Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (23 November 2014)

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

A bit sleep deprived today, so please let me apologize in advance for the “quality” and brevity of this week’s WNR.

Copyright

BitTorrent Logo

BitTorrent users are also big spenders

With BitTorrent Inc having just made a major move in monetizing the techology for content creators via its BitTorrent Bundle network, where artists can distribute their content via BitTorrent technology and still get paid, the company responsible for inventing the file transfer protocol (and not responsible for how people use it) has released the results of a survey that shows BitTorrent users are also big spenders.

In keeping with the theme of this WNR, I’ll leave you to read the details of the survey in the actual news report (link above), but suffice to say, it reinforces what we already know about big downloaders – that they are big content consumers, sometimes illegally downloaded content, but also a lot of the legal variety.

People who really love music, movies or games, will find ways to consume them even when they’ve run out of financial resources to pay for it legally. People who don’t download pirated stuff, on the other hand, probably also don’t buy a lot of stuff in the first place. And yet, the creative industries love the second group, and want to kick the first group off the Internet. Piracy is not a black and white issue, and it’s not in anyone’s best interest to simply label pirates as criminals.

And just as pointless and a potentially dangerous course of action would be the censorship option. An option that has been tried elsewhere with little success (considering how easy it is for anyone serious about pirating to circumvent the block), but still an option that Australia’s government may put into action soon. The only pirates that censorship stops are those that that technically inept, and I would assume that these users are the definition of the casual, infrequent downloader.

High Definition

So while censorship may stop a few downloaders in Australia, it will not stop the frequent downloaders, which may very well be the same type of users that are also accessing legal services like Netflix. A recent Sandvine report found that, in the case of one fixed network in Australia, 2.5% of users were already accessing Netflix, despite the service not being officially available yet. This situation will change soon though, with Netflix officially landing downunder (and in New Zealand) in March 2015.

The introduction of Netflix (officially) in Australia could very well be the catalyst for a major reduction in piracy here though, but if the government can get their censorship regime in place before then, you just know they will spin any reductions on their useless actions, rather than proper consumer-led solutions like Netflix.

New Netflix UI

Netflix: All your bandwidth are belong to us

Going back to the Sandvine report on bandwidth usage, Netflix’s share of peak download traffic in North America grew, slightly, compared to the last report six months ago. It now accounts for nearly 35% of peak downloads, up from 34%. Amazon Instant Video, the second most popular SVOD provider, only accounted for 2.6% of traffic – and even this was up dramatically from 18 months ago. HBO Go continues to lag behind all the other services, with it being only 1% of traffic – HBO’s standalone streaming product can’t come sooner for HBO if it wants to catch up.

Sandvine also found that filesharing’s share of the bandwidth pie continues to fall in most regions around the world, with the losses become gains for services like Netflix. Nothing to do with website blocking, three strikes, or people being sued.

Netflix’s growing dominance is becoming a big worry for TV networks. So much so that Nielsen, the ratings people, will start tracking Netflix and other streaming usage so they can provide networks with a clearer view of how Netflix may be hurting their viewing figures. Considering that a lot of Netflix’s content comes from networks, this could mean higher licensing fees being charged to Netflix, which could also lead to less content (or more delays to releases). The fight between the old and the new continues.

Gaming

Walmart "cheap" PS4

Walmart selling $90 PS4s?

I don’t want to do too much on the NPD while being sleep deprived, so I’ll leave most of it for next week, but I just wanted to mention that, according to the NPD, Wii U sales have risen 47% since last year. While this may sound impressive, considering how poorly the Wii U was doing this time last year, it may not be so impressive after all. But with a release of a few more first-party must-have titles, like Mario Kart, and with prices dropping enough to make it a good choice for the budget conscious, it’s only natural that the Wii U’s popularity will grow. Will it be enough to keep Nintendo out of trouble financially, hard to say really.

The real problem for the Wii U is that the PS4 and the Xbox One are also getting better in the value stakes, with aggressive competition forcing down prices. Of course, there are also other factors that are allowing people to pay less for these two top consoles: fraud! Apparently, people are setting up fake Amazon Marketplace listings for impossibly cheap PS4s (like $89.99 cheap), and getting Walmart to price match based on their online price matching policy.

