Silicon Sisters Launches First iOS Game, Made By Women For Girls


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siliconsisters_school26.jpgThe stereotypical gamer is male, in his teens or early twenties, devotedly gaming from his parents’ basement. The actual make-up of the gaming population, however, is strikingly different. The average gamer is 34. And 40% of all players are women over the age of 18 – the industry’s fastest growing demographic.

Whatever the actual composition of the gaming population, there’s still very much the sense that gaming is a man’s world – both in terms of audience and in terms of developers. This isn’t to say, of course that there aren’t women playing and building all sorts of games. Oh the tales I could tell of raiding in Everquest! Oh the chainmail bikinies! Oh the princesses I have rescued! Oh, I do wonder sometimes, what would video games for women, by women look like? Would they be different? If so, how?

That’s something that the new Vancouver-based gaming studio Silicon Sisters is tackling. The first female-owned and run video game studio in Canada, Silicon Sisters is committed to building games for women and girls – and building these games by women and girls. Formed by former Radical Entertainment executive producer Kristen Forbes and former Deep Fried Entertainment COO Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, the studio releases their very first game today, School 26, available for iOS.

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Games for Girls: Emphasis on the Social

The game is geared for tweens and teens and its storyline is built around the complicated social hierarchy of high school. You play the game as a young girl who’s a newcomer to school. She comes from a nomadic family, something that has made it difficult for her to maintain long-term relations. As she enrolls in this, her 26th school, she strikes a bargain with her parents: if she can make friends, they’ll stay put.

Conversation_01.jpgSo the player of School 26 must help the character do just that: build friendships and navigate the sticky, awkward and sometimes awful moral dilemmas of school. These range from power struggles to peer pressure, romance, betrayal, alienation, acceptance – all real and relevant situations that girls face every day.

The gameplay involves the player selecting the appropriate emotional responses to certain scenarios and answering quizzes that provide insights into players’ personalities. The emphasis here is on emphathy and networking.

What Message Does a Girl-Focused Game Give?

That’s a very different set of goals and behaviors than most video games. There isn’t swordplay here. No princesses to rescue. No alien invaders to vanquish. There isn’t “action.” There’s “talk.” The rewards aren’t cash or weaponry. The skills honed in School 26 aren’t the ability to time your jumps or dodge bullets or land killing blows.

teacher_ss.pngAs a long-time gamer, I have to say that this isn’t the sort of gameplay that interests me. I like killing things. In games, of course.

But not everyone does — girls and boys alike. There are plenty of casual games aimed at tweens that aren’t action-oriented, and there are lots aimed at girls. But unlike many that target this market, there is no emphasis on shopping, fashion, or beauty.

Silicon Sisters plans to release more broadly-focused games soon, but says that all their games will all emphasize this sort of “social engineering” — an emphasis on relationships and communication. These are legitimate skills for girls and women to develop, the studio argues, and something that will give them a competitive advantage in life.

Discuss


FBI Seizes Online Poker Sites


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pokerstars150.jpgOn Friday, the FBI shut down three of the world’s most popular online gambling sites, replacing their websites with an announcement that “This domain name has been seized by the FBI pursuant to an Arrest Warrant.”

Marking the largest crackdown since Congress banned online gambling in 2006, authorities unsealed indictments against executives from Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker, accusing the companies of illegal gambling, money laundering and bank fraud.

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In addition to the indictments and domain seizures, Friday’s federal actions were accompanied by a civil lawsuit seeking the forfeiture of $3 billion in ill-gotten gains from the money laundering – 1.5 billion from the PokerStars; $1 billion from the Full Tilt Poker; and $500 million from the Absolute Poker.

Although there have been renewed efforts recently to legalize online gaming, it remains illegal in the U.S., one of the few countries where that remains the law. Some challenge the idea that poker is really gambling, arguing it’s a game of skill not chance.

Regardless of the legalities, it hasn’t stopped U.S. players from betting real money on these sites. Many have opted to process their transactions via banks outside the U.S. But according to the charges unsealed on Friday, these three online poker sites in question had also masked payments from players, misrepresenting the kinds of funds that were being processed by U.S. banks.

NOTICEseizure.jpg

What Now for (Online) Gaming?

ESPN‘s Gary Wise has a lengthy assessment on the implications for the gambling industry – online and offline. He contends that the indictments will transfer the momentum back to land-based casinos, operators that have stayed outside the U.S. market, and to gaming companies that have restricted themselves to non-money play. Wise notes that “Zynga appears to be in good shape to capitalize on Friday’s developments.”

The three companies in question have announced they’re ceasing their operations in the U.S., but outside the country, in thewords of PokerStars, it’s “business as usual.” To sidestep the .com seizues, PokerStars and Full Tilt Power moved to a .eu domain.

