Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (22 May 2016)

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

A lot to go through, but I’m time constrained on this cloudy and cold Sunday, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Wait, is that cheering and applause that I hear? I’ll try not to take it too personally …

Copyright

YouTube Content ID

Content ID is not perfect, but the last thing we should do is to make broader and more automated

Now, I love a good rant as much as anyone, but have been responsible for a few of my own right here, but this one by musician Maria Schneider takes the cake. One simply doesn’t throw around terms like “racketeering”, “bullying”, “coercive” and “orgy”, and that was just in the first couple of paragraphs. Basically, Maria thinks YouTube is actively and deliberately encouraging piracy so it can make more money, all at the expense of rights-holders and “creators” (a term that was used often in Schneider’s open letter, one that I’m sure has been picked deliberately for effect).

Basically the crux of the problem comes down to the fact that YouTube assumes an innocent until proven guilty attitude, allowing content to be uploaded and waits for rights-holders to complain before acting. This isn’t just a YouTube policy though, it’s what the DMCA demands and it’s done so for obvious reasons. But Maria doesn’t like it. She wants a guilty until proven innocent policy that starts from the moment the clip is uploaded, and also want a “take down, stay down” approach (which, to be fair to YouTube, is already mostly there with their automated Content ID scanning system).

I’ve reported here time and time again about YouTube’s problematic and false positive prone Content ID system, but Schneider wants to go the other way and have Content ID block more stuff, faster, and with less checks and balances.

And while some of her points are valid, such as the relative high entry hurdle for joining the Content ID program, I’m just not sure she is the best person to launch the complaint. For one, she’s not exactly a prolific artist, with her most popular works (which has won Grammy Awards) barely having a presence online, legally or illegally (in other words, not too many people are clamouring to download or stream her stuff – her most popular video on YouTube only has 40,000 views). And if you do listen or watch her work (mostly as a big-band-leader), it’s the kind of stuff best enjoyed live in concert, as opposed to via a YouTube video. If anything, the illegally uploaded YouTube videos may help raise her profile and her work. Had a Taylor Swift or Drake come out with the same complaint, it might have held more weight, in my opinion.

Double Dribble

Double points for those that know what game this screenie is from

Look, the DMCA is not perfect, and neither is Content ID. But if anything, it’s already too prone to false positives, meaning legitimate uploads and creativity is already been impeded. This is already a too high a price to pay in my opinion, and we definitely don’t need more of it!

And just like clockwork, we have another example of why Content ID is flawed and why it should not be expanded. To summarise, Fox used YouTube clip in a Family Guy episode without seeking permission, and then used Content ID to get the original YouTube clip banned. Does this sound like something we need more of?

YouTube doesn’t block all illegally uploads. But only the really popular videos manage to do any harm to rights-holders, and these are easy to find and destroy (via Content ID, or just by reporting it). And in the end, only rights-holders can decide what should be and shouldn’t be allowed on YouTube, since just because a video wasn’t uploaded to an official account, it doesn’t mean that the artist isn’t aware or in support of the upload (but under the system Maria Schneider wants, artists and rights-holders may end up spending all their time apologising to legitimate partners for having their legal uploads banned, with practically no financial benefit).

High Definition

Netflix

Netflix has overtaken live TV in the US

Twice as many people now prefer Netflix over live TV as their preferred viewing choice, according to a new survey. This to me is amazing. Just ten years ago, this would have been unimaginable, and now, it’s a reality. That’s not to say video-on-demand wasn’t something people wanted back then – it was – but it was just hard to imagine having a service like Netflix, for such as relatively small price.

I think this is partly because we used to expect content to be overpriced (think how much it would take to fill an iPod back then with legally purchased music), but the subscription model completely disrupted the market (in a way that some rights-holders, mostly musicians, did not like) and finally gave us the value we were looking for. We want to consume (or have access) to a huge amount of content, that under the old “buy to own” model would never have been possible either due to physical space restrictions (I’ve long run out of shelf space for my movie collection) nor the astronomical cost of it. Subscription solved the problem, and ad-supported free listening also managed to win over the “I would never pay for it” pirates.

