Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (March 25, 2018)

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Sorry again for the lack of an update last week – in my defence, it was my birthday week and it was also a quiet week. It was also a quiet week this week though, there’s barely anything worth talking about, barely, but still something, so here we are.

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Serious Sam's Bogus Detour

Pirates and developers working together – weird but true!

It’s often said that piracy can help game sales, via the discovery and promotional effects of piracy. But to see game developers actively work together, side by side, with pirates to promote a game, is another thing. This other thing happened recently when the game developers behind the game ‘Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour’ decided to accept help from an unlikely place – from game cracker Voksi!

If that name sounds familiar it’s because just a few weeks ago, I mentioned Voksi right here, when he released a YouTube tutorial on how to crack Denuvo of all things. Voksi is also a big fan of the ‘Serious Sam’ series (and most game pirates are also game fans, it has to be said), and when he saw that ‘Bogus Detour’ was struggling, despite getting great reviews on Steam, he decided to reach out to the game’s developers.

Apart from not targeting the game of cracking, Voksi also suggested that the developers release an “official” pirated version of the game that includes a message at the bottom of the screen to ask gamers to buy the game if they like it. Voksi also put up his own money to provide a giveaway related to the release of the “pirated version”. What is perhaps most surprising was that the developers, ‘Crackershell’ (no pun intended), took Voksi’s suggestion and formed one of the rarest relationships in the game industry.

If there ever was proof that piracy can be a promotional tool, this is it. It’s also worth noting that this kind of story leads to people like me writing news articles, which can also help to promote the game further. At the very least, something like this won’t have done the developers any harm, since the game was struggling sales wise in any case. Let’s hope more fruitful partnership of this sort will exist in the future.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi 4K Ultra HD Cover

The Last Jedi will be the first Star Wars film available in 4K

I know that ‘The Last Jedi’ was a divisive film among Star Wars fans, but I personally loved it because it at least tried to tell a different and unexpected story. What wasn’t divisive was the soundtrack, which has been critically acclaimed and was nominated for an Oscar (which, unfortunately, it did not win). Now, for those in the US at least, you can buy the digital “music only” version of the film. It’s what is commonly referred to as an “isolated soundtrack”, where you can hear the soundtrack matched to picture in all its glory. Isolated soundtracks used to be quite common once upon a time, but they’re quite rare now, so it’s good to see something like this, even if it is only via a digital purchase and not included with the Blu-ray edition.

It’a also worth noting that ‘The Last Jedi’ will be the first Star Wars film to be released in 4K format. It will be interesting to see just how well it does on 4K as a benchmark of how the format is doing, since Star Wars film generally sell fantastically on disc and it might even be the best selling disc for 2018, just like the last movie.

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I know it’s short, but it’s also sweet, no? Well, it’s all I could do this week, see you again soon!

Weekly News Roundup (March 11, 2018)

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. Sorry for the lack of an edition last week, again, nothing much was happening. So this is the first WNR of March, and long time readers will know it is my favourite month because it’s when my birthday happens. I know, self absorbed much? But still, March is a nice month generally regardless of where you are (spring in the Northern hemisphere, and a nice autumn here in the south), and how can you not love a month that sees a Star Wars film being released on Blu-ray. I know, nerd much?

A few things to go through, so let’s not waste too much time on the intro …

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Final Fantasy XV

Square Enix really messed up the release of Final Fantasy XV

If you want a checklist of things not to do when it’s time to release a game, just take a look at what Square Enix did do with the release of Final Fantasy XV on Windows. First of all, Square Enix’s decision to use Denuvo was always going to be a bad one, when it comes to building relationship with your customers and fans – they weren’t happy! But if you’re going to use Denuvo, there are a few things you need to ensure. First, don’t release pre-load files on Origin in unencrypted form that allowed cracking groups from all over the download the full game files, ready for distribution once the game is cracked. Second, and this is a big one, don’t release a demo that included a game launch executable that could somehow be used with the full game to bypass copy protection. That’s right, Square Enix managed to release a crack for their own game via the demo version, and all signs point to the full game (minus the DLC content) being playable.

