Ubooly, The Plush Toy With An iPhone Brain, Grabs $1.5M In Seed Funding |

ubooly_thru_iphone

Ubooly, A toy that uses Apple’s iPhone or iPod touch as a means to turn a cuddly plush into an interactive experience, today revealed to TechCrunch that it has raised a $1.5 million seed funding round, from investors including Jeff Clavier’s SoftTech, 500 Startups, David Cohen and more. The funding follows Ubooly’s successful Kickstarter campaign that funded an initial production run, and its participation in TechStars 2012 Boulder, and will help the team tackle their ambitious goal of providing an evolving digital experience to accompany a child’s physical toy.

The Ubooly, which began shipping just last week, is the brainchild of Colorado-based husband and wife team Carly Gloge and Isaac Squires, founders of design agency Warb. The two took to Kickstarter to prove their idea had legs, and that a toy that uses Apple’s mobile devices to provide interactive games, as well as speech recognition features could fly with consumers. The company passed its $25,000 goal, but the attention helped it attract more than just some initial pre-orders, including $335,000 in additional venture capital and a spot on The Founders: Season 3 web series, documenting TechStars Boulder’s 2012 class.

The team behind Ubooly is already putting the funding to good use, with engineering updates to Ubooly’s voice recognition to make it perform better with children specifically (I’ve used the app with a Ubooly plush, and find the recognition surprisingly accurate for adults already), and a new play mode for the Ubooly app that doesn’t require the physical toy to interact with the character. New contract writers have also been brought on board, to help meet the demanding update schedule the company has created for Ubooly: new content every two weeks.

One of the biggest perceived problems facing the Ubooly right now might be that it was designed with the iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S (and 4th gen iPod touch) in mind. The plush animal fits those devices tightly, with no real wiggle room, which means the extra vertical space on the iPhone 5 and 5th gen iPod touch won’t work with it. But co-founder Carly Gloge argues that’s actually a big benefit for the device in the short-term.

“I think the iPhone 5 release will be significant for Ubooly,” she said. “There are now multiple generations of iPhones that are collecting in people’s drawers, and our users have expressed that Ubooly has been a fantastic way to reincarnate their old devices.”

The Ubooly team will look at supporting latest generation iOS, and even Android devices down the road, but for now, Gloge is likely right about capitalizing on the opportunity that exists in the market for devices not on the bleeding edge; kids often get hand-me down devices when parents upgrade, which translates to a stay of execution for children’s iOS accessories when it comes to issues of obsolescence like form factor changes and compatibility with new technologies.

There are others out there trying to do the same kind of thing that Ubooly is doing, including Totoya Creatures and Griffin’s Woogie, but Ubooly’s plan is arguably more ambitious. The startup wants to create an entire thriving ecosystem around their toy, with apps that not only learn and grow with a child, but also suit specific use cases. For example, there’s a GPS-tracking app in the works that provides a virtual tour guide experience for kids on vacation.

Initial interest has been strong, the founders tell me, and this money will help continue to spread the word and develop product. But content is the key piece of the equation that makes Ubooly special, and where that’s headed in terms of both volume and quantity will likely determine whether or not this Boulder-based startup has the next Furby on its hands.

Source: TechCrunch


The Soul Still Burns: Classic Brawler Soul Calibur Lands On iOS |

ios-soul

Ready for a blast of late 90′s fighting game nostalgia? Well, get those thumbs ready, because Namco’s arcade/Dreamcast classic Soul Calibur has just been released for iOS.

I enjoyed a long-standing fling with Soul Calibur in my younger days, mostly because it was the only fighting game I was ever good at. My skills seem to have dulled considerably over the intervening years, though the touch controls probably don’t help much.

Make no mistake, experienced Soul Calibur players shouldn’t have too much trouble getting back into the swing of things, but it can be difficult to pull off certain moves with consistency. Still, after playing for a few minutes, even new players should be able to get a solid feel for things.

Thankfully, Bandai Namco hasn’t skimped on the content. The full 19 character roster remains intact, as well as a spate of classic game modes like time attack, survival, and extra survival. The only omissions of note are the lack of the mission and multiplayer modes, which is a real disappointment for game like this. Bandai Namco notes that they will deliver new game modes to Soul Calibur down the line though, so it’s very possible that players will be able to nab that those missing before too long.

