The UpStream

Xbox Entertainment Studios Closes as Microsoft Shifts Focus to Cloud and Mobile

posted Friday Jul 18, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Xbox Entertainment Studios Closes as Microsoft Shifts Focus to Cloud and Mobile

If you didn't catch the memo from earlier in the week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella laid out a plan to cut 18,000 jobs from the corporation. Most of the layoffs, of which is the largest in tech history, will be from the Nokia merger. However, not specifically listed in the note was the purge that will unfortunately be coming out of the Xbox Entertainment Studio.

Microsoft's venture into original programming is coming to an end in a weird kind of way. Santa Monica's Xbox Entertainment Studios will be closed, with 200 employees likely to be finding new lines of work. From our understanding it is being said that there are no "new" projects being started up. The Halo, Quantum Break and Atari projects will all remain intact and will be completed.

There is no word yet on former CBS exec and head of XES Nancy Tellum's status. And, the only thing we had in writing from Nadella was kind of dancing around the Xbox commitment.

The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming. We are fortunate to have Xbox in our family to go after this opportunity with unique and bold innovation. Microsoft will continue to vigorously innovate and delight gamers with Xbox.

Luckily, Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios and Xbox, sent out an official statement, confirming the closure of the studio, the retention of the current projects and the future of the Xbox brand.

As part of the planned reduction to our overall workforce announced today and in light of our organization's mission, we plan to streamline a handful of portfolio and engineering development efforts across Xbox. One such plan is that, in the coming months, we expect to close Xbox Entertainment Studios. I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the accomplishments from the entire team in XES. They have built an impressive slate of original programming and pioneered interactive entertainment on Xbox, such as the innovative reality series 'Every Street United' that succeeded in uniting audiences around the globe during the recent World Cup. I am pleased that Nancy, Jordan and members of the XES team remain committed to new, original programming already in production like the upcoming documentary series 'Signal to Noise' whose first installment takes on the rise and fall of gaming icon Atari and of course, the upcoming game franchise series 'Halo: Nightfall,' and the 'Halo' Television series which will continue as planned with 343 Industries. Xbox will continue to support and deliver interactive sports content like 'NFL on Xbox,' and we will continue to enhance our entertainment offering on console by innovating the TV experience through the monthly console updates. Additionally, our app partnerships with world-class content providers bringing entertainment, sports and TV content to Xbox customers around the world are not impacted by this organizational change in any way and remain an important component of our Xbox strategy.

In the end, it comes down to Xbox really being great at putting out a platform in which media can be contained and consumed, but it made less sense for them to develop original programming for the platform. So Spencer aligns with Nadella's vision on remaining committed to the Xbox brand as a whole, while agreeing that perhaps its own TV studio might not be the best fit. Microsoft execs understand that having internal hardware is a great idea, and especially a console that still remains the center of all entertainment in a family's living room.

We hope for the best for the laid off employees and are still really looking forward to the handful of endeavors that will still come out of the now defunct Xbox Entertainment Studios.

Twitter Bot Posts Congressional Wikipedia Changes

posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Twitter Bot Posts Congressional Wikipedia Changes

Combining data sources to produce interesting results has become a popular trend in software lately. It is a great way to experiment with development without having to create your own data. There have been lots of mobile apps created, some by talented developers and others by hacks, that take advantage of other people's data to produce unique results.

One such example is the @parliamentedits Twitter bot. This account monitors anonymous edits to Wikipedia that originate within the British Parliament's IP addresses. The system was created using the popular IFTTT platform for reacting to data. Based on this idea, another developer, Ed Summers, has created a full platform for monitoring IP addresses and posting their results.

The Twitter account is @congressedits, and this bot does almost the same thing, only by monitoring US Congressional IP addresses. Since Congress's IP range is significantly alrger than that of Parliament, this meant that IFTTT was not possible. Summers posted on his own blog,

The simplicity of combining Wikipedia and Twitter in this way immediately struck me as a potentially useful transparency tool. So using my experience on a previous side project (Wikistream, a Web application that watches Wikipedia editing activity), I quickly put together a short program that listens to all major language Wikipedias for anonymous edits from Congressional IP address ranges… and tweets them.

While nothing career-ending has happened as of yet, there are a couple of interesting changes. For example, one page had the political affiliation changed. Another changed the term "corporate lawyer" to "attorney." Both of these are, most likely, about public opinion. Another edit, however, seems to be a Congressional staffer with a love for both grammar and terrible movies, making a fairly benign edit to the page for the film Step Up 3D.

Whether or not this will ever turn up any scandals, it has certainly inspired many others to produce similar projects. Based on his code, which he posted on GitHub, there are now accounts for Australia, Germany, Berlin specifically and many others. If you are interested in following the odd edits from Congress, or want to create your own watcher, head to the source link and join the fun.

FTC Sues Amazon for Letting Children Make Purchases on Parents' Devices

posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

FTC Sues Amazon for Letting Children Make Purchases on Parents' Devices

Remember last year when Apple had to shell out million to customers who weren't watching their kids make purchases on their iPhones? Well, Amazon is in a similar boat this year as the Federal Trade Commission has gone after Amazon for "unlawfully billing" parents for app purchases made by children. It seems that a regulatory group is now stepping in to protect parents from supervising children on their devices.

The FTC says there are currently no passwords or PINs are required for children to make purchases on the Amazon app store. Consumer protection director for the FTC, Jessica Rich, had this to say on the matter.

