The UpStream

Konami Denies Collapse of Console Development

posted Friday May 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Konami Denies Collapse of Console Development

Over the past few months, Konami has found themselves in a PR nightmare fueled by a rash of unexplainable and seemingly insane decisions. First they removed Hideo Kojima's name form Metal Gear Solid V, much to the gaming world's disdain. This decision sparked rumors that Kojima might have been fired from, or resigned from, Konami's development group. This decision was quickly reversed, with Kojima's name returning to the game.

Next came the cancelation of one of the most anticipated games, Silent Hills, another Kojima title and the latest entry in the Silent Hill franchise. The game was to be a partnership between Kojima and Gullermo del Toro. The game also featured The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus as the main character, both in voice and appearance. This cancelation led to more rumors about Kojima's departure from the company, a rumor which Konami has not refuted.

In a letter to Ars Technica in an attempt to explain what has happened, Konami PR Director Jay Boor said,

Konami, as a company, underwent a major structural reorganization in March this year. The aim of this reform has been to guarantee that, in the quickly-changing digital entertainment industry where new game designs and platforms constantly alter the market environment, we can accurately observe new customer demands and market trends, and apply our long-established technology and knowhow quickly and effectively with a range of targeted responses.

While this explains what is happening to the structure of the company, it doesn't explain the future of the two franchises in question. Boor addressed this as well, saying,

We have nurtured them with care over many years since their inception, and will continue to produce products for both franchises, but we are not currently at a stage where we can announce the path these future titles will take.

Continuing, Boor included a full translation of the article that led many English publications to believe that Konami was abandoning console and arcade gaming in favor of a "mobile first" focus. The clarifying statement says,

Recently we often hear the term 'Mobile First,' and I want to specify that Konami's idea of Mobile First is not at all to focus purely on mobile games. Our aim is to continue to build up a comprehensive portfolio of console, arcade, and card game titles for each IP while also making the best possible use of the mobile devices that accompany our customers in their daily life, thus expanding the limits of entertainment and appealing to more and more customers.

The issue now becomes whether or not this is actually Konami's intentions. It could be that this is an attempt to fix a PR disaster that is damaging the perception of the people who will keep their doors open: gamers. If they lose the respect or trust of the gamers through odd or unexplainable decisions, there could be no recovering. Hopefully this is more than just a dodge - hopefully either this was all a big misunderstanding or Konami has learned from their mistakes and is righting the ship. It is likely that E3 this year will give us a better picture of the real future of the company.

Google Launches 2 More Mobile Payment Platforms at Google I/O

posted Friday May 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Google Launches 2 More Mobile Payment Platforms at Google I/O

The battle over mobile payments got a little more awkward this week in a way that only Google can accomplish. At the company's annual developer event, Google announced not one but two new mobile payment platforms. Yes, you read that right: Google appears to have launched two competing payment systems on the same day.

Android Pay

First is Android Pay, the payment system we all knew was coming thanks to Google's purchase and subsequent shuttering of Softcard. While we knew about the platform, we now know details. The system will be an open API available within Android M, allowing developers to integrate functionality into their apps. This will allow for NFC or in-app purchases all through a single platform, meaning a single place to store your payment information.

Google will be taking after Apple in the way they transfer data between the device and the merchant, using a token system. What is not known at this time is exactly what will be contained in this token: whether it will be like Apple Pay's alleged token description, which passes a tremendous amount of information, or if it will more appropriately transfer a transaction identifier instead, preventing the retailer from having or needing the actual card. Considering that Google is using Host Card Emulation (HCE), it is likely that Android Pay will not be any more secure than Apple Pay.

Google Hands Free

Shortly after receiving this information, Google showed off Google Hands Free, a prototype for another payment system. This one, however, seems to skip the Android part and, instead, makes the payment via magic. The process uses no direct device transfer, but instead allows you to pay simply by saying that you'd "like to pay with Google." While very little information was given about how this works, it was said that McDonald's and Papa John's would be the prototype test partners. Also, a video was shown which felt a little more like an infomercial than a real product.

