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Book Review: Game Over: Press Start to Continue shows what Nintendo taught Microsoft

In what can only be described as the fulfillment of my winter break spiral towards greater levels of nerd-dom, I spent my free time reading Game Over: Press Start to Continue: The Maturing of Mario by David Sheff with some new chapters contributed by Andy Eddy.

Sheff and Eddy’s narrative works both as a fan service and informative business manual. The evolution of Nintendo from a hanafuda card producer to the international leader of the electronic entertainment industry is fascinating–more because of the gradual transition the company takes from traditional business practices to innovating, aggressive tactics than for all the gaming nerd facts. In all truthfulness, I enjoyed the gaming nerd facts as well though.

Shrewd decision-making and almost omniscient planning got Nintendo to the top of the entertainment world, and depending upon what console fanboyism you believe, Nintendo still retains a large market share–especially post-Wii launch–in the gaming and entertainment industry.

The Japanese leadership of Nintendo, led by the third president of the company Hiroshi Yamauchi, made such extensive plans during the early years and development that plans never had to drastically change throughout their rise to domination during the 1990s. The initial plan was so good that Microsoft may have even borrowed from it with their launch of the Xbox.

Back when Nintendo first launched the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the United States, Yamauchi had a dream of integrating an Internet connection (dial-up at the time) to provide a network for its users. This network, Yamauchi thought, would increase their install base and provide greater applications for their console.

Nintendo established a network in Japan allowing stock market access and banking, but due to protests against Nintendo including a lottery service that could fall into the hands of minors, Nintendo never launched its grand network in the U.S. In fact, they practically gave up the idea completely because Nintendo never attempted to integrate a network into a console until their latest offering–the Wii–even though it was part of Yamauchi’s original business plan for the NES. Some say that Minoru Arakawa, Yamauchi’s son-in-law who ran Nintendo of America, never fully accepted the dream.

“By the end of 1992, it appeared that Nintendo would miss out on the enormous opportunity. If it did, the reason would be a lack of vision and commitment to it. Jerry Ruttenbur said the network never flew because Minoru Arakawa didn’t support it in spite of a sound business plan and projections of huge profits. ‘It was Yamouchi’s dream, not Arakawa’s,’ Ruttenbur said. ‘Arakawa never bought into it.'” (Game Over, pg. 397-8)

With the Xbox, one of the crucial selling points at launch was Xbox Live, the premium service that allows all Xbox gamers to connect, compete and share online. Microsoft had both better timing and a greater extent of networking experience when they entered the market, but the fact that their plan was so similar to Nintendo’s original for the NES makes me wonder whether Bill Gates read Game Over.

For more on the history of the industry, read Game Over or check out Play Value, a podcast from ONnetworks that covers the rise of Nintendo and the entertainment industry.

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Business

Why Google’s Android will revolutionize cell phone usage, smartphones

As part of my recent Zen-ifying and simplifying of life, maximizing the amount of productive time in my day, I have downgraded.

I traded in my MDA for a basic Samsung candybar phone. Why would a techie downgrade? Time wasted because smartphones are not good enough for either of their fucntions today. I couldn’t justify using my phone to access the Internet in most situations because my laptop — or a text message to Google — was faster, and when it came to doing normal phone operations, my phone took too long to access a number or dial.

For me, the current gen of smartphones won’t satisfy…then along comes Android. Check out a quick features breakdown.

Major wireless providers haven’t put a great deal of resources into improving the mobile Internet/multi-tasking phone operation. That lack of interest has left the door open for Google to bring their “open” platform.

“The fundamental problem that most phones people have today is that they don’t have fully powered Web browsers,” explained Schmidt, noting that Google so far has to create specially tailored versions of popular applications like search and gmail for mobile devices. Android will encompass a browser that delivers an end-user experience more similar to surfing the PC-based Internet. via MediaPost

Google also has OpenSocial, their newly announced initiative to develop applications for social networks. With a platform like Android built with the same principles, Google might create the same buzz applications that have made Helio and Boost mobile somewhat of a success — bridging the gap between social networks and real life. Speculated applications and leaks have already generated some buzz for the initiative, and with Google’s knowledge of how to make a killer app (Gmail, Google Maps, Google Reader, etc.), they can certainly weed through to find the best of the litter.

I think Google saw what Apple was trying to do with the iPhone and thought to themselves that they could do a better job making an “open” version of that — especially with all the complaints and hacking tools out there. Even though Microsoft may not think that much of the project, Android could revolutionize the way we use our phones and what we demand from a phone OS. Carriers may just have to open everything up instead of locking up our electronics tight.

But they agreed that Google’s new open mobile platform Android would help accelerate expansion of the mobile Internet and pose a serious challenge to carriers’ “walled garden” strategy of tightly controlling content on their phone menus.

