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Sony Shares Slide as Microsoft Buys Bethesda-Owner ZeniMax to Boost Games Lineup




By Reuters | Updated: 23 September 2020

Sony’s shares slid as much as two percent in Tokyo trade on Wednesday after Microsoft said it would buy the parent of games publisher Bethesda Softworks, in a deal to bolster its games slate as it eyes cloud gaming expansion.

Sony’s PlayStation 5 is expected by analysts to outsell Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox consoles when the devices launch in November, bolstered by Sony’s stronger games pipeline including exclusives like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

Microsoft’s $7.5 billion (roughly Rs. 55,223 crores) acquisition of the publisher behind hit franchises like Doom, and Fallout helps close that gap, as it pushes into cloud gaming with the launch of a subscription service last week for Android devices.

The Xbox Game Pass is central to Microsoft’s counterattack, with the rival PlayStation Now service from Sony, which has a dominant hardware install base, seen as lagging in terms of games on offer and by being limited to PlayStation and PC.

It will take time for the deal to feed through to Xbox’s games pipeline, with Bethesda contracted to bring titles Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo to PlayStation 5.

The concentration of studios in the hands of established players puts clear blue water between a wave of challengers like Amazon and Google parent Alphabet that are moving into gaming but lack killer titles.

“Given the expansion of streaming services as we enter the era of next-gen consoles, we expect this industry consolidation to continue,” Jefferies analyst Atul Goyal wrote in a client note.

Japan’s markets reopened on Wednesday after national holidays. Sony’s shares have risen by almost half since March lows as the gaming industry benefits from demand brought about by stay-at-home policies during the coronavirus outbreak.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Angry Birds Maker Rovio Says CEO Kati Levoranta to Quit at Year End




By Reuters | Updated: 5 October 2020

Rovio Entertainment said on Monday that Chief Executive Kati Levoranta will leave the maker of the Angry Birds game series at the end of the year.

Levoranta, who has led Rovio since 2016, took it public markets with a 2017 listing. While this was an initial success, only five months later Rovio issued a surprise profit warning, angering investors and halving its share price in one day.

“The company’s result and cash flow development are on a good level and its balance sheet is strong,” Rovio’s chairman Kim Ignatius said in a statement, thanking Levoranta for her work.

Although after the profit warning, Levoranta said Rovio was sticking to a long-term 30 percent operating margin, this has been between 6.3 percent and 11.2 percent in the past three years.

Rovio shares rose 1.2 percent after news of Levoranta’s departure.

“The board of directors will begin the search process for a new CEO,” the Finnish firm said.

Earlier in August, Rovio reported a 160 percent jump in second-quarter adjusted operating profit. “We reached record high games revenue driven by the strong performance of our key games,” Levoranta said in a statement.

Adjusted operating profit rose to EUR 13.8 million (roughly Rs. 121 crores) from EUR 5.3 million (roughly Rs. 46 crores) while revenue fell 3.6 percent to EUR 69.2 million (roughly Rs. 610 crores) due to lower movie revenue, said the Finnish company, which listed its shares in 2017.

The company attributed the improved performance to “increased player engagement due to COVID-19” as well as lower marketing costs.

“The overall impact of COVID-19, which was visible in a higher level of downloads, daily active users and player engagement, peaked in late April,” Levoranta said.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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PUBG Mobile May Remain Banned in India Despite Tencent Licence Withdrawal




By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2020

India is unlikely to revoke a ban on the mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) following PUBG Corp’s decision to withdraw the mobile game’s publishing rights in the country from China’s Tencent, a senior government official said on Friday.

PUBG Mobile, a popular online multiplayer battle game, was among 118 Chinese-origin apps banned by New Delhi earlier this month.

That led PUBG Corp, the unit of the South Korean firm behind the game, to announce it would no longer give Tencent Games the rights to publish the game in India. It also said it was exploring ways to provide gaming experiences to Indian users in future.

The new ownership structure is, however, unlikely to change things immediately, said the source, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“The violent nature of the game has been the cause of many complaints from all quarters,” the source said. “That does not change with the change in ownership rights.”

A spokeswoman for PUBG Corp in South Korea said the company was closely reviewing India’s concerns and that it was ready to work on anything that needed improvement.

The company has also been in talks with Jio Platforms, the digital unit of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries, to bring the game back in its biggest market by users.

