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Will Free-To-Play Hurt The Gaming Industry?

March 3, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Free to play has an image problem. It’s the most influential and arguably important development in the business of games in decades, a stratospherically successful innovation which has enabled the opening up of games to a wider audience than ever before. Implemented well, with clear understanding of its principles and proper respect afforded to players and creativity alike, it’s more fair and even, in a sense, democratic than old-fashioned models of up-front payment; in theory, players pay in proportion to their enjoyment, handing over money in small transactions for a continued or deepened relationship with a game they already love, rather than giving a large amount of cash up-front for a game they’ve only ever seen in (possibly doctored) screenshots and videos.

While that is a fair description, I think, of the potential of free-to-play, it’s quite clearly not the image that the business model bears right now. You probably scoffed about half a dozen times reading the above paragraph – it may be a fair description of free-to-play at its hypothetical best, but it’s almost certainly at odds with your perceptions.

How, then, might we describe the perception of F2P? Greedy, exploitative, unfair, cheating… Once these adjectives start rolling, it’s hard to get them to stop. The negative view of F2P is that it’s a series of cheap psychological tricks designed to get people to spend money compulsively without ever realising quite how much cash they’re wasting on what is ultimately a very shallow and cynical game experience.

I don’t think it’s entirely unsurprising or unexpected that this perception should be held by “core” gamers or those enamoured of existing styles of game. Although F2P has proven very successful for games like MMOs and MOBAs, it’s by no means universally applicable, either across game types or across audience types; some blundering attempts by publishers to add micro-transactions to premium console and PC titles, combined with deep misgivings over the complete domination of F2P in the mobile game market, have left plenty of more traditional gamers with a very negative and extremely defensive attitude regarding the new business model. That’s fine, though; F2P isn’t for that audience (though it’s a little more complex than that in reality; many players will happily tap away at an F2P mobile game while waiting for matchmaking in a premium console game).

What’s increasingly clear, however, is that there’s an image problem for F2P right in the midst of the audience at whom it’s actually aimed. The negative perception of F2P is becoming increasingly mainstream. It gets mass-media coverage on occasion; recently, it spurred Apple to create a promotion specifically pointing App Store customers to games with no in-app purchases. I happen to think that’s a great idea personally, but what does it say about the feedback from Apple’s customers regarding F2P games, that promotion of non-F2P titles was even a consideration?

Even some of the most successful F2P developers now seem to want to distance themselves from the business model; this week’s interview with Crossy Road developers Hipster Whale saw the team performing linguistic somersaults to avoid labelling their free-to-play game as being free-to-play. Crossy Road is a brilliant, fun, interesting F2P game that hits pretty much all of the positive notes I laid out up in the first paragraph; that even its own developers seem to view “free-to-play” as an overtly negative phrase is deeply concerning.

The problem is that the negativity has a fair basis; there’s a lot of absolute guff out there, with the App Store utterly teeming with F2P games that genuinely are exploitative and unfair; worst of all, the bad games tend to be stupid, mean-spirited and grasping, attempting to suck money out of easily tricked customers (and let’s be blunt here: we’re talking, in no small measure, about kids) rather than undertaking the harder but vastly more rewarding task of actually entertaining and enthralling people until they feel perfectly happy with parting with a little cash to see more, do more or just to deepen their connection to the game.

Such awfulness, though, is not universal by any measure. There are tons of good F2P games out there; games that are creative and interesting (albeit often within a template of sorts; F2P was quick to split off into slowly evolving genre-types, though nobody who’s played PC or console games for very long can reasonably criticise that particular development), games that give you weeks or months of enjoyment without ever forcing a penny from your pocket unless you’re actually deeply engaged enough to want to pay up to get something more. Most of F2P’s bone fide hits fit into this category, in fact; games like Supercell’s Clash of Clans or Hay Day, GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons and, yes, even King’s Candy Crush Saga, which is held aloft unfairly as an example of F2P scurrilousness, yet has never extracted a penny from 70 percent of the people who have finished (finished!) the game. That’s an absolutely enormous amount of shiny candy-matching enjoyment (while I don’t like the game personally, I don’t question that it’s enjoyment for those who play it so devotedly) for free.

Unfortunately, the negative image that has been built up by free-to-play threatens not just the nasty, exploitative games, but all the perfectly decent ones as well – from billion-grossing phenomena like Puzzle & Dragons to indie wunderkind like Crossy Road. If free-to-play as a “brand” becomes irreparably damaged, the consequences may be far-reaching.