While the full implications of the deal are not yet clear, it will make Google a powerful player in the mobile realm as well as in the PC-based Internet world, they say.

“This opens the door for Google to be the network for the operating system the way Microsoft adCenter powers MSN,” says Jeff Janer, former CMO of mobile ad platform Third Screen Media. “So I think the impact will be major.” via MediaPost

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Business

Mark Zuckerberg: He put your face on a book

I think it’s appropriate in this new media landscape that we start off the profiles by talking about an entrepreneur that is as close to my age.

No matter how exactly Mark Zuckerberg got the idea, he has quickly established himself as the man to beat in the social networking scene.

Zuckerberg’s launch strategy was the real genius move. By allowing only college students to login to the network and securing it by requiring an .edu address, Zuckerberg was able to provide an asynchronous communication and sharing network for busy college students. Right at that time in your life where networking becomes so important and faces are thrown before you on a daily basis, Facebook made it all easy. Colleges talked up its benefits, and the networks spread like wildfire.

Only after establishing a strong and loyal user base did Zuckerberg even consider opening up to the public. By that time, he was already known as the kid who turned down $1 billion from Yahoo! when their original offer fell apart and gave him a chance to convince his board that Facebook could be bigger solo.

According to Wired, analysts think he might be the United States’ richest man under 25, and Silicon Valley loves him

As a result, Facebook is the now most buzzed-about company in Silicon Valley, and Zuckerberg is constantly compared to visionaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Even some of the tech industry’s most legendary figures are genuflecting before Zuckerberg. In an entry on his blog, Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen called Facebook’s transformation “an amazing achievement — one of the most significant milestones in the technology industry in this decade.” Says Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, “I’m in awe.”

Zuckerberg emerged as a true leader after turning down the Yahoo! offer and led Facebook through a transformation that would make it the beast it is today.

I remember where I was when “News Feeds” were announced. I was in class when I was invited to a group on my laptop protesting the new feature. Students hated it because they felt it would open up their inner stalkings and flirtations to all who friended them. Being a college player could never be the same.

Luckily, Zuckerberg recovered with what made Facebook strong in the first place, privacy. New privacy settings gave users the ability to lock down everything on their profile if desired so that could keep friend A from finding out about friend B — or “hookup A” from finding out about “hookup B” in the college “hookup” culture.

Zuckerberg’s original idea was basically to make Facebook a database for your life. In his own words via TechCrunch interview:

MZ: a social graph is a model for Facebook, we’re not trying to make new connections, but mirror the real world. On platform, the idea is providing more utilities for users, part of the bigger social graph.

The public launch was a smoother success. The site continues to grow significantly with members over 35, and my guess would be that is mostly because Facebook is a far easier beast to navigate than the jumbled and flashy MySpace. With the industry looking to him, Zuckerberg now has to establish the advertising revenue of Facebook to make a business.

For all the excitement, one sobering fact remains: Facebook has yet to prove itself as a business. The site’s nearly 40 million active users generate more than a billion pageviews a day, but ad clickthrough rates are low. An estimated half of its $150 million in revenue comes from an advertising deal with Microsoft. Independent developers are drawn to Facebook because Zuckerberg lets them keep any advertising revenue their applications generate; if Facebook can’t prove itself as an advertising venue, the deluge of new applications will slow to a trickle.

Moves are being made to establish this next step for Facebook and take it officially from startup to cash cow business. With the incredible valuations coming from all corners of the tech world that some have warned against, Facebook marketed itself well enough to have Microsoft fork over $240 billion for Facebook to expand its operations.

It’s not often that a young company gets to decide between Google and Microsoft, but Facebook did and became the fifth largest Internet company behind only Google, eBay, Yahoo and Amazon. With this new money, Facebook can launch the ad network it has been talking about for some time.

http://blip.tv/web-20-summit/web-2-0-summit-2007-mark-zuckerberg-440073

Now rumors are circulating that MySpace users may soon make a mass exodus to Facebook. While this is all just rumors and speculation, there could soon be a mass migration if Facebook continues to develop above the heads of MySpace’s innovators.

The latest secret findings point towards Facebook integrating the tools of LinkedIn, the professional networking site. Allowing users to separate friends into groupings with separate privacy settings and providing resources for networking could easily bring in more users from the 35+ age group that is showing growth on Facebook and draw people away from the limited connection options of LinkedIn.

One thing is for sure, Zuckerberg is not taking the easy way out. He is now worth an estimated $3 billion and leading Facebook into its next strategic moves. Via his TechCruch interview:

Q: hypothetically, News Corp buys Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, how would the merge.
MZ: it will never happen (laughter).

For more on the future of Facebook and their upcoming advertising program release, check out this article from Wired.