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Are AMD’s Ryzen 2 Processors Arriving Next Month

December 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

AMD must be tired of the success it enjoyed with the Ryzen CPUs as its second-gen processors are set to launch early 2018.

The Ryzen 2 lineup, according to WCCTech, will be made up of the Ryzen 7, Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 2000 chips, and are set to bring in better performance with jacked-up clockspeeds and overclocking capabilities. Bet Intel’s happy about that….

Core specifications for chip fans include the Ryzen 2 family being the first chips AMD will have built using the 12 nanometre fabrication processes to pack in more transistors into small squares of silicone.

The Ryzen 2 familiy will feature AMD’s Zen+ CPU architecture, which is set to offer more power efficiency alongside beefier speeds and support for DDR4 memory running at higher frequencies.

Dubbed Pinnacle Ridge, the wave of second-gen Ryzen chips will start predictably with the flagship Ryzen 7 in February, followed by its less gutsy siblings in March.

With up to eight cores and clock-speeds reckoned to hit up to 4.4GHz, the Ryzen 2 CPUs are not only set to butt heads with Intel’s eighth-generation processors, but also take on Intel’s 9000 series CPUs set to make a splash mid next year.

The first bout of Ryzen CPUs made their debut earlier this year and offered enough performance on tap to give people an alternative to Intel chips, which had for some time offered better performance than AMD’s CPUs.

But the Ryze 2 family demonstrates there’s still more to be had out of AMD’s Zen architecture and that the chip maker wants to build upon its CPU rise with Ryzen.

There’s not a vast amount of extra information about what we can expect from Ryzen 2, but we reckon the chipset will be more of an evolution in performance rather than a massive power hike to annoy people who bought a Ryzen CPU earlier this year.

That being said, later down the line we’d not be surprised to see a new ‘Threadripper’ chip built on the same Zen+ architecture but rocking a serious number or cores, or perhaps a 2000x series chip with 12 cores and 24 threads to really stick two fingers up at Intel. But as ever time will tell.

Courtesy-TheInq

Can EA Learn From Rainbow Six Siege With 25 Million Players

December 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Ubisoft has announced that two years after launch, Rainbow Six Siege has over 25 million registered players.

Now entering its third year, Ubisoft has lined-up more content to prolong the life of the game for another season, proving that games-as-a-service can be done properly in the AAA space.

When Siege launched at the tail end of 2015, critics took the game to task over its threadbare offerings, which featured a single PvP mode, no campaign, and only a handful of maps, not to mention a litany of bugs.

Since then, however, many of the criticisms have been dealt with and Siege has held a regular spot in the UK top 20.

What’s especially interesting about the success of Siege is how quiet it’s been. With each competitor that shambles onto the market, whether that be Star Wars Battlefront II or the latest addition to the monolithic Call of Duty franchise, Siege has rarely attracted the same level of controversy, despite employing the most common games-as-as-service monetization techniques.

With games-as-a-service reportedly having tripled the value of the industry, and EA looking to replace annual sports games with live services, has Ubisoft laid out the framework for how to do it right?

“Player investment has been core to the success of the game with longevity being always very important to us. As the game progressed, we continued to develop it with the community in mind,” said Alexandre Remy, Rainbow Six Siege brand director in a statement.

A community-centric approach is the obvious answer to increasing the longevity of any game. Over recent months, we’ve seen a great deal of discussion around finding the “sweet spot” for monetization techniques, and we’ve also seen the fallout of what happens when communities feel disrespected. Loot boxes and season pass DLC can work, Siege has demonstrated that, but striking that delicate balance is something publishers have long struggled with, and continue to do so.

That said, it’s important to consider the particular niche that Siege operates in. Yes, it’s a competitive online shooter, but unlike many of its contemporaries, it’s a much more strategic and team-focused affair. While there is definitely a crossover between Call of Duty players and Siege players, the latter has a niche appeal the former cannot possibly hope to replicate without disenfranchising its mainstream audience.

The likes of Activision and EA can certainly learn from Ubisoft’s approach to games-as-a-service. With no immediate Siege sequel on the horizon, a further cash investment into the game is a relatively easy thing for consumers to justify.

However, when players know that the life of a game will be artificially shortened by an annual release, rather than extended by DLC, it becomes difficult to rationalize spending anything above the $60 entry price, especially when the monetization techniques are perceived to be so aggressive.

Ubisoft is not the only publisher to have successfully implemented these techniques with minimal backlash. Blizzard, for example, kept its hands relatively clean with Overwatch and only recently got caught-up in the Belgian Gambling Commission’s investigation which mainly cast its attention towards Star Wars Battlefront II.

