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PlayStation Now on PC, Could Cross-Play be Next?

posted Sunday Aug 28, 2016 by Scott Ertz

PlayStation Now on PC, Could Cross-Play be Next?

When Microsoft and Sony announced their modern consoles, we knew this new generation would bring enhanced gameplay. What we didn't expect was that it would also bring a decrease in reliance on consoles. Over the past few years, PC gaming has increased dramatically, fueled by services like Steam and EA Origin, as well as Xbox arriving on PC through Windows 10.

The newest addition to the Windows gaming lineup is - PlayStation 3. That's right, Sony is bringing the entire catalog of PlayStation 3 games to Windows PCs, to live along side Xbox Play Anywhere titles and existing PC games. The new capability is being brought to you thanks to PlayStation Now - the multiplatform gaming system from Sony.

There are a few limitations to being able to play. First, while you can use a DualShock 3 controller on other platforms, you will need a DualShock 4 controller to play on PC. The good news about these controllers is that you can plug them in using a micro USB cable, so no new hardware is required. If you would like to use the controller wirelessly, Sony has made a USB dongle available for purchase.

The other limitation is the price. Unlike a service like Origin Access, whose price is only $4.99 per month, PlayStation Now will cost its users $20 per month after the 7-day trial. What you will get for the higher price is over 400 games available at launch, with the potential of new titles to be added over time.

Now that Sony is embracing PC gaming with the PlayStation brand, the next important question is, Could cross-platform multiplayer be around the corner? Microsoft has opened its platform up for the possibility, so the ball is in Sony's court. Maybe this change in philosophy could indicate a possibility in the future. Psyonix, developer of Rocket League, has a technical solution to the problem and could be the first game to bring this feature.

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Facebook's WhatsApp Begins Policy Changes, Shares Data with Parent

posted Sunday Aug 28, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Facebook's WhatsApp Begins Policy Changes, Shares Data with Parent

After Facebook bought WhatsApp for way too much money, the company reiterated a promise to its users: It would never allow its service to be used by advertisers to message users. Founder Jan Koum once said,

When we sat down to start our own thing together three years ago we wanted to make something that wasn't just another ad clearinghouse. We wanted to spend our time building a service people wanted to use because it worked and saved them money and made their lives better in a small way. We knew that we could charge people directly if we could do all those things.

We knew we could do what most people aim to do every day: avoid ads.

With that said, in January of this year, WhatsApp dropped its small fee, making the service free. This was either an indication that people didn't want the service, or the company was getting ready for a new revenue model. That model was announced officially this week in the form of changes to the WhatsApp privacy policy. The changes allow WhatsApp data to be shared with Facebook for the purposes of "showing relevant offers and ads on Facebook."

This is a sharp change in policy for the company, but one that everyone knew was coming. For users whose accounts existed before the change, you will be able to turn off the Facebook sharing option. However, WhatsApp said,

The Facebook family of companies will still receive and use this information for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities.

So, checkbox or not, Facebook will know a lot more about you if you use WhatsApp.

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Hulu's Free Service Not Ending, Moving to Yahoo View

posted Monday Aug 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Hulu's Free Service Not Ending, Moving to Yahoo View

At the beginning of the week, a slightly misunderstood collection of announcements were made by Hulu. First, their Hulu-branded free TV service was coming to an end. For the few of you who used it, the service provided the last 5 episodes of many TV Series for free with heavy commercial interaction. Once a new episode aired, the 5th oldest was retired and the new one would take its place.

Ben Smith, Hulu Senior VP and Head of Experience, said,

For the past couple years, we've been focused on building a subscription service that provides the deepest, most personalized content experience possible to our viewers. As we have continued to enhance that offering with new originals, exclusive acquisitions and movies, the free service became very limited and no longer aligned with the Hulu experience or content strategy.

The second announcement goes hand-in-hand with this one, though. Hulu has formed a new partnership with Verizon's Yahoo to launch a new video portal called Yahoo View, which will offer the last 5 episodes of many TV Series for free, with ad support. If that sounds familiar, that's because it is exactly the Hulu free service.

The new service will launch using Hulu's web-based video player, will offer Hulu's catalog of content and will contain advertising sold by Hulu's sales team. In other words, Hulu's free option isn't going away; it's just being rebranded. It's always possible that Yahoo View might bring this content to native apps, making it even better than it was before.

