Pokemon Go eludes cloning attempts by big game studios: executives

SAN FRANCISCO Top video game companies, caught off-guard by the runaway success of Pokemon Go, are wrestling with how to play catch-up to the augmented reality app that has become a worldwide phenomenon.Nearly a dozen executives at companies from Sony Corp (6758.T) to Angry Birds-creator Rovio said Pokemon Go would be a tough act to follow, and some even said a challenge would not be worth it. Gamers should not expect the quick release of a rival app anytime soon, some said.On mobile devices, players search for and capture cartoon characters from the Pokemon franchise - displayed in the real world, using the live view from a smartphone camera. Pokemon Go has been the most downloaded mobile game since its July release.Executives said hundreds of game developers at their companies are playing to understand how it has captivated audiences."Today is not the right moment to release an (augmented reality) experience," said Neil Young, chief executive of mobile game developer N3twork Inc and a former group general manager at Electronic Arts Inc (EA.O). "That moment is sort of reserved, I think, for Pokemon Go."Some executives said they would not copy the game because it was a fad driven by the Pokemon brand and that it lacked social features, such as letting players talk and collaborate on a hunt. The success in getting players onto their feet was seen as brilliant but difficult to replicate, and the deft use of mapping technology also sets a high bar. Pokemon Go developer Niantic Inc, spun off from Google Inc (GOOGL.O), had no comment. Analysts calculate the game is on track to earn between $200 million and $500 million in revenue in one year. The higher figure would rank Pokemon Go in the top 20 grossing mobile games in history, said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities."We're just sort of scratching the surface of what we're going to see" in augmented reality, said David Haddad, president of Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment (TWX.N). Warner Bros is in the early stages of developing augmented reality games but had no plans to announce a new title.Zynga Inc (ZNGA.O) is still studying what to do in the space, Chief Executive Frank Gibeau said in an interview. "Pokemon has really shown new paths and new ways to grow that's very exciting for customers, players, developers," he said.The Pokemon Company, partly owned by Nintendo Co Ltd (7974.T), is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Pokemon games and their menagerie, led by the rabbit-like Pikachu. It has generations of fans. That brand power is tough to match, said Richard Marks, senior researcher at Sony Interactive Entertainment, comparing Pokemon Go to an augmented reality animal game for PlayStation Portable called Invizimals."Lizard No.3 or Lizard No.4; it doesn't get you that excited. You need it to be Pikachu," he said comparing the two games.Copying a hit mobile game is an unofficial industry tradition. While a clone of Pokemon Go in China has been reported, big gaming studios typically take months longer to make a copy. In this case, rivals also lack the extensive location services expertise of Pokemon Go-developer Niantic, whose chief executive helped develop Google Earth.However, some gaming executives do not believe Pokemon Go is the future of gaming. Mobile scavenger hunts require physical activity and could be a hard sell to most video game players. "It's not easy to get people off of their couches," said Wilhelm Taht, executive vice president of games at Angry Birds-creator Rovio Entertainment Ltd. "There have been a lot of tries in this area before."Nintendo got people on their feet with its Wii console offering virtual tennis, for example, but players remained in front of their televisions.The most sustainable games immerse people in a virtual world, said Walter Driver, chief executive of gaming company Scopely, which does not have plans to develop location-based games."We're focused more on creating universes in your pocket that you can spend time in," he said.There is one area that offers a clear opportunity for rivals or for improvement in a new version of the game, industry executives said. Some of the most popular games have united players in virtual teams, building camaraderie."The game needs to be more social... where you can have group goals and possibly chat when you hunt for a Pokemon," said MySpace creator and now CEO of mobile games studio SGN Games Inc, Chris DeWolfe. (Additional reporting by Anya George Tharakan in Bengaluru and Makiko Yamazaki in Tokyo; editing by Peter Henderson, Jonathan Weber and Bernard Orr) Read more

