 88/100 (“It’s a good manual!”)


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Med tech’s top 10 stories from 2012

December 30th, 2012 No comments

healthtech

This year, Silicon Valley had a few big moments of clarity and cooperation between entrepreneurs and digitally-savvy patients and doctors.

Outraged by the healthcare industry’s slow adoption of digital systems, some tech entrepreneurs questioned whether doctors could be replaced by machines altogether. Vinod Khosla likened modern medicine to witchcraft, and IBM supercomputer Watson was set to work to help oncologists treat cancer patients at Sloan-Kettering.

Encouraged by “meaningful use” incentives, healthcare providers and hospitals finally embraced the cloud. In 2012, 72 percent of office-based physicians used electronic medical record or electronic health record (EMR/EHR) systems, up from 48 percent in 2009.

To empower patients to monitor and track their health, entrepreneurs produced some seriously cool hardware: one Cambridge, Mass. startup developed an under-helmet skullcap that alerts a nearby physician when an athlete’s collision is potentially dangerous. Another created a biosensor that uses an iPhone or iPad camera to provide touch free heart rate measurements. MIT researchers produced Bandu, a small wristwatch-like device that will monitor the body for signs of stress then take steps to counteract it.

Many of these entrepreneurs were supported by venture capital firms for the first time. Venture investment in digital health grew by 43 percent year over year, according to a soon-to-be released report from Rock Health.

With so much activity in this space, VentureBeat sat down with Nate Gross, cofounder of Rock Health and doctors’ social network Doximity, to compile a list of the ten biggest health-tech stories that shocked and amazed us this year.

10. Scanadu brings vitals home

Scanadu recently unveiled three devices that can be used at home to monitor and track your vitals. One of them, Scout, is a sensor that people hold up to their temple; in less than ten seconds, it will collect data on pulse, heart rate, electrical heart activity, temperature, heart rate variability, and blood oxygenation. The device should be available by the end of 2013 for $150. The company’s founding team includes Walter De Brouwer, an academic and founder of TEDGlobal. De Brouwer was inspired to start the company after his son suffered a brain trauma and was hospitalized for a year.

The story: “‘People can get access information about health and connect to each other about health, but the piece that is missing is that people can’t get information about their own body,’ said De Brouwer. ‘By getting precision diagnostics into the hands of people, this can enable them to get early detection and to inform their conversations with their doctor in the ways that haven’t been possible.’

9. The rise of Practice Fusion

Practice Fusion, a provider of free, web-based EHRs, experienced a meteoric rise this year. It was no overnight success. The company launched in 2005, when there were few incentives for doctors to abandon paper-based systems. Company spokesperson Emily Peters said the stimulus plan and government investment in health IT kept them from going out of business during the economic recession. When Practice Fusion’s users (around 50 percent are doctors) started to receive meaningful use checks in March or April this year to adopt and use an EHR, the technology took off.

“This is the year we went from being the scrappy startup to a big deal” said Peters. A survey conducted by InterWest partners found Practice Fusion is considered the most likely EHR company to go public, followed by ZocDoc and Castlight. In July, the company raised $34 million at a valuation of $500 million, up from $100 million in its previous financing round.

The story: ”‘Ninety percent of doctors do have a computerized billing system, but 90 percent of doctors don’t have an electronic medical records system,’ said Practice Fusion CEO and cofounder Ryan Howard. ‘That means the focus is on getting paid, not on healthcare.’”

8. VCs open their checkbooks

Venture capital investment in med tech and health IT skyrocketed this year. According to Rock Health’s survey, 135 digital health companies raised more than $2 million in funding. Among the 177 investors that poured funds into these companies, roughly 10 percent are completely new to the space (based on a sample from a single quarter). Why this surge in interest? Morganthaler, the venture firm that invested in Doximity and Practice Fusion among others, saw it coming.

“As the requirements under both the HITECH Act and the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] continue to roll out, there will be additional opportunities for startups in healthcare,” said Rebecca Lynn, a health-tech focused partner at Morganthaler. These acts change the incentives in healthcare with both a carrot and a stick. She explained, “As the incentives change, payors and providers will need to adopt new technologies provided by these startups to be efficiently compliant and competitive.”

In recent months, angel investors also stepped up their investment in health tech, in part due to partnerships like SecondMarket’s with Startup Health.

The story: ”‘Our members might be interested [in health tech] from a macro perspective, but they don’t feel comfortable enough to deploy capital,’” said Jeremy Smith, SecondMarket’s CSO. SecondMarket’s investors are encouraged to pour thousands of dollars into promising health tech startups as well as Startup Health’s new fund. According to a document available to SecondMarket’s network of accredited investors, Startup Health is building up a $7.5 million Innovation Fund to support up to 100 digital health and wellness startups.”

