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'Angry Birds' to land on PlayStation 3 and PSP

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Agence France-Presse

SAN FRANCISCO--Sony revealed on Monday that mobile phone game sensation "Angry Birds" is heading for the Japanese entertainment giant's PlayStation 3 consoles and PSP handheld videogame devices.

The addictive puzzle game in which players catapult birds to smash through structures protecting egg-stealing green pigs has rocketed to popularity since being released by Finland-based Rovio Mobile in late 2009.

"Angry Birds" will feature 63 levels, Sony said in a PlayStation blog message listing games set for release in the coming week.

Sony did not indicate the price it would charge for "Angry Birds."
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Agence France-Presse

REDWOOD CITY--Tiger Woods, whose brand name was tarnished mightily by the sex scandal that erupted around him last year, has a new partner with a highly regarded image - Augusta National Golf Club.

The fabled home course of the Masters, nestled among the Georgia pine trees, will be featured in a videogame for the first time in the next edition of the Tiger Woods series, officials announced Tuesday.

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne and Electronic Arts Incorporated officials collaborated for three years to give video golf fans an unprecedented chance to play for a virtual green jacket, the symbol of Masters supremacy.

"There are many new and unique elements in the game that will make everyone feel like they're really competing at Augusta National," Woods said. "This is great for the sport and will connect a new audience with the Masters."

The move shows a re-embracing of Woods only nine months after Payne scolded Woods for the scandal that embroiled Woods last year, the first winless season of his career, and led to the divorce of Woods and Elin Nordegren.

EA Sports will release Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters in North America on March 29 and worldwide on April 1 on Wii, Xbox 360 and Playstation3 consoles. Augusta and five other courses are included in a special edition for Playstation3.

The timing is just days before the world's best golfers gather in Augusta, Georgia, for the April 7 start of the 2011 Masters, the next major championship event.

Woods ended a five-month break from golf at last year's Masters, where Payne noted how Woods had "disappointed us all" by admitting infidelity with multiple mistresses.

"Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children," Payne said last April. "He forgot in the process to remember that with fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility."

EA Sports and Nike were the major sponsors who stayed with Woods as the scope of the scandal became public, the billion-dollar pitchman having been removed from advertisements by several other prominent firms.

Payne has tried to boost the visibility of the Masters in recent years, allowing extra hours of television coverage and live video of several holes available on-line, including the famed trio of holes known as Amen Corner.

Augusta National also joined the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in creating an Asian amateur championship whose winner receives an invitation to the Masters.

Putting Augusta National in a videogame is a continuation of Payne's desire to boost the sport and should help uplift Woods as a brand name in the process.

"Our sincere motivation is to draw an even greater audience to this wonderful sport and continue to inspire its growth by building off the success seen in previous versions of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise," Payne said.

"The beauty of Augusta National and the rich history of the Masters have inspired the dreams of golfers for generations.

"Three years of collaboration with EA Sports has resulted in a game we feel presents a truly authentic Masters experience."

Woods said he sees a strong chance to broaden golf's appeal with the videogame move.

"I am very happy and excited that the Masters Tournament is featured in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour game," Woods said.

"Continually growing the visibility of golf is important to attracting newcomers to the sport, and I agree that showcasing the Masters Tournament in the game will bring an entirely new dimension to that approach."

Peter Moore, president of EA Sports, said videogame golf fans have been clamoring for the chance to play Augusta National, a private club course which has no women members.

"For more than a decade, the Masters Tournament has been the most requested and coveted feature for the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise among our fans," Moore said.

"Pairing the number one golf video game franchise with the most prestigious golf tournament in the world is a perfect marriage and we're thrilled to bring our fans this exciting opportunity."

Videogame offerings include the chance to beat Tiger's scores in each round of his four Masters triumphs, a caddie available to offer advice on every hole, a chance to play against past legends in historic Masters moments, a chance to play as a rising amateur or 20 players added to this year's edition of the game.
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Agence France-Presse

SAN FRANCISCO--Yearning for an Internet-linked gadget bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a laptop merged with always-connected lifestyles to make tablet computing a defining trend for 2010.

The iPad launched in April by Apple became the must-have device of the year and has rivals intent on dethroning the culture-shifting California company before it can lock in the market the way iPods became the ruling MP3 players.