This trip down fighting game memory lane doesn’t come cheap though. Soul Calibur is live in the App Store now with an $ 11.99 price tag, and that’s including a 20% launch day discount. It’s bound to be something of a tough sell in a market where the excellent (and equally classic) Grand Theft Auto 3 goes for $ 4.99, but who knows — fighting game fans can be a particularly devoted bunch.


This Is What Developing For Android Looks Like –

Android Fragmentation

 

You know how many Android developers complain about fragmentation? Yeah, this is what fragmentation looks like.

Animoca, a Hong Kong mobile app developer that has seen more than 70 million downloads, says it does quality assurance testing with about 400 Android devices. Again, that’s testing with four hundred different phones and tablets for every app they ship!

The photo above is just a sampling of Animoca’s fleet of Android test units. Yat Siu, who is CEO of Animoca’s parent company Outblaze, snapped and posted it from Outblaze’s headquarters today. In total, Siu says their studio has detected about 600 unique Android devices on their network.

“We haven’t managed to track down all of those devices because, in large part, they are no longer available for sale,” he says. Sad cakes!

On top of that, Siu said that the number of handsets from the lower-end Asian manufacturers is also growing rapidly. These are the phone makers that Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop was probably talking about in his famous “burning platform” memo when he said that are Chinese OEMs were “cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, ‘the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.’” If you take those out, the actual number of devices you need to test for is much lower.

But if you want to break into Asian markets, these phones matter and make it especially challenging for Android developers to ensure their apps work on every single Android device. Android fragmentation is a huge issue because developers have to check their work on dozens of devices. Animoca happens to be backed by Intel Capital and IDG-Accel, so it has the resources to buy all of these devices for testing and pay employees to use them.

But imagine the long-tail of developers! Imagine the people who make the roughly 500,000 apps in the Google Play store. Total nightmare.

It puts a real dent in Eric Schmidt’s prediction from six months ago that developers might start going Android first within six months. His deadline is up now and there aren’t signs of this happening. Appcelerator did a survey of 2,100 of its developer clients in March and found that, if anything, interest in Android development is stagnating.

Siu isn’t fazed though. He’s told me in the past that thorough QA testing makes Animoca’s apps retain users better because so many other Android developers do a bad job at it. Unlike iOS users who throw up their hands in frustration, write bad reviews and just leave, Android users tend to be delighted when they find apps that work even if they have a glitch or two.

He adds, “We like fragmentation as users prefer choice. We are not big believers that one size fits all.”

Update: We just got more photos of QA testing walls from another developer! Pocket Gems had two of the 10 top-grossing games on iOS last year, according to Apple’s iTunes Rewind. Plus, they’re backed by top-tier venture firm Sequoia Capital.

Co-founder Harlan Crystal sent us these photos. Here’s a photo of the iOS testing wall:

Then here’s their Android QA table. They actually keep their Android testing devices in a safe. But apparently, there are so many of them now, that they overflow out of the safe.

So Crystal spilled them out onto a table:

Note: I am not necessarily ragging on Android. The platform just presents more of a QA testing challenge than iOS does. Pocket Gems actually launched their first Android exclusive game this week called Tap Dragon Park.

If you’re a mid-size or large developer, how do you deal with QA on Android?


To Heck With The Super Bowl: GOG Features Sierra Game Three-Packs For $5 –

Sierra

 

Good Old Games is running a $ 4.99 sale on multiple Sierra titles including Space Quest and Kings Quest. The games come in packages of three and are compatible with Windows (sorry, Mac users, but here’s a consolation prize).

Each package includes three parts of each series, including Police Quest, Space Quest, and King’s Quest. This includes such hits as the original King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown rendered in beautiful 16-color CGA, a game that literally made my jaw drop when I saw it boot up on my friend’s XT computer in about 1985. That, my friends, was true gaming, before the days of rail shooters and endless RPGs.