Square Enix’s SNAFU does present an unique opportunity to benchmark the performance of Denuvo, and whether or not it affects gaming performance. Some benchmarks have already come in, but most of these test the demo version against the full version for the first few levels (which both the demo and full version include). Most of these say that there are no performance losses associated with Denuvo. While this does test a Denuvo-free version of the game against the Denuvo version, there’s is no information that suggest that the demo is at exactly the same optimization stage as the full release version – the full version may have included additional performance optimizations that the demo version does not. A better test would be the pirated version (with the demo exe, and the full game files) versus the full official version. Hopefully, a benchmark of this type will be made soon (and the benchmark hopefully will take into account the need to ensure there are no GPU bottlenecks fudging up the results – it’s stressing the CPU, preferably on a minimum requirement spec system, that will ultimately show up any performance differences, if there are any).

MXQ Player

The US government will help the MPAA take on Kodi box makers

It’s not going to be easy to segue into the other stories this week since there’s not much in common with any of them, so I’m not even going to try. And so the next story is one that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – the U.S. government is now actively helping the MPAA fight Kodi boxes.

Do a congressional testimony thing, or a discussion panel in this week’s case, let the MPAA and others provide a one sided argument about the dangers and perils of the latest piracy craze, and then the government, as expected, take “swift” action using taxpayer’s money to defend Hollywood corporations from, in most cases, an exaggerated threat. And sometimes, even the President get in on the act, something that Trump’s handlers was able to get him to do this week too.

We now have Netflix, Amazon, Hulu for streaming plus iTunes, Google and Amazon again for downloads, there’s also DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray, not to mention cinemas, early digital releases and cable. If after all this, people are still relying on piracy, then it either means piracy is still somehow better/easier to use than the myriad of legal options, or that people simply can’t afford to pay the prices that Hollywood demands (not if they want access to all the content they like). You can’t stop piracy – people will find a way – but you can minimize it if you give people a better service at a price they deem is affordable/good value. And even then, you’ll probably still have people who prefer piracy.

Innovate, not legislate (or litigate), out of this problem.

uTorrent Logo

uTorrent was once owned by Spotify

Speaking of innovation (hey, I guess there was a way to segue, after all), with Spotify about to get listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and being valued at $20 billion, you might be surprised to find that Spotify’s origins had many links to piracy. In fact, you might be even more surprised to find that Spotify once owned a piece of software called uTorrent – yes, the same uTorrent that people who don’t use Spotify use to “obtain” music.

But the link isn’t so strange when you consider that one of the early developers of Spotify, Ludvig “Ludde” Strigeus, just happened to have invented uTorrent. Spotify bought his software and his technology, and then only a few months later, sold the software to BitTorrent Inc, the current owners. Spotify not only gained technology that they integrated into their own software in the transaction, but they also made a bit of money in the sale to BitTorrent Inc, money that they put to good use to grow the company into the $20 billion behemoth it is now. And not only that, it has virtually wiped out music piracy as a thing of concern even to the likes of the music industry, who failed to innovate out of the problem, but instead, let someone else, Spotify, to benefit from the innovation.

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That’s all I have for you this week. Given that it’s my birthday next week, I might not find the time to do too much work (hehe). But if I do find the time, then see you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (February 25, 2018)

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR, one that, unlike in recent times, is actually full of stuff to talk about. Yeah well, I don’t know what happened either. Maybe it was the post Valentine’s Day euphoria that got the news juices flowing, but I think it’s just lucky timing.

