The UpStream

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 Angers the Internet, Causes Changes at EA

posted Sunday Nov 19, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 Angers the Internet, Causes Changes at EA

Based on the popularity of Star Wars: Battlefront, there was a lot of excitement from the gaming community for the follow-up. That is, right up until details about how the mechanics of the game would work became public. Following the latest trend in gaming, EA introduced micro-transactions into their flagship AAA title, something that is usually reserved for casual mobile games.

This decision began an immediate backlash from the gaming community, even before the extent of the decision had been revealed. As the release date came closer, and players got a look at the game, it was revealed that large portions of the game, including prime characters, were locked behind an in-game currency system. For example, if you would like to bring Vader into the game, it will cost you about 40 hours of play time. The other option, rather than using playtime to unlock characters, you could spend real-world money to purchase currency. If you wanted to unlock all aspects of the game, it would cost $2,100, making the $80 game cost relatively insignificant. You could also play the game for 4,528 hours, or 189 days.

In response, the internet, and particularly Reddit, took EA to task, accusing them of theft and refusing to purchase the game. Initially, EA didn't seem to take notice, but, in the end, EA did seem to realize the problem they had created. The company released a statement, in which they vaguely apologized for misunderstanding how players wanted to be charged for additional content.

We hear you loud and clear, so we're turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we've made changes to the game. We'll share more details as we work through this.

In addition to removing crystals from the game, for now, they have also changed the rate at which in-game currency is rewarded. In fact, they have cut the requirements by 75%, meaning that the 189 days is now only 47 days of playtime. If someone plays the game 3 hours per day, every day, it would now take just over a year, as opposed to nearly 4.5 years previously. As for now, this is a win for gamers, but will not last forever.

Germany Bans Smartwatches for Children, Encourages Destroying Them

posted Sunday Nov 19, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Germany Bans Smartwatches for Children, Encourages Destroying Them

The market for kids' wearables is growing and myriad. Every year at CES we encounter at least one company showing off a wearable device that is designed to make kids safer and parents more at ease. Usually they are shaped like a watch, but not all of them offer screens. Most allow a parent to track the child via GPS, some allow parents to communicate with their kids, and some allow parents to listen in on their kids.

This last feature, while uncommon here in the US, has raised concern in Germany. While some helicopter parents have begun listening in on their kids' teachers, the government worries that it could be taken one step farther: espionage. Yes, that's right - the German government is worried about people listening in on all of the top-secret meetings that 8-year-olds are taking.

In reality, the concerns over privacy with these types of devices is legitimate. Several models of these watches, and other IoT transmitters, have been found to transmit and store data unencrypted. This means, especially in the case of children, that it could become really easy to track a child's location or listen to a child's environment, without anyone being the wiser. If the child in question is the kid of a public figure, tracking the child could be like tracking the parent, creating a double security threat.

In addition to banning the sale of these products, the government has encouraged parents to take them from their kids and destroy them. This might be an extreme reaction to a hypothetical problem. In fact, it seems that, rather than banning the devices entirely, perhaps regulations to ensure the safety and security of the data, and the wearer, might make for a better plan. The privacy issues are not limited to kids' smartwatches - in fact they are potentially ever-present in all IoT devices, including adult watches.

Data security is the real topic here, not kids' smartwatches in particular. As a whole, we need to encourage manufacturers of IoT devices to pay more attention to what they are doing, and to respect the privacy of the people who buy their products, not to demonize a single aspect of the industry.

Netflix Terminates Relationship with Kevin Spacey Following Sexual Allegations

posted Saturday Nov 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Netflix Terminates Relationship with Kevin Spacey Following Sexual Allegations

The past few weeks have been fascinatingly telling in the worlds of entertainment and technology. Starting with the revelation that Harvey Weinstein had been harassing, assaulting and/or raping women in Hollywood, the voice of victims has been heard. In the weeks since the original articles, other victims have felt strength to come forward about their own harassment, assault and rape instances.

Some of the bigger names to receive accusations include Robert Scoble, technology evangelist and venture capitalist, and Kevin Spacey, another household Hollywood name. The responses to these allegations from the accused have begun to get bizarre. Weinstein claimed that, because he came up in the 60s, the rules for workplace behavior were different. Scoble claimed that what he did wasn't harassment because the women didn't work for him. Spacey tried to play the issues off as drunken mistakes, and deflected the topic by coming out publicly as gay.

The response from the business world, however, has not been bizarre at all. In fact, in all three of these instances, companies have responded swiftly. Weinstein was fired from his own company, as was Scoble. Spacey's retribution has been even more intense, at least from a business perspective. Netflix, who had several active projects with Spacey, has decided to cut all ties with him. Production on the final season of House of Cards has been suspended, and Gore, a film produced by and starring Spacey, which was in post-production has been scrapped entirely. Netflix said in a statement,

Netflix will not be involved with any further production of 'House of Cards' that includes Kevin Spacey. We will continue to work with (production company) MRC during this hiatus time to evaluate our path forward as it relates to the show.

Obviously suspending the final season of a AAA title series is a major move, but the response seems to be resonating with customers on all sides of the cultural divide. No one can argue that cutting ties with a man accused of sexual assault against a 14-year-old boy is the right move. This is in stark contrast to the response to a similar situation with Roman Polanski in the 70s, where studios and colleagues worked to make the situation go away.

