Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (21 June 2015)

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Well E3 came and went, and both Sony and Microsoft had some great announcements, even if some were definitely way overdue (*cough*, DLNA support, *cough*), and even if some took everyone completely by surprise (*cough*, Xbox 360 backwards compatibility, *cough* – I really need to get this cough looked at).

I think I might have just spoiled some of this week’s news stories. Better this than having a key plot development in the Game of Thrones season finale being spoiled mid-episode while I was searching for background info on Meryn Trant on my phone – thanks a lot Variety! Don’t worry, while we talk a lot about Game of Thrones in this WNR, there won’t be any spoilers.


Jon Snow

Even Jon Snow knows that Game of Thrones season finale equals new piracy record

WTF? Those familiar with Game of Thrones will also be familiar with this expression, and the season 5 finale was no different. While some of the twists and turns on the show come totally unexpected for the unsuspecting viewer (when it comes to guessing what fate will befall the truly honorable citizens of Westeros, and there aren’t many of those left, we’ve become more and more cynical I think), what was a total non surprise was the fact that a new piracy record has been broken again for the season finale, a record that was last set only a couple of weeks ago by another GoT episode.

But it’s not so much a case of more people downloading, and less people paying – ratings for the show are at a record too – it’s just that the show has become so popular that piracy inevitably goes up (and given the way the season 5 finale ended, expect the season 6 premier to break a couple of more records again).

For HBO, they definitely can do more to convert at least a small group of downloaders into paying customers, first by lowering the price of HBO Now, and by making it possible to watch new episodes via streaming in other parts of the world without having to be tied to a cable service (either by making HBO Now available, or selling the license to local streaming platforms).

But even if they do that, a large portion of the viewing public will still be downloading. Just take a look at the piracy problem with Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, despite Netflix’s ubiquity and low entry point when it comes to pricing, some will still pirate (and that some includes many who already pay for Netflix, but want a way to watch these episodes offline). So piracy will never be eliminated, but HBO can definitely do more to convince those willing to pay, to pay something.


Google DMCA Stats

Google is profiting from piracy, according to the MPAA

Google’s pretty mad these days. At Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood and his MPAA backers, mainly. The search giant is finally using some of its massive cash reserves to hire a lawyers or a hundred to punish the MPAA, via Hood, for trying to mess with them (Hood tried to build case against Google, with the MPAA’s help, in a very clumsy attempt to bring back SOPA like legislation on the state level – but the Sony hack revealed all, forcing Google to on the legal offensive).

With Google winning in the courts against Hood, the search giant then started to target the puppetmasters, and when the MPAA refused to hand over internal documents, Google sued them too. The MPAA has just responded to Google’s lawsuit, and they really didn’t hold anything back. The MPAA accuses Google of both helping to facilitate and also profiting from piracy, and says Google’s lawsuit is nothing but a PR campaign.

Interesting, the MPAA argues that Google is trying to make them look bad by making public Hollywood’s anti-piracy strategy. I’m glad the MPAA finally agrees that their anti-piracy strategy is naturally unpopular, and that the truth is all you need to make them look bad!


PS4 Media Player

PS4 finally getting a proper media player, with USB, DLNA and MKV support

Both Sony and Microsoft have had a good E3 (as for Nintendo …), but among Sony’s big PS4 announcements, the one that’s most interesting to me and probably to readers here would be the announcement of a new, proper, media player, for the company’s flagship console. Finally, we get back DLNA playback and USB media support, and as a bonus, we also now get native MKV playback too.

Better late than never, I suppose. And I can finally seriously consider replacing my PS3 with the PS4 as my hub of all things entertaining.

For Microsoft, their big surprise announcement was not something new, but something old. Or rather, backwards compatibility to allow you to play your old Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. Insert your old Xbox 360 game disc, the 360 emulator will load up and you’ll be able to instantly play one of the 100 titles that are supported currently. Backwards compatibility also works with digital purchases too.

Xbox One's Xbox 360 Backward Compatibility

Xbox One’s Xbox 360 emulator in action

Not just a great bonus for Xbox One owners, it’s also a smart move by Microsoft. They have the data that shows many 360 owners are moving to the PS4 when upgrading to the next gen – by adding BC, it will ensure at least some of these users will more favorably view the Xbox One, even if just as a way to keep on playing their Xbox 360 games without having to buy a new 360.

