Fire in the hole: Call of Duty obliterates Hollywood box office

Here’s a blog post from our colleague Ben Deighton in London:

Robotic drone planes and night vision sniper rifles take their aim at traditional media in the latest installment of the Call of Duty series — Modern Warfare 2.

The game made about $310 million North America and the UK in its first day, dwarfing the up to $60 million that blockbuster movies gross on their opening.

But it’s not just in cash terms that games like Modern Warfare 2 are challenging the medium of film. Played on a wide screen TV in dazzling high definition, graphics have become so detailed and carefully rendered that they almost give players the sensation of being in a film themselves.

Like the first installment, players occupy a range of different characters, including a British special forces fighter and a U.S. soldier.

This means that the scenes range from assaulting an oil rig by submarine and attacking a base in the middle of a blizzard and escaping James Bond style on a snowmobile, to fighting through the oval office.

Playdom gets acquisitive

Fresh on the heels of its $43 million financing round, social gaming company Playdom announced a pair of acquisitions Thursday in a move to expand its portfolio of games. It acquired Facebook game developer Green Patch and Trippert Labs, which develops games on Apple’s iPhone. Terms of the deal were not released.

Playdom Chief Executive John Pleasants said in a phone interview that while the company’s main goal is to develop its own titles, it will make acquisitions opportunistically. “We have ample cash to do deals on our own,” he said.

Social gaming companies are suddenly on investor’s radar screens. Earlier this week, Electronic Arts said it would pay $275 million in cash for Playfish, a Playdom rival, along with other consideration that could eventually lift the company’s valuation to $400 million. Social gaming companies earn money by selling virtual goods to players.

EA brings “Madden” to iPhone

Electronic Arts is launching its most venerable video game franchise, “Madden Football,” onto the hottest new gaming platform going, Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch.

The game, whose origins date back 20 years, has been a cash cow for EA over the years, and the company is now seeking to extend that popularity into the fast-growing smartphone market. EA showed a demo of the game at Apple’s media event on Wednesday.

“We’re really happy with the quality of the game, making it fun and easy to pick up and play and we think we’ve created the most authentic and realistic football experience in the market today,” said Adam Sussman, vice president of worldwide publishing for EA Mobile.

Sony cuts PS3 price, sounds confident about holidays

The long-anticipated price cut on Sony’s PlayStation 3 video game console might have come just in the nick of time, as industry sales continue to wilt in the heat of summer. Both game hardware and software sales have been flagging, but console price cuts typically spur game sales.

Sony took the PS3′s price to $299 from $399, and the company sounded bullish on its prospects for the holiday selling season.

“With this price move, we’re extremely confident,” said Jack Tretton, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, in a interview. “I don’t think there’s anything more that we could realistically ask for in terms of putting us in a position to be successful this holiday, I really feel like everything’s lined up for us.”

Microsoft’s Bach jumps around with Natal

Watch Microsoft’s Robbie Bach getting out of breath playing a wall-demolition game using Xbox’s new Natal technology, which works entirely on body gestures rather than a hand-held controller. (Click on the video and scroll onto 23:30)

Bach, head of entertainment and devices, demoed the new system at Microsoft’s annual financial analyst meeting in Redmond, Washington. There is still no date set for its commercial release.

The company hopes the new technology will vault it past Nintendo’s all-conquering Wii and rival Sony’s PlayStation.

E3: Taking a peek at the games

The E3 video games conference in Los Angeles is in full swing now, and the major console makers and software developers have rolled out the celebrities, teased about cutting edge technologies and pleased hardcore fans with news about Mario and Halo, etc. Now it’s about convincing consumers and retailers that the games on display are going to be must-haves this year.

So we thought you’d like to see what everyone here sees. Here are a few of the games being played on the show floor, each showing off amazing graphics and realism.

God of War III, by Sony, due in 2010:

UFC 2009 Undisputed, by THQ Inc, debuted in May

Red Faction: Guerilla, by THQ Inc, was just released this week.

E3: Hey Tetris guy — did you get paid?

Human nature is a funny thing.

Here in Los Angeles, at the E3 video game conference, the makers of the ubiquitous Tetris celebrated 25 years of letting us conjoin falling bricks in one terribly addictive game, a longevity enjoyed by few in any industry. It has sold more than 125 million copies. Nice.

So what is one of the first questions asked of Alexey Pajitnov, the game’s Russian creator, at an E3 press conference? DUDE! DID YOU GET PAID?

Funny thing is, I interviewed Pajitnov, and after he explained how the rights to the game changed hands several times over the years — hey, he created it while working as an engineer for the Soviet Union — the first question I asked was: Dude, did you get paid?

What do analysts want from E3? How about a PS3 price-cut…

This week marks the kick off the video game industry’s biggest event – Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3, which opens on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Usually this is where the best new consoles and multi-level games make their debuts with all the attendant excitement and drama.

But this year the beaten-up economy might have more of a starring role as we note in our preview here.¬† As the economy splutters along, video game sales are doing okay; they’re up 13 percent in the fiscal year to $28.7 billion, according to Hudson Square Research. However, to keep that going in the year ahead analysts suggest that price cuts on some of game consoles might be in order. Actually that would be just one game console: Sony’s Playstation 3, currently priced around $400. As Billy Pidgeon, analyst at Game Changer Research said:

The thing that would really boost the industry in this traditionally slow period would be a Sony price cut, That would really help right now.

Game guru Wright quits EA

Wednesday’s announcement that celebrated game designer Will Wright is parting company with Electronic Arts is the latest piece of tough news in what has been a difficult year for EA. Wright, who masterminded the “Sims” franchise along with the newer¬† “Spore”, is a certifiable legend who has been called the the “Albert Einstein of the gaming business.”

“Sims” and its related spinoffs have sold more than 100 million units over the years.

In February, EA posted weaker-than-expected results, and delayed the release of several games — including “Sims 3″ — causing it to forecast a loss for the fiscal year. The company is cutting 1,100 jobs even as it goes mano-a-mano with larger rival Activision Blizzard.

No recession for solitaire on PCs

Forget the bells and whistles, realistic graphics, complex story lines and cinematic soundtracks. When it comes to video games, solitaire still rules.

According to Nielsen’s fourth-quarter “State of the Video Gamer” report, the most played PC video game in the United States is solitaire, the free, easily accessible and familiar time-waster adored by cubicle dwellers. The game, which is pre-installed on most Windows PCs, had more than 17 million players in December. Solitaire players aged 25 to 54 are apt to play it five times a week for about 30 minutes at a stretch

Females older than 25 made up the largest chunk of PC gamers in December, accounting for 46.2 percent of all players, Nielsen said.