And “creators” and rights-holders simply have to adjust, even if it means lowering their expectations.

And to bring all of the stories I’ve mentioned this week so far back to a full circle, one has to talk about YouTube Red (which has just been launched here in Australia). A subscription model for YouTube would have been blasphemy years back, but I think people are finally open to the idea of paying (a small fee) for, what is essentially quite a lot more than what they would have gotten, even illegally, ten years ago. It’s a good thing for content creators, even if it means many won’t get much of that subscription fee. With that said, I’ve noticed seeing a lot more ads on YouTube recently – if this is Google’s way to further differentiate YouTube Red and make it seem like a more attractive product, then this isn’t a good development in my opinion.

Gaming

VR gaming is the all the rage these days, so it was only a matter time before the ugly head of DRM reared itself onto the scene. Those trying to make games from the Oculus store available on non Oculus hardware is now facing a new DRM that prevents just that. Oculus says it’s an anti-piracy measure, but others find it strange that it only seems to do anything on non Oculus hardware. Something to keep an eye (or two, via headset) on.

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Well so much for brevity. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (15 May 2016)

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Another quiet week, so I think we can get through everything in double quick time. A late apology for last week’s wonkiness, had a server hardware problem that was compounded with a software problem, but everything was back up again after two nights of lost sleep. Ah well, these things have to happen from time to time, even if it’s just to test our redundancy and backup process (which did okay, but could be and will be improved).

Let’s get started before the server blows up again.

Copyright

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay’s Swedish domain names will soon go offline, but nobody really cares anymore

The Pirate Bay’s Swedish domain names, you know the ones that end in .se, are in the news again as a Swedish appeals court upheld an earlier ruling that would have seen the domain names seized. To be honest, this was always likely to happen, ever since prosecutors in Sweden started making noises about domain seizures, and as a result, The Pirate Bay is no longer depending on the .se domain names.

What’s confusing now is finding out who actually owns the domain names. Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij is the designated contact for the domain names, but he denies owning them – this is not unusual, the real owners can write in anyone as the owner, as long as the domain’s administrative contact emails point to the right person. Neij is suggesting he may appeal the verdict.

While all of this will have zero effect on the operations of The Pirate Bay, what this does show is how pointless legal proceedings against piracy sites can be at times. It has already taken years, and will most likely take even more time, to just seize two domain names – domain names that aren’t even used much anymore. It’s incredibly hard, and I assume costly, to keep things off the Internet or to prevent people from accessing something, and you’ll get a better return if you address the real reasons behind piracy and reduce or eliminate the need for piracy.

The same goes for HBO’s valiant, but ultimately futile attempt to keep Game of Thrones piracy off the Internet, by warning downloaders and removing torrents. While they, as the rights-holders, have the right to do all of this and more, it’s probably just easier to ensure people can watch your shows without having to jump through hoops or to get a second mortgage – or in Australia’s case, do both.

Which is why an Australian GoT fan has offered to pay HBO $10 per episode so he can continue to download illegally, because the legal alternatives, he says, is just not good enough. With the country’s sole pay TV operator having an exclusive lock on the show, with iTunes and Google Play locked out until the end of the season, GoT fan John Hyslop would rather (over) pay for illegal downloads than be subjected to the pay TV monopoly, and being forced to pay for channels that he doesn’t want (there’s no standalone product that would grant John access to GoT or HBO shows in general – you’ll have to bundle 40+ other channels in order to be able to watch the latest episodes). So in John’s case, it’s not even about the cost, which is high, but about the unfairness of it all.

If HBO doesn’t address this by being tougher on its partners about what they can and cannot do with their programming, I’m afraid more and more people will feel justified in downloading illegally.

