Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (October 21, 2018)

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

And we’re back, this time on a new server. Sorry for the lack of a WNR last week, it was just too hectic to do one what with the new servers downloading all the GBs of stuff from the old servers. The migration is going better than expected, it’s been a while since I’ve done such a large scale move and things have actually gotten a lot easier over the years, thanks to a lot of automation. It’s still panic and confusion half of the time though, but hopefully most of that is behind us now, and it’s just the matter of making sure everything still works.

Let’s take a look at the news stories this week …

Copyright

GTA Online

Creating cheat tools in GTA Online, and other games, might get you in big legal trouble

Wow, I didn’t know cheating was so dangerous. Or rather, making cheat tools can apparently get your house searched, computers seized and assets frozen. I guess it is a big deal when it involves a $6 billion gaming franchise in the form of GTA V and in particular, GTA Online, and cheats that allow gamers to generate unlimited virtual currency and bypass Rockstar’s virtual economy could mean real damage to Rockstar’s real currency intake.

The lawsuit is being fought via copyright law, which at first seems a bit strange, but all the publishers are doing it this way, these days. Blizzard, for example, argued that cheat tools break the game’s EULA and the regular copying of code and files by the game is therefore considered illegal copying. Or something convoluted like that.

Still, not too many people will be upset by this because nobody likes cheaters and those that profit from cheating tools, but it still does seem a bit excessive to go after cheat makers so hard like this. I’m sure a strongly worded letter would have had the same effect, but this feels like a show of force to scare away other cheat developers. Shame for the 5 Aussies at the end of it though.

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Remember when torrent news website TorrentFreak was blocked as a piracy/hacking resource? It’s now been banned by Steam, of all places, for being potentially malicious. Just how news stories can harm Steam users, I don’t really know, but Steam is no stranger to blocking anything it deems slightly related to piracy, and I guess news sites (like this one, and this one) are fair game now.

High Definition

New Netflix Interface

Netflix spending heaps on content, but it’s working to drive subscriber growth

Netflix posted some great Q3 results, following the lackluster revenue report from the previous quarter and doubts in the market about the streaming firm’s long term profitability. This initially caused Netflix stock to surge in price, but it has now fallen back to below where it was due to weakness across the whole NASDAQ.

Leaving aside market wobbles, Netflix looks like it’s in a good position, both in the US and in overseas markets. It’s still spending a sh*tload of money on content, some $3 billion negative free cash flow for the year, which is why off of nearly $4 billion in revenue, net income was at a much lower $403 million (which is actually higher than normal).

But the investment in content is worth it as long as it drives new subscribers to the platform. Of course, Netflix would prefer to spend money creating original content than to license existing content, because it has been the originals that have been driving subscriber growth, and in the long run, originals actually cost less money.

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And so that was the week that was. Now back to server stuff.

Weekly News Roundup (September 30, 2018)

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Hello again! Hope you’ve been having a nice week. Me? I’ve been catching up on Battlestar Galactica again, the new re-imagined series (also known as the RDM version, named after its creator and Star Trek alumni Ronald D. Moore – the relevance of this little factoid will be revealed later on). I often have stuff on in the background while doing some of the more tedious work for the site, and TV series with completed seasons that I’ve watched before are great in that they’re long and familiar, which means it won’t distract me from working (too much). If you’ve not seen the RDM BSG series, you really ought to give it a go, especially if you’re a fan of good sci-fi. It’s one of those milestone shows that forever changed sci-fi, and now every second sci-fi show tries to emulate its “grittiness” and serial format (including one particular season of Star Trek: Enterprise, if I can remember), as opposed to Star Trek’s spotless, episodic nature. It’s also one sexy, if still quite tame by HBO standard, show.

Anyway, enough babble, on to the news!

Copyright

Vinyl record player

Old songs will finally start falling into public domain

Before we get to the Star Trek stuff, there’s a bit of copyright good news (relatively speaking) coming out of Washington DC, at a time when good news out of that place is a rarer commodity than modesty from President Trump. For once, Congress, rights-holder groups and digital rights activists have all come together in support of a new copyright bill that could finally set a limit on the copyright term of old music. Really old music.

