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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Spore the bid bet of EA


In unveiling their much-anticipated and long-delayed video game "Spore" in North America today, executives at Electronic Arts hope to counter critics who have faulted the Redwood City company for becoming fat and happy in recent years at the expense of artistry.
EA has been particularly chastised for milking its popular titles, such as the Madden NFL series, by making endless sequels based on licensed sports or movie content instead of creating entirely new games.
''Spore'' is poised to potentially enhance EA's image as an innovative game maker and, longer term, create a lucrative new wholly-owned franchise.
Based on initial reviews of a limited version of the game, dubbed "Creature Creator," which EA released in June, "Spore" seems likely to be well received. In the first week that Creature Creator was made available, game enthusiasts created more than 1 million organisms using it, according to EA.
" 'Spore' is a very important event at EA," said company spokesman Jeff Brown, adding that it's one of several new games the company has been working on. "A lot of people see 'Spore' as an inflection point, as a report card, on EA's quality initiative."
Mike Hickey of investment bank Janco Partners put it more bluntly.
"I think EA is desperate for a hit," said Hickey, who doesn't own EA stock. But expectations for the game are so high, he cautioned, sometimes "the buzz can overshadow the product."
"Spore" makes evolution

into a game, in which players create creatures and set them loose in virtual eat-or-be-eaten worlds. By cooperating with other creatures — or conquering them — these organisms vie for the chance to grow from single-cell entities into members of space-faring civilizations.
The National Geographic Channel will highlight "Spore" in a show scheduled to air Tuesday, looking at the science behind some of the game's assumptions. Plus, ''Spore'' and several other EA games recently have won top awards in video-game competitions.
Almost four years in the making — as opposed to one or two for a typical game — "Spore" initially had been expected to reach store shelves two years ago. Analysts said that delay greatly helped fuel anticipation over its release, as well as the fact that it was the brain-child of game guru Will Wright.
His last big idea, "The Sims," which he created through a studio he co-founded, has become one of the bestselling video games of all time. EA bought Wright's studio in 1997 and has continued to publish games from the ''Sims'' series.
Although EA won't say how much it cost to develop "Spore" — which carries a $49.99 price tag — some analysts have estimated the company sunk $50 million to $80 million into getting it ready.
Much of the credit for improving EA has been given to John Riccitiello, who quit EA in 2005 after having served several years as its president and chief operating officer, and who returned to the company in April last year to become its chief executive officer, replacing Larry Probst.
Besides making a high-profile bid to acquire Take-Two Interactive, the company behind the ''Grand Theft Auto'' game series, Riccitiello reorganized EA's operations, brought in a fresh management team, and emphasized game quality and innovation.
Change has not come easily. The company was hit hard by a transition to a new generation of video game hardware. Its sales stagnated as demand for games that run on older hardware dried up. Meanwhile, its expenses soared as it invested in developing games for newer gadgets.
In its last fiscal year, which ended in March, EA posted a $454 million net loss, due to its adoption of a different way of recognizing revenue, as well as its increased expenses and acquisitions. But its sales were up about 19 percent. And EA's push to put out a better product has a good chance of paying off, according to a note the financial services company Citigroup Global Markets sent its clients last month.
"Gamers increasingly are allocating their dollars to only the highest quality games, particularly in the holiday season," the note said, which praised EA's "renewed commitment to originality and quality under John Riccitiello's leadership."
Several experts said ''Spore'' could remain popular and continue to generate money for years.
The game is a pretty sure bet for EA, said Michael Pachter, an industry analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, who owns no EA stock. He added that it wouldn't surprise him if the company increased ''Spore's'' revenue by eventually charging players extra for new capabilities to help their creatures become more advanced species.
''Spore'' probably will sell at least moderately well and needs to, given the expectations surrounding it, said Doug Creutz, an analyst with investment bank Cowen and Co., who also owns no EA stock.
"It's very important," he said. "They haven't executed terribly well the last couple of years." But Creutz added, "I think they are heading in the right direction."
EA spokesman Brown said the company believes it's on the right track, too. Given the promise of "Spore" and other new games it plans to release soon, he said, "we think we're headed into a heck of a holiday."

Science war !!America Vs Europe !! Large Hadron Collider Vs America

The eyes of the world are on Geneva, where scientists are expected to throw the switch this week on what may be the biggest experiment ever conducted.

Like Galileo's telescope, the LHC will give scientists new insight into a new world of the very small and, indirectly, of the very large. What will scientists see with the LHC? The machine's reach and sensitivity may well reveal a new world, a gift to the 21st century. What kind of world? Five centuries of hindsight make it possible to enumerate the implications of Galileo's telescope, but we have no such luxury with the LHC. How would a contemporary of Galileo's have been able to extrapolate from the telescope to the iPhone? In view of the understanding humans now have and the blending of the many worlds revealed by the many tools and instruments built since Galileo, will the LHC deliver surprises?
It had better. In this age of tight budgets, the LHC, a worldwide collaboration of thousands of scientists, engineers, students, has cost $8 billion, including significant pieces of national budgets. To appreciate what impact the LHC is likely to have in the coming decades, it's necessary to take a look at the fundamental questions it was built to answer. Only by venturing a few steps into the labyrinth of particle physics can we get a sense of how deeply this tool will look into the nature of the physical world.

