Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (21 September 2014)

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

If you’re sick of the iPhone 6 overload this week, then you’ve come to the right place. There’s only one paragraph in this WNR about Apple’s new phone, and it has to do with perhaps the most boring aspect of the phone. There’s also a rant in there about print media. Fun times!

Copyright

Downloading Communism

Time to bring out this classic poster again …

Piracy losses are translating to higher prices for consumers and is having a negative effect on the economy. This has been one of the major argument for a crackdown on piracy, but according to leading economists in Australia, the reverse might be true. This week we again turn our focus to Australia and the heated debate there over what to do about the piracy problem. A submission this week to the government from leading economist Henry Ergas and the former head of Australia’s peak consumer body Allan Fels argues that the government’s plan to make ISPs monitor user downloads is actually bad for the economy, and bad for consumers.

Their argument is that the high cost of running such a program, nearly $150 million a year, will not translate to anything close to this in terms of increased revenue and benefits to the economy, based on current evidence. And any increased revenue to rights holders are unlikely to be passed on to consumers. In the most optimistic scenario under the government’s proposals, where piracy is substantially reduced, the removal of the need for rights holders to “compete” with pirated downloads may actually bring about higher prices for consumers, and actually end up “incentivizing” piracy, the submission also warns.

If this “incentivizing” happens, then piracy rates will back up again and the only options left for rights holders would be to improve the value of their offerings, greatly improve the availability of legal content on services that consumers want to use, and also ensure things like release window delays are as short as possible. Basically all of the things that they should be doing right now to fight piracy instead of asking the government to intervene, argues the economists.

The most worrying thing about the Australian debate right now is that all of these same arguments have been heard before, and the practical actions suggested have already been tried, tested and shown to be largely ineffective. And yet, we still have rights holders asking for legislative action. It’s interesting that rights holders in the US have stopped asking for the same, at least not publicly, all because they fear the same kind of consumer backlash that occurred when SOPA/PIPA was being debated. Which is why the MPAA this week again re-iterated their lack of desire for legislative action. The MPAA’s Chris Dodd was saying all the right things too, about not “finger pointing at everyone” and “arresting 14 year-olds”, but instead to focus on “accessibility” and releasing content at “price points [consumers] can afford”. At the very least, it seems rights holders there have lost their appetite for new laws (publicly at least), just like how rights holders here in Australia have lost their appetite for legal action (having lost a major case a couple of years back). Well, at least they’re learning (in terms of what they say publicly, at least).

——

I was going to write a full length news article on this story based on the attention grabbing headline of “NewsCorp: Google is a ‘platform for piracy'”. Ohh, I though, Murdoch is on one of his piracy rants against Google again, oh goodie. But then I read the article and it wasn’t really focusing on the piracy problem, or the kind of piracy that I usually talk about here. Rather, it was mainly about the dispute between NewsCorp and Google, and goes much deeper than who is downloading what via the search engine. In case you don’t know, newspapers have a love/hate relationship with search engines like Google. Mostly hate these days. They don’t like the fact that Google “aggressively aggregates” content (some of us webmasters don’t like it either), in which Google takes content from sites and sticks it in the search results (with credit and links, but done in a way that makes visiting the site unnecessary – do a search for “aggregation definition” on Google, and you’ll know what I mean). Which is why drastic measures such as blocking Google crawling have been employed in the past to try and stop Google’s content “stealing”, which unfortunately has the side effect of greatly reducing your visibility to users. Pay walls were then introduced to try and make news profitable again, but in my opinion, it only made aggregated content more valuable (as sometimes a headline and summary is enough, especially compared to the cost of paying for the full thing). Google’s argument is that it’s good for the end users, which it is, but it’s also easy to see why some content creators are not happy with what Google (and to be fair, the other search engine too) is doing.

Google News

Google’s news aggregation – good for users, bad for content creators?

While there are legitimate arguments to be made about the content aggregation issue; the lack of genuine competition in the search sector; and issues of anti-competitive behaviour with Google’s perceived favourable treatment of its own products over those from other companies (Google is both a partner, and a competitor, to content creators, in my opinion); on the flip side of the coin you could argue this is just another case of old media not being able to adapt quickly enough. In NewsCorp’s accusations against Google, this interesting passage caught my eye: “For example access to 75% of the Wall Street Journal demographic at 25% of the price, thus undermining the business model of the content creator”. Undermining, or just doing business in a more efficient way? Google could label the same accusation against more successful social media platform, which are offering even better targeting at even lower prices (with Google+ having failed to be as successful in doing the same). But isn’t this just progress and innovation?