Gaming

Metal Gear Solid V PS4

The PS4 (and Xbox One) are so good value that sales may have reached saturation faster than any other previous generation

It may or may not have been a while since I last reported on the NPD’s US video game sales results. Mainly because nothing ever actually changes. But this week being such a light week, and I actually managed to remember reading something about the NPD results this week, so I thought I should share. The PS4 won again, but hardware sales are down on a couple of reasons. The relative cheapness of the consoles is contributing to the lower dollar sales results, and both major console’s faster adoption rate (thanks largely to lower launch prices that has continued to drop ever since) means that sales may have reached saturation faster than in previous generations.

This probably explains both Sony and Microsoft’s intent to produce a “half generation” upgrade for their respective consoles. If people are willing to upgrade much more expensive phones at yearly (or at least bi-annual) intervals, then I guess Sony and Microsoft’s thinking is that maybe the same formula could be applied to game consoles at a slightly longer interval.

I’m personally not sure it will work though. Upgrading a phone is one thing, but other consumer electronics have never been upgraded in this way and gamers may not appreciate what appears to be a cash grab mid-generation.

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Short and sweet. Well, at least short. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (24 April 2016)

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Hello again! It has gotten unseasonably cold here in Melbourne, and it has given me just the motivation I need to make sure I write up this WNR as quickly as possible – so I can quickly finish, get under a blanket with a warm drink, and watch The Force Awakens again on Blu-ray. Oh yes!

But there’s just one obstacle to my nerdish plans – there’s actually quite a lot of news to go through this week. Oh no!

Copyright

The Expendables 3

The Expendables 3 does badly at the box office. One ‘Expendables’ movie too many, too much competition due to other blockbusters, or pre-release piracy to blame?

Starting with the copyright news as we have always done, Hollywood mogul Avi Lerner, the producer behind The Expendables franchise, has come out firing on all cylinders on what he perceives to be the lack of action to tackle online piracy. The target of his tirade? President Obama and Congress, for being too scared to take on Google.

Lerner is particularly angry about online piracy because he believes a pre-release leak of The Expendables 3 may have taken as much as $250 million away from the film’s actual $209 million global box office take. This means that according to Lerner, The Expendables 3 would have made $459 million at the box office without the pre-release leak. But the thing is that the previous film in the series, which was better received by critics, only made a combined total of $312 million (without any piracy intervention). To me, the third film’s $209 million makes sense given the movie’s poor reception, which according to the film’s star, may have more to do with ratings than downloads.

Most controversially, Lerner says that not only should people who help to pirate movies go to jail, even those that aren’t actively helping to stop piracy (like Google, I presume) should be punished in some way. So I’m guessing that removing 91 million links monthly and demoting piracy sites is apparently not considered to be “helping” by Lerner.

High Definition

Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens Blu-ray

The Force Awakens breaks more records, this time on Blu-ray

I’ve made it pretty clear I like The Force Awakens and enjoyed watching it on Blu-ray. It seems I wasn’t alone, as not content in breaking many box office records, the latest film in the Star Wars saga has also broken a few Blu-ray records. It helped Blu-ray sales better that of DVD’s for the first time ever (59% of disc sales belong to Blu-ray for the week in which The Force Awakens was released – the previous record was 48%), and an astonishing 82% of buyers chose to buy the Blu-ray edition of the film over the DVD-only edition (it’s normally under 70% for most new releases).

Some will note that the DVD-only edition was a bare bones edition without any special features, and that the Blu-ray edition does include the DVD edition of the film (in such a combo retail package, these sales count towards Blu-ray), but these records still took a long time to be broken. Note that the most successful Blu-ray of all time is another Disney title, ‘Frozen’ – could The Force Awakens break one more record?

Also interesting to note is that Disney chose not to release a 3D edition of the film, let alone a 4K Ultra HD version. This possibly hints at more double dipping later on, perhaps a new edition that includes more than just a couple of minutes of deleted scenes.