Walmart unfortunately did not clue up fast enough, and a few people did manage to grab a few cheap PS4s before Walmart bought down the ban hammer on Amazon Marketplace price matching. For what you’re getting, $400 is not that much, so I’d definitely recommend paying the normal sales price before contemplating this or other similar methods (which could land you in big trouble).

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Actually, the WNR wasn’t as short as I thought it would be, ramblings of a sleep deprived mad man as it may very well be. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (9 November 2014)

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

Am I the only one who got pretty excited about the GTA V first person experience video? GTA V has always been a third person game, but adding a first person mode might elevate the game to a whole new level. I’m not sure the driving elements would be improved by a first person mode, but it would definitely make the shooting parts a whole new experience, and could make it rival other more well known FPS games. One more piece of evidence that the PS4/XB1/PC version of the game is going to be awesome.

Let’s get started with this week’s WNR.

Copyright

Google Auto-complete BitTorrent

Will Hollywood take on Google by making their own “piracy-free” search engine?

If you can’t change them, erm, beat them? Could movie studios, tired of demanding Google “do the right thing” and start censoring its own search results for other’s commercial interests, start their own search engine instead? Disney’s latest patent seems to suggest so, although patents being what they are, it could all be fairly meaningless. Still, even if the studios had plans to launch their own search engine, who would actually use it? Especially when, based on the patent filings, the search engine will demote not only piracy sites, but also sites that aren’t owned by the studios themselves (including the IMDb and Wikipedia). It all seems a bit silly to me, but again a patent application could just be one of those things that you throw out there in the small chance that one day you might get something back from it, not a sign of any real intent to take on the likes of Google and, erm, Bing, I guess. Okay, I admit, they may have a shot at beating Bing, but you know, still kinda pointless.

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It’s that time of the year again and the EFF has filed submissions for DMCA exemption, specifically exemptions for certain cases where removing DRM would, under current laws, be illegal. Yet all these cases would still fall under fair use. This conundrum comes via the fact that the DMCA has a specific clause that outlaws all DRM circumvention, regardless of whether it falls under fair use or not. This means the EFF and other groups like it have to apply for exemptions every year (since these exemptions expire), or otherwise the DMCA could be used to strip away consumer fair use rights by corporations intent on controlling everything.

New this year is in-car software and the DRM that comes along with that. If used maliciously, in-car DRM could prevent non authorised repair and modification, thus locking car owners to service centers owned by the car manufacturer or dealer.

Public Knowledge - "Legal DVD Ripping" alternative

Can the EFF succeed in making DVD and Blu-ray ripping legal?

The EFF also wants gamers to be able to hack old and abandoned games to make them playable, even if it means removing copyright protection. Games that require online interaction, for example, might need to be hacked to point to new unofficial servers to keep the game going, when the publisher has given up on it already.

While these two exemptions might be granted, there are a few submissions that are more pie-in-the-sky. Like the attempt to make DVD and Blu-ray ripping legal, or allowing the DRM of streaming service like Netflix to be circumvented. Don’t think this is going to happen, not if the MPAA has anything to say about it (and they do, via their own submissions).

But you never know, and I wish the EFF luck in their pursuit of (consumer) freedom.

While the EFF’s (and the MPAA’s) actions on changes to the DMCA are mostly public, what’s not so public are the MPAA’s lobbying efforts on lawmakers in Washington. While the law calls on the MPAA and other groups to disclose the general topics of their lobbying efforts, the exact nature and detail of their lobbying efforts do not have to be disclosed. But from the MPAA’s latest lobbying disclosure forms, we can see that they’ve been particularly busy trying talking to politicians on the issues of Net Neutrality and an Internet tax.

While we can’t actually confirm for sure the MPAA’s position on these issues, one can make quite an intelligent guess at just how the MPAA could benefit from these two issues. First for an Internet tax, the benefits are obvious, especially when you consider that the Internet tax is also sometimes known as a piracy tax. Imagine a tax of a dollar on every GB of data you download (regardless of whether the download was legal or not), with most of that money going to rights holders like the MPAA, could be a very easy way to get your claws into the new Net economy without actually having to innovate. All in the name of fighting piracy, of course.