Alright, let’s not waste any time …

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Redbox Kiosk

Redbox scores a win in its lawsuit with Disney

I didn’t really expect this to happen, but Disney’s lawsuit against Redbox isn’t going to be as easy as they thought it would be, with a judge having denied Disney’s request for a preliminary injunction. Lawyers usually don’t ask for preliminary injunctions (or even file the lawsuit in the first place) if they didn’t have a reasonable expectation of success. But sometimes all it takes is a good argument, and a judge willing to consider it, for the tables to turn, and turn they have.

U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson ruled that Disney was engaged in “copyright misuse”, by attempting to bundle too many conditions to the redemption and use of the digital copy that comes with Disney combo packs. Specifically, Disney tried to “tie” the ownership of the digital copy to the ownership of the discs in the combo packs, and this meant that users had to give up their right to resell the discs if they wanted to redeem the digital copy, and that, the judge said, was beyond what Disney’s copyright allowed them to do.

It wasn’t a complete slam dunk for Redbox though, as they failed to get the judge to recognise that the “first sale doctrine” applied to the redeemable digital copy, as in the judge’s opinion, the digital copy doesn’t actually exist at the time of sale (it only exists after the buyer redeems the code). Without being able to rely on the “first sale doctrine”, which limits the ability for the rights-holder to control the product after the first sale has occurred (and is the basis that allows us to resale our legally purchased goods), Redbox’s assertions that they had a right to sell the digital codes might not be an easy argument to make.

Interestingly, the judge found issue with the wording of the “Codes are not for sale or transfer” condition on Disney’s combo packaging, which does not make it clear that opening the package is considered acceptance of the conditions. Expect changes to the packaging to happen sooner rather than later.

Speaking of changes, those that have used Google Image search in the last week would have noticed a rather big, and annoying, change. Google has removed the “View Image” and “Search by Image” links in its image search results, meaning that it’s now much harder to download the original, unedited versions of any image. And that’s the whole point really, because Google has come under pressure copyright wise (via a Getty Images lawsuit) to stop making it so easy to download images via its image search function.

As expected, users have not reacted positively to these changes, and who could blame them. Also as expected, website owners have welcomed these changes, many of whom have long accused Google of “stealing” their images by directly linking to them (allowing users to download them without the need to visit the publishing website). The same problem exists with snippets (you know, live sports scores, weather, and things of that nature), but at least with snippets, some websites are actively providing the content to Google. Not so with images, and many webmasters have even gone as far as install scripts on their site to prevent direct linking.

While one fire has been potentially put out, expect the conflict between publishers and Google to intensify with Google’s other features.

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Denuvo

Is Denuvo a performance killer?

Does Denuvo affect gaming performance? There’s evidence to suggest that it does, and there’s also evidence to suggest it doesn’t. But I think what is clear is that Devnuo has the *potential* to affect performance, and if the cat and mouse game between Denuvo and crackers continue and Denuvo start to use more and more complicated means to protect games, then yes, performance will eventually become a big issue. Anything that potentially makes hundreds if not thousands of calls per second will take something away from the gaming performance, even if these calls are super efficient.

Denuvo isn’t the only anti-tampering game in town though. Arxan is another company that’s promoting their anti-tampering tech, and it has already been used in some games. It has been used in games for Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform, which allows game publishers to use a single API set to publish games for a wide variety of Microsoft devices. UWP features not one but 5 layers of DRM to protect its games, and was previously though to be impenetrable. Try telling that to a hacker though! This week, a UWP game and its 5 layers of DRM (MSStore, UWP, EAppX, XBLive, and Arxan) were all cracked by group CODEX, allowing the game ‘Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection’ to be pirated. It’s hardly a game that pirates have been waiting for, but as a proof of concept that UWP can be cracked, it is just as effective as a AAA game.

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Disney’s upcoming streaming service won’t compete with Netflix (says Disney at least)

Not content with having control over all of the most profitable franchises (and making a zillion movies for each franchise), Disney is in the process of buying another major studio Fox. This, along with their plans to pull new content from Netflix starting in 2019, all bodes well for the studio’s upcoming streaming platform. It has already been discussed as a potential “Netflix killer”, but Disney says that’s not what it is at all.

