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The best way to launch a new game intellectual property



The best way to launch a new game intellectual property

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Creating sequels or updates for live-operation games makes a lot of money for game companies. But over time, the revenues can trail off, and the need to create an original game becomes evident. At GamesBeat Summit 2021, I asked a panel of experts how to do this right.

Our panelists included Shawn Layden, the former chairman of Sony Worldwide Studios; Marty O’Donnell, cofounder of Highwire Games and a former leader at Bungie (the maker of Halo and Destiny); and Ante Odic, the senior vice president of product development at Outfit7, the maker of Talking Tom and Friends. Outfit7 has more than 15 billion downloads and more than 400 million monthly active users. Clearly, Talking Tom has had a tremendous run, but even Outfit7 is trying to invest in new intellectual property as well.

O’Donnell was the composer and audio director for Bungie on the Halo games for Microsoft. When Microsoft bought Bungie ahead of the launch of the original Xbox, it acquired the rights to the Halo intellectual property. Bungie ran with that franchise for a decade, producing a huge hit for Microsoft. But eventually the team tired of Halo and wanted to go off on its own to create a new intellectual property that it could control and own, O’Donnell said. Part of the team stayed at 343 Studios to guide Halo under Microsoft, while Bungie spun out to focus on Destiny. That wasn’t a particularly easy or pleasant business. O’Donnell split with the Bungie team and eventually started Highwire Games, which is working on Six Days in Fallujah with Victura Games.

“Here’s the thing,” O’Donnell said. “There’s nothing more important in the game industry than the intellectual property. The hardware is like appliances, and we’re the food that goes into the refrigerator. So that’s what’s important about it.”

Odic said that his company has been doing new versions of the Talking Tom games across new genres like endless runners and pet care categories.

“Now we are thinking about expanding and creating new IPs and going into completely new directions for mobile,” Odic said.

Motivating forces

Above: Sony took a big risk on Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Image Credit: Sony

O’Donnell said he comes at it from a creative standpoint.

“I believe that the driving force is to come up with something new and creative, and that’s what’s exciting to the people who are working on it,” he said. “And that’s what the fans want to see. Even though the fans really want you to keep doing what you’ve already done. They’re really not going to be happy with something that’s repetitive. They really want something new so to me the driving force is the excitement of having new creative and new things to work on. I am never going to be motivated by business.”

Layden weighed in with his own view.

“That’s the dirty little secret of the video game business is that it is a business, after all, and we need to create an audience,” Layden said. “We need to create a revenue stream and cash flow in order to continue to create new and exciting games for people to play. From a first-party perspective, when you’re winning the console business, and you have a vertically integrated hardware layer and an OS and then the game to go on top of that, it’s super-important to continue to stress the importance of original IP.”

To O’Donnell’s point, Layden said that making the same type of game over and over will continue to appeal to the same audience.

halo mcc halo 2 cinematic master chief

Above: Bungie worked on Halo for years before wanting to do something new.

Image Credit: 343 Industries

“We won’t be able to break out gaming into a wider and larger business,” he said. “We talk a lot about how the video game business is the largest entertainment business in the world. But we really don’t punch above our weight when it comes to society and culture. And I think that’s because we don’t bring a diverse enough audience into enjoying gaming. And that’s why original IP is important. That brings out new types of games. We hope to bring in new types of players, new types of fans, for the gaming business, and thereby continue to grow that pie ever larger. So that’s really the importance to me about original IP. It’s the chance to appeal to new people, new fans who haven’t yet come to the beauty that is gaming.”

Talking Tom, by contrast, has already gotten to those wide demographics that console companies would love to get to.

“But I agree with both points from Sean and Marty, because we do manage to attract a lot of users in, but there are still some game genres, mechanics that are out there for other types of users that we don’t have yet,” Odic said. “They don’t enjoy our games yet. We a business. We are in gaming because we are passionate about games, and we really also as a company want to create some good content for people to play as games. That’s why we want to create new IP that expands our reach.”

When he was at Sony, Layden worked with 13 studios around the world, and every one was different and had a different approach.

“It was really important for us as a first-party structure to allow every studio to be its best self, to create the games that really excited the teams and allowed them their creativity,” Layden said. “Greenlighting is a very difficult process. And it’s kind of different for every studio you work with. What you’re trying to do is to elicit the best idea. You find the best risks and take them.”

First, best, must

Hey kid, what's he saying?

Above: God of War is one of Sony’s prized possessions.

