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Nintendo Attractions Coming to Universal Parks

posted Saturday May 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Attractions Coming to Universal Parks

2015 has been an interesting year for Nintendo. They have finally begun to recover from last year's profit issues and they have broken from corporate tradition on more than one occasion. The rumored Zelda series would certainly have been a departure for the company, as is their newly formed mobile gaming partnership with studio DeNA.

This week, a new partnership was announced which will be an even bigger departure for the company: theme parks. Working with Universal Parks & Resorts, Nintendo will be bringing their brand of entertainment to Universal parks. Nintendo has long been interested in creating a partnership of this sort, but has never been convinced of the quality that such a partnership could bring. Universal changed their minds, but how?

According to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, it was how Universal handled another property that they do not own, Harry Potter, that convinced him that Universal was the company he could trust with his brand. Of course, Islands of Adventure has had Marvel Island far longer than The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, their treatment of the Marvel brand was not nearly as well-considered. In fact, with the impending doom of the Marvel rights reverting to new owner Disney, there is little concern that it could be rebranded without any real loss.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, however, could not so easily be unbranded. What this means is a far more convincing and immersive environment. This type of immersive environment and respectful treatment of a 3rd party brand brought Nintendo to the table. Iwata described the meetings with Universal, saying,

Even inside Nintendo, the possibility had been discussed several times. But we had not made this a reality because, on each occasion, the time was not ripe yet or we were not able to find an appropriate partner with whom to work. In the case of our first meeting with Universal Parks & Resorts, they provided us with a very detailed proposal right from the beginning. Also, as we met right after they had opened the Harry Potter attractions, we were able to learn precisely how they had been created...

As soon as I returned to Japan, I informed (Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto), and I told him that I wanted to give positive consideration to it. Since then, we have met with them several times in Japan and in the U.S., and not only me and people who carry out our negotiations but also members from each company's creative side, namely, people who will be assigned to make the actual attractions and Nintendo's game producers who have been creating our games for many years.

There is no timeline on the release of these new attractions, but hopefully it will come about sooner than later.

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Windows 10 Mobile Build 10080 - Almost There

posted Saturday May 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Windows 10 Mobile Build 10080 - Almost There

Microsoft released the latest build of Windows 10 Mobile to Windows Insiders this week. Marked Build 10080, this release does two things: leapfrogs the Mobile build beyond the Pro build, last marked 10074, and brings us closer to a production release than any build we've seen to date. Granted, there were some release problems, with the Lumia Icon and 930 having serious issues with the release, but anyone involved in the Insider Program knows there are major risks participating, and no one would run it on their main device.

Operating System

The system itself has become far more stable than previous builds. In my experience some apps do still have issues remaining open, but most of the affected apps are designed for Windows Phone 8 or 8.1, not newer native apps. With that said, the fairly common issue of apps closing unexpectedly has greatly decreased. In addition, access to lower-level system resources seem to have been fully restored, meaning apps like Netflix have recovered their full functionality. This is inline with Pro Build 10074, in which Hulu began working properly again.

We have also seen some major customization come back to the platform. First, the settings we gained in Pro 10074, like accent color, have made their way to this build. One capability that I personally was pleased to see was Start screen background style. For existing Windows Phone users, the style of background available there is something many of us love, with the image only showing through the transparent live tiles. The introduction of a full-bleed background was a jarring experience for many of us. Luckily, 10080 allows users to choose from 3 background choices: None, Tile and Full.

One of the most interesting moves of this new build, however, is its introduction of non-Lumia handsets to the program. Namely, the HTC One (M8) for Windows is now eligible to enroll in the program. This means that hardware vendors are getting their drivers put together, allowing 3rd party hardware support.

Xbox

Most of the great new capabilities of the Xbox for Windows app is now available on Mobile. You can access Achievements, Activity Feed & Alerts, Friends, Game DVR and Messages no matter where you are. It's like the best of the SmartGlass apps and website all wrapped up in one. It also highlights the power of the new Windows Apps, and how the app can adjust itself based on the size of the screen.

