The UpStream

Final Approval for Microsoft-Nokia Deal Received

posted Sunday Apr 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Final Approval for Microsoft-Nokia Deal Received

Since announcing the Nokia devices business acquisition by Microsoft 7 months ago, the two companies have had a number of hurdles to jump over from various governments around the world. Microsoft seemed to think the hardest issue would be an Indian production plant that was behind on taxes. Unfortunately, after solving that issue, the deal was still not final.

This week, the last of around 16 regulatory approvals was received from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), similar to the US Federal Trade Commission. This hold-up delayed the estimated March 23 completion date until this month over anti-trust issues. David Howard, Microsoft corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Litigation and Antitrust, said of the delay,

There was an important principle with which MOFCOM approached these discussions from the beginning: Any commitments should be focused on how our future conduct might change after we own the Nokia Devices and Services business, and should not impact our licenses signed in the past or historical practices.

Clearly, MOFCOM is now satisfied that Microsoft will continue to support all agreements between both companies and the Chinese government. This would include, against some theories, retaining the newly announced Nokia X series, an Android Open Source Project-based handset whose custom interface is a hybrid between Microsoft's Windows Phone and Nokia's Asha. This new system is designed to be the transitional handset between Asha for emerging markets and Windows Phone for established markets, such as the Chinese wireless market.

With all of the regulatory approvals now completed, we can expect to see the Nokia brand officially join the Microsoft family in short order, with Stephen Elop, current Nokia head, taking over the Microsoft devices business, including Lumia, Surface and Xbox.

PAX Expands South to San Antonio

posted Sunday Apr 13, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

PAX Expands South to San Antonio

With PAX East happening this week, obviously everyone involved in gaming is surrounding the event, either in-person or through coverage. At one of the earlier panels, Penny Arcade founders Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins officially announced plans to expand PAX to the south with PAX South. The convention will take place January 23rd through the 25th in San Antonio, TX.

This will be the fourth annual expo to be held by Penny Arcade since PAX began in 2004. From what started with just over 3,000 congregating in a Seattle convention center expanded in 2010 to PAX East in Boston and PAX Australia last year. Both shows here in the States usually get around 60,000 fans and tickets are sold out minutes after they go on sale.

Penny Arcade Business Manager Robert Khoo said,

Since its launch in 2004, PAX events have doubled in size almost every year, and our Seattle and Boston events represent the two largest gaming festivals in North America. We've been hearing for years that those in the south had a tough time making it to the northern corners of the country; PAX South has always been a matter of 'when' rather than 'if.'

Khoo even tweeted a picture of a wall of clocks, with an unnamed clock set to the Central Time Zone. Many assumed Chicago would be the next choice, but luckily the folks in the south are now able to have PAX in their backyard.

Khoo also took some time to address some of the issues surrounding Penny Arcade in a recent interview with Polygon. On the topics of rape and gender identity, both founders have said some pretty insensitive things. Congoers sometimes feel out of place at the events, leading to a level of segregation between cosplayers and regular fans, with cosplayers even being publically ridiculed and humiliated. Of course, the parties involved have now apologized for their comments and are trying to make the convention a better place for all people who attend. Krahulik made a public New Year's Resolution to change himself and his company. Khoo said in the interview that, "I really do believe we're done with these incidents" and that exhibitors haven't pulled out of the conventions as a result of the remarks, given the apologies.

Are you excited about PAX South? Are you boycotting all PAX events? The events that have transpired to lead up to public outcry could fill an entire day, so we won't get into all of it here. However, we do want to know what you think in the comments below, so feel free to sound off. For me, I know that if the overall sentiment from PAX East is that the founders have actually done a good job improving the atmosphere and their behavior, then I might be more inclined to attend my first PAX event ever in San Antonio.

More Details on Xbox Original Programming

posted Sunday Apr 13, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

More Details on Xbox Original Programming

For the past five years, Microsoft has transitioned from making the Xbox brand just about gaming and focusing it more on being the center of all your family entertainment. And with the announcement of original programming on Xbox One, Microsoft's mission was being carried on into the next generation of consoles. Because of this, Microsoft dove into some details on what we should expect to see on the One starting this summer.

Microsoft's new Xbox TV Studio will roll out a handful of shows starting in June, with another dozen being worked on in the wings. The studio, run by former CBS exec Nancy Tellem, has been working for the past 19 months to put together a compelling lineup that should have something for everyone.

Starting with the obvious one, we already know about the Steven Spielberg-directed Halo show, executive produced by Ridley Scott and David Zucker. That's been the talk of the town since E3. However, what else is in store?

Well, there's a show called Humans, which is a sci-fi thriller about humanoid robot workers. Written by British duo Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley, it takes place in a parallel present-day world where everyone has to have the latest gadget called the "Synth," a robotic butler, if you will. As you could guess, the bots become self-aware and might destroy the world. It's like they were watching our Night Cap or something. Microsoft partnered up with UK's Channel 4 to deliver us what should be a great show.