Image Credit: Sony

Layden said Sony’s simple approach was “first, best, must.” Are you making the first game of its kind, like Parappa the Rapper? Are you making the best game in a genre, like Gran Turismo in racing? And are you supporting corporate initiatives like the launch of the PlayStation VR, where you must pave the way with new content?

“If you’re going to make the third-best racing game, other studios can do that,” he said. “You’re going to try to do the best possible work as a first-party studio with another category called ‘must,’ which meant we had to support new innovations coming out of the hardware group. We do something like PlayStation VR. Now, it doesn’t make sense for a lot of third parties to jump into a new platform, which has an installed base of zero.”

He added, “When you have that new nascent technology coming out, it’s incumbent upon the first-party teams to stand up, take the hit, make the games, and explore your creativity, without worrying about what the return might be on that investment. You’re building a new market. You have got to take a few losses on the front end. That originality and IP allows companies to create these new markets to generate these new fans. And, and the road to getting there is sometimes is a two- or three-year model. I won’t say the names here, but I’m talking 12 years to get some out. So you never quite know how long a piece of string when you start pulling on it. And sometimes it can be a lot longer than you expected. But nevertheless, if you stay the course and keep true to the vision, you will be more delighted with the outcome.”

O’Donnell noted that creative fatigue can set in with teams that have worked on a franchise for a while. But another team could pick up the torch and move it forward.

“When we came up with Halo, it was really, really exciting. And then we were bought by Microsoft and became the first-party team,” he said. “We had a really good run. Creatively, we worked on that for 10 years. New people came in and the team got bigger and bigger over time. It was a good time for that original team to move into some new IP to get creatively energized. We handed it off to 343 Industries.”

Six characters are part of My Talking Tom Friends.

Above: Six characters are part of My Talking Tom Friends.

Image Credit: Outfit7

He noted that 343 Industries did a good job at reinvigorating Halo. But even three years of work on one game can be a long haul for a creative team, he said.

“When you are first coming up with something, you don’t think of it as a franchise, you don’t think of it as having sequels. You are just excited about the thing you’re doing. And if it becomes successful, that success ends up sort of breeding this idea that now you have to do it again, and do it kind of the same,” he said. “And that is not what motivates you to begin with.”

As Bungie started looking to make a new IP, it talked to both Microsoft and Sony. But those partners pretty much wanted to own the IP. So Bungie went with Activision to make Destiny, as Bungie retained the rights to the IP in that deal. O’Donnell’s advice is to always try to hang on to the IP rights. Layden agreed, saying, “The landscape for that is starting to soften up. For young people with new ideas, try to hold on to them as long as you can.”

Odic said his company helps teams stay fresh by enabling them to work on new genres for the Talking Tom IP, as well as try new games based on new characters.

“Even if it is a casual game, there are so many complex systems and new technologies,” he said. “When you go into the new area, you need a completely different mindset and different kinds of people that need to do a lot of research. They need to be aware constantly that they don’t really know what they’re doing. And be careful not to judge based on previous experiences. So creating new IP becomes a very interesting time for us.”

The A-team or the C-team?

Heavy Rain

Above: Heavy Rain is one of the PlayStation games that came out during Shawn Layden’s run.

Image Credit: Quantic Dream

I asked Layden where studios should put the “A team,” on the new IP or the sequels.

“One of the dirty little secrets of PlayStation Worldwide Studios was that we let each team independently create their destiny,” he said. “There wasn’t so much of an A-team or B-team thing across the constellation of worldwide studios. I’m sure in each studio, they were managing their own talent stacks trying to make every new game a good combination of veteran expertise and young excitement. Everyone here is right about how do we continue to water the tree of creativity. people. People don’t want to work on Police Academy 9. But at the same time, you have something like the 25th iteration of the James Bond franchise and every movie is new in its own way because you let the team that’s building it not be too beholden to whatever legacy has come before.”

O’Donnell noted that as a studio gets larger and has multiple teams, it’s hard to combat the perception that one is the A-team and another is the B-team or C-team.

“That’s a tough thing to manage inside a studio,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t know how some studios do it. But certainly, if you’re on the B-team, you’re going to be motivated to get on the A-team.”

Layden noted that Quantic Dream made three games for PlayStation, but each one of them is a standalone story. They have similar gameplay, but each has a different creative vision.

“They weren’t built around sequels; they were built around a cohesive story that they were telling with a beginning and a middle and an end,” Layden said. “A lot of people go to that model, depending on what is in the creator’s vision. Some people go into it thinking how many sequels can I get out of this thing. It’s down to that creative process. And you just watch it unfold with each creator you come up with.”

O’Donnell said that the original Halo was intended to be a self-contained story, a single game. It was Halo’s success that made the team think seriously about a sequel.