Study finds cosmic rays increased heart risks among Apollo astronauts

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Apollo astronauts who ventured to the moon are at five times greater risk of dying from heart disease than shuttle astronauts, U.S. researchers said on Thursday, citing the dangers of cosmic radiation beyond the Earth's magnetic field. The study by researchers at Florida State University and NASA found that three Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, or 43 percent of those studied, died from cardiovascular disease, a finding with implications for future human travel beyond Earth.The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, was the first to look at the mortality of Apollo astronauts, the only people so far to travel beyond a few hundred miles (km) of Earth.It found that the chief health threat to the Apollo astronauts came from cosmic rays, which are more prevalent and powerful beyond the magnetic bubble that surrounds Earth.NASA disputed the findings, saying it was too early to draw conclusions about the effect of cosmic rays on Apollo astronauts because the current data is limited. The results of the study have implications for the United States and other countries, as well as private companies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which are planning missions to Mars and other destinations beyond Earth.For the study, the researchers examined the death records of 42 astronauts who flew in space, including seven Apollo veterans, and 35 astronauts who died without ever going into space.They found the Apollo astronauts’ mortality rate from cardiovascular disease was as much as five times higher than for astronauts who never flew, or for those who flew low-altitude missions aboard the space shuttle that orbited a few hundred miles above Earth. A companion study simulated weightlessness and radiation exposure in mice and showed that radiation exposure was far more threatening to the cardiovascular system than other factors, lead scientist Michael Delp said in an interview."What the mouse data show is that deep space radiation is harmful to vascular health," he said. So far, only 24 astronauts have flown beyond Earth’s protective magnetic shield, in missions spanning a four-year period from December 1968 to December 1972.Of those, eight have died, seven of whom were included in the study. The cause of death of the eighth astronaut, Apollo 14's Edgar Mitchell, who died in February 2016, has not been released, so he was excluded from the study, Delp said. Mitchell was the sixth person to walk on the moon.Delp and colleagues are working on a follow-up study that includes more detail on family medical histories, smoking and other factors. (Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Peter Cooney) Read more