As Tellem tells us,

Humans' not only questions personal relationships, we loved how this sci-fi show toys with reality and our connection to technology. This deal with Channel 4 and Kudos underscores Xbox Entertainment Studios' commitment to programming premium TV series with global partners and creating engaging interactive experiences.

We'll also see the release of Every Street United, an unscripted show surrounding the sport of street soccer. Award-winning producers Simon and Jonathan Chinn will bring us a tech-focused documentary series. Xbox TV Studio will be bringing us live coverage of the entire Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, complete with after-performance interviews using Skype. Sarah Silverman and Michael Cera's JASH comedy group has been brought on to deliver both a comedy sketch show and a stop-motion show with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the team behind the popular Adult Swim show, Robot Chicken. There's also a pilot ordered for an unscripted series Fearless, where an Australian Navy bomb clearance diver Paul de Gelder suffers lost limbs from a shark attack and tries to help people around the world.

We do know that Every Street United will be offered free to Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles, but Tellem said that the company is working on the business models for the rest of the content. The good news is that almost every show will have some sort of interactivity, either by using SmartGlass or the multitasking features on the Xbox One.

It looks like the Xbox consoles, specifically the Xbox One, are ready to take on the original content from rivals like Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and Netflix. Which shows are you excited for? Tell us in the comments section below.

Cincinnati Bell Wireless Spectrum Acquired by Verizon Wireless for $210 Million

posted Sunday Apr 13, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Cincinnati Bell Wireless Spectrum Acquired by Verizon Wireless for $210 Million

While it may not be like an AT&T/T-Mobile or Comcast/Time Warner merger, this one surely has a Verizon/Alltel feel to it. That's because this week, Verizon Wireless acquired regional carrier Cincinnati Bell's wireless spectrum for $210 million.

Citing economic challenges in operating a wireless spectrum, Cincinnati Bell dumping off the spectrum to Verizon Wireless gives the second-largest wireless carrier more ability to improve coverage and infrastructure in areas where the company was struggling to maintain a quality network. Greater Cincinnati, Dayton, northern Kentucky and southeastern Indiana are the four key markets who will be affected most by the acquisition, where customers were only getting GSM-based 2G, 3G and HSPA+ speeds across 460 towers.

"We appreciate the loyal support from our Cincinnati Bell Wireless customers over the last sixteen years, and we remain committed to providing them with wireless service and support throughout the transition period," said Ted Torbeck, President and CEO of Cincinnati Bell. Torbeck also mentioned that customers shouldn't worry about taking any action at this time.

While the transaction with Verizon Wireless is under regulatory review Cincinnati Bell Wireless will continue to operate business as usual. There will be no changes or interruptions in your wireless services until sometime during the first quarter of 2015.

For Cincinnati Bell, this deal will finish out the company offering wireless to its customers, which has been a tough market to stay competitive in. CBell had 398,000 wireless customers in 2012 and dropped to 340,000 in December of 2013. When the deal closes some time in the next six months, wireless operations will end for the regional carrier within a year after that.

Until then, Cincinnati Bell will actually lease back several spectrum licenses from Verizon Wireless in order to maintain wireless coverage to its customers before closing up shop on the mobile side. The company will continue to offer TV and broadband, and is currently exploring fiber optic service in the area. "This transaction not only ensures that our customers have access to top-tier wireless service, but it also gives us increased flexibility to meet their growing demand for our Fioptics suite of products," said Torbeck.

Disney Interactive Launches New Star Wars 'Card Game'

posted Sunday Mar 30, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Disney Interactive Launches New Star Wars 'Card Game'

After Disney purchased Lucasfilm, they almost immediately shut down Lucasarts and sold the rights to game development to Electronic Arts. Well, the fruits of those efforts have come to light with Disney Interactive releasing a new Star Wars casual game that certainly feels like it was developed by EA.

Star Wars: Assault Team is a game designed to be a digital "trading card game" that feels a little card game and a little Final Fantasy, which sounds great, right? Well, add to that the fact that the game is available on iOS, Android, Windows Store and Windows Phone, it means it can literally played anywhere. Could it get better? Yes - with PvP abilities, you can play against other players all over the world. So, that makes the game a total success, right?

Unfortunately, no. While, from the outside, so much of the game seems well through out, once you start playing, that seems to end quickly. For example, say you have a Windows Phone and a Surface. Start the game on your Surface, get through the end of the first level and try and pick up the game on your phone, both signed-in with the same Microsoft account. You know what you get to do? Start over. There appears to be no state-saving whatsoever.

Now, accept your fate and decide to continue playing on your Surface in a restaurant on your lunch break. That restaurant had better have Wi-Fi, because without Internet connectivity, the game cannot be played at all. So, the game must have an always-on Internet connection, but doesn't use the Internet to connect your devices to anything. That makes sense.

