The Long-Awaited Boxee Box Gets a Hollywood Preview

Few consumer electronics devices have been more widely anticipated, at least by the more geeky set, than Boxee‘s settop box for bringing Internet content to the TV–since Google TV debuted three weeks ago, anyway. The uniquely shaped Boxee Box will debut on Nov. 10 in New York, adding a potent new player to the rapidly expanding market for Internet-connected TVs and add-on devices.

Today, Boxee CEO Avner Ronen offered a preview at the Streaming Media West conference in Los Angeles, where such devices are viewed with much more wariness and even fear than in Silicon Valley. First, he offered his version of the landscape (paraphrased at times):

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Shakeout Coming in Internet TV Boxes

If consumers are likely confused by the raft of devices to bring the Internet and apps to the television, the TV industry isn’t so sure what they will mean for various players, from content providers to cable networks to cable and satellite TV providers. Folks attending the Streaming Media West conference in Los Angeles today got some answers from a panel of TV and device makers.

The gist: There’s a shakeout coming as more and more devices come to market this year and next. While the growth of interest in alternatives or supplements to cable TV may drive sales for the next year or so, the ones that don’t catch on quickly will start dropping like flies. And with Google and Apple putting bucketloads of bucks into their offerings, it seems likely there won’t be room for all the alternatives that already exist, let alone new ones still to come.

On the panel were moderator Andrew Wallenstein, senior editor at PaidContent.org; Dan Kelley, senior director of marketing for D-Link, which worked with Boxee on its over-the-top device to be released on Nov. 10; Jim Funk, VP of business development at Roku; John Griffin, director of connected electronics at Dolby; and John Koller, direct of hardware marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment America. Here in more detail is what they had to say. Continue reading

How Long Will Social Games Keep Us Hooked?

Not long after I started my farm (pictured above) on FarmVille, the leading social game on Facebook, I got a message from a friend. He was relaying a question from his wife, who had seen countless semiautomated posts to my Facebook Wall chronicling my progress in the game. Her query: “What’s the matter with him?”

It wasn’t the only such reaction I got from playing Farmville. I started the game as research to write a story on their rise for Graduate School of Business alumni magazine at Stanford University, where a surprisingly large number of social games founders or managers got degrees. It seems that people either love social games (one friend either is doing a very deep research project on them or needs an intervention) or hate them. But it’s hard to deny that they’re a game apart from most previous online games, because millions of regular people who don’t even know the term “gamer,” let alone touched an Xbox console or joined a World of Warcraft guild, are playing them.

I hope my story explains some of the reasons why, but what I’m uncertain about is how far social games can go. Clearly, Zynga and other social games leaders have found a way to provide entertainment people enjoy–and, let’s not mince words, appeal to people’s addictive nature by adroitly manipulating game mechanics to keep players coming back again and again. As a result, Zynga is raking in big bucks and seems headed for a blockbuster IPO. And games may well support a second big business in virtual currency for Facebook.

Given their undeniable appeal, it seems that social games are here to stay for a good long time. But I also wonder if the slowdown and churn we’ve seen in social games this year indicates a certain weariness on the part of players. I’m afraid I don’t have the addictive gene, so much of the appeal of social games is lost on me (although I would like to reach level 12 in FarmVille so I can plant chile peppers…).

But even people who respond to the rewards of these games can feel like they’re on a treadmill. As a result, social games companies are trying to add more wrinkles to their games to keep users from getting bored. But then, like so many tech companies that have fallen victim to the Innovator’s Dilemma, they may start losing the mass market, for whom the simplicity of social games is key. Only a few companies, I’ll wager, will be able to walk that thin line.

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