 


The Retrode 2 Makes Your SNES And Genesis Cartridges Useful Again |

Retrode2-cartsControllers2

Last year, or I suppose it is now the year before last, we saw the Retrode, a little device that let you easily create ROM files from your SNES and Genesis cartridges. Useful, but sort of a one-shot device if you’re not a serious collector. The team behind it has created a new device, the Retrode 2 naturally, that is a bit more useful to the average retro-loving gamer.

Instead of just forming ROMs in a one-off process, the Retrode 2 acts as a cartridge reader for your emulator, and lets you plug in the original controllers as well. Being able to play SNES on those is a great bonus — there’s nothing that takes true 16-bit fans out of the game so much as having to play these old things on a newfangled controller.

The games still run in emulators on your computer – the Retrode merely allows them to read the cartridge, and passes along controller input. So it’s a bit of a franken-gadget. In a way, it’s the worst of both worlds. You have the idiosyncrasies and occasional lag of the emulator, without the benefit of the infinite compactness of ROM files. But on the other hand, it’s authentic, old-school, and acts as a controller hub.

They’ve been in development for a while, but they’re finally about to ship. The Retrode works on “any USB host, under any OS, using any emulator,” which is big talk, but it sounds like they mean it. So this could be a good solution for playing games on your tablet, as long as you get one with USB host capability.

They go for about $ 85. We’ll see if we can get one of these guys shipped out to review. It’s too bad they missed the holidays, when many a gamer would have been thrilled to find one of these under the tree, but they still expect to ship in February. If you’re in the Euro zone, buy one here; if you’re in the US, try here.


The Archos Game Pad |

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Gaming

The Archos Game Pad

17 January 2013

The Archos Game Pad is available in Europe only at the moment, but now the US will be receiving this device hopefully sometime in February 2013.

The Archos Game Pad is a 7″ android tablet that runs on 4.1 jelly bean, but the difference is that it has a game-pad around the tablet making it into a portable gaming system with it’s own buttons.

The resolution is 1024 X 600 pixels, while using a dual-core 1.6 A9 processor, it has an internal memory of 8GB.

The device also has a front camera, that you could use for some games or just for communication purposes and of course it has Wi-Fi connectivity built in.

With full access to the Google Play™ store the ARCHOS GamePad includes DRM support for downloading books and movies. Whether it is from the over 600 000 apps and games, the thousands of movies or millions of books, Google Play has the content for you.

The android is extremely light and portable and with the physical buttons that are on the tablet will take your gaming experiences to the next level. No more lifting your finger to see whats under it, and no more losing the game because your own finger was in the way.

The ARCHOS Media Center apps also allows media sharing between many Wi-Fi enabled devices.

Selling the Archos Gamepad for $169 makes it very affordable and just might become the next best thing in portable gaming.

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The Avengers: A True Tale Of Bad Customer Service |

ekIs3

With all this talk of 360-degree customer service and Zappos ninjas who help babies out of burning buildings while taking orders for clogs, it’s nice to remember that for every heartwarming tale of customer satisfaction there is a dude like Paul Christoforo.

The tale begins with a controller accessory. It’s called the Avonger en-kontrol (my misspelling) and it’s some kind of octopus that helps you press more buttons on your game controller. We wrote it up in February 2011 so you can check it out there. A quick web search will bring up the actual product. I’m not about to give them any Google Juice.

Plenty of people pre-ordered and waited patiently for the devices to ship. One customer, Dave, emailed the company with a question:

From: Dave
To: Ocean Marketing
Dec 16, 2011, at 1:34 PM

I ordered 2 of the upcoming PS3 controllers (invoice xxxxxxxxx—Nov 3, 2011). Any chance of getting an update of when these items will ship? I’m not really happy about being forced to pay upfront then have the advertised date of “Early December” be completely missed without any sort of update on availability. I really need one of them for a X-mas present as well. Anyways, looking forward to finally using one of these bad boys. Thanks and happy holidays.