"Apple nailed it and made tablet computers a success," said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. "There are going to be a lot of people trying to beat them but it will turn out like iPods; everybody wants one."

Internet Age lifestyles set the stage for the rock star debut of a tablet computer done right, according to Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.

Work weeks have grown steadily longer with the proliferation of gadgets keeping people connected to bosses and offices nights and weekends.

"Consumers are working all the time, have less leisure time and less money to spend but still want to maximize enjoyment they get out of life," Rotman Epps told AFP.

"Tablets fill that demand for devices that fill those in-between moments and minimize your unconnected time," she said.

Forrester data shows that 26 percent of US consumers who bought iPads use the tablets for work as well as personal purposes.

The top spot for using an iPad is the living room, with the bedroom being the second most common, according to Forrester.

"People are using tablets to read the Wall Street Journal or watch TV in bed," Rotman Epps said. "It is replacing, in some circumstances, laptop computers, television and print media."

Apple benefited by focusing on regular people instead of businesses, adding its hip cache and having real-world stores where people could try iPads before committing to buying devices, according to Rotman Epps.

"Apple cracked the market that others had struggled with for years," said Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg.

Research shows that owners of the Apple tablets consume more video, news and other content online than other people do.

Some analysts expect iPad sales will blast past the 10 million mark this month, if they haven't already, and competitors are hitting the market with their own tablets or have announced plans to do so.

Samsung said its Galaxy Tab, which is powered by Google's Android software, has sold one million units, Microsoft considers tablets a "priority" and Blackberry maker Research in Motion plans one next year named the PlayBook.

Forrester predicted that by 2015, the number of US consumers using tablet computers would be 75 million: more than netbook users but less than the number of people using smartphones or laptops.

The tablet trend will put downward pressure on laptop computer prices, based on Forrester research indicating consumers think it's not worth paying a lot more to get a laptop instead of a tablet.

"Tablets really changed consumer thinking about mobile computing and the industry's thinking," said Forrester analyst Charles Golvin.

Analysts said the other big consumer electronics stories of the year were the continued growth of smartphones and Microsoft's Kinect, the Xbox 360 videogame console that players control using gestures and spoken commands.

Microsoft said it sold more than 2.5 million Kinects for Xbox 360 devices worldwide in the 25 days after they hit the market.

Google, meanwhile, said more than 300,000 smartphones running its Android software are activated daily as it builds momentum in the hot mobile market.

According to research firm Gartner, Finland's Nokia sold 29.5 million smartphones during the third quarter of the year for a 36.6 percent share of the worldwide market, down from 44.6 percent a year ago.

Sales of Android-powered smartphones soared to 20.5 million units, giving the Android platform a 25.5 percent market share, up from just 3.5 percent a year ago, Gartner said.

Apple's iPhone was next on sales of 13.5 million units followed by Canada's Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, with sales of 11.9 million units and Microsoft's Windows Mobile with sales of 2.2 million units.

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Agence France-Presse

SHANGHAI--China's Internet censors may have kept most of the nation's 420 million web users from accessing Facebook, but they have not stopped social game developers like Ellison Gao.

Five Minutes, a Shanghai-based studio co-founded by Gao, 27, launched its first social game two years ago and has attracted millions of dollars from investors, including US venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

"It is impossible for any Chinese developer to ignore the Facebook market, just as it is for all the other social game firms across the globe," Gao told AFP at an industry forum last week.

More than a million users play his studio's games each day on Facebook, the firm's biggest market, although it has also moved onto local platforms in Brazil, Japan, and South Korea, Gao said.

Social games, which are usually free to play, are one of Facebook's most popular features. Games such as Zynga's FarmVille, in which users interact as they manage virtual farms, have become global hits.

Developers and social networking websites share revenue they generate from selling virtual goods and in-game advertising.

Gao's firm is not the only Chinese company prospering on Facebook, which is blocked along with websites like YouTube and Twitter by China's vast system of Internet censorship, dubbed the "Great Firewall".

Beijing-based studio Happy Elements has an average of more than 2.2 million daily Facebook users while rival studio ELEX has about 1.3 million, according to tracking firm Inside Network.

Chinese game studios are swarming to Facebook, which collects a 30 percent share of revenues -- terms developers say are more favourable than those of domestic sites -- and offers an open platform with over 500 million users.

"It is not surprising that smaller companies are the ones taking the risks to develop for the Western market", said Andrew Mo, head of product management at the Beijing studio of London-based social network game maker Playfish.

