Microsoft narrows CEO search to four candidates

Nokia, Skype, Ford bosses in the running for top post.


Microsoft has narrowed down its search for a new CEO to four known candidates, according to a report from Reuters.

Former Skype CTO Tony Bates and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella are in the running, alongside Nokia’s Stephen Elop and Ford’s Alan Mulally.

Bates is now responsible for Microsoft’s business development and Nadella has been running the company’s cloud and enterprise business.

Elop is returning to Microsoft once the acquisition of Nokia is complete, and Ford’s Mulally is a strong candidate despite being committed to the motor company until 2014, according to the report.

Current CEO Steve Ballmer has said he will retire within the next 12 months. He is overseeing the search for a successor, which has apparently been whittled down from a list of 40 candidates.

Microsoft reported record first quarter sales last month of $18.53 billion, with profit of $5.24 billion.



Microsoft removes developer charges for 360 patching

Now free to update any title on the system

Microsoft removes developer charges for 360 patching

Microsoft removed all charges related to updating and patching 360 games for developers in April, the platform holder has confirmed.

The news was originally broken by Eurogamer, citing several sources for proof of the story. Microsoft has since confirmed the story, although has declined to explain why it didn’t make the decision public at the time.

Games had always been afforded one update free of charge, after paying for certification, but developers have been coming out of the woodwork to attest to the fact that, within reason, no more charges will be levelled for patching. The levels of that reasonableness are yet to be fully quantified, as Microsoft hasn’t released any more details, but it’s thought that excessive patching or updating of a game will still incur fees, as will repeated certification failure.

Previously, Microsoft had charged tens of thousands of dollars to update or patch games, leading some prominent indies to leave titles unpatched – either because they felt that the costs were prohibitive or to raise awareness of the extent of the charges.

Notoriously, one of those developers was Polytron’s Phil Fish, whose indie smash hit Fez suffered a bug which corrupted some save files. The result of a patch itself, this bug went untreated because fixing it would have required recertification, a process which Fish felt was over-priced and unaffordable. Double Fine’s Tim Shafer and Super Meat Boy studio Team Meat have also spoken out about the costs.

It’s unknown whether Microsoft’s generosity will be extended to similar levels for the ecosystem of the Xbox One, but Microsoft has been contacted for confirmation and further details.



Microsoft would exit the games business before selling Xbox division

Countering comments from Nomura Equity Research, other analysts tell us that selling off the Xbox business would be “beyond stupid”

Microsoft would exit the games business before selling Xbox division

Rumors have pointed to Microsoft evaluating a major restructuring of the company, and along with the report came interesting commentary from Nomura Equity Research analyst Rick Sherlund who said that Microsoft should sell off its Xbox division. Just how likely is this scenario, and does it even make sense?

Certainly not now, not right before the company is looking to launch the Xbox One, independent analyst Billy Pidgeon told GamesIndustry International. “I don’t think this scenario is likely at all. I can’t see the upside of a deal like that for Microsoft or for a potential buyer at any time, but particularly before the Xbox One launch such a move would be beyond stupid,” he said.

Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter doesn’t think it’s quite as ludicrous, but he doesn’t see a great advantage to spinning off Xbox either. “I don’t think there are many synergies with the core enterprise software business at Microsoft, so I see little benefit in their being combined and little detriment if they were to split up. There is synergy with Skype, so as long as those were packaged together, I think Xbox would be fine as a standalone company,” he said.

Microsoft is sort of caught in a tough spot between brand perception and financial reality. As a brand, Xbox is actually very helpful to the company. It’s not very helpful for Microsoft’s bottom line, however.

“I think the Xbox division would probably get a better valuation by itself than it is in the current conglomerate form of Microsoft as Xbox is outgrowing the sluggish Office and Windows divisions. That being said, I think it is very unlikely that Microsoft would spin it off. The idea that another company like Samsung would acquire that spun off Xbox division is even less likely. Xbox is the only thing that has investors excited about Microsoft, so it makes little sense to divest of the division,” explained Asif A. Khan, CFO of Virtue LLC.

“There have been a number of calls for Microsoft to break itself up over the years, and so far they are still the giant tech behemoth that has languished below $40/share since the tech wreck of 2000. While I agree with Rick Sherlund that Xbox will most likely never materially effect Microsoft’s earnings, it provides an intangible positive sentiment around the company. This goodwill should not be discounted as immaterial, and I sincerely doubt Microsoft will take the innovative Xbox division for granted.”