7. Health tech incubators proliferate

A growing number of startup accelerator programs this year specialized in digital health. Nike+ launched its accelerator in partnership with TechStars to encourage developers to build health and fitness applications. This year, the New York Digital Health Accelerator, a program with an initial investment of $4.2 million, also announced its inaugural class. This is indicative of two things: increasing venture capital investment in the space and a booming interest among entrepreneurs.

The story: “The catch: all the products these companies create will have to use the Nike+ platform and/or NikeFuel ‘to build offerings that inspire and assist people to live more active, healthy lifestyles.’”

6. The steady move to the cloud

By 2014, Obamacare mandates hospitals and practitioners with paper records switch to electronic medical records. It will not be a simple transition. However, physicians see the benefits of storing health records in the cloud, which makes it cheaper and faster to organize massive amounts of information. At Seattle’s Children Hospital, in one notable case, researchers were able to work with a huge amount of data to identify patients whose cells looked similar, and identify a rare bone disease called craniosynostosis.

The story: “‘The healthcare industry is fragmented, complex and paper-based,’ said Darin Brannan, president and CEO of ClearDATA, a provider of cloud computing services. In 2012, that began to change with the major shift toward web-based EMR technology.”

5. The Allscripts drama

One-time high flyer Allscripts seemed poised for success, given the EHR boom due to government stimuli. But the company landed in a steaming pile of drama in April after its chairman was fired in a board dispute and three directors resigned in protest. With shares plummeting, the Chicago-based company announced it would bring on a new CEO lured from its rival, Cerner. Then, the company experienced a sales slowdown when customers tried to upgrade to a new product — one that would actually let their doctors’ offices and hospitals share digital patient records.

The story: “The lesson for up-and-coming health IT vendors? ‘The meltdown showcased the rocky transition our sector is going through trying to get legacy vendors to quickly adapt to a changing marketplace and regulatory pressure,’ said Peters of Practice Fusion.

4. Human genome sequencing hits $1000

The quest to harness the potential of human DNA for the purposes of diagnostics and drug treatment hit a major threshold in January 2012: the thousand-dollar genome. Carslbad, Calif.-based Life Technologies introduced a machine to map an individual’s genetic makeup. The news inspired entrepreneurs to harness this data, banishing a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine.

The story: ”‘Every disease has a genetic component, and yet largely none of the available genetic information is being used today to treat patients,’ said Dr. Dietrich Stephan, cofounder of Navigenics. ’With the knowledge we have now about your genes, we are finding ways to diagnose sick people earlier and develop medicines to zap the core defect.’”

3. Khosla made THAT prediction

Tehc luminary Vinod Khosla declared at the Rock Health Innovation Summit that medicine is not so disimilar to witchcraft. The entrepreneur, who made his mark during the dot-com boom, said that machines driven by large data sets and computations power would be better for patients than the average physician and imagined a doctor-free future. Needless to say, this went over great with the medical community.

The story: “‘Eventually, we won’t need the doctor,’ said Khosla. Columbia University-trained doctor Bijan Salehizadeh was one of many critics who vocalized resistance, responding that he was ‘nauseated’ by Khosla’s remarks.”

2. Amazon unveils its free genetic database

Armed with data, developers with little or no medical training can help determine the underlying genetic cause for some of the most common diseases. Amazon’s cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services, announced in March it would store for public use the entire contents of the National Institutes of Health’s 1000 Genomes Project, a survey of genetic information around 200 terabytes in size.

Developers can freely access the system and can choose whether or not to share their research. The people in the study consented to have their data made public, and there is no personal information linked to their genetic data.

The story: “‘It’s the only public data set like this,’ Lisa D. Brooks, program director for the Genetic Variation Program of the National Human Genome Research Institute. ‘It is an almost complete set of human genetic variants.”

1. Healthcare reaches government

Todd Park, cofounder of health IT juggernauts Athenahealth and Castlight, was promoted from CTO of the Department of Health and Human Services to CTO of the United States.

With this executive appointment, med tech entrepreneurs gained a powerful new ally. Park was instrumental in launching the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which invites innovators from outside government to work with the powers that be to solve socio-economic problems, particularly those facing health providers and hospitals. It should come as no surprise that one of the fellowships was awarded to a team building tech to enable millions of Americans to easily and securely download their own health information electronically.

The story: “‘We have an opportunity to make this country shine,’ Park said. The government’s official document on its Digital Government Strategy broadly sets out to ‘ensure that as the government adjusts to this new digital world, we seize the opportunity to procure and manage devices, applications, and data in smart, secure and affordable ways.’”

Image credits: lenetstan/Shutterstock, JCD/Shutterstock, Maria Ly/Flickr


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