"Unless you are a big company in China, it is hard to get that relationship with different social network platforms in order to get a good revenue share-split."

Facebook has an estimated 14 million Chinese-language users, mainly based in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. That number is expected to grow to 16 million by March, according to the Inside Network site that reports on Facebook.

The success of Chinese game studios on Facebook has also spurred Western social networking game developers like Zynga to set up shop in China to tap a growing pool of talented programmers.

San Francisco-based Zynga established a Beijing studio in May by acquiring local firm XPD Media, while US videogame maker Electronics Arts last year bought Playfish, which has been in Beijing since 2007.

"As we combine the web and games, it makes sense to build up a studio here to develop for the global market," Andy Tian, head of Zynga's Beijing studio, told a packed hall at the forum.

Three months after announcing the acquisition of XPD Media, Zynga launched a Chinese version of "Texas Poker" -- Facebook's third-most popular game.

Both Tian and Playfish's Mo acknowledged the Chinese market's importance, but declined to say whether they were developing games for it. Both are hiring in China.

"We are still taking a wait-and-see approach for the Chinese market -- it will take time for it to fully open up," Tian told AFP

In contrast to independent studios, Chinese online game giants like Tencent and Shanda do not yet have a significant presence on Facebook, though many of its popular games have been cloned for their platforms.

Tencent, whose instant message service has more than 600 million accounts, has launched open.qq.com, its own platform for third-party developers to create games and other applications.

However, some argue conglomerates like Tencent lack the kind of fair playing field that Facebook offers because they are likely to promote their own game units.

"If you also do your own games, then you will want to push your own games... That may not be the best game for the users," Arthur Chow, chief operating officer of Hong Kong social game developer and publisher 6 Waves, told AFP.

Chow also noted Chinese studios on Facebook need to adopt a more international style, for example, by promoting virtual goods linked to Thanksgiving or Boxing Day.

"They (Facebook users) want some really creative and original ideas. That's where the challenges are, particularly for most Chinese developers."
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Xbox 360 leads rebound in US videogame sales--NPD

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Agence France-Presse  

SAN FRANCISCO--Sagging US videogame industry revenue rebounded in November as buyers snatched up gesture-sensing control gadgets for Microsoft Xbox 360 consoles, NPD Group reported Thursday.

"The Xbox 360 Kinect was the best-selling accessory item in November," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier.

"With one month of sales, it's the top-selling accessory item in terms of dollar sales on a year-to-date basis."

Overall sales of videogame hardware and software at stores in November tallied 2.99 billion, an eight percent increase from the same month last year.

The figure did not include used videogame sales, digital distribution of software or mobile applications.

Money taken in from sales of videogame accessories such as Kinect surged 69 percent to $413.3 million, according to NPD.

Xbox 360 was the top selling console for the month and Xbox 360 accessories accounted for 60 percent of the revenue in the accessory category.

"The 360 platform accounted for over 40 percent of total industry sales driven by the successful launch of Microsoft's Kinect," Frazier said.

Microsoft reported that it had sold more than 2.5 million Kinect for Xbox 360 devices worldwide in the 25 days after the videogame controllers hit the market in early November.

Microsoft is on track to meet its forecast of selling five million Kinect gadgets by the end of the year, according to Don Mattrick, president of Interactive Entertainment Business at the US-based technology giant.

Kinect uses a 3D camera and motion recognition software to let people play videogames on Xbox 360 consoles using natural body movements and voice commands instead of hand-held controllers.

The standalone Kinect, which works with the 45 million Xbox 360s already sold worldwide, costs 150 dollars. A four-gigabyte Xbox 360 console that includes the Kinect and the "Kinect Adventures" game sells for $299.

The NPD report did not specify revenue for sales of Move motion-sensing controllers for Sony PlayStation 3 videogame consoles.

Nintendo's handheld DS game gadgets were the top selling systems overall in November, according to NPD.

Activision military shooter "Call of Duty: Black Ops" was the top selling title for the month, followed by Ubisoft videogames "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood" and "Just Dance 2."

Revenue climbed in every category, prompting NPD to estimate that the videogame industry could take in between 18.8 and 19.6 billion dollars in the United States this year.

Finishing at the high end of that range would result in revenue being about the same as it was in 2009.