As for the woes of the newspaper industry, I don’t know if it’s fair to blame Google, or even the Internet in general for their troubles. To me, if a product is worth paying for, people will pay for it. If people’s expectations of what something is worth has changed, and you can’t re-engage with people again to convince them that paying for news is worthwhile, then perhaps it’s time to re-think the whole business of news. Maybe it shouldn’t be a business at all, but a publicly funded, truly independent institution who’s goal is not profit, but the actual betterment of society and democracy. Then maybe we’ll get back true journalism that protects, not undermines, democracy (via the dumbification of news and the serving of vile populist garbage in the name of profit – the click-baiters of their time – tactics that NewsCorp should be very familar with).

High Definition

iPhone 6 Comparison

Obligatory iPhone 6 pic

I suppose I should mention the iPhone 6. Not that it has much to do with what I cover in the WNR, except for this slightly related story about the choice of codec being used for FaceTime over cellular 3G/4G. The use of HEVC/H.265 makes a lot of sense when combined with the iPhone 6’s more powerful processor (which is needed for realtime HEVC encoding/decoding) and the need to reduce bandwidth requirements, while increasing the quality of video calls. Would this be the first mass consumer product to feature built-in HEVC/H.265 support? Possibly, and it won’t hurt the format’s chances to become the next de facto standard for web video.

Which is why things are not looking great for Google’s VPx, their open source, royalty free alternative to HEVC/H.265. I’m sure Google’s Android will be pushing VP10 if/when it is released sometime next year, but apart from the lack of industry support for the format, technically, it just doesn’t seem to be quite there compared to the more polished and efficient HEVC. As one industry analyst said recently, “The industry has already selected HEVC,” and that, I’m afraid, is that for Google’s VPx.

Tests have shown that VP9, while perhaps better than H.264, cannot really compete at the moment with HEVC. Surprisingly, VP9 is in practical use to a much larger degree than HEVC at the moment, thanks to Google pushing the use of the codec for YouTube, and also superior native browser support due to the codec’s open-sourcedness. But with Netflix 4K choosing HEVC, Blu-ray 4K also choosing HEVC, and now Apple also going down the HEVC route, there’s not much room for VP9/VP10 to grow into. Nobody wants another format war, especially one as tame as this one, so the industry will choose one format and just go ahead with it – and right now, the choice is definitely HEVC.

Gaming

As promised last week, more on August’s NPD results right here. The PS4 was again the most popular console, 8 month in a row, but it appears that its lead has shrunk somewhat. Unconfirmed information suggests that the PS4’s 175,000 units sold was just ahead of Xbox One’s 150,000. Nothing official from either Microsoft or Nintendo though, so the difference could actually be much greater than that (especially for the Wii, as Mario Kart fell out of the top 10 games chart in August).

White Xbox One

Xbox One needs to be cheaper than the PS4

More worrying for Microsoft is that traditional Xbox 360 favourites like the Madden series are being won by Sony, with the PS4 version of Madden NFL 15 outselling the Xbox One and Xbox 360 version. In fact, the same trend is true for all of the top selling multiplatform games right now except for Call of Duty: Ghosts. The next Call of Duty game will be interesting, not only is it one of the biggest franchises around, this time, we may actually see the PlayStation become the top performing platform for the series’ next chapter. If this were to happen, it could have serious implications, in that developers will most likely make the PS4 their lead platform (if they haven’t done so already) and the Xbox One version of the same game will suffer, thus causing the sales/quality/value gap to grow even larger.

I bet Microsoft wishes now more than ever that they can have a do-over, so that they would have never bothered with all that DRM crap, and released the Xbox One without Kinect for cheaper than the PS4. It would have made the Xbox One a sure winner, but I guess they grew overconfident and felt they had room to experiment. The same kind of “arrogance” maybe that was responsible for the PS3’s relative failure. The good news for Microsoft is that their backflips have been fast and decisive, and so there’s still time to pull one out of the hat. But the Xbox One needs to be cheaper than the PS4 to have a real chance, and I’m not sure if Microsoft can afford to do it at the moment.