A year ago, I’d have envisaged that the most dangerous consequence on the horizon was heavy-handed legislation – with the EU, or perhaps the USA, clamping down on F2P mechanisms in a half-understood way that ended up damaging perfectly honest developers along with two-bit scam merchants. I still think that’s possible; companies have ducked and dived around small bits of legislation (or the threat of small bits of legislation) in territories including Japan and the EU, but the hammer could still fall in this regard. However, I no longer consider that the largest threat. No, the largest threat is Apple; the company which did more than any other to establish F2P as a viable market remains the company that could pull the carpet out from underneath it entirely, and while I doubt that’s on the cards right now, the wind is certainly turning in that direction.

Apple’s decision to promote non-F2P titles on its store may simply be an editor’s preference; but given the growing negativity around F2P, it may also be a sign that customer anger over F2P titles on iOS is reaching receptive ears at Apple. Apple originally permitted free apps (with IAP or otherwise) for the simple reason that having a huge library of free software available to customers was a brilliant selling point for the iPhone and iPad. At present, that remains the case; but if the negativity around the perception of F2P games were ever to start to outweigh the positive benefits of all that free software, do not doubt that Apple would reverse course fast enough to make your head spin. Reckon that its 30 percent share of all those Puzzle & Dragons and Candy Crush Saga revenues would be enough to make it think twice? Reckon again; App Store revenue is a drop in the ocean for Apple, and if abusive F2P ever starts to significantly damage the public perception of Apple’s devices, it will ban the model (in part, at least) without a second thought to revenue.

Some of you, those who fully buy into the negative image of F2P, might think that would be a thing to celebrate; ding, dong, the witch is dead! That’s a remarkably short-sighted view, however. In truth, F2P has been the saviour of a huge number of game development jobs and studios that would otherwise have been lost entirely in the implosion of smaller publishers and developers over the past five years; it’s provided a path into the industry for a great many talented creative people, grown the audience for games unimaginably and has provided a boost not only to mobile and casual titles, but to core games as well – especially in territories like East Asia. Wishing harm on F2P is wishing harm on many thousands of industry jobs; so don’t wish F2P harm. Wish that it would be better; that way, everyone wins.

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

Bad News For Lenovo Continues As Website Is Hacked

February 27, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Chinese PC and mobile phone maker Lenovo Group Ltd acknowledged that its website was hacked, its second security blemish days after the U.S. government advised consumers to remove software called “Superfish” pre-installed on its laptops.

Hacking group Lizard Squad claimed credit for the attacks on microblogging service Twitter. Lenovo said attackers breached the domain name system associated with Lenovo and redirected visitors to lenovo.com to another address, while also intercepting internal company emails.

Lizard Squad posted an email exchange between Lenovo employees discussing Superfish. The software was at the center of public uproar in the United States last week when security researchers said they found it allowed hackers to impersonate banking websites and steal users’ credit card information.

In a statement issued in the United States on Wednesday night, Lenovo, the world’s biggest maker of personal computers, said it had restored its site to normal operations after several hours.

“We regret any inconvenience that our users may have if they are not able to access parts of our site at this time,” the company said. “We are actively reviewing our network security and will take appropriate steps to bolster our site and to protect the integrity of our users’ information.”

Lizard Squad has taken credit for several high-profile outages, including attacks that took down Sony Corp’s PlayStation Network and Microsoft Corp’s Xbox Live network last month. Members of the group have not been identified.

Starting 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, visitors to the Lenovo website saw a slideshow of young people looking into webcams and the song “Breaking Free” from the movie “High School Musical” playing in the background, according to technology publication The Verge, which first reported the breach.

Although consumer data was not likely compromised by the Lizard Squad attack, the breach was the second security-related black eye for Lenovo in a matter of days.

 

Was Old Code The Culprit For Security Breaches In 2014?

February 26, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Nearly half of all security breaches come from vulnerabilities that are between two and four years old, according to this year’s HP Cyber Risk Report entitled The Past Is Prologue.

The annual report found that the most prevalent problems came as a result of server misconfiguration, and that the primary causes of commonly exploited software vulnerabilities are defects, bugs and logic flaws.

But perhaps most disturbing of all was the news that Internet of Things (IoT) devices and mobile malware have introduced a significant extra security risk.

