Miuchiz moves MGA to cyberspace
Toyco MGA is making its mark on the digital landscape with its new virtual companion, Miuchiz. Pronounced my-oo-cheez, the virtual pet combines handheld interaction with on-line gaming. Unlike the current gen of digital handheld pals that feature small pixilated images on-screen, the portable devices are outfitted with colorful hi-res touch screens and motion sensors.
MGA’s new tech toy can plug into a computer via a USB connector and bring the characters to life in a 3-D web universe with thousands of other players. Pending parental permission, kids will be able to control 3-D versions of their virtual pals on-line. They can chat and play games with other Miuchiz owners and outfit their own characters in different ways, such as buying them new clothes from a virtual mall.
CEO Isaac Larian says the new toy is MGA’s number one priority outside of Bratz, and it is the first of many electronics toys the company plans to introduce over the next two years.
Miuchiz heads to mass retail in late July and will be backed by TV, in-store ads and promos. Seven models kick-off the line, with certain models appealing to girls, while others, such as battling monsters, are boy-skewing Not surprisingly, MGA is leveraging the strength of its bestselling Bratz brand for the new venture and two SKUs will feature the fashion dolls. The US$29.99 price includes a handheld component and free access to on-line play.
Indie developers take a shot at big-time game play
This summer, GarageGames is giving aspiring video game creators a chance to break into the market. The Eugene, Oregon-based game developer’s Break Into Games competition begins this month. Contestants will have until August 15th to put together submissions, using GarageGames’ Torque Game Builder software, and upload them to breakintogames.com. It doesn’t cost anything to enter and Garage isn’t putting content restrictions on submissions.
In October, the top 10 finalists will head to IndieGamesCon, GarageGames’ annual event in Oregon to have their games judged American Idol-style. The panel will consist of industry experts such as Greg Canessa, the group manager for Xbox Live Arcade and Margaret Wallace, CEO of Skunk Studios. The grand prize winner gets a publishing contract with GarageGames, which will help bring the product to market through its distribution network that includes MSN Games and Yahoo! Games.
Independent games haven’t traditionally accounted for a big chunk of the North American market, but recent data shows things are changing. Widespread broadband usage in U.S. homes, coupled with the proliferation of on-line gaming hubs, is helping independent on-line games take a fair share of US$1.4-billion PC games sales. Industry tracker, The NPD Group, released stats last month that included revenues from casual gaming sites for the first time ever, with a US$52-million haul in 2005 for the category.
GarageGames is a major player in the independent games arena. Its MarbleBlast Ultra is one of the top-performing titles on Xbox’s Live Arcade service. Business director Jay Moore is hoping the Break Into Games competition will not only bolster the company’s profile, but will also produce some new hit titles.
BitTorrent gets mainstream seal of approval
On-line piracy has become a great concern for visual-content producers across the board – no one wants a repeat of what happened in the music industry. In the case of feature films, the Motion Picture Association of America estimates the practice cost the major studios US$2.3 billion in revenue last year. To stem the tide, Warner Bros. has inked a formal deal to sell its catalogue of movies and TV series via the BitTorrent file sharing system.
This agreement has raised some eyebrows, as San Francisco-based BitTorrent’s president Ashwin Navin acknowledges the software has been used for illegal downloading. But this new setup should help to curb piracy by offering content for secure download at low price points, he explains. Although the cost to consumers hasn’t been confirmed yet, he says TV shows could cost as little as a buck a pop.
WB’s content will be available as early as this summer. New theatrical releases should be downloadable the same day the DVD hits retail, but plans are still being hammered out for TV ep release dates. ‘We’ll work out details, but we want to have content available as close to network broadcast as possible,’ he says.
BitTorrent, invented as a file-sharing system in 2001, was initially used by hardcore computer geeks who wanted an easy way to transfer huge files over the internet. It became more mainstream in 2003, before being incorporated into a legal on-line content aggregator (bittorent.com) in 2004.
The agreement with Warner Bros. works on a revenue-sharing model and is not exclusive. In terms of kids content, Navin says he’s always looking for other distribution partners in just about any genre. ‘We want to be comprehensive about the content, so we want to work with as many artists and publishers as possible.’
PS3 has big power and price tag to match
Eager gamers will have to wait until November to get their hands on Sony’s new super console, but the anticipated E3 unveiling of the PS3 next-gen system put much speculation to rest. Sony even threw in a few surprises.
Consumers will have two models to choose from when the console hits retail. The first sports a US$599 price tag and comes equipped with a 60GB hard drive, while a stripped-down, 20GB version will sell for a slightly cheaper US$499.
The biggest bombshell is Sony has introduced some new tech to the PS3 controller that should amp up game play. The controller resembles its predecessors in shape and function, but as with the upcoming Nintendo Wii, the PS3 controller will be both wireless and motion sensitive. Blue tooth technology will enable kids to play games wirelessly and manipulate play by tilting and twisting the remote. The controller plugs into the system via a USB cable for charging.
Not to be outdone, Nintendo execs also made an appearance at the show to discuss the company’s next-generation system. Unlike Sony, Nintendo is keeping a lid on some of Wii’s features. It has been confirmed, however, the price will not exceed US$250 and will hit shelves in the Q4 this year.