——

A longer than expected WNR this week, and sorry for the incoherent ranting. See you in a week (for more incoherent ranting, no doubt)!

Weekly News Roundup (14 September 2014)

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

It’s going to be a short one this week, as I’ve got somewhere I need to be at shortly after pressing the “submit” button on this WNR. You might then question why, considering I’ve had an entire week to prepare and write this WNR, didn’t I just do it earlier? Because news waits for no man. Or rather, man has to wait for news to happen, and it again happened pretty late during this very quiet week. So quiet that, again, we only have to Australian oriented stories for you this week, although stories that do have global implications. Enjoy!

Copyright

Spotify Logo

Spotify has released research showing piracy rates dropping rapidly in Australia since Spotify’s introduction

After being challenged by those in Australian that believe tougher laws and technological solutions like DRM and censorship are the way forwards for the fight against piracy, Spotify has released data from its own research showing that introducing more affordable legal options is the way to go. According to Spotify’s data, music piracy download rates in Australia (based on calculating BitTorrent downloads) dropped by more than 20% only a year after Spotify’s introduction here in Australia.

The piracy rate has continued to steadily decline since then, proving that if you provide a service people are willing to pay for, they will. Of course, some people will simply never pay for music and will continue to download – but you can’t lose money from people that were never willing to spend it in the first place (the argument is that if the only options were legal options, then some of these people might eventually pay up – but this argument is not valid because it would require piracy to be completely prevented, which even the most optimistic industry person will agree is impossible).

There is this huge amount of resistance to change in the industry, and for them, it’s so much easier to simply blame everyone else for their problems. Piracy has become a convenient excuse, but it’s only just a symptom of a much larger problem the creative industries seems unwilling, or unable to address. It’s all good news for the IT industry though, since (without a sense of entitlement that people in the creative industries, particularly the movie and music industries, seem to have) they’re the ones that are coming up with the solutions at the moment, and bit by bit, they’re the ones inserting themselves into critical junctures of the creative industries.

Despite not wanting to admit the obvious, piracy is also providing competitive pressure for companies that have had it too easy for too long. This is particularly evident in Australia, where many of the major global players, like Netflix, have not been been able to, or willing to influence the market conditions here – very likely because our market is so small that it’s mostly an afterthought for many companies. This lack of competition, the “taking it for granted” nature of the companies that operate here, and our relatively high average salary has meant prices are exorbitant (up to 431% more for TV shows online) compared to almost any other place in the world. But with Netflix predicted to make its debut locally in 2015, and with 200,000 already signing up via various geo-unblocking methods (which is legal here in Australia, thanks to a court case in the 90’s that basically said region control is not acceptable), the pressure is finally on, and some companies have started to respond.

New Netflix UI

Australian companies sh*t scared about Netflix and actual competition

As mentioned last week, one such company, our only cable operator Foxtel, has decided to drop prices to prepare for the Netflix onslaught next year. This is despite the company raising prices annually for the past decade, including at the start of this year (just before rumours started circulating that Netflix was coming). The current debate over the poor value Australians get in terms of what they pay for, and Foxtel’s virtual monopolistic position, has also added to the price cut pressure.

In fact, the general trend recently has seen various companies scramble in full panic mode to try and deal with the arrival of Netflix. We’ve seen indirect competitors, like Foxtel, finally starting to be more competitive price wise, even if at the same time, they’re locking up content so Netflix can’t get their hands on it. It’s very likely that our local Netflix offering will be very much limited compared to overseas equivalents, which may mean that VPNs and geo-unblockers will still have their use. This is why there is still pressure from local companies, and also direct competitors to Netflix, on the government to ban the use of geo-unblockers (again, despite legal precedent ruling that busting geo-restrictions is perfectly legal here in Australia).

While all of this “discussion” is happening under the guise of a “debate” on solving the piracy issue, you can’t help but feel it’s more about local companies trying to protecting their privileged positions in our noncompetitive market – basically to get the government to bail them out now that some real competition is about the arrive. And that, perhaps, is what the piracy debate is all about, not just in Australia – industries that have grown too comfortable with the way they do business and will do everything in their lobbying power to keep the status quo, and prevent new forms of competition from succeeding, whether it’s piracy or Netflix.