Instead, Disney’s streaming offering will be a more streamlined affair, offering 500 movies compared to Netflix’s 4000+ at launch. The price for the service, according to Disney, will also be lower than Netflix’s.

So the new service may not be a Netflix killer, but it might injure it some, considering how many good movies Disney (and Fox) has at their disposal.

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I think that’s all we have this week, hope you found it all interesting. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (February 11, 2018)

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Hello! Welcome to another issue of the WNR. I hesitated about actually writing one this week, since there really isn’t much going on, but I don’t really want to make it a habit of skipping issues, which I know has become a bit too frequent recently, so I thought I would just cover what I can and then rant for the rest of it. So basically, the same as usual.

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Denuvo Cracking

If you want to, you can try your hand at cracking Denuvo yourself

Those that have been following my coverage of Denuvo related news in the last couple of months will know the game ‘Assassins Creed Origin’. It is one of the many high profile games protected by version 4 of Denuvo’s anti-tampering engine, and by recent comparisons, one of Denuvo’s success stories. That story is still very much a success, even though ‘Assassins Creed Origin’ was finally cracked last week.

For those keeping count, that’s about 4 months of protection for the triple-A game, which in piracy terms, is an eternity (most sales happen in the first few weeks). So for Denuvo, is has been a success story, but for crackers engaged in a war of attrition with the company, the cracking of ‘Assassins Creed Origin’ was also a success story, at least from a technical point of view.

Also interesting is that one cracker, known as Voksi, has even released a YouTube tutorial on how to crack Denuvo v4 yourself. I say tutorial, but for most of us, it might as well be in an alien language (or as someone posted on Reddit, like “giving a monkey a physics textbook”).

So the current state of warfare is this. Denuvo is using more and more complicated techniques to add and hide “triggers” into the game code that the Denuvo engine checks for at run time to detect tampering. The problem with this is that this also becomes increasingly resource intensive, to the point where eventually, game performance will be severely affected. Crackers are also finding it harder to find and remove these triggers. With a new version of the engine, crackers have to figure out where these triggers are and this is an time intensive process at first. This can be automated eventually, and so once a game is cracked, the time between it and the next crack will get increasingly shorter, and eventually, an avalanche of releases make their way to the scene. Then Denuvo comes out with a new version, and the game continues.

Will Denuvo eventually run out of ways to protect the triggers, or if it’s too much of a performance hit to do so? Don’t know, but cracking group are very determined to see this war all the way to the end, and usually when this is the case, the crackers usually win.

But for now, Denuvo can still license their engine to game publishers keep to protect their game – even if the protection only lasts 2 weeks, that’s still better than nothing in the publisher’s thinking. That is unless gamers start complaining loudly about Denuvo and its impact on game performance (if it’s proven beyond a doubt that Denuvo is a resource hog – we still can’t really say because the current crack is a workaround which does not remove Denuvo running in the background, but merely bypass it) and start voting with their wallets – maybe only then, with that kind of public backlash, will publishers think twice about putting Denuvo into their games.

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Deadpool on Ultra HD Blu-ray

UHD not enough to prevent the slide in Blu-ray revenue

While news is a bit light, I’ve been preparing the stats and graphs for our annual “Blu-ray: The State of Play” article, where I summarise how Blu-ray, DVD and Ultra HD Blu-ray are doing. 2016 saw a slight improvement for Blu-ray, possible related to the release of the UHD format, or possibly just due to the caliber of releases.

So what happened in 2017? You’ll have to wait for our full analysis to find out, but spoiler alert: Blu-ray is not doing very well. I mean, it’s still doing better than DVDs, but we’re looking at almost a 7% decline in revenue, and where for most weeks in 2017, Blu-ray revenue was down compared to the same week in 2016. Even UHD couldn’t save the day (or year) this time.