But options to continue gaming aside, it’s their money that many players are concerned about. Both of these companies have issued statements saying that players’ funds are safe, and that they’ll be able to withdraw their money.

Discuss


Trion Brings Twitter and YouTube Into The Online Gaming Experience


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When I was growing up, games were played offline — whether it was Number Munchers on an Apple2GS, or Super Mario Bros. on Nintendo’s NES console. But, needless to say, that 8-bit world is miles behind us.

Like it has done to every other industry, the Web completely altered the course of gaming. It brought connectivity and scale to video games, allowing huge groups of people to play each other in a single game, simultaneously. Even so, most video game users continued to get their gaming offline; as is often the case, online adoption was mostly limited to geeks in solitude.

It really took the explosion in popularity of Zynga and Facebook games to bring swaths of casual gamers online. The draw of games like FarmVille obviously being the enhanced social features (and spamming). But, on the flip side of the coin, there are “premium” online games, which boast 3D graphics, a more immersive and interactive experience, and enable our strange fantasies through features like role-playing. There are many examples, but the most widely recognized would probably be World of Warcraft.

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs as they’re affectionately known, like World of Warcraft, are inherently social and have been a staple of online gaming for over a decade. But, one online games developer, Trion Worlds, is adding a new spin to online gaming and is now attempting to put the icing on the social gameplay experience with its new World of Warcraft competitor, called Rift.

Rift is a game set in the fictional world of Telara, in which creatures of all shapes and sizes and from all planes of existence mash together. (Think Star Wars’ cantina scene.) Through physical rifts, monsters attack Telara’s mother cities and just act like monsters, really. Unsurprisingly, your mission is to stop the monsters. It’s not a particularly world-shaking idea, nor are the characters, but the execution is pretty amazing.

The key to Rift’s successful massive and synchronous gameplay experience begins with the fact that Trion’s games are server-based, meaning that the gameplay, characters, and interactions between players are housed in Trion’s server cloud. This allows the company to remodel less-played portions of the game or add more content on-the-fly.

And, in the case of Rift, Trion breaks its servers down by function, rather than by location, like most other games. Again, this means that one set of servers will handle non-player functions in the game’s world, another will process encounters with “bosses,” for example, and another will deal with functions directly involving the players’ characters. This means that processes can be started and stopped more quickly and easily, causing less lag and other glitches in gameplay. Trion can make changes to the game in realtime, right in front of players, Trion CEO Lars Buttler told me. That’s pretty cool.

But where Rift really sets itself apart is its integration of social media into gameplay. Rift allows you to Tweet, and create and share both pictures and videos from inside the game. In the in-game chat bar, you simply type “/tweet” and your text is posted to Twitter. You can capture screenshots and post them to Twitpic or Yfrog, or you can take video of what you’re playing and post it directly to YouTube.

Why would you want to take video of what you’re playing? Well, it allows you to make tutorials for other gamers, or to show off your mad skills — or your avatar’s crazy dance moves. And that, my friends, is priceless. I think.

Furthermore, Twitter, as Charlie Sheen so adequately demonstrated, is a tool for promotion — especially among brands and celebrities. And now for gamers. “Players have achievements and accomplishments in Rift’s game world, but we want to take that beyond the game world into the real world, so that friends and fans and followers can be a part of that as well”, Buttler said. “We want to allow gamers to become celebrities, in-game and in the real-world”.

And Rift is making a pretty serious splash; gamers are buying in. Prior to its launch in late February, over 1 million people created accounts and gamers have spent more than 2.5 billion minutes gallivanting around Telara. That’s nearly 42 hours per person. What’s more, since the game’s launch, users have sent over 600,000 Tweets. And more than 15,000 YouTube videos have been uploaded since video functionality was launched just over 10 days ago.

Not only is the online game developer trying to break down the barriers between gaming and the real world, it’s taking on other entertainment mediums as well. Building on the success of James Cameron’s Avatar, Trion is partnering with the Syfy Channel to create a TV show that is part fictional drama, part game. The project, tentatively called “One World”, will follow a group of main characters as they travel through an alien world. Their story will be concocted by screenwriters, but the battles that rage in different cities among competing factions will be determined by those playing the game online.

Previous attempts to meld video games with film and television have been less than well-received. But the project is audacious at the very least, and marks another innovative push into cross-genre, “next” entertainment. Even James Cameron was intrigued, telling the LA Times, “I think it’s great, the approach of it has a lot of promise — you’re getting real people to invest something in a character that populates the background … It’s almost like having an artificial intelligence at work behind the primary story but your audience is the A.I.”


What Is the Future of Gamification? [Survey]


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wiifit_RWW.jpgSince Seth Priebatsch’s keynote at this year’s SXSW, excitement about adding a “game layer” to the world – liberating games from their traditional place on a computer screen and imposing game-like, social and situational constraints onto the real world (largely through mobile apps) – has positively erupted. There’s been considerable interest from businesses across industries, educators, social innovators and techies alike.