Gaming

The early NPD stats for August 2014 are out, and no big surprise here. The PS4 outsold the Xbox One to claim the throne as the best selling console eight month in a row. It’s a still a bit early, and so I’m still waiting for other stuff to filter through. I’ll cover the NPD results in more detail next month.

——

That’s it for this edition of the WNR. Not the most interesting, I know, but hopefully stuff will happen (and happen sooner than  Friday afternoon, thank-you very much) next week. Until then, have a great one!

Weekly News Roundup (7 September 2014)

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Happy father’s day for those that do not live in the UK or US. In fact, I’m not quite sure if it’s father’s day anywhere else but here in Australia (although a quick search suggests Belgium, out of all places, also celebrate it on the same day). I watched Alexander Payne’s Nebraska over the last few days, and I have to say it was definitely an appropriate movie for father’s day, even if when I started watching it I had no idea.

Lots to go through this week, most of the stories unfortunately only came about in the last couple of days which meant weekdays of mostly thumb twiddling, and then rushing to get everything done on Saturday. Please excuse teh lower than norml quality.

Copyright

Evansville Indiana SWAT raid

Downloading movies is just as bad as promoting terrorism online, or sharing child pornography, according to an Australian media company

Hyperbolic much? So movie piracy is basically the same thing as terrorism and pedophilia, according to Australian movie studio Village Roadshow. Statements like this do not help to elevate the so called dangers of piracy (because most people realise that, at its heart, it’s all just a question of money), but I worry that it trivialises the much more insidious, dangerous and very much real threat of online terrorism and  pedophilia. This is also the same company, in its submission to an Australian government call for input on ways to solve the piracy problem by giving Hollywood everything they want, that says 900,000 jobs are at stake if piracy isn’t stopped. 900,000 is 8% of Australia’s workforce, and a number that’s higher than the total number of unemployed in the country at this time – sounds like quite a lot considering we don’t really have a movie industry.

The same week also saw Australia’s Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance back the government’s Internet censorship plans, only for the same union to backtrack and withdraw their support soon after. Turns out this union that represents journalists (whom are almost always against censorship) also represents people working in film and TV (which do support censorship), hence the schizophrenic positions the union seems to be taking.

Silicon Valley has also stepped into the debate here, and you can’t but help feel that Australia has become a pivotal arena for those that have different views on how to battle piracy (simply because our government is stupid and clueless enough to be persuaded to do just about anything). The Computer and Communications Association (CCIA), an industry group that represents pretty much every tech company that exists including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Samsung, has waded into the debate on the side of consumers by saying that things like domain blocking and three-strikes simply do not work. Instead, content owners should focus on availability, ease of use and more equitable pricing, in order to fight piracy. A common sense position that will no doubt be ignored by our center-right government.

Fun times in Australia, that’s for sure.

All this focus on piracy has had a positive effect though. One of the focal points of criticism here has been the high cost of legal options, or rather, just the single option, singular. This is because we only have one pay TV operator here in Australia, and their strategy has been to lock up content on an exclusive basis in order to justify their high pricing. A strategy that obviously gives pirates the moral justification they need to do what they do. This week, the pay TV operator, Foxtel, finally announced a price cut (after years and yearly price increases), with $25 being taken off almost all of the packages and with more pocket friendly packages available for those that only want to watch shows like Game of Thrones and The Newsroom without having to subscribe to a bunch of other crap. The cynical part of me thinks this is the company’s way of trying to nullify a particular argument against the introduction of harsher laws, and that once these monopoly friendly laws are passed, prices will simply go back up again. But assuming this is a genuine attempt to find a market based solution to piracy, as well as counter any moves by Netflix into the Australian market next year, then this is definitely a step in the right direction. And it goes to show that there are solutions to the piracy problem that do not require going down the tricky path of censorship and domain blocking.