The move has certainly surprised rivals Sony (and pretty much everyone else), but there are currently no plans to give PS3 backwards compatibility to the PS4 according to the Japanese tech giant. If Xbox 360 backwards compatibility proves to be a winner, sales wise, expect Sony to miraculously unveil their BC plans post haste.


Bloody hell, Variety, why did you have to put all the major plot of the finale in your headlines? To be honest, even after I read it, I couldn’t believe it, and I still can’t believe it after I’ve seen it (it seems a lot of people are like me, in denial). If this is all very cryptic, it is, because this is a good website that don’t spoil things for unspecting people. Unlike Variety.

See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (14 June 2015)

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

Another week gone, and we’re mid way through June, which is mid-way through the year. 2015 has gone by pretty quickly, I have to say, maybe too quick at times. Much like this somewhat shorter than usual WNR, which I’m sure you’ll get through pretty quickly (maybe too quickly) too.

Here it is …


EU Flag

The EU wants to remove copyright restrictions, which they say is encouraging piracy

The EU is pressing ahead with its plans reform copyright laws, to make it fairer to consumers and remove many of the restrictions that exist within EU countries. The European Commission VP in charge of this new copyright strategy, dubbed the Digital Single Market, says that current copyright laws allows rights-holders to place restrictions on legal content, restrictions that Andrus Ansip says are driving people to piracy.

Instead of tougher laws that punish downloaders, something that Ansip says is untenable (68% of film viewers in the EU download pirated movies – “to put 68% of people in jail is not really a good idea,” says Ansip), he wants legislation that encourages the spread of legal content, even if it means banning things like geo-blocking within EU countries.

It’s something rights-holders won’t like. While all EU countries use the same currency, the wealth disparity between EU countries means that citizens in one country may be able to afford to pay more for the same content, than citizens in another country. It’s this wealth disparity that Big Content likes to exploit, by making sure they squeeze as much as possible out of each paying customer. In the worst case, an entire platform, like Spotify, could end not not being available in some countries due to these kind of artificial barriers.

So while the EU is clearly moving into the direction that brings better access to content, Big Content is heading in the other direction, still pushing ahead with content blocking to solve the piracy problem. The latest strategy involves getting domain registrars involved in the process, but Big Content is finding that it’s meeting some resistance from ICANN, the non-profit responsible for managing domain names. The ICANN says it refuses to be copyright cops, to police content, simply because it’s responsibilities simply does not extend to content. Pointing domain names to servers is basically what the domain naming system is all about – it should not matter to ICANN at least what the domain name is, and what server it is pointing to. Just because it’s easier to force registrars to do something about piracy (as opposed to going after the owners of the website), doesn’t make it right.


Steam logo

Are users abusing Steam’s new refund system?

By finally making refunds available, Steam seems to have finally listened to customers, and it also represents a major step in the right direction in terms of digital consumer rights. However, it appears some users at least have started to abuse the refund system, which promises refunds, no questions asked, within 14 days of purchase as long as you’ve played less than two hours in the game (which describes about 95% of my Steam game library, by the way).

Some indie game developers are reporting refund rates of up to 72%, meaning more than 2 in 3 users bought the game, played it, and then got their money back. While this might indicate some kind of problem with the game, most of the time, the heavily refunded games still receive positive ratings from gamers.

This means that people may be using the refund system to play games without paying, at least for up to two hours (which while probably not enough to finish the game, but might be enough for many users). With Steam not even asking users why they’re seeking a refund, the system does sound like one that’s maybe too biased towards the consumers, something that rarely happens with digital goods.

The problem has become so bad, that some developers are even thinking of adding DRM to their game, something that they would never have considered in the past. And this is a development that benefits nobody, really.

There has to be a middle ground though, one that gives consumers the same rights with digital goods as they have with physical goods, but also ensures that people cannot abuse it as a way to play games without paying.


Xbox One PC Adapter

PC Adapter for Xbox One controller finally available, getting ready for Windows 10 game streaming

The NPD report for US video game sales in May has been released, and the PS4 is back on top after temporarily handing over the crown to the Xbox One in April. While Xbox One sales were up on this time last year, it just couldn’t sell enough units to beat the PS4, which but for a few months here and there (admittedly during some important months, such as during the holiday sales period), has been on top pretty much this entire generation.

