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Are Amazon Tablets Taking Over?

February 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

While research groups like IDC and Gartner have shown an overall 15.6 decrease in worldwide tablet shipments in 2016, the market has not gone entirely belly-up, as Amazon continues to pull ahead with a phenomenal 99.4 percent increase in annual tablet growth during the same period.

According to a report by the folks at TrendForce, Amazon managed to ship 11 million Fire-series tablets over the course of 2016 even as global tablet shipments fell by 6.6 percent from the previous year. While the sales numbers were impressive, the company still fell behind Apple at 27 percent of the market and Samsung at 17.2 percent, yet managed to beat expectations as a result of strong year-end holiday sales.

Apple also pulled ahead with strong tablet sales last year and retained its top spot, selling 42 million devices to Samsung’s 27 million. A few weeks ago, we wrote that IDC may have regretted telling the media to rely on expectations that the fruit-themed device company would allegedly oversee the decline of traditional PC sales by 2015. While traditional PC sales dropped 5.7 percent to 260.2 million in 2016, they still remain an impressive part of the overall device market and have not fallen as quickly as tablets have over the past year.

TrendForce expects tablet sales to continue declining from 157.4 million units in 2016 to around 147.8 million units 2017. While Amazon nearly doubled its annual shipments and Apple enjoyed strong iPad sales over the holiday season, other brands such as Microsoft are expected to fall into 7th place as the company experiences panel shortages for its Surface Pro series.

For a limited time, Amazon will occasionally offer its 7-inch 8GB Fire Essentials bundle and its 16GB Fire Essentials Bundle at discounted prices. For instance, the former had been available for $33.33 in November and $49.99 until earlier this month, along with free Prime shipping. The company is expected to offer similar deals throughout the year in an effort to strengthen its sales base from loyal Prime customers.

Courtesy-Fud

Linux To Support Virtual GPUs

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

pen source’s Mr Sweary Linus Torvalds announced the general availability of the Linux 4.10 kernel series, which includes virtual GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) support.

Linus wrote in the announcement, adding “On the whole, 4.10 didn’t end up as small as it initially looked”.

The kernel has a lot of improvements, security features, and support for the newest hardware components which makes it more than just a normal update.

Most importantly there is support for virtual GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) support, new “perf c2c” tool that can be used for analysis of cacheline contention on NUMA systems, support for the L2/L3 caches of Intel processors (Intel Cache Allocation Technology), eBPF hooks for cgroups, hybrid block polling, and better writeback management.

A new “perf sched timehist” feature has been added in Linux kernel 4.10 to provide detailed history of task scheduling, and there’s experimental writeback cache and FAILFAST support for MD RAID5.

It looks like Ubuntu 17.04 will be the first stable OS to ship with Linux 4.10.

Courtesy-Fud

Is MediaTek’s Helio X30 Processor Going To Do Well In The Market?

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

MediaTek is planning a Helio X30 in 10nm later this year but news from Taiwan indicates that some key customers didn’t order the new flagship 10 core chip. 

One of the main reasons might be the increased competition in the Chinese market and companies cannot afford to have two designs of the same phone with Qualcomm or a MediaTek chip in. The rumor is that Xiaomi, MediaTek’s big customer, might be coming up with its own Pinecone SoC and this will put some additional pressure on MediaTek’s high-end. There might be two Pinecones SoCs targeted at the mainstream and high end market.

LeEco, another big MediaTek customer is  going through tough financial times, and was not interested in making big orders. Hope, which  is the number one smartphone vendor in China, is usually a big customer. Another big one that usualy goes with MediaTek is the current number 3 in China, Vivo. The number two, Huawei has its own Kirin SoC while the number Four, the fruity Apple has its own SoC.

Oppo is MediaTek’s big hope as is Vivo. Oppo and Vivo are expected to sell 120 million and 100 million smartphones respectively in 2017.

The upcoming Snapdragon 835 SoC is also going to give Mediatek bother.  It is shaping up to become one of the best, if not the best phone SoC of all times. MediaTek usually has a pricing advantage over most of its competitors so it might compete against it on price.

This is a TSMC manufactured chip based on the the long relationship that the company has with the biggest chip foundry which is across the street from MedaiTek’s headquarter in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The end result might be the massive cancellation of 10nm wafer orders at TSMC, as there wont be anyone who would want to buy. The timing could not be worse, as this is the first time MediaTek wanted to take the leap of faith and bet on the farm with the latest and greatest 10nm . Now it looks like it will have to cancel a lot of the 10nm orders. Still a few phones with Helio X30 deca core will hit the market.

Courtesy-Fud

Is The Independent Game Developers Future Bleak

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Never more than a stopgap that was hugely inadequate to the gap in question, Steam Greenlight is finally set to disappear entirely later this Spring. The service has been around for almost five years, and while it was largely greeted with enthusiasm, the reality has never justified that optimism. The amassing of community votes for game approval turned out to be no barrier to all manner of grafters who launched unfinished, amateurish games (even using stolen assets in some cases) on the service, but enough of a barrier to be frustrating and annoying for many genuine indie developers. As an attempt to figure out how to prevent a storefront from drowning in the torrent of rubbish that has flooded the likes of the App Store and Google Play, it was a worthy experiment, but not one that ought to have persisted for five years, really.

Moreover, Greenlight isn’t disappearing because Valve has solved this problem to its satisfaction. The replacement, Direct, is in some regards a step backwards; it’ll see developers being able to publish directly on the system simply by confirming their identity (company or personal) through submission of business documents and paying a fee for each game they submit. The fee in question hasn’t been decided yet, but Valve says it’s thinking about everything from $100 to $5000.

The impact of Direct is going to depend heavily on what that fee ends up being. It’s worth noting that developers for iOS, for example, already pay around $100 a year to be part of Apple’s developer programme, and trawling through the oceans of unloved and unwanted apps released on the App Store every day shows just how little that $100 price does to dissuade the worst kind of shovelware. At $5000, meanwhile, quite a lot of indie developers will find themselves priced out of Steam, especially those at the more arthouse end of the scene, or new creators getting started out. Ironically, though, the chances are that many of the cynical types behind borderline-scam games with ripped off assets and design will calculate that $5000 is a small price to pay for a shot at sales on Steam, especially if the high fees are thinning out the number of titles launching.

