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Shooting for Video Game Success

The Game Cube Advanced site will surely take issue with Pegoraro's slam. The site yesterday reported that Nintendo's holiday elves are busy this gift-buying season. "Nintendo of America issued a press release today emphasizing just how hard the company's Consumer Service Department as a whole works during the week between Christmas and the New Year. ... The Big N prides itself on keeping its reps employed in the U.S. in a time when outsourcing is very common in the business world," the site said. "How busy is Nintendo's Consumer Service Department during this time of year? Typically, reps respond to 37,500 phone calls, 7,500 e-mails and 500 letters a week. During 'Crunch Week', the reps respond to over 90,000 inquiries."

How About Some ID for That Game?

Kids and teens are a big part of the video game craze, but not all games are kid friendly. The San Francisco Chronicle gives a primer on buying video games. "In just the past few months, game publishers have released some of the biggest titles for this generation of consoles. One reason behind this bonanza is an expectation that the next-generation gaming consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo may be out either at the end of next year or in 2006. That means that this may be the last major holiday selling season for video games that run on the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox," the newspaper said. "The bad news is that most of the games are rated M, for Mature, by the industry's Entertainment Software Rating Board, mostly for violence and gore. In fact, parents who are unfamiliar with video game titles may want to pay special attention to the board's content ratings and short descriptors. The games are rated EC for Early Childhood; E for Everyone; T for Teens, or 13 years old and up; M for Mature, or 17 years old and up; and AO for adults only, or 18 years old and up."
The San Francisco Chronicle: Flood of New Titles Not Geared For Kids

_____About Filter_____
Filter looks at the day's top technology news through snapshots and analysis of what the world's media outlets are covering. Washingtonpost.com's new Mon.-Fri. feature is penned by technology reporter Cynthia L. Webb. If a technology story breaks, a company falters or triumphs, or there's a new trend in technology, Filter wants you to know about it.

_____Filter Archive_____
The Year in Technology (washingtonpost.com, Dec 22, 2004)
The Incredible Edible iPod (washingtonpost.com, Dec 20, 2004)
Santa's Bag of Tech Mergers (washingtonpost.com, Dec 17, 2004)
iPod: The Gift That Keeps on Going (washingtonpost.com, Dec 16, 2004)
Nice Day for a Wireless Wedding (washingtonpost.com, Dec 15, 2004)
More Past Issues
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An article on the same theme ran in the Sacramento Bee over the weekend, noting that: "With the gift-buying season in full swing, teens and 'tweens are writing out wish lists with typical glee. Two likely items: video game best-seller 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' and Eminem's new album, 'Encore.' Both are considered 'mature media,' and both are wildly popular, having already sold 2 million copies each. And they carry ratings that say they're unfit for children. What's a parent to do? There's no easy answer -- many experts say there is no right age for kids to be exposed to mature content," the article says. It goes on to offer a few tips, which assume that parents have and will take the time to do diligent reviews of games before going to the cash register. "The rating system is just one guideline. To learn more about the games on a child's wish list, parents can ask other parents who have experience with the game. They also can use the Internet, visiting sites such as ign.com to read a review, or the game's Web page to play a demo version. For console games, it's easy to rent one and try it out for a few days."
The Sacramento Bee: Ready of Not?

Forget the Ratings, Gaming Is Good for You

Just in time for the game crunch: A study is out to offer up some virtues of video game playing. I am guessing a study is forthcoming on how being a coach potato is healthy. The study found that surgeons who play video games are more precise. Reuters reported more details: "If Dr. James Rosser Jr. had his way, every surgeon in America would have three indispensable tools on the operating room tray: a scalpel, sutures, and a video game controller. Rosser looks like a football player and cracks jokes like a comic, but his job as a top surgeon and director of the Advanced Medical Technologies Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York is to find better ways to practice medicine. At the top of his list -- video games," the wire service reported. "Surgeons who play video games three hours a week have 37 percent fewer errors and accomplish tasks 27 percent faster, he says, basing his observation on results of tests using the video game 'Super Monkey Ball.'"
Reuters: Doctors Use Video Games To Hone Skills

An Uba-Game Deal

The consolidation craze in the software industry is alive and kicking for video game companies too. Electronic Arts has bought a nearly 20 percent stake in French rival Ubisoft Entertainment. "Microsoft and Sony will introduce more powerful game consoles in 2005 or 2006 to allow movielike quality, smooth motion and bigger games. To keep up, game makers must spend more on development, raising the risk per title. Electronic Arts had 27 game titles that sold more than one million copies each in the most recent fiscal year, compared with Ubisoft's 7," Bloomberg reported. "Shares in Ubisoft, whose games include Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow, rose 25 percent, to 21.16 euros in Paris, for a market value of 374 million euros ($501 million). The shares had their biggest gain since they started trading in July 1996."
Bloomberg via The New York Times: Electronic Arts Buys Stake In a Rival Game Maker In France (Registration required)