Latitude Research (which partnered with ReadWriteWeb last year on a study about kids and future Web technology) has launched a new study on The Future of Gaming – they want to hear fresh perspectives from both game enthusiasts and non-gamers. What do you think the role of games will (or should) be in the future? Can they motivate and inspire people to reach personal or societal goals? Can they bring together online and offline experiences in meaningful ways?

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Participate in Latitude’s 10-minute survey on the future of gaming. A $25 Amazon gift card will be awarded to 10 individuals with the most insightful responses.* Latitude’s privacy policy can be viewed here.

So far, we’ve heard people talking about games in terms of social discovery and community, as a means to improve on traditional education techniques, and as a civic engagement tool. People also want games to motivate and enable – to help them reach their ideal selves – by making things like healthier habits or better money management seem more attainable and enjoyable.

Here’s how a few of our The Future of Gaming participants have told us they have or would like to see games applied:

  • Social Networking & Community

    • “I recently read that some people are reaching out to other players within games in an attempt to garner support for Japan in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami/(possible) nuclear disaster. In this way, games are becoming just another way we are able to interact with others be it friends or strangers across the globe.” – Will E., Associate Staff Scientist at Avedro
    • “Xbox is my generation’s golf. It’s how I met a comic book writer and an iOS developer.” – Michael C., Designer

  • Health

    • “I would love for games to improve my performance. Track my inputs and set goals for them and alert me of how I am doing compared to others. One major goal I would love to gameify would be fitness.” – Christian A., Studio Director at Toy Studio

    Health Month Screenshot

    Screenshot of Health Month, an online social health game.

  • Finances

    • “Right now having games help with health, activity, and entertainment in general is working well for me. Going forward I’d love to have games track progress with money management and stress relief.” – Jon R.
    Guest author Kadley Gosselin is a writer for Latitude Research (@latddotcom), an international research consultancy helping clients create engaging content, software and technology that harness the possibilities of the Web.
  • Politics

    • “Politicians are even using games to communicate. North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue, in the midst of controversy over state budget cuts, posted a game on her website that asked players to decide what jobs and services to cut, or what taxes to raise, in order to balance the budget. (Of course, the game didn’t include any modeling of the possible effects of those cuts or taxes beyond the immediate balance sheet!).” – Caroline R.
  • Education

    • “I really think that, as education moves online, we need to be harnessing the power of computers to provide immersive interactive experiences for students. Gaming has really pushed my thinking forward in that regard.” – Ted C., Instructional Designer at Samuel Merritt University

    What are your thoughts?
    Click here to participate in Latitude’s 10-minute survey on the future of gaming.

    *Winners are determined by Latitude. Gift cards will be issued to winners by email within 8 weeks of entry, via the contact information collected at the end of the survey. One entry per person; duplicate entrants will be disqualified.


    To learn more about working with Latitude, contact: Brian Conry, Director of Sales, at bconry@latd.com, and visit us on the Web here. For general inquiries, contact: life-connected@latd.com.

    Creative Commons-license photo by enfad.

    Discuss


iBuypower auctioning ‘Ultimate’ gaming PC for Japan Relief


This post is by Andru Edwards from Gear Live


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Want to win a super-powerful desktop and help out those in Japan affected by the recent earthquakes and tsunamis? Boutique system vendor iBuypower, in collaboration with a number of major component manufacturers, is making that possible by auctioning off a top-tier gaming desktop, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Red Cross's Japan relief efforts.

The centerpiece of the system, and by far its most unusual component, is the Zalman GS1200, a full-tower case loaded with features ranging from plentiful fans to hot-swappable hard drives, tool-free installation, and more. The auction system is being built in the only GS1200 case in the United States.

Also present in the system will be two Zotac GeForce GTX 570 video cards in a Scalable Link Interface (SLI) configuration for top-speed video and 6GB of Kingston HyperX T1 RAM. IBuypower will construct and ship the computer, which will also come with lifetime tech support, a warranty covering three years labor and one year parts, and a selection of other “premiums,” including t-shirts, backpacks, and other accessories.


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iBuypower auctioning ‘Ultimate’ gaming PC for Japan Relief originally appeared on Gear Live on Wed, April 13, 2011 – 11:58:03


China’s Online Game Market Surges; Set To Top $8 Billion By 2014


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China’s got game. A lot of game. In fact, the Eastern power is rapidly becoming the world’s leader in the online games market. According to a study released by business and consulting firm Pearl Research, the online games market in China will exceed $8 billion by 2014.