It's certainly the most expensive. The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, has spent roughly $8 billion digging a 27-kilometer tunnel on the outskirts of the city and filling it with equipment that pushes the limits of technology—superconducting magnets that operate at close to absolute zero, the temperature at which atoms cease all movement, and can accelerate particles to energies not seen for 14 billion years, and instruments that can detect faint whispers of particles far smaller than atoms.
Probing more deeply than ever before into the stuff of the universe requires some big hardware. It also requires the political will to lavish money on a project that has no predictable practical return, other than prestige and leadership in the branch of science that delivered just about every major technology of the past hundred years.
Those advances came, in large measure, from the United States. The coming decades may be different. The Large Hadron Collider, as the Geneva machine is called, is a symptom of America's decline in particle physics and Europe's rise. Many scientists and educators fear that it also signals a broader decline in scientific leadership on the part of the United States.

The LHC has transformed Geneva into something of a scientific mecca. According to CERN, more than 9,000 scientists have been working on the project, not only from nearby Europe but from countries as diverse as India, Russia, Japan, Israel and Turkey. Over the next few decades, they'll continue to arrive by train and by plane, stay in hotels and eat in restaurants, occasionally dangling their feet in the fountains of Lausanne. Not being a particularly freewheeling bunch, they will spend most of their time in the lab, relishing the data that will soon start pouring out of the instrument like a desert spring. Some will choose to live nearby—in Geneva, or perhaps France and Britain. Although particle physics is hardly a key driver of great economies, it is the most profound of intellectual challenges, embracing the most fundamental contradictions in science and attracting some of the best minds.
Europe's triumph over America isn't one of the talking points at the CERN press office. And for scientists, there's no percentage in offending the people they rely on for grants and for precious time to run their experiments on the collider. The project is represented as one of the greatest examples to date of international cooperation, which it may be. A third of the scientists working at the LHC hail from outside the 20 states that control CERN. America has contributed 1,000 or so researchers, the largest single contingent from any non-CERN nation. "CERN has always been enormously successful as an international collaboration," says Hans Boggild, a member of the CERN Council who plans to perform experiments on the collider. "This is a success both for Europe and the world."
A quick look at the numbers, however, reveals how far the United States stands to fall in leadership once the LHC goes live. The U.S. contribution amounts to $500 million—barely 5 percent of the bill. The big bucks have come from the Europeans. Germany is picking up 20 percent of the tab, the British are contributing 17 percent, and the French are giving 14 percent. Even the Bulgarians have chipped in less than 1 percent. Despite the U.S. dominance of recent decades in physics, most of the brainpower is European as well. "The contribution of the non-Europeans has been essential, but limited," says Els Koffeman, professor of particle physics at the University of Amsterdam.

Not long ago the United States seemed certain to stay on top. In the 1980s and early 1990s, 30 kilometers of tunnel was dug in Waxahachie, Texas, south of Dallas, to house the Superconducting Supercollider—a machine that was to be much like the LHC, but bigger and more expensive. President Ronald Reagan, calling the project a "doorway to a new world," agreed to foot the $8.4 billion price tag without help from international partners. Physicists spent years designing experiments in hopes of grants and big discoveries. In 1993, with $2 billion spent and cost estimates swelling to $11 billion, the project came to an abrupt end. The U.S. Congress, worried about budget deficits, pulled the plug.
In Waxahachie, the partially dug tunnel was plugged and filled with water. The town looked into using the site for a prison, a movie studio and a counterterrorism training facility before selling it to the J.B. Hunt trucking company as a data-storage center. Those plans were put on hold when the owner, Johnnie Bryan Hunt, died. A cavernous, windowless building the size of several Wal-Marts now sits abandoned in a patch of weeds.
The loss of the collider demoralized scientists and probably contributed to the decline in the popularity of physics, which by one study is now as unpopular among university students as it was when the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957. The most worrying prospect is that scientists from other countries, who used to flock to the United States to be where the action is, are now heading to Europe instead. "Fewer students will come to the U.S.," says Peter Limon, a physicist at Fermilab in Illinois who is participating in a major LHC experiment. Fermilab's Tevatron, which until this week was the world's largest particle accelerator, has attracted Italian and Japanese scientists in particular, along with others from countries such as India. "They tend to stay. It is a major source of our intellectual ability in the United States," Limon says. "That will decrease."

Had the Texas project gone forward, says former director Roy Schwitters, who is now a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, "the United States would be the major player in this rather than Europe." Many argue that the harm will extend beyond academia. "The fact that for many years most of this work was done in the U.S. has a lot to do with our position in the world," says physicist Jim Bensinger at Brandeis University in Boston.
In Europe, by contrast, scientists can hardly contain their enthusiasm. "I can't remember a time in recent history when there has been so much coverage" of particle physics, says Ken Peach, director of the John Adams Institute for Accelerator Science at Oxford and London universities. "From the point of view of attracting the brightest and best, these [experiments] are genuine magnets. I talk to graduate students in Oxford and they are tense in a very real way. They want to get their hands on the data."

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