Week in Review, 2/22/2009

This week proved that no matter how big you get, you can have your ups and downs, and they don't come any bigger than Microsoft.

Chief executive Steve Balmer said that the company was going to take a hit from the bad economy, and to add insult to injury, they were slapped with a lawsuit by a user who said she was charged a downgrade fee to convert a laptop to XP. However, the company's future in the burgeoning field of cell phones definitely looks bright – Windows Mobile 6.5 will feature an app store, as well as a new interface, according to preliminary reports.

It was a rocky week elsewhere in technology land, too. Facebook found itself dealing with user fallout from its end user license agreement changes – a brouhaha that was even featured on major network newscasts.
Bankrupt game publisher Midway pulled out of the Entertainment Software Association, and news emerged that one of the company's investors could benefit unfairly from the bankruptcy.
Konomi found themselves facing a lawsuit from Viacom/Harmonix, claiming their game Rock Revolution was an infringement on the patent for Rock Band.

With all this going on, you might imagine that some companies would be breaking out the survival plans, and that's exactly what Sega has been doing. The former-hardware giant-turned-software-company has a strategy that includes emphasizing its Sonic brand and creating more Mature-rated titles for the Wii. This may seem a strange contradiction until you realize that Sonic is now known to two or three generations of gamers, and Sega recently scored a success with the violent House of the Dead: Overkill.

Electronic Arts, meanwhile, is taking a much more curious path – as in, going outside the game industry completely. The company announced a line of children's sports equipment – no, not wireless devices designed to interact with titles like Madden, the real deal. It definitely seems like an odd choice for the recently-troubled game manufacturer, and it remains to be seen if they can make an impact in a totally untested arena. (Taking the "sequels are a sure bet" route, they also announced a followup to the popular game American McGee's Alice.)

As for Nintento, they had mixed news from the Nielsen company: They're getting a broader audience and less play, meaning a lot of people consider them their secondary console, not their primary one.

On the media end of things, satellite radio company Sirius/XM got a reprieve from bankruptcy, while tech-oriented cable channel G4 said it would be laying off people and cutting back. The G4 news raises the question of whether super-specialized programming may someday leave television altogether and go online, becoming, in effect, video podcasts. Definitely something to think about – the rise of streaming video certainly seems to point in that direction.

So with all that "down" going on, what was "up?" Cell phones, once again. In addition to the Windows announcement, Android made appearances in the form of a price cap on Android apps and British manufacturer Vodaphone saying it would offer a Google phone. And it's been rumored that Dell is about to throw its hat in the smartphone arena. (We might add that phones aren't a guaranteed road to riches for everyone, though, as Sprint lost more than a million customers.)

Good news in gaming: Acclaim announced plans to expand, the Square Enix/Eidos deal seemed to be moving forward, and, in a sign that even a shutdown could lead to something good, Bonfire emerged from the wreckage of Ensemble Studios.

And one very big-money segment of the entertainment industry that quietly flexed its muscles was the tween audience – Wizard 101, a free-to-play MMORPG aimed at this audience, passed the one million user mark. In the rush to create the next blood-soaked Grand Theft Auto, many people forget that this demographic group can mean heavy brand loyalty and big success – just look at Disney's entire teenybopper empire. It most definitely doesn't hurt to play to the High School Musical crowd.