Though the Chinese gaming market experienced somewhat sluggish growth in the first part of 2010, by year’s end it had rebounded to 25 percent overall growth, reaching $5 billion in sales. Thus, it seems that it is no longer even remotely outlandish to predict that China will make up a quarter of the industry’s total global sales by 2014, with the U.S. falling to 22 percent, as forecasted by The Financial Times, via investment bank Digi-Capital in February.

The bright outlook for Chinese gaming is bolstered by the fact that country’s top online game companies experienced another banner year of growth in 2010, led by gaming colossus Tencent , which saw revenue push $1.4 billion. Tencent was followed by Netease at $749 million, Shanda Games at $680 million, Perfect World at $374 million, and Changyou with $327 million.

What’s more, in 2010, Shenzhen ZQ Game became the first massively multiplayer online game company to be listed publicly on the Shenzen Stock Exchange — its IPO was for a reported $110 million. Not to mention, Sina Weibo, China’s microblogging platform (in which users can write posts of 140 Chinese characters, a la Twitter), surpassed 100 million users in February 2011, according to Pearl Research.

With the surge in online activity, both in online gaming and China’s social web, it should come as no surprise that Pearl Research predicts that Asian, specifically Chinese, companies to drive international consolidation of gaming enterprises. Flush with cash, Chinese online gaming companies are expected to reach out beyond domestic markets to strike deals with foreign competitors, driving overseas expansion, and a flurry of M&A activity in 2011.


Exclusive: Yahoo Loses M&A Head to Zynga


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Taylor Barada (pictured here), Yahoo’s recently appointed head of M&A, is joining Zynga in an unspecified role.

Barada replaced Andrew Siegel, who left Yahoo in December to join Condé Nast.

Yahoo staff was told of the move yesterday.

According to his bio at the Silicon Valley Internet giant:

“Taylor works with the Americas and Global Product orgs at Yahoo! leading strategic analysis/execution of acquisitions, divestitures, investments and other strategic relationships. Recent transactions include the sale of Zimbra to VMware and the acquisition of Citizen Sports. Prior to Yahoo! he worked as an investor, consultant, and operator at Rosewood Capital, Bain & Company, and Peregrine Systems. Taylor started his career as a professional soccer player and was a three time National Champion at the University of Virginia while completing his B.A. in History and Foreign Affairs.”

Barada’s departure to the San Francisco online gaming phenom–which was apparently able to extend him a more lucrative offer–will will put a crimp in Yahoo’s already slow-moving merger and acquisition strategies.

Yahoo declined to comment and I have emailed Zynga and have not yet heard back.

Myspace Bake-Off Starts Wednesday and–Despite Reports–No Bidder in Lead (and No Zynga Interest Either)


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While no one inside or outside Myspace owner News Corp. expects fireworks and giant piles of money, the tire-kicking for the long-troubled social-networking-turned-entertainment site actually starts Wednesday.

That’s when about a dozen interested parties will finally get a walk-through of the books and more by management and the serious talks begin.

But, said several sources, despite a variety of reports of various interested buyers, no deal for the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Myspace is imminent with any one of them.

Instead, most expect some kind of outcome within two weeks at the earliest.

Among the possibilities is anything from an outright sale to partnership that continues to involve News Corp., which has engaged Allen & Co. to conduct the sad proceedings.

Among those in the fray are, as has been reported, music video network Vevo, owned by several media giants. It is the most prominent strategic suitor for Myspace.

But talks with Vevo are preliminary, as are all others.

In fact, most of the others interested are as expected: moneybag private equity players, such as Providence Equity Partners and Silver Lake Partners. Both have been in discussions with News Corp. in earlier efforts to offload Myspace.

Interestingly, Criterion Capital Partners, which bought AOL’s Bebo social networking site for less than $10 million last June, is not in the bidding as yet.

Neither is Zynga, the San Francisco casual gaming start-up. Various stories had rumored of its interest in Myspace, but they are inaccurate. In addition, neither AOL nor Yahoo seem likely bidders either.

And it goes without saying that the Silicon Valley social networking site that did Myspace in–Facebook–is also not a buyer. So too Google, which–back in the headier days–handed Myspace a fortune as part of an ill-advised advertising deal.

In any case, whoever buys Myspace needs a lot of patience, which seems to have run out at News Corp., where top execs take turns bashing it to shareholders.

That’s no surprise. After a laudable though glacial redesign as a music and entertainment hub last fall, traffic has declined 44 percent in a recent month from a year ago, to 37.7 million unique visitors in the U.S.

Worse still, the News Corp. unit that houses Myspace showed an operating loss of $156 million in the recent quarter, mostly related to a severe drop-off of advertising revenue at the site.

That plunge in fortunes will surely have an impact on the price buyers are willing to pay for the once iconic brand.

(Full disclosure: News Corp. also owns Dow Jones, which owns this site.)

Apple’s WWDC tickets sell out in less than a day — is it another jab at game conferences?