If domain blocking does gets approved here in Australia, one might have to look at the UK to see just how slippery the slippery slope of “guilty by association” can become. A story this week sees UK police now threatening domain hosts for selling domains to suspected owners of piracy websites. Apparently, if you’re an individual that has once upon a time possibly been linked with owning a domain name that might have been used to provide pirated content, none of it proven in a court or anything, then domain registrars must police these people and not sell them domains names that might possibly have some relation to piracy, even though the domain at the time of purchase would not be connected to a live website at all and so there’s no way to know how the domain name will be used, or even if it will be used at all in the future. Easy!

——

An update to a story from earlier this year, when DRM came to coffee. Apparently, the DRM in Keurig coffee machines that prevents third party pods from being used has been cracked by, surprise surprise, a third party pod maker. It’s hard to say if the DMCA could apply in this case and whether Keurig can take Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee to court over the “hacking” or not. Sometimes company put in DRM they know will be cracked simply because it gives them the legal option to sue later on.

High Definition

DVD vs Blu-ray vs 4K

4K Blu-ray will have four times the pixels, but won’t need more space thanks to HEVC – 4K Blu-ray players coming to a store near you in 2015

Excited about 4K? Then 2015 is the year for you, as that’s when 4K Blu-ray players and discs will be available (towards the end of 2015, it has to be said). The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) revealed the current status of 4K on Blu-ray at the IFA electronics show, and they say that the specs are almost done, and licensing will start “Spring or Summer 2015″.

The BDA also revealed some technical specs for 4K on Blu-ray. The physical disc won’t actually change, and 50GB will be enough with the more efficient HEVC/H.265 codec being used. The increased resolution of 4K isn’t the only improvement to the picture quality, as other additions such as an improved color gamut (which ups the visible color spectrum from the current 30-35% to 70-80%) as well as increasing video bit depth from 8-bit to 10-bit will also bring about picture quality improvements.

Even though the currently agreed upon specs do not call for higher capacity discs, the BDA also revealed that larger discs are in consideration, with 66GB and 100GB discs being considered for 4K (or even 1080p) use. 4K Blu-ray players are expected to hit the market for the 2015 holiday sales period, and 4K TVs will hopefully be affordable enough then as well.

For those that want to make the argument that discs have had its time, and I’m definitely leaning towards this camp, here’s an interesting argument against digital downloads: carbon footprint. Despite logic suggesting otherwise, large downloads are actually more costly to the environment in terms their carbon footprint than discs. This is due to the electricity used by devices that download large content, such as PS4s. Of course, the numbers can be played around to suggest the opposite conclusion, if for example you use your car to get to the shops to buy the Blu-ray, or if you use the background downloading feature of the PS4 while you’re using it for some other function which means the download doesn’t use much excess power. And there’s also the issue of millions of plastic discs that will one day be useless and what to do about these. Something to think about, perhaps.

Gaming

The Sims 4: Pixelation "Bug"

Catastrophic Bug or annoying DRM? It’s so hard to tell these days …

While this story probably fits better in the Copyright section above, it might just be that it’s a gaming story after all. You see the confusion comes from the fact that the new Sims game might contain a major glitch, that may also be an intentional way to annoy pirates. For those not familiar with The Sims, the characters you control in the game, sims, can performs acts such as going to the toilet and taking a shower. With EA keen to keep the game family friendly, pixelation is used to keep the naughty parts hidden. However with this “bug”, the area of pixelation increases every time the sim does something that requires it, until it covers virtually the entire screen.

Gamers are already reporting that the bug seems to occur only in pirated versions of the game, which suggests that this is more likely an anti-piracy measure, than careless programming on the part of the developers. Like other games that have employed this type of DRM, some gamers are apparently posting about this bug on forums and to tech support, not aware that they are inadvertently outing themselves as pirates in the process.

Of course, patches and fixes will remove this “bug” from the pirated version if it indeed turns out to be an anti-protection thing, but as long as this glitch does not affect paying customers, then this is one DRM that I don’t mind!

——

Well that went longer than expected.

Weekly News Roundup (31 August 2014)

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Hello! Hope everything’s been well for you this week? Me? I’ve been re-watching Joss Whedon’s Firefly on Netflix recently, and it’s such a shame that this show was cancelled only after 14 episodes. Yes, there was a movie, but you could just see the great chemistry the cast had, and the great potential in writing, for a show that should have lasted many seasons. Oh well.

As for this week’s WNR, there’s a bit of an Australian focus this week. Not surprising considering that’s where I live, but still a relative rare event.

