Weekly News Roundup (16 May 2010)
No mid week blog or new guides, but plenty of news to make up for it. The NPD data for April is out, and it’s not looking like a good month for video games. I should have the analysis up by tomorrow, even with NPD providing less stats than before (only the top 5 games by units sold, and no more PS2 console numbers).
Starting with copyright news as usual, the biggest news of the week was the RIAA’s victory in court over LimeWire, and it could very well signal the end of the file-sharing service popular for music downloads.
The judge awarded summary judgement to the RIAA, and judged the operators of LimeWire to be guilty of copyright infringement. Along with the Grokster verdict, this pretty much means the end of organized file-sharing services, although this verdict will have no effect on the wider P2P community, most of which are not funded or run by companies (which can be easily identified and sued), but by individuals.
And court decisions don’t always lead to action, as the MPAA has found out in their crusade to shut down The Pirate Bay. After several court decision in their favour, The Pirate Bay’s flag is still flying. The MPAA’s latest tactic has been to go after the ISP that hosts the BitTorrent indexing website, Cyberbunker. But even with the court decision, The Pirate Bay is still up and running, and so I’m not actually sure what is going on, and it appears Cyberbunker isn’t too sure either, having stated that they’ve received no notices from their solicitors to take any actions. If this affects The Pirate Bay, they will simply move to a new hosting provider, although which one, and where, remains to be seen.
Staying in Europe, a German court has found that Wi-Fi operators, including home users, are responsible for securing their connections and if their unsecured connection is used to commit a crime, such as downloading copyrighted content illegally, then the operators are responsible. I think this is a very tricky area, because many users are not aware of the need to secure their Wi-Fi connections. There are also cases where legacy devices means that a less secure Wi-Fi network has to be maintained. And even with safeguards, hackers may still find a way onto the network, and use its resources without authorization. And if this is the case, then the network operators are as much a victim as the content owners whose content was downloaded illegally from the connection, but because it’s easier to go after the operators, that’s what content owners are doing. It’s like someone stealing your car to use it to rob a bank, and because you left the keys inside, the court finds you guilty of armed robbery. Personally, I think WPA2 security should be enabled by default on Wi-Fi devices, as that’s the only way to encourage consumers to learn about the need to secure their Wi-Fi connections.
More lawsuits, this time across the Atlantic over in the US. The producers of the Oscar winning film, The Hurt Locker, is suing thousands of individuals for downloading the film illegally. And once again, the firm known as the US Copyright Group is handling the case. They are the ones who has already engaged in mass litigation on behalf of a few independent filmmakers, including the infamous Uwe Boll, although they are facing some trouble with that case, with Time Warner Cable not playing along. TWC feels the US Copyright Group has reneged on an earlier promise to limit the flow of subpoenas for subscriber information, but now that they have requested details for 2100 subscribers all at one time, TWC feels this “discovery abuse”. For many anti-piracy firms, anti-piracy is about making money, and if you can get others to do your work, at their own cost, then it all adds up to more profits in the long run. The entertainment industry are aware of the bad name some of these firms give to anti-piracy efforts, as well as their monetizing policies, but these mass lawsuits are about fear as much as anything, and if they scare people away from illegal downloads, then that’s mission accomplished. Of course, it could just drive people to use encrypted networks and run blocking software, and thus makes it harder, if not impossible, for groups like the US Copyright Group to monitor downloads.
Adobe is adding DRM selectable output control to Flash, which could mean the end of Flash movie playback on non HDCP compatible devices. It’s all about giving content owners their security blanket, even if it comes at the cost of everyday customers.
And soon after Nintendo promised to fight piracy on the upcoming 3D version of their DS console, the 3DS, by implementing more anti-piracy features, they’ve also taken to court sellers of R4 flash carts. These flash carts allow illegally downloaded games to be played, as well as adding some additional features to the portable console (like video playback). Nintendo has previously requested the same company to cease and desist in selling these carts, and while the company complied at first, they also allegedly created a virtual mirror of their store and continued selling R4 carts on the new store. If this is the case, then your really can’t blame Nintendo for suing them, although there are still plenty of places where R4 carts can be purchased from. And you might have to agree that the DS’s success so far, easily beating Sony’s PSP, might have something to do with the ease in which pirated games can be played on the console, a fact that even Sony agrees when talking about its earlier PSP successes. If Nintendo really wanted to stop DS piracy, then it should have cracked down hard on R4 and earlier carts when they first came out, not several years later after the DS has successfully cornered market share. Maybe this is just the cynical side of me thinking that Nintendo’s timing may not be an accident …
It’s not all bad news in the courts though. President Obama’s nominee for the about to be open Supreme Court position may be someone that has at least considered the issue of fair use, and may have even fought for it in court against the very same entertainment industry that wants to see fair use killed off. Elena Kagan has been instrumental in hiring pro fair use people in her time as Dean of Harvard Law, and has argued for fair use against the entertainment industry in a case related to Cablevision’s attempt to create an online based PVR system. Of course, the Obama administration as a whole has been very friendly towards the RIAA and MPAA, but that’s no surprise considering Joe Biden has always been a friend of the copyright lobby.