But with Siege, Ubisoft has employed the delicate and reasoned approach that’s been missing from the industry’s clumsy, heavy-handed adoption of the games-as-a-service model. As a result, the two-year-old game boasts a large, dedicated community that numbers in the millions and is willing to spend.

Courtesy-GI.biz

YouTube Rumored To Unveil Paid Music Streaming Service

December 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

YouTube is gearing up to launch a new music subscription service in March, according to Bloomberg, a move that would be Google-parent Alphabet’s third attempt to challenge rivals Apple and Spotify.

The new streaming service, tentatively called Remix, will feature on-demand streaming and incorporate video clips from YouTube, sources described as familiar with the company’s plans told the news outlet. Major recording label Warner Music Group has already signed on, but YouTube is still in talks with Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, Bloomberg reported.

YouTube didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

YouTube would be taking its third swing at the music-streaming business. Google introduced an audio-only streaming service called Google Play Music in 2011. Three years later, Google launched YouTube Music Key, a subscription service that offered music videos and ad-free songs on YouTube for $10 a month. Google changed the name to YouTube Red in 2015 and expanded it to all kinds of YouTube videos.

YouTube has a long way to catch up with Apple and Spotify, though. Spotify has more than 60 million paying users as of July, while Apples Music has about 27 million subscribers.

Does Europa Have Plate Tectonics

December 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The case for plate tectonics on Jupiter’s ocean-harboring moon Europa keeps getting stronger.

Scientists had already spotted geological signs that plates within the moon’s ice shell may be diving beneath one another toward the moon’s buried ocean. Now, a new study suggests that such “subduction” is indeed possible on Europa and shows how the phenomenon might be happening. 

The new results should intrigue astrobiologists and anyone else who hopes that Earth isn’t the only inhabited world in the solar system.

“If, indeed, there’s life in that ocean, subduction offers a way to supply the nutrients it would need,” study lead author Brandon Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University in Rhode Island, said in a statement.  

Such nutrients include oxidants, electron-stripping substances that are common on Europa’s surface and that could help provide an energy source for life, the researchers said. 

Here on Earth, subduction is driven primarily by temperature differences between relatively cool (and, therefore, dense) rocky plates and the superhot surrounding mantle. Thermal gradients can’t be the prime mover on Europa, however: Ice plates would warm up as they dove, quickly equilibrating to the temperature of the ice below, study team members said.

But that doesn’t mean subduction can’t be happening on the Jovian moon, Johnson and his colleagues found. Their computer models suggest that Europan ice plates can indeed dive — if they’re saltier than their surroundings.

“Adding salt to an ice slab would be like adding little weights to it, because salt is denser than ice,” Johnson said in the same statement. “So, rather than temperature, we show that differences in the salt content of the ice could enable subduction to happen on Europa.”

Such differences may indeed exist within the moon’s ice shell, the researchers said. Upwelling from the underground ocean could deposit salt patchily on the surface, as could eruptions of cryovolcanoes, the scientists said.

The presence of plate tectonics on Europa could help us learn more about our own planet as well as the icy moon, Brown said.

“It’s fascinating to think that we might have plate tectonics somewhere other than Earth,” he said. “Thinking from the standpoint of comparative planetology, if we can now study plate tectonics in this very different place, it might be able to help us understand how plate tectonics got started on the Earth.”

The new study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Courtesy-Space

Is EA Screwing Up The Planned Move To Games As A Service

December 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Every now and then, a major publisher goes through a bit of a rough patch in PR terms; the hits just seem to keep on coming, with company execs and representatives seemingly incapable of opening their mouths without shoving their feet right inside, and every decision being either poorly communicated or simply wrongheaded to begin with. At present it’s EA that can’t seem to put a foot right, from Battlefront 2’s microtransactions to lingering bad feeling over the closure of Visceral; every major company in the industry, though, has had its fair share of turns in the barrel.

These cycles come around for a couple of reasons. Part of it is just down to narrative; once something goes wrong for a company, they are scrutinised more closely for a while, and statements that might have slipped under the radar usually are blown up by the attention. Another part of it, though, is genuinely down to phases that companies go through; common enough periods in which the balance between the two audiences a major company must serve, its consumers and its investors, is not being managed and maintained expertly enough.

Most companies encounter this difficulty from time to time, because the demands and desires of shareholders are often damned near diametrically opposed to those of customers. The biggest problems arise, however, when a firm ends up having to take a Janus-faced approach, presenting a different picture in financial calls and investor conferences to the one it tries to convey in its customer-facing PR and marketing efforts.

That’s broadly speaking the situation EA has found itself in once again; forced to be conciliatory and diplomatic in talking to customers about everything from loot boxes to its commitment (or lack of same) to single-player experiences, while simultaneously being bullish with investors who want to see clear signs of progress in the shift towards a set of business paradigms core consumers volubly dislike.