-Dave

The “marketing guru” Paul Christoforo (who runs SEO expert site OceanMarketing (amazing, right?)) eventually gets into a heated Internet exchange with Dave (read it all on Penny Arcade when it comes back up) and ends his tirade with this gem of social media marketing done right (warning, NSFW language):

From: Ocean Marketing
To: Dave
Dec 26, 2011 2:19 PM

LOL Thanks for the Free PR I know the Editor N Chief of Kotaku , IGN , Engadget I’ll be meeting them at CES .The noise complaint was for people high up on the food chain in a corporate world of real estate you have no clue about. Thanks for the Rice Rocket Compliment too love me some motorcycle . Send that over to Engadget you look like a complete moron swearing and sending your customer service complaints to a magazine as if they will post it or even pay attention do you think you’re the first or the last what are they going to do demand us to tell you were your shipment is or ask for a refund on your behalf … Really … Welcome to the Internet ? Son Im 38 I wwebsite as on the internet when you were a sperm in your daddys balls and before it was the internet, thanks for the welcome to message wurd up. Grow up you look like a complete child bro. I Don’t have my controller so im gonna cry to the world … Really ?? Hey take that free time and do something more productive. All you had to do was check the like everyone else , people have inquired but you’re the douchiest of them all J

To all our pre-order customers looking for information on the status of their orders after a busy couple of months The PS3 Avengers are on their way from our Manufacturing plant overseas. We are aware that everyone is anticipating having their Avengers under their Christmas Tree and were doing our best to get these orders shipped out as fast as possible. We appreciate you as loyal customers and for supporting our company. Customers will start receiving their products this week before Christmas and After Christmas and into the New Year. As a token of our appreciation we are offering all our pre-order customers and new customers 10$ off your next order with us just enter Avenger1001 at Checkout. Thank you and Happy Holidays!

Oh and FYI When a street date gets pushed by a publisher on a video game you pre ordered do you cry to them too ?

You just got told bitch … welcome to the real internet check kotaku in 2 weeks when they are reviewing free PS3 Avengers we send them as well as G4 and all the other majors hell yeah , don’t forget to check Amazon, gamestop.com, play n trade , Myers , Frys and a ton of other local stores coming your way you think you speak for billions son your just a kid you speak for yourself no one cares what you think that’s why were growing and moving 20-50 thousand controllers a month. We do value our customers but sometimes we get children like you we just have to put you in the corner with your im stupid hat on. See you at CES , E3 , Pax East ….? Oh wait you have to ask mom and pa dukes your not an industry professional and you have no money on snap you just got told.

If you tl;dred that, here is one of the pertinent points:

Son Im 38 I wwebsite as on the internet when you were a sperm in your daddys balls and before it was the internet, thanks for the welcome to message wurd up.

This is the 38-year-old marketing manager and LinkedIn User (and presumably president of a company that is apparently trying to make a living selling marketing accessories) responding to a customer. I doubt this strategy is in the Amazon CSR handbook.

The fact that I’m writing about this feeds directly into Christoforo’s sense that any PR is good PR, but I assure you that’s not the case. Battles against Internet tag teams that involve Kotaku, SomethingAwful, and Reddit rarely end well and products built marketed by petulant 38-year-old former real estate salesmen rarely, if ever, ship. It’s easy to build a buzz on the Internet, and it’s just as easy to kill it in a few keystrokes. Wurd up.

UPDATE – After many machinations, it’s clear the Christoforo isn’t the brains behind this project and that it’s a legitimate device. Don’t hold Avenger Controller responsible for this debacle.


TechCrunch » Gaming


Study: U.S. Consumer Spending On Virtual Goods Grew To $2.3 Billion In 2011 |

Untitled-2

virtual-currency

It’s not exactly a secret that gaming has found new life on the web, social and mobile platforms. Of course, with it, especially the rise in free-to-play gaming, developers need to find ways to monetize their apps, or their browser-based games. Beyond mobile or banner advertising, there is the option of in-app or in-game purchases — the old in-game freemium model. Give your game away for free, sell new levels, armor, weapons, life for a buck or two. Lots of games have incorporated virtual marketplaces to sell hawk virtual goods of all kinds.

And good news for game developers: Virtual goods are hot and getting hotter. PlaySpan, the Visa-owned Monetization-as-a-service provider released a study today that reveals, among other things, that consumer spending on virtual goods has doubled since 2009. (Virtual goods, by the way, being a combination of both virtual currency and virtual items.) Not only that, but $ 2.3 billion worth of virtual goods were purchased in 2011 in the U.S., up nearly 30 percent from 2009. That means, on average, gamers spent $ 64 on virtual goods in 2011, roughly equivalent to the price of a console game.