“Sometimes these things happen accidentally,” he said.

Odic said teams can find new genres, mechanics, and characters. He said it’s OK to let teams go a little bit wild with their creativity. These can lead to new successes that take the pressure off the main franchise to keep performing.

“My slogan is to be nice to the goose. And the goose is the team that lays the golden egg,” O’Donnell said. “And being nice to the golden egg means you’re just going to make sequels that that are dead. But if you’re nice to the team that makes the lays the golden egg, that’s the only way to get really good, new golden eggs. Certainly, you don’t want to stab the goose and try to cut it open. But all I would ask for publishers and developers is be nice to the goose, because that’s how you’re going to get more eggs.”


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Colonial Pipeline paid a $5 million ransom—and kept a vicious cycle turning



Colonial Pipeline paid a $5 million ransom—and kept a vicious cycle turning

Sean Rayford | Getty Images

Nearly a week after a ransomware attack led Colonial Pipeline to halt fuel distribution on the East Coast, reports emerged on Friday that the company paid a 75 bitcoin ransom—worth as much as $5 million, depending on the time of payment—in an attempt to restore service more quickly. And while the company was able to restart operations Wednesday night, the decision to give in to hackers’ demands will only embolden other groups going forward. Real progress against the ransomware epidemic, experts say, will require more companies to say no.

Not to say that doing so is easy. The FBI and other law enforcement groups have long discouraged ransomware victims from paying digital extortion fees, but in practice many organizations resort to paying. They either don’t have the backups and other infrastructure necessary to recover otherwise, can’t or don’t want to take the time to recover on their own, or decide that it’s cheaper to just quietly pay the ransom and move on. Ransomware groups increasingly vet their victims’ financials before springing their traps, allowing them to set the highest possible price that their victims can still potentially afford.

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In the case of Colonial Pipeline, the DarkSide ransomware group attacked the company’s business network rather than the more sensitive operational technology networks that control the pipeline. But Colonial took down its OT network as well in an attempt to contain the damage, increasing the pressure to resolve the issue and resume the flow of fuel along the East Coast. Another potential factor in the decision, first reported by Zero Day, was that the company’s billing system had been infected with ransomware, so it had no way to track fuel distribution and bill customers.

Advocates of zero tolerance for ransom payments hoped that Colonial Pipeline’s proactive shutdown was a sign that the company would refuse to pay. Reports on Wednesday indicated that the company had a plan to hold out, but numerous subsequent reports on Thursday, led by Bloomberg, confirmed that the 75 bitcoin ransom had been paid. Colonial Pipeline did not return a request for comment from WIRED about the payment. It is still unclear whether the company paid the ransom soon after the attack or days later, as fuel prices rose and lines at gas stations grew.

“I can’t say I’m surprised, but it’s certainly disappointing,” says Brett Callow, a threat analyst at antivirus company Emsisoft. “Unfortunately, it’ll help keep United States critical infrastructure providers in the crosshairs. If a sector proves to be profitable, they’ll keep on hitting it.”

In a briefing on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Pskai emphasized in general that the US government encourages victims not to pay. Others in the administration struck a more measured note. “Colonial is a private company and we’ll defer information regarding their decision on paying a ransom to them,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, in a press briefing on Monday. She added that ransomware victims “face a very difficult situation and they [often] have to just balance the cost-benefit when they have no choice with regards to paying a ransom.”

Researchers and policymakers have struggled to produce comprehensive guidance about ransom payments. If every victim in the world suddenly stopped paying ransoms and held firm, the attacks would quickly stop, because there would be no incentive for criminals to continue. But coordinating a mandatory boycott seems impractical, researchers say, and likely would result in more payments happening in secret. When the ransomware gang Evil Corp attacked Garmin last summer, the company paid the ransom through an intermediary. It’s not unusual for large companies to use a middleman for payment, but Garmin’s situation was particularly noteworthy because Evil Corp had been sanctioned by the US government.

“For some organizations, their business could be completely destroyed if they don’t pay the ransom,” says Katie Nickels, director of intelligence at the security firm Red Canary. “If payments aren’t allowed you’ll just see people being quieter about making the payments.”

Prolonged shutdowns of hospitals, critical infrastructure, and municipal services also threaten more than just finances. When lives are literally at stake, a principled stand against hackers quickly drops off of the priorities list. Nickels herself recently participated in a public-private effort to establish comprehensive United States–based ransomware recommendations; the group could not agree on definitive guidance about if and when to pay.