CFO Blake Jorgensen’s comments at Credit Suisse’s conference earlier this week are archetypal of this genre of corporate communication; from a blunt denial that the company’s microtransaction strategy on Battlefront 2 is changing overall to a throwaway comment about Visceral’s closure being related to declining popularity (by which, being a CFO, he meant revenue) of linear game experiences, Jorgensen spoke to investors in a way that was quite markedly different from how the rest of the company has addressed its actual customers on these issues.

You can argue quite reasonably that this approach is dishonest in spirit if not in substance; even if the words of each statement are chosen carefully so the investor messages don’t technically contradict the consumer messages, the intent is so clearly tangential that consumers have every right to feel rather miffed. I think it’s worthwhile, however, to look beyond that to the motivation and strategy behind this – not just in terms of EA’s month of bad PR, but looking beyond that to the industry as a whole, because pretty much every major publisher is undertaking a similar strategic shift in a direction they know perfectly well is going to annoy many of their core customers, and they’re all going to have their own turn in the barrel as a consequence.

At the heart of this issue lies the fact that for many investors and executives, the business model that has sustained the games industry for decades has started to look frustratingly quaint and backwards. “Games as a Product”, whereby a game is made and sold, perhaps followed up by a handful of add-ons that are also made and sold (essentially smaller add-on products in their own right), is a model beloved of core consumers – but business people point out, not entirely unfairly, that it has many glaring flaws.

Some of those flaws are very real – the product model creates a high barrier to entry (you can’t attract new customers without convincing them through expensive marketing to spend $50 to $60 on trying out your game), hence limiting audience growth, and has not scaled effectively with the rising costs of AAA development. More controversially, they dislike the fact that the product model creates a relatively low cap on spending – after buying a game, there’s only so much money a consumer can spend on DLC packs (each of which has its own associated development costs) before they hit a hard limit on their purchases.

Hence the pressure to move to a “Games as a Service” model, which neatly – if not uncontroversially – solves each of these issues. The service model can be priced as low as zero to create a minimal barrier to entry, though for major titles with a big brand attached publishers still show a preference for having their cake and eating it, charging full AAA pricing for entry to an essentially freemium-style experience. An individual player’s spending may be theoretically limitless, as purchases of cosmetic or consumable items could run to many thousands of dollars in some cases – hence also allowing the game’s revenue to scale up to match the huge AAA development and marketing budgets that went into its creation.

You can “blame” mobile games for this if you wish, but in a sense they were merely the canary in the coalmine; the speed with which the mobile gaming market converged on the F2P model and the aggression with which it was pursued was a clear sign that the rest of the industry would eventually try to move in a similar direction. The reality is that mobile games shone a light on something a few industry types had been saying for years; that there was a massive, largely untapped audience for games out there, who would never climb over the barriers to entry to the traditional market but who could potentially be immensely valuable customers of games with lower barriers to entry.

The correct height for those barriers turned out to be “free games for devices you already own”, and yet this market did turn out to be enormously valuable; and now much of the industry is eyeing up the model that works on smartphones, looking at their own rising costs and shrinking slice of the pie, and wondering how to get from over here to over there.

The problem is that making that crossing – from being a successful creator or publisher of core games to being a successful company in a smartphone-style paradigm – is damned tricky to do when the business model you (and your investors!) want to have is anathema to many of the customers you actually have right now. Not all of them, by any means – plenty of core gamers are actually pretty relaxed about these models, for the most part – but enough of them to make a lot of noise and to potentially put a major dent in the bottom line of a company that genuinely manages to drive them away.

Hence, much of the approach we’ve seen in 2017 (and prior) has really been akin to the parable about putting a frog in cold water and gradually raising the heat; companies have slowly, softly been adding service-style features and approaches to their games, hoping that the slowly warming water won’t startle its occupants too much.

When things spill over as they have done for EA in the past month, it tends to indicate that someone got impatient; that investors were too demanding or executives pushed too hard, and the water started to heat up too rapidly. The course will be corrected, but the destination remains the same. Short of a really major pushback and some serious revenue damage across the board from these approaches – which bluntly seems unlikely to materialise – the move towards games as a service is inexorable, and 2018 will bring far, far more of the same. Whether you view that as the industry’s salvation or its ruin is really a matter of personal perspective, but it’s a new reality for AAA titles that we’re all going to have to make some kind of peace with.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Astronomers Try To Size-Up The Density Of Neutron Stars

December 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Astronomers are getting a better handle on the densest objects in the universe.