It’s worth noting that, for the majority of Steam’s consumers, the loss of arthouse indie games and fringe titles from new creators won’t be of huge concern. Steam, like all storefronts, sells huge numbers at the top end and that falls off rapidly as you come down the charts; the number of consumers who are actively engaging with smaller niche titles on the service is pretty small. However, that doesn’t mean that locking out those creators wouldn’t be damaging – both creatively and commercially.

Plenty of creators are actually making a living at the low end of the market; they’re not making fortunes or buying gigantic mansions to hang around being miserable in, but they’re making enough money from their games to sustain themselves and keep up their output. Often, they’re working in niches that have small audiences of devoted fans, and locking them out of Steam with high submission costs would both rob them of their income (there are quite a few creators out there for whom $5000 represents a large proportion of their average revenue from a game) and rob audiences of their output, or at least force them to look elsewhere.

Sometimes, a game from a creator like that becomes a break-out hit, the game the whole world is talking about for months on end – sometimes, but not very often. It’s tempting to argue that Steam should be careful about its “low-end” indies (a term I use in the commercial sense, not as any judgement of quality; there’s great, great stuff lurking around the bottom of the charts) because otherwise it risks missing the Next Big Thing, but that’s not really a good reason. Steam is just about too big to ignore, and the Next Big Thing will almost certainly end up on the platform anyway.

Rather, the question is over what Valve wants Steam to be. If it’s a platform for distributing big games to mainstream consumers, okay; it is what it is. If they’re serious about it being a broad church, though, an all-encompassing platform where you can flick seamlessly between AAA titles with budgets in the tens of millions and arthouse, niche games made as a labour of love by part-timers or indie dreamers, then Direct as described still doesn’t solve the essential conflict in that vision.

In replacing publishers with a storefront through which creators can directly launch products to consumers, Valve and other store operators have asserted the value of pure market forces over curation – the fine but flawed notion of greatness rising to the top while bad quality products sink to the bottom simply through the actions of consumers making buying choices. This, of course, doesn’t work in practice, partially because in the real world free markets are enormously constrained and distorted by factors like the paucity of information (a handful of screenshots and a trailer video doth not a perfectly informed and rational purchasing decision make), and more importantly because free markets can’t actually make effective assessments of something as subjective as the quality of a game.

Thus, even as their stores have become more and more inundated with tides of low quality titles – perhaps even to the extent of snuffing out genuinely good quality games – store operators have tried to apply algorithmic wizardry to shore up marketplaces they’ve created. Users can vote, and rate things; elements of old-fashioned curation have even been attempted, with rather limited success. Tweaks have been applied to the submission process at one end and the discovery process at the other. Nothing, as yet, presents a very satisfying solution.

One interesting possibility is that we’re going to see the pendulum start to swing back a little – from the extreme position of believing that Steam and its ilk would make publishers obsolete, to the as yet untested notion that digital storefronts will ultimately do a better job of democratising publishing than they have done of democratising development. We’ve already seen the rise of a handful of “boutique” publishers who specialise in working with indie developers to get their games onto digital platforms with the appropriate degree of PR and marketing support; if platforms like Steam start to put up barriers to entry, we can expect a lot more companies like that to spring up to act as middlemen.

Like the indie developers themselves, some will cater to specific niches, while others will be more mainstream, but ultimately they will all serve a kind of curation role; their value will lie not just in PR, marketing and finance, but also in the ability to say to platforms and consumers that somewhere along the line, a human being has looked at a game in depth and said “yes, this is a good game and we’re willing to take a risk on it.” There’s a value to that simple function that’s been all too readily dismissed in the excitement over Steam, the App Store and so on, and as issues of discovery and quality continue to plague those storefronts, that value is only becoming greater.

Whatever Valve ultimately decides to do with Direct – whether it sets a low price that essentially opens the floodgates, or a high one that leaves some developers unable to afford the cost of entry – it will not provide a panacea to Steam’s issues. It might, however, lay the ground for a fresh restructuring of the industry, one that returns emphasis to the publishing functions that were trampled underfoot in the initial indie gold-rush and, into the bargain, helps to provide consumers with clearer assurances of quality. A new breed of publisher may be the only answer to the problems created by storefronts we were once told were going to make publishers extinct.

Courtesy-GI.biz

EU Data Protection Advocates Still Unhappy With Windows 10 Privacy Settings

February 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

European Union data protection watchdogs are indicating they are still concerned about the privacy settings of Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system despite the U.S. company announcing changes to the installation process.

The watchdogs, a group made up of the EU’s 28 authorities responsible for enforcing data protection law, wrote to Microsoft last year expressing concerns about the default installation settings of Windows 10 and users’ apparent lack of control over the company’s processing of their data.

The group – referred to as the Article 29 Working Party -asked for more explanation of Microsoft’s processing of personal data for various purposes, including advertising.

“In light of the above, which are separate to the results of ongoing inquiries at a national level, even considering the proposed changes to Windows 10, the Working Party remains concerned about the level of protection of users’ personal data,” the group said in a statement which also acknowledged Microsoft’s willingness to cooperate.

Microsoft was not immediately available to comment.

A number of national authorities have already begun enquiries into Windows 10, including France which in July ordered Microsoft to stop collecting excessive user data.

The EU privacy group said that despite a new installation screen presenting users with five options to limit or switch off Microsoft’s processing of their data, it was not clear to what extent users would be informed about the specific data being collected.

Microsoft uses data collected through Windows 10 for different purposes, including advertising, the group said in its statement said.

“Microsoft should clearly explain what kinds of personal data are processed for what purposes. Without such information, consent cannot be informed, and therefore, not valid.”

Why Are The NPD Games Sales Kept Private?

February 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

When I first began my career in the games industry I wrote a story about an impending digital download chart.

It was February 2008 and Dorian Bloch – who was leader of UK physical games data business Chart-Track at the time – vowed to have a download Top 50 by Christmas.