“The Ransomware Task Force discussed this extensively,” she says. “There were a lot of important things that the group came to a consensus on and payment was one where there was no consensus.”

As part of a cybersecurity Executive Order signed by President Joseph Biden on Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security will create a Cyber Safety Review Board to investigate and debrief “significant” cyberattacks. That could at least help more payments be made in the open, giving the general public a fuller sense of the scale of the ransomware problem. But while the board has incentives to entice private organizations to participate, it may still need expanded authority from Congress to demand total transparency. Meanwhile, the payments will continue, and so will the attacks.

“You shouldn’t pay, but if you don’t have a choice and you’ll be out of business forever, you’re gonna pay,” says Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at the security firm CrowdStrike. “In my mind, the only thing that’s going to really drive change is organizations not getting got in the first place. When the money disappears, these guys will find some other way to make money. And then we’ll have to deal with that.”

For now, though, ransomware remains an inveterate threat. And Colonial Pipeline’s $5 million payment will only egg on cybercriminals.

This story originally appeared on

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Talend: 36% of business leaders don’t rely on data to make decisions



40% of business leaders still rely on gut decisions, not data.

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Even as enterprise leaders tout the importance of data, 36% of business leaders don’t rely on it for making critical decisions, according to a survey by Talend, an open source data integration platform. The same survey found that 78% of business executives face challenges effectively working with data to make decisions.

Above: 40% of business leaders still rely on gut decisions, not data.

Image Credit: Talend

Our relationship with data is not healthy. Talend’s survey found only 40% of executives always trust the data they work with. For decades, managing and using data for analysis was focused on the mechanics: the collecting, cleaning, storing, and cataloging of as much data as possible, then figuring out how to use it later. Companies don’t know what data they have, where it is, or who is using it, and, critically, no way to measure their data health.

Data health is Talend’s vision of a comprehensive system for ensuring the well-being and return of corporate information. Data health offers proactive treatments, quantifiable measures, and preventive steps to identify and correct issues, ensuring that corporate data is clean, complete, and uncompromised.

Data health is a complex journey of unique requirements, regulations, and risk tolerance. It will take substantial market collaboration and research to align on appropriate standards for different companies. Eventually, data health solutions will help create a universal set of metrics to evaluate the health of corporate data and establish it as an essential indicator of the strength of a business. Talend’s initial framework imagines four primary focus areas to establish data health: reliability, visibility, understanding and value. We believe that data health will become a key, if not the most important, performance framework used within and across organizations to monitor and evaluate the health of the company. With this new data health first approach, and new standards, leaders can level the employee playing field and drive a data-charged cultural change.

From March 24th to April 8th, 2021, Talend led a survey via Qualtrics among a base of 529 independent respondents worldwide. (57% North America, 26% Asia-Pacific, 17% Europe). The respondents are all executives — with titles ranging from director to the C-suite — from medium and large companies making more than $10 million in annual revenue.

Read Talend’s full report Data Health Survey.


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Pipeline attacker Darkside suddenly goes dark—here’s what we know



Pipeline attacker Darkside suddenly goes dark—here’s what we know

Darkside—the ransomware group that disrupted gasoline distribution across a wide swath of the US this week—has gone dark, leaving it unclear if the group is ceasing, suspending, or altering its operations or is simply orchestrating an exit scam.

On Thursday, all eight of the dark web sites Darkside used to communicate with the public went down, and they remain down as of publication time. Overnight, a post attributed to Darkside claimed, without providing any evidence, that the group’s website and content distribution infrastructure had been seized by law enforcement, along with the cryptocurrency it had received from victims.

The dog ate our funds

“At the moment, these servers cannot be accessed via SSH, and the hosting panels have been blocked,” the post stated, according to a translation of the Russian-language post published Friday by security firm Intel471. “The hosting support service doesn’t provide any information except ‘at the request of law enforcement authorities.’ In addition, a couple of hours after the seizure, funds from the payment server (belonging to us and our clients) were withdrawn to an unknown account.”

The post went on to claim that Darkside would distribute a decryptor free of charge to all victims who have yet to pay a ransom. So far, there are no reports of the group delivering on that promise.

If true, the seizures would represent a big coup for law enforcement. According to newly released figures from cryptocurrency tracking firm Chainalysis, Darkside netted at least $60 million in its first seven months, with $46 million of it coming in the first three months of this year.

Identifying a Tor hidden service would also be a huge score, since it likely would mean that either the group made a major configuration error in setting the service up or law enforcement knows of a serious vulnerability in the way the dark web works. (Intel471 analysts say that some of Darkside’s infrastructure is public-facing—meaning the regular Internet—so malware can connect to it.)