Copyright

Australia's Internet Filter

Australia’s Internet filter will be only slightly less useless than the contraption shown in this picture

The Australian focus starts with the launch of a new ad campaign that mocks the government’s attempts to basically give rightsholders everything they want. The ad, which you can watch here, pokes fun at the useless anti-piracy solutions that the government/Hollywood has proposed, specifically website filtering. Consumer advocacy group Choice crowdfunded this ad campaign and wants to tell the government that there are better ways to stop piracy, including getting rid of the “Australia tax” (the price premium we pay here in Australia for pretty much everything, from iTunes purchase to Blu-rays to game consoles for no other reason than because we live in Australia), making services such as Netflix available locally (Choice recently urged all Australians to cancel their overpriced cable subscriptions and sign up to Netflix via a geo-unlocking service), and other market based solutions, other than relying on government intervention and protectionism.

This launch of this new ad campaign making fun of useless Internet filters coincides with the MPAA releasing new research that shows website blocking, in particularly the blocking of the Pirate Bay, has actually worked really well. The MPAA’s research shows that visits to infringing sites in the UK, after they were blocked, were down 90%, or 74.5% when proxies were taken into account. Of course with these kinds of research, it’s always what they don’t tell you that’s key. What the MPAA doesn’t say is how this has affected overall traffic for sites like The Pirate Bay (traffic to the world’s most famous piracy site has actually doubled since 2011, after many countries around the world started blocking the site), and whether people were simply switching from one blocked site to another smaller unblocked one. Or what about stats showing actual downloads have decreased, since one can get torrents from many places, and even straight within certain BitTorrent clients without the need to even visit a site like The Pirate Bay. Has the piracy rate dropped along with the visits to site like The Pirate Bay?

And most importantly, has revenue actually increased now that website blocking has proven to be “super effective” according to the MPAA? After all, that’s the whole point of fighting piracy, isn’t it?

One company that does seem to understand that sometimes fighting piracy is pointless is Netflix. It has been revealed this week that their original show ‘Orange is the new Black’ is the second most pirated show in the world, behind ‘Game of Thrones’. This may at first seem surprising considering how cheap Netflix is, but then when you take into account how countries Netflix isn’t available in, things start to make more sense. The linked to WashPo article above does a disservice to its readers though by first trying to suggest how this stat means that Netflix isn’t the solution to piracy that others (like myself) have claimed it to be, and to provide a quote later in the article from Netflix’s chief saying piracy is not “too bad in the US”, which then backs up the point that  “thefts of Netflix’s titles are most rampant in Australia and other countries where Netflix isn’t available. Hastings has pointed to a decline in piracy in Canada since Netflix began offering its service four years ago.”

Kind of an important point to the whole news story to be putting “below the fold”, don’t you think?

——

No DRM

GOG hopes to start a new DRM-free revolution, for video downloads

Is GOG taking on Hollywood? Not really, but the DRM-free gaming company now offers gaming related DRM-free videos for their customers to purchase, which is a step in the right direction. Included are titles like ‘Once Upon Atari’ and ‘Indie Game: The Movie’, and they start at $5.99. But once you purchase the video, you’ll have it forever and won’t have your access permissions dictated by a DRM that may one day be retired. Plus, you can also copy, convert and basically do anything you want with it, the kind of ownership rights that you get with almost every other kind of non-digital purchase.

With DRM practically non existent for music (and the sky clearly hasn’t collapsed), it’s now only gaming and movies that that still cling on to this outdated concept. Yet, if you think about it, the only difference between DRM for music and for these other types of content is … well, not much. In fact, the only thing I can think of is the file size and value (if you don’t count the constant stream of discounted games on Steam, or the ever declining price of movies on Blu-ray and DVD), but surely with music being smaller in size and taking less time to consume, it is an even bigger target for piracy compared GB movies and games.

It was also interesting to hear GOG reveal that most studio officials they talked to knew that DRM was pointless, but it’s more the legal departments that are closing the door on DRM-free stuff. The same officials also said they are willing to follow other’s leads, but none wanted to be the first to embrace DRM. This is why GOG’s attempt is admirable, even at this early stage with the minuscule library of available video titles. It could very well be the first step towards something that consumers have wanted for a long time.