These bizarre bodies, known as neutron stars, are the corpses of stars that were once far heftier than the sun. Neutron stars generally pack between 1.1 and 3 solar masses into a space about the size of a big city, crushing pretty much all of their electrons and protons together to form neutrons (hence the name).

But much about neutron stars remains unknown, including their exact size. The veil may be lifting, however, thanks to recent observations of a dramatic neutron-star merger.

On Aug. 17, detectors run by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo projects picked up gravitational waves — the ripples in space-time first predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago — emanating from the galaxy NGC 4993, which lies about 130 million light-years from Earth.

In October, researchers announced that these waves were generated by a collision involving two neutron stars, which together harbored 2.74 times more mass than the sun. This marked an astronomical first; LIGO had picked up gravitational waves from black-hole mergers before, but never from a collision of neutron stars.

Scientists using other instruments also spotted flashes of light coming from the merger, opening up a new era of “multimessenger astrophysics.”

Now, a team of scientists has performed computer simulations of the merger, modeling a bunch of different ways that it could have gone down in a new study that was published last week in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Calculations based on these simulations help constrain the size of neutron stars. The results suggest that a neutron star harboring 1.6 solar masses must be at least 13.3 miles (21.4 kilometers) wide, study team members said.

This number is not set in stone, the researchers stress; it will likely be refined as the LIGO and Virgo teams gather more and more data.

“We expect that more neutron-star mergers will soon be observed, and that the observational data from these events will reveal more about the internal structure of matter,” study lead author Andreas Bauswein, from the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany, said in a statement.

Courtesy-Space

Australia Regulators Set Sight On Facebook, Google

December 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Australia’s competition regulator announced plans to investigate whether U.S. online giants Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google has disrupted the news media market to the detriment of publishers and consumers.

Like their rivals globally, Australia’s traditional media companies have been squeezed by online rivals, as advertising dollars have followed eyeballs to digital distributors such as Google, Facebook and Netflix Inc.

 The government ordered the probe as part of wider media reforms, amid growing concern for the future of journalism and the quality of news following years of declining profits and newsroom job cuts and the rise of fake news.

“We will examine whether platforms are exercising market power in commercial dealings to the detriment of consumers, media content creators and advertisers,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

A Google spokesman said, “We look forward to engaging with this process as relevant.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The idea for an ACCC investigation was hatched during media reform negotiations in parliament earlier this year, which resulted in a relaxation of ownership laws to allow the country’s big players to boost their market share to better compete against online disruptors.

Independent media analyst Peter Cox told Reuters it was unclear what measures the competition regulator could recommend to the government even if it found the country’s media sector was increasingly anti-competitive.

“You could see this as a stepping stone towards another type of reform, such as tax,” said Cox.

 Jurisdictions around the world, including the European Union, are grappling with how to tax technology giants with global operations.

Currently corporate taxes are paid where firms have a physical presence, which allows digital multinationals to book most of their profits where they have set up headquarters as opposed to where they make their money.

The Australian probe will have power to demand information from businesses and hold hearings. It is due to make its final report in 18 months.

Disney Very Protective Of IP and Brand

December 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

A decade or two ago, a common topic of speculation in the games business was which of its giant publishers would be the one to topple Disney from its position as the world’s most important warehouse of intellectual property. EA, then the industry’s big beast, was comfortably the favorite, especially as it seemed set on weaning itself off its reliance on licensed sports titles in favor of building new IP. Activision was on the radar for some; Nintendo, though the industry’s most obviously ‘Disney-like’ company, seemed slow to produce and capitalize on new IP at the time.

History didn’t play out that way. EA became embroiled in a decade long turnaround and restructuring effort; Activision, though boosted massively by its merger with Blizzard and the success of games like Call of Duty and Destiny, has fumbled in its management of properties outside the high-spending core. Nintendo’s library of IP has grown and thrived, of course – but none of these companies can come close to matching what’s happened at Disney. Since the time when we speculated over when EA might overtake them, Disney has absorbed first Pixar, then Marvel, then Lucasfilm, placing itself beyond any reasonable challenge. It is the world’s most valuable IP holder, and will be for years to come.

Along the way, Disney has largely given up its ambitions of being a game developer or publisher – at least for now. It shuttered studios. It shut down internal projects in favor of licensing its properties to other developers and publishers. There is a slight twist of irony to the fact that, in the process, Disney has gone from being a second- or third-tier publisher to being arguably the most powerful company in the games business; a licensor absolutely aware of the value of its IP, and willing to protect that IP and its development regardless of the cost to any partner company.