It wasn’t for want of trying. Digital retailers, including Steam, refused to share the figures and insisted it was down to the individual publishers and developers to do the sharing (in contrast to the retail space, where the stores are the ones that do the sharing). This led to an initiative in the UK where trade body UKIE began using its relationships with publishers to pull together a chart. However, after some initial success, the project ultimately fell away once the sheer scale of the work involved became apparent.

Last year in the US, NPD managed to get a similar project going and is thus far the only public chart that combines physical and digital data from accurate sources. However, although many big publishers are contributing to the figures, there remains some notable absentees and a lack of smaller developers and publishers.

In Europe, ISFE is just ramping up its own project and has even began trialling charts in some territories (behind closed doors), however, it currently lacks the physical retail data in most major markets. This overall lack of information has seen a rise in the number of firms trying to plug the hole in our digital data knowledge. Steam Spy uses a Web API to gather data from Steam user profiles to track download numbers – a job it does fairly accurately (albeit not all of the time).

SuperData takes point-of-sale and transaction information from payment service providers, plus some publishers and developers, which means it can track actual spend. It’s strong on console, but again, it’s not 100% accurate. The mobile space has a strong player in App Annie collecting data, although developers in the space find the cost of accessing this information high.

It feels unusual to be having this conversation in 2017. In a market that is now predominantly digital, the fact we have no accurate way of measuring our industry seems absurd. Film has almost daily updates of box office takings, the music market even tracks streams and radio plays… we don’t even know how many people downloaded Overwatch, or where Stardew Valley would have charted. So what is taking so long?

“It took a tremendous amount of time and effort from both the publisher and NPD sides to make digital sales data begin to flow,” says Mat Piscatella, NPD’s US games industry analyst. NPD’s monthly digital chart is the furthest the industry has come to accurate market data in the download space.

“It certainly wasn’t like flipping a switch. Entirely new processes were necessary on both sides – publishers and within NPD. New ways of thinking about sales data had to be derived. And at the publishers, efforts had to be made to identify the investments that would be required in order to participate. And of course, most crucially, getting those investments approved. We all had to learn together, publishers, NPD, EEDAR and others, in ways that met the wants and needs of everyone participating.

“Over time, most of the largest third-party publishers joined the digital panel. It has been a remarkable series of events that have gotten us to where we are today. It hasn’t always been smooth; and keep in mind, at the time the digital initiative began, digital sales were often a very small piece of the business, and one that was often not being actively managed. Back then, publishers may have been letting someone in a first-party operation, or brand marketing role post the box art to the game on the Sony, Microsoft and Steam storefronts, and that would be that. Pricing wouldn’t be actively managed, sales might be looked at every month or quarter, but this information certainly was not being looked at like packaged sales were. The digital business was a smaller, incremental piece of the pie then. Now, of course, that’s certainly changed, and continues to change.”

“For one, the majors are publicly traded firms, which means that any shared data presents a financial liability. Across the board the big publishers have historically sought to protect the sanctity of their internal operations because of the long development cycles and high capital risks involved in AAA game publishing. But, to be honest, it’s only been a few years that especially legacy publishers have started to aggregate and apply digital data, which means that their internal reporting still tends to be relatively underdeveloped. Many of them are only now building the necessary teams and infrastructure around business intelligence.”

Indeed, both SuperData and NPD believe that progress – as slow as it may be – has been happening. And although some publishers are still holding out or refusing to get involved, that resolve is weakening over time.   “For us, it’s about proving the value of participation to those publishers that are choosing not to participate at this time,” Piscatella says. “And that can be a challenge for a few reasons. First, some publishers may believe that the data available today is not directly actionable or meaningful to its business. The publisher may offer products that have dominant share in a particular niche, for example, which competitive data as it stands today would not help them improve.

“Second, some publishers may believe that they have some ‘secret sauce’ that sharing digital sales data would expose, and they don’t want to lose that perceived competitive advantage. Third, resources are almost always stretched thin, requiring prioritisation of business initiatives. For the most part, publishers have not expanded their sales planning departments to keep pace with all of the overwhelming amount of new information and data sources that are now available. There simply may not be the people power to effectively participate, forcing some publishers to pass on participating, at least for now.

“So I would certainly not classify this situation as companies ‘holding out’ as you say. It’s that some companies have not yet been convinced that sharing such information is beneficial enough to overcome the business challenges involved. Conceptually, the sharing of such information seems very easy. In reality, participating in an initiative like this takes time, money, energy and trust. I’m encouraged and very happy so much progress has been made with participating publishers, and a tremendous amount of energy is being applied to prove that value to those publishers that are currently not participating.”

NPD’s achievements is significant because it has managed to convince a good number of bigger publishers, and those with particularly successful IP, to share figures. And this has long been seen as a stumbling block, because for those companies performing particularly well, the urge to share data is reduced. I’ve heard countless comments from sales directors who have said that ‘sharing download numbers would just encourage more competitors to try what we’re doing.’ It’s why van Dreunen has noted that “as soon as game companies start to do well, they cease the sharing of their data.”

Indeed, it is often fledgling companies, and indie studios, that need this data more than most. It’s part of the reason behind the rise of Steam Spy, which prides itself on helping smaller outfits.

“I’ve heard many stories about indie teams getting financed because they managed to present market research based on Steam Spy data,” boasts Sergey Galyonkin, the man behind Steam Spy. “Just this week I talked to a team that got funded by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg based on this. Before Steam Spy it was harder to do a proper market research for people like them.

“Big players know these numbers already and would gain nothing from sharing them with everyone else. Small developers have no access to paid research to publish anything.

“Overall I’d say Steam Spy helped to move the discussion into a more data-based realm and that’s a good thing in my opinion.”

The games industry may be behaving in an unusually backwards capacity when it comes to sharing its digital data, but there are signs of a growing willingness to be more open. A combination of trade body and media pressure has convinced some larger publishers to give it a go. Furthermore, publishers are starting to feel obligated to share figures anyway, especially when the likes of SuperData and Steam Spy are putting out information whether they want them to or not.

Indeed, although the chart Dorian promised me 9 years ago is still AWOL, there are at least some figures out there today that gives us a sense of how things are performing.

“When we first started SuperData six years ago there was exactly zero digital data available,” van Dreunen notes. “Today we track the monthly spending of 78 million digital gamers across platforms, in spite of heavy competition and the reluctance from publishers to share. Creating transparency around digital data is merely a matter of market maturity and executive leadership, and many of our customers and partners have started to realize that.”