Disney has yet to really commit to Ultra HD Blu-ray, and only it and, surprisingly, Sony have yet to announce their release slate following Universal’s announcement this week. Universal’s first Ultra HD discs, to be released sometime in the U.S. summer, will be ‘Everest’, ‘Lucy’ and ‘Lone Survivor’, and the new releases to receive the 4K treatment will include ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ and the as yet unreleased ‘Jason Bourne’ and ‘Warcraft’ movies. Perhaps not the most exciting line-up ever considering all the films that Universal have access to, and definitely not as exciting as The Force Awakens, which is the kind of title that benefits most from a 4K treatment and would boost the format to no end if it becomes available.

Gaming

Metal Gear Solid V PS4

PS4.5, PS4K, or PS4 NEO – whatever you call it, the upgraded PS4 appears to be real

There’s something a lot more concrete to the rumors of a new “super” PS4, including a codename of the so far still unofficial console upgrade. The PS4 “NEO” will have a better CPU, GPU and faster RAM – not quite next-gen, but enough to make 4K gaming a reality.

As for how Sony will reconcile having two vastly different PS4 SKUs, the company has informed developers of several restrictions to how they can release games in the future. First of all, all games have to work on the older standard PS4s, but they are allowed to have a “NEO Mode” that includes support for better graphics. Games in “NEO Mode” have to have the same or better framerate than games in standard mode, even if the games are running at 4K (and games also have to be at least 1080p). Things like save games and online modes have to be shareable and compatible between the two modes.

What isn’t so clear right now is whether the included Blu-ray drive will be upgraded to one that can read Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. It seems like the perfect opportunity to add UHD Blu-ray playback to the PS4, but it all depends on how costly it would be to add the drive, and more importantly, how costly it will be to obtain the licensing needed to allow UHD Blu-ray playback.

Xbox 360 - Red Rings of Death

The Xbox 360 wasn’t always a success …

Microsoft may be working on their own upgraded Xbox One too, which FCC filings (and the Brazilian equivalent) pointing to at least two more SKUs. Interestingly, there’s information to suggest that all will be revealed at E3, but whether these proves to be the elusive Xbox One.Point.Five, or just a minor SKU refresh, we’ll have to wait and see.

What we won’t wait to find out is the fate of the Xbox 360, which this week Microsoft announced the end of production for. It’s been an incredibly successful decade for the 360, which didn’t start well (remember the RRoD?), but ended very strongly. With the Xbox One now having backwards compatibility, I guess Microsoft has decided the time was right to send the old beige, and eventually black box into retirement.

Rest well, 360, you deserve it.

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So that’s it for the week. Not a minute too soon either, as I’m freezing my appendages off here. See you next week, when hopefully it’s a bit warmer.

Weekly News Roundup (17 April 2016)

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Having watched The Force Awakens on Blu-ray (having already seen it twice at the cinemas), I can honestly say that it is one fun movie (at least for Star Wars fans). Sure, it may be derivative, but it’s proper Star Wars in the sense that the prequels weren’t, and one that even casual fans will enjoy. And add to it JJ Abrams’s latest slip of the tongue (or deliberate use of the good old mystery box) about Rey’s parentage, the anticipation for the next instalment is going to be insane.

There’s no Star Wars related news this week though, but there are stories about zombies, conspiracy theories and popular video game characters.

Copyright

The Walking Dead

This photo shows anti DMCA abuse protesters at a protest event

The latest season of The Walking Dead has just ended, and a new season of Fear the Walking Dead has started in its place. So while there’s still plenty of zombie action on TV, there’s also apparently lots of zombie action online as well, at least according to the head of a copyright group. The head of the pro copyright group Copyright Alliance says recent online protesters, demanding an end to DMCA abuse, are just like walkers, biters and roamers, that their protest lacks both “effort or brainpower”.

The online protests centered around the issue of DMCA abuse, or when rights-holders abuse the DMCA submission process to submit invalid requests, sometimes due to negligence, and also for more sinister reasons (such as to cripple a competitor). However, according to the head of the Copyright Alliance, Keith Kupferschmid, these protests are meaningless because they were submitted via an automated online form, where a pre-written message was provided for protesters. Despite the fact that users can and many did choose to submit additional comments in addition to the pre-written messages, and despite the fact that the Copyright Alliance runs similar automated campaigns (sometimes without even an option to submit additional commentsa), Kupferschmid still likens these protesters to “zombies in The Walking Dead” due to the “lack of effort”.