The entire top 10 vulnerabilities exposed in 2014 came from code written years, and in some cases decades, previously.

The news comes in the same week that HP took a swipe at rival Lenovo for knowingly putting Superfish adware into its machines.

“Many of the biggest security risks are issues we’ve known about for decades, leaving organisations unnecessarily exposed,” said Art Gilliland, senior vice president and general manager for enterprise security products at HP.

“We can’t lose sight of defending against these known vulnerabilities by entrusting security to the next silver bullet technology. Rather, organisations must employ fundamental security tactics to address known vulnerabilities and, in turn, eliminate significant amounts of risk.”

The main recommendations of report are that network administrators should employ a comprehensive and timely patching strategy, perform regular penetration testing and variation of configurations, keep equipment up to date to mitigate risk, share collaboration and threat intelligence, and use complementary protection strategies.

The threat to security from the IoT is already well documented by HP, which released a study last summer revealing that 90 percent of IoT devices take at least one item of personal data and 60 percent are vulnerable to common security breaches.

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Will Sony Exit TV, Mobile Phone Markets?

February 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Sony Corp hopes to increase operating profit 25-fold within three years by growing its camera sensors and PlayStation units, its chief executive said, laying out a strategy that could see the company exit the ultra competitive TV and smartphone markets.

CEO Kazuo Hirai said on Wednesday the Japanese consumer electronics firm would no longer pursue sales growth in areas such as smartphones where its has suffered competition from cheaper Asian rivals as well as industry leaders like Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics.

Sony would instead focus its spending on more profitable businesses such as camera sensors, videogames and entertainment as it seeks to return to growth after forecasting for this financial year its sixth net loss in seven years.

“The strategy starting from the next business year will be about generating profit and investing for growth,” Hirai told a briefing, adding that Sony’s units would be given greater autonomy to make their own business decisions.

Asked about the TV and mobile phone units, Hirai said he would not “rule out considering an exit strategy”, Sony’s clearest statement to date about the possibility of selling or finding partners for these struggling units.

Sony is in the midst of a restructuring that has so far seen it sell off its personal computer division and spin off the TV business. It has also axed thousands of jobs.

Sony shares have risen more than 80 percent over the past year as investors applauded the restructuring, which accelerated since Hirai appointed Kenichiro Yoshida as his chief strategy officer in late 2013.

 

 

Sony To Release Smart Glasses For $840

February 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

While Google is moving away from a consumer release of Glass, Sony is moving forward with sales to developers of its augmented reality SmartEyeglass.

The struggling Japanese manufacturer said it will release its Android-compatible smart glasses for $840 in early March, targeting developers and industrial applications ahead of a commercial release in 2016.

That price is just over half of the $1,500 that Google was asking from early adopters of Glass before it shut down commercial sales of the wearable display last month.

“As a hands-free device, SmartEyeglass can be a promising product with many practical uses,” a Sony spokeswoman said via email when asked about the release in the wake of Google’s move. “But since we recognize the need to explore applications at this stage, we’re releasing this developer edition.”

Sony is also upgrading an SDK (software development kit) that it first released last September, and has posted detailed specs on the device’s website as well as application suggestions for workplace uses. They include construction or maintenance workers being able to view schematics while laboring hands-free or security guards being informed of a threat, with relevant data displayed on the lenses.

The Internet-connected SmartEyeglass can display low-resolution monochrome imagery and text such as SMS messages on the lenses, overlaying the information on the user’s field of view. The 3mm-thick lenses have an 85 percent light transmittance rate and objects are highly visible, according to Sony.

In contrast to Google Glass, information on the Sony display is easy to see but it must be manipulated with a separate, wired controller unit that houses a microphone, speakers and an NFC module. Weighing 77 grams, the smart glasses have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and can obtain GPS data by linking with a smartphone. They also feature a 3-megapixel camera and sensors such as an accelerometer and gyroscope.

The SmartEyeglass Developer Edition SED-E1 will be released in Japan, the U.S. and Europe on March 10 and will be sold through the Sony Developer World website.

 

 

Do “CORE” Gamers Exist?

February 10, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

A year or two ago, it seemed that doom and gloom reigned over the prospects for “core” gaming. With smartphones and tablets becoming this decade’s ubiquitous gaming devices, casual and social games ascendant and free-to-play established as just about the only effective way to make money from the teeming masses swarming to gaming for the first time, dire predictions abounded about the death of game consoles, the decline of paid-for games and the dwindling importance of “core” gamers to the games industry at large.

