Game Network Newsletter - April 2013

April 2013 (Back to archive)


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Volker Hirsch, director of business development, gaming at BlackBerry, discusses Unity support for the BlackBerry 10, the upcoming BlackBerry 10 add-on, and plans for game developer events.


Volker Hirsch
Volker Hirsch

Q: Volker, Unity recently announced support for both the recently launched BlackBerry 10 and the BlackBerry Playbook. What exactly does that mean for BlackBerry and its future as a gaming platform?

Volker Hirsch: The support from a leading engine and development frameworks for games like Unity solidifies the work we are doing to make BlackBerry a leading game platform. Unity has been great to work with and building this partnership was a priority for us. According to some analysts, about half of all smartphone games use their frameworks. We have strived to make working on BlackBerry 10 as easy as possible; developers should be able to work with their tools of choice on our platform and Unity is an important part of that. BlackBerry 10 is probably the easiest platform for game developers to address today and this is no mean feat given the speed with which the platform was created. We are very committed to making developers' lives easier. We made a lot of effort to support a broad range of tools, including Marmalade, Cocos 2Dx, Box 2D, Shiva 3D, Open GLES, Open AL, Lua, etc.

Q: I understand that a beta version of the BlackBerry 10 add-on for Unity's cross-platform development environment will be made available to a limited number of developers in the spring with the final release expected to be available in this summer. What's that all about ... and what will developers want to know about the add-on?

Hirsch : The release schedule for the BlackBerry 10 version of Unity follows the regular cycle these things do -- you test with a small alpha panel, then you run a closed beta to gather more input, you open it up, and you go gold.

The BlackBerry 10 version of Unity will boast all the bells and whistles of Unity 4 and will have full feature parity with other leading platforms.

On further news regarding timing and releases, stay tuned and listen in at GDC.

Q: You said recently that previous iterations of the BlackBerry OS were not that easy for game developers to address but that now you are focusing on three areas with game developers in mind -- ease, scale, and monetization. What did you mean by that?

Hisch : I said it earlier and I'll say it again -- we are very committed to making it easy for developers to address our platform. Developers should ideally not have to worry about integration questions but be able to focus on creating great games. And this is why we provide them with this plethora of tools.

My second point was actually about discoverability. However, when it comes to scale, we are happy to report it's going well and the numbers are certainly encouraging. We know people are looking for competitive platforms out there, and we are convinced we have it. In the UK, we sold three times as many handsets as in our previously best-ever launch. And even in emerging economies like India, we experienced much, much faster sell-through than we had anticipated.

It's probably no exaggeration that monetization is the cause of many headaches for developers. Making money shouldn't be hard and platform providers should be stepping up here to offer as many avenues for discoverability as possible and to make billing easy. We have said that we built BlackBerry 10 with developers in mind. This is a huge part of what we've done. BlackBerry 10 has BBM and the Scoreloop-powered games app built in. Both help to discover games and activate powerful social networks. Developers can use our BBM API to allow users to recommend and share games, challenge each other, gift items, and a lot more. Our games app adds a separate dedicated entry point for games -- anchored on the home screen, it allows people to quickly discover games their friends are playing and interact with them effortlessly. The powerful Scoreloop SDK allows developers to incorporate social tools right into their game.

When it comes to billing, BlackBerry has a huge advantage, which is our ability to offer carrier billing with a single billing API and a straight 70/30 split to developers. We currently have more than 85 carriers across the globe offering carrier billing integration, and we add more every month. We also offer credit card and PayPal billing.

This comes on top of BlackBerry traditionally monetizing slightly better than most of its competitors, and this in spite of the fact that the legacy BlackBerry OS was arguably not built with gamers in mind. We have good reason to believe that this will accelerate with our BlackBerry 10 platform.

BlackBerry like most other OEMs used J2ME as a development environment for applications on its previous OS. In particular for games, this means some natural constraints, and with BlackBerry 10 and its clean, standards-compliant C-based platform, we could remove all of these.

Q: So what's your strategy for GDC 2013? What will BlackBerry be up to at the show?

Hirsch : We will be showing developers our new BlackBerry 10 platform and demonstrating its power and ease. We will also show a couple of things that should be very exciting for the geeks among us -- gamepad support built right in will be one of them. We will have our own booth with tons of support and demos. We will be present on the Unity booth and run a number of sessions to educate people further. And, yes, we will probably have some goodies, too.

There was an early post-mortem by a developer, Nlogn Information's Charilaos Kalogirou, on Gamasutra that showed there are a lot of misconceptions out there about BlackBerry. His final words were: "In closing, I must admit that the overall feeling was that of things working effortlessly. The whole porting effort took two to three days, with one of the days working with a fever. I would suggest that all indie developers take a look at this platform."

So we want to show that off to everyone.

Q: I hear that BlackBerry and Unity are planning developer events in both North America and Europe. Can you fill me in on when those will happen and why devs will want to attend?

Hirsch : We do plan a number of events around the world as we want to make sure that we get people maximum visibility to learn how they can make best use of Unity's powerful tools. We are currently busy putting the schedules together and will make sure to shout about it once this is done.

We believe that game developers will want to learn about deploying their games on a new platform that is powerful, easy, and offers them greater chances to make money on than most others. With promising sales numbers and a controlled environment -- bear in mind that BlackBerry controls hardware, OS, and ecosystem -- while maintaining a very standards-compliant approach, we believe we are offering developers a very good deal. Add Unity to the mix, and what's not to like?

Check out our BlackBerry Live site for more information on our own upcoming developer and user conference. It's going to be a great launch year!

