The UpStream

Google Bans Cryptocurrency Ads, Markets Respond Negatively

posted Saturday Mar 17, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Google Bans Cryptocurrency Ads, Markets Respond Negatively

In the last year, some of the most distressing stories in technology have come from the cryptocurrency industry. From fraudulent ICOs (initial coin offerings) to exchange heists, getting into cryptocurrencies has never been more dangerous. Because of all of the bad blood in the market, a major player has decided to move away from it: Google Ads.

After accidentally running unrelated ads with web-based miners built-in, Google began looking at crypto ads, and deemed them to be part of their "Bad Ads" category. Because of this, the company has decided not to run any more cryptocurrency ads on its platforms. This includes ads for ICOs as well as related financial services. Scott Spencer, Director of Sustainable Ads, said,

We're constantly updating our policies as we see new threats emerge. Last year, we added 28 new advertiser policies and 20 new publisher policies to combat new threats and improve the ads experience online. This year, we updated several policies to address ads in unregulated or speculative financial products like binary options, cryptocurrency, foreign exchange markets and contracts for difference (or CFDs).

While these policies don't officially go into effect until June, their affect on cryptocurrency markets was nearly immediate. At the beginning of the day Google made this announcement, March 14, the price of Bitcoin was at $9,300, but as the day went on, the price fell just below $7,800. That is a steep decline for a 24-hour time period, losing a full 15% of its value. Since then it has recovered some, but not to full value. Etherium made a similar move, moving from about $700 at the beginning of the day to under $600 at the end of the day. This made for a 16% price drop in a 24-hour time period. Etherium has not yet recovered, having reached a low of $470 on Sunday.

EA Admits Defeat, Kills Pay-to-Advance in Star Wars: Battlefront II

posted Saturday Mar 17, 2018 by Scott Ertz

EA Admits Defeat, Kills Pay-to-Advance in <cite>Star Wars: Battlefront II</cite>

Lately it would seem that no videogame company is farther away from understanding their customers than EA. When the company was preparing to release Star Wars: Battlefront II, they made the decision to include microtransactions in the game. This was far from the first AAA title to do this, but it was certainly the most pervasive. Certain parts of the game required so much in-game currency that it would take over 4,500 hours of gameplay to unlock; that is unless you paid for it. That same currency would cost about $2,100 to achieve.

Needless to say, gamers were not happy about this move. Online petitions were signed, product boycotts were organized and overall outrage was at a new high. Because of the negative sentiment, EA agreed to make changes at launch, including shutting off the transaction system and lowering the progression difficulty, making it far easier to acquire currency by playing.

The company's announcement, however, did leave something to be desired. In this case, what was desired was a commitment that transactions were gone for good. Unfortunately, they left that door wide open for the future. By doing so, they still alienated a lot of players, who were not interested in buying the game only to have the progression system change back to its original, gamer-unfriendly ways.

Luckily, EA seems to have learned its lesson, announcing this week that a completely revamped progression system is coming in a few days that will eliminate the possibility of transactions in the future. In the announcement, the company said,

With this update, progression is now linear. Star Cards, or any other item impacting gameplay, will only be earned through gameplay and will not be available for purchase. Instead, you'll earn experience points for the classes, hero characters, and ships that you choose to play in multiplayer. If you earn enough experience points to gain a level for that unit, you'll receive one Skill Point that can be used to unlock or upgrade the eligible Star Card you'd like to equip.

More importantly, if you already have the game and have earned items that are beyond your level under the new system, you will still keep and be able to use those items. You will also no longer be able to impact your gameplay via crates, as those will only contain Credits and cosmetic items, but will not contain any Star Cards.

EA hopes that these changes will make those who avoided the game more likely to give it a try now. They are also promising future content, including new game modes, in the coming weeks, which should add value to the game as opposed to drive revenue through the game. Whether EA has actually learned its lesson as a whole or not is still to be determined, as future titles may try again.

Google Renames Android Wear as Wear OS, Renewing Hope of a New Focus

posted Saturday Mar 17, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Google Renames Android Wear as Wear OS, Renewing Hope of a New Focus

This week, Google made an announcement that was not expected: Android Wear is no more. The product is not being shuttered, but instead it has been rebranded as Wear OS by Google. Google claims that the reason for the change is related to a change in their customer base.

As our technology and partnerships have evolved, so have our users. In 2017, one out of three new Android Wear watch owners also used an iPhone. So as the watch industry gears up for another Baselworld next week, we're announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all-the people who wear our watches. We're now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone.

It makes sense that Google would be moving away from the Android brand. The general iPhone owner is, for one reason or another, anti-Android. Calling the platform Android Wear has likely limited sales to iPhone customers, despite iPhone accounting for a third of sales last year.

Unfortunately, the name is the least of the brand's issues. In reality, the brand needs a lot of attention, which Google has not given it for some time. Devices running the OS require a lot of interaction to get any information, for a number of reasons. For one, there is no way to pair down which notifications you receive from an app. You can either get all notifications from your email, or none. There is no way to only be informed if you get an email from your boos, for example. Second, the interface is way more complicated than it needs to be. Tons of swiping to move through apps and notifications makes the 2 seconds you save not pulling out your phone seemingly not worth it.