"Gains in November offset a good portion of the year-to-date declines," Frazier said.
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Gamers go gaga for 'World of Warcraft: Cataclysm'

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Agence France-Presse

SAN FRANCISCO--Blizzard Entertainment on Monday said that the latest chapter in its winning "World of Warcraft" online computer game franchise sold more than 3.3 million copies in just 24 hours on the market.

"Cataclysm" snatched the crown for fastest-selling computer game from "Wrath of the Lich King" software released in 2008 as the second expansion to the franchise.

"We had to bring Azeroth to the brink of destruction in 'Cataclysm,' but the result was our best expansion yet," Blizzard co-founder and chief executive Mike Morhaime said, referring to game's fantasy world.

"Cataclysm" was released internationally on December 7.

More than 12 million people worldwide pay monthly subscription fees to play the massively multi-player online role-playing game.

Players represented by animated characters such as dwarfs, trolls, or humans explore, battle, and take on quests in the game made by Blizzard, a division of Activision.

Agence France-Presse

SEOUL--South Korea's government is close to adopting a "Cinderella" law to ban youngsters from playing online games past midnight amid growing concerns about Internet addiction, officials said Thursday.

A bill to be submitted to parliament as early as this month will require South Korean online game companies to cut off services at midnight for users registered as younger than 16, the culture and family ministries said.

"The thing about online games is, once you are in it, it is extremely hard to get out of it, especially if you are a young kid," Jo Rin, a ministry official in charge of the law, told AFP.

"A lot of kids play games all night long and have trouble studying at school and going about their normal lives during daytime. We believe the law is necessary to ensure their health and a right to sleep."

The online services would resume at six the following morning, he said, adding there would be a year-long waiting period until the law takes effect so that companies can prepare for it.

The government is also considering requiring companies to limit young users' access to online games to a maximum number of hours a week or a day if parents request this, said Jo.

South Korea is one of the world's most wired societies, but there have been sporadic reports of deaths related to Internet game addiction.

Last month a 15-year-old South Korean boy committed suicide after killing his mother for scolding him over playing computer games too much.

In February a 32-year-old man died after reportedly playing for five days with few breaks.

A month later police arrested a couple accused of leaving their baby daughter to starve to death while they raised a "virtual" child on the Internet. The baby had long been malnourished, an autopsy showed.

The government, which estimates that South Korea has about two million web addicts, is already launching one campaign to combat the affliction.

From next year, it will offer free software to people at risk, to limit the time they spend on the web.

OnLive on-demand videogame systems debut in December

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Agence France-Presse

SAN FRANCISCO--OnLive videogame systems that let people play titles on-demand in the Internet "cloud" will make their debut in the United States in December.

The Palo Alto, California-based firm was taking orders on Thursday for 99-dollar "microconsoles" that will let gamers play major titles such as "Assassin's Creed" streamed to Internet-connected television sets.

OnLive micro-consoles are about the size of a deck of cards and wirelessly link to hand-held controllers.

"This is the device that is going to bring on-demand gaming into the living room," OnLive senior product manager Michael Miller told AFP while demonstrating the system at a major videogame conference in June.

"Plug into the Internet, plug into the TV and you are ready to play the hottest games. This is cloud gaming."

About 35 videogames including "Borderlands" typically played on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 consoles will be available for purchase or rental online when the Onlive Game Systems begin reaching buyers on December 2.

"The OnLive Game System marks the start of a new era for videogames and home entertainment," said OnLive founder and chief executive Steve Perlman. "It also opens the door to a new world of options."

OnLive users can "test-drive" games for free before deciding whether to rent a title for a few days or indefinitely.

Videogame publishers and studios signed on with OnLive get to set their own rates for titles, which can be rented for three days, five days or unlimited "full pass" play.

Rental fees were expected to range from 3.99 dollars to 8.99 dollars depending on how many days, and "full play" passes to top out at 50 dollars.

Packaged disks containing new releases of popular titles for play on videogame consoles typically launch at prices of 50 dollars or 60 dollars.

OnLive took videogames into the "cloud" in June with the US launch of a service that hosts hot titles as services on the Internet, eliminating the need for consoles.

The service let people play videogames online using computers running on Microsoft or Apple operating systems. Controllers typically used in the consoles can be plugged into computers to play OnLive.

OnLive hosts videogame software at whichever of its three US data centers is closest to players to optimize the speed at which data travels.