This month we’ve seen two examples of Disney flexing that muscle. The company severed ties with Gazillion Entertainment, developer of licensed Diablo-esque RPG Marvel Heroes; what happened behind the scenes to precipitate this is unclear as yet, but there were signs that Disney was dissatisfied with the developer or with its relationship for some time, and the company ultimately pulled the plug on the game. Just a few weeks later, a much bigger firm, Electronic Arts, also got a taste of Disney’s willingness to exercise its power; the controversy over pay-to-win loot box mechanics in Star Wars Battlefront 2 took an abrupt turn when pressure from Disney forced EA to remove premium currency from the game before its launch, pending a re-engineering of the game’s monetization systems.

For Gazillion, the consequences are stark; the firm has shut down, with staff claiming on social media that they are not receiving severance pay or PTO. The chances of refunds for players who bought expensive items in the free-to-play game seem slim. EA, of course, won’t face anything remotely that drastic as a consequence of the changes to Battlefront, but that’s more to do with the scale of EA and its capacity to absorb losses than anything else.

The company’s financial projections for Star Wars Battlefront 2 were based on the assumption of a premium currency and loot box system that worked in a certain way and attracted a certain amount of revenue. It set its development budget based on those projections, spent money on marketing based on those projections; Disney has now unceremoniously dumped those projections in the bin.

Entirely independent of the conversation over whether EA’s monetization model was ill-conceived or not, there can be little doubt that the company’s bottom line for this project will be hit by the removal of premium currency, even temporarily. Without seeing the company’s internal figures it’s hard to say, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that, given high enough costs for licensing, development and marketing, this change could even leave EA struggling to stay in the black on what should have been one of its most profitable titles of the quarter.

For Disney, these decisions no doubt make absolute sense. To a large extent, Disney’s choices about games are based on the same rationale as Nintendo’s have been; an understanding that preservation of the value of the IP needs to come ahead of short-term profitability of any one product based on that IP. Just as Nintendo will severely delay games and leave its release schedule looking anaemic at times in order to ensure quality of its finished products and preserve the value of the IP, Disney will shut down, delay or change games that look like they pose a threat to that value – even at risk of damaging business relationships and thoroughly screwing over partners.

Disney has a dual objective with every licensing deal it signs for a major property, such as a game or a TV show. It wants to make money, of course, but it also wants to support the IP it’s licensing; keeping it relevant and in the public eye, preferably boosting its appeal, and whatever else, no matter what, absolutely not damaging or devaluing it.

This makes working with Disney – even for a company as big and powerful in its own right as EA – into something of a risky and challenging business. It’s natural that any developer or publisher would jump at the chance to work on Star Wars, a property tied in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or something related to a major Pixar movie, but these deals are not the license to print money they may look like at first glance.

Disney’s willingness to aggressively protect its IP and flex its muscle in these arrangements makes it vital to bear in mind that Disney and the companies that license its IP to make games have different objectives; of course both parties want to make money, but for Disney that comes with a powerful and often overruling caveat. It will sacrifice profit for long-term health, and a developer or publisher, with no financial interest in that long-term health, may be hung out to dry as decisions made in service of profitability are reversed.

In a sense, Disney’s position in the games industry has become similar to Apple’s in the hardware business. Apple makes some of the best-selling high-end products in the world, but for a manufacturing firm to join that supply chain is actually a double-edged sword, because the company is famous for micro-managing the processes of its suppliers and shaving their margins down to the knuckle. Working with Apple can mean enormous contracts to supply high-end parts for globally famous products; it can also mean paper-thin margins, constant supervision and tough contract terms from a company whose business objectives do not always align neatly with those of its suppliers.

Of course, the lure of working on Disney IP will not diminish. These are among the world’s most valuable brands, and for game creators they’re a treasure chest. But before diving into those waters, even the biggest of companies would do well to think about whether their intentions actually align with what Disney will permit. This is a company at the peak of its power; the rewards for working with it may be great, but no publisher should fool itself that Disney will ever put a business relationship ahead of its own central interest in the protection of its IP.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Qualcomm Goes 7nm With TSMC

November 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Korean based Etnews has mentioned that Qualcomm 7nm manufacturing has been a big win for TSMC while two other US and China customers chose Samsung’s 7nm. TSMC traditionially have dibs on Nvidia and MediaTek too. 

The Taiwan based foundry and Qualcomm are expected to ship in volume in early 2019 with announcement of the new product in late 2018, no surprises there. This will be the chip that comes after the soon to be announced Snapdragon 845.

The most talked phone after iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy S9, is the first chip to feature the Snapdragon 845 but Samsung will use its own 10nm Exynos 8910 for some markets too. Luckily for Qualcomm no one else will use Exynos, as the majority of the Android high end phones exclusively use the Snapdragon 800 series chips.

