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Activision BlizzardThe internet is currently awash in sites reporting that World of Warcraft subscriptions have dropped to 9.1 million in Activision Blizzard's most recent fiscal quarter ended June 30, 2012. That compares to the last reported number of 10.2 million on March 31, 2012. Previous numbers were as high as 12 million. That sounds like a more than 10% drop. It also sounds bad. But the reality is probably a lot worse. Read on to understand why we think so...
by Kyle Ackerman

I'm tired of E3. Unless something radically changes, I'm just not particularly interested in what goes on at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, anymore.

Go ahead and observe the old coot alert here. If it helps, just picture me typing this in a rocking chair on the porch, sipping lemonade, with my shotgun leaning against the three-legged mangy dog.

E3 stopped being interesting in 2007, when the ESA dumped the L.A. Convention center and became a "Media and Business Summit." Since then, E3 just hasn't been the hub for interestng announcements and reveals.

KarapyssIt's April 1, and that means a variety of "April Fools" jokes are extant on the web. We'd like to say that recent massive job losses are pranks, but (sadly) that's not the case. You'll have to try and find solace in this list of silliness that we'll continue to update as new gags are revealed:

by Kyle Ackerman

Take-Two Interactive's X-Com RebootMaybe you were as astonished as I was to learn the revered (and ancient) X-COM series is returning as a first-person shooter and that Electronic Arts is bringing back Syndicate – also as a first-person shooter. Or maybe your first game was Halo ODST and you can't see why anyone would want anything more than an assault rifle, an energy sword and a low ping. If you played X-COM when it was still called UFO Defense, you probably also remember when a PC's power was measured in gerbil flywheels, when DRM involved cardboard wheels and you had to input unit commands using a telegraph key. If you remember that, you might be offended, but you'll still play the game.

I'll play X-COM, because it's... well... X-COM. Others will play it because they get to shoot aliens, and don't much care what it's called. I'll be crying into my vodka gimlet playing Syndicate's multiplayer while some middle-schooler headshots me from across the map and takes a victorious sip from his juice box. It's the same reason we're all going to see Asteroids if it really comes out as a film. Anyone who's dropped a quarter into one of the old Atari machines knows there's no plot, but we remember the name and want to see what happens.

That's why publishers have announced a slew of new shooters based on classic franchises:

by Kyle Ackerman

Take-Two Interactive Software is the company behind some of the most popular games out on consoles, but behind the scenes, there is an extensive history of financial shenanigans. Take-Two owns labels like Rockstar Games, 2K Sports and 2K Play. They're the folks who publish the Grand Theft Auto games, Red Dead Redemption, BioShock, the recent Civilization games and annual sports franchises ranging from baseball to basketball to tennis. They're also controlled by a media company now taking in more pay for running the company than the CEO of any other game publisher.

PlayStation 3Last week, resourceful users of Sony's PlayStation Network examined the updated Terms of Service for the PlayStation Network and noted that the new agreement forbids users (unless those users notify Sony, in writing, within 30 days of accepting the agreement) from participating in a class-action lawsuit against Sony. On the most obvious level, this is just Sony's legal department trying to protect the company from liability in case something happens such as when the PlayStation Network went down for nearly one month. Some commentators are up-in-arms arguing that the new terms-of-service are anti-consumerist. That's a moral argument. Here at FI, we want to make a practical argument. Business models have changed substantially since the PlayStation 3 console was launched, and constant changes to the PlayStation Network terms-of-service are doing material harm to owners of the console. Read on for a more detailed explanation...
Electronic ArtsThere's been a bit of a dust-up ever since Crysis 2 disappeared from Valve's "Steam" distribution platform. That vanishing act was contemporaneous with the launch of Electronic Arts' "Origin" distribution service. The scuttlebutt was that EA pulled the game to better compete with Steam. EA's DeMartini, Senior Vice President of Global E-Commerce, has issued a statement intended to deny competition with Steam, but ends up making things sound far worse. Read on for more details...
Nintendoby Kyle Ackerman

Nintendo certainly knows how to combine the best of showmanship and fan service. Despite intense rumors concerning the company's upcoming hardware, Nintendo began with a live orchestra playing music and sounds from the Legend of Zelda franchise with Shigeru Miyamoto promoting both the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda franchise and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. That was Nintendo quickly appeasing its core fan base before acknowledging that it will announce a new hardware platform. That platform is exciting, but Nintendo had to talk about the 3DS first.

Sonyby Kyle Ackerman

Despite the substantial leaks surround the PlayStation Vita (previously dubbed the "Next Generation Portable"), there's no question that the biggest issue on everyone's mind coming into Sony's E3 presentation was the PlayStation Network outage. Sony's Jack Tretton opened the presentation apologizing for the outage, eager to move on to the benefits of the PlayStation Network and the planned announcements for the show. What could better distract the angry core audience from the PlayStation Network outage than rapidly moving on to a spectacular demo of Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception? The obvious subtext was, "You can't abandon our platform, we've got cool s**t like this that you can't get anywhere else!"