Those still wanting to join the horde can still do so on the offiical TakedownAbuse campaign website. And despite what Kupferschmid says, zombies, especially those in The Walking Dead, can be quite effective when trying to achieve their goals (eat humans), so underestimate them at your own peril!

Those that want to legally watch The Walking Dead, however, may find things a little more difficult after the MPAA’s WhereToWatch website removed the ability to search Netflix. WhereToWatch was set up by the MPAA to promote legal content, trying to silence critics who say the piracy problem is partly due to how difficult it is to find legal content online. Conspiracy theories sprung forth from the well that is the Internet, some suggesting that maybe the MPAA no longer considers Netflix as a legal source.

But the actual explanation was much more simpler – Netflix no longer allows third parties to search its library. The abundance of Netflix search sites seems to suggest otherwise, but these crawl Netflix’s site to retrieve a listing of content, and this is very much against Netflix’s terms of service, something the MPAA owned WhereToWatch wasn’t prepared to do.

Still, the critics’ original point stands – it’s can still be exceedingly hard at times to find legal content, and with content being more and more fragmented across a variety of SVOD platforms (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and FOX, CBS and others own SVOD platforms, each offering a subset of content), it really is hard at times to determine just which one of your many subscriptions has that show, episode or movie you want to watch (sure, you can buy it all on iTunes, but I’ve left my American Express Black Card in my other pants).

Gaming

Wii U

Nintendo will hope the NX sells better than the Wii U

Onto gaming news now, with E3 just around the corner, the rumour mill is now working over time on everything from the PS4.5, to the Xbox Next, and the most mysterious of them all, the Nintendo NX. Theoretically coming out next year, we still don’t really have an official name (I doubt it will be called the NX, which sounds more like project codename). The latest rumours suggest the NX will be “noticeable” more powerful than the PS4, and that some of the most popular Wii U games will be ported over to the NX at/near launch.

Assuming Nintendo has learned the lessons from the relative failure that is the Wii U, launching a console mid-generation that’s barely better than what’s already on the market, with games from some of the biggest Nintendo franchises missing, is not something the company will want to see a repeat of with the NX, even if the price is low enough. So I hope the NX will be powerful, maybe more powerful than the much touted PS4.5, and there will be a nice collection of Mario, Pokemon, Zelda and Super Smash Bros. games available at launch, even if some are just ported/enhanced editions of previous games. If they can do this, and introduce a bit of Nintendo magic in again changing the way we play games, then the NX looks to have a bright start and an even brighter future.


So that’s another week done and dusted. Have a great one and see you in seven.

Weekly News Roundup (27 March 2016)

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Can’t believe it’s Easter already, and here I am, absentmindedly thinking it’s still 2015 from time to time.

Quite a bit of news to go through before we probably encounter the Easter/post Easter lull, so let’s get on with it, shall we?

Copyright

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray

People will still buy this disc even though a pirated copy is already available, almost two weeks before the official release date

Well, it was unfortunate and probably predictable, as the Blu-ray edition of Star Wars: The Force Awaken, not due on store shelves until another week and a bit, has been ripped and uploaded online illegally. I say it’s predictable because, as one of the biggest movie releases ever (and possibly a record breaker for Blu-ray too), there was just no way this wasn’t going to get leaked early, especially considering how many people will have had access to the retail discs before the embargo date. While the official release date isn’t until April 5th, stores that plan on selling the disc will most likely already have received stock, stock that has been made and packaged long before – all the steps on this production and distribution line will be vulnerable to leaks, and for a release this big, it would have been amazing if there wasn’t a pre-release leak.