Samsung is of course expected to manufacture its chips at its own fabs and we would expect this to happen in 2019 and volume production with some risk production in late 2018.  This is the SoC that comes after Exynos 8910 and if all goes well, it will first ship in the 2019 Galaxy S phone.

Qualcomm and Broadcom, according to the report are designing their next generation chips with TSMC’s7-nano PDK. The reason why Qualcomm went with 7nm with TSMC is the fact that the fab uses normal steppers while Samsung wants to make its 7nm with more bold and riskier EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet) photolithography technology.

Samsung is expected to be later to the 7nm game and early adopters had to go with TSMC. EUV is still technology that is not entirely ready for the mass market and there is a disagreement weather you should need to use Extreme Ultraviolet light manufacturing with 7nm or first with 5nm. Obviously the two main fabs disagree while GlobalFoundries cooperates and shares technology with Samsung, and will have Samsung to rely upon for 7nm.

Courtesy-Fud

Did The Star Wars Battlefront 2 Fiasco Hurt The Franchise

November 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The run-up to launch for Star Wars: Battlefront II has been, to put it bluntly, a fiasco. I would suggest that it has also provided a model for publishers to follow in the future.

When Electronic Arts announced at E3 that it was scrapping the Season Pass model for Battlefront II, the move was met warmly by players. After all, the Season Pass split the player base into people with the DLC and without, preventing them from enjoying new maps and game modes together. At the time, the understanding was that EA would introduce a system for unlocking content within the game, where progress could either be earned through gameplay or purchased through microtransactions. And for the most part, people were fine with that.

But as the company revealed exactly how the system would be implemented, details like how long it would take to unlock things without paying and what sort of advantages paying players could expect in multiplayer matches rankled players. EA’s repeated insistence that it was taking the feedback seriously and changing the system in response did little to appease the angry fans. The uproar seemed to gain more traction as the game’s release approached until, on the literal eve of launch day, EA announced that it was shutting off the game’s microtransactions, reinstating them at a later date when the progression system had been properly fine-tuned.

You could characterize it as a desperate move to salvage the launch of a massive publisher’s holiday lynchpin release, or you could point to it as a new standard, a potential solution to a problem that has dogged the AAA industry since Oblivion’s horse armor first debuted over a decade ago. Why don’t more AAA games launch with a microtransaction-free grace period?

The benefits to the players are fairly clear. By not having microtransactions turned on at launch, publishers know they have to provide an experience that is fun and engaging for non-payers, and ensures that in-game systems won’t be designed around an intolerable grind pushing people into spending more money. It dissuades developers from locking content that players would consider essential (like, say, playing as Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader in a Star Wars game) behind unreasonably high progression walls. In short, it “keeps them honest,” while the early adopters who pay full price (or close to it) for a new release get to enjoy a premium, limited-time experience without the constant pressure to spend more money.

At the same time, it provides publishers with plenty of upside as well. For one, they get to monitor how paying customers are behaving in their game under real-world conditions for a length of time to help with balancing the microtransaction system. And assuming they design the game to be fun without the microtransactions, they’ll almost certainly benefit from better word of mouth and review scores at launch.

And most crucial of all, publishers who adopt a grace period before instituting microtransactions will be mitigating some of the harmful effects of the AAA marketing hype cycle. It’s no coincidence that the backlash to Battlefront II’s microtransactions has grown as the game has neared launch, even though EA has apologized and downgraded the aggressiveness of its approach multiple times in response.

The company’s successful marketing campaign was designed to generate interest and excitement and passion in such a way that would crescendo at launch. And it did. But as we’ve seen too many times in recent years, “passion” in the player base is not an exclusively positive thing. Passion is a multiplier of other emotions. It makes those who love a game get tattoos, and those who hate it lob death threats online. Waiting until after the launch window to turn microtransactions on allows publishers to benefit from the passion they’ve spent so much time and money building, while putting off one obvious source of potential backlash until people have cooled down a bit and the monetization scheme of last holiday’s big shooter release just doesn’t seem like something worth grabbing a pitchfork over. This is especially true given how many members of the pitchfork mob will have purchased the game, played it, and traded it in or redirected their enthusiasm to the next big release in the meantime.

And what would it cost the publishers to do this? A couple months’ worth of microtransaction revenues in games that are designed and intended to be live services. For a successful live service game, the first months of revenue are well worth sacrificing if it might buy you the traction you need for the long run. (Grand Theft Auto Online is four years old and just had its most lucrative quarter ever.)

Microtransactions are a powerful force for the games industry these days, opening up a slew of alternative business models and providing potential answers to many of the problems that have long dogged publishers. EA may have unwittingly showed us a way to finally bring balance to the Force.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Belgian’s Decide Star Wars Loot Boxes Is A Form Of Gambling

November 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The Belgian Gambling Commission has decided that loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront II constitute gambling, and the practice should be banned.