Things might stay the same in June again though, despite Microsoft releasing a new 1 TB version of the console (and permanently dropping the price of the 512 GB version to $349). What may have a slightly bigger effect on Xbox One sales, eventually, might happen after the release of Windows 10. With built-in game streaming support (with the ability to stream Xbox One games to any Windows 10 device, be it your PC, laptop or Surface tablet), the new operating system from Microsoft will aim to further unify the Windows and Xbox platforms. So the release of a wireless PC adapter for the Xbox One controller comes just at the right time.


Alright, that’s that for the week. Have a good one!

Weekly News Roundup (7 June 2015)

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

I never thought I would see unskippable ads and auto-play promos on Netflix, but that’s exactly what I saw this week. I’ve never really understood why networks still need to advertise themselves, especially for established shows like Orange is the New Black. It feels like preaching to the converted, as the only people who don’t know about Orange is the New Black are people who just don’t want to watch it, and no amount of advertising is going to change that fact.

Not a huge amount of news this week, but still a few interesting ones, including the one about Netflix ads.


Piracy is Stealing?

Piracy is helpful to Netflix, while using VPNs to access it is stealing according media boss

There is now a greater acceptance of the view that regardless of you think should be done about piracy, it is here and it is something that cannot be ignored or simply maginalised (as something done by “criminals”). Instead of trying to eliminate it completely, the reality is that piracy is here to stay, and that it is just like any other market force that needs to be accounted for. New tech companies like Netflix and Spotify have long realised this paradigm, and have made their services competitive as a result – traditional firms like most Hollywood studios and recording labels, have not, and has suffered as a result.

But according to Netflix, it’s just not about competing with piracy – it’s also about using piracy to its advantage. According to Netflix boss Reed Hastings, piracy teaches users to get used to streaming videos online, which makes it easier for Netflix to convince these same users to sign up. These users are already likely to have high bandwidth or unlimited bandwidth accounts, which makes it one less hurdle for them to make the switch to Netflix.

It’s this kind of positive thinking and willingness to adapt that’s behind the success of companies like Netflix and Hulu. Those that don’t want to accept the paradigm shift, and instead uses technological and legal solutions to maintain the status quo, are the ones that will ultimately lose out in the end.

Interestingly, Hastings also explains why when Netflix comes to a new country (such as Australia), it’s catalogue of titles is so crap. Apparently, it’s easier to negotiate for content only if that region’s Netflix has a high number of subscribers. I don’t know who made this particular hoop for Netflix to jump through, but it just goes to show the problems associated with the current licensing regime (too expensive, too restrictive, and too convoluted).


Is using a VPN to access US Netflix in Canada that much different to shopping at instead of

It’s these convoluted hoops that ensures one region’s Netflix is better or worse than another region’s, despite there being perhaps very little geographical distance between the two regions. Let’s say between Canada and the US (or between Toronto and Detroit). This kind of content inequality has made many Canadian Netflix users sign up to VPN or smart DNS services so they can access the US Netflix library, which features much more content (although personally I find that Canada has better movie releases, sometimes), including the daughter of new Canadian Bell Media boss Mary Ann Turcke.

But instead of seeing the content inequality as a problem (and perhaps as an opportunity as well), Turcke, the boss of an old media firm, sees this as “theft” and, on a personal note, has put a stop to her daughter’s “stealing”. And in Turcke’s mind, the solution is to not adapt to what users want, but instead, to tell those users they’re wrong, they’re criminals, and that what they’re doing is “unacceptable” – users including her own daughter!

With this kind of mindset, it’s no wonder old media has been so unsuccessful at adapting to user demands in the Internet age, and why they have allowed innovative companies like Apple, Netflix and Spotify to take over core parts of their business. When you see “new” as “bad”, then this is the inevitable outcome.

High Definition

Meanwhile, do not be concerned that Netflix has started showing ads. It’s only ads for its own original shows, but they’re unskippable (at least the one I saw, for Orange is the New Black), and the worry is that this will be expanded one day to include third-party ads. Netflix has been quick to reassure users that this won’t be the case, but Netflix ads or third party ones, they’re all annoying, especially if they’re unskippable.