He continues: The current inertia comes from middle management that fears new revenue models and industry changes. So we are trying to overcome a mindset rather than a data problem. It is a slow process of winning the confidence and trust of key players, one-at-a-time. We’ve managed to broker partnerships with key industry associations, partner with firms like GfK in Europe and Kadokawa Dwange in Japan, to offer a complete market picture, and win the trust with big publishers. As we all move into the next era of interactive entertainment, the need for market information will only increase, and those that have shown themselves willing to collaborate and take a chance are simply better prepared for the future.”

NPD’s Piscatella concludes: “The one thing I’m most proud of, and impressed by, is the willingness of the participating publishers in our panel to work through issues as they’ve come up. We have a dedicated, positive group of companies working together to get this information flowing. Moving forward, it’s all about helping those publishers that aren’t participating understand how they can benefit through the sharing of digital consumer sales information, and in making that decision to say “yes” as easy as possible.

“Digital selling channels are growing quickly. Digital sales are becoming a bigger piece of the pie across the traditional gaming market. I fully expect participation from the publishing community to continue to grow.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

AMD Confirm Capsaicin Show Scheduled Next Week

February 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

As rumored earlier, AMD has now confirmed that it will be hosting its “Capsaicin and Cream” event at the GDC 2017 show on February 28th.

Announced officially by AMD and to be held on February 28th at Ruby Skye in San Francisco, the new Capsaicin and Cream event promises “a feature-packed show highlighting the hottest new graphics and VR technologies propelling the games industry forward”.

Streamed live, the event will include the main Capsaicin & Cream part, which will hopefully include a bit more details on the actual lineup of graphics cards based on the new Vega GPU, as well as the Cream developer sessions which promise “inspiring talks focused on rendering ideas and new paths forward, driven by game industry gurus from multiple companies including Epic and Unity”.

The event will start at 10:00 AM PST, while the livestream is scheduled to start at 10:30 AM PST (20:00 CET).

Courtesy-Fud

Does Virtual Reality Need A Hit Game To Succeed?

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

For many, the success of Resident Evil 7 and its atmospheric campaign has offered a glimpse of what a “killer app” for virtual reality might look like; the game that shifts the common perception of VR from an intriguing glimpse of the future, to an essential part of contemporary entertainment. The term will be familiar to anyone who has seen the launch of a new console, but, as a panel of experts discussed today at Casual Connect Europe, VR defies such easy categorization.

The discussion was triggered by nDreams CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh, who was in the crowd to watch a panel that included representatives from Valve and Nvidia. When asked to pin down his definition of the term “Killer App,” O’Luanaigh said, “it’s less about revenue, more something that everybody talks about. A lot of people say that VR hasn’t had that killer game yet.

“If we look to the consoles we might say, ‘You have to have your Mario or your Sonic.’ But do you?”

“There’s lots of cool stuff out there, but nothing that really makes you feel, ‘Oh my god, this is so amazing, I have to go and buy a headset.’ We’re all saying that we want games like that to come, and as budgets go up hopefully that will happen. It’s really about where that game might come from.”

For Chet Faliszek, who has become the globe-trotting representative for Valve’s VR efforts, the very notion of a ‘Killer App’ seemed to belong more to traditional game hardware – the consoles made by Nintendo, Sega, Sony and Microsoft. “We have so few data points to extrapolate from to figure out what this is,” he said. “If we look to the consoles we might say, ‘You have to have your Mario, or your Sonic.’ But do you?”

Faliszek referred to a talk he gave the previous day, in which he suggested smartphones as a more appropriate comparison for VR technology. “What was the killer app for the App Store?” he asked the crowd the previous day. “I would argue it was flexibility; the ability to become different for each person. If you’d have asked me 20 years ago what feature do I most want on my phone, I probably would say something about making phone calls; now I rarely make a phone call.

Faliszek emphasized this point again, and suggested that some of the difficulty analysts have faced in grappling with the VR market relates to this kind of misunderstanding. “That’s why there’s slower growth in virtual reality than other people predicted – the analysts,” he continued. “Whereas I think people in the [VR] industry have the understanding that, if you demo ten individual things, out of those one person would say, ‘Why is this thing in there?’ And the next person would go, ‘That’s the best thing ever.’

“Today’s high-end becomes tomorrow’s mainstream… If you develop for the high-end, you know that’s going to have the longest tail”

“You have these personal reactions… Everybody finds that thing in there that they want to have.”

It was telling that, when asked about the most impressive applications for virtual reality right now, Faliszek listed tools for creativity: Google’s Tilt Brush, and the VR development capabilities offered by engines from Unity and Epic. There is a desire for a fully formed consumer market for VR to hurry up and arrive already, but the truth may be that, even a year after the launch of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the space is still best defined by its creators and the broad range of use cases they are attempting to discover.

However, one basic truth was mentioned on several occasions, starting with O’Luanaigh’s original question about the importance of positional head-tracking and motion controls becoming standard in mobile VR. These are core features the current high-end of VR hardware – including, but not limited to, the HTC Vive – but Faliszek also believes this is the smartest target for any developer wanting to reach the largest possible audience.

“If you want to make the most money in VR, you should make [games] for the largest addressable market,” he said. “The largest addressable market right now may be headsets that are rotational only, but they will be museum piece in a couple of years. If you make something that has positionally tracked head and motion controls you can probably still be selling that game years from now – or some version of that. If you did rotational only? Someone has to pull a headset out of the closet to experience that. The shelf life of that product is going to be much shorter.”

Faliszek made a similar point the day before, advising Casual Connect’s attendees that, “today’s high-end becomes tomorrow’s mainstream. If you really want to think about the largest addressable market, it’s not about the number of headsets out there for any one platform. It’s what will become the standard. If you develop for the high-end, you know that’s going to have the longest tail.”

Despite the probable advantage in the number of headset owners, then, mobile VR may have to reach a better technological standard to be a better commercial opportunity. No part of the VR market offers a huge installed base at present anyway, and, as Faliszek pointed out, “a game that works on 5 million [mobile] headsets this year isn’t necessarily going to work on 50 million headsets in a few years’ time.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will Politics Bring Down The Gaming Industry?