So, no Internet connection, no ability to continue on your phone, what are you to do? It's time to waste what is left of your lunch break on Facebook, browsing through the random nonsense your friends have posted. Then you come across a Facebook ad for a new game: Star Wars: Assault Team. Of course, because the universe is just taunting you now, right? You click on the ad and it says that the game is Facebook integrated on mobile. Sure, so the game knows who you are, either from Facebook or your Microsoft account, but still has no way to sync your game between two devices using the exact same information.

Now, none of this is to say the game is no fun to play; that is mostly what we will discuss next. The game is really campy and the character collection is odd: with dragons and lizards, but maintaining Han Solo and Chewbacca. A lot of the story line feels like one of those arcade shooters where, every time you clear a room, it navigates on its own to the next room in a pre-planned order.

However, the ability to level-up your cards and edit your team from level to level makes for an interesting dynamic. The battle mechanics are also modeled after some of the best turn-based strategy games, making it quite addicting. That addiction is what makes the lack of device syncing so incredibly frustrating - I want to be able to play the game in different scenarios, but am completely unable to.

Have you tried out the game? If so, what platform and what are your opinions on the game? Let me know in the comments.

Facebook Acquires Oculus VR for $2 Billion

posted Sunday Mar 30, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Facebook Acquires Oculus VR for $2 Billion

Facebook has officially entered every realm of our lives, as if the company has not done that already. By announcing its plan to acquire Oculus VR, the company responsible for the Oculus Rift, Zuckerberg's now entered not only our reality but our virtual reality. And he's done it for a mere $2 billion in cash and stock. $400 million of the total purchase will come in cash, along with 23.1 million Facebook shares. Another $300 million will be handed out in both stock and cash if Oculus hits undisclosed benchmarks and goals that Facebook set forth.

Zuckerberg made the announcement this week in a conference call, followed by a post on his Facebook page, naturally. No word on if he has to pay to promote his posts.

I'm excited to announce that we've agreed to acquire Oculus VR, the leader in virtual reality technology.

Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. For the past few years, this has mostly meant building mobile apps that help you share with the people you care about. We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we're in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences.

In his post, he also mentions future plans of blending your entire life together by just "putting on goggles at home" and no longer needing to leave the house to do anything. And if you really think about it, it makes a lot of sense why Facebook picked up Oculus VR. All jokes aside, people spend a lot of time on social media, be it on mobile or at a computer. Now, instead of just connecting to your favorite sites and activities in the real world, you can achieve that in the virtual world, so of course Facebook would want a huge part in your alternative virtual lifestyle as well.

Now what does this mean for Oculus? Well, according to the company's blog post on the acquisition, Facebook has been talking with the crew at Oculus for a few months now. With 75,000 development kits already ordered and popularity reaching a national level, great things have come to the company in the past 18 months. Oculus seems to be riding the wave of success with such a large acquisition and with that, the virtual reality start-up says it gives the developers the "best shot at truly changing the world." And, until the Facebook culture changes their mentality, I fully believe and support these values and mission.

While Oculus VR and Facebook are extremely happy about this, obviously there are some not-so-happy campers related to the news. Specifically, Kickstarter backers of Oculus VR and the Rift who are now demanding their money back because they don't support Facebook. Now that Oculus VR has "gone corporate", many backers feel that they're owed something. Funny enough, some even thought that they were backing a "hobby and (someone who) just wanted to do something fun for the community." Sure you were.

So they've taken to the streets of social media, including Facebook, to voice their concerns. However if you're keen on the rules of crowd-funding, Kickstarter donors do not get any special returns in cases of a buyout or some type of major investment funding and they surely do not have a say in the financial or operational ends of the company's business. At any rate, Oculus VR was able to gain $2.4 million in donations from over 9,500 different people and over $90 million in venture capital funding in under 24 months. That is one of the reasons the group was able to pick up a $2 billion valuation from Facebook.

Of course there are some defending Kickstarter backers as well, and they've also voiced their concerns in several outlets, saying that the company will now have more means to produce the great product that everyone has supported up until now. A lot of people agree with that sentiment, however fear that something like a very annoying Facebook logo with irrelevant ads will show up in their virtual view.

Things like that are what scared Minecraft founder Notch from continuing to work on a version of Minecraft to Oculus. He quickly took to Twitter to say that,

We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.

At any rate, all of this is still very new and a lot of dust will have to settle to see if Oculus VR will remain true to its initial vision: to actually change the world through virtual reality. Until then, we await the approval of the $2 billion acquisition and hope that people don't lose faith just yet in a pretty great product. If that happens, however, it might play perfectly into Sony's hands, which are currently juggling money and staff problems in one hand and VR competitor Project Morpheus on the other.

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