As for Net Neutrality, imagine if ISPs were allowed to throttle down your BitTorrent traffic (or even Netflix), in favour of MPAA approved distribution methods like UltraViolet. Wouldn’t that be nice? And again, all in the name of fighting piracy, of course.

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Windows 10

Windows 10 will play MKV files and those encoded with HEVC natively

Windows 10 is set to be a lot more HD video friendly thanks to the announcement that it will have native MKV and HEVC support. Windows Media Player in Windows 10 will be able to handle these formats without the need to install third party codecs, which is a win for users, but perhaps more importantly, for the HEVC format (which seems to already have secured its status as the industry standard codec, despite HEVC downloads being relatively rare at the moment).

Those of us who want a little bit more control over just how we play our videos might still rely on codec packs, VLC, MPC-HC and other similar tools, but for many, being able to play a video without having to install anything will be very attractive.

Gaming

Nintendo’s upcoming new 3DS console, schedule to be released in 2015, will still be region-locked. But to be fair, Nintendo did offer a pretty good explanation as to why region-locking is still needed today. In short, it’s more to do with marketing, licensing and localisation. Now, you may not believe this excuse, but Nintendo did offer a glimpse of hope by acknowledging that region-free is good for the consumer, and also be a benefit to themselves. But until the aforementioned problems gets solved, the new 3DS remain region-locked.

The Xbox One is already getting a temporary $50 discount for the holidays, but a permanent discount may also be on the way once Microsoft moves from its APU from a 28nm process to a 20nm one. In other words, once Microsoft can reduce the sizes of its processor, it could also reduce power requirements, which also means reductions to heat management – all of this will eventually lead to a “Xbox One Slim”, which will probably be cheaper to manufacture and be more efficient at the same time.

With that said, Sony will be working on something similar as well. So it bodes well for gamers. Both the PS4 and Xbox One are terrific value already, so cheaper versions will be even better!

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I think that’s it for this week. See you again soon.

Weekly News Roundup (2 November 2014)

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Welcome to another edition of the WNR, where you’ll get the latest news stories that I bothered to read (or write about) during the past week. Think of me as a filter that weeds out all the boring, useless and sometimes plainly untrue stuff, leaving you the best of the best, cream of the crop, in terms of news every week.

Read on to find out whether I’m talking out of my ass or not.

Copyright

Just a brief follow-up to the story that I already covered in the last WNR (but have only written the full article for this week) in regards to the EU now ruling embedding is not a copyright infringement. The actual case from which this ruling derives involves a video produced by a water filtering company that was uploaded to YouTube, and then embedded by agents working for a competitor on their personal site (I’m assuming it was also accompanied by some unsavoury comments, hence the legal complaint). The water filtering company claimed copyright infringement, but the Court, in my opinion, correctly ruled that as the video was originally uploaded to YouTube and allowed to be embedded by the rights holder, nothing untoward has actually occurred. You can’t really have it both ways – to want users to embed and share your video, but not your competitors when it comes to comment and criticism.

A key part of the ruling has to do with what is considered a new communication. The Court found that because the video was uploaded to an open and publicly accessible website like YouTube, embedding it to one or a million other pages does not actually communicate the (unmodified) video to a new audience, hence not a new communication. Looking it from the opposite angle, had the original video been uploaded to a private site and it was then embedded onto a public page, even without modification, this would be considered a new communication. The Court also based its ruling on precedent, in which they likened embedding to hyperlinking, which also does not count as a new communication.

All very sensible decisions, but you do have to question just how unbalanced and vague existing copyright law has to be for such a simple and logical issue to require the attention of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

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MPAA Logo

The MPAA does its yearly thing and sends a list of things they don’t like to the USTR

It’s that time of the year again, and the MPAA has updated their submission to the USTR outlining the most “notorious” piracy markets. Nothing of real note in their submission really, with the usual suspects all being mentioned – Kickass.to, The Pirate Bay, Torrentz.eu, Uploaded.net – and the usual physical markets, like China, Russia, Thailand. One slightly interesting addition was the Greater Toronto Area … those sneaky Canadians, you can never be too careful. Just what the MPAA wants the government to do about these places, I really don’t know, and don’t care.