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

If you’re someone who makes a living from videogames – as most readers of this site are – then political developments around the world at the moment should deeply concern you. I’m sure, of course, that a great many of you are concerned about things ranging from President Trump’s Muslim travel ban to the UK Parliament’s vote for “Hard Brexit” or the looming elections in Holland and France simply on the basis of being politically aware and engaged. However, there’s a much more practical and direct way in which these developments and the direction of travel which they imply will impact upon us. Regardless of personal ideology or beliefs, there’s no denying that the environment that seems to be forming is one that’s bad for the medium, bad for the industry, and will ultimately be bad for the incomes and job security of everyone who works in this sector.

Video games thrive in broadly the same conditions as any other artistic or creative medium, and those conditions are well known and largely undisputed. Creative mediums benefit from diversity; a wide range of voices, views and backgrounds being represented within a creative industry feeds directly into a diversity of creative output, which in turn allows an industry to grow by addressing new groups of consumers. Moreover, creative mediums benefit from economic stability, because when people’s incomes are low or uncertain, entertainment purchases are often among the first to fall.

Once upon a time, games had such strong underlying growth that they were “recession proof,” but this is no longer the case. Indeed, it was never entirely an accurate reading anyway, since broader recessions undoubtedly did slow down – though not reverse – the industry’s growth. Finally, as a consequence of the industry’s broad demographic reach, expansion overseas is now the industry’s best path to future growth, and that demands continued economic progress in the developing world to open up new markets for game hardware and software.

What is now happening on a global basis threatens all of those conditions, and therefore poses a major commercial threat to the games business. That threat must be taken especially seriously given that many companies and creators are already struggling with the enormous challenges that have been thrown up by the messy and uneven transition towards smart devices, and the increasing need to find new revenue streams to support AAA titles whose audience has remained largely unchanged even as development budgets have risen. Even if the global economic system looked stable and conditions were ideal for creative industries, this would be a tough time for games; the prospect of restrictions on trade and hiring, and the likelihood of yet another deep global recession and a slow-down in the advances being made by developing economies, make this situation outright hazardous.

Consider the UK development industry. Since well over a decade ago, if you asked just about any senior figure in the UK industry what the most pressing problem they faced was, they’d give you the same answer: skills shortages. Hiring talented staff is tough in any industry, but game development demands highly skilled people from across a range of fields, and assembling that kind of talent isn’t cheap or easy – even when you have access to the entire European Union as a hiring base, as UK companies did. Now UK companies face having to fill their positions with a much smaller pool of talent to draw from, and hiring from abroad will be expensive, complex and, in many cases, simply impossible.

The US, too, looks like it may tighten visa regulations for skilled hires from overseas, which will have a hugely negative impact on game development there. There are, of course, many skilled creatives who work within the borders of their own country, but the industry has been built on labour flows; centres of excellence in game development, like the UK and parts of the US, are sustained and bolstered by their ability to attract talent from overseas. Any restriction on that will impact the ability of companies to create world-class games – it will make them poorer creatively and throw hiring roadblocks in the path of timely, well-polished releases.

Then there’s the question of trade barriers; not only tariffs, which seem likely to make a comeback in many places, but non-tariff barriers in terms of diverse regulations and standards that will make it harder for companies to operate across national borders. The vast majority of games are multinational efforts; assets, code, and technology are created in different parts of the world and brought together to create the final product. Sometimes this is because of outsourcing, other times it’s because of staff who work remotely, and very often it’s simply because a certain piece of technology is licensed from a company overseas.

If countries become more hostile to free trade, all of that will become more complex and expensive. And that’s even before we start to think about what happens to game hardware, from consoles that source components from across Asia before assembly in China or Japan, to PC and smart device parts that flow out of China, Korea, Taiwan and, increasingly, from developing nations in South-East Asia. If tariff barriers are raised, all of those things will get a lot more expensive, limiting the industry’s consumer base at the most damaging time possible.

Such trade barriers – be they tariff barriers or non-tarriff barriers – would disproportionately impact developing countries. Free trade and globalisation have had negative externalities, unquestionably, but by and large they have contributed to an extraordinary period of prosperity around the world, with enormous populations of people being lifted out of poverty in recent decades and many developing countries showing clear signs of a large emerging middle class. Those are the markets game companies desperately want to target in the coming decade or so. In order for the industry to continue to grow and prosper, the emerging middle class in countries like India, Brazil and Indonesia needs to cultivated as a new wave of game consumers, just as many markets in Central and Eastern Europe were a decade ago.

The current political attacks on the existing order of world trade threaten to cut those economies off from the system that has allowed them to grow and develop so quickly, potentially hurling them into deep recession before they have an opportunity to cement stable, sustainable long-term economic prosperity. That’s an awful prospect on many levels, of course (it goes without saying that many of the things under discussion threaten human misery and catastrophe that far outweighs the impact on the games business), but one consequence will likely be a hard stop to the games industry’s capacity to grow in the coming years.

It’s not just developing economies whose consumers are at risk from a rise of protectionism and anti-trade sentiments, however. If we learned anything from the 2008 crash and the recession that followed, it should be that the global economy largely runs not on cash, but on confidence. The entire edifice is built on a set of rules and standards that are designed to give investors confidence; the structure changes over time, of course, but only slowly, because stability is required to allow people to invest and to build businesses with confidence that the rug won’t be tugged out from underneath them tomorrow. From the rhetoric of Donald Trump to the hardline Brexit approach of the UK, let alone the extremist ideas of politicians like Marine le Pen and Geert Wilders, the current political movement deeply threatens that confidence. Only too recently we’ve seen what happens to ordinary consumers’ job security and incomes when confidence disappears from the global economy; a repeat performance now seems almost inevitable.

Of course, the games industry isn’t in a position to do anything about these political changes – not alone, at least. The same calculations, however, apply to a wide variety of industries, and they’re all having the same conversations. Creative industries are at the forefront for the simple reason that they will be the first to suffer should the business environment upon which they rely turn negative, but in opposing those changes, creative businesses will find allies across a wide range of industries and sectors.

