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Aereo to Shut Down Boston Office, Layoff Employees

posted Sunday Nov 9, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Aereo to Shut Down Boston Office, Layoff Employees

Last week we talked about how Aereo may end up coming back to life if the FCC passes a new proposal. Well, as you're probably aware, the story of Aereo is a long, winding rollercoaster so every piece of good news and hope has to be balanced out with something bad. This week I present you the bad side. Aereo has laid off almost 50 employees and will be shutting down its office in Boston as a measure to save the company from bleeding all of its money.

Currently licking its wounds from the Supreme Court sniper shot, Aereo hasn't made any money in a few months. Because of that, as you could expect, things are getting a little rocky. In a letter sent to its employees, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia explains the decision.

In accordance with the Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (the "WARN Act"), this notice is to advise you that on November 12, 2014, Aereo, Inc. ("Aereo") will be permanently shutting down its operations.

The letter goes on to explain the options the employees have and some of the circumstances that led up to this move, which we all know. According to the letter there will be a small crew remaining at the office for some time, probably to break everything down and transition some equipment to Aereo's office in New York. And speaking on New York, there is also talk going around that the New York office will suffer similar consequences. Aereo has confirmed this but has not given details on it.

The letter did also mention that employees will be given a "modest severance package" which should help during this upcoming time for them. Considering the announcement but sudden, albeit expected, we hope that these employees can find new places to work. It shouldn't be a hard task, as these brave souls stared the Supreme Court and broadcasters right in the face and dared them to fight. Granted they lost, but that's only for now; the FCC proposal could turn all of that around soon.

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Blizzard Announced New FPS Overwatch at BlizzCon

posted Sunday Nov 9, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Blizzard Announced New FPS <i>Overwatch</i> at BlizzCon

Just two short months ago, Blizzard axed Project Titan, an internal code name to a game they were working on for seemingly a decade. Shortly after that, rumors swirled that it was all a ploy to announce a new, different game. At BlizzCon the team delivered on that rumor by announcing Overwatch, Blizzard's first new game in 18 years and a new take on first-person shooters.

Like most FPS games, Overwatch is your typical team versus team play. However, where it gets interesting is in the design. Similar to Team Fortress 2, one of my all-time favorite games that I still play today, Overwatch is done up in a very over-the-top cartoonish style. Teams are smaller and more like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, with factions of six per side.

Blizzard took to the stage at BlizzCon to talk about the new game.

The action of Overwatch takes place in a technologically advanced, highly stylized future earth. In a time of global crisis, an international task force of soldiers, scientists, adventurers, and oddities known as Overwatch had come together to restore peace to a war-torn world. After many years, the group's influence waned, and it was eventually disbanded. Overwatch might be gone now... but the world still needs heroes.

There are several classes you can choose from, and where it differs from other games is in the class abilities. Most games have some level of similarity between classes to keep things balanced and make switching classes easier for players. With Blizzard's latest FPS, all of that is thrown out of the window as the classes are very different and have entirely varied skillsets. CEO Mike Morhaime drove that home when he said that "With every new Blizzard game, we look at our favorite aspects of a genre and put our own spin on things. Our goal with Overwatch is to create an awesome FPS experience that's more accessible to a much wider audience while delivering the action and depth that shooter fans love."

Here is Blizzard's breakdown of some of the classes available in the game:

  • Tracer, a former British test pilot who shrugs at danger, can execute impossible acrobatic assaults thanks to her ability to teleport, drop energy bombs, and even reverse time.
  • Reinhardt, a hulking German soldier in battle armor, can charge great distances and pin his enemies to a wall or slam the ground with his rocket hammer to knock them off their feet.
  • Hanzo, a bow-wielding Japanese mercenary, has the ability to scale walls with his bare hands, fire off a tracking device that illuminates nearby enemies for his team, and unleash a huge spirit dragon that does grievous damage to all enemies in its path.
  • Symmetra, an Indian architech, manipulates light and energy to shield her allies and damage her enemies-and she can turn the tide of any battle by building a device that instantly transports her teammates to the front lines.

While a range of skills are usually found in PvE games, it is rare to see such a broad range of abilities in PvP FPS titles. Combine that with a visual style that has only been seen in a handful of games and Blizzard might have something that could blow up in popularity. Gamers have been yearning for something different and a break from the unfortunate norm. This could be it. Unsure about it and want to judge for yourself? I have the extended cinematic trailer after the break.

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Disney Interactive Finally Turns an Annual Profit Again

posted Sunday Nov 9, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Disney Interactive Finally Turns an Annual Profit Again

In 2009, Disney merged the operations of their Internet and gaming divisions into a single subsidiary: Disney Interactive. Since then, they have never turned an individual annual profit for Disney. In 2009 they reported a loss of $295 million, but lessened the losses to only #81 million last fiscal year. Their futures changed this week when Disney posted their annual report, showing that not only was Disney Interactive profitable, they made $116 million in annual operating profit, which is a nice change of pace for the brand.

Most of this profit is attributed to the incredible success of Disney Infinity, with its gameplay and unique integration of a wide variety of interactive figures. Integrating characters from an array of Disney brands, including the uber popular Pixar and Marvel worlds.

President James Pitaro said of the success,

We are very pleased with the results of the first installment of (Disney Infinity) and we feel good about the launch of the second installment thus far. But we will have a better sense of overall performance as we enter the holiday season.

In addition to Disney Infinity, Disney Interactive saw growth come from mobile games. Their Star Wars free-to-play games, such as Assault Team, which were abandoned a few months ago, played a role. The real success in mobile came from expanding on the Frozen brand with Frozen Free Fall.