Keep your eyes peeled for the full analysis soon.

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Well, that’s it really for the week. Here’s hoping for a bit more to write about next week. Until then, have a great one!

Weekly News Roundup (January 28, 2018)

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Sorry about the lack of an update last week. Apart from a personal engagement that took a lot of time out of my schedule, the fact of the matter was that it was a very very quiet week and there was nothing to update on. Not so much this week though, as there’s plenty to talk. Like London buses.

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Blockchain

Can Blockchain make digital resales a possibility?

The first bus to arrive has to do with the new technology that everyone’s talking about lately: Blockchain. A new start-up wants to use the technology behind Bitcoin to allow people to resell their digital purchases, specifically movies. The people behind the digital store Robot Cache plan on using Blockchain to ensure that each unique copy of the movie/license could only be used/activated by one owner at a time. And this would facilitate the resale of digital content without the need for some kind of heavy handed DRM.

Assuming the technology actually works, which may be a big assumption at this stage, there’s no way rightsholder would allow this plan to come to fruition. A digital resale market would violate the terms of service, no doubt. And the way Robot Cache may do it might cut rightsholders from getting a share of any revenue coming from such an enterprise, which the rightsholders also wouldn’t like. And finally, allowing resales could hurt direct sales, which again is something rightsholders would be up in arms about. So to sum up, rightsholders not happy!

But let’s forget about them for a second, is something like this a good thing for the consumer? You bet it is! We have the right to resell almost everything else we buy, so if the technical problems associated with reselling digital copies can be solved, why shouldn’t we have the right? Sometimes I feel, as consumers, we’ve been robbed of our rights when it comes to digital content. Just because it was new and different when it first came out, and that piracy was an issue, we lost the right to refunds, exchanges and resale. We’ve got some of it back, for example the ability to get a refund on Steam, but it’s been slow and hard work to claw back what was ours to begin with. So if something like Blockchain can help us get our rights back, then I’m all for it!

Denuvo

Denuvo in the headlines again

Another thing I’m all for is to see if the latest version of Denuvo can be cracked and removed. I’m not advocating this from a piracy point of view, but just as a curiosity given the claims of performance issues that some gamers have raised about this version of Denuvo – by removing Denuvo and then doing a side-by-side comparison, it will finally prove or disprove the theories surrounding Denuvo’s performance drain.

My wish was almost granted, but in the end, not really, as a workaround of sorts have been found for this latest version (version 4.8). But instead of cracking and removing Denuvo, the workaround simply disables most of Denuvo’s anti-tampering functions, and makes piracy possible for the game ‘Sonic Forces’. So while Denuvo is no longer doing what it’s supposed to do for ‘Sonic Forces’, it still does run in the background taking up resources, and so there’s still  no definitive answer to Denuvo’s potential performance issues, at least not yet.

In other Denuvo news, the company behind it has been acquired by global anti-piracy outfit Irdeto. This change is unlikely to affect Denuvo’s day to day operations though.

Gaming

Nintendo Switch

The Switch won Christmas!

In gaming news, the eagerly anticipated (well, at least from me) December video games sales data has been released by the NPD, and in the US, it was Nintendo’s Switch that was clearly on top. This marks a great start for Nintendo’s latest console, and sets a new record as well for being the fastest selling console in US history.

When the Switch was first announced, I thought then that either this would be a brilliant gamble by Nintendo, or one of the biggest fails ever. Either people wanted a home based console that they can also take on the road, or it ends up being people’s idea of an under-powered portable console that’s been jerry-rigged to hook up to your TV. I think in the end, most people ended up in the former group.

In the same NPD report, the Xbox One did manage to beat the PS4 to second spot. The Xbox One always seems to have a good Christmas, but it hasn’t stopped the PS4 selling twice as many units so far.

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If my calculations are correct, we’ve come to the end of another WNR. Hope you enjoyed reading this issue. See you next week!