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Goldstuck on Gadgets

The game’s the next big thing

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The classic arcade games are making a comeback ‚ on smartphones. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK unpacks the new era in gaming.

Who remembers playing Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-man, or Galaxian at games arcades and in the back of corner cafes?

That would be a sign of a mis-spent youth somewhere between the late 1970s and early 1990s, before the Internet began its own great invasion.

I blame those games for the extra year or two it took to finish my university degree, but also for guiding me down the path to a fascination with computers. And they were a pointer to what social networking would become a few decades later: immersive, interactive and addictive.

And now, even as new games arrive to offer just that terrible trio of attractions, the old games are back, this time in the form of mini-applications, or apps, for phones.

You can blame Wayne Irving II, who labels himself ‚Chief Gamer and Pinball Wizard‚ at an app developer called Iconosys.

He still bears the scars of his own misspent childhood: ‚My first real date was at an arcade in the bowling alley in Kissimmee, Florida. I guess my plan to impress my date with my arcade gaming skills backfired: I was so nervous that all I could do was play Centepede and Galaxian to show off my stuff, and the girl I was with ended feeling ignored and left out.‚

Decades later, Irving has found closure. His company has created versions of Galaxian, Space Invaders and Asteroids for the mobile phone. The versions of the latter two created for Android phones and tablets are called Android Invaders and Anderoids (See gameplay samples at http://www.youtube.com/iconosysgames). However, the games have also been repurposed for the iPhone and iPad.

The significance of these three games lies in the fact that they sparked the global video game industry when they were launched in 1978 and 1979 by Atari and Namco. While pinball machines survived the onslaught, they were never able to match the popularity of those games. In Japan, they caused a shortage of 100-yen coins. In my university residence, you could sell 20c coins at a rate of four for a Rand.

We may not see that kind of frenzy physically today, as the gaming model has moved from per-play to per-download and to buying virtual goods inside games. But that means far more people playing the games, and a far larger population of gamers than at any time in history.

Angry Birds, possibly the most popular game in history, is played by an estimated 30-million people a day. The latest episode in the tale of the annoyed avians, Angry Birds Space, was downloaded 10-million times in the three days following its release last month. In total, the franchise has had more than 700-million downloads.

That dwarfs the popularity of Farmville, the Facebook game that at its height probably destroyed more productivity than real-world traffic. Farmville’s creator, Zynga, raised $1-billion when it went public late last year, valuing the company at $9-billion. It makes four of the five most popular games on Facebook, including CityVille and Texas HoldEm Poker. Around 200-million people play their games a month.

So, when they saw a new gaming app called Draw Something catch fire in the Apple App Store, with 35-million downloads in its first six weeks ‚ not to mention a billion drawings made with the app in one week ‚ the were quick on the draw. They bought the game’s creator, OMGPOP, for $200-million.

Facebook doesn’t buy games, but took Zynga’s lead barely two weeks later. They bought the photo-sharing app, Instagram, for $1-billion. There is little doubt they were spurred on by the fact that Instagram had 30-million users at a time when it was only available for iPhones, and that it had just been released for Android phones. That made it a potential threat on Facebook’s home turf, photo sharing. Instagram also strengthens their position in the mobile arena, where they already have a massive presence with mobile apps for chat and general usage. For them, gaming is more of an add-on, to keep the anti-social coming back to the social network.

Last year, in South Africa, 59% of cellphone users said they played games on their phone, a figure expected to grow to 71% this year. Those were mostly basic, free games, and they were hardly as addictive as the new generation making its way onto phones. So we can expect the figure to rise, especially when the newcomers are also the games that started it all a generation ago.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget and heads up World Wide Worx. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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A device to start reinventing yourself – today

A new fitness device, coupled with a new starting date for new year’s resolutions, could be the real route to reinvention, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK as he tries the Fitbit Versa 2.

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Forget about New Year’s Resolutions that began on January 1. By now, that’s probably what you’ve done anyway. By the end of January, eight out of ten people are likely to have failed to maintain their resolutions. That means the gyms are getting less crowded, friends and colleagues are becoming less painful about brief obsessions, and the media has stopped trying to make you feel guilty.