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steve jobs vaderTickets for Apple’s Worldwide Development Conference (WWDC), its annual conference geared toward developers for its operating systems, sold out in less than a day. And the conference is conveniently taking place during the same week as the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the largest video game conference in the U.S.

This isn’t the first jab Apple has taken at a video game conference, either — it announced the release of the next iteration of its tablet computer, the iPad 2, during the Game Developers Conference in early March. Apple’s press event took place at around the same time Nintendo took the stage for a keynote address at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Calif.

One of Apple’s largest success stories on the iPhone is its massive game library. That includes the likes of casual games like Angry Birds and Popcap’s strategy game Plants vs. Zombies. But the mobile phone also sports some more “hardcore” games like Epic’s Infinity Blade and a mobile version of the parkour extravaganza Mirror’s Edge. Those are the kinds of games that are highlighted at E3, which is typically one of the largest and most extravagant events for triple-A titles in the industry.

But the conference has traditionally shied away from games on mobile devices like the iPhone — instead focusing on the major consoles and handheld systems like the 3DS and Sony’s next generation portable device, the NGP. That could be frustrating for Apple, which might take the chance to show its gaming clout at WWDC this year after pulling a substantial number of developers to the conference — and likely away from E3, because there is a lot of money to be made making iPhone apps.

Apple might announce that it will delay the release of the next version of the iPhone’s software, iOS 5.0, until the fall. Apple typically holds an iOS preview event in early spring — last year it showed off multitasking in iOS 4.0 at the beginning of April. While primarily an event for developers, Apple has also made major announcements at past WWDCs. In addition to iOS and iPhone announcements, the 2011 WWDC will also feature over 100 technical sessions to help developers get the most out of Apple’s platforms, as well as Apple’s annual Design Awards for iPhone, iPad, and Mac OSX apps.

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Strata Allows You to Play Fantasy Football – With Scientists


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strata.pngSciVal Strata, a new project from Elsevier, is a web-based modeling tool that allows users to play scientists in teams in much the same way football fans do with players. Call it Madden NSF.

Dr. Lisa Colledge, project manager for Strata, identified the problem that gave rise to its creation: “At the end of the day everything comes back to resources.”

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strata_page2.pngWhether you’re putting together a team for a research project, applying for a grant, evaluating grant applications or looking to prove your own worth to a project or institution, a modeling tool that can quantify that worth dynamically and justify the expenses involved could be valuable.

The tool is a dynamic, customizable modeler that allows a user to add and subtract scientists and specialists to a team and anticipate the change that would make in the team’s efficiency. A set of tabs allow changes to benchmarks, personnel and influence over time (on science in general, not just a specific project). The interface is very recognizable, with drag-and-drop scientists (is this the first time that phrase has ever been written?), which outputs into various charts and graphs.

max.pngIn much the same way that a football player in a fantasy league or video game would be represented by his stats, so is the scientist or specialist in question. According to Dr. Colledge, the scientists are represented by a range of data, from SciVerse Scopus, an abstract and indexing database, articles from all kind of publications and references in those publications, as well as output and citation data which can be customized, and is dynamic and current.

What are the chances of those of us at home playing along? (Who wouldn’t want a chance to see how Niels Bohr and Stephen Hawking would effect the development of the steam engine? Or whether Marie Curie or Richard Feynman would be more effective in helping Danny Dunn with his homework machine?)

Slight.

laura_bassi.pngThe tool is sold to universities and other research institutions and users will need to belong to one. If such a tool is even roughly analogous with academic journals, the cost would prove prohibitive for the Average BA-holding Joe. Maybe an academic game company could license the engine and data and give us the Max Planck-Laura Maria Caterina Bassi smackdown for which we have so long waited.

Discuss


Kids Can Now Build Their Own Xbox Games with Kodu Game Lab


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kodu150.jpgBoosting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education has become a priority for the government, for schools, and for tech companies. In emphasizing the importance of doing so, many point to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor that note that while there will be more than 2 million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2014, fewer than 15% of U.S. college undergraduates now pursue degrees in science or engineering.

It isn’t enough to convince college students to major in science – or rather, by the time students hit college, it may be too late to pique their interest in the field. So many STEM efforts are aimed at encouraging the scientific and technical minds of younger students.

One way to ignite that interest is to give kids the skills so they can build and play their own video games. That’s the idea behind Microsoft’s Kodu, a visual programming language and game development tool. A product of Microsoft FUSE Labs, Kodu Game Lab enables children as young as five to design, build, and play their own games on the PC and Xbox.

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STEM Education Through Xbox Game Development

A free download, Kodu Game Lab doesn’t require any programming experience. Its language is entirely icon-based, and with it, children can drag and drop icons in order to create their own games and worlds. Even though it doesn’t require knowledge of a programming language, Kodu does help develop important programming skills, in part by getting children to think about “if/then” statements and the idea of actions and conditions.