Gaming

Back to Australia again, but not too far away from the world of GOG and digital distribution. Other than DRM, the big problem with digital distribution at the moment is resale and refund (these big three problems is what got Microsoft into trouble with its original Xbox One vision, let’s not forget). Even for a platform as enlightened as GOG, resale and trading is still a big no no, and the DRM-free nature of the games on there makes it even harder to allow for a trading/refund system (which will require some for of digital rights management, if the seller has to lose his/her right to the game after a sale/trade). While some genius somewhere comes up with a way to do this without DRM, the issue of refunds does still differentiate a service like GOG and Steam.

Steam logo

Steam – people paying for games they don’t want to play, and can’t get refunds to games they want to play but can’t

GOG’s refund policy, which you can read here, is pretty straight forward – a 30 days money back guarantee if there’s a problem with the game. Steam’s policy, unfortunately, is also very straight forward – no refunds whatsoever! And it’s this policy that has gotten the popular and generally well liked company in trouble with Australia’s official consumer watchdog, the ACCC, which has sued Steam’s owners Valve for breaking Australia’s consumer laws in regards to refunds.

Under Australian consumer law, retailers must provide refunds for goods not fit for service, and this is on top of any manufacturer/retailer warranties for the product. Any retailer that tries to deny Australian consumers these core rights can get into trouble, and that’s what the ACCC claims Valve has done with hits strict no-refunds policy for Steam games.

Valve has vowed to cooperate fully with the ACCC, and so I suspect one of the geniuses that work for them might finally come up with a system for refunds (which, unfortunately, may only be applicable in Australia). To be fair, it’s not all Valve’s fault – much of the fault lies with paranoid game publishers afraid gamers will take advantage of such a system (or simply don’t want to have to start worrying about people actually wanting their money back for crappy products). Hopefully, the ACCC will force Valve to produce a favorable solution to the problem.

While refunds are a big issue on Steam, the other big issue is almost at the other end of the spectrum – people buying games and then never playing them! Ars Technica’s Steam Gauge tool crawled through public Steam user profiles and found that 37% of games have never even been loaded, let alone played. Anyone who has participated in a Steam sale and got caught up in the impulse buying madness will not be surprised at this figure (or may be surprised that it isn’t higher!). Doing a quick count of my own Steam library, I found (not including multiple copies/bundles/non standalone titles) 146 games, of which 69 had been loaded and played at least once (and many only for a few minutes). This means 77 games that I’ve purchased (or gotten for free, to be fair) that I’ve never loaded and played, or 52%. Ouch!

Maybe I should ask Steam for a refund on these!

——

That’s it for this week. Hope you’ve enjoyed this issue, see you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (24 August 2014)

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. We have some good stuff in here, including a look at why movies flop, how to prevent piracy from happening, all the video game stuff from NPD to more Wii U misery, and my favourite, a look at if the original un-altered non-special edition original Star Wars trilogy films might be heading to Blu-ray soon.

Let’s get started!

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?

What makes a movie flop? More specifically, what made ‘The Expendables 3′ a box office turd (relatively speaking)? According to the distributors of the film, Lionsgate, it was the pre-release piracy of the film that was ultimately responsible, and they’re even suing 10 individuals accused of downloading and sharing the movie. But maybe there are more tangible and more traditional reasons why movies like ‘The Expendables 3′ flops.

As one executive pointed out when asked about ‘The Expendables 3′ failure, if pre-release piracy does have an effect on box office results, it’s less likely to do with the actual download (or the number of people who downloaded it, and however many out of these people that will then not pay for a movie ticket), and more to do with the word-of-mouth effect.

Imagine, if someone downloaded a crappy pre-release version of a very cinematic movie like Gravity, really liked it and told their friends. Most of them will most likely go and pay to see the movie at the cinema rather than download the same crappy copy themselves. Even the original downloader, if he/she really liked the film, might pay to see it on the big screen properly. In this case, pre-release piracy probably doesn’t hurt the movie as much (but probably doesn’t help as much either, since positive word of mouth would have happened regardless of whether people downloaded it or watched it in the cinema and then told their friends about it).