This week’s headlines speak of a different narrative – one that’s become increasingly strong as we’ve delved into what 2015 has to offer. Sony’s financial figures look pretty good, buoyed partially by the weakness of the Yen but notably also by the incredible success of the PlayStation 4 – a console which more aggressive commentators were reading funeral rites for before it was even announced. Both of the PS4′s competitors, incidentally, ended 2014 (and began 2015) in a stronger sales position than they were in 12 months previously, with next-gen home consoles overall heading for the 40 million sales mark in pretty much record time.

Then there’s the software story of the week; the startling sales of Grand Theft Auto V, which thanks to ten million sales of the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game, have now topped 45 million units. That’s an incredible figure, one which suggests that this single game has generated well over $2 billion in revenue thus far; the GTA franchise as a whole must, at this point, be one of the most valuable entertainment franchises in existence, comparable in revenue terms to the likes of Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Look, this is basically feel-good stuff for the games business; “hey guys, we’re doing great, our biggest franchise is right up there with Hollywood’s finest and these console sales are a promise of a solid future”. Stories like this used to turn up all the time back when games were genuinely struggling to be recognised as a valid and important industry alongside TV, music and film. Nowadays, that struggle has been internalised; it’s worth stepping back every now and then from the sheer enormity of figures like Apple and Samsung’s smartphone sales, or Puzzle & Dragons’ revenue (comparable to GTAV’s, but whether that means the game can birth a successful franchise or sustain itself long-term is another question entirely), or the number of players engaged with top F2P games, to remind ourselves that there’s still huge success happening in the “traditional” end of the market.

The take-away, perhaps, is that this isn’t a zero-sum game. The great success of casual and social games, first on Facebook and now on smartphones, isn’t that they’ve replaced core games, cannibalising the existing high-value market; it’s that they’ve acquired a whole new audience for themselves. Sure, there’s overlap, but there’s little evidence to suggest that this overlap results in people engaging less with core games; I, for one, have discovered that many smartphone F2P games have a core loop that fits nicely into the match-making and loading delays for Destiny’s Crucible.

That’s not to say that changes to the wider business haven’t resonated back through the “core” games space. The massive success of a game like GTAV has a dark side; it reflects the increasing polarisation of the high-end games market, in which successful games win bigger than ever, but games which fail to become enormous hits find themselves failing utterly. There’s no mid-market any more; you’re either a complete hit or a total miss. Developers have lamented the loss of the “AA” market (as distinct from the “AAA” space) for some time; that loss is becoming increasingly keenly felt as enormous budgets, production values and financial pressures come to bear on a smaller and smaller line-up of top-tier titles. Several factors drove the death of AA, with production costs and team sizes being major issues, but the rise of casual games and even of increasingly high-quality indie titles undoubtedly played a role – creating whole new market sectors that cost far less to consumers than AA titles had done.

It’s not just success that’s been polarised by this process; it’s also risk. At the high-end of the market, risk is simply unacceptable, such are the enormous financial figures at play. Thus it’s largely left to the low-end – the indie scene, the flood of titles appearing on the App Store, on Steam and even on the likes of PlayStation Vita – to take interesting risks and challenge gaming conventions. Along the way, some of the talented creators involved in these scenes are either trying to engage new audiences, or to engage existing audiences in new ways; sometimes experimenting with gameplay and interactive, sometimes with narrative and art style, sometimes with business model or distribution.

All of which leads me to explain why I keep writing “core” games, with inverted commas around “core”; because honestly, I’m increasingly uncertain what this term means. It used to refer to specific genres, largely speaking those considered to have special resonance for geeky guys; gory science fiction FPS games, high fantasy RPGs, complex beat-’em-ups and shoot-’em-ups, graphic survival horror titles, war-torn action games. Then, for a while, the rise of F2P seemed to make the definition of “core” shimmer and reform itself; now it meant “games people pay for up front, and the kind of people who pay for those games”.