Microsoft is releasing a new version of its Kodu Game Lab today, and it’s also kicking off its Kodu Cup Competition for students ages 9 to 17. The competition asks kids to design their own video game using Kodu, and the winners will compete for a $5000 prize for themselves, along with $5000 for their school and a trip to the worldwide finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition.

According to Gabrielle Cayton-Hodges, a research fellow at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, there are many educational benefits to teaching children how to play and program video games. She argues that “learning how to create and edit such a system is learning critical analytic skills including systems thinking, problem solving, iterative design and digital media literacies.”

Kodu is just one of many great tools that encourage kids to code. You can see some of our other recommendations here and here.

Discuss


100 Percent Fresh Exclusive!: Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes in Acquisition Talks With Yahoo and Others


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280Flixster

Flixster–the popular social movie site whose brands include the Rotten Tomatoes premium reviews site, as well as BuddyTV–is in early acquisition talks with several suitors, including Yahoo, said sources close to the situation.

The price being discussed for the San Francisco-based start-up is between $60 million and $90 million, said several sources, in talks that are “substantive.”

Nonetheless, any acquisition negotiations could always fail. In fact, Flixster held advanced discussions in late 2007 with IAC/InterActiveCorp.

Along with Yahoo, which is interested in bringing in a strong team to bolster the entertainment offerings of the Silicon Valley Internet portal, sources said several media giants are also eyeing Flixster in order to strengthen their ties to entertainment consumers. Likely candidates in this regard include Disney.

Interestingly, one of Flixster’s big shareholders is News Corp., which traded its Rotten Tomatoes unit for a 20 percent stake in the combined entity a little over a year ago.

But its minority stake gives News Corp. little influence over Flixster’s fate, although its IGN gaming unit head Roy Bahat is on the Flixster board. News Corp.–which has been shedding Web properties, such as its current effort to sell MySpace–is not bidding for Flixster.

But the interest in the site by Yahoo and others is obvious.

Flixster has attracted a huge online audience, which trades all kinds of recommendations, ratings, news and even post user-generated movie reviews on the Web site and via widgets on social networking sites, mostly on Facebook. Its recent mobile app efforts have been successful.

Co-founded in 2006 by CEO Joe Greenstein and CTO Saran Chari, Flixster has raised $7 million in funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Pinnacle Ventures, as well as garnering angel investments, such as from Silicon Valley entrepreneur and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

The combination with Rotten Tomatoes and its more robust Web presence made a lot of sense. It features mostly premium content, including professional reviews, trailer videos and news.

The site is famous for its clever fresh and rotten tomato rating system for movies.

A Yahoo spokeswoman declined to comment and I have not received a response from emails sent to Greenstein.

Until he does, here’s my video interview with Greenstein, Chari and COO Steve Polsky, in which they talked about the deal to combine Flixster with Rotten Tomatoes:


[ See post to watch video ]

Should the Next Commerce Secretary Be a Tech Exec (or Would It Cause a Schmidtstorm?)


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Yesterday, the Obama administration dribbled out the news that it was going to nominate current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the next ambassador to China.

If approved, Locke will surely have his hands full on a wide range of issues, many of them impacting the tech sector, including piracy, privacy and government-sponsored censorship.

Perhaps more interestingly, the move leaves open a post–which the Obama administration actually had a hard time filling initially–that could get a true turbocharge if it were filled by an exec from the fast-growing digital arena.

It’s not a bad idea, since tech is probably now the most critical business arena in the U.S. and one of the only markets in which this country innovates and excels at.

While the Commerce Department has a huge and disparate domain, from international trade to the census to promoting American businesses, its digital footprint has been much less profound than the industry’s increasing importance to the U.S. economy.

After all, despite some interesting international efforts, most of the current crop of tech stars are U.S. born and bred and leading the way in digital innovation.

In fact, every big trend right now in value creation are all coming out of tech.

Gaming? Zynga.

Social networking? Facebook and Twitter.

Retail? Groupon.

Mobile? Google and Apple.

So, why not pick a business person from the area to lead the government agency dedicated to business?

But that’s where it gets dicey.

One more obvious candidate would be outgoing Google CEO–and Obama favorite–Eric Schmidt.

I would assume he might welcome such a prominent post, although putting him in place at Commerce would be a tough road.

Issue one and only: The investigations of Google’s aggressive business practices by federal regulators make this an awkward decision for Obama, given Schmidt would be open to a lot of scrutiny going through confirmation.

But there is a long list of others who could be considered to serve, especially if you think well outside the box.

What about former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy, who certainly has the management cred?

Or mega-VC John Doerr, who–despite his recent social fever–might finally get to push his beloved clean-tech agenda onto a larger stage?

