Slave to the Game

Filling you in on the oddball gaming news

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LONDON, England (AP) -- GCHQ, the surveillance arm of British intelligence, said Thursday it hopes to attract computer-savvy young recruits by embedding job ads within video games such as "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent."

GCHQ, which stands for Government Communications Headquarters, said it was looking to reach "an Internet-savvy generation of graduate groups."

In a statement, GCHQ said it hoped the campaign would "capture the imagination of people with a particular interest in IT."

The monthlong ad campaign, which starts at the end of October, is being run by GCHQ, the recruitment firm TMP Worldwide and Microsoft-owned in-game ad agency Massive Inc.

Ads headed "Careers in British Intelligence" will appear as billboards in scenes in "Splinter Cell" and other games including "Need for Speed Carbon" and "Enemy Territory: Quake Wars" when they are played on computers and Microsoft Xbox consoles in Britain.

Kate Clemens, Head of GCHQ's digital strategy at TMP Worldwide, said the campaign would target frequent gamers who "are particularly receptive to innovative forms of advertising."

"The world of online gaming offers GCHQ a further route to target a captive audience," she said.

GCHQ employs about 5,000 people at its high-tech headquarters in Cheltenham, western England.

Britain's shadowy intelligence services have slowly been raising their profile -- and deflating some cherished secret-agent myths -- as they attempt to attract a larger and more diverse pool of recruits.

The foreign intelligence service MI6 launched a Web site in 2005, which cautions that its work is far from the "level of glamour and excitement" of James Bond films. Its domestic counterpart, MI5, has an online section tackling "myths and misconceptions" that stresses "we do not kill people or arrange their assassination."

MI5 has placed job ads on the side of double-decker London buses and tried to attract more female applicants with ads in women's changing rooms at gyms.

A British security official said the locker-room posters had brought a wave of applicants, doubling the number of women employed as surveillance officers.

"The idea is to make people think more broadly about MI5 as a potential employer," she said, demanding anonymity to discuss intelligence work. "We need all kinds of people, not just those who look like they've stepped out an army officer academy."

MI6 -- long the preserve of white, male graduates from Oxford and Cambridge Universities -- now stresses it requires employees from a wide range of backgrounds and with a variety of skills. One recent newspaper ad appealed for administrators under the tag line: "Protect your country. At your desk."

Microsoft bought New York-based Massive last year. The company sells virtual billboard space to advertisers, then -- rather than placing the ads within the games themselves -- delivers them over the Internet to PCs and Xbox 360 game consoles.

In a move that has been rumored since the time of Kutaragi's tenure as CEO, Sony has announced that it will sell a pair of its semiconductor fabrication facilities. These two fabs, one in Oita and another in Nagasaki, make the Cell processor and GPU for the Playstation 3, and their sale marks the end of Sony's days as an integrated device manufacturer (IDM).

Reuters is reporting rumors that the two fabs will go for $858 million, but neither of the parties have yet to announce dollar figures for the sale. The Nagasaki fab will be run by a new business set up jointly by Sony and Toshiba.

Sony has been considering getting out of semiconductor manufacturing for some time now. I personally know an investment banker whose bank was once asked to send representatives to a meeting with then-CEO Ken Kutaragi, in which Kutaragi tried to get a sense from the finance community of what Wall Street's reaction would be to Sony's selling its semi business. Sony's constant mulling of this decision over the years produced a string of rumors that would periodically bubble up in the press, but the company never pulled the trigger on the move until this week.

It's not surprising that Sony would want out of the advanced fabrication business. With fabs at new process nodes getting astronomically more expensive to build, Intel seems to be the only company left that can afford to design and fabricate advanced semiconductor devices all under one roof, without any help from partners. IBM, AMD, Toshiba, and now Sony are all using some combination of fab partnerships and foundries to distribute the cost of fabrication and defray the risks associated with making a huge bet on a next-gen fab.

One could make the argument that what hurt Sony's semiconductor profits the most were the (totally non-semi-related) troubles with getting Blu-Ray drive costs down. In other words, Sony made a huge investment in designing and fabbing a cutting-edge set of microchips for a particular product, and that investment was then held hostage to troubles in an unrelated division by simple virtue of the fact that both devices were destined for the same box (the PS3). From here on out, Sony will take the Microsoft approach and let someone else fab the chips for its consoles.

Sony's decision to finally sell these two fabs to Toshiba is the latest stage of Sir Howard Stringer's "three-year turnaround plan" for the company. Stringer, chief executive of Sony, has been using the plan as a means for "shedding [Sony's] none-core assets aggressively" in order to help clot the bleeding of the company's games division.

Stringer's ascension to CEO seems to be having a positive effect on the company, at least from a gaming perspective. The PlayStation 3 got off to a rough start, but the changes that have resulted in the wake of Kutaragi's departure have been for the most part positive. The system has benefitted from a price drop, some new options for consumers, and a growing library of worthwhile games—a trend that looks to continue into the new year.

The highly unique PlayStation 2 title Okami will see new life as a title for the Wii console. Boasting a beautiful visual style and a 'drawing' game mechanic that would seem to presage the Wii's motion control, it will almost certainly fit in well with the Wii's existing stable of games. Eurogamer also note that

"the game lends itself rather well to the potential of Nintendo's Wiimote for control. Amaterasu's Celestial Brush - a paintbrush used in combat and for solving puzzles - is a perfect fit for the Wiimote, and so it proves, while combat will also include various "motion-controlled physical attacks"."