Many millions were spent on unauthorized charges. This is about the age old principle of consumer protection. We plan to obtain refunds and put it back in consumer's pockets. We're now headed to court.

The FTC further alleges that Amazon had knowledge of this and did not do a thing about it until the agency confronted Amazon with its policies. The Commission also added that many customers contacted the FTC to complain about these "unauthorized" charges. No word on how many complained nor when the investigation began.

Rich continued by saying that, "If you feel you've been had and want a refund contact the FTC."

Let me add some clarification here. There's no unauthorized charges taking place. Parents are complaining because their kids made purchases and they didn't watch over the things happening on these devices that cost hundreds of dollars.

Granted, similar to Apple's hand being forced in the same case after the ruling, Amazon does not have a PIN or password in place for in-game purchases, so kids can tap at-will and ring up charges as they please. And, like Apple, I can see that changing here, too. What's interesting here is the FTC has been investigating for a while and has actually caught Amazon employees acknowledging that there are no safeguards and not doing anything about it for years. Again, perhaps they figured that parents would be cautious on giving their kids a device connected to both the Internet and their bank account, but I'm afraid we probably can't make that assumption anymore.

In the end, this case will probably end just like the Apple one. Parents complain because their children charged their credit card on in-app digital goods and currency and the businesses did nothing to protect them. But in the same breath they complain that they don't want businesses snooping and watching over them.

I will end this piece by saying that the Windows Phone team thought ahead and all apps require a PIN or password before being able to make any purchases during any part of installing or using an app. And Microsoft didn't have to go through a lawsuit or an FTC investigation to make that decision.

Comedy Central Trying Out Online Syndication with South Park on Hulu Plus

posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Comedy Central Trying Out Online Syndication with South Park on Hulu Plus

If you're a big fan of Comedy Central's programming, you probably know that the best way to watch their shows online is directly on their website. From big names to single season flops, you can watch most of Comedy Central's content for free right on the web. Their business model for providing this content for free has been advertising revenue.

Apparently Comedy Central is no longer content with the amount of money they earn from ad revenue and is trying out a new business model. Teaming up with Hulu, Comedy Central is making all episodes of all seasons of South Park available exclusively through Hulu Plus.

This represents a shift in business concept. Rather than relying exclusively on advertising revenue, Comedy Central is now relying exclusively on syndication fees. This will also change the behavior of how to watch South Park online. For the first time ever South Park will be available only behind the Hulu Plus paywall.

While this may be temporary good news for Comedy Central's bottom line, it may not remain as good news in the long run. After offering all of their online content for free for so long, such a dramatic shift might turn viewers off. However, since we are talking about South Park, maybe not. People have continued to watch the show on television and online even as the creators themselves have gotten tired of it.

So, will Comedy Central be able to build on their strong viewership or will this move turn viewers away from South Park altogether? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

$16 Million Raised to Curve Videogame Communication

posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

$16 Million Raised to Curve Videogame Communication

In-game communication is not a new concept. PC gamers have been using services like Ventrilo for years. Xbox and PlayStation both have game communication built into their platforms. However, while communication on the consoles has continued to improve the PC has not kept up.

A company called Curse is intent on changing that. Their recently open beta of Curse Voice works a little differently than most PC game communication software. Rather than having to share your platform id or username with another member, the service will automatically determine that friends are in the same game with you and offer communication automatically. This makes in-match communication significantly easier in quick-hit, random assignment games.

Because it is such a big shift in the norm, over a million users signed up within the first week. If they can keep up that pace, the company believes that they will have over 10 million by year's end. That is a lot of active users on a brand new platform, especially in a market in which gamers have expected to see little to no changes.

Obviously this caught the attention of many. Among those taking notice were new investors. Curse's latest round of funding brought in $16 million, including money for existing investors, one new investor and a capital loan. This new cash will help the company build, enhance and officially launch the platform.

It's always good to see new blood enter an industry, especially when that market has been so long stagnant. Hopefully Curse Voice will be able to be successful on its own and inspire the rest of the industry to catch up.

Have you checked out the Curse Voice public beta? Let us know your impressions on how it works in the comments.

China Claims that iPhone is a Threat to National Security

posted Sunday Jul 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

China Claims that iPhone is a Threat to National Security

Every country has a different way of focusing its economy. Some, like the United States, focus on knowledge work. Others, like China, focus on manufacturing. No matter your focus, though, one good rule of thumb is to not insult the companies that make your economy possible.

The Chinese government has taken a different view on this concept. This week of the Chinese state media accused the iPhone of being a national security threat. Referencing the iPhone's common places feature, they stated that anyone with access to the phone's data could easily determine the habits of a Chinese citizen.

For those who may not be aware of the feature, which is also available as part of Windows Phone Cortana, it follows your activities and logs the places you visit often. This allows Siri or Cortana to navigate easily to your favorite spots. From anywhere you can say "Take me to work" and be taken to your common spot.

Clearly, this data in the wrong hands could be dangerous. With the NSA's many data requests from Apple, it's not unreasonable for the Chinese government to be fearful. However, publicly speaking out against a company that spends a tremendous amount of money in your country manufacturing their product may not be the best way to solve the perceived problem.

Also, suggesting that that company has a backdoor for the NSA into their products may not be a great PR move either. Apple fired back against this allegation saying that they have never created a backdoor for any agency. They even went so far as to say they've never directly worked with the NSA, but had only replied to requests.

The chances that Apple and Foxconn will move their manufacturing out of China is low. However, a public statement like this certainly will make the companies consider their options. Apple has recently started to move some manufacturing back to the United States after all.

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