Again, it’s all up-trending, as 35 percent of U.S. gamers have purchased a virtual good, a 50 percent increase from 2010. Of course, unsurprisingly, the gender breakdown shows that men are twice as likely as women to purchase virtual goods. To break that down further, nearly 50 percent of males under the age of 24 said they bought a virtual good in 2011, whereas only 15 percent of females in the same age group had done so.

Karl Mehta, founder of PlaySpan, said that he thinks that we’re getting to a point where consumers are truly becoming comfortable with buying virtual goods on the Web and on mobile devices. For example, the study found that, of those in the U.S. who had not purchased virtual goods, 70 percent expressed a willingness to do so. This comfort and openness to virtual transactions represents not only a huge opportunity for gaming, he said, but for the majority of digital content companies — those trafficking in music, movies, social gifting, rewards, etc.

This demographic data could be a big boost to producers and distributors of all digital content, allowing them to hone their strategies for reaching the right audience — across platforms. For instance, when it comes to why users purchase a certain game, 64 percent said that their choice was based on the price of the game, 51 percent was based on genre, while 48 percent said that their friends’ recommendations were a factor in their choice. This latter bit, in particular, is a huge validation for social gaming companies, or studios considering whether to integrate with the social graph, or enable users to friendsource recommendations, or share what they’re playing (or their achievements) with friends.

Again, when it comes to purchasing virtual goods, PlayData’s report shows that it’s important for game developers to find the right structure for incentivizing virtual good purchases. Hiding too much of the game under the promise of unlocking if they pull out their credit card is counterproductive, but creating some really terrific premium features that can be bought for a certain price is key — if they are integral to gameplay, and really improve the experience of the game, users will pay.

To that point, the study found that the top reason for gamers purchasing virtual goods, according to 55 percent of the population, is “to be able to do more in a game,” followed closely by the second reason: “To get a better experience playing the game.” Next was to advance a level or state, and developing one’s avatar or identity within the gameworld.

Lastly, when it comes to what platforms or media are fueling virtual goods purchasing, the leading source in 2011 was connected consoles, like Xbox Live or the PlayStation Store, for example. In all, 48 percent of gamers purchased their virtual goods on connected consoles, but that behavior is clearly changing, as users who purchased goods directly from within the game rose to 42 percent, followed by prepaid game cards and online virtual stores, at 40 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

In all, consumer habits really seem to be changing, as twice as many gamers are buying virtual goods today compared to two years ago. With the right strategy for in-game or in-app purchases, developers certainly have an increasing opportunity to monetize their free games, which, in the end, hopefully means a greater selection (and hopefully quality) of games for the end user.


Sony to offer slimmer, lighter PlayStation 3 home video-game console ahead of holidays |

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Sony to offer slimmer, lighter PlayStation 3 home video-game console ahead of holidays

19 September 2012

Sony Corp. is introducing a smaller, slimmer and lighter version of its PlayStation 3 home console ahead of the year-end holidays as it gears up for growing competition in games from smartphones.

The announcement Wednesday from the Japanese electronics and entertainment company comes a day ahead of the annual Tokyo Game Show, where game makers show their wares. But the iPhone 5 smartphone from Apple Inc. is hogging much of the attention, already drawing long lines for pre-orders at some retailers, and more lines are expected ahead of Friday’s launch.

The new PlayStation 3, closer to the size of a laptop, is half the size of the original model, introduced in 2006. It also offers more hard-drive memory at 500 gigabytes and 250 gigabytes, up from the current 320 GB and 160 GB options.

The global rollout starts Sept. 25 in North America, where the 250 GB version will sell for $269. The other version sells for $299 from Oct. 30. In Japan, the models go on sale Oct. 4 for 29,980 yen ($380) and 24,980 yen ($316).

Tokyo-based Sony is struggling as its other electronics businesses get battered by competition from Apple’s iPhones as well as by cheaper Asian rivals.

The maker of Bravia TVs and Walkman portable players posted its worst loss in its 66-year history for the fiscal year ended in March — its fourth straight year of red ink.