The identity crisis that led to Yahoo's demise

SAN FRANCISCO When senior Yahoo executives gathered at a San Jose hotel for a management retreat in the spring of 2006, there was no outward sign of a company in crisis. The internet pioneer, not yet a teenager, had just finished the prior year with $1.9 billion in profits on $5.3 billion in revenue. The tough days of the dot-com bust were a distant memory, and Yahoo Inc, flush with lucrative advertising deals from the world's biggest brands, was enjoying its run as one of the top dogs in the world's hottest industry.But for one retreat exercise, everyone was asked to say what word came to mind when a company name was mentioned. They went through the list: eBay: auctions. Google: search. Intel: microprocessors. Microsoft: Windows. Then they were asked to write down their answer for Yahoo."It was all over the map," recalled Brad Garlinghouse, then a Yahoo senior vice president and now COO of payment settlement start-up Ripple Labs. "Some people said mail. Some people said news. Some people said search." While some executives said this was a useful management exercise that took place multiple times over the years, it proved an ominous portent of the business troubles to come.Indeed, the demise of Yahoo, which culminated in an agreement this week to sell the company's core assets to Verizon Communications Inc, has been more than a decade in the making. Many of the more than two dozen former Yahoo managers interviewed by Reuters over the past two weeks -- who now occupy executives suites elsewhere in Silicon Valley -- agree that the company's downfall can be traced to choices made by both the executive leadership and the board of directors during the company's heyday in the mid-2000s.Some of the missed opportunities are obvious: a failed bid to buy Facebook Inc for $1 billion in 2006. A 2002 dalliance with Google similarly came to naught. A chance to acquire YouTube came and went. Skype was snapped up by eBay Inc. And Microsoft Corp's nearly $45 billion takeover bid for all of Yahoo in 2008 was blocked by Yahoo's leadership.Just as damaging as the missed deals, though, was a company culture that ultimately became too bureaucratic and too focused on traditional brand advertising to prosper in a fast-moving tech business, according to some of the former Yahoo managers Reuters spoke with."It became very difficult to get both investment and alignment" around new product initiatives, said Greg Cohn, a former senior product director at Yahoo and now CEO of the mobile phone app company Burner. "If you built a new product and the home page didn't want to feature it, you were hosed."Worst of all, once Alphabet Inc's Google had displaced it as peoples' first stop for finding something on the internet, Yahoo was never able to decide on exactly what it wanted to be.Yahoo today has more than 1 billion users and has focused on mobile under chief executive Marissa Mayer, who told Reuters in an interview Monday that she still saw a "path to growth" for Yahoo, which the Verizon merger accelerated.Yahoo will continue to operate as a holding company for its large stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan, which are worth far more than the core business.Yahoo declined to comment for this story. THE PURPLE CARPETThe appointment of Terry Semel, who had completed a highly successful run as chairman of the Warner Bros. movie studio, as CEO in 2001 seemed to answer a question that bedeviled many early internet firms: was it a tech company, or a media company?Semel could not be reached for comment on his Yahoo tenure. But the focus on media proved lucrative in the short term as big advertisers, desperate to get on board with the next big thing, flocked to one of the largest properties on the web. Revenue soared from $717 million in 2001 to nearly $7 billion by 2007.Indeed, Semel and the media executives he brought in by all accounts turned a scrappy young internet startup into a highly profitable company that brought old-line advertising to a new medium. "From our perspective, we were a media company," said Dan Rosensweig, Yahoo's COO from 2002 to 2007 and now CEO of online education company Chegg Inc. "It didn’t feel at the time that there was a strong likelihood we would beat Google at search... Nobody could argue that we weren’t the largest front page on the internet."Yahoo placed its signature purple everywhere then -- on cookies and cupcakes, on the carpets, and even in the martinis."When Coca Cola came to campus, we rolled out the purple carpet," recalled Wenda Harris Millard, Yahoo's chief sales officer from 2001 to 2007 and now president and COO of business development firm MediaLink. Millard said all the major advertisers, from Coke to General Motors, wanted to come to Yahoo's campus at least once a year."We were just doing gazillions of dollars with them," said Millard.THE MONEY TRAPBut the excitement, and the revenue, associated with the big advertising deals ten years ago turned out to be a trap in many ways. Like its brethren in the print media business, who continued to rely on selling ad pages long after it was clear that it was a dying business, Yahoo couldn't help but to focus on where the big money was, even though that wasn't where the future was. "The worst consequence of trying to be a media company was that they didn't take programming seriously enough," wrote Paul Graham, co-founder of the Y-Combinator tech incubator who sold a startup to Yahoo, in a 2010 blog post about the company's woes. "Microsoft (back in the day), Google, and Facebook have all had hacker-centric cultures. But Yahoo treated programming as a commodity."The downside of the media orientation became more clear as the 2000s wore on. In 2003, Yahoo acquired Overture, the company that essentially invented the ad-search technology that made Google rich. But Yahoo never succeeded in creating a strong competitor to Google's AdWords and AdSense systems.A subsequent, hugely expensive effort to rebuild its search and advertising technology, dubbed Panama, similarly bore little fruit. Meanwhile, market-leading products like Yahoo Mail, and early social media efforts like Yahoo Groups, were neglected as managers wrestled over which products would get priority on the hugely valuable Yahoo home page, according to three former executives. Promising acquisitions, including photo-sharing site Flickr and social bookmarking service Delicious, withered on the vine. Former staffers say they were consumed with endless internal meetings and shifting priorities. Former senior product director Cohn recalls how efforts to make Yahoo an open platform -- with nifty third-party applications around specific content areas such as travel -- foundered in the face of opposition from managers in charge of Yahoo's in-house products.Too often, the end result was money spread too thinly across too many marginal initiatives, as Garlinghouse famously pointed out in a leaked internal document known as the Peanut Butter Manifesto. TURMOIL AT THE TOPBy 2007, it was becoming clear that Yahoo was losing ground fast on the product side as Google solidified its hold on search. New players like Facebook and Netflix Inc continued to arrive and steal Yahoo's thunder. Semel left that year in favor of co-founder Jerry Yang.Whatever plans Yang may have had were quickly disrupted by the unsolicited Microsoft takeover bid in early 2008. The offer split the management team, Garlinghouse and others say, and those divisions persisted even after Microsoft's offer was beaten back.Yang, who championed the resistance to Microsoft, stepped down again in 2008. Three other CEOs followed before Mayer was appointed in 2014.The leadership turmoil "made for a difficult existence for a board, a management team, and a general employee population to get committed to the same goal," said Rosensweig. Yang did not respond to requests for comment.By the time Mayer arrived, Yahoo was already seen in Silicon Valley as a company from another era. It had lots of cash but few strategic advantages as it fought far larger competitors. Many analysts and shareholder say Mayer exacerbated the troubles with acquisitions and key hires that proved misguided.Mayer put a brave face on the deal Monday, saying the scale that will result from the Verizon combination will enable it to continue its efforts to catch up in mobile, social and advertising technology. But the history of the tech business, where companies rarely dominate from one generation to the next, suggests that any such revival is a tall order. (Reporting by Jonathan Weber and Jeffrey Dastin; editing by Edward Tobin) Read more