Office Preview

Another set of Windows Apps available for the first time on Mobile is the Office Preview suite. First made available for Pro builds in February, the new universal versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint show off more than just how an app adjusts to a smaller screen - they show off how an app on a small screen can accomplish truly complex and complicated controls.

The concept of the Ribbon control, which was introduced in the desktop version of Office several years ago, is finally explained for the forward-thinking element it is. The grouped collections of controls, when transitioned to a small screen, makes for an easily navigable UI. Collapsed into an Application Bar, the grouped controls means that you don't have to wade through dozens of formatting elements in a single stream - instead you can go to a group and only look through a few related controls.

Final

This build is not exactly ready for primetime, but it is getting closer. It is also converging the Pro and Mobile builds into a very similar thread, bringing to fruition the promise of a single experience on all of your screens.

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Former Xbox Exec and Zynga CEO Steps Down From Position

posted Sunday Apr 12, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Former Xbox Exec and Zynga CEO Steps Down From Position

As quickly as the Don cometh, the Don leaveth. This is the case for Zynga, as former Xbox executive Don Mattrick took over the job as CEO just under two years ago. Mattrick announced this week that he was leaving the company effective immediately and will also be departing the board of directors.

Zynga will go back to what brought them here, with former CEO and company founder Mark Pincus reclaiming his CEO throne at a salary of $1 per year, exactly what he was taking in when he left the company in 2013. Pincus spoke on Mattrick in a statement about the transition.

Don joined us in a very important time in our evolution. I sincerely thank him for his leadership in better serving our players in a mobile-first world and for delivering world class quality and value to our consumers.

Pincus puts the company back on his shoulders at an interesting time. Despite Mattrick's best efforts, sales are still down in the company. However, revamps of popular titles are on the horizon, as well as new launches. Zynga is looking forward to hopeful success with Dawn of Titans, FarmVille: Harvest Swap, Wizard of Oz Slots and Empires & Allies.

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YouTube to Launch Ad-Free Subscription, Strongly Encourages Video Makers to Fall in Line

posted Sunday Apr 12, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

YouTube to Launch Ad-Free Subscription, Strongly Encourages Video Makers to Fall in Line

At the end of last year, rumors started swirling that YouTube would launch an ad-free subscription model for its videos. Well, fast forward a handful of months and in my inbox is an email from YouTube about this exact thing. The bigger issue here is how the video platform is forcing content creators to accept the ad-free model.

The letter from YouTube tries its best to hide the news.

Dear YouTube Partner,

Your fans want choices. Not only do they want to watch what they want, whenever they want, anywhere, and on any device they choose, they want YouTube features built specifically with their needs in mind. Over the past several months, we've taken bold new steps to bring these experiences to life. Since inviting hundreds of thousands of fans into our YouTube Music Key Beta, we've seen tremendous engagement. And we've seen an equally enthusiastic response for our new YouTube Kids app, designed to give families a simpler and safer video-viewing experience- it's already crossed 2 million installations in less than one month.

We're excited to build on this momentum by taking another big step in favor of choice: offering fans an ads-free version of YouTube for a monthly fee. By creating a new paid offering, we'll generate a new source of revenue that will supplement your fast growing advertising revenue.

So what's next?

Launching a new paid offering will require us to update your terms through your Creator Studio Dashboard-a process that should feel familiar to anyone who went through a similar process three years ago when we began distributing and monetizing your content on mobile devices. Today, mobile represents over half of all watchtime and mobile revenue is up 200% in the last year. Just as with mobile, we're confident this latest contract update will excite your fans and generate a previously untapped, additional source of revenue for you. Please look out for our notification, review it and let us know your thoughts.

It's an exciting year for YouTube, as we push ourselves into uncharted territories. But we continue to be guided by a desire to deliver the choices fans want and the revenue you need. By working closely with you, we know it'll be a successful journey.

