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Iconic Maxis Emeryville Headquarters Closed

posted Saturday Mar 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Iconic Maxis Emeryville Headquarters Closed

Maxis, the iconic studio behind megahits like SimCity and The Sims, is being officially shutdown by owner Electronic Arts. It is important to note that the brand and its intellectual property will not be going away, only their Emeryville headquarters. This site was the original location of the studio before becoming part of EA, and the location where most of its globally known brands started.

An EA representative said in a statement,

Today we are consolidating Maxis IP development to our studios in Redwood Shores, Salt Lake City, Helsinki and Melbourne locations as we close our Emeryville location.

Unfortunately, along with the closure comes layoffs. This is disappointing, as the team at Maxis is what makes the games so successful. Losing the people, talent and relationships found within that office will surely affect the future of Maxis-branded games. EA has promised that the schedule of Maxis content will not be affected, including the upcoming expansion for The Sims 4.

This comes at a very weird time: during the Game Developers Conference. Game developers from all over the world have come together in San Francisco to talk and trade ideas, so the end of an era like this is certainly unfortunate. Hopefully the developers from Maxis who will no longer be employed have found some new positions during the event.

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MWC Brings a Week of Mobile Payments

posted Friday Mar 6, 2015 by Scott Ertz

MWC Brings a Week of Mobile Payments

Within the week of Mobile World Congress, a major topic of conversation was mobile payments - both in and out of the show. Among the news was the revelation of two new services, one shutting down and one with major security issues. Let's talk about all the ups and downs for this new and emerging industry.

Samsung Pay

During the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event at MWC, the primary focus was on the newest members of the Galaxy family: Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. Among the announcements, however, was Samsung Pay, an improved implementation of the mobile payment concept. The system has all of the things you would expect: adding of credit, debit and rewards cards and the ability to make a payment or attach a reward through near field communication. It will also use biometric sensors to protect your data on the device.

One of the biggest issues with mobile payments, though, is the relatively limited number of places, especially small businesses that can accept those payments. With a divergent market it could possibly even become more difficult to find a store that accepts the particular payment system your phone supports. Samsung Pay has a feature that sets it apart from the other system, though: the ability to use it anywhere credit or debit cards can be used.

Using a special chip in the phone, Samsung Pay is capable of being used in place of a traditional magnetic stripe card. You choose the account you want to use, just like you would be paying via NFC, but instead of holding it up to an NFC receiver, you hold it up next to a card reader. It is capable of mimicking the stripe on the card, giving you the freedom of mobile payments without the hassle of figuring out if the store takes your phone.

Softcard

One of the early players in the mobile payment industry is Softcard. This organization was formed as a joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon as a way to guarantee cross-platform, cross-network payments. The brand has had a series of issues: some of its own making and some out of its control. The most notable issue was with their name; they were known as Isis and were forced to change their branding, for obvious reasons.

The issue that has caused them the most trouble has been acceptance. Despite being owned by the carriers, somehow the app was included on almost no phones. In addition, Google prevented the app from being listed in Google Play, meaning that you couldn't even get it on your Android phone afterwards.

Last month, in an attempt to try and recoup some of their costs, Softcard sold their technology to Google. As part of the technology transition, Softcard is shutting down operations, meaning that if you were able to use the platform on your Windows Phone or Android device, you will be losing it effective March 31, 2015.

Android Pay

As part of purchasing Softcard, Google announced that they will be bringing their own payment platform to market: Android Pay. Obviously this will be based on the Softcard technology purchased last week. However, it is not going to be available on Windows Phone, meaning that the overall market will be smaller than the original platform. However, as Google is fond of including their own services on their platform, it is likely that it will come pre-loaded on Android phones, making it easier to use.

The difference between Android Pay and Apple Pay or Samsung Pay is that Android Pay is a service, rather than an application. Google's Senior Vice President of Android, Chrome and Google Apps, Sundar Pichai, said,

We are doing it in a way so that anybody else can build a payments service on top of Android. In places like China and Africa, we hope that people will use Android Pay to build innovative services.

This platform will enable application developers to include NFC payment capabilities into their own Android apps. This would give retailers like Starbucks the ability to secure their data, which they have not been able to do on their own.

Apple Pay

As mobile payment technology is becoming more and more popular, a critical flaw in the way Apple Pay works has been revealed as a source of major credit card fraud. This is not Apple's first glance into Apple Pay security issues, but it is certainly the worst, as it is easy to implement and has already been taken advantage of.

The issue at hand is the lack of verification when adding a credit or debit card to an account. Because the service does not require the user to show the physical card like it would if you swiped a card, it means that you can use any valid card information in the system without in-store verification. So, if you are using a card that is not yours and does not match your personal identification, such as a driver's license, there is no way for the retailer to know.

When you add the card to the system, you are not required to provide any verification, either. In a well-planned system, you would have to provide verification of ownership for the card in question. For example, if you were adding a card issued by Chase, you would have to provide a verification number provided by Chase. This is similar to how you would log in to the same Chase account on a new computer.

The way this is being taken advantage of is through data retrieved through data breaches. For example, credit card information stolen from Target or Home Depot can be entered into an iPhone and used at a store without any verification. This fixes a common problem in getting items from a stolen credit card: delivery addresses. With the ability to walk in to a retailer, purchase a large collection of products and pay with a digitally manufactured credit card that requires no personal identification, it is a simple process to steal money from the banks.

Perhaps it is time for the credit card companies to prevent access to Apple Pay until Apple decides to fix this fairly obvious and serious security oversight.