Electronic Arts is not showing all of its cards yet, but an all-out acquisition of Ubisoft could happen some day. "But some analysts said they didn't expect EA -- which earned $577 million on $3 billion in sales in its 2004 fiscal year -- to be satisfied with this minority stake," the Los Angeles Times reported today. "We believe that this move by EA is a step towards acquiring the entire Ubisoft and is a potential signal that EA may be willing to take similar aggressive moves to acquire other leading video game publishers," Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter said in a research note, according to the paper.
Los Angeles Times: Electronic Arts To Buy Major Stake In Ubisoft (Registration required)

Santa's Gigantic Helper

This is the equivalent of the Super Bowl for Amazon.com. The online retailer is at its busiest during the holiday season and the Seattle-based company's procurement operations were put under the magnifying glass by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Seattle Times in articles today. The Chronicle sent a reporter to an Amazon packing and shipping center in Nevada. "Amazon's customers probably don't consider what it takes to get their orders to their doorsteps. But as soon as they click the buy button, a frenzy of activity is set in motion at facilities like this one in Fernley, a small town in the sagebrush 30 miles east of Reno," the Chronicle reported. "That was especially true last week, on what was potentially the busiest day of the holiday shopping season for Amazon. Hundreds of workers were picking items from shelves, boxing them, gift wrapping and driving them away in trucks to points across the country. Watching out for any wrinkle was Jeff Wilke, the company's senior vice president for global operations. His obsession is 'piles,' the accumulation of boxes or products that are the telltale sign of a backed-up system and a potential threat to on-time deliveries."

More from the Chronicle: "Amazon, the biggest online retailer, expects these holidays to be another record breaker. After hemorrhaging money during its infancy, the company has become consistently profitable during the past five quarters. Its shares finished trading Monday at $38.95, down from a 52-week high of $57.82. Amazon's Fernley facility, a largely windowless concrete box opened in 1999, is the size of four aircraft carrier flight decks. Snaking through the center -- and creating a constant din -- are 9 miles of conveyor belts."
San Francisco Chronicle: Amazon Perfects New Process of Packaging Multiple Orders

The Seattle Times also reported from the Fernley facility, which is an indication that Amazon scored a PR coup by trotting around reporters to get people to write about their efficient operation in time for the holidays. Shoppers will be the true test of this, as will post-holiday reports of whether gifts were shipped out on time. An excerpt from the Times, which explained that the Nevada facility is Amazon's largest. "It's the online retailer's fixation with refining the way it picks, packs and ships items that has enabled it to challenge one of the largest barriers to e-commerce: shipping fees. Amazon helped to pioneer the free-shipping concept when it offered free shipping on orders of $99 or more during the 1999 holiday season. The company extended the offer to customers year-round in January 2000 and lowered the threshold to orders of $25 or more later the same year -- an offer that still stands. Free shipping, combined with deeply discounted items, became a powerful incentive for customers to shop at Amazon, helping the online retailer recharge sales growth," the paper said. "For the four days of Thanksgiving weekend, consumer electronics surpassed books for the first time as Amazon's largest sales category, as customers took advantage of deeply discounted items and free shipping that applied to even bulkier products, including certain TVs."
The Seattle Times: Pick, Pack and Ship And Deliver Profit

Suprnova Falls Into Blck Hole

The BitTorrent-based file sharing site Suprnova.org has gone dark, the Associated Press reported last night. "One of the Web's most popular file-sharing sites has shut down less than a week after Hollywood announced a flurry of lawsuits against operators of such Internet servers. A note posted on Suprnova.org, which facilitated sharing among users of the BitTorrent program, said the site was 'closing down for good.' The collection of links to downloadable files, including music, movies and books, was taken down."
The Associated Press via washingtonpost.com: Popular File-Sharing Site Shuts Down (Registration required)

CNET also reported on Suprnova's closure and signaled that file-trading will go further underground with the development. The Motion Picture Association of America's "actions have put pressure on a short list of large Web sites that had served as hubs for the BitTorrent community and that had operated for months or even years. Many of those sites have now vanished almost overnight, including the SuprNova.org site that was by far the most popular gathering point for the community, serving more than a million people a day, according to one academic study. The disappearance of the big sites is unlikely to eliminate BitTorrent swapping altogether, but it does bring to a close an era of operating in the open without fear of legal reprisals. The resulting shift to the underground will likely make files harder to find, as traders move onto private networks or smaller communities, file-swapping insiders said."
CNET's News.com: BItTorrent File-Swapping Networks Face Crisis

File-sharing of course is popular for music. Services like Apple's iTunes pay-for-play music service operate in cooperation with the recording industry. ITunes Window version, however, has been acting and crashing when some customers try to purchase songs, CNET's News.com reported. "Beginning late last week, some Apple users noticed that the Windows version of iTunes would abruptly quit just as they were in the process of purchasing music from the online store. By Monday, more than three dozen users were complaining about the problem in Apple's online forum. An Apple representative declined to comment."
CNET's News.com: Glitch Blocks Some iTunes Music Sales

Filter is designed for hard-core techies, news junkies and technology professionals alike. Have suggestions, cool links or interesting tales to share? Send your tips and feedback to cindyDOTwebbATwashingtonpost.com. (Yes, those spammers have been having a lot of fun with my e-mail address lately.)


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