What about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who recently showed she could deliver a boffo speech and who might lend some Silicon Valley magic to her former Washington, D.C. rep?

And while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ laugh would have a hard time getting Congressional approval, why not consider someone who has profoundly changed the way an entire business sector does business?

In that vein, Reed Hastings of Netflix also fits the bill.

Except these three execs are pretty busy these days. So, what about former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, whose failed bid to be California’s governor as the Republican candidate leaves her without a post.

President Barack Obama had picked a GOP pol as his second choice for Commerce head, in fact, so Whitman or even Cisco CEO John Chambers are not out of the question.

The point is to perhaps move outside the Beltway’s comfort zone and pick a Commerce Secretary who represents the future rather than the past.

Look Out Farmville: Angry Birds is Coming to Facebook


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For you 30-something geeks out there, Angry Birds may feel like a simple, dumbed down version of DOS-based video game classic Scorched Earth. For the rest of you, it’s simply one of the the most popular games on the planet.

If an Angry Birds movie and versions for nearly every smartphone on the market isn’t enough, it looks like it has the world’s largest social network in its sights. You guessed it, Angry Birds is coming to Facebook.

Sponsor

The game – in which you fling a variety of birds at things in hopes of knocking them over – is a complete blockbuster with more than 75 million downloads. Several different gaming blogs have reported that Angry Birds’ creator, Rovio, has told Wired UK that it is working on a social reinvention of the game for Facebook.

While Facebook Director of Gaming Partnerships Sean Ryan commented last January at the Inside Social Apps conference that Angry Birds “wouldn’t make a lot of sense” on Facebook, it appears that the company has taken heed by working on a specially socialized version of the game.

“If you have a single player game, it’s not clear why you should build it for us, you should probably build it for other people,” said Ryan.

Rovio studio boss Mikael Hed told Wired that the Facebook version of Angry Birds would have “completely new aspects to it that just haven’t been experienced in any other platform.”

Will Angry Birds take over as the number one game on Facebook? Can it compete with the crack-like qualities of games like Farmville and Cityville?

Discuss


Bill Gross’s UberMedia Raises $17.5 Million From Accel, Index and Steve Case


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UberMedia, which just bought TweetDeck for $30 million in equity last week, has raised $17.5 million, in a round led by Accel Partners.

The valuation for the Pasadena, Calif., start-up founded by well-known entrepreneur Bill Gross (pictured here)–which was actually struck some month ago–is $40 million.

Accel’s Jim Breyer will join the board of UberMedia, maker of social media reading and posting tools, which is currently largely aimed at the Twitter ecosystem.

“We are hoping to work very closely with Twitter, which is certainly our goal, as well as other social media platforms like Facebook,” said Breyer in an interview with BoomTown this morning, answering a question about previous tensions between Twitter and UberMedia. “There will be a lot of efforts to monetize Twitter and there is no silver bullet.”

Index Ventures and Steve Case’s Revolution Ventures also participated in the round.

The company did not reveal the amount raised, nor the valuation for UberMedia.

But many like him are trying to find a way to monetize the huge microblogging platform–including Twitter–and take advantage of its enormous scale.

Gross founded the start-up last spring.

Armed with $3.5 million in venture funding from a group of leading investors, including Index, Revolution, betaworks, First Round Capital and angel investors such as Mahalo’s Jason Calacanis and BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis.

Started in Gross’s Idealab start-up incubator and called TweetUp (and then PostUp), it was initially cast as a keyword-based bidding marketplace akin to Overture/Goto.com, the first paid search system he created a decade ago.

TweetUp also offered an organic search service to surface the best tweets. This put it at odds on several fronts with Twitter, which began to aggressively move to take over key parts of its business that had largely been left to third-party developers.

That still remains UberMedia’s essential goal, and Breyer hopes that the new investment will show Twitter that UberMedia hopes to work in harmony with it, as other developers have done successfully with Facebook. (Accel and Breyer himself are big investors in the social networking giant, so he should know.)

“Like Twitter, we want to drive the customer experience,” he said, pointing out successes such as the Zynga gaming service. “This is a lot like Facebook several years ago and cooperation worked out well for everyone.”

Here’s the official press release:

Accel Partners Leads Investment Round in UberMedia, Jim Breyer Joins Board of Directors

PASADENA, Calif.–February 14, 2011–UberMedia, the leading independent provider of applications for reading and posting to Twitter and other social media platforms, today announced that it completed a financing round led by Jim Breyer of Accel Ventures. Existing investors Steve Case of Revolution Ventures and Danny Rimer of Index Ventures also participated.

“At UberMedia, our goal is to enhance the Twitter experience with functionality in our clients and to be the best partner with Twitter in growing and enhancing their ecosystem,” said Bill Gross, Founder and CEO. “In particular, the addition of Jim Breyer to our board will really enable us to succeed at this mission. His experience on the boards of Wal-Mart, Facebook, Marvel Entertainment, Dell and so many other high-profile consumer brands will be particularly helpful.”