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Twitter Puts Pen to Paper with New Reporting System for Abuse and Trolls

posted Sunday Mar 1, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Twitter Puts Pen to Paper with New Reporting System for Abuse and Trolls

It appears Twitter's move to better handle trolls and abuse on the site has quickly started to come to life. This week, Twitter launched a newly-streamlined reporting system that will allow users to submit those abusive tweets and trolls to the site staff. This also coincides with Twitter's promise in December to make it easier to report these problems.

What's interesting is users can now report when a Twitter user is posting private information about your or someone else, commonly referred to as doxing. Considering that many recent data breaches exponentially were worse due to the immediate spreading of the information via social media, this seems fitting. It also protects individuals from gangs of online trolls who typically band together to make a person's life miserable.

Per the announcement by Twitter's VP of User Services Tina Bhatnagar, Twitter will also triple the size of its staff that handles these reports, further solidifying CEO Dick Costolo's goal to better monitor and take action on abuse.

While we review many more reports than ever before, we've been able to significantly reduce the average response time to a fraction of what it was, and we see this number continuing to drop.

Another addition to the website includes a new verification system for users who have been temporarily banned or warned. Those users will be told they must provide a phone number and/or an email address to Twitter, which the company will use to verify the identity of the user. This move definitely helps the anonymity problem that plagues Twitter and could surely attach a more identifiable piece of information to a user's handle on the site. From what we know about this announcement, the verification process will not be for every warned or banned user, and looks to be random or based on severity for now.

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Bethesda to Possibly Announce Fallout 4 at First Ever E3 Conference

posted Sunday Mar 1, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Bethesda to Possibly Announce <i>Fallout 4</i> at First Ever E3 Conference

A couple weeks ago, Bethesda announced that the team will be hosting its first ever E3 showcase and press conference this year in Hollywood, California. The company set the date for June 14th, and ever since the announcement, fans worldwide have wondered what would be announced at the event. This week, a source has come forward to say that Fallout 4 would be the title that the studio will show off at the gaming convention.

An email was sent by an unknown source to GamerCenterOnline, outlining the announcement and that Fallout 4 would indeed be unveiled at E3 2015. In the email, the source said,

It will happen. Bethesda is aiming for an impressive scale and atmosphere with Fallout 4. They're only developing it on current gen and PC.

Now, there's a couple of things we can take away from this. First, Bethesda is completely passing over last-gen consoles, which is a huge step for gamers everywhere. The focus is completely on current-gen and PC, and that means the studio's ambitions are high and they won't have to worry about old technology bottlenecks. Secondly, it also means that, given the quality titles Bethesda has put out, we'll see a level of polish to the environment that only PC mods could bring before.

While we don't know the location of where the game will take place, nor do we know the release date, the source did say we should expect to see it on or around Spring of 2016 "at the least." This makes sense as there will be a dozen AAA titles launching at the holiday season this year, and another game of this magnitude would just get lost in the fray.

Are you excited for E3 this year? Or are you just excited to see what Bethesda has to offer? Let your thoughts flow into our comments section below.

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Aereo is Officially Gone, as Are Its Assets

posted Saturday Feb 28, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Aereo is Officially Gone, as Are Its Assets

The story of Aereo may not be long, but it is awfully sad. After losing their Supreme Court case and inevitably closing their offices, the company tried, unsuccessfully, to change directions. With the company out of business, it was just a matter of time before the assets of the defunct company would be sold off.

The expectations for the sale, which concluded this week, were for between $4 million and $31 million. Not an unreasonable set of numbers for a company with servers, antenna farms, television tuners, streaming systems and their patents. Unfortunately, those expectations were not to be, as the entire company's asset portfolio sold for only $2 million - half of the lowest number expected.

Aereo's lawyer William Baldiga said that the company was "very disappointed" with the results. It was definitely an unimpressive showing, with only 10 bidders participating in the bankruptcy auction. TiVo, the new owner of said assets, certainly made off like bandits, having the ability to do as they wish with those patents. The proceeds will be used to pay off some of Aereo's creditors, who, I would imagine, were also hoping for more than the $2 million Aereo received.

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Google Bans and Unbans Adult Content on Blogger

posted Saturday Feb 28, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Google Bans and Unbans Adult Content on Blogger

This has been an interesting week for the Internet. The FCC has deemed itself the hall monitor of the Internet which is likely to end up with broadcast-style, or English-style content filtering in the United States. Before the FCC can forever change the Internet for us, though, Google and Reddit announced content filtering themselves. While Reddit announced that they would no longer allow any adult content without permission from those involved, Google took a different approach.

Google's announced that their Blogger brand, which is known for containing a lot of adult content, would no longer allow most of that content. Included in the ban was almost all photos and videos, leaving behind only erotic fan fiction and the occasional Penthouse-style story - usually overly exaggerated. They did leave a single exception, saying,

We'll still allow nudity if the content offers a substantial public benefit, for example in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts.

As one might expect, there has been a lot of backlash. Most of the content producers and users of Blogger are there for one thing: nudity. With all of the public comments, and the obvious fear of a massive user exodus, Google has backed down on their decision. The company said,

This week, we announced a change to Blogger's porn policy stating that blogs that distributed sexually explicit images or graphic nudity would be made private.

We've received lots of feedback about making a policy change that impacts longstanding blogs, and about the negative impact this could have on individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities.

It is unusual for Google to back down on an unpopular policy change - if they were this easy to change directions, then YouTube would never have implemented Google+ for its commenting system. Perhaps this is a new day for Google, if not the Internet as a whole.

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