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Disney icon Mickey Mouse becomes videogame hero

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Agence France-Presse

SAN FRANCISCO--Mickey Mouse makes his US debut as a videogame hero Tuesday in "Wasteland," featuring an alternate world that includes Walt Disney Company's long forgotten characters and attractions

"Disney Epic Mickey" for Wii consoles puts players into the large yellow shoes of the famous cartoon mouse and challenges them to use wits, paint, and paint thinner to defeat enemies, save old friends and restore a ruined land.

Mickey has the power to erase characters or restore them to glory, with his actions influencing the course of the game, according to Warren Spector of Junction Point Studio, which crafted the software.

"Mickey hasn't been the videogame hero he was meant to be," Spector said of the character introduced in 1928 while providing a glimpse of the title at a conference in Los Angeles earlier this year. "That's about to change."

Mickey's foes in the game include "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit," a pioneering Disney cartoon figure turned bitter because the mouse soared to stardom while he sank into obscurity.

The game will mark the first time Oswald has appeared in a new Disney story since 1928.

Disney Interactive Studios is introducing Mickey's videogame as Nintendo works to keep players enchanted with the Wii in the face of motion-sensing controls being added to rival consoles built by Microsoft and Sony.

Wii launched in 2006 with innovative motion-sensing controls and became a must-have videogame console credited with expanding the market far beyond "hardcore gamers" devoted to shooter titles.

Microsoft just hit the market with hot-selling Kinect hardware that lets people control Xbox 360 games with body gestures alone. Sony unleashed Move hardware which allows motion-control of games on PlayStation 3 consoles.

Nintendo reported that Wii consoles and DS handheld gaming gadgets were hot sellers in the United States during the prime holiday shopping week marked by "Black Friday," the day after the Thanksgiving in this country.

The Japanese videogame titan estimated that it sold 600,000 Wii consoles and 900,000 devices from its DS line of handheld game gadgets between November 21 and 27.

"US shoppers bought about 9,000 Nintendo hardware systems nonstop for every hour of every day during the week of Black Friday," said Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime.

Fils-Aime maintained that the strong start to the traditional shopping season meant that Wii consoles haven't lost their magic in the market.

Nintendo enticed shoppers with deals on bundles of videogame hardware and software.

Third-party game makers such as Disney, Ubisoft, and Activision fueled the momentum with new titles for play on Nintendo systems, according to Fils-Aime.

OnLive on-demand videogame systems debut in December

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Agence France-Presse

SAN FRANCISCO--OnLive videogame systems that let people play titles on-demand in the Internet "cloud" will make their debut in the United States in December.

The Palo Alto, California-based firm was taking orders on Thursday for 99-dollar "microconsoles" that will let gamers play major titles such as "Assassin's Creed" streamed to Internet-connected television sets.

OnLive micro-consoles are about the size of a deck of cards and wirelessly link to hand-held controllers.

"This is the device that is going to bring on-demand gaming into the living room," OnLive senior product manager Michael Miller told AFP while demonstrating the system at a major videogame conference in June.

"Plug into the Internet, plug into the TV and you are ready to play the hottest games. This is cloud gaming."

About 35 videogames including "Borderlands" typically played on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 consoles will be available for purchase or rental online when the Onlive Game Systems begin reaching buyers on December 2.

"The OnLive Game System marks the start of a new era for videogames and home entertainment," said OnLive founder and chief executive Steve Perlman. "It also opens the door to a new world of options."

OnLive users can "test-drive" games for free before deciding whether to rent a title for a few days or indefinitely.

Videogame publishers and studios signed on with OnLive get to set their own rates for titles, which can be rented for three days, five days or unlimited "full pass" play.

Rental fees were expected to range from 3.99 dollars to 8.99 dollars depending on how many days, and "full play" passes to top out at 50 dollars.

Packaged disks containing new releases of popular titles for play on videogame consoles typically launch at prices of 50 dollars or 60 dollars.

OnLive took videogames into the "cloud" in June with the US launch of a service that hosts hot titles as services on the Internet, eliminating the need for consoles.

The service let people play videogames online using computers running on Microsoft or Apple operating systems. Controllers typically used in the consoles can be plugged into computers to play OnLive.

OnLive hosts videogame software at whichever of its three US data centers is closest to players to optimize the speed at which data travels.

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