Any business leader that wants to throw their weight behind opposing these changes on moral or ethical grounds is more than welcome to, of course – that’s a laudable stance – but regardless of personal ideology, the whole industry should be making its voice heard. The livelihoods of everyone working in this industry may depend on the willingness of the industry as a whole to identify these commercial threats and respond to them clearly and powerfully.

Courtey-GI.biz

Microsoft, Tata Motors Announce Strategic Collaboration

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Tata Motors Ltd and Microsoft India both announced a strategic collaboration on the technology front to make driving a more personalized experiences for the customers, the companies said in a joint statement.

The first vehicle showcasing the vision of the enhanced driving experiences will be unveiled at the Geneva International Motor show on March 7, they said.

“Using IoT (internet of things), AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning technologies, we will provide vehicle owners in India and across the world a safe, productive and fun driving experience,” Anant Maheshwari, President at Microsoft India, said.

Tata Motors CEO Guenter Butschek said at a press conference that he saw the tie-up creating new revenue opportunities for the company as car buyers increasingly look for value-added services.

Will Ryzen Boost AMD’s Stock Price?

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

It has been reported a few times that Zen and the desktop part Ryzen are a crucial part of AMD’s strategy in the future. The fact that our sources confirm that Ryzen will compete well against Core i7 Extreme edition will definitely help AMD’s stock.

AMD’s John Taylor, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Marketing at AMD showcased Zen running the CPU at Computex in June 1st 2016 and the stock market reacted favorably to it. Since early January last year, AMD stock grew tremendously from $1.90 USD roughly a year ago to $13.42 USD now. The stock price will definitely rise further.

It can be anticipated that Ryzen will be in high demand and that every single AMD fan will have a desire to get an AMD Zen based Ryzen machine. The reason is simple – people want AMD to succeed and the price will be much more competitive. We have readers in our community who never gave up hope that AMD would once return to its K7 glory Athlon days. Well, Ryzen is the closest to that goal.

AMD will quickly get some desktop CPU market share back, but we anticipate that demand will exceed supply. Wall Street likes what AMD has been doing and it will most likely react very favorably on Ryzen reviews and shipping.

Lisa Su, AMD’s CEO, has already confirmed that you can expect to see Ryzen shipping this quarter and the closest that we heard to a launch date is the first few days of March. It is happening rather soon and this is the single most important launch in the last decade for AMD. Intel is working on a response, but AMD fanboys will embrace the Zen, even if it ends up slightly slower compared to Intel. 

The positive financial impact will help AMD becoming more competitive in both CPU and GPU areas, which is great news for the market. Intel has been left almost alone, for long enough and it is about to taste its own medicine.

Courtesy-Fud

Is The Gaming Industry Due For An Overhaul?

February 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Physical retailers are calling for a change in how video game pre-orders are conducted.

They are speaking to publishers and platform holders over the possibility of selling games before the release date. Consumers can pick up the disc 1 to 3 weeks before launch, but it will remain ‘locked’ until launch day.

The whole concept stems from the pre-loading service available in the digital space. Today, consumers can download a game via Steam, Xbox Live and PSN before it’s out, and the game becomes unlocked at midnight on launch day for immediate play (after the obligatory day one patch).

It makes sense to roll this out to other distribution channels. The idea of going into a shop to order a game, and then returning a month later to buy it, always seemed frankly antiquated.

Yet it’s not only consumer friendly, it’s potentially retailer and publisher friendly, too.

For online retailers, the need to hit an embargo is costly – games need to be turned around rapidly to get it into consumers’ hands on day one.

For mainstream retailers, it would clear up a lot of confusion. These stores are not naturally built for pre-ordering product, with staff that are more used to selling bananas than issuing pre-order receipts. The fact you can immediately take the disc home would help – it could even boost impulse sales.

Meanwhile, specialist retailers will be able to make a longer ‘event’ of the game coming out, and avoid the situation of consumers cancelling pre-orders or simply not picking up the game.

Yet when retail association ERA approached some companies about the prospect of doing this, it struggled to find much interest from the publishing community. So what’s the problem?

There are a few challenges.

There are simple logistical obstacles. Games often go Gold just a few weeks before they’re launched, and then it’s over to the disc manufacturers, the printers, the box makers and the distributors to get that completed code onto store shelves. This process can take two weeks in itself. Take the recent Nioh. That game was available to pre-download just a few days before launch – so how difficult would it be to get that into a box, onto a lorry and into a retailer in advance of release?

It also benefits some retailers more than others – particularly online ones, and those with strong distribution channels.

For big games, there’s a potential challenge when it comes to bandwidth. If those that pre-ordered Call of Duty all go online straight away at 12:01, that would put a lot of pressure on servers.

Piracy may also be an issue, because it makes the code available ahead of launch.

The end of the midnight launch may be happening anyway, but not for all games. If consumers can get their game without standing in the cold for 2 hours, then they will. And those lovely marketable pictures of snaking queues will be a thing of the past.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable. Getting the game finished earlier before launch is something that most big games publishers are trying to do, and this mechanism will help force that issue. Of course, the disc doesn’t actually have to contain a game at all. It can be an unlock mechanism for a download, which will allow the discs to be ready far in advance of launch. That strategy is significantly riskier, especially considering the consumer reaction to the same model proposed by Xbox back in 2013.

As for midnight events, there are still ways to generate that big launch ‘moment’. Capcom released Resident Evil 7 with an experiential haunted house experience that generated lots of media attention and attracted a significant number of fans. Pokémon last year ran a big fan event for Sun and Moon, complete with a shop, activities, signing opportunities and the chance to download Mew.

So there are other ways of creating launch theatre than inviting consumers to wait outside a shop. If anything, having the game available in advance of launch will enable these theatrical marketing events to last longer. And coupled with influencer activity, it would actually drive pre-release sales – not just pre-release demand.

However, the reality is this will work for some games and not for others, and here lies the heart of the challenge.

Pre-ordering is already a relatively complex matter, so imagine what it’ll be like if some games can be taken home in advance and others can’t? How many instances can we expect of people complaining that ‘their disc doesn’t work’?

If this is going to work, it needs cross-industry support, which isn’t going to happen. This is a business that can’t even agree on a digital chart, don’t forget.