Google Wallet

In addition to Android Pay and Google Hands Free, Google Wallet will continue to exist, but will take on a new purpose: personal payments. It would appear that Wallet will be living in the same realm as most banks' mobile apps, allowing you to transfer funds from one person to another directly. Unless limitations are places on how much can be transferred, Wallet could compete against Android Pay for smaller merchants, such as food trucks, who could transfer without the credit card percentage.

Once Again, Apple's TV Goals are Unlikely to be Realized

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Once Again, Apple's TV Goals are Unlikely to be Realized

Apple has had some insanely ambitious goals in regards to television. In fact, there have been two separate plans within the company involving strengthening their position in the television and broadcast worlds. Unfortunately for Apple, it turns out that this market might just be outside of their reach.

First has been the longest running inside joke in the tech world: the Apple television. This is different from the Apple TV, their set-top box that relies on outside content: this would be an Apple-branded television. The rumors surrounding this theoretical product have been around almost as long as the Apple TV itself, with new details popping up surrounding every product announcement event. It has never materialized, however.

Thanks to the usual "people familiar with the subject" and The Wall Street Journal, we not know that Apple had been working on this product. However, the company disbanded the team responsible over a year ago. While some people in the tech world find this a surprise, I most certainly do not, and here's why: televisions suck. No one loves their television, because they are mostly a transient technology. No one spends enough time with the television itself to have an attachment to it.

In addition, there is nowhere to innovate in the television space. You could improve the possible picture quality, but content will never catch up. 3D never did become a reality, and 4K content is still far from being available to the world, meaning those expensive 4K televisions are in reality REALLY expensive 1080p televisions. Smart televisions are a dime a dozen and yet, despite the easy access to these features, people still use their Xbox and PlayStation to access Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and the like. Why? Because televisions do not have the processing power to do it well.

The only way that Apple could have tried to accomplish something interesting in the television space is if they provided their own content, guaranteeing that your new 4K television had 4K content, for example. The problem there is, Apple is not a content company. They may be good at getting people to buy their patented rounded-corners, they do not produce anything real on a fixed schedule. Getting into producing content would be impossible, so partnering with other content providers would be their best bet. The problem there is that the content providers, it turns out, have no interest in talking with Apple about it at all.

The long-rumored streaming service appears to be shelved for the time being as well because of this. They believe that, in order to provide a full-functioned product, it would require live, local broadcasts from the Big 4. The Big 4 have made it very clear, though, that they have no interest in letting this happen, and Apple is no exception. So, for now, it appears that anyone waiting for any Apple-branded television products will have to draw their own logo on their existing televisions because nothing is coming soon.

Teen Pleads Guity to 23 Charges, Including Harassment and Swatting

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

There is a terrible trend happening in the online gaming world called Swatting. In case you have not heard of this practice, it involves one person finding the home information of another and calling in a fake emergency call. Usually the caller claims to be within the house of the victim (the other person) and is either holding the family hostage or that they have killed everyone in the house. Because of this call, the local SWAT team shows up and kicks down the door, often barging in on a Twitch broadcast.

Obviously this is a terribly dangerous "prank" that should be taken very seriously. Luckily, law enforcement has begun to take this seriously. Earlier this year there was an arrest in Las Vegas in response to a well-publicized incident in July of last year. What it revealed was that these are not isolated incidents. In fact, the 19-year-old who was arrested had been involved in several incidents.

This week, a 17-year-old on trial in Canada pleaded guilty to 23 counts including several counts of swatting. While in most cases these "pranks" revolve around online videogame rivalries, this one turns out to have started even more ridiculously. The teenager met a girl from Florida online and began an online relationship. The problem is that the girl didn't know that this was what he thought was happening and rejected his reality. As a result he called in two threats to her school and one to her home.

These are not his only incidents, however. It turns out that, in more traditional fashion, he did look for further victims using League of Legends and Twitter. He apparently got sloppy with the later incidents, as they were done while part of an 8-hour YouTube Live broadcast in which he pulled this "prank" more than once. It also ended up being what got him arrested when enough viewers of the stream called the police.