Meanwhile in Australia, one of our biggest ISPs have taken a stand against “copyright trolls” seeking to sue users for downloading copies of ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. The company seeking to sue, a ‘Dallas Buyers Club LLC’ which appears to have been created specifically to process claims wants the ISP, iiNet, to hand over subscriber details. iiNet is willing to cooperate, but only if the request is backed by a court order, which at the moment it is not. With iiNet’s past resilience to Hollywood backed legal pressure, this latest development will not enamour the ISP to rights-holders here already targeting iiNet as public enemy number one in their ongoing piracy crusade. I doubt iiNet cares though, but their customers, most of whom value their piracy, does.

High Definition

New Netflix UI

Can traditional media companies come up with something that’s as good or even better than Netflix?

If you can’t join them, beat them. That’s what Rupert Murdoch wants his and other competing media companies to do – to join forces and take on Netflix (and Amazon). Believing that the streaming market is now being dominated by these two big tech companies, which is not good for the industry (and maybe not good for consumers either, it has to be said), Murdoch wants media companies to avoid making the same mistakes that the music industry made, which allowed the likes of Apple to sneak in and now dominate over the entire industry.

It’s rare that I agree with Rupert Murdoch, but he is right in that this market space, or any space for that matter, needs competition to remain healthy, and for it to be beneficial to consumers. But I have almost no confidence that the old guard can come up with anything remotely as good as Netflix (or Amazon), simply because they care more about protecting their own interests than about what the consumer wants. Things like DRM, lack of inter-operability, and consumer unfriendly processes – all borne out of their obsession with control (for all of the above, see the UltraViolet platform) – has been and will be their undoing, until they figure out that serving customers should be their number one priority. The EFF, responding to Murdoch’s comments, made pretty much the same argument.

So I do hope the movie studios don’t make the same mistakes as the music industry, or the book industry, and allow a few key players from the tech industry to have way too much power to dictate things like pricing and availability (see Amazon vs studios, vs book publishers). But if the studios’ ultimate goal is to launch a product that allows them to create their own monopoly, then that’s not something we need and we’re much better off to leaving it to the tech companies, who are at least innovative.

Gaming

White Xbox One

Can a $50 price cut save the Xbox One from being a runner-up in this gaming generation?

Sony’s PS4 success is translating into good financial results for the company, with its gaming division reporting a 83.2 percent increase in second quarter year-on-year sales. The company says the financial results are completely driven by sales of PS4 consoles, network sales and games. PS3 sales continue to fall though. While operating income is still fairly low, $200 million out of sales of $2.77 billion, it is still the one bright spark in Sony’s otherwise fairly average set of results (operating loss of $766.60 million).

On the other side of the ring, Microsoft has been forced to offer an additional $50 discount to its flagging Xbox One console until the end of the holiday period. The most important sales period for gaming companies, Microsoft is hoping that the $50 discount, which brings the Xbox One’s price to be below that of the PS4, will help boost the console and regain some lost market share. The company’s previous console, the Xbox 360, led successive holiday sales periods and easily outsold Sony’s previous console, the PS3.

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So that was the best and most interesting of the week. Didn’t find anything particularly interesting? Don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger (albeit a fairly lazy one). See you next week (hopefully).

Weekly News Roundup (26 October 2014)

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Another really quiet week until the last couple of days … might have to rethink when to write this WNR in the future. It seems I’m not the only one that slacks off and wait until the end of the week to get everything done.

Let’s get started!

Copyright

The Simpsons: Tapped Out

Freemium isn’t just for stupid EA games that make you have the urge to spend real money on fake stuff … piracy is also a form of premium

Freemium is becoming annoyingly popular these days. From office applications to greedy EA games that makes you want to spend your hard earned dollars buying useless virtual things like donuts and squeaky voiced teens. But did you know that freemium has existed years before it was known as freemium, and that piracy is actually a form of it? I didn’t know or think of it that way either until Microsoft’s CEO, of all people, explained why piracy may be the oldest form of freemium yet.

You see, just because people don’t pay for Windows or Office, it doesn’t mean that they may not eventually pay, for new versions or upgrades. If they do pay, then piracy becomes a form of promotion, seducing the user with its zero initial outlay and then eventually encouraging users to want to pay for future versions because they’ve already invested so much time and energy into learning the software.