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Facebook's Attempts to Defeat Ad Blockers Fails

posted Monday Aug 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Facebook's Attempts to Defeat Ad Blockers Fails

This week Facebook made a big play in the battle between the free web and ad blockers. The company created a way to show ads to its users who were using ad blockers, allowing them to once again generate the revenue that is required to keep the service operational.

VP of Advertising Andrew Bosworth, said,

We've designed our ad formats, ad performance and controls to address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad blocking software. When we asked people about why they used ad blocking software, the primary reason we heard was to stop annoying, disruptive ads. As we offer people more powerful controls, we'll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software.

The strategy worked for a short period, that is. It didn't take long for Adblock Plus to find a way around their changes. It didn't stop there, however. In fact, it went back and forth a couple of times before Facebook decided to take a step back.

The fact that Adblock Plus is fighting so hard is an indication that Facebook will inevitably win the battle. They know that Facebook legitimately holds all of the cards and could easily disrupt the internet with a single move - one that no other publisher has successfully implemented: blocking. Facebook could actually disable their service for people who are using ad blockers.

While Bloomberg is losing revenue just the same as Facebook, they could never implement a blocking policy, as there are plenty of other sources of information on the internet that users could readily switch to. There is not, however, another Facebook - at least not now. Much of the internet is dependent on the social network today, and losing access to it would cause havoc.

As the Editor-in-Chief of an online publication, I know exactly what ad blockers mean to our business - they mean less employees, less writers and less interesting shows for our fans. I also understand the issues that are posed by advertising: slow load times, more data usage and potential security threats. We try to be judicious about the ads we run, but not everyone works as hard. Major publishers get tricked by their advertisers into running unsafe ads which hurt their customers. There is a middle ground that we need to get to, or the free web will be over.

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Google+ Removed from Another Google Product: Play Store

posted Monday Aug 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Google+ Removed from Another Google Product: Play Store

The battle for Google+'s soul is quickly drawing to a close and Google has lost. After force-implementing the beleaguered social network into YouTube, Google Play and other company-owned platforms in an attempt to get people to care, the company has been going back the other direction.

You no longer need a Google+ account to comment on YouTube, but can keep your profiles connected. Google Photos has been pulled from Google+ entirely. Even Hangouts on Air is being moved out of the network and into YouTube Live. This week, one of the last remaining holdouts, Google Play, has seen the end of its Google+ integration as well.

No longer will there be a +1 button on a product listing, nor will you be required to have a Google+ account to post a review, but instead would be tied to your existing Google account, which is required to interact with the store in any meaningful way anyway.

This may not be the end of Google+ entirely, but it certainly is the end of forcing users of other Google-owned products to sign-up for the unwanted network in an attempt to either trick them into using the service, or to make the numbers look more impressive for either advertisers or investors. Personally, I will be glad to have one less network to try and manage.

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Microsoft Buys Beam to Make Play Anywhere Gaming Broadcast-Ready

posted Monday Aug 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Buys Beam to Make Play Anywhere Gaming Broadcast-Ready

Videogame streaming has become a big business. 2 years ago, Amazon purchased streaming site Twitch for just under $1 billion. This year, TBS launched online and cable broadcasts of ELEAGUE, whose first season just wrapped up. But gamers were never going to be content just watching a game from someone else's decided perspective - they want to be able to control the action themselves.

Beam is a company that developed just such a platform. It allows individual control of the viewing angle within a game, allowing you to see what you want to see. For example, if you are watching a multiplayer FPS you would be able to follow the vantage point of any of the players instead of just one. You can also switch views, seeing the gameplay from a new angle entirely.

This capability exists in some games now, and is used for professional broadcasts, like TBS, to be able to switch from a map view to individual player view to be broadcast as part of the coverage. It is also used by individual viewers watching normal games. What has been missing has been a common way for game developers to integrate this feature into their games.

Microsoft's purchase of Beam this week will give game developers exactly that. Chad Gibson, Partner Group Manager for Xbox Live, said,

We at Xbox are excited about this convergence between playing and watching, and want to provide gamers with the freedom and choice to have great multiplayer experiences across all of Beam's platforms. This acquisition will help gamers enjoy the games they want, with the people they want, and on the devices they want.

That certainly suggests that the main intention of this acquisition is to give Play Anywhere developers the ability to easily add spectator mode to their games through common Xbox Live APIs. This would give a much-needed draw for 3rd party developers to fully embrace the Play Anywhere platform, as well as giving gamers a great way to interact with their favorite streamers.

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