Now? Now, who knows what “core” really means? League of Legends is certainly something you have to be pretty damn deeply involved with to enjoy, but it’s free-to-play; so is Hearthstone, which is arguably not quite so “core” but still demands a lot of attention and focus. There are great games on consoles – systems whose owners paid hundreds of dollars for a devoted gaming machine – which are free-to-play. There are games on mobile phones that cost money up front and are intricate and engrossing. There are games you can download for free on your PC, or pick up for a few dollars on Steam, that explore all sorts of interesting and complex niches of narrative, of human experience and of the far-flung corners of what it means to play a “game”. Someone who sits down for hours unravelling the strands of a text adventure written in Twine; are they “core”? Someone who treats retro gaming like a history project, travelling back through the medium’s tropes and concepts to find their origin points; are they “core”? How about Frank Underwood in House of Cards, largely disinterested in games but picking up a violent shooter to work out frustrations on his Xbox in the evenings; is he a “core gamer”?

Don’t get me wrong; this fuzzing of the lines around the concept of “core” is, to my mind, a vital step in the evolution of our medium. That the so-called “battle” between traditional business models and F2P, between AAA studios and indies, between casual and core, was not a zero-sum game and could result in the expansion of the entire industry, not the destruction of one side or another, has been obvious from the outset. What was less obvious and took a little more time to come to pass was that not only would each of those sides not detract from the others; they would actually learn from one another and help to fuel one another’s development. New creative outlooks, new approaches to interactivity, new thoughts on social and community aspects of gaming, new ideas about business models and monetisation; these all mingle with one another and help to make up for the creative drought at the top of the AAA industry (and increasingly, at the top of the F2P industry, too) by providing a steady feed of new concepts and ideas from below.

It’s fantastic and very positive that the next-gen consoles are doing well and that GTAV has sold so many copies (dark thoughts regarding the polarisation of AAA success aside); but it’s wrong, I think, to just look at this as being “hey, core gaming is doing fine”. Games aren’t made up of opposed factions, casual at war with core; it’s a spectrum, attracting relevant audiences from across the board. Rather than pitting GTAV against Puzzle and Dragons, I’d rather look at the enormous success of both games as being a sign of how well games are doing overall; rather than stacking sales of next-gen consoles against sales of smartphones and reheating old arguments about dedicated game devices vs multi-purpose devices, I’d rather think about the enormous addressable audience that represents overall. As the arguments about casual or F2P gaming “destroying” core games start to fade out, let’s take this opportunity to rid ourselves of some of our more meaningless distinctions and categories for good.

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

Samsung Expected To Launch New Mobile Phones On March 1st

February 4, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung Electronics has scheduled one of its most critical mobile phone launches for March 1, where the Galaxy S6 and an Edge version of the device are expected to be unveiled.

The company’s Unpacked event will take place in Barcelona ahead of Mobile World Congress. The invitation the company sent out on Monday includes an image that with a curve hints the company will introduce the Galaxy S6 Edge along with a standard model.

The launch is important because of the struggles Samsung had last year. While the overall smartphone market grew, Samsung’s unit sales dropped. The company needs to prove that it can build a flagship smartphone that looks good, performs well and has a cleaner user interface. The Galaxy Note 4 was a step in the right direction that Samsung should build on.

A steady stream of rumors of what improvements the Galaxy S6 (a name that hasn’t been confirmed) will feature have been published during the last couple of months. They include plans to launch at least two models, one with a flat screen and an Edge version with a screen that wraps around one or both sides of the device.

The screen is expected to have a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels and to be close to the Galaxy S 5′s 5.1-inch screen in size. In general, this year’s batch of Android high-end smartphones are expected keep the screen size of their predecessors. Other anticipated specifications include a 20-megapixel camera on the back and a 5-megapixel camera on the front.

Samsung will have some heavy competition at Mobile World Congress, where the likes of HTC, Sony and Huawei Technologies are also expected to show new flagship models.

 

 

Do Game Developers Have Unrealistic Expectations?

January 22, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Over the last few years, the industry has seen budget polarization on an enormous scale. The cost of AAA development has ballooned, and continues to do so, pricing out all but the biggest warchests, while the indie and mobile explosions are rapidly approaching the point of inevitable over-saturation and consequential contraction. Stories about the plight of mid-tier studios are ten-a-penny, with the gravestones of some notable players lining the way.

For a company like Ninja Theory, in many ways the archetypal mid-tier developer, survival has been a paramount concern. Pumping out great games (Ninja Theory has a collective Metacritic average of 75) isn’t always enough. Revitalizing a popular IP like DMC isn’t always enough. Working on lucrative and successful external IP like Disney Infinity isn’t always enough. When the fence between indie and blockbuster gets thinner and thinner, it becomes ever harder to balance upon.

