Gaming update: Layoffs everywhere, MOGA controller woes and A Game of Dwarves

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It's been a week of bad news in the gaming world, so lets get through this together.

Zynga laid off 5% of their staff this week in an attempt to shore up their bottom line. They closed a Boston office, reduced staff in Austin and have proposed shutting down shops in the UK and Japan. They're sunsetting 13 games and cutting down investment in their title The Ville (a game that is the subject of legal action from EA who claims it copies EA's The Sims Social). Learn more at Huffington Post.

I'm not a fan of Zynga's practice of cloning successful games but it's always a bummer to hear about people losing their jobs. But it wasn't only Zynga.

Bigpoint, a developer of 'free to play' online games including Battlestar Galactica Online, cut 120 jobs earlier this week. Forty of these were from their San Francisco office and the rest were in Hamburg. The company has found "that developing games in the US is not really the most efficient way for us at the moment," according to Bigpoint CEO Heiko Hubertz. In Hamburg most of the cuts were administrative staff. Hubertz himself is stepping down from his CEO role but claims the decision isn't related to the job cuts. Gamesindustry.biz has more on this story.

Last layoff story for this week, I promise. Turbine Entertainment (Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online) also saw layoffs, though at the time of this writing it wasn't clear how many people were affected. Turbine employs, or employed, 400 people in its Boston area offices. Boston.com has a few more details.

In my circles, the infatuation with Kickstarter-funded games is starting to wane a bit. I'm not sure if we're typical or the lunatic fringe but several of us have decided to cut back on funding these projects because so many of them seem to struggle to make deadlines. Our concerns were reinforced by the story of Haunts, a project that was successfully funded a few months ago. This week Rick Dakan, the project lead for Haunts, had to share the news that his company was out of money and his programmers had left the project. Essentially progress on the game had come to a halt. The good news is that while things are still developing, the story may have a happy ending; it looks like the game development community may pull together to help finish the game. Joystiq interviewed Dakan — who refers to himself as "the new poster boy for Kickstarter cautionary tales" — and has a great post about the fall and potential rise of Haunts. Well worth reading.

Remember PowerA's MOGA game controller for Android that I've written about a few times? It shipped this week and I threw down my $50 to get one. I am not at all pleased with it. The actual hardware is pretty nice, but it requires PowerA's Pivot app to be running in order to work. When you shut down Pivot the bluetooth connectivity to the device shuts down too. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if the Pivot app recognized the games you have on your device, but it seems not to, so you have to leave Pivot to launch the games. The only workaround for now is to purchase games through the Pivot app in order for it to acknowledge them and even then it'll only stay on about 75% of the time. The other 25% you have to return to the Pivot app, re-sync the controller with your Android device and try again.

On their Facebook page PowerA says this isn't how things are supposed to work. The MOGA should recognize any existing games you have that are on MOGA's supported list, and if it doesn't you should contact the game developer and ask them for a patch. I'm sure that will be effective.

If you're a brand new Android user this isn't too big of a deal but if like me you've already purchased a bunch of the games that MOGA supports, you're out of luck unless you want to purchase them a second time. I reached out to PowerA's technical support with my concerns about their device but other than acknowledging my email they haven't responded. For now I suggest you not buy this controller, though if PowerA can work the kinks out of its Pivot app it could become a decent piece of gear.

I'd return it except for a third party project, the MOGA Universal Driver. This is in an early stage of development but it allows you to use the MOGA with games that natively support game controllers (and also lets you use it to control the Android UI). I'm hoping this project continues to improve because as I said, the actual hardware of the MOGA is pretty nice.

Nintendo had one of their "Direct Access" mini events yesterday where they showed off a bunch of good looking 3DS games. I've held off on purchasing a 3DS so far but I'm really tempted when I see video like this one for Fire Emblem:

Joystiq has a bunch of other 3DS trailers available for your viewing pleasure.

Speaking of Nintendo, we learned this week that the company is selling the Wii U at a loss. This is typical behavior for Sony and Microsoft but unusual for Nintendo. Good news for you and I though!

This week I'm once again playing a lesser known game: A Game of Dwarves form Paradox Software and Zeal Game Studio. I can best describe this as a mix of Minecraft and Dungeon Keeper. As a prince in charge of a clan of dwarves, you tell your digger dwarves where to dig, crafter dwarves what to build, scholar dwarves what to research and warrior dwarves what to fight. You don't directly control a character, you just order them about. You have to balance population vs food supplies while keeping your dwarves happy by decorating their underground lair. I've always been too intimidated to try Dwarf Fortress but I get the sense that A Game of Dwarfs is kind of a 'lite' version of DF.

As a Paradox Game it's a little bit buggy (sorry Paradox but let's be honest, most of your games require a few patches after launch to smooth the rough edges) and the graphics are fairly mundane, but the gameplay has kept me up much too late for the past couple of nights. You can get the game on Steam for $10. Windows only.

So that's what I've been playing; what have you been playing? Uncovered any little known gems lately? Please leave a comment!

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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