Microsoftby Kyle Ackerman

From the very beginning, Microsoft's annual E3 presentation today focused on the games, but mostly on how Kinect would integrate with those games. The presentation began with an intense demo of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and within moments of launching, there was a brief glitch as the demo machine popped up the message "Please Reconnect Controller." That's how I feel. Let's reconnect the controller if we can't come up with inspired ways to use the motion and voice controls.

The debate over the sale and purchase of used games has once again come to the fore, now that Best Buy and Target are extending their pilot used-game-sale programs and rolling out the purchase and sale of used games throughout the country. To be clear, this isn't a moral debate about anyone's right to used games, nor are used purchasers perpetrating some kind of evil. This is a straightforward economic issue. Let's quickly review a few of the facts:

Koei E3 2009 Overview

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by Kyle Ackerman

Koei has been a force to be reckoned with in Asia for a long time, but has been a slowly growing presence in North America. From its start here as a publisher of niche tactical action and strategy games, Koei has grown tremendously, and is now decidedly a big boy in the gaming space. Koei even has a game coming next year developed in North America. At E3, only two of Koei's games were playable (Monster Racers and Warriors Orochi 2 for the PSP) and both are due out shortly (August 25), so I'll give you an overview of Koei's upcoming offerings rather than extensively preview things that will be out shortly. Here's what Koei has on tap:

by Kyle Ackerman

The old Electronic Entertainment Expo is dead. A new E3 has been resurrected in its place, built from the ashes of the old Expo, but it's not really the same beast. When the Entertainment Software Association and the heavy hitters of the industry collaborated to kill the E3 of old, they simply didn't foresee where things were going. But, to be honest, neither did I.

Sony Adds Meat to E3

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Sony 2009 E3 Briefing by Kyle Ackerman

To open Sony's 2009 E3 Briefing, Jack Tretton (President and Chief Executive Officer of Sony Computer Entertainment America), declared that "2009 is going to be all about content on the PlayStation 3." Truly, Sony showed an impressive array of exciting software, but Sony also had the most interesting and exciting hardware announcements of the show.

Smug Nintendo Coasts

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by Kyle Ackerman

Nintendo's briefing at this year's E3 was decidedly underwhelming. Like Sony's press conferences of old, there was an air of smugness to Nintendo's presentation, but Nintendo added little in the way of real content to the mix. After gloating about Nintendo's admittedly impressive hardware sales, much of the presentation was a tired retreading of previously announced software and hardware.

by Kyle Ackerman

With its usual impressive stage set-up, multiple colossal screens and hundreds of dynamic lights, Microsoft launched its E3 2009 briefing with a trailer for Beatles Rock Band. Launching into a live play session of "Day Tripper," Beatles Rock Band became the keystone of the Microsoft's presentation, taking on the same kingly role that games like Halo, or the Xbox 360 console itself, have occupied in recent years. The emphasis on the Beatles was surprising given Microsoft's other important hardware and social networking announcements.

Focus Tested Art

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by Kyle Ackerman

If It's Focus Tested, It's Not Art

OkamiA lot of breath and plenty of text has been wasted debating the issue of whether video and computer games are (or even can be) art. Participants in the debate range from angry teenagers defending their favorite pastime on forum boards to established members of academia and the press with graduate degrees in areas like film or art history making their arguments on... well... forum boards. (And sometimes in established journals and newspapers.)

by Kyle Ackerman

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was once the biggest event in the world of interactive entertainment. Certainly, to find a show that rivaled E3 in size and importance, you had to go to Japan or Germany. So, for computer and video gaming in North America, E3 was it. Hundreds of journalists, industry analysts and retail buyers vied with thousands of junior retail staff and every fanboy who managed to cajole his way in, to identify the upcoming hits, sleepers, flops and stories of the day. Companies hated it, because to produce a spectacle on that scale, you have to spend staggering sums of money. Developers hated the annual crunch as they tried to get demos done in time for the event. Journalists and businessmen hated navigating the hordes of screaming, sweaty fans trying to make press meetings behind closed doors, even if those closed doors were simply flimsy screens in the middle of the show floor.

So the E3 of old was cancelled, and the E3 Media and Business Summit was born.

by Kyle Ackerman

Sony made its E3 presentation this year in the Shriner Auditorium in Los Angeles, a venue that has played host in the past to Microsoft and its Xbox 360-related announcements. On a stage literally dripping in flat-screen LCD televisions, Sony vaunted everything the PlayStation 3 does well – lots of style and spectacle. Led by Jack Tretton, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sony Computer Entertainment America, Sony presented (in Tretton's words) "A PlayStation brand that's really hitting its stride."

Tretton led the audience through a slew of new features on the PlayStation 3 that promise to make it an incredibly compelling platform, including movies, more downloadable games, and community features such as weather and news. It sounded, and it will be, great... but it would have been better if it had arrived when the PlayStation 3 launched, and not nearly two years later.

by Kyle Ackerman

Nintendo took the stage this year for its E3 press conference with a quiet and calm confidence. But this was not the vibe of a company that feels it has led the gaming industry into a new segment of gaming that brought millions of new gamers into the fold. This was the quiet confidence of a company with mysterious plans for the future. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's Global President, said that "a true paradigm shift has taken place in the global gaming market." Everyone agrees that Nintendo has opened up a new market and helped popularize casual gaming on consoles. Yet, Nintendo's focus during its press conference was how it plans to change gaming in the future.