Hopefully, this will be one of those things that Netflix test from time to time, but never makes it as a regular feature, especially if most users are like me and don’t view these changes favourably.


PS4 with controller and PS Eye

The new PS4 models should look pretty much like the old ones, but only on the outside

A new PS4 model with a 1TB hard-drive may be available sometime this year, and may be announced as soon as E3 in two week’s time. But the new PS4 won’t be the much anticipated “slim” model, as the FCC filings which revealed the new PS4 models show that dimensions of the console has remained the same.

What has changed however is the power requirement, from 250 watts to 230 watts, suggesting that new fabrication process for the PS4 hardware is now ready, which may lead to a price cut too.


That’s it for another week, hope you enjoyed this one. See you in seven!

Weekly News Roundup (24 May 2015)

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Quite a lot of stuff to go through this week. But I have this feeling that next week will be really quiet – this kind of thing does tend to happen more often than not. I haven’t quiet worked out the psychology behind this, but things like holidays (Memorial Day in the US), weather can all have a big effect on news, I’ve found. Let’s see if I’m right next week.

Let’s get started …


Industry solutions to the piracy problem. Sounds like a good way to get things done without government intervention, but there’s a reason why we have government to set rules. Because there are rules!

PayPal Logo

MPAA working with PayPal to freeze funds – but where is the due process?

Industry solutions is often just another way for big companies to work together with other big companies to screw us consumers, bypassing fairness, due process and all the things that are designed to protect us. So what happened to open source developer Andrew Sampson’s PayPal account, on the orders of the MPAA, shouldn’t come as a shock. Andrew made the mistake of doing something that pissed off the MPAA (by making the torrent search engine Strike), and also the second mistake of getting PayPal involved (by having a donation button, albeit only temporarily, on Strike’s website). The MPAA contacted PayPal, and now Andrew’s entire account is frozen, despite only a very small amount of money in his account having anything to do with Strike (the other funds come from his other non related projects).

And even if all of Andrew’s PayPal money was related to Strike, it shouldn’t mean that the MPAA and PayPal, without any sort of legal procedure, can freeze his account like this. There hasn’t been any legal documents, a court case, a judgement or ruling, and it’s all based on the untested assertions of the MPAA. And since when is making a search engine illegal?

None of this passes the fairness test, and because there’s no due process, Andrew has no avenue of appeal. So it will be 180 days before Andrew can access his own money, most of which were earned in a way that had nothing to do with the MPAA.

This is all part of the MPAA’s “going after the money” initiative, one that is ironically also supported by Google. This is because going after the money means the MPAA isn’t going after the content, which is where Google might get into trouble. Going after the content means search results filtering (something the MPAA wants, but Google has been able to successfully prevent so far), but it mainly means site blocking and shut-downs these days.

But according to the EU, shutting down access to piracy sites is not only not effective, but it also makes future copyright enforcement much more difficult. The study looked at the closure of German streaming site, and found that shortly after the closure, existing sites and new sites filled the void left by This made the piracy scene much more fragmented, and also means it becomes harder and harder to control piracy (as opposed to dealing with one big site, you now have hundreds of smaller sites that you need to deal with).

The study also found very little movement towards legal alternatives following the shut-down, meaning that even if piracy was eliminated, the financial gain for rights-holders will be minimal.

In other words, shutting down piracy sites or censoring them is a costly exercise that has no real long term benefits, either in reducing piracy or increasing revenue. Won’t stop the likes of the MPAA from trying though.


EZTV is no more – scammers manage to steal domain names in brazen heist

Not that I want to give the MPAA any ideas, but one of the oldest torrent groups this week did get shut down via a method that Hollywood has not tried yet – a scam! TV torrent site EZTV is no more because all of their domain names have been stolen by a group of scammers. This is the same group that managed to secure EZTV’s .it domain name a while back (that was due to improper actions by the registrar), and then apparently faked contact details to illegally obtain EZTV’s .se domain name. This was key because EZTV’s admin used the .se domain name as the primary email contact for all other registrant accounts, meaning the scammers were able to redirect emails meant for the admin to their own servers, reset all passwords to accounts that were signed up with that email (including other registrar accounts for EZTV’s other domain names), and successfully completing the “hostile takeover”.