But if the movie was crap, like say, oh I don’t know, the third movie released in four years, in a series that’s beginning to lose its novelty value, then perhaps word of mouth will only discourage others to pay for the movie, and instead, to download a pirated copy to sate their curiosity. In this case, the box office revenue would be negatively affected. But isn’t more the case of recycled movie ideas and badly made movies not getting the punishment at the box office that they deserved, because people were not more adequately informed of the movie’s said poor quality in the first place? If piracy does have this kind of effect, isn’t this a good thing for the industry, and for moviegoers, to force studios to be more competitive and to be more creative in coming up with the kind of movies that we, their customers, actually want? Hmm …

This is why financial losses due to pre-release piracy is hard to calculate. There are just too many reasons why a movie might flop, like competition (“Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, for example), the aforementioned franchise-fatigue, bad reviews, poor marketing, or even a misleading trailer, might all be reasons for the flop. Blaming piracy is easy though. Too easy!

One show that won’t be blaming piracy, mainly because almost no one is pirating it, is John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight news satire show. And there’s a very good reason why people don’t pirate it – it’s available on YouTube, even here in Australia, for free! Australia’s Gizmodo says, and I fully agree, that because of this, the show and its distributors, HBO, should be applauded for making content so easy to access, and the growing popularity of the show means HBO won’t be losing much in the process anyway.

High Definition

Star Wars on Blu-ray

Will we ever see the original unmodified Star Wars trilogy on Blu-ray?

Speaking of HBO, the premium cable channel may soon look towards Netflix for inspiration, as its HBO Go app may soon add other network’s shows to its original programming (kind of what Netflix has done, but in reverse). Unfortunately with HBO Go still tethered to a traditional HBO cable package, any real talk of being in competition with Netflix is still far too premature.

Possibly the most exciting news for me this week is that the original cuts of Star Wars may be heading to Blu-ray! Den of Geek looks at the evidence and tries to see if the rumours may have something to them. It’s a fairly long read, but with George Lucas having sold Lucasfilm to Disney, with the new Star Wars movie going for the look of the original trilogy rather than the CGI based prequels (thank goodness), and of course the clamour for a new 4K version of the film, there might be just enough there to suggest the original trilogy might just make its Blu-ray debut sooner rather than later. Fingers crossed!

Gaming

The July NPD results showed that the PS4 was yet again the top selling console in the key U.S. market, for the seventh straight month. Despite the Xbox One price drop and the continued strength of Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, the PS4 accounted for more than half of all hardware and game sales for next-gen consoles. The margin between PlayStation and Xbox appears to be growing bigger as well, with the PS4 and PS3 combined beating the Xbox One and Xbox 360 combined for the second straight month. Even Sony is finding it hard to figure out why so many people are buying the PS4, to the point where it has them worried.

PS4 with controller and PS Eye

Sony “worried” about the success of the PS4, and where future sales will come from

Not knowing why your console is a success can be just as “terrifying”, according to Sony, as not knowing why it is a failure (yeah, but tell that to Nintendo!). It makes planning for the future much harder, they say, and Sony are worried about exhausting all the sales derived from “core gamers” and don’t know where future sales might possibly come from.

But it’s still a nice problem to have, at least compared to Nintendo’s. Nintendo’s hopes of turning the Wii U into a more “hardcore gaming” friendly console does not seem to have worked, with Ubisoft this week announcing that they will stop releasing “mature’ games on the Wii U. So games from the ‘Assassin’s Creed’, ‘Far Cry’ and ‘Ghost Recon’ series will no longer feature on the Wii U, despite being available on the PS4 and Xbox One. Ubisoft says that there just aren’t enough sales of these types of games on the Wii U to justify making more of them, and the company will concentrate on family games like ‘Just Dance’.

In a similar announcement, Capcom says the Wii U will not be getting a new Street Fighter game that the other next-gen consoles will be getting. It’s kind of sad really. My first home console version of Street Fighter was on the SNES, which at that time, was every hardcore gamer’s preferred console. But Nintendo’s policy of having “no blood” in their games was already a sign of things to come, with Sega, and then Sony (and eventually Microsoft), having no qualms about violence in video games. It’s ironic that Nintendo is now trying to entice publishers to make these kind of games, and finding it quite difficult indeed.

——

And with those last few words, we reach the 1,000 words count, which feels like a good time to stop. See you next week!