Last week the gambling authority turned its eye towards the issue and since concluded that loot boxes present a danger to children.

VTM News reported that Belgian minister of justice Koen Geens said the gambling commission will take the matter to Europe.

The Dutch authorities joined the recent investigation too, and while a decision has yet to be reached, arriving at the same conclusion as Belgium doesn’t seem unlikely.

Accompanying the news was an announcement that Hawaiian legislators are also considering action against loot boxes in games.

At a press conference, Hawaiian democratic state representative Chris Lee described Battlefront II as a “Star Wars-themed online casino,” warning that it was a “trap” for children.

“We’re looking at legislation this coming year which could prohibit access, or prohibit sale of these games to folks who are under age in order to protect families, as well as prohibiting different kinds of mechanisms within those games,” he said.

“We’ve been talking with several other states as well, with legislators there who are looking at the same thing. I think this is the appropriate time to make sure that these issues are addressed before this becomes the new norm for every game.”

At the same press conference, fellow representative Sean Quinlan draw comparison to ’80s and ’90s cigarette mascot Joe Camel.

“We didn’t allow Joe Camel to encourage our kids to smoke cigarettes, and we shouldn’t allow Star Wars to encourage our kids to gamble,” he said.

Writing recently for GamesIndustry.biz, Rob Fahey warned against interference from legislators if publishers overstepped the mark with loot boxes.

“There’s a real chance that companies involved in this are on the hook for permitting minors access to a gambling platform,” he suggested.

“If the games business doesn’t figure out where the sensible limits to this kind of business model lie, they risk a public outcry leading to regulators stepping in.”

Avoiding a moral panic has never been a strength of games, but with politicians across the world diving into the fray, the industry could find itself facing another assault from the mainstream media and outside pundits.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Did EA Screw Up SW Battlefront II With Microtransactions

November 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

EA has suspended microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront II following a furor over loot boxes, hours before the game’s launch earlier today.

Loot boxes have been increasingly controversial in recent months but the backlash towards Star Wars Battlefront II has eclipsed the debate.

While other developers and publishers have been embroiled in the controversy, EA has taken the brunt due to the imbalance potentially caused by randomized loot in a competitive multiplayer shooter.

“We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases,” said DICE general manager Oskar Gabrielson in a statement. “We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing, and tuning.”

The option to purchase in-game currency will be taken offline until a later date while the team make changes to the game. Until then, all progress will be earned through gameplay.

“Our goal has always been to create the best possible game for all of you – devoted Star Wars fans and game players alike,” added Gabrielson.

launch, it’s clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design. We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right.”

Just yesterday DICE took to Reddit for an Ask Me Anything session which was met with derision from the community due to the the developer’s vague, non-committal answers.

The news comes just days after it was announced that the Belgian and Dutch gambling authorities are investigating whether loot boxes in Battlefront II and Overwatch constitute gambling.

 

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

 

Amazon Decides Against Offering ‘Skinny Bundle’ Video Service

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Amazon.com Inc has decided to cancel plans to launch an online streaming service bundling popular U.S. broadcast and cable networks because it believes it cannot make enough money on such a service, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The world’s largest online retailer has also been unable to convince key broadcast and basic cable networks to break with decades-old business models and join its a la carte Amazon Channels service, the sources said and has backed away from talks with them.

 The reversals come a month after the abrupt departure of Roy Price from his job as head of Amazon Studios, the company’s high-profile television production division, following an allegation of sexual harassment, which he has contested.

They show how difficult it is for Amazon to change entrenched habits in the U.S. entertainment business in the same way that it has done in retail, cloud computing and other areas.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

Video has become an important tool for Amazon in generating subscriptions for its U.S. $99-a-year Prime membership service. It is on track to spend some $4.5 billion or more on video programming this year, analysts estimate.

On Monday it made waves in the entertainment world with the purchase of global television rights to “The Lord of the Rings,” planning a multi-season series to draw more viewers to Prime.

Such an offering, known in the industry as a “skinny bundle,” is a way of capturing younger viewers who are dropping traditional, expensive cable or satellite TV packages in favor of channels watchable on smartphones and tablets.

But in recent weeks, Amazon decided not to move ahead with a service on the grounds that it would yield too low a profit margin and did not necessarily indicate the direction the TV business will eventually go, the sources told Reuters.

Amazon could still decide to change course and introduce a skinny bundle, but the talks are over, the sources said.

SportsCenter Show Comes To Snapchat

November 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. sports broadcaster ESPN rolled out its flagship SportsCenter program on messaging app Snapchat on Monday, reimagining the show that provides sports highlights and commentary into a short-form series.