Regardless of what you think about piracy, it’s a sad end for EZTV and also presents a current danger for downloaders who continue to use EZTV. It will be easy for the new “owners” of the site to inject malware and fake downloads into their index, even if EZTV’s accounts on other sites like The Pirate Bay have all been suspended on request from the original admin team.


PS4 DualShock 4 Controller

Should Sony give the PS4 a price cut?

Is the PS4 due for a price cut? With the Xbox One beating the PS4 during the holidays and then again in April, all thanks to temporary and now permanent price cuts, Sony might be thinking that a price cut is exactly what’s needed to maintain momentum. And according to leaked documents, it might just happen sooner rather than later.

A document from Sony’s official retail loyalty site for their employees seems to point to a new $349 price tag for the PS4, which would bring it level with the Xbox One. Without the document being authenticated, treat all of this as a rumour for now, but it does make sense for Sony to consider a $50 price cut right now.

While the PS4 is still easily beating the Xbox One worldwide, the crucial US market is looking a bit more shaky for Sony. In the previous generation, Microsoft implemented a series of successful price cuts for the Xbox 360, despite it easily outselling the PS3 in the US, and this helped the console maintain momentum as the sales leader up to and until the PS4’s release. Sony could and should use a similar strategy to keep the Xbox One at arm’s length, and while hardware revenue will take a hit in the short term, having a strong sales lead will help revenue in the long term.

Wii U

Wii U not doing too well – but Nintendo says NX is not a replacement

Now you might notice that I haven’t mentioned the Wii U in quite a while. That’s because there’s really not much to mention unfortunately, with the Wii U doing rather badly in April (43,000 units, compared to the sales leader Xbox One’s 187,000). This suggests that Nintendo needs to bring out the Wii U’s successor pronto, but Nintendo president Satoru Iwata’s remarks that the Nintendo NX may not be a replacement for the Wii U (and the 3DS) does seem odd.

It might be just marketing talk, trying to position the NX as something revolutionary rather than evolutionary, but Iwata could also be hinting at the fusion of handheld and console gaming, something that the Wii U has already taken a step towards.

Whatever it is, it can’t come soon enough, as the Wii U is really struggling now. It had a reprieve thanks to Mario Kart, but with Zelda delayed until who knows when, the Wii U looks like a dead duck right now and the longer this drags out, the harder it may be for Nintendo to get a good start with the NX.


Fans of streaming, and particularly Australian fans, don’t forget to visit for more streaming related news stories, like Spotify’s new video content, Netflix’s new interface and live sports streaming – too much stuff to cover in detail in this week’s WNR.

See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (17 May 2015)

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

A nicely rounded WNR this week, with a little bit of everything included, from copyright stuff, to gaming, to 4K Blu-ray. Also a shout out to our new contributor Nick Harris (here he is on Twitter) – Nick will be helping me write a couple of news stories on Digital Digest and Streambly. Welcome to the team Nick!

I’m still looking for more contributors to help me find and write news stories. If you like the topics covered by this WNR and have an interest in writing (no experience needed), please contact me (use the admin/Sean email address).

Alright, the news stuff.


HBO Now Devices

HBO Now – not quite good enough, or cheap enough, for many

While the first four episodes of the new Game of Thrones season has thus far avoided the unwanted distinction of breaking new piracy records, episode five, the first one that wasn’t leaked before the season even began, unfortunately could not escape the inevitable.

While most of the blame will go to the no good thieving pirates, especially now that HBO has given in and made available their standalone HBO Now product, HBO themselves are not without blame for this ongoing piracy crisis. The HBO Now app, based on ratings and reviews on the Apple App Store, is far from perfect and HBO’s poor track record with streaming goes back to even before HBO Now was launched. Those that used HBO Go, the company’s cable-account tied streaming service, will be familiar with the usual Game of Thrones rush, where HBO’s infrastructures fails to handle the demand of thousands of users all trying to stream the latest episode. On this front at least, HBO’s product falls short when compared to competitors like Netflix and Amazon.