SpaceX rocket lifts off on cargo run, then lands at launch site

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. An unmanned SpaceX rocket blasted off from Florida early on Monday to send a cargo ship to the International Space Station, then turned around and landed itself back at the launch site.The 23-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket, built and flown by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445 GMT).Perched on top of the rocket was a Dragon capsule filled with nearly 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg) of food, supplies and equipment, including a miniature DNA sequencer, the first to fly in space.Also aboard the capsule was a metal docking ring of diameter 7.8 feet (2.4 m), that will be attached to the station, letting commercial spaceships under development by SpaceX and Boeing Co. ferry astronauts to the station, a $100-billion laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. The manned craft are scheduled to begin test flights next year.Since NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles five years ago, the United States has depended on Russia to ferry astronauts to and from the station, at a cost of more than $70 million per person.As the Dragon cargo ship began its two-day journey to the station, the main section of the Falcon 9 booster rocket separated and flew itself back to the ground, touching down a few miles south of its seaside launch pad, accompanied by a pair of sonic booms. "Good launch, good landing, Dragon is on its way," said NASA mission commentator George Diller.Owned and operated by Musk, the technology entrepreneur who founded Tesla Motors Inc, SpaceX is developing rockets that can be refurbished and re-used, potentially slashing launch costs. With Monday’s touchdown, SpaceX has successfully landed Falcon rockets on the ground twice and on an ocean platform during three of its last four attempts.SpaceX intends to launch one of its recovered rockets as early as this autumn, said Hans Koenigsmann, the firm's vice president for mission assurance. (Reporting by Irene Klotz, Editing by Chris Michaud and Clarence Fernandez) Read more

Megaupload coming back? Founder Kim Dotcom plans a relaunch in 2017

Flamboyant German tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom is planning to relaunch file-sharing website Megaupload in January 2017, five years after the U.S. government took down the site accusing it of piracy.Megaupload, founded in 2005, had boasted of having more than 150 million registered users and 50 million daily visitors. At one point, it was estimated to be the 13th most frequently visited website on the internet.Dotcom, who announced his plans in a series of tweets on Friday, said most of the Megaupload users would get their accounts reinstated with premium privileges.He also hinted and that the new website will use bitcoins. (bit.ly/29r9UIA)Dotcom did not immediately respond to a mail seeking comment.Dotcom and three others were arrested on Jan. 20, 2012, after armed New Zealand police raided his country estate at the request of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. U.S. authorities had said Dotcom and three other Megaupload executives cost film studios and record companies more than $500 million and generated more than $175 million by encouraging paying users to store and share copyrighted material, such as movies and TV shows. (reut.rs/29Ja8Ji)Dotcom, who has New Zealand residency, has denied charges of internet piracy and money laundering and has been fighting extradition to the United States.He has contended that the website was merely a storage facility for online files and should not be held accountable if stored content was obtained illegally. A New Zealand court in 2013 granted Dotcom access to all evidence seized by police in the raid of his house. (reut.rs/2a1Ti7g)While Kim Dotcom's net worth was not known, he became well known for his lavish lifestyle as much as his computer skills.He used to post photographs of himself with cars having vanity plates such as "GOD" and "GUILTY", shooting an assault rifle and flying around the world in his private jet. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated in 2012 that Dotcom personally made around $115,000 a day during 2010.The assets seized earlier included nearly 20 luxury cars, one of them a pink Cadillac, works of art, and NZ$10 million invested in local finance companies. (reut.rs/29GXjjR)"I'll be the first tech billionaire who got indicted, lost everything and created another billion $ tech company while on bail," he tweeted on Sunday. (Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta) Read more

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