It hasn't been all rainbows and lollipops for Disney Interactive this year, however. Part of the operating profit came from March's layoff of 700 employees, which represented about a quarter of their workforce. Pitaro said at that time, "These are large-scale changes as we focus not just on getting to profitability but sustained profitability and scalability." It would appear that it helped.

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Taylor Swift Exits Streaming Services with Casual Insult

posted Sunday Nov 9, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Taylor Swift Exits Streaming Services with Casual Insult

I personally do not know much about Taylor Swift. In fact, the only two things I know about her is that her eyes appear to have been stolen from another person's face and that she is apparently terrible at relationships and enjoys telling the world about her disasters. Her relationship woes seem to extend to reality, as this week she limited the reach of her music heavily, pulling all wholly owned tracks from streaming services, including Spotify and Xbox Music (pictured here).

Upon exiting, she said,

All I can say is that music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment. And I'm not willing to contribute my life's work to an experiment that I don't feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don't agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.

It is definitely an interesting world view that paying for music perpetuates "the perception that music has no value and should be free." Personally, the reason I use services like Xbox Music personally is because I specifically DO NOT believe music has no value; if I did, I would use a free service to steal the music.

The decision to pull music from paid streaming services has confused and disappointed both consumers and services alike. A quick search of Twitter hashtag #justsayyes shows just how disappointed customers are with the decision. Spotify, one of the affected services, went so far as to create a playlist to encourage her back, with song titles reading: "Hey Taylor We Wanted To Play Your Amazing Love Songs And They're Not Here Right Now," which is a clever use of their own playlist capabilities.

The most interesting thing to come from this is the responses from artists, who generally agree that the move was a mistake, which is a sentiment I agree with. It is possible that after initial sales of her new album slow she might change her stance, but Swift does not seem to be the type to learn from past mistakes.

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The Darknet Lit Up by Law Enforcement; 410 Sites Raided, 17 Arrested

posted Saturday Nov 8, 2014 by Scott Ertz

The Darknet Lit Up by Law Enforcement; 410 Sites Raided, 17 Arrested

Tor is a name that is not known to the majority of the world: it is a segment of the Internet that is entirely encrypted and communication is anonymized. There are many legitimate usages for Tor, as it is an extension of the onion routing project, which is a US Naval system. The system was developed so that government communications could be protected from snooping by enemy states.

What the Navy never expected, however, was how Tor would evolve, and who would ultimately be interested in being encrypted and anonymous: criminals. Inside the semi-hidden world of Tor is the darknet, a collection of sites that openly and notoriously offer illegal products and services, from weapons to drugs and prostitutes. All of this is made easy by the anonymous nature of Tor and the pairing of the anonymous digital currency Bitcoin, making it seemingly impossible to trace these transactions to their source.

Or so users of the system believed. A year ago, a darknet marketplace, Silk Road was seized, "cash" was collected and arrests were made. It was always believed that a slipup made the raid possible, but this week may have changed some minds. A multi-nation coordinated attack through Tor ended up with 410 sites being raided and 17 arrests being made. Among the participating nations was the US and 16 European countries.

On Thursday, US officials claimed the first success in the raid: Silk Road 2.0. US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement,

As illegal activity online becomes more prevalent, criminals can no longer expect that they can hide in the shadows of the dark web. We shut down the original Silk Road website and now we have shut down its replacement, as well as multiple other dark market sites allegedly offering all manner of illicit goods and services, from firearms to computer hacking.

They are hoping that this public, coordinated raid will discourage at least some from using Tor and the darknet to trade in illegal materials. While it will certainly not stop the activity, perhaps it will prevent casual users from trying to purchase credit card data or false identity papers.

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Apple and Microsoft Take Different Tactics with Fitbit

posted Saturday Nov 8, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Apple and Microsoft Take Different Tactics with Fitbit

There are two big device-independent health platforms vying for attention from manufacturers: Apple's HealthKit and Microsoft Health. While both platforms offer a similar service in theory, both companies have taken very different approaches to, well, everything.

For example, HealthKit is an iOS platform, intended to tie together devices paired with your iPhone and iPad. Microsoft Health, on the other hand, is a platform independent system, based instead in Azure, intended to analyze data from any health device attached to anything that manufacturer wants to support. It also has apps on the 3 major platforms for users to be able to interact with their data.

While their overall approaches to the platform are very different, the place where Apple and Microsoft differ the greatest is, as always, their interaction with the outside world. Apple is known for being very heavy handed in their dealings with other companies, using mob-style threats and intimidation to force others to do what they want. When Bose made their sponsorship deal with the NFL, preventing players from wearing non-Bose headphones in public, Apple removed Bose products from their stores. Apple is also being blamed for the bankruptcy of a former partner because of a "bait and switch" contract.

This same strategy is being used to right now to try and get Fitbit, one of the biggest names in fitness hardware, to use its HealthKit platform. Fitbit has been pretty clear about its current intentions: they have none for HealthKit. As one would expect, Apple's response to this news was swift and sever: Fitbit products have been removed from Apple's store, all because they are not currently planning on implementing Apple's platform.

On the other hand, Microsoft is taking a very different approach to working with Fitbit. The company is also not publicly working on implementing Microsoft Health support (they have not spoken out negatively, however), and Microsoft's new Band health watch device is a bit of a Fitbit competitor. Despite all of this, Microsoft is giving a free Fitbit device with sales of Microsoft Lumia 830 phones on AT&T.

These are two very different approaches: Apple is trying to decrease Fitbit's sales in hopes of forcing them to implement Apple HealthKit, while Microsoft is trying to increase Fitbit's sales in hopes of encouraging them to implement Microsoft Health support through good will. Will either, neither or both of these tactics work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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