Having sailed through the US Senate, the Music Modernization Bill will finally start putting music published from 1923 into public domain, starting this year. Songs made before 1946 will all have a set 95 year term, while songs published between 1947 and 1956 would get a 110 year term. Songs published between 1957 and 1972 would all expire by 2067, meaning that will be the year Bill Withers’s ‘Lean On Me’ will fall into public domain. It’s a compromise for digital rights groups like Public Knowledge, which supported the bill, but it finally puts and end limit on copyright terms for songs that were increasingly looking that they were never going to fall into public domain.

Now all we need is something similar for movie and TV content. Can’t wait for a public domain Mickey Mouse to exist, and also can’t wait to see how freaked out Disney will be by it.

Speaking of a media giant being freaked out, CBS has decided to use the nuclear option (or an antimatter explosion equivalent) to take out a promising fan project that will finally allow all of us Trekkies and Trekkers to live out a fantasy – to walk the decks of the USS Enterprise-D. CBS has ordered the fan project Stage 9, which has meticulously recreated the illustrious ship using the Unreal Engine, complete with working controls (yes, even saucer seps!), sound effects and crew members, to shut down or face a legal version of a photon torpedo attack.

Stage 9 USS Enterprise-D Engineering

CBS shuts down the antimatter containment field on the Stage 9 project

This is despite CBS Vice President for Product Development John Van Citters recently reassuring contributors to fan projects that “they’re not going to hear from us. They’re not going to get a phone call, they’re not going to get an email. They’re not going to get anything that’s going to ruin their day one way or another and make them feel bad, like they’ve done something wrong”. Except that exactly what the Stage 9 team got, and efforts to contact Mr Van Citters did not produce any results (as in, no response at all).

I’m sure the people behind Stage 9 would have made any changes that CBS would have requested, and even if CBS wanted them to pay for a license, I’m sure fans of the project would have loved to help. Unfortunately, CBS decided to not to play ball (or Parrises squares) with Stage 9, and us fans were left with no options, not even a paying one.

That last sentence wasn’t entirely correct. There is an option, one that’s obviously not legal now that CBS has stepped in. Downloads of the latest build of Stage 9 has been floating around Reddit and the usual torrent places, and lots of people are downloading. Not sure how long this will go on before the CBS take action on these links. A very sad state of affairs, if you ask me. Sadder than when Captain Picard opened the box containing “his” Ressikan Flute. Sadder than the end of “Lower Decks”.

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And on that nerdy note, we come to the end of this WNR. Back to more fraking excellent BSG. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (September 23, 2018)

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

Welcome to another issue of the WNR. Many of you read this roundup via our newsletter, and if you do, you might have noticed that it was our 600th issue last week. There’s a pretty strong link between the newsletter and this WNR, as both became regular features at around the same time, some 11 years ago. To put that into perspective, when the WNR first started, the iPhone was only a couple of months old. That’s the original iPhone, the one without any numbers (or now, Roman numerals/letters) after it. 2007 was also the year that Netflix started their streaming business.

So suffice to say, a lot of things have changed since then. But as you’ll find out in this WNR, some things stay the same.

Copyright

Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker

Some Denuvo games are being cracked on the day of release

So 11 years later, DRM is still around and still a pain in the you know what. It used to be the controversial SecuROM that was causing all sorts of problems like constant reactivations, rootkits, these days it’s Denuvo with its potential performance problems. But publishers, just like back then, don’t care too much about the problems DRM like Denuvo and SecuROM bring, not if it protects their games. At least in Denuvo’s defence, it does actually work, for a while. That “for a while” is getting shorter and shorter though, and a new batch of games with the latest Denuvo version has just been cracked.

It’s kind of sad that publishers continue to use DRM even though there’s plenty of evidence that it’s actually making for a poorer user experience for their products, like how framerates for ‘Mass Effect Andromeda’ went up by 12%, in one test, after an official patch removed Denuvo protection from the game recently. There’s is also the negative PR for when a game is announced to use Denuvo, and that may even translate to lost sales.

But you take a look at ‘The Witcher 3’ from the one major publisher who is staunchly anti-DRM, and you look at its sales, and you wonder, is DRM really needed? Despite gamers knowing that the game, being DRM free, would be instantly piratable, 1.5 million people still chose to pre-order the game. And even after release (and after the pirated version was floating freely online), 6 million more copies were sold in the first six weeks. And the game continued to sell well two years after release, with sales in 2017 outnumbering that from 2016 – and all the while, the game was DRM-free and pirated everywhere. This made the ‘Witcher’ series more popular, sales wise, than the likes of ‘Fallout’, ‘Borderlands’, and the entire ‘Batman’ franchise.