Last year, Ninja Theory took one more shot at the upper echelons. For months the studio had worked on a big budget concept which would sit comfortably alongside the top-level, cross-platform releases of the age: a massive, multiplayer sci-fi title that would take thousands of combined, collaborative hours to exhaust. Procedurally generated missions and an extensive DLC structure would ensure longevity and engagement. Concept art and pre-vis trailers in place, the team went looking for funding. Razor was on its way.

Except the game never quite made it. Funding failed to materialize, and no publisher would take the project on. It didn’t help that the search for a publishing deal arrived almost simultaneously with the public announcement of Destiny. Facing an impossible task, the team abandoned the project and moved on with other ideas. Razor joined a surprisingly large pile of games that never make it past the concept stage.

Sadly, it’s not a new story. In fact, at the time, it wasn’t even a news story. But this time Ninja Theory’s reaction was different. This was a learning experience, and learning experiences should be shared. Team lead and co-founder Tameem Antoniades turned the disappointment not just into a lesson, but a new company ethos: involve your audience at an early stage, retain control, fund yourself, aim high, and don’t compromise. The concept of the Independent AAA Proposition, enshrined in a GDC presentation give by Antoniades, was born.

Now the team has a new flagship prospect, cemented in this fresh foundation. In keeping with the theme of open development and transparency, Hellblade is being created with the doors to its development held wide open, with community and industry alike invited to bear witness to the minutiae of the process. Hellblade will be a cross-platform game with all of the ambition for which Ninja Theory is known, and yet it is coming from an entirely independent standpoint. Self-published and self-governed, Hellblade is the blueprint for Ninja Theory’s future.

“We found ourselves as being one of those studios that’s in the ‘squeezed middle’,” project lead Dominic Matthews says. “We’re about 100 people, so we kind of fall into that space where we could try to really diversify and work on loads of smaller projects, but indie studios really have an advantage over us, because they can do things with far lower overheads. We have been faced with this choice of, do we go really, really big with our games and become the studio that is 300 people or even higher than that, and try to tick all of these boxes that the blockbuster AAA games need now.

“We don’t really want to do that. We tried to do that. When we pitched Razor, which we pitched to big studios, that ultimately didn’t go anywhere. That was going to be a huge game; a huge game with a service that would go on for years and would be a huge, multiplayer experience. Although I’m sure it would have been really cool to make that, it kind of showed to us that we’re not right to try to make those kinds of games. Games like Enslaved – trying to get a game like that signed now would be impossible. The way that it was signed, there would be too much pressure for it to be…to have the whole feature set that justifies a $60 price-tag.

“That $60 price-tag means games have to add multiplayer, and 40 hours of gameplay minimum, and a set of characters that appeal to as many people as they possibly can. There’s nothing wrong with games that do that. There’s some fantastic games that do, AAA games. Though we do think that there’s another space that sits in-between. I think a lot of indie games are super, super creative, but they can be heavily stylised. They work within the context of the resources that people have.

“We want to create a game that’s like Enslaved, or like DMC, or like Heavenly Sword. That kind of third-person, really high quality action game, but make it work in an independent model.”

Cutting out the middle-man is a key part of the strategy. But if dealing with the multinational machinery of ‘big pubs’ is what drove Ninja Theory to make such widespread changes, there must surly have been some particularly heinous deals that pushed it over the edge?

“I think it’s just a reality of the way that those publisher/developer deals work,” Matthews says. “In order for a publisher to take a gamble on your game and on your idea, you have to give up a lot. That includes the IP rights. It’s just the realities of how things work in that space. For us, I think any developer would say the same thing, being able to retain your IP is a really important thing. So far, we haven’t been out to do that.

“With Hellblade, it’s really nice that we can be comfortable in the fact that we’re not trying to appeal to everyone. We’re not trying to hit unrealistic forecasts. Ultimately, I think a lot of games have unrealistic forecasts. Everyone knows that they’re unrealistic, but they have to have these unrealistic forecasts to justify the investment that’s going into development.

“Ultimately, a lot of games, on paper, fail because they don’t hit those forecasts. Then the studios and the people that made those games, they don’t get the chance to make any more. It’s an incredibly tough market. Yes, we’ve enjoyed working with our publishers, but that’s not to say that the agreements that developed are all ideal, because they’re not. The catalyst to us now being able to do this is really difficult distribution. We can break away from that retail $60 model, where every single game has to be priced that way, regardless of what it is.