Iwata declared that Nintendo strives to continually surprise gamers by "pioneering new paradigms." Iwata and Nintendo's leadership did their best to create the impression that they have plenty of new surprises in store for Wii and DS gamers, but at today's event they unveiled just a few touches, including new games, a microphone for the Wii, Wii Music, the Wii MotionPlus, and new applications for the DS.

by Kyle Ackerman

They say that the Xbox 360 is trailing in the console wars. "They" say. Is that the same "they" that say your shoes are out of style and that Fred or Connie will go home with anyone after a drink or two? Well... yes. It's the enthusiast gaming press saying such things. Microsoft denies it, with the kind of hubris that has characterized past Sony press conferences, where the Japanese giant reveled in its confidence that no one could overtake its recent supremacy in the console space. Microsoft proclaimed its lead, relying on sales figures, upcoming games, and a bevy of features ranging from an interface and avatars designed to emulate the best of the Wii, to family-friendly franchises ripped from previous PlayStations, and Netflix support.

Microsoft may feel that it's in the lead, but it's not afraid to steal the best and brightest ideas from its competition. Read on to see what Microsoft thinks will cinch a lead for its console. Don Mattrick, Senior Vice President of the Interactive Entertainment Business for Microsoft, was confident enough to proclaim, the "Xbox 360 will sell more consoles worldwide than the PlayStation 3."

Supreme Ruler 2020Courtesy of the fine folks at Paradox Interactive, we are giving away two downloadable copies of Supreme Ruler 2020 to the readers of Frictionless Insight.

Supreme Ruler 2020 is a strategy game from Battlegoat Studios for the PC in which players take military, economic and political control of a nation, leading that nation to global supremacy. The first iteration of Supreme Ruler was released in 1985, with the most recent release (Supreme Ruler 2010) being in 2005. Read on to learn how to enter:

Today, Representative Jim Matheson (D-UT) introduced a bill (HR5990) to the 2nd session of the 110th Congress of the United States on behalf of himself and Representative Lee Terry (R-NE) called the "Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act."
by Kyle Ackerman

Sometimes I miss New York City. Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV isn't the real New York City – it's a condensed caricature. But the fidelity made possible by the latest generation of consoles and the detail added by the team at Rockstar North made Liberty City close enough to the Big Apple to make me listen for the rumble of the subway and the mixed smells of burnt pretzels, sour garbage and laundry vents. The landmarks are all there, from Lincoln Center and Grant's tomb to Coney Island's Cyclone roller coaster and the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows. (Different names, but still.) But it's not the landmarks that make Liberty City so accurate. It's the little details: the architecture in the nameless buildings; the style of familiar stores; the street-level garages of particular hotels; the barriers in the middle of streets; the ever-present scaffolding; and even the signs reminding me that it's a two-point offense to "block the box." The South Street Seaport was so perfect that I started to think "Hey... there should be a heliport just past the Seaport that I don't see." Then, as I cruised further south, the heliport popped into view, and I discovered I could take helicopter tours. The city felt so real that I was transported back to the city I was both ecstatic and sad to leave a few years ago. Sometimes realism &ndash even virtual realism &ndash isn't as great as it's cracked up to be.

by Kyle Ackerman

When gamers think about open-ended games these days, the Grand Theft Auto series is often the first sandbox-style series that comes to mind. But my fondest memories of exploring a seemingly-endless world come from piles of floppy disks, back when the Electronic Arts logo was an inexplicable amalgam of cube, sphere and pyramid. In 1986, not long after my chance to search the new world for the Seven Cities of Gold, Binary Systems helped me crew my ship to save Arth (no... not Earth, Arth).

Last year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown commissioned psychologist Tanya Byron to review "the risks children face from the internet and video games" That report is now available and describes Byron's assessment of such risks. U.K. politicians have promised to implement her suggestions.
Electronic Arts has made a series of offers to purchase Take-Two Interactive that recently became hostile. Take-Two Interactive's Board of Directors has formally rejected the offer and (of course!) recommends that its shareholders don't cooperate with Electronic Arts' $26 per share cash offer.
Electronic Arts has commenced its hostile takeover bid for Take-Two Electronics.

Electronic Arts began by making a series of friendly acquisition offers to Take-Two Interactive that rose to a price as high as $26 per share in cash. Take-Two rejected the offer, claiming that the bid was too low and that Take-Two would prefer to wait until after the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, when the company felt it would be in a stronger position. EA issued press releases, appealing to investors (and provoking a class action lawsuit contending that Take-Two was violating its fiduciary duty).

by Kyle Ackerman

I had a chance to sit down with David Hoffman, executive producer of OGPlanet, to talk about OGPlanet's business and latest game Cabal Online. OGPlanet is one of the companies in North America pursuing games that are free to play. As Hoffman explains, OGPlanet is specifically looking for quality games with a successful track record that the company can bring to the North American audience.

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