August 2011

Boston Area Game Companies – Strong Showing at Gamescom

Our local game companies had strong showings last week at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany.  Gamescom is one of the largest video game conferences in the world, measured by number of attendees.  Like E3, Gamescom has a few days where only industry people are allowed to attend.  It then opens up to the public, like PAX, for a few days and draws in huge crowds.  It’s an extremely important show for game companies to showcase upcoming content, announce release dates, show off new features and in general try to rise above all of the other announcements.  The game industry continues to be highly dynamic, with new distribution platforms arising, business models evolving and technology improving.  As a region, I think we have the talent and expertise to continue to be an important player in the game industry.  Here’s a look at four of our local game companies, showing off their content to the world at Gamescom.

Cambridge’s Harmonix announced a Dance Central 2 for Kinect, with a release date of 10/25 in North America and showed off new features and gameplay.  The game looks fantastic and super fun to play.   The franchise continues to be one of the leading products for Kinect and it should sell very well this holiday.  From the original Dance Central, Harmonix has added simultaneous multiplayer, drop-in/drop-out play, voice integration, customizable Break it Down and a ton of new songs.  It’s also will be a great way to get a workout!  Check out a really cool new cinematic (as of 8/19) on the Dance Central website.  You can follow Dance Central 2 on Twitter and Facebook.

Bioshock Infinite from Irrational Games (Quincy) looks amazing!  After launching the original Bioschock, I’m really happy to see Ken Levine, a rock star in the games biz, return to the franchise.  Bioshock Infinite is the third title in the franchise, but it’s not yet clear how it connects to the other titles, if at all.  The setting is clearly different as it takes place in a cloud/sky city instead of under water.  Characteristic of Ken’s depth of creativity and experience, Bioshock Infinite will have a deep story, strong cohesive art direction and game play that allows players multiple options for overcoming the challenges they face.  Bioshock Infinite cleaned up on editorial awards at E3 this year with over 75.  It simply will be a must buy when it becomes available.  Check out the official Bioshock Infinite website for more and follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Turbine (Needham) showed off the Rise of Isengard expansion for Lord of the Rings Online.  In this upcoming release, 9/27/11, players continue to follow The Fellowship south toward Mordor and help various people of Middle Earth along the way.  It will have three new areas to explore, additional content and an increased level cap.  I highly recommend it, especially if you’re at all a fan of Tolkein’s epic work.  The folks at Turbine have done a great job bringing his world to virtual life, staying true to it in many important ways but also adding to it to enhance the game experience.  If you didn’t already know, LOTRO is now free to play with micro-transactions so you can easily experience the world. Learn more about the Rise of Isengard and Lord of the Rings Online on their websites and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

38 Studios (Providence) and EA debuted an impressive cinematic trailer for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and announced a February 2, 2012 release date for North America.  Reckoning is an open-world, high fantasy role-playing game that takes place in a new universe called Kingdoms of Amular.  38 Studios received a number of kudos for the exciting combat mechanics that feel more like an action title than an RPG.  The art direction is clean and somewhat exaggerated (i.e., it’s not photoreal but not cartoonish) and shows a respectful attention to detail (i.e., enough, but not too much).  In the long run, it will be interesting to see how it ties-in with 38 Studios’ MMO that also takes place in the Kindoms of Amular universe.  You can see more on the Reckoning website and via Twitter and Facebook.

I’m very excited about the depth of game industry talent and experience we have here in the Boston area, as demonstrated by these upcoming titles.  There are many other local companies that I have not mentioned, like Demiurge, Firehose Games, Zynga Boston, Lucky Labs and even Scvngr, making games or game-like experiences, not to mention those making technology (e.g., Vivox and Imvox, which has leadership here) or making games that educate or improve health.  But I also believe that we need more wins and growth to achieve long term success here. I’m with Scott Kirsner in that I’m hoping for resurgence, as he recently wrote in an Innovation Economy article titled “Game industry has its eyes on the next level.” With PAX Seattle this upcoming weekend and Tokyo Game Show later in December, I hope we hear more exciting news about our local game companies and their titles!

Serving the New England Tech Industry

Walter Somol - Director of Tech Community Outreach

Hello. I’m Walter Somol, the Director of Tech Community Outreach here at NERD.  I’m thrilled to be joining the team that has worked so hard to establish NERD and build a strong partnership with the greater Boston and New England tech communities!  My goal is to expand on those efforts to help foster and grow the local tech industry.  To that end, I would love to hear how you think Microsoft can help address the opportunities and challenges facing the local tech industry and how we can improve our events, community involvement and other initiatives.

I started at Microsoft over five years ago in our Interactive Entertainment division, working with third party video game publishers and developers of content for Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE, Kinect, Windows, Windows Phone, etc.  In addition to building healthy and successful long-term relationships with our partners, I helped evolve and design new business models for Microsoft’s video game platforms and services.  Prior to joining Microsoft, I worked for a number of years in the video game and entertainment businesses.  I also represented entrepreneurs, startups, later stage companies and investors in the tech industry.

As fun as it was to work in Xbox, it’s great to be back home in the Boston area after five years on the west coast.  I’m amazed at the energy here in Boston, especially in the startup community! I have already had the opportunity to meet with a number of fantastic organizations including MassChallenge, Dogpatch Labs, the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), MIT Enterprise Forum, Future Forward, Greenhorn Connect and BREW.  My objective over the next couple of months is to meet as many of you as possible across the tech community to hear what’s on your mind.

In my new role I will be working closely with a great team of people including Chris Bowen (Developer Evangelist), Jim O’Neil (Developer Evangelist), Abby Fichtner (Startup Evangelist), Edwin Guarin (Academic Evangelist), Alfred Thompson (Academic Developer Evangelist), Sara Spalding, (NERD Sr. Director), Paul Coebergh (NERD Sr. Marketing Manager), Leah Brunson (NERD Marketing Manager) and others out doing their work in the community.

I look forward to meeting you!