“We’ve been watching closely Bill’s efforts at UberMedia to build upon the ground-breaking communications platform created by Twitter,” said Jim Breyer of Accel Partners. “We see a tremendous business in the kinds of innovations in user experience being developed at UberMedia. The result of these efforts will be an expansion in the number and variety of people engaged with Twitter as well as a method for advertisers to reach consumers in highly targeted and relevant ways.”

And here are two video interview I did with Gross last April when the company was founded:


[ See post to watch video ]


[ See post to watch video ]

Exclusive: Andreessen Horowitz Invests $80 Million in Twitter


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Andreessen Horowitz has invested more than $80 million in Twitter via purchasing stock in private secondary markets.

When called about it by BoomTown, a spokeswoman at the high-profile Silicon Valley venture firm confirmed the purchase.

To be clear, Twitter does not get this money–early investors and employees able to sell their privately held Twitter shares do.

Buying into the secondary markets–which have recently attracted some controversy and regulatory scruntiny–has become a common way for VCs to invest in a hot start-up without a complex and competitive funding bake-off.

The move is an interesting one, since Andreessen Horowitz was not part of the recent $200 million round of venture funding at the San Francisco microblogging company, led by Kleiner Perkins at a $3.75 billion valuation.

Sources said that the firm made the move because it is already deeply invested in other key companies in the social space, including gaming giant Zynga, location-focused Foursquare, local discounting phenom Groupon and general social networking behemoth Facebook.

Apparently, Twitter makes it a full basketball team.

The investment by the firm gives more perceptual boost to Twitter, which is still trying to create a lucrative business model for itself, focused on advertising.

It needs to, if it want to stay independent for the long haul.

While an IPO is a possibility, so is an acquisition. Several months ago, while it was doing its funding round, Twitter had incoming interest from Facebook, which lobbed in a $5 billion soft offer, as well from Google.

Exclusive: Former Facebook Ad Head Mike Murphy Takes Senior Advisor Role at Zynga


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Mike Murphy–Facebook’s first head of advertising sales, who left the social networking giant in October to take some personal time off–seems done with relaxing.

He is now taking a part-time, but significant, role at online gaming phenom Zynga to help formulate its advertising strategy.

In addition, Murphy is also close to formalizing a consulting relationship with Facebook.

Given there has been strong interest from more obvious Facebook competitors in retaining Murphy–including Google and Twitter–his move to Zynga is probably the best outcome for it.

Although the relationship has been tense at times, Zynga remains one of Facebook’s major strategic partners.

Facebook has reportedly been close to filling Murphy’s job, talking to several major online ad execs recently, but has not yet replaced him.

While it is not clear what Murphy will be doing for Facebook, where former Google exec David Fischer runs the ad business, Murphy’s role at Zynga will be quite deep and could expand over time even more.

It will include overseeing the development of Zynga’s advertising strategy, team growth and advertising products, and creating new relationships with top brands.

After being contacted by BoomTown about the new job, Murphy confirmed it and said in a statement:

“Social games are becoming a core way for marketers to engage with their customers. Zynga’s network of games have created an incredible opportunity for advertisers to create passionate relationships and emotional connections with their customers.”

Indeed, as it moves toward an inevitable IPO later this year, Zynga is upping its focus on building its advertising business, aiming at selling its fast-growing audience and the frequency and engagement they use its casual gaming products.

At Zynga, Murphy will lead and build the team, scaling its relationships with big-name partners.

The company has already dipped its toe in this arena, integrating some major brands into its games in recent campaigns.

Such online-offline customer efforts, although early, have had strong adoption, such as a recent one to plant branded blueberry crops–organic!–in its flagship FarmVille game for General Mills cereals.

There has also been a McDonald’s-branded farm in FarmVille. (McReally.)

Interestingly, in an inside-Silicon-Valley-baseball way, the move to Zynga will reunite Murphy, the former Yahoo exec who ran global advertising strategy for Facebook for five years, with Owen Van Natta.

Van Natta was once COO of Facebook and hired Murphy there. He is now EVP of Business at Zynga.

Along with Murphy, Van Natta has also brought in Dani Dudeck as communications head from Myspace, where he had a rocky tenure as CEO of the News Corp. unit.

And Katie Geminder, who was a design and user interface exec at both Facebook and Myspace, is also now at Zynga in a similar full-time role.

At the time he announced his departure from Facebook in the fall, Murphy said he had decided to step down in order to take some personal time off, noting that hundreds of nights on the road over the years had been enough.

“For the last five years of hyper-growth here, I have been focused on Facebook,” said Murphy. “Now, I felt it was time to shift that focus to my family.”

And now, apparently, to Zynga.