What we may well see is someone giving this concept a go. Perhaps a digital native publisher, like Blizzard or Valve, who can make it part of their PR activity.

Because if someone like that can make the idea work, then others will follow.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will Intel Dump nVidia For AMD?

February 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Industry veteran journalist Kyle Bennet wrote back in December that Intel might launch a CPU powered by Radeon technology. This happens in the middle of the last quarter when Nvidia and Intel’s cross licensing GPU deal is about to expire. 

Just recently, Kyle said that there might be a CPU with Radeon coming this year but more important is that from April 1, Intel will not have a valid GPU license from Nvidia or AMD. None of the three companies spoke publicly about a possible GPU licensing deal and as far as Fudzilla is aware Nvidia hasn’t reached a deal with Intel to extend the licensing.

As part of the original deal and the terms and conditions of the patent cross license agreement, Intel agreed to pay Nvidia licensing fees which in the aggregate will amount to $1.5 billion, payable in annual installments, as follows: a $300 million payment on each of January 18, 2011, January 13, 2012 and January 15, 2013 and a $200 million payment on each of January 15, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The original document states that “Capture Period” shall mean any time on or prior to March 31, 2017 indicating that this is the last date where the license is still valid.

There are a few possible scenarios going forward and one very likely and that Fudzilla suggested a while ago, is that AMD will license its GPU technology to Intel and get some much-needed cash. Nvidia is always the more expensive choice. If you have been following Nvidia and AMD long enough you will recognize the pattern that both PlayStation and Xbox stayed away from Nvidia simply as AMD was the more affordable choice.  Good fellow Jen-Hsun Huang, the CEO of Nvidia is all about making more money, something that resulted in a surge in the stock price.

AMD doesn’t want to talk about it. Fudzilla asked many contacts inside the company on and off the record, but no one seems to want to touch this touchy topic. Where there is smoke, there might be fire, one might imply.

The bottom line is that Intel needs a license or it faces a potential lawsuit. If it gets the GPU patent licensing from AMD, Nvidia would probably stay away from potential legal action.

Nvidia and AMD borrow GPU related ideas from each other left and right and center and we are quite sure that they don’t plan to sue each other for the GPU related patents anytime soon.

We would expect to see some announcements related to a potential AMD – Intel deal in the next few months. While many will argue that AMD is hardly going to benefit from it, making Intel a bigger competitor and losing the edge on the GPU performance lead, AMD would be making some additional cash, something that it desperately needs.

Courtesy-Fud

nVidia Beat The Streets

February 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

While an Nvidia graphics chip seems to be hanging the office laptop’s Outlook, the company has seen its quarterly revenue surge more than 50 percent for the second straight quarter and beat expectations.

Apparently it is seeing rising demand for its graphics chips and strength in rapidly growing areas such as self-driving systems and artificial intelligence.

The company also forecast revenue of $1.90 billion, plus or minus 2 percent, for the current quarter, marginally higher than the $1.88 billion the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street predicted.

The Revenue in the company’s graphics processing unit businesses that contributes to more than three-quarters to its total revenue rose 57 percent to $1.85 billion in the fourth quarter.

Also, the Revenue from the company’s fast-growing data center business which counts Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Groups cloud business as its customers has more than tripled to $296 million in the quarter.

The business is also expected to grow sequentially, Nvidia Chief Financial Officer Colette Kress said on a conference call.

Revenue in Nvidia’s automotive business, which produces the DRIVE PX 2 self-driving system used by Tesla Inc, reported a 37.6 percent rise to $128 million.

Analysts had expected revenue of $135.3 million from the business. Nvidia’s total revenue rose to $2.17 billion from $1.40 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $2.11 billion.

The company’s net income more than tripled to $655 million.

Courtesy-Fud

Do Mobile Games Need To Be Free?

February 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming, Mobile

Ever since Nintendo’s shares rocketed after the launch of Pokémon Go –  and despite the worldwide phenomenon not being a Nintendo product – and the surprise announcement of Super Mario Run, all eyes have been on the platform holder’s mobile strategy need to be free.

Analysts and even the mainstream media have been quick to comment on the potential for traditional games brands in the mobile space, but in all the excitement some people seem to have forgotten several publishers have already made their mark on smart devices with their best-selling IP.

Square Enix, in particular, has a very healthy mobile business thanks to ports of Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider and Dragon Quest games, new IP such as Heavenstrike Rivals, and the acclaimed Go series that has so far offered new takes on the Hitman, Lara Croft and Deus Ex series. The Go games are developed by the mobile team at Square Enix Montreal, led by head of studio Patrick Naud, who tells GamesIndustry.biz that Nintendo’s determined push into mobile further validates what the Japanese publisher has already been doing for more than half a decade now.

Naud goes on to observe that Nintendo’s efforts also illustrate what Square Enix has long since been exploring with its biggest properties: that these brands can help encourage more core players to investigate the gaming possibilities afforded by smart devices.

“Games like Mario will open the road for other big console IPs and get more core players to give mobile a chance,” he says. “Sadly, mobile doesn’t have the best image for some gamers – and I understand why. I’m one of those guys who plays both console and mobile, but you need to find positives that bring you to mobile and ideally open up your mind to playing more mobile games.

“I hope that Mario did this. It’s sad to see so much negative press around it, particularly around the business model because I feel it’s a clever way to have people try the game first.”

“It’s sad to see so much negative press around Super Mario Run, particularly around the business model because I feel it’s a clever way to have people try the game first”

The backlash against Super Mario Run’s £7.99 price point, prompting scores of one-star reviews when the game launched, seemed baffling to many in the industry – myself included. While it’s undeniably more expensive than most premium games on the App Store, Square Enix had charged more than double that for mobile games. A casual glance through the firm’s catalogue shows ports of the early Final Fantasy games to range from £7.99 for FFII to a whopping £20.49 for FFIX. And its mobile business certainly doesn’t seem to have suffered. Why shouldn’t Nintendo charge that amount for its most valuable of IP?