“We had initial talks with Jio Platforms to seek for cooperation opportunities, but nothing has been decided yet,” the PUBG spokeswoman told Reuters.

Reliance did not respond to a request for comment.

While officially New Delhi says it has banned the apps because they collect user data and pose a threat to national security, the move is widely seen as a way to pressure Chinese tech companies following a months-long standoff between India and China along a disputed Himalayan border.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Amazon Luna Game Streaming Service Unveiled to Take on Google, Microsoft




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 25 September 2020

Amazon on Thursday unveiled Luna streaming video game service, challenging Microsoft and Google in the fast-growing segment.

Gamers in the US were invited to request early access to Luna, which uses a video game controller to connect directly to games hosted at Amazon Web Services data centres to stream play through Fire TV as well as personal computers.

Luna apps for mobile devices were on their way, according to Amazon, which is pricing the new service at a $6 (roughly Rs. 400) monthly introductory price.

“Amazon streaming service is a good idea with a tough business model,” Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said in a tweet.

“I think they will get to where they need to be, but they’re starting out with an all-you-can-eat model and few suppliers.”

Luna takes on Microsoft’s xCloud and Google Stadia in the shift to playing video games directly in the cloud.

Google’s Stadia cloud gaming service costs $10 (roughly Rs. 700) monthly, and Microsoft this month made xCloud gaming a free addition, for now, to its Game Pass subscription service at Xbox.

Stadia membership comes with some complementary games, but most of the titles in its library cost extra.

“It’s day one for Luna,” said Amazon entertainment devices and services vice president Marc Whitten.

“We are excited to work with gamers, streamers, and publishers like Ubisoft and Remedy Entertainment to build a great gaming experience for everyone.”
Cloud Assassins

Amazon also announced a gaming channel at Luna devoted to Ubisoft, with subscribers getting access to the French video game giant’s hit titles such as Assassins Creed Valhalla and Far Cry 6.

Amazon planned to add more channels to Luna, offering access to games from more publishers.

“We’re proud to be working alongside Amazon on Luna, utilizing the power of cloud gaming to provide our players with another way to access our games, wherever they are,” said Ubisoft senior vice president of partnerships Chris Early.

“Ubisoft’s channel on Luna will allow players to experience our new releases along with many of our catalog games, while enjoying player-friendly features like Alexa and Twitch integrations.”

Streaming of gameplay at Amazon’s popular Twitch platform will be available at Luna, according to the Seattle-based internet colossus.

Watching video games being played as a spectator sport was booming even before the pandemic gave people hunkered down at home more time and interest in tuning into such entertainment.

Luna is built on Amazon’s muscular AWS infrastructure for hosting computing power in the cloud, playing into its strength as a leading force in that market.

“As new features and content are added for Luna customers, the backend tech that’s driving it all will also be frequently refreshed,” Amazon promised.
Locking in gamers

The move makes sense for Amazon, which already sells video games at its leading e-commerce platform; has a community of gamers at Twitch, and streams films, television shows and music on its popular Prime platform.

“Amazon recognises that part of the game business is moving to a subscription model,” technology analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group told AFP.

“Like they’ve done with movies and music, Amazon wants part of that.”

Starting with a small portfolio of games during a restricted preview period should give Amazon time to work on unique aspects of the service such as avoiding lags in graphics, referred to as latency, that tend to infuriate players, according to the analyst.

“Amazon is not really a gaming company, so they may not have an idea of what gamers want and will tolerate,” Enderle said.

“They are going to be on a learning path.”

Luna also promises to help Amazon stay close to gamers, who will then buy displays, headsets, computers or other gear from the e-commerce colossus.

The service may also provide opportunities for Amazon to make money from related ads, or even from in-game transactions the way Apple gets a percentage of purchases in games at its App Store, according to Enderle.

“The goal is to grab and then hold an audience of gamers,” Enderle said.

“Basically, you lock in any retail services associated with gaming.”

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Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells Launched by Zynga on Mobile Platforms




By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 September 2020

Social gaming giant Zynga on Wednesday kicked off its global launch of a free puzzle game based on the beloved wizarding world of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells is available on Apple and Google mobile devices and also on Facebook Gaming and Amazon App Store, San Francisco-based Zynga said.

“When the Harry Potter series first came to theatres, it was one of those rare moments when everyone was reading the same book, talking about the same film and coming together around a shared experience,” said Yaron Leyvand, Zynga senior vice president of games.

