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Blizzard to Retire Battle.net After 2 Decades

posted Saturday Sep 24, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Blizzard to Retire Battle.net After 2 Decades

Just shy of 20 years ago, when online multiplayer games were a fairly new concept to the public, Blizzard created a website and a brand around their gaming platform: Battle.net. It became the foundation for all future Blizzard games, including their blockbuster franchises: Diablo and Warcraft. The name appeared front-and-center throughout many games, being added later to Warcraft 2 and included in the original Diablo.

After 2 decades of this branding, Blizzard is officially retiring the brand name. This change is happening mainly because the offerings of the service have changed greatly over the years. While a brand like Xbox Live or PlayStation Network can be used to describe a wide variety of services and features, Battle.net certainly suggests online battling. This is not all of what the service offers today.

In addition to online play, the service offers game streaming, voice chat and more. Because of this, these individual feature sets will receive branding similar to the direction that Microsoft and Apple have gone. Rather than Battle.net Streaming, gamers will see Blizzard Streaming. Blizzard explains the change like this,

When we created Battle.net, the idea of including a tailored online-gaming service together with your game was more of a novel concept, so we put a lot of focus on explaining what the service was and how it worked, including giving it a distinct name. Over time, though, we've seen that there's been occasional confusion and inefficiencies related to having two separate identities under which everything falls - Blizzard and Battle.net. Given that built-in multiplayer support is a well-understood concept and more of a normal expectation these days, there isn't as much of a need to maintain a separate identity for what is essentially our networking technology.

This change has already begun and will continue over the coming months. In just a few months, this legendary brand will be no more, but the technology and mechanics it brought to gaming will remain.

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Verizon CFO Says You Don't Need Unlimited Data

posted Saturday Sep 24, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Verizon CFO Says You Don't Need Unlimited Data

As Sprint and T-Mobile have moved back to offering unlimited data, Verizon's CFO has taken a different route. At an investor conference, Fran Shammo said,

At the end of the day, people don't need unlimited plans.

While this might be correct for many people, there are those of us who use a lot of bandwidth. Combine high usage with Verizon's view on data plans and you end up with a portion of the market incapable of using Verizon Wireless as their provider. Luckily, this is a scenario handled by the market, which is why there is more than a single provider.

Verizon's reasoning, though, remains a bit strange. They continue to say that the reason they do not offer unlimited plans is that it is impossible to make money on unlimited data. Obviously the other carriers don't agree with that sentiment. But Verizon is also quick to point out the sub-clauses in their competitors' agreements. For example, T-Mobile charges more for high quality video and slows tethered connections.

One thing Verizon has generally focused on is not having a knee-jerk reaction to competitor business decisions. The company prefers to watch the market and make decisions based on what customers are asking for, and this suggests that they believe they are not losing business, or at least not enough business, because of unlimited data. Shammo said on the topic,

We look at our competitors closely. We'll respond when needed.

At least that means that Verizon is not entirely opposed to the idea in the future, they just don't see the merit in it today.

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Apple Openly Denies Rumors About Tidal Interest

posted Sunday Sep 18, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Apple Openly Denies Rumors About Tidal Interest

A few weeks ago, rumors began circulating that Apple wanted to purchase Tidal, the troubled music streaming service purchased by Jay Z. The company has had trouble since it began, and padded its numbers when Jay Z showed interest, in order to get a higher purchase price. Despite constant work, the service has not had any luck in turning around.

Those rumors made little sense to our team, and seemed to make little sense to the rest of the industry. Why would Apple be interested in purchasing another struggling streaming service when they already have one? Beats Music was a disaster before the minor rebrand that left us with Apple Music. That service has had more success under the new name, but that would have only worked once.

The only thing that Tidal has going for it is a small number of exclusives, but that is a trend that will not last long. Tidal may pay artists more, but they can only do that for as long as they have revenue. A former colleague of mine once said in regards to MetroPCS, though it applies here as well,

You can sell dollar bills for 90 cents and you will do well, but eventually you will run out of dollar bills.

That is the scenario that Tidal is in with artists, and one that the rumor would have transferred to Apple. Apple has played the loss-leader game before, but unlike Wal-Mart, Apple does not know how to make that work. They are far more comfortable selling dollar bills for $5 each and burying the extra money in a hole in the middle of nowhere.

This week, Apple confirmed what everyone already knew - they had no interest in Tidal. Jimmy Iovine said in an interview with BuzzFeed,

We're really running our own race. not looking to acquire any streaming services.

There's no arguing what the firmness of that statement. There is also no arguing that position - Apple does not need to acquire anyone to become competitive. They merely need to beat Google at their own game, by bundling the service with their devices.

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EU Might Force Google to Pay for News Content

posted Sunday Sep 18, 2016 by Scott Ertz

EU Might Force Google to Pay for News Content

Google and Europe do not have the best relationship most of the time. The EU has fought to breakup the company, as well as creating a special tax, or more accurately collection of taxes, aimed directly at them. Those taxes have created some problems within Europe already, with Google shutting down Google News in Spain.