The company is banking on games to help steer a turnaround. President Kazuo Hirai spent much of his career leading the game division.

To woo consumers, Sony is slashing the price on its PlayStation Portable, or PSP, mobile device as it increasingly focuses on its upgraded PlayStation Vita, which went on sale last year, for on-the-go games.

The PSP, which first went on sale in 2004, comes down Thursday to 13,800 yen ($175) in Japan from 16,800 yen ($213). There is no change to the U.S. price now at about $130.

Sony plans to expand entertainment based on cloud computing, which offers storage and other computer services over the network, after recently acquiring Gaikai Inc., a U.S. game company.

The PlayStation Vita won’t be getting any upgrades just yet. But it will be available in new colours, blue and red, in addition to white and black, but only in Japan.

Some speculation is buzzing about a PlayStation 4, possibly before the end of next year, but officials were mum on that topic.

The PS Vita, which has a touch-panel, allows users to live-stream video and works as an electronic book function for colorful comics, according to Sony.

But Sony has already slashed its PS Vita sales target for this fiscal year through March 2013, to 12 million units, down from 16 million that was given three months earlier.

In lowering the target, Sony pointed to the economic slowdown, especially in Europe. But it also noted the intense competition from smartphones and social-networking entertainment.

Hiroshi Kawano, who heads Sony’s game business in Japan, said the networking feature of PlayStation 3 allows users to enjoy millions of tunes, karaoke at home and a growing library of movies.

“Even after six years, the PlayStation 3 has not lost momentum and continues to deliver powerful home entertainment,” he said at a Tokyo hall.

Source: CalgaryHerald

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Splash.FM: A Music Discovery Social Network That Scores How Hip You Are |

Splash Fm Logo

Oh, you liked that band since before they were cool? Now you can prove it with Splash.FM. Launching in private beta today, the music social network lets you share songs and raise your Splash score when you help others discover them. Splash.FM lets you follow other tastemakers and listen through lists of the most popular songs across the site or your network.

Splash.FM’s biggest weakness is also a differentiator — it has no streaming licenses so major label songs only play as 30-second samples, but tunes by independent artists can be played in full and downloaded for free.

If you want to join the private beta, the first 500 readers to enter the code “TECHCRUNCH” in the bottom right of Splash.FM will gain exclusive access.

Splash.FMs share box lets users select from an expansive library of pre-loaded songs and samples, or upload anything they can’t find similar, to Turntable.fm. If a song appears on iTunes it plays as a sample, otherwise it can be played or downloaded unless the artist complains. This naturally skews the site towards undiscovered indie bands, remixes, covers and other content more likely to appear on Hype Machine blogs than the radio.

If Klout is your influence score across the web, Splash.FM wants to define the influence of your music taste. Users can “Splash” or favorite songs they discover on the site. Each song displays a Splash Lineage, or the order of who discovered it first. As a user’s shared songs are splashed by others, their Splash Score increases creating an addictive gamified experience.

Splash.FM was founded by two students, Alex Gatof from University of Michigan and Jason Fiedler of UPenn, using a friends and family seed round. Built on HTML5, the site is accessible from mobile. The startup plans to monetize through a combination of iTunes store affiliate links, sponsored placement for artists, and analytics services for the music industry.

The big question is whether users are willing to discover music on Splash.FM if they have to listen to elsewhere, such as on subscription streaming services, YouTube, or iTunes. It’s certainly annoying when you start grooving to something shared by a friend and it suddenly cuts off 30 seconds in. A year ago people were used to hearing samples, but in the age of Spotify, serious music fans who Splash.FM is targeting demand more. Many of its use cases are now handled by on-demand streaming services, or one-upped by Facebook’s new Listen With simultaneous playback feature.

I think Splash.FM would work better as a Spotify app allowing major label tracks to stream in full. However, This would exclude user generated uploads as well as the newest tracks from the blogosphere, and reduce revenue options. Rdio’s API are another option. As it stands, Splash.FM is a fun companion app for discovering music and taking pride in your own taste. Unfortunately, its appeal is limited to hardcore independent music seekers who won’t miss streams of mainstream acts or mind keeping another tab open.