Because of this very stupid decision, it is likely that a large portion of his young adult life will be lost to jail time when his sentencing, which takes place on June 29th, is complete. It is important, like in the Vegas case, that an example be made to try and prevent future incidents where someone could really get hurt.

BBC Sued for Unauthorized Grand Theft Auto TV Movie

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

BBC Sued for Unauthorized Grand Theft Auto TV Movie

The BBC is planning, and in early production, of a TV movie entitled Game Changer, a dramatic telling of the early days of Grand Theft Auto. The story will be told in similar fashion to the Ashton Kutcher movie about Steve Jobs, complete with skipping the whole "getting authorization" thing. The movie will feature Bill Paxton as "butt-of-the-joke" former attorney Jack Thompson and Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe as Rockstar co-founder Sam Hauser.

That is assuming the movie actually happens. Rockstar Games' parent company, Take Two Interactive, announced Thursday that they had filed a trademark infringement suit against the BBC. If the suit goes through, it is unlikely that the BBC would actually produce the movie, likely opting for the easier road of canceling.

Take Two stressed in a statement that neither they nor Rockstar has had anything to do with the movie, saying,

Our goal is to ensure that our trademarks are not misused in the BBC's pursuit of an unofficial depiction of purported events related to Rockstar Games. We have attempted multiple times to resolve this matter with the BBC without any meaningful resolution. It is our obligation to protect our intellectual property, and unfortunately in this case litigation was necessary.

While any movie that features Jack Thompson is something that I would like to see, I do understand the desire to protect a brand. As with the previously mentioned Steve Jobs film, it is likely that incorrect information will be introduced into the narrative for either dramatic effect or, in Kutcher's case, to make one character more important than they really were.

The idea of having the story of your life or life's work told without any verification from you is something that makes my stomach hurt a bit, as people tend to believe what they see, no matter how obviously fake it may be. Hopefully the end result will be for the BBC and Rockstar to actually work together to produce a piece that tells the accurate story and shows Jack as the oddball he is.

BlackBerry Lays Off More Employees, Shrinking Smartphone Division

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

BlackBerry Lays Off More Employees, Shrinking Smartphone Division

Apparently finally turning a profit was not enough to save employees at struggling BlackBerry. The company announced they would be laying off an unspecified number of employees. It is expected that the majority of those layoffs will come from the devices business, including jobs in hardware, software and applications for the BlackBerry platform.

In the early days of smartphones, before consumers had really ever heard that term, BlackBerry regularly battled Palm to hold the #2 slot behind Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform, which often held strong in the #1 spot. Today, the smartphone landscape looks very different, with Android taking the top spot, and Microsoft and Apple battling for #2 from area to area. In North America, Apple tends to lead, while in Europe it's Microsoft. BlackBerry, however, barely makes the charts.

BlackBerry said in a statement,

As the company moves into its next stage of the turnaround, our intention is to reallocate resources in ways that will best enable us to capitalize on growth opportunities while driving toward sustainable profitability across all facets of our business...

One of our priorities is making our device business profitable. At the same time, we must grow software and licensing revenues. You will see in the coming months a significant ramping up in our customer-facing activities in sales and marketing.

Their software growth has begun to see a resurgence. For example, BlackBerry Messenger, which was always a favorite for businesses because of its security focus, has arrived on other platforms, bringing the brand name back to popularity. The app is actively maintained, with the Windows Phone app receiving an update this month.

In addition, Ford recently announced that their lower-end Ford Sync models would switch to a QNX-based system after Microsoft stopped developing the highly specialized platform to focus on the more universal Windows 10 platform. QNX is a company which was purchased by BlackBerry and was used to transition to BlackBerry 10, the OS that runs the now defunct PlayBook and all modern BlackBerry handsets.

Can this IBM-style focus on software and services work out better for the company, or will they eventually go the way of Palm and become part of a larger company (hopefully with a happier ending)? It is likely that, no matter the outcome, it will come to pass sooner rather than later.

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