With that said, will it really affect sales? Probably not. This is one of the biggest movies ever, and true fans will not be sated until they get their (my) hands on the retail Blu-ray package, the existence of an illegal pirated download is not relevant (we might still download it though) – they (I) would have pre-ordered their copy months in advance anyway, and they won’t be cancelling it for the rip. There might be a few lost sales here and there, but these people were never really that serious about buying the disc anyway, and it’s not going to make a huge dent on the predicted huge sales numbers.

High Definition

The Peanuts Movie Ultra HD Blu-ray

As UHD Blu-ray releases go, The Peanuts Movie wasn’t a popular one

Speaking of Blu-ray sales, the Blu-ray sales stats I published this week contains the first set of numbers for Ultra HD Blu-ray, and there are both good and bad news for the new 4K format.

The Peanuts Movie is one of the first new releases that happens to be released simultaneously on Blu-ray and UHD Blu-ray, and long story short (actually, story isn’t that long anyway), not many UHD copies were sold at all. UHD discs for this movie were only 0.27% of total disc sales (which includes standard Blu-ray and DVD), or just under 0.5% of total Blu-ray sales (in other words, only one UHD copy was sold for every 203 standard Blu-ray copies, or 166 DVD copies).

Okay, perhaps this wasn’t the best movie to show off the UHD format, and according to disc buyers, it was ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ that was the UHD demo disc of choice. It had a much more respectable UHD sales share of 6.19% (so one UHD copy for every 6 Blu-ray copies sold, or every 8 DVDs).

It’s still early days, but it looks like its going to take some time before UHD Blu-ray becomes a major factor in disc sales.

Gaming

What might help accelerate UHD Blu-ray’s adoption would be if the PS4 was upgraded to support it – and this might actually happen, if you believe the rumours. Apparently, game developers are already being briefed on a new mode of the PS4 that will support 4K gaming (the current PS4 only supports 4K for images and video files), which necessitates the use of a new GPU. If such a major hardware change is to occur, then chances are, Sony might use the opportunity to also upgrade the optical drive in the PS4 to support Ultra HD Blu-ray. It will make the new PS4, dubbed PS4.5 (or PS4K, as I’ve read about it in some quarters), more expensive, but this “premium” PS4 would not be aimed at the budget conscious anyway.

I think it makes good sense for Sony to make this move, and if they do, it would also fill the rather obvious looking gap in Sony’s Blu-ray player line-up – the company does not even have any current plans to release a Ultra HD Blu-ray player at all!

Wii U Boxes

Wii U sales have been bad enough to maybe force Nintendo to bring the NX’s release date forward to 2016

So while Sony (and Microsoft) are all thinking about making their flagship consoles better, Nintendo might be trying to abandon it altogether in 2016. Reports, which was later somewhat weakly refuted by Nintendo, suggests the Japanese company is going to cut their losses and stop production of the Wii U in 2016. The PS4 has sold three times many units globally than the Wii U despite being released a whole year later, and the situation is not going to get any better. But with Nintendo’s next console not coming out until 2017, it’s extremely unlikely the company will end Wii U production before then – not unless they bring up the release date of the NX to 2016.

It’s actually not too difficult to see what went wrong with the Wii U. It wasn’t powerful enough compared to the other current generation consoles, it wasn’t cheap enough either thanks to the price war between Microsoft and Sony. And while it had a good stable of first party games, there were some obvious absentees (Zelda!), and third party support was lacking. It was probably lacking because the Wii U failed to bring anything really innovative to gaming unlike the Wii – the tablet controller is good, but is often underutilised, even by first party games – and third party developers just weren’t excited about what the Wii U brought to gaming (that’s not to say that the PS4 and Xbox One were innovative, they weren’t, but they didn’t have to be because they were superior in almost every other way).

So it’s a bit early to eulogise the Wii U, but let’s just hope Nintendo has learned their lessons and give us something that will either be revolutionarily different and/or powerful enough to make Sony and Microsoft look over their shoulders with nervousness. Plus better launch games (Zelda!)

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Okay folks, that’s it for this week. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of the WNR, Happy Easter, and see you next week.