The ‘DRM-free’ equals ‘piracy’ equals ‘lost sales’ equation doesn’t seem to compute.

High Definition

New Netflix Interface

Unique local content, interface improvements, key to being competitive for SVOD providers

The SVOD marketplace is getting very competitive. Even though Netflix has a huge share of the market, other players like Amazon, and here in Australia, Stan, are all vying for a slice of the, admittedly still growing, pie. This means that it’s more important than ever for SVOD platforms to be able to stand out from the crowd, to offer something unique. And plain old original content isn’t enough, increasingly, SVOD platforms are now offering localised original content.

Take Australia for example, the local SVOD outfit Stan has already released several original Australian series and even a movie, while Netflix has one in the works as well. And from Netflix, here in Australia, we can watch series from China, Brazil, Spain, France and many other countries.

And apart from unique content, there’s also the need to constantly improve the user experience. The apps for most streaming platforms are already pretty slick, but there are always room for improvement (even if it simply means removing certain features that are no longer useful, such as user reviews and star ratings).

Improvements to playback quality, in terms of 4K UHD, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and soon, HDR10+ are also an important way to keep things fresh.

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And on that note, we come to the end of another WNR. I have no idea what issue this one is, since I haven’t been using issue numbers with the WNR. Probably somewhere just north of 500, is my guess. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (September 2, 2018)

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

How are you holding up on this fine/rainy/cold/hot/windy day/night (scratch off any that don’t apply)? You know why I’m here. I know why I’m here. So let’s get started with the roundup.

Copyright

TorrentFreak

News website TorrentFreak gets blocked

The war on piracy has had its share of collateral damage, and I guess if you think about it, torrent news website TorrentFreak getting blocked by piracy filters isn’t the most surprising news story. I mean when copyright holders are having their own websites blocked by mistake, getting TorrentFreak, one of the most well known sites that cover torrent and piracy related news blocked by “mistake”, isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

Now, I’m not saying that TorrentFreak was gagged in an act of censorship abuse, but when a site covers so much torrent and piracy information, much like what we do here, getting blocked because of some not very smart auto-blocking algorithm, or worse, some human reviewers that fails to understand what the site is about, is fully expected. But that’s the nature of filters – they’re more right than wrong, but they’re not 100% right all the time.

I guess it would be asking too much for these blocking services to provide an easy way to appeal blocking decisions. Some of them do, but often the process is so lacking in transparency, that you don’t really know you’ll getting a proper review, or you’re just getting an auto-reply. Even the likes of Google is guilty of this, because it seems they make it deliberately vague as to whether humans, or an algorithm, make decisions on what’s allowed and what’s not (I suspect it’s most likely an algorithm though, as the other way would open them up to all kinds of lawsuits).

So all of this makes you want to say f*ck you to filters, site blocks and censorship. But that will probably just get you filtered.

FCK DRM

Say FCK to DRM

GOG has been saying f*ck you to DRM for a while now, but they’ve never had a website about it. They do now. GOG’s FCK DRM initiative is about educating people about why DRM-free is important and how they can get DRM-free content. If you’ve been reading this website, you already know the reasons. DRM-free means you’re not beholden to some publisher who may decide to one day to no longer support the DRM’s authentication servers, or the software used to decode the DRM’d content.

DRM also means you lose your rights as a consumer to back up content. You may also lose interoperability, meaning stuff you’ve purchased on one device may not work on another device.

None of this would be as big a problem except for the fact that DRM doesn’t even work, and so we’re essentially having to put up with all of these restrictions for no other reason than to give rights-holders a false sense of security.

In other words, FCK DRM!

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And on that happy note, we come to the end of another WNR. More of the same next week, probably. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (August 19, 2018)

Sunday, August 19th, 2018

So how did the last week treat you? All good, I hope. Things are as they are in the Digital Digest HQ, which means that, for this week at least, we do have some news stories to cover. So without wasting much time …

Copyright

Piracy site blocking is now more common than ever, and while Australia has adopted our own version of this, there has always remained a sense of skepticism about its effectiveness. Which is why Australia’s Department of Communications and the Arts has been tasked with carrying out a yearly survey that not only looks the state of the war against piracy, but also at how effective, or ineffective, piracy blocking has been. The result? A mixed bag, really.