Another game developer, this time Rockstar, has been found using game crack code, this time for the game May Payne 2. They needed to produce a version of the game that didn’t require the original game disc for Steam, and instead of creating their own no CD patch, they apparently used code from the game crack released by defunct group Myth. Ubisoft, the company now notoriously known for their harsh “always on” DRM scheme, has also done something similar, stealing code from active group RELOADED for the game Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. I won’t make judgement on who is stealing what, but the fact that game developers *need* “no-disc” patches created by crack groups suggest to me that the consumers wants something, and that something is less DRM. Last week I talked about the Humble Indie Bundle (which is now over, sadly), and that was really an experiment to see if giving consumers what they want – good pricing, no DRM, was really the way to go. The fact that this one week event raised more than $1.2 million suggest that it was a success, although Wolfire, the game company that ran the event, suggest that there were still a lot of people who still pirated the bundle, despite it costing only a penny. So the conclusion seems to be that some people will pirate games regardless of the cost, and Wolfire thinks that the convenience of pirate downloads may be the reason behind this phenomenon. But for those that did pay, most paid way more than the minimum amount, suggesting that people are still willing to pay for games, but please just don’t make it too difficult for them to do so.
But EA is not too concerned, and is determined to ban the sale of second hand games, so important to many gamers due to their limited funds. You can see why EA is concerned, since they do not get a cut of any second hand sales, and each person that buys the second hand game, is one less person that will buy the new game. Of course, if game pricing weren’t so ridiculously high, then maybe gamers won’t need to sell their games, or buy second hand ones. And if their games were any good, people also wouldn’t get rid of them after a month or two. EA’s solution is to sell digital distributed games that can’t be resold, or use one time voucher codes that enables multiplayer play, and second hand buyers must buy a new code if they want to play online.
On to HD news now. Managed Copy is still pretty much non existent, despite the date after which MC becomes mandatory passing long ago. If MC is the compromise solution between being able to use the content in ways the consumers wants, but also taking into account the industry’s self interest, then it appears this compromise is one sided and that the content owners simply don’t want people to separate the content from the physical media. Or that with the 3D hype, CE firms are too busy to think about MC.
But one of the key components of MC is some kind of payment system that unlocks the managed copy (MC is not going to be free). At least this hurdle may be overcome with news that PayPal payments could soon be available for Blu-ray’s BD-Live system, as well as Internet connected TVs. This could also open up downloadable content for Blu-ray, DLCs being a success for video game consoles. The key to success for DLCs and Apps has been easy to manage micro payment systems, and this is one area in which Blu-ray has to improve.
And I know I promised to never mention the horrible Lord of the Rings Theatrical Trilogy Blu-ray again, but I must, since it has just received a price drop on Amazon.com (thanks to Digital Digest’s Amazon Blu-ray Price Index service, it’s easy to track when such price drops occur). And this has helped it to go up in the sales ranks as I type. The set is now $49.99, down from $63.99, which makes them alright value. Cynics will say the price drop confirms the failure of the set, while Warner will probably say that this was always planned and that any money they make before the Extended Editions come out will be a bonus for them (okay, maybe Warner probably won’t admit to this last part). Avatar is still selling like hotcakes (I’ve never bought a hotcake though, whatever it is). But every copy of Avatar sold adds to the carbon output due to the manufacturing process and paper, plastics used, something that’s not an issue with digitally distributed movies though.
And finally in gaming, without talking about the awful April NPD figures, there’s still a few other news items. The PS3 “Other OS” thing is getting a bit boring to me, but it’s an serious issue for the US Air Force who may have foolish invested in thousands of PS3s thinking the “Other OS” feature would always remain.
They used the “Other OS” feature to install custom software which linked all the thousands of PS3s to act as a cheaply built supercomputer. Sony removing “Other OS” is not an issue as long as the USAF doesn’t upgrade their PS3s to the new firmware, but of course broken PS3s cannot be repaired without losing “Other OS”. They should have copies of the older firmware downloaded though, so perhaps it’s not a big issue until their fat PS3s are no longer repairable.
But there is a good lesson for consumers here. Always purchase something based on their “core” features, which for the PS3 means gaming and Blu-ray/multimedia playback. Any other features that are not main functions of the device may and probably will change over time. And if you’re relying on some kind of loophole or workaround to do something with the device that it wasn’t intended for, then that’s even more dangerous. And the lesson for device manufacturers is that don’t advertise features you don’t plan on supporting.
The PS3 is at least finally profitable for Sony, which means they will have more room to offer price cuts, although there are many reasons why they will be reluctant to do this (first being not wanting to go back to a loss state after finally becoming profitable, second being not wanting to make standalone Blu-ray players too poor in value in comparison). But perhaps including the PS Move accessories in a bundle without price rises may be on the cards. For the Xbox 360, it too is looking at adding 3D gaming, just like the PS3 will be doing in June. Project Natal is also set to launch later in the year, with rumors suggesting an October release date, which should give it plenty of time in the run up to the major holiday sales period. I still don’t know what to think of Project Natal – it’s certainly different, but that could lead to either success or failure if it isn’t implemented correctly. But I can see it being something people want to try out personally, as opposed to the PS Move, which anyone that have played the Wii would be familiar with, or more importantly, *think* that they would be familiar with (even if the overall experience is quite different thanks to the more accurate controller). You can read more about all of these stories in this forum thread.
Okay then, that’s that for the week. NPD analysis on Monday, perhaps some new guides or guide updates during the week, and of course, more news as always this time next week. Have a good week.