Naud agrees, adding: “And I’d argue they’ve crafted a new epic Nintendo-like experience specifically for mobile. It’s Mario, and yes it’s inspired by the old Mario games, but there are new rules, new ways to play. In terms of level design and the way you play the game, it’s completely different to anything you’ve seen. You’ve got all the brains at Nintendo finding a way to play a Mario game on a phone, and it works, and it’s deep, it has the depth of all the Mario games. So yeah, it’s potentially worth more than what we usually pay.”

Now deep withing the rabbit hole of mobile pricing, the conversation turns to questioning why so many mobile users are less than keen on investing in quality games for their device. As Naud points out, people have been accustomed to paying £40 or more for new console game for decades, and yet they remain reluctant to spend far less on a mobile game? Why?

“When you go on your phone and you buy a game, you go to the app store, not the games store. They’re presented to people as an app. Apps are free”

“One key thing is mindset,” he suggests. “When you go on your phone and you buy a game, you go to the app store, not the games store. People who are willing to pay £15 for a game on Steam are struggling to pay a couple of quid for on mobile, sometimes for the same game. But what’s the difference? It’s because they’re presented to people as an app. Apps are free.

“We still need great games to push other great games. Whenever you have really good mobile titles, people go back to playing on their phones and realise there is some quality content on there. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re going to keep making great games, hoping that it encourages other studios to celebrate doing the same. If people start demanding better experiences, or raising their standards of what they expect to play, the market can evolve and we’ll have more premium games.”

That’s no small challenge to overcome. In addition to difficulties convincing players to actually pay for their mobile games, there is then the increasingly common expectation that games will be updated and supported for months, if not years to come – and for free. British indie Ustwo Games faced backlash of its own when it dared to charge £1.49 for the expansion to Monument Valley – a high-quality add-on that essentially doubled the game’s content.

But is kowtowing to this attitude, lowering prices to what mobile users expect rather than what publishers would rather charge actually harmful? The Go games Naud and his team have produced are all critical smash hits, so does selling them for less than a fiver not undervalue the work that goes into them?

“The exercise of distilling a brand down to its core essence and making a minimalist game out of it – that’s our big challenge”

“Yeah,” Naud acknowledges. “We could sell it higher, but if the market’s not ready for it… we need to be clever about it, crafting the proper experience and the proper amount of content for the price.

“There’s room for high-quality mobile games and they don’t need to be free-to-play.”

It’s easy to argue that this is why Square Enix, or indeed any other company, turns to ports of earlier releases or scaled-back takes on gameplay such as the Go series when bringing their big console IPs to mobile. Developing more comprehensive titles in the face of such resistance to invest must seem daunting and highly impractical. Square has, of course, dabbled in this with the release of Deus Ex: The Fall – a four to five-hour title that offers almost an identical experience to Human Revolution – but Naud says it is more to do with discerning between what console players think they want on mobile, and what they would actually enjoy.

“I’d argue that people do want to play console games on the go, but they won’t play the same type of experience,” he says. “People that are playing console games or even PC games are seated in their living room, with their nice couch, 7.1 surround sound, 60-inch TV – they’re going to play in a different way than if they were just going to play a five-minute session. So they might not play exactly the same game. That’s why I love the Switch, because it might be the middle ground that finally solves that.

“I assume most of the console players right now are also playing on mobile, but they’re really not playing the same type of experience because they’re not playing it at the same time. If you were to go from playing a first-person shooter on your TV – with that perfect set-up and your super-reactive controllers – to playing a similar game with a thumbstick on a touch screen… it will never be the same experience. Hence why we’re trying to craft experiences that are very much dedicated for mobile audiences and mobile phones.”

Instead, Naud says the key is to “create an experience specifically crafted for mobile” taking into account how smartphone owners interact with their device, their play habits, their usage and so on. In addition to his earlier example of Super Mario Run – offering the depth of a core Mario platformer with a one-touch control system designed for smart devices – he offers Hitman as further proof of how console IP can be re-appropriated for mobile.

Deus Ex Go is the third example of Square Enix Montreal taking a console franchise and distilling its core elements to a mobile-appropriate experience

So far, Square Enix Montreal has taken two approaches with IO Interactive’s flagship IP. Hitman Go focuses on the slow, strategic aspect of planning your kills and utilising any opportunities that present themselves. Hitman Sniper, meanwhile, takes the sniping element along with the sense of puppeteering, manipulating events from afar to set up better kills.

While the latter was partly borne from the popularity of the Hitman: Sniper Challenge digital title that preceded Absolution, Naud reveals the concept also stemmed from the desire to create a new entry in the series “without the constraints of moving in the world”.

“Half the players on Hitman Go, Lara Croft Go and Deus Ex Go discovered the game through the App Store”

“The biggest challenge when playing on your phone is navigation,” he says. “For Hitman, this was by far the smartest way to do it. And we’re still working on Sniper, we’re still updating the game on a regular basis and it’s been a – maybe not as big a critical success as the Go series, but on the financial side it’s been very successful.”

But it’s the Go series that, for Naud, really demonstrates the benefit of bringing blockbuster console IP to mobile devices: introducing the brands to a new audience.

“Half the players on Hitman Go, Lara Croft Go and Deus Ex Go discovered the game through the App Store,” he said. “Regardless of whether they were already fans or not, that’s how they discovered them. They got to them because they were recommended by Apple, or their friends. We actually have way more mainstream players for the Go games than Hitman players.

“Any time we do a Go game, it needs to be a different take [on the series], it needs to feel like the original, big console IP but with its own personality. All the critical acclaim made it clear that we’ve succeeded for a third consecutive time.

“The art direction of all three games is completely different and yet the gameplay is somewhat similar. You understand the rules, you don’t need big tutorials, it’s not that complex. For us, the exercise of distilling a brand down to its core essence and making a minimalist game out of it – that’s our big challenge.”

To date, Square Enix Montreal has only been granted access to Western and former Eidos franchises: Hitman, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex. With Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and even Kingdom Hearts already establishing a foothold on mobile, could we see these Eastern IP receive the Go treatment?

“We’ll see,” says Naud. “Even if anything was in development, I couldn’t say anything – you know that. But we’re constantly thinking about what we could do next, what kind of projects we can work on, what we’ve learned from the Go games that can potentially take us in a new direction.”

Courtesy_GI.biz

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