Piracy Love

Fewer pirates are downloading more in Australia after piracy site blocking was introduced

While the piracy rate appears to have taken a big fall in the last year since piracy site blocking began on a mass scale, but that seems to be a odds with the calculated piracy download stats, which have risen dramatically in the same time period. In other words, there are fewer pirates, but the pirates are downloading way more than before, if the survey is to be believed.

While the report offers no explanation for this, one that comes to mind could actually see site blocking being to blame. We know that many are now using VPNs to bypass the site blocking, and pirates paying for a VPN and wanting to get what they paid for may be downloading more to make up for their “losses” – the fact that VPNs also offer some privacy protection to alleviate any monitoring concerns by pirates, could also help to explain the free-for-all downloading attitude. So site blocking equals more piracy downloads, possibly.

And the report also painted a big problem in the creative industry’s view on pirates – pirates are the biggest spenders as well. The report found that the people who say they use a mix of pirated content and paid for content, hybrid users, are actually far bigger spenders on average than those that only do things legally. Unfortunately, site blocking has reduced the number of hybrid users and increased the number of legal-only users, which is another way of saying that site blocking may have turned some big spenders into smaller spenders.

Now, that’s probably not what’s happening, but what does seem to be the case is that people are spending as much as they’re comfortable spending, and if they’re asked to spend more to consume more (due to the piracy route being blocked off), they would simply choose to consume less. Those that do pirate, based on the survey, are also big content consumers that will get their content legally and illegally depending on how much of their budget is left. Blocking access to pirated content won’t magically increase their spending budget and allow them to purchase, instead of pirate, the content they seek. Of course, there are those that do have the spare cash to spend and blocking piracy sites may force them to spend it, but I would think people like that are in the minority – most people would still want to do the right thing if given a chance, but will often do the wrong thing if they don’t see any other, affordable, legal option.

And the people who say they only use piracy to get their content fix – these people have no ability of no inclination to spend money on legal content, and so there really is no point stopping these people as they simply can’t or won’t spend money, at least from a revenue raising perspective.

But if you’ve been reading this blog on a regular basis, then you already know this.

Gaming

What you may not know is that the new fad that is game streaming may just be another layer of DRM for publishers to control how we play “their” games, at least according to GOG.

GOG.com

GOG’s anti DRM movement not getting traction among big game publishers

GOG, the game platform/store that specialises in classic and DRM-free games, truly believes that game streaming is just another way to rob gamers of the “ownership” of their legally purchased games. This instead turns gaming into a subscription model, where the publishers have full control of how, where to play their games, and how much you have to pay for the privilege.

They have a point. And while it’s a fun thing to be able to play the latest AAA games on platforms that were never designed for them, like a Chromebook, it’s hard to imagine that hardcore gamers that are willing to spend thousands on a gaming PC will be willing to put up with the deficiencies of game streaming, such as latency issues.

But what if publishers started monetizing classic games via the streaming format, which would then allow gamers to play old games on system that were never designed to play them, and doing so without any technical hassles or the need to re-engineer games. Would that represent a threat to GOG? GOG’s answer is both surprising, and also not, as they say publishers have never had an interest in monetizing old games, which has allowed GOG to create a niche space for themselves and to bring these publishers extra revenue without the publishers needing to do anything. It’s surprising that publishers would allow GOG to make the bulk of the profit, but also not surprising that publishers today only care about the AAA titles and have no respect for all the classics in their inventory. You can extend this to classic movies and TV shows, since there are so many that would love a home on Netflix, but aren’t there because rights-holders can’t be bothered (or are demanding too much in licensing fees to make the whole thing viable).

As for GOG’s crusade to get publishers to join the DRM-free movement, the big ones aren’t interested at all, according to them. This is despite GOG’s own AAA title, The Witcher 3, being released DRM-free and “the world didn’t end”, in their own word. It’s still selling well, despite it being DRM-free from day one. Sometimes it’s not about logic or facts, but all about fears and prejudices.

A lot of things are like this, these days.

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And on that downer of the note, this is the end of another roundup. Have a good one and see you next week!