But so far, there’s no evidence to publicly corroborate these extraordinary claims. Typically, when law enforcement from the US and Western European countries seize a website, they post a notice on the site’s front page that discloses the seizure. Below is an example of what people saw after trying to visit the site for the Netwalker group after the site was taken down:

netwalker notice

So far, none of the Darkside sites display such a notice. Instead, most of them time out or show blank screens.

What’s even more doubtful is the claim that the group’s considerable cryptocurrency holdings have been taken. People who are experienced in using digital currency know not to store it in “hot wallets,” which are digital vaults connected to the Internet. Because hot wallets contain the private keys needed to transfer funds to new accounts, they’re vulnerable to hacks and the types of seizures claimed in the post.

For law enforcement to confiscate the digital currency, Darkside operators likely would have had to store it in a hot wallet, and the currency exchange used by Darkside would have had to cooperate with the law enforcement agency or been hacked.

It’s also feasible that close tracking by an organization like Chainalysis identified wallets that received funds from Darkside, and law enforcement subsequently confiscated the holdings. Indeed, Elliptic, a separate blockchain analytics company, reported finding a Bitcoin wallet used by DarkSide to receive payments from its victims. On Thursday, Elliptic reported, it was emptied of $5 million.

At the moment, it’s not known if that transfer was initiated by the FBI or another law enforcement group, or by Darkside itself. Either way, Elliptic said the wallet—which since early March had received 57 payments from 21 different wallets—provided important clues for investigators to follow.

“What we find is that 18% of the Bitcoin was sent to a small group of exchanges,” Elliptic Co-founder and Chief Scientist Tom Robinson wrote. “This information will provide law enforcement with critical leads to identify the perpetrators of these attacks.”

Nonsense, hype, and noise

Darkside’s post came as a prominent criminal underground forum called XSS announced that it was banning all ransomware activities, a major about-face from the past. The site was previously a significant resource for the ransomware groups REvil, Babuk, Darkside, LockBit, and Nefilim to recruit affiliates, who use the malware to infect victims and in exchange share a cut of the revenue generated. A few hours later, all Darkside posts made to XSS had come down.

In a Friday morning post, security firm Flashpoint wrote:

According to the administrator of XSS, the decision is partially based on ideological differences between the forum and ransomware operators. Furthermore, the media attention from high-profile incidents has resulted in a “critical mass of nonsense, hype, and noise.” The XSS statement offers some reasons for its decision, particularly that ransomware collectives and their accompanying attacks are generating “too much PR” and heightening the geopolitical and law enforcement risks to a “hazard[ous] level.”

The admin of XSS also claimed that when “Peskov [the Press Secretary for the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin] is forced to make excuses in front of our overseas ‘friends’—this is a bit too much.” They hyperlinked an article on the Russian News website Kommersant entitled “Russia has nothing to do with hacking attacks on a pipeline in the United States” as the basis for these claims.

Within hours, two other underground forums—Exploit and Raid Forums—had also banned ransomware-related posts, according to images circulating on Twitter.

REvil, meanwhile, said it was banning the use of its software against health care, educational, and governmental organizations, The Record reported.

Ransomware at a crossroads

The moves by XSS and REvil pose a major short-term disruption of the ransomware ecosystem since they remove a key recruiting tool and source of revenue. Long-term effects are less clear.

“In the long run, it’s hard to believe the ransomware ecosystem will completely fade out, given that operators are financially motivated and the schemes employed have been effective,” Intel471 analysts said in an email. They said it was more likely that ransomware groups will “go private,” meaning they will no longer publicly recruit affiliates on public forums, or will unwind their current operations and rebrand under a new name.

Ransomware groups could also alter their current practice of encrypting data so it’s unusable by the victim while also downloading the data and threatening to make it public. This double-extortion method aims to increase the pressure on victims to pay. The Babuk ransomware group recently started phasing out its use of malware that encrypts data while maintaining its blog that names and shames victims and publishes their data.

“This approach allows the ransomware operators to reap the benefits of a blackmail extortion event without having to deal with the public fallout of disrupting the business continuity of a hospital or critical infrastructure,” the Intel471 analysts wrote in the email.

For now, the only evidence that Darkside’s infrastructure and cryptocurrency have been seized is the words of admitted criminals, hardly enough to consider confirmation.

“I could be wrong, but I suspect this is simply an exit scam,” Brett Callow, a threat analyst with security firm Emsisoft told Ars. “Darkside get to sail off into the sunset—or, more likely rebrand—without needing to share the ill-gotten gains with their partners in crime.”

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