Driven into funding only games that will comfortably shift five or six million units, Matthews believes that publishers have no choice but to stick to the safe bets, a path that eventually winnows down diversity to the point of stagnation, where only a few successful genres ever end up getting made: FPS, sports, RPG, maybe racing. Those genres become less and less distinct, while simultaneously shoe-horning in mechanics that prove popular elsewhere and shunning true innovation.

While perhaps briefly sustainable, Matthews sees that as a creative cul-de-sac. Customers, he feels, are too smart to put up with it.

“Consumers are going to get a bit wary of games that have hundreds of millions of dollars spent on them”

“I think consumers are going to get a bit wary. Get a bit wary of games that have hundreds of millions of dollars spent on them. I think gamers are going to start saying, ‘For what?’

“The pressures are for games to appeal to more and more people. It used to be if you sold a million units, then that was OK. Then it was three million units. Now it’s five million units. Five million units is crazy. We’ve never sold five million units.”

It’s not just consumers who are getting wise, though. Matthews acknowledges that the publishers also see the dead-end approaching.

“I think something has to be said for the platform holders now. Along with digital distribution, the fact that the platform holders are really opening their doors and encouraging self-publishing and helping independent developers to take on some of those publishing responsibilities, has changed things for us. I think it will change things for a lot of other developers. “Hellblade was announced at the GamesCom Playstation 4 press conference. My perception of that press conference was that the real big hitters in that were all independent titles. It’s great that the platform holders have recognised that. There’s a real appetite from their players for innovative, creative games.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to try to do things differently. Like on Hellblade, we’re questioning everything that we do. Not just on development, but also how we do things from a business perspective as well. Normally you would say, ‘Well, you involve these types of agencies, get these people involved in this, and a website will take this long to create.’ The next thing that we’re doing is, we’re saying, ‘Well, is that true? Can we try and do these things a different way,’ because you can.

“There’s definitely pressure for us to fill all those gaps left by a publisher, but it’s a great challenge for us to step up to. Ultimately, we have to transition into a publisher. That’s going to happen at some point, if we want to publish our own games.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

U.S. And Britain Ramping Up Joint Cyber Defense Efforts

January 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. and Britain are increasing their collaboration to thwart digital threats. They are planning to launch more attacks against each other to test their defenses and scare away possible enemies.

The U.S. and the U.K. have been working together to prevent cyber attacks for some time, but are going to increase the collaboration. They will combine their expertise to set up “cyber cells” on both sides of the Atlantic to increase sharing information about threats and to work out how to best protect themselves and create a system that lets hostile states and organization know they shouldn’t attack, said U.K. prime minister David Cameron in an interview published by the BBC.

Cyber attacks “are one of the biggest modern threats that we face,” according to Cameron who is visiting Washington for talks with U.S. president Barack Obama. One of the topics high on the agenda is digital security.

The countries will increase the “war games” launched at each other to test defenses. “It is happening already but it needs to be stepped up,” Cameron said, adding that British intelligence service GCHQ and the U.S. equivalent NSA have know-how that should be shared more.

“It is not just about protecting companies, it is also about protecting people’s data, about protecting people’s finances. These attacks can have real consequences to people’s prosperity,” he said.

The increased cooperation between the countries comes in the wake of the Sony hack and the apparent hacking of the U.S. Central Command’s Twitter account by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which posted tweets threatening families of U.S. soldiers and claiming to have hacked into military PCs.

 

 

 

LG Stops OLED Production For Now

January 15, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

South Korea’s labor ministry has ordered LG to halt operations of an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panel production line following a nitrogen gas leak.

The ministry, in a statement posted on its website yesterday, said the production ban will last as authorities investigate a nitrogen gas leak that killed two workers.

An LG spokeswoman confirmed that production at the OLED TV panel line has been halted. She declined to specify the ban’s effect on sales or production and said the firm will work to resume operations as quickly as possible.

The leak happened days after LG unveiled its Best of CES-winning Art Slim OLED sets and might affect a timely launch if the investigation takes a while.

The leak happened around 12:50 p.m. at the P8 factory in Paju, about 40 kilometers north of Seoul. The workers from LG Display and its subcontractor were carrying out routine maintenance on the ninth floor when the valve of a nitrogen gas cylinder was presumably opened by mistake.