The future of House of Cards is currently unknown, but there is talk of a spin-off and an appropriate conclusion to the season which is currently on hiatus, not featuring any new work featuring Spacey.

The 'Podcast Patent' is Officially Dead for Good

posted Saturday Nov 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

The 'Podcast Patent' is Officially Dead for Good

In the early days of personal computers, and especially the early days of the internet, the process for receiving a software patent was unbelievably easy. If you could string together 8 words that sounded tech-related, you could probably get a patent on the idea. Many of the ideas were so vague they could cover nearly any technology, and the owners of some of those patents have tried to take advantage of a bad system.

One such patent, currently owned by Personal Audio LLC (after several acquisitions over the years), has been known to the internet as "the podcast patent" because of the targets of intended litigation. The company threatened several high profile podcasters, including Adam Carolla, for using their technology without permission.

Luckily, the Electronic Freedom Foundation came to the industry's rescue, taking the case to court to invalidate the patent. After running a successful crowdfunding campaign to fund the suit, the EFF won against Personal Audio in several courts, including the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in August. Theoretically this was the case's last stop, but Personal Audio would not be deterred, asking to take the case "en banc," meaning that all of the judges would consider the case.

This week, the last stand of Personal Audio was unsuccessful, being officially invalidated by the full court. In addition to arguing in favor of the patent, the company argued against the validity of the legality of the inter partes review process. They argued that the EFF arguing against a patent tilts the power away from the patent holder. The court disagreed, invalidated the patent, and returned RSS feeds to the people of the internet.

Blizzard to Roll Back World of Warcraft to Original Gameplay

posted Saturday Nov 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Blizzard to Roll Back World of Warcraft to Original Gameplay

Few games enjoy the success of World of Warcraft, and even fewer enjoy the longevity. The game was released in 2004 and, in the past 13 years, has changed quite a lot. Between upgrades and expansions, the game has gotten much bigger, expanding its footprint, level caps and more. But, for those who have played the game from the beginning, there is a longing for the simpler days of the game.

One way that players have dealt with this longing is to create their own servers, running original server software. This allowed people with clean installs of the game to play the game as it was originally launched. The problem, of course, is that this is copyright infringement. Blizzard has sent cease-and-desist letters to those running the servers for years in an attempt to maintain control over their brand.

This week, at Blizzcon, Blizzard announced that the company has finally accepted that there is a subset of players who enjoy the original game, and will be releasing World of Warcraft Classic, along with classic servers. This will allow players the choice of playing the game pre-expansion - circa 2004. J. Allen Brack, Executive Producer of the game, told the crowd,

Before I get to the big news today, I want to talk about ice cream. I understand that for some of you, your favorite flavor is vanilla.

Fans of World of Warcraft around the world, we hear you. I am pleased and also a little bit nervous to announce the development of a classic server option for World of Warcraft. This is a larger endeavor than you might imagine, but we are committed to making an authentic, Blizzard-quality classic experience.

What we don't know is... any of the details. We haven't got a release date, in-game footage, or even exactly what we will see when the product hits the market. Will the game play with original assets, or will it play with more modern assets? Will it be available in 2018, 2019? Hopefully we will find out some of this information in the more near future.

Microsoft to Energize Mixed Reality Vision, Looking to License HoloLens Chip

posted Saturday Nov 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft to Energize Mixed Reality Vision, Looking to License HoloLens Chip

Ever since Microsoft's surprise announcement of HoloLens, analysts have struggled to understand Microsoft's plans for the device. Microsoft diehards, however, have recognized the device as a technology demo platform. This is an approach that Intel has taken for years, and Microsoft adopted the concept far more recently.

The original Surface was designed to challenge the industry's and public's views of what a computer could be. The Band was designed for Microsoft to test out integrating new sensors, charging technology, etc., into a smaller package. The HoloLens was Microsoft's Mixed Reality playground. A device which allows them to try out Windows Mixed Reality without the need for a PC, but that can try out new technology.

The next generation of HoloLens will feature a newly designed AI chip. The company has been working to incorporate some of the capabilities that the HoloLens uses currently through Azure, but in a disconnected nature. This chip, however, is not designed just to enhance the HoloLens, but to enhance computing as a whole. Panos Panay, the head of devices for Microsoft, said,

We have to continue to find those pieces of silicon, those chipsets that have to be developed, to bring those sensors to life, to connect people to each other, and with their products.

But he expanded the idea beyond Microsoft. In fact, he suggested that Microsoft, after designing this chip, would want to license it out to partners, such as they did with the chipset within the Surface pen.

I think of the most important things we do in Surface and in our chip development is not only creating technology - we have a pen, there's an ASIC in the pen-as an example, that we do license out to other companies. And without a doubt, the opportunity to make sure that we get the technology, create it within Surface, and then proliferate it to our partners and give everybody the opportunity to use is really important.

This falls inline with Microsoft's business model. Unlike Apple, who designs stuff and hides it behind patents and their design studio, Microsoft develops technology for themselves, and then allows others in the industry to use that technology to enhance their own products. We've seen this with ASIC in the Surface Pen, Casio licensing the Band, and even Cortana in the Harmon Kardon Invoke.

It will be interesting to see how partners put Microsoft's new AI chip to use. Perhaps Harmon Kardon will enhance Cortana's capabilities within the Invoke, Casio could improve their implementation of the Band, Samsung could make their Mixed Reality headsets even better, or a company we've never heard of could design a whole new device category.

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