But there is another reason 1 January was an appalling date to start trying to improve yourself. Not only were you likely to be in recovery mode, but you were also firmly in holiday mode, with little incentive to get out of bed on the day. It also meant that, as you and your body emerged from vacation inertia, it remained inordinately difficult for several weeks to get motivated. And that translates into January and February being recipes for failure of resolve.

This is why the new date for kicking off New Year’s resolutions should be 1 March. By then, you are fully back in the swing of adulting, the world has stopped pressurising you to change yourself, and you can set your own pace. This also means that you can tackle your resolutions step by step, rather than going for the big bang approach.

This revelation came to me as I began exploring the functionality of what is arguably the best fitness monitoring device on the market. The Fitbit Versa 2 looks good, works well as a smartwatch, and has tremendous functionality onboard. But use it in tandem with the Fitbit app, and it becomes the wellness assistant that your doctor could never be.

First, those looks.  Aesthetically, the Versa 2 has a far better design than the original Versa 1, opting for a more square design and a better AMOLED display instead of a regular LCD display. This makes it far easier to read the screen in brighter daylight conditions, and helps the smartwatch save battery life by not illuminating every pixel. It offers customisable watch faces, from a community-based library. Want your watch to display Van Gogh’s Starry Night? It’s yours, with a few clicks.

The body is made of aluminium, which gives a nod in the right direction to those who prefer a smarter looking smartwatch. This places it in the league of the most expensive smartwatches, while still retailing at less than half the cost –  under R4,000 compared to the Apple Watch starting at R9,000.

Visit the next page to read more about the functionality of the Versa 2.

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Mobile World Congress canning sends shockwaves

The cancellation of Mobile World Congress forces industry to rethink strategies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The technology industry has just witnessed unthinkable: the cancellation of one of the world’s biggest trade shows, barely 10 days before it was due to kick off.

Just hours after show organisers GSMA insisted the show would go on, the CEO of GSMA, John Hoffman, issued a statement announcing its canning.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” he said. “The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.”

The cancellation comes as numerous heavyweight exhibitors pulled out due to fears of COVID-19, the coronavirus. These included Ericsson, Intel, Amazon, Nvidia, Sony, ZTE, Cisco, Amdocs, and Facebook. Others, like TCL, Xiaomi, Huawei, and Samsung all announced they had scaled down their activities.

GSMA initially insisted that, with 2,800 exhibitors, it had enough safeguards in place to ensure the event would go on. However, it appears to have pre-empted a bandwagon of further withdrawals.

The cancellation will force numerous major industry players to rethink their launch strategies. Few seemed to have contingency plans in place, with Ericsson and Sony notable exceptions.

Ericsson, the first major exhibitor to withdraw, included in its announcement last Friday, 7 February, that it would showcase the company’s portfolio and innovations in local events.

“Ericsson will take the demos and content created for MWC Barcelona to customers in their home markets with local events called ‘Ericsson Unboxed’,” it announced.

Sony said its press conference would still take place at the scheduled time of 8:30am Central European Time on February 24, but “as a video via our official Xperia YouTube channel”.

Other exhibitors may well turn to similar strategies, but smaller businesses that had hoped MWC would put them on the map will have to pursue traditional marketing strategies. Those that had hoped to showcase breakthrough technologies or demonstrate the possibilities of 5G, for example, will have to look to alternative events.

ShowStoppers, a major preview event and media attraction at MWC every year, had announced on Tuesday it would still go ahead, but had no option in announcing its cancellation a day later. However, it runs the event at most major tech expos, and will have the opportunity to pull exhibitors into other regional shows.

“We will continue to collaborate with GSMA,” said ShowStoppers partner Steve Leon. “We look forward to connecting journalists with our partner companies as they launch new products and technologies at ShowStoppers events planned for MWC Los Angeles 2020, IFA 2020 in Berlin, CES 2021 in Las Vegas, and, of course, MWC Barcelona 2021.”

IFA, held in Berlin every year at the end of August, is the world’s biggest tech expo by attendees, although not by floorspace. However, it is likely to be given a massive boost this year as it attracts many of the launches that would have been confined to MWC. The Los Angeles MWC event, due in October, is tiny by comparison, drawing just over 20,000 attendees, and is unlikely to take up the slack. 

Visit the next page to read about the knock-on impact of the cancellation and to see who is the big winner of MWC being cancelled.

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