Hopefully, with the change of name will come some actual work from Google on the platform itself. This would not be the first time a brand change or revamp has come before a product revamp. For example, before Google modernized the nearly abandoned Google Voice product, they modernized the logo. While the product category of wearables has mostly languished of late, perhaps having some innovation and competition in the space from someone other than Apple and Samsung will revitalize demand.

NBC to Reduce Commercials in Their Primetime Broadcasts

posted Sunday Mar 4, 2018 by Scott Ertz

NBC to Reduce Commercials in Their Primetime Broadcasts

While large parts of the internet rely on advertising to make their services work, certain paid subscription services have made a name for themselves. Streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, have had a particular influence on how people consume media. The biggest change comes in the fact that Netflix features no advertising, and Hulu features few ads with the option to remove them entirely.

Broadcast television, on the other hand, has not caught on to this trend. Over time, networks have shortened their shows and extended the commercial breaks, the opposite of the trend that has made online services successful. There is a balancing act with broadcast, though: as you lose viewers, you need more ads to make the same revenue. One of the networks is banking on the idea that it works the other way, too.

NBC has announced that, starting later in the year, they will be lowering the number of ads shown during their primetime shows. They are hoping that, by dropping some of the ads, they can pick up some younger viewers who have never experienced television the way that networks air them. This change will apply to 50 of NBCUniversal's home-grown primetime programming, and will include shorter breaks and shorter ads within those breaks, culminating in about a 20% decrease in ads.

Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversals' chairman of advertising and client partnerships, told Variety,

There are more and more consumers, whether it's from Hulu or the Netflixes or Amazons of the world, who are liberated via technology... TV networks would be crazy to believe that anything other than commercial overhaul was anything other than inevitable.

This is a big gamble for the network. They are going to have to see an increase in viewership across these programs for the experiment to continue and expand beyond the 50ish programs. It is a positive sign to see that NBC is recognizing the change that services like Hulu, which they own a 30% stake in, have introduced to the industry, and are willing to try a similar approach in primetime.

Twitter CEO Recognizes Issues, Sees No Solution

posted Sunday Mar 4, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Twitter CEO Recognizes Issues, Sees No Solution

There is no secret that in the age of the internet, the reach of our power of speech has grown to a level unimaginable just a few decades ago. While it used to require a printing press and funds to get your opinion to more than your small circle of friends, today it only requires a phone and a social network. The lowering of the barrier to entry to speak to a wide audience has meant that more people can be heard, but it also means that more people can be heard.

It requires no training or thought to create a Twitter account and begin speaking to an anonymous audience. Because of that, people say things that they might not otherwise say, if they had to attach an identity to their words. Twitter has been aware that their platform is often used for mean-spirited, illegal and misinformational content.

This week, Twitter's CEO, Jack Dorsey, tweeted about the problem. In the thread, he said,

We love instant, public, global messaging and conversation. It's what Twitter is, and it's why we're here. But we didn't fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences. We acknowledge that now and are determined to find holistic and fair solutions. We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers. We aren't proud of how people have taken advantage of our service or our inability to address it fast enough.

There is a wide variety of issue with trying to deal with the problems that exist on the platform. The biggest issue, of course, is the same one that all of the social networks are experiencing: who decides what content should and should not be acceptable on the platform? What is a real person and what is a bot? How do you determine the difference? When dealing with content, who decides what is true and what is not? Just because it's a "conspiracy theory," does that make the content offensive? Conspiracy about the assassination of JFK has been around since the day it happened, but the books written about it have never been recalled because someone was offended.

This is, more than anything, the reason why Twitter, and the other social platforms, have been reluctant to make changes to their algorithms and to start policing content. They don't want to be seen as content censors, because that is a guaranteed way to lose at least part of your customer base. In the first episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, there is a fantastic quote that most of the modern world forgets,

Living with this free speech means sometimes you get offended.

Physical Videogames to Get In-Game Purchase Warnings

posted Saturday Mar 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

It all began with the free-to-play titles: a game that is theoretically free to play, but that involves in-game purchases to either enhance the experience or to get past a certain level. The model existed on PC, but was never a major player. It wasn't until mobile gaming that we saw a rather constant implementation of free-to-play. Nearly ever successful mobile game, from Candy Crush to Pokémon GO has implemented the free-to-play concept well.

At some point, however, the model of in-game purchases left the semi-exclusivity of free-to-play and migrated to paid games. There had always been DLC for games, but playing a paid game without the DLC was never painful or impossible; only adding bonus content to an already established game. Today, that isn't quite how it works. Often times, when you purchase a $60 videogame, you only get part of the game. To play the full game, you still need to purchase additional content via in-game purchases.

The most controversial version of this has been Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game that would cost over $2,000 worth of in-game purchases to get the entire game. This game prompted a Congressional investigation into in-game purchases and loot boxes in games, which is still ongoing. However, the ESRB, the US videogame ratings board, has decided to take at least some action on their own.

Starting soon, the ESRB will be creating a campaign to inform buyers of physical games, either in retail or from online, that a game contains in-game purchases. In addition to the ESRB rating, retail packages will begin featuring a warning, similar to what we see in mobile app stores, that a game has additional costs.

The new In-Game Purchases label will be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency, including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads).

There is no announced launch date for the new labeling, but the ESRB does promise that it will begin appearing in the "near future."

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