The YouTube Team

Expected to launch in the second half of 2015, YouTube is doing everything it can to make sure each and every monetized video has the option to be ad-free. All YouTube partners will have to allow YouTube to place its video underneath the new subscription model. If a partner decides not to, the video will be listed as private, which means that the only people that can see them are those the creator selects. Obviously this is not a preferred option for creators.

The good news is that YouTube will also give partners a cut of the subscription income, and the videos are not locked into an exclusivity deal with YouTube. However, critics of the change say they should have a choice in placing a video underneath the ad-free umbrella. And while I agree that choice is a good thing, the hand being forced should only help video makers. As it stands, approximately half of all potentially monetized YouTube views aren't paid out due to ad-block software. Perhaps the switch will entice people to pay the monthly fee, thus giving more potential revenue to the creator. The other benefit is that this won't affect interstitched ads, at least not from the FAQ on the matter.

You mentioned ads-free. Which ads are you referring to?

When we refer to an ads-free experience we are specifically referring to YouTube advertising formats. There are no changes to any other agreements that you may have in place, which may include things like product placements or branded advertising within your videos.

This means sponsored videos or other forms of advertising aren't affected and can still be created, essentially putting ad-laced videos under the ad-free service. But those videos, at least for YouTube, are far less common given the landscape of the platform. YouTube added that it will be giving video creators 55 percent of all revenue generated from the ad-free subscriptions. In the end, this could be a win for the makers, but only if enough people get on board with the service.

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Amazon Echo Partners Up with Belkin's WeMo Home Automation System

posted Sunday Apr 12, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Amazon Echo Partners Up with Belkin's WeMo Home Automation System

At CES this year, we had the chance to talk with Belkin about its new line of smart home applications, called WeMo. This week, Amazon's cylindrical Bluetooth speaker and voice-control assistant, Alexa, received an update as Amazon will be partnering its Echo product with WeMo.

As expected for months, Echo's purpose seemed to fit in with the home automation craze that is sweeping the nation. Sporting Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, it only made sense that we'd see Alexa tap into your home network and control these new devices. Echo will officially support all WeMo switches and LED light bulbs, and this will include the Hue collection from Philips. Echo can also shake hands with Lux, the BR30, Bloom and Lightstrip. In the future, it is said that Echo will also link up with the rest of Belkin's WeMo system, like thermostats, water sensors and the line of cookware and kitchen appliances.

As of now, the Echo API does not have much built into it for anything beyond the mentioned switches and bulbs, and giving Alexa any other commands about your WeMo devices simply lead to having them placed on your to-do list. Amazon says connecting your devices to Echo is as simple as connecting Echo up to your network. Alexa will discover the different gadgets and will be able to sync up with them easily.

With Amazon teaming up with Belkin, Google acquiring Nest and Microsoft partnering with Insteon, there are now three major players in the home automation space, all with viable software solutions to boot. Who do you think will win out? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Russian Internet Policy Makes Putin Memes Illegal

posted Sunday Apr 12, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Russian Internet Policy Makes Putin Memes Illegal

Did you know Russia has a team of people in charge of media and how it pertains to the Internet? It's true! The Roskomnadzor issued a statement this week that solidified the country's position on memes and posting them online. The agency said that memes of real people that aren't reflective of their "personality" is illegal. The agency went on to reiterate Russia's law on how one may share photos of other people.

These ways of using (celebrities' images) violate the laws governing personal data and harm the honor, dignity and business of public figures.

So, at least in Russia, you still can't post funny captions underneath Putin's bareback bear adventure photos. Roskomnadzor also said that you also may not create impersonation or parody accounts and websites.

Russia's Internet policy that is being enforced by Roskomnadzor has only been around for three years. The group has already made several noteworthy decisions including blacklisting 180 websites in 2012. They also required that bloggers with other 3,000 monthly readers must officially register with Roskomnadzor.

The friendly reminder of this policy can be attested to a Moscow judge who oversaw a lawsuit involving a Russian singer whose picture was being used in memes across Russian social media sites. While the law will be enforced, public figures and celebrities will still have to report photos on their own volition.

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