And then there’s the price of HBO Now – $15 per month is very decent compared to the previous cable-tied arrangement, but it’s not when compared to the likes of Netflix. Considering that almost all users are there just to watch Game of Thrones, $15 a month for mainly just one show doesn’t sound like the greatest value.

So if HBO is serious about fighting piracy, then there are many other things they can do before playing the blame game.

Not living in a part of the world that HBO considers worthy of their presence, I’m not quite sure if their PC player uses HTML5. If they do already, or if they will eventually move in that direction (most likely), then the news that Firefox 38 now supports HTML5 DRM will be bittersweet news for subscribers of HBO Now that uses Firefox. This is because the latest version of Firefox has finally and reluctantly added Encrypted Media Extension (EME) support, which enables HTML5 playback of protected content from providers like Netflix, but also now means the open source browser now includes closed source DRM,

I say reluctantly because there’s a lot of complications involved with adding closed source “black box” code into an open source project like Firefox, even outside of licensing issues. Security, for example, is harder to verify if nobody can check the code for unintended bugs or intended spying. Firefox, for their part, has made a big effort to calm users of these fears, by providing a sandboxed environment for the EME, and also providing an EME-free version of Firefox for those that are concerned-bordering-on-paranoid (users can also disable or uninstall EME support in the standard version).

But without adding EME support, it would leave Firefox lacking in the compliance department when it comes to HTML5 support, not to mention eventually failing to support popular apps like Netflix. And that was a direction that even one of the major supporters of open source, Mozilla, wasn’t willing to make.

High Definition

Ultra HD Blu-ray Logo

Ultra HD Blu-ray specs are done, complete with new logo

Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and players this week moves a step closer to (commercial) reality, with the Blu-ray Disc Association announcing that the specifications are now completed. There weren’t any surprises in the finalized specs, so it’s mostly just confirmation of things we already know. Things like 66GB dual layer and 100GB triple layer discs capable of supporting resolutions up to 3840×2160 at 60fps. There’s also goodies for those looking to update their TV sets to one of those fancy ones that supports things like 10-bit color and High Dynamic Range, as UHD Blu-ray will support these too.

On the audio front, support for one or both of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X “object-based sound formats” will be there too, as is a new version of UltraViolet that allows one disc purchase to unlock playback and streaming on a wide variety of digital-only devices – something to keep discs relevant in the age of digital.

And oh, there’s also a new logo.

I have to say that there’s something I don’t really like about the marketing for Ultra HD Blu-ray. I can’t help but feel that people are being led to believe UHD Blu-ray is just a small upgrade on the Blu-ray format, much like how Blu-ray 3D was promoted. But looking at it, UHD Blu-ray has a new disc format (that’s not compatible on older players) with new video and audio codecs, and will require a new TV to take full advantage of the improvements. The changes here are just as big as when DVDs made way for Blu-ray!

But it just doesn’t feel big enough of an update, and maybe that’s intentional. Nobody really wants a brand new disc format to contend with, not when everything is digital-only these days, and I think the BDA knows this. The emphasis here has been on continuity, on how UHD Blu-ray players will still play all your current Blu-ray discs, and that things haven’t changed all that much (even though they have, in major ways). And it’s also why the familiar Blu-ray logo is still part of the new logo, even though no existing Blu-ray player will be able to do anything with these new UHD discs.


Xbox One Forza 5

A win for the Xbox One finally

I didn’t see that one coming. The Xbox One has managed to beat the PS4 in April US sales, the first time the Microsoft flagship console has managed to beat Sony’s juggernaut outside of the holiday sales period. The Xbox One’s permanent price cut and good value bundles seems to be turning the tide, although it’s not easy to say whether this is the beginning of a new trend, or just a temporary blip for the PS4.

Microsoft was expectedly happy with the result, citing that Xbox One sales were 63% up compared to the same month last year.

Overall hardware sales are still down, about 4% compared to this time last year, largely due to Xbox 360 and PS3 sales dropping off a cliff.

On the games front, the PS4 did manage to beat the Xbox One, with several of the top selling titles, including Mortal Kombat X, all selling better on the PS4. The two major FPS titles in the top 10, the latest incarnations of Battlefield and Call of Duty, both did better on the Xbox One than on the PS4 though.


And here we are at the end of another WNR. Hope you enjoyed this issue. See you next week!