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This Issue | Microsoft

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Mike Yuen, senior director of business development for Qualcomm Technologies, chats about the new Snapdragon 600/800 chips, why Qualcomm won't be building its own handheld, and AR support for
game devs.

Mike Yuen
Mike Yuen

Q: Mike, the new Snapdragon 600 and 800 chips are said to be the first mobile processors to receive certification for OpenGL ES 3.0. And the Adreno 300-series GPUs used in the chips will be supporting that new API, which is great for game developers. Can you tell me more?

Mike Yuen: Indeed, our Snapdragon processors specifically the upcoming 600 and 800 versions were the first mobile processors to receive certification by the Khronos Group for conformance with OpenGL ES 3.0 specifications. This is the most advanced open standard API for 3D graphics, and I believe that Qualcomm is currently the only company that is shipping mobile processors that have passed this certification so far.

For next-generation 3D graphics, APIs like OpenGL ES 3.0 on Qualcomm's Adreno 320 and 330 GPUs enable more realistic 3D graphics effects. Snapdragon 600 and Snapdragon 800 both support hardware acceleration of advanced rendering features like instancing, occlusion queries, superior ETC2 texture compression, and multiple render targets. OpenGL ES 3.0 enables game programmers to utilize these significant new features and portability enhancements. This is another big step that will help bring game console quality graphics to mobile devices.

The support of new APIs like OpenGL ES 3.0 is just one component of what makes Snapdragon's Adreno graphics so special. Adreno 320 GPU has set the bar and is featured in many of today's most popular smartphones. Consumers will be able to enjoy even better gaming performance in upcoming launches of highly anticipated Snapdragon 600-based devices.

The Adreno 330 GPU that is integrated in Snapdragon 800 devices coming this summer will take mobile graphics even higher with a 50% performance boost. We are very excited that leading mobile graphics performance like this is coming to consumers and developers this year.

Q: Nvidia says it's building its own handheld Android game system (tentatively called Project Shield) but it sounds like Qualcomm isn't interested in pursuing a similar venture. Why wouldn't Qualcomm be interested in following suit and entering that space?

Yuen: It's simple. Our strategy is to work with our customers, providing them with the silicon, software, and integration to make their products the best that they can be instead of building our own hardware or devices.

We have over 770 Snapdragon devices announced or commercially available, with more than 450 Snapdragon designs in development. Of that, we have 40-plus designs in development for our Snapdragon 600 processors and 55-plus designs in development for our Snapdragon 800 processors. That is a lot of devices that will be coming to consumers. Our processors also are at the heart of today's most premium and highly rated devices, powering the Galaxy S3, HTC One, LG Optimus G, Google Nexus 4, Nokia Lumia, and Xperia Z, to name a few.

We don't feel the need to build our own devices to add to our design wins -- the numbers speak for themselves. And part of the reason for such great traction for our high-end processors is the next-generation graphics and gaming experiences they bring to bear.

Q: You'll have space on the expo floor AND sponsored sessions at GDC. What can developers expect to learn by showing up at both?

Yuen: GDC gets bigger and broader every year, and we're excited to be there. Between our sponsored sessions and the Qualcomm Lounge (South Hall, space #100), developers can see all Qualcomm can offer them. We will be hosting two sessions -- "Getting Started With OpenGL ES 3.0: Bringing Your PC Game To Android" and "Case Study: Bringing Vendetta Online, A popular PC And Android game To Windows RT" -- to help developers better understand how to take advantage of mobile opportunities.

The Snapdragon processors are pervasive. There are over 500 commercial Android devices in the market with Qualcomm Snapdragon chips inside and our chips can be found in all of today's high-end devices. At the Qualcomm Lounge, developers will have an opportunity to get hands on with high-powered mobile development platforms, and learn how they can perfect and optimize their games for all these devices. We'll also be showing off some of our software development tools, like the Adreno and Trepn profilers, which are powerful tools for game developers to optimize and tune the performance and power consumption of their mobile games. Additionally, we have Vuforia (augmented reality) and AllJoyn (proximal peer-to-peer connectivity), both of which have some great implications for innovative game designs and development.

All GDC attendees are invited to stop by the Qualcomm Lounge to relax and re-charge with free coffee, energy drinks, beverages and, of course, hands-on experience with the latest technologies. The Qualcomm Lounge will feature today's top-tier Snapdragon-based mobile and tablet devices loaded with a few of the latest games. People can enjoy our popular 4K theater right inside the Lounge, and see the Snapdragon 800 experience in 4K Ultra HD video and 7.1 surround sound. Attendees can also receive a demo of our new audio technology, Headphone:X, which I strongly encourage.

Q: At the recent Mobile World Congress, Qualcomm was talking up augmented reality (AR) -- courtesy of your Vuforia platform. What sort of interest do you think game developers have in AR and what kind of support is Qualcomm giving those that want to incorporate it in their new titles?

Yuen: I think immersive technologies like AR are becoming very appealing to game developers who realize that AR is a very powerful technology for enabling new gaming experiences. There are now more than 45,000 registered developers using Vuforia worldwide creating Android and iOS apps and games using the freely available Vufonia SDK. Game developers who take advantage of AR can certainly get creative in producing amazing gaming experiences for consumers.

The Vuforia SDK for Unity allows developers to build vision-enabled apps within the popular Unity cross-platform game engine. It provides a simple yet powerful way for developers to create sophisticated AR games or to create "unlock" experiences that reveal new game functionality when combined with physical products.

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Paul Hyman
By Paul "The Game Master"Hyman

Paul has covered the videogames industry for over 15 years now, currently writes for Gamasutra.com, and was editor-in-chief of UBM's GamePower.com. He can be reached at phyman@gdmag.com.



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