Friday, October 23, 2009

Branson Takes On Web Gaming

Virgin Games has become the latest contender in the online gaming arena with its announcement of "A World of My Own," created in cooperation with Game Domain International. The service enters a market already packed with competing providers. One thing in the Virgin service's favor, however, is its aim to host tournaments and award prizes.

To outsiders, it may often seem that video gamers live in a world of their own. That perception will soon come closer to reality following the announcement Monday that Richard Branson's Virgin Games division has partnered with Game Domain International (GDI) to form a new PC game download service, "A World Of My Own" (AWOMO).

The service, set to debut in the second half of 2007, will offer gamers access to a variety of streamed games over a high speed delivery service, the companies said. Set within a virtual 3-D world, the AWOMO platform, according to Virgin and GDI, "aims to replicate the functionality of iTunes, making it quicker and cheaper for gamers to download their favorite games." AWOMO will initially charge gamers on a pay-per-game-play basis or on a subscription.

"This is a really exciting development for us, as it gives us the opportunity to do for PC games what iTunes has done for music," Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin, said. "The GDI technology will revolutionize how the mass market will play games and will give them more choice for less money."

It's a Gamers' World

The PC game market, with US$970 million in revenues in 2006, at times seems to be the ugly stepsister to the console game industry, which generated record breaking revenues of $12.5 billion in 2006, according to the NPD Group. However, GDI and Virgin believe that AWOMO will "significantly accelerate the growth of the total games market -- already valued at $25 billion."

Beleaguered by high distribution costs and piracy, the PC game industry has suffered a 44 percent decrease in sales Download 17 Rules of the Road for CRM. since its all-time high of $1.1 billion in 1999. AWOMO will remove some of the stress the industry has labored under by providing its users with rapid download speeds, increased security Barracuda Spam Filter – Free Evaluation Unit and an easy-to-use interface, the companies said.

Security is a major problem for the PC game industry, Michael Cai, an analyst at Parks Associates Latest News about Parks Associates, told TechNewsWorld. Many PC games are trafficked on peer-to-peer networks. An online service with strong copyright protections would help to remedy the problem.

"There's a reason why you cannot rent PC games from Blockbuster -- gamers can copy those games onto their PCs," Cai explained. "Digital distribution of video games, combined with the right DRM technology, can help lessen this issue."
Same Service, Different Provider

AWOMO enters a market packed with major players. Several companies already offer their own online game services such as Extent Technologies, IGN Direct2Drive, Valve's Steam Engine and Real Networks Arcade. Digital distribution companies include Wild Tangent, MSN Latest News about MSN, Yahoo Latest News about Yahoo, Big Fish, AOL and others. On the surface, the new service does not seem to bring anything new to the digital distribution, according to Cai.

"Based on its claim of being the iTunes [of gaming], I assume it will focus on user interface design and perhaps support for portable gaming platforms," Cai suggested. "However, no one knows all the details at this point. This is just another big firm jumping into the gaming space."

One thing in AWOMO's favor, however, is its aim to host tournaments and award prizes. Those are great incentives for gamers to play online games, he noted.

As another player joins the digital download bandwagon, will CD-ROM-based games eventually become a nifty relic of the old gaming days? Retail PC games, Cai replied, have been falling year over year. Digital distribution of PC games is definitely growing rapidly, but the transition will be a long process.

"Publishers still want the marketing Email Marketing Software - Free Demo visibility at retail and they want to play it safe with the big retailers," he continued. "Plus, not everyone has broadband, yet."


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stock Trading Halted Because Of ... Spam

Last September, Internet spam messages touting the stock of Covina-based Healtheuniverse Inc. started landing in e-mail in-boxes across the country.

The "hot biopharmaceutical stock," the messages promised, was "getting ready to explode!!!"

It did — for two days. Amid a surge in trading volume, the share price nearly doubled, to 22 cents, before declining steadily over the following week and eventually falling below its pre-spam price.

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday took a big step in its crackdown on the spam stock touts that crowd millions of in-boxes: The agency suspended trading in Healtheuniverse and 34 other obscure stocks for 10 days.

Regulators say the spam campaigns behind those and other stocks appear to be an electronic twist on the decades-old "pump and dump" scam, in which manipulators load up on a small stock, tout it aggressively and sell it at a profit after unsuspecting investors take the bait and pile in.

Some of the e-mails about the stocks suspended Thursday urged investors to "ride the bull" or get "fast money," the SEC said. One of the 35 companies claimed to be in the anti-spam business.

"When spam clogs our mailboxes, it's annoying," SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said. "When it rips off investors, it's illegal and destructive."

The SEC described what it called Operation Spamalot — a reference to a hit Broadway play — as its largest crackdown on stock spammers. Investors in the 35 stocks lost tens of millions of dollars by jumping in, the agency said.

The SEC estimates that 100 million stock spam messages are sent every week.

R. Cromwell Coulson, chief executive of Pink Sheets, operator of an electronic market on which 34 of the suspended stocks traded, said that although some people who reacted to stock spam were simply foolish, others knew what the messages were but gambled that they could get out before a stock plummeted.

"It's people who say, 'Maybe I got the spam first. There may be more idiots after me,' " Coulson said. "If you're buying something because you got a spam e-mail, you deserve what you're getting."

The SEC said it suspended trading in the shares because it had questions about the adequacy and accuracy of information investors were given about the companies. The agency is trying to determine who sent the spams and whether any of the companies were involved, said Bruce Karpati, assistant director of the SEC's New York office.

The SEC is barred by law from imposing trading suspensions beyond 10 days. But if it determines that a company's statements are inadequate or misleading it can sue to revoke the registration of the securities.

Healtheuniverse did not respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

In a news release in August, Healtheuniverse said it sought to be "the first to commercialize stem cell applications in the $15-billion worldwide plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery market."

The stocks of two other Southern California companies were suspended: WayPoint Biomedical Holdings Inc. of Huntington Beach and Asgard Holdings Inc. of Escondido.

WayPoint sells Hangover-Free Patch, which people paste to their arms before drinking alcohol to prevent hangovers the next morning, said Steven Fox, its chief executive. It's sold at convenience stores, he said.

WayPoint noticed spam touting its stock a year ago and notified the SEC, Fox said. The company had nothing to do with the e-mails and has always given investors accurate information, he said.

"This is something that hurts the honest investor and has a negative effect on the companies," Fox said.

Asgard officials could not be reached for comment.

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