Gaming News: Google App Store, Zynga ties the knot with Facebook, Aion server mergers, Blizzcon, DS to overtake PS2 in sales

Google shows off some longer term plans

At the I/O developer conference in San Francisco this week, Google announced their plans to launch an online web app store (for Chrome and Chrome OS). Undoubtedly games will feature heavily on the list, and Plants v Zombies and Lego Star Wars (are there any platforms on which those don’t run?) have already been announced.

Possibly of even more interest, Unity Technologies also announced that their 3D engine will run natively in Chrome – that is to say, with no  plugin. At any rate, marketing speak aside, that means that unity based games will run smoothly and quickly in Chrome. It’s certainly good news for Unity developers, and that’s good news for gamers also.

Is Chrome shaping up to be the gamer’s browser of choice? Google certainly hope so.

And in another big announcement, Google introduced an open source royalty free video format, WebM. It will be included as part of HTML5 and, of course, will be supported by YouTube. Adobe plan to build support for the codec into Flash as well.

Farmville Devs sign a 5 year deal with Facebook

A week can be such a long time in gaming politics. Last week everyone was speculating that Zynga planned to dump Facebook and go it alone (as if!) and this week brings the announcement that actually the two companies have signed some sort of cooperation deal for the next 5 years.

Facebook’s plans to force all app developers to use their new facebook credit currency for RMT, so that Facebook can take a cut,  is hardly going to be welcomed by the developers. But we can only speculate about whether Zynga was forced to the table (because they need Facebook more than vice versa), or whether they held the platform owner to a hard bargained deal.

In any case, all is smiles and flowers in the Farmville world. And expect to see facebook credits making a very real bid to become the global internet RMT transaction currency of choice. Scared yet? Well, you can always install a Farmville gamebar on your browser and let Zynga keep tabs on everything that you ever do online …

Playdom buy Acclaim, Perfectworld buys a stake in Runic

There are a couple of company related announcements. Playdom, the social gaming publisher, has acquired Acclaim. Acclaim have developed and run several F2P MMOs so it will be interesting to see what Playdom plans to do with them. I remember liking Chronicles of Spellbourne when I tried it, so let’s hope this leads to good things.

In other news, Runic Games announced that Torchlight had sold 500k copies worldwide since it’s release. Which is excellent for any game. And Perfect World Entertainment (a Chinese MMO Publisher) has acquired a majority stake in the company. We know that Runic had mentioned a MMO version of Torchlight, could Perfect World be the partner to help bring it to market?

Aion Announced Server Mergers

Aion producer released a community letter, with lots of information about forthcoming plans. They’re offering character customisation and transfer options, there are new patches coming soon and information about what’s going on with the Korean patches also even further out.

But it is the server merges that will attract most of the attention. Usually associated with a drop in population, merging servers is a way to bolster existing servers. However, it’s never really been a good sign for the health of a game.

In the same week, Everquest also announced server mergers … but they’ve been running for 10 years, as opposed to less than one.

Blizzcon Tickets to go on Sale on June 2nd and 5th

Put your lucky socks on if you want to snag a ticket to Blizzcon, even at the eye-popping price of $150 they’re bound to sell out immediately. The convention itself will take place on Oct 22/23 in Anaheim and the smart money says that Blizzard will announce their next gen MMO there. The unsmart money (ie. me) is hoping they’ll at least announce a date for Diablo 3.

In other Blizzard related news, they’re trialling a new premium service for WoW in which subscribers who pay an extra $3 per month can access the auction house remotely either from the web or from iDevices. They’re also disabling a naughty addon which made hard raid encounters much easier by allowing you to draw on other people’s screens. I never used it myself, but it does show that the lines between which addon is considered ok and which is forcibly disabled can be very unclear.

Blizzard also resolved their legal issues in Korea by agreeing to everything the Korean Govt asked for, and censoring blood, swearing and cigarettes from Star Craft 2. I imagine there will still be plenty of good, wholesome, old-fashioned genocide though. And apparently the corruption scandal in Korea’s professional Star Craft scene is looking worse the more it gets investigated.

DS to Become Biggest Selling Console of All Time

I love my DS, and it was my faithful companion on many long train journeys to and from my father’s flat when he was ill last year. So I find it heart warming to report that DS sales are likely to overtake those of the PS2 later this year.

It’s just a great little console, and the games have been pitched absolutely perfectly at a puzzle loving, brain training older audience, as well as the usual crop of pokemon (of which I still need to buy the latest sometime) and other kid pleasers. This little console has done a lot to open up the gaming market, and in my opinion, Nintendo deseves all the sales that it gets.

What would it take for MMOs to work on consoles?

There’s been a great story this week originating from an article in Gamasutra where an analyst claims that 1/3 of people who intend to buy God of War 3 don’t currently own the console  to play it (PS3). I thought this was interesting because it highlights one of the ways in which consoles are different from PCs: backwards compatibility.

(Note: it may also mean that people say they’re planning to buy lots of games that they don’t actually buy. If you’d asked me last year I would probably have said I intended to buy Fallout 3. I still do … some day.)

A new console might not run your old games. So before people fork out for the hardware, they’ll wait to be sure that there are enough games out that they’d want to play to make it worthwhile.  God of War 3 may well be a console seller for the PS3, if it tips enough people  over the decision line. Upgrading a PC is a much more predictable operation, and can be done in pieces — ie. upgrade the RAM, upgrade the graphics card, etc. And when you do it, you know that your current favourite games will still run.

MMOs on Consoles

MMOs on consoles have been tried. There’s no special technical reason why it wouldn’t be possible to run one, assuming the net connection. But  you can look at how we play MMOs to see why it might not be that simple.

A lot of people play MMOs with their families. PC games generally assume one user per computer, so if you have multiple MMO players you’ll have more than one machine. This is not the console model. Consoles are sold as being family machines. You’d have one per household. If a game is multiplayer, that means everyone huddled up on the sofa with their own controller, playing via the same box and watching on the same TV/ monitor.

But having more than one person playing an MMO via console means that MMOs would need to work differently. Maybe you’d be running different characters in the same team. Maybe the screen would be split in two (sounds awkward though). But what you couldn’t really do is have one person raiding with their guild while the other went off to explore and do some crafting instead.

It might be that a true console MMO would simply be something quite different to what we have seen before. But in order for consoles to run MMOs the way they currently are, you have to break that one-per-household mindset.

Households like mine which currently have more than one PC, probably with a shared net connection (not doing this would result in divorce ;) ) would have to switch to multiple consoles instead. It’s not impossible that this might happen. I’m sure there are student households where there’s an XBOX in each bedroom.

It will however be a tough nut to crack to persuade the majority of users that they need another console and another monitor just to play with their family.

Which does beg the question: what about handhelds? And this is going to be the key market for console MMOs in my opinion. An iPhone, a DS, a PSP? They could be net-connected. They could run some kind of MMO.

I’d put money on this being where the revolution starts. And if I’ve finished Chronotrigger by then, I’ll be there with my DS at the ready.