While some investors may like the idea of spinning off Xbox, at this point Microsoft is just too committed, noted DFC Intelligence’s David Cole. In fact, Cole thinks Microsoft would be better off just exiting the games business than to try and sell the Xbox division.

“Microsoft’s forays into more consumer oriented products have generally been seen as a drag on the rest of its business. The Xbox has been a success from a consumer perspective but not so much financially. Now Microsoft has to start from scratch with a new game system that could be a drag on earnings. Meanwhile other Microsoft consumer forays have not done as well as Xbox,” he said.

“I think the possibility of them selling to another company is unlikely. It is simply too unwieldy to try and sell an entire game system hardware and software business. My thought is they would have trouble coming to terms with a potential buyer and more likely just exit the game business entirely. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon assuming they go ahead and launch the Xbox One. I think they are committed for at least the next few years.”

There is an alternative scenario, however, which could satisfy investors and benefit Microsoft. Microsoft could essentially establish a new Xbox subsidiary, Khan said.

“One thing Microsoft could do is spin off the Xbox division as a subsidiary, akin to Dan Loeb’s proposal for Sony Entertainment. This would allow the market and investors to value Xbox separately from Microsoft. Microsoft would not divest the Xbox division in this scenario, and would benefit from the potential capital appreciation of Xbox being a separately traded subsidiary. An example of this in the technology sector today is EMC’s stake in VMWare. EMC owns 80 percent of VMWare, but both EMC and VMWare trade on their own in the public markets. Microsoft definitely has some options when it comes to their corporate structure, but the idea of completely divesting of the Xbox division or selling it to a competitor seem like the last two things they should consider.”



Yahoo acquires PlayerScale

Yahoo looks to build new gaming experiences with PlayerScale’s service

Yahoo acquires PlayerScale

In an open letter on the official PlayerScale site, chief executive officer Jesper Jensen announced the company’s acquisition by Yahoo. PlayerScale’s infrastructure software helps developers deploy titles across multiple casual, social and mobile platforms. The company’s software-as-a-service also features a full data analytics suite. The 14-person company boasts 150 million users across 4,000 titles.

“Our goal has always been to help developers build the best possible games, without having to worry about building and scaling the infrastructure required to operate today’s biggest successes. In working with the folks at Yahoo!, it has become clear that we share this passion,” wrote Jensen.

“In the last four months alone, we have increased our daily user growth rate by almost sixty percent. With Yahoo!’s backing, we can crank out awesome products and improvements to our platform faster than ever before. We will continue to support our existing product and deliver new services to help you grow and manage your success in cross-platform gaming – whether it’s casual, social or mobile.”

Yahoo has told TechCrunch that 7 people made the transition over and the PlayerScale platform will remain after acquisition. PlayerScale currently supports Flash, Unity 3D, C++, .Net, Android (JAVA), IOS (Objective-C) and HTML5.



Unity drops Flash support

“Adobe eroded developers’ trust in Flash as a dependable, continuously improving platform,” says tech firm

Unity drops Flash support

Game engine and middleware company Unity has said that it will no longer support Flash, stating that Adobe is no longer committed to the platform.

In a blog post the company shared its reasons for sunsetting Flash support.

“We don’t see Adobe being firmly committed to the future development of Flash. This is evidenced by the cancellation of Flash Player Next, the instability of recent Flash Player versions and by Adobe’s workforce moving on to work on other projects.

“By introducing, and then abandoning, a revenue sharing model, Adobe eroded developers’ (and our) trust in Flash as a dependable, continuously improving platform.

“Developers are moving away from Flash, and while Flash publishing has gotten little traction, our own Unity Web Player has seen unprecedented growth in recent months.”

Unity will no longer sell Flash development licenses from today but it will continue to support existing Flash customers.

“Just like you guys, we sometimes have to make difficult decisions about which platforms to target,” wrote the company. “For us, doing so often involves speculating about what the fast-changing gaming environment will look like in what is effectively the dim yet not so distant future. Sometimes, things don’t work out as we expected.

“When we started working on a Flash deployment add-on some 18 months ago we had high hopes for the future of Flash as a gaming platform. The performance of early builds was promising, and Adobe seemed to be dedicated to making it a success. Since then much has changed.”