With competition in every software sector becoming more and more fierce, piracy may just be another form of advertising, where paper losses due to piracy is turned into promotional spending to help increase the user base and maintain a dominant market position. Change the word “piracy” in the previous sentence to “the freemium model”, and isn’t this exactly how freemium works?

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The Pirate Bay

Sites like The Pirate Bay cannot really be harmed by search engine ranking drops

An update to last week’s news story regarding the new Google anti-piracy ranking changes. TorrentFreak has looked into the results of the new downgrading scheme and this new one is apparently much more potent than previous efforts by Google. Looking at the “search engine visibility” of top US and UK torrent sites (that is, how easy is it to find results from these sites in the search engines), the new algorithm change coincides with a visibility drop of more than half for sites like torrentz.eu.

Of course, big search engine sites don’t really depend much on search engine traffic at all. Most of their traffic are direct traffic, which is simply people entering the site’s URL directly into the browser (or via bookmarks). Even if Google completely removes sites like The Pirate Bay from the search results, traffic to TPB will still be strong (and if the same kind of demotion happens equally to other competing torrent sites, then the theory is that traffic to TPB might even increase as more people, frustrated with the search results, will simply change their behaviour and directly visit the big torrent sites. The current changes actually benefit smaller torrent sites, those that have not been the target of a sustained DMCA take-down effort, and will naturally rise in the search ranks to become the top results.

But whatever makes the rightsholders happy I suppose.

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I want to cover this in more detail next week, but the Court of Justice of the European Union has just handed down a landmark decision in which it was declared that you cannot commit copyright infringement by simply embedding videos onto your website, even if the video contained unauthorised content. As usual with these kind of landmark decision, the case upon which it was decided was a distinctly eccentric one, one that on first glance has almost nothing to do with copyright – that one of the plaintiffs was a water filtering company, and not a Hollywood studio, says everything really. But the Court of Justice of the European Union’s job is to interpret law, and their interpretation is that embedding is not a new act of communication, but rather, just the same communication, in a slightly different form, of the original upload. A common sense decision that finally puts a limit on just how far the “trickle down” effects goes when it comes to who you can sue for an upload (if an embed is liable, then how about a link to the page that contains the embed, and so on and so on). Anyway, more on this and the reaction in next week’s WNR.

Gaming

Everyone knows that the PS4 is doing pretty well, and doing better than the Xbox One. But how much better, no one really knows. Ars Technica tried to answer the unanswerable, and they’ve come up with a pretty good answer, considering – worldwide PS4 sales are at least 40% more than that of the Xbox One.

I’ll leave you to read the whole article on how Ars Technica came up with these numbers, but there is no doubt that the PS4 is ahead of the Xbox One and by a considerable margin at this time. If I had to make a bet right now, it has to be on the PS4 being the winner of this generation. It has already won the battle of perception, with most believing it is a better value console than the Xbox One (not just in pure price terms, but in terms of features and performance too), and this is the most important battle to win!

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Alright, that’s enough for this week. See you again in 168 hours (plus or minus a few hours).

Weekly News Roundup (19 October 2014)

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

I’ve recently become obsessed with a TV show called If You Are The One, a show that apparently has become a cult favourite here in Australia despite it being a Chinese dating show. It started airing on Saturday and Sunday nights here in 2013 (with subtitles), for the lonely hearts out there wanting to have fun at the expense of other lonely hearts (in China), and maybe learn a thing or two in the process too. Here’s hoping the show makes it to other English speaking markets, because it’s a real gem.

Copyright

Google is getting tougher on “piracy sites”, sites that have received too many DMCA takedown notices. In a whitepaper released this week, Google outlined changes to its algorithm and search features that will make pirated results less obvious, and also do better to promote legal alternatives at the same time. Sites that have been targeted by the likes of the MPAA and RIAA with DMCA notices will drop down further in the search rankings thanks to new tweaks introduced this month, and for certain search terms that are likely to lead to pirated content, Google will either include ads to legal platforms for the said content, or will more links to free listening/watching options (such Spotify) to make going to pirated sites less of a necessity.