He said the game stays true to the Harry Potter stories and is “infused with the standout moments and delightful wizarding world flourishes that have captivated a global following.”

Zynga said it licensed rights from the game unit at Warner Bros, which produced the Potter films based on the hit books by JK Rowling.

The mobile game incorporates Harry Potter characters and voice-over recordings from the films, Zynga said.

Chocolate frogs, spell casting, and battling chess pieces are among the Potter world touches woven into the colorful puzzles that players are challenged to solve, according to the company.

“Mobile games have never been more popular or more important to people than they are right now,” said Zynga publishing president Bernard Kim.

“People are playing games for entertainment, relaxation and as an accessible source of comfort and connection.”

Zynga is known for games including Farmville and Words With Friends.

Puzzle games are some of the most popular among “casual gamers” thanks to their easy accessibility and the fact that they are free to download.

Candy Crush Saga by British developer King is among the most downloaded games on the Apple and Google Play stores, according to market tracker Newzoo.

Mobile games are expected to generate more than $77 billion (roughly Rs. 5,66,287 crores) in revenue this year, up some 13 percent from last year, Newzoo said.

“We’re all still experiencing the harrowing and unsettling situation that is the coronavirus pandemic,” Newzoo mobile market lead Tianyi Gu said in a report on Covid-19’s effects on the business.

“Gaming has been a means of escapism and time filling for many people confined to their homes.”

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Nvidia nears deal to buy chip designer Arm for more than $40 billion – sources




By Reuters | Updated: 13 September 2020

Nvidia Corp NVDA.O is close to a deal to buy British chip designer Arm Holdings from SoftBank Group Corp 9984.T for more than $40 billion (£31.26 billion) in a deal which would create a giant in the chip industry, according to two people familiar with the matter.

A cash and stock deal for Arm could be announced as early as next week, the sources said.

Nvidia is known for its graphics chips that power video games, but it has developed other markets including artificial intelligence, self-driving cars and data centers.

Arm supplies the chip technology for virtually all mobile devices such as phones and tablets but is also expanding into processors for cars, datacenter services and other devices.

The British company does not make chips. Instead it licenses out the underlying technology so others can make chips with it. It has previously collaborated with Nvidia.

Last year Nvidia said it would make its chips work with processors from Arm to build supercomputers, deepening its push into systems that are used for modeling both climate change predictions and nuclear weapons.

SoftBank acquired Arm for $32 billion in 2016, its largest-ever purchase, in part to expand into the internet-of-things technology, which connects everyday devices from traffic signals to refrigerators to the internet.

The terms would mark a big win for the Japanese company which has struggled to jump-start growth in the business, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported on the deal earlier.

Nvidia declined to comment. SoftBank and Arm did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comments.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Ninja Returns to Amazon’s Twitch After Year-Long Hiatus




By Reuters | Updated: 11 September 2020

Amazon’s video game live-streaming platform Twitch said on Thursday that top computer gamer Ninja has returned to its platform, more than a year after switching to Microsoft’s live-streaming service Mixer.

Tyler Blevins, known to millions as Ninja, rose to stardom playing battle-royale phenomenon Fortnite and is one of the world’s most-followed computer gamers.

Microsoft bought Mixer in 2016 hoping to rope in millions of paying subscribers looking to watch live streams of their favourite gamers playing popular games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.

The video game industry has largely benefited amid the COVID-19 pandemic as people played more games while staying at home and bought virtual in-game content across platforms, pushing June sales up 26 percent to $1.2 billion (roughly Rs. 8,815 crores). It is the highest June spend in over a decade, according to research firm NPD.

Mixer, which had booked Ninja last year, has struggled to leave the shadow of market leader Twitch despite online streaming viewership booming under coronavirus lockdowns. Microsoft’s Xbox division made the decision to close down the live-streaming service in June this year.

Ninja, who has over 15 million followers on Twitch, kicked off his stream today with the Fall Guys game. Last year, Blevins was paid $1 million (roughly Rs. 7.3 crores) to promote Electronic Arts game Apex Legends, a move that helped the video game maker add 10 million sign-ups in the first three days, Reuters reported. The gamer had previously streamed himself playing alongside celebrities such as rappers Drake and Travis Scott, has sponsorship deals with Red Bull and Uber Eats and often appears on Instagram and Twitter alongside soccer players Neymar Jr and Harry Kane.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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