The move that Spain made that pushed Google's hand was to charge Google for use of any content reproduced within Google News. The immediate response was a full service shutdown. Germany made a similar move, making Google pay 11 percent of revenue generated by content to the original authors. To this day, Germany's law has not generated any revenue for content producers because Google News does not generate any revenue.

Following in Spain's massive success, the EU is currently considering enacting the same ruling throughout Europe, with an added detail: it would affect all syndicated content. That means that if Google shows any snippet of content, they would be required to pay the content creator for the use of that content. Most, including Google, would argue fair use, though Spain and the EU disagree. They are not the first to disagree, either. IN 2011, Rupert Murdoch said,

There's a doctrine called fair use, which we believe to be challenged in the courts and would bar it altogether, but we'll take that slowly. The people who simply just pick up everything and run with it - steal our stories, we say they steal our stories - they just take them.

There is no telling if the EU will actually pass this regulation. If they do, it is even harder to guess what Google's response will be. In China, Google was willing to be censored completely rather than do it themselves, denying a government demand. Clearly this would not be the first time Google has shut down or ignored a government rule in the interest of an open and accurate internet, so it is likely that Google will fight with everything they have.

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Pokémon GO Update Brings Much-Needed New Life

posted Sunday Sep 18, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Pokémon GO Update Brings Much-Needed New Life

Since the launch of Pokémon GO, popularity has obviously waned. Many less informed writers have suggested that this is an indication that the game was already over. More informed writers, and anyone that has ever played a videogame at launch, will tell you that this is what happens with every game after release: its popularity is high when it is new and slows down as other titles premiere.

The same behavior is experienced with every product ever, from technology to t-shirts. The way to offset this, especially in the technology industry, is to refresh the product. Smartphones, tablets and computers do this regularly by releasing a new version of their models, adding new features to make them attractive once again. Software does this by adding new features as well, including in gaming.

This week, Niantic released an update to Pokémon GO, adding some new features that make parts of the game feel new again. The most significant and important addition is the buddy system. Now you can choose one of your Pokémon to follow you around at all times, generating rewards for their loyalty. Those rewards are important and in the form of candies, one of two resources used to train and enhance your Pokémon.

This upgrade is important for two reasons. First, it creates an environment in which you can now upgrade the more rare Pokémon, or ones that are rare in your area. This will become even more essential when the Legendary Pokémon are finally released in the future. Second, and possibly more important, it adds excitement back into the game in the form of adjusted grinding.

This kind of large development this early in the lifecycle of the game indicates to me that Niantic is dedicated to the game and its players. There may have been some missteps early on, but it appears that good things are on the horizon for dedicated players.

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FBI Sued by Media Outlets Over iPhone Hacking Process

posted Sunday Sep 18, 2016 by Scott Ertz

FBI Sued by Media Outlets Over iPhone Hacking Process

In March of this year, an FBI employee made a mistake while interacting with the iPhone of San Bernardino attacker Syed Farook Rizwan. It locked the device, requiring a long delay between PIN attempts to open the device in an attempt to retrieve important information. The FBI asked Apple to help them unlock the device, but the company refused. A case was scheduled to attempt to force the company to comply, but before it happened, the FBI dropped the case.

In April, FBI Director James Comey spoke at a conference in London at which he made a comment which suggested why they changed directions. Rather than waiting for Apple to refuse a court order, the FBI decided to employ a software firm to exploit a zero-day to unlock the device. The FBI allegedly paid $1.3 million for this exploit, which Comey described as "worth it." Avoiding the time and hassle of Apple for $1.3 million seems less than what it would have cost to fight.

This week, a new suit was filed relating to the situation, and it comes from a surprising place: The Associated Press, USA Today and Vice Media. This small coalition of media companies wants the details on the deal that led to the unlocking of the iPhone. All three companies have requested the information separately under the Freedom of Information Act, which primarily consists of contractual details, including finances. These requests have been denied.

The complaint states,

Information about the FBI's contracting arrangement would also ensure transparency about the expenditure of public funds. Understanding the amount that the FBI deemed appropriate to spend on the tool, as well as the identity and reputation of the vendor it did business with, is essential for the public to provide effective oversight of government functions and help guard against potential improprieties. Further, the public is entitled to know the nature of the vendors the Government finds it necessary to deal with in cases of access to private information, including whether or not the FBI feels compelled to contract with groups of hackers with suspect reputations, because it will inform the public debate over whether the current legislative apparatus is sufficient to meet the Government's need for such information.

Another interesting clash is getting started, between a side that says it is protecting government overreach and a side that will likely argue this type of information could make difficulties for future negotiations, as well as cause problems for the firm that provided the exploit information.

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