The whitepaper also explains in detail Google’s anti-piracy policies with its non search products, such as AdSense, Blogger and YouTube, with Google pointing out that the latter’s Content ID “piracy monetization” program has paid out over a billion dollars already to content holders in the seven years it has been running.

All of this is to avoid actually having to remove entire sites at the behest of content holders (as opposed to individual URLs), something that content holders ultimately wants Google to do (Google’s reason for not doing it: that takedown URLs for even the biggest piracy sites are only a small fraction of the total URLs indexed for these sites – so it’s unfair to remove these sites entirely).

The Walking Dead: Season 5

Hordes of The Walking Dead pirates come out during the show’s season 5 premier

What Google may not be able to do much about is the increasing popularity of The Walking Dead among downloaders. The corker of a season 5 premier has attracted record ratings, but has also broken records when it comes to pirated downloads, according to piracy tracking firm Excipio.

While all of this may only prove that “popular TV show downloaded more”, what I found interesting is that Australia, for once, was not the piracy leader for this “let’s not say the Z word” series. It could be that Game of Thrones is more popular with Aussies than The Walking Dead (because if there’s one things us Australians are known for, its our love of dragons and medieval themed political intrigue), but one look at the legal options for both shows and it may become clear why one is downloaded a lot more than the other. One show is available on iTunes (albeit on a 2 day delayed release schedule compared to the US airing time) and available on a cheaper non premium cable channel. The other is only available on premium cable packages, with no standalone digital options like iTunes. Guess which is which, and which show is pirated more!

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HBO Go

A standalone HBO streaming service is coming in 2015

The Game of Thrones piracy, or more precisely, the HBO TV show piracy problem in Australia may be reduced dramatically next year, but not for a reason that will make content holders and distributors here happy at all. HBO will be offering a standalone streaming product in 2015, possibly at the price point of $15 per month. With the right geo-unblocker (assuming HBO takes the same laissez faire attitude towards geo-unblockers as Netflix, which might be a big assumption at this time), Australians could get access to the latest HBO shows for a price that’s quite affordable.

So while all the talk is about Netflix being the loser in this new deal, and its stock prices has reflected this sentiment in the wake of this announcement, I think the real losers are the traditional cable and satellite providers, in the US and overseas. HBO and their shows has been the jewel, the only jewel sometimes, in their crown, and the only reason why many still hold on to their subscriptions. A standalone HBO product will remove this reason. Hulu Plus and Netflix aren’t real competitors because they’re trying to do different things, even though they offer some of the same content – both service complement each other, especially for us overseas watchers who don’t have timely access to the latest TV episodes. For this same reason, HBO and Netflix shouldn’t be considered competitors, especially when the two services are unlikely to have any overlap in content – they complement each other, and complement each other quite well. All we need now is a movie streaming service that streams the latest movies at the same time as the film’s Blu-ray and DVD releases, and all three services could co-exist and prosper (at the expense of cable/satellite, discs and other outdated forms of distribution).

Early 4K adopters without Netflix is set to lose out as the company moves its 4K offering to its most expensive $12 “family plan”. The extra costs involved with distributing 4K content may account for this move, but the change only affects new members. Existing members will get to keep access to Netflix’s limited 4K library without having to move up to the family plan.

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Despite Michael Pachter predicting the Xbox One will outsell the PS4 in September, the well known gaming industry analyst was proved wrong once again with the NPD figures for September showing PS4 sales still topped that for the Xbox One despite Microsoft’s free games offer. The only glimmer of good news for Microsoft was that the hit game Destiny was more popular on the Xbox One than on the PS4, at least for standalone non digital copies of the game. The holiday period is just around the corner and sales will and Microsoft will hope that the recent discounting of the console plus game offers help to things turn around in time. If the PS4 wins these holidays, and right now it looks like the most likely outcome, then that’s this generation decided I think.

As for the Wii U, its sales grew by 50% compared to August sales, but with Microsoft and even Sony reluctant to release actual sales figures, we have no idea how far behind the Wii U is compared to the big two (and I assume it’s behind the Xbox One, since otherwise I’m sure Nintendo would have made a note of it in their PR releases).

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And on that note, we come to the end of another WNR. Hope you’ve enjoyed this one, see you next week.