The new show deepens the relationship between ESPN parent Walt Disney Co and Snapchat parent Snap Inc.

The sports network, which has made Snapchat content since 2015, is trying to reach a younger audience, while the social media app, whose messages disappear after viewing, is adding more content in an effort to grow its user base beyond its core youth demographic.

The partnership is a two-year deal and Snap and ESPN will share revenues, Snap said, though it declined to give specifics.

SportsCenter will air twice a day on Snapchat during weekdays, and once a day on weekends. A roster of six hosts will give commentary and perspectives, including ESPN anchors Katie Nolan and Elle Duncan, and ESPN Radio host Jason Fitz, Snap said.

Sean Mills, Snap’s head of content programming, said SportsCenter helps round out the app’s stable of daily shows, which already includes news shows from CNN and NBC News, as well as an entertainment show called “The Rundown” from E! Network.

Along with daily shows, Snap launched a joint venture studio with NBCUniversal last month to produce scripted shows to air on the app.

Did Jupiter Start Off As A Steam World

November 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Jupiter may not always have been a big ball of hydrogen and helium. 

A new study suggests that, in their youth, Jupiter and other gas-giant planets may have been “steam worlds” — warm ocean planets a bit bigger than Earth, with water-vapor atmospheres. 

John Chambers, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., proposes that some protoplanets may grow into steam worlds from their modest beginnings as accretions of rock and ice pebbles.

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As the accreting bodies come together and the protoplanet grows, increasing pressure liquefies the ices, and oceans form. Without any air present, water and any other liquids sublimate, creating an atmosphere dominated by water vapor, the idea goes. Even a relatively small protoplanet of between 0.08 and 0.16 Earth masses can be quite warm — from 32 to 704 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 347 degrees Celsius), Chambers said. 

 

“I calculated the structure of atmospheres in this case, and worked out when conditions are right for rapid inflow of gas to form a giant planet,” Chambers told Space.com. “The answer is, this happens when a planet is a few Earth masses, which is somewhat lower than the conventional value of 10 Earth masses.” 

In his model, Chambers started with a planet that orbits a sun-like star about three times farther away than Earth circles the sun. The makeup of the initial protoplanet is half ice and half rock. The pebbles accrete into a small protoplanet, whose atmosphere is very thin and made up of sublimating ices. Once the protoplanet hits 0.084 Earth masses, there’s enough atmospheric pressure for ice to melt, and the object becomes a small ocean world. As more ice and rock accrete, the protoplanet gets bigger and starts to accumulate hydrogen and helium. 

Since there’s a lot of water in the atmosphere, the planet gets warmer. (Water is a powerful greenhouse gas.) As the protoplanet gains mass, the atmospheric pressure also keeps rising, allowing the atmosphere to absorb more water vapor. Eventually the pressure gets so high that the water is no longer an ocean of liquid but a “supercritical fluid” mixed with hydrogen and helium, with no clear boundary between the atmosphere and the surface. 

Once about two to five Earth masses of rock and ice come together, a runaway process starts, and the protoplanet picks up more gas from the disk around its host star quickly. That’s what allows a gas giant to grow, according to the new study.

Most models of planet formation assume that planetesimals — the bits that accrete to form planets — are roughly kilometer-size bodies. Pebble accretion, on the other hand, assumes that the accreting objects are, as the name implies, the size of pebbles. 

Michiel Lambrechts, a researcher at Lund University in Sweden who was not involved in Chambers’ study, said the scheme is a logical one. 

“It’s all about some physics that is very plausible,” Lambrechts said. 

Whether this scenario applies to Jupiter is not known, though there is some data from NASA’s Jupiter-orbiting Juno mission that seems to show a core that’s more diffuse than scientists initially thought. One implication is that, if Chambers and others are correct about the pebble-accretion model, one would expect to find that Jupiter’s core harbors only a few Earth masses, Lambrechts said.

Planetary scientists generally think that gas giants must pick up most of their mass in just a few million years, because the solar wind from a newborn star blows away most of the gas in its protoplanetary disk quickly. 

That fast timeline can cause problems for some planet-formation models. But it suits the pebble-accretion idea just fine, Chambers said.

“At a certain point, it’s about how you avoid accreting quickly,” he said. 

Chambers said the next step is to look at more exoplanet data. 

“I’m still working through the implications of this, but the next step is to feed this result into more general models for planet formation,” he said. “The idea is to compare the outcome of these models with the observed population of extrasolar planets to pin down other unknown factors in planet formation.” 

The study has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal. You can read a copy of it for free at on the online preprint server arXiv.org. 

Editor’s note: This story was updated Nov. 5 to correct the name of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Courtesy-Space

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