One worker died at the scene, with another being pronounced dead on his way to the hospital, authorities said.

Courtesy-Fud

Did Sony Learn Anything From It’s Recent Breach?

January 13, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Sony CEO Michael Lynton has told the Associated Press that the firm’s computer systems are still down, but, and thank someone for this, film and television production has not stopped a beat.

Yes, Sony, the firm that bought us a remake of Annie and a very divisive blunt edged political comedy called The Interview in the past couple of months, is still firing on production cylinders, if not sending emails.

A long interview with Associated Press finds Lynton not mentioning the North Korea words, but admitting that the hackers that have it between its teeth are pretty good at what they do and that Sony is on a real learning experience.

“We are the canary in the coal mine, that’s for sure,” said the CEO. “There is no playbook for this, so you are in essence trying to look at the situation as it unfolds and make decisions without being able to refer to a lot of experiences you’ve had in the past or other people’s experiences. You’re on completely new ground.”

Despite what you might have been led to believe, the assault on Sony has not been very costly, according to Lynton, who said that the firm has not had much more than a ripple to contend with.

“What I’m hearing so far is that they’re very manageable,” he added. “They’re not disruptive to the economic well being of the company.”

There has been some internal disruption, though, and Lynton said that staffers are paid with paper checks.

He confirmed that Sony’s technology people did scuttle about looking for workarounds and started using old BlackBerry handsets as part of a boots and braces response.

In the case of the latter, at least one firm was pleased about this news.

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Sony Says Recent Cyber Attack Will Have Minimal Financial Impact

January 8, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Sony Corp Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai said he does not expect the November cyber attack on the company’s film studio to have a significant financial impact, two weeks after the studio finally released the movie that spurred the attack.

The studio, Sony Pictures Entertainment, said separately that the film, “The Interview,” has generated revenue of $36 million.

Hirai told reporters at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that he had signed off on all major decisions by the company in response to the attack, which the U.S. government has blamed on North Korea.

Sony’s network was crippled by hackers as the company prepared to release “The Interview,” a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The attack was followed by online leaks of unreleased movies and emails that caused embarrassment to executives.

“We are still reviewing the effects of the cyber attack,” Hirai told reporters. “However, I do not see it as something that will cause a material upheaval on Sony Pictures business operations, basically, in terms of results for the current fiscal year.”

Sony Pictures said “The Interview,” which cost $44 million to make, has brought in $31 million in online, cable and satellite sales and was downloaded 4.3 million times between Dec. 24 and Jan. 4.

It has earned another $5 million at 580 independent theaters showing the movie in North America.

It is still unclear if Sony Pictures will recoup the costs of the film, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, including an estimated $30 million to $40 million marketing bill.

On Monday, Hirai praised employees and partners of the Hollywood movie studio for standing up to “extortionist efforts” of hackers, his first public comments on the attack launched on Nov 21.

 

 

 

Was The PS4 Sales Flat Over The Holiday?

January 7, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

While the Sony PlayStation 4 has been selling very well, it seems that Christmas was not really its season.

Sony said that the PlayStation 4 has sold more than 18.5 million units since the new generation of consoles launched. While that is good and makes the PS4 the fastest selling PlayStation to date, there was no peaking at Christmas.

You would think that the PS4 would sell well at Christmas as parents were forced to do grevious bodily harm to their credit cards to shut their spoilt spawn up during the school holidays. But apparently not.

Apparently, the weapon of choice against precious snowflakes being bored was an Xbox One which saw a Christmas spike in sales.

Sony said that its new numbers are pretty much on target, it sold the expected 2 million sales per month rate.

Redmond will be happy with that result even if it still has a long way to go before it matches the PlayStation 4 on sales.

Courtesy-Fud

Sony Offering Discounts After PlayStation Outage

January 5, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Gaming

If you received a PlayStation 4 for Christmas but network outages hampered you from using it, Sony wants to make it up to you.

Sony Computer Entertainment America will offer 10% off PlayStation Store purchases including games, TV shows and movies as a gesture of thanks for users’ patience following an outage of several days caused by denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

In addition, PlayStation Plus members who had an active membership or free trial on Dec. 25 will receive a membership extension of five days, Eric Lempel of Sony Network Entertainment wrote in a blog post.

Judging from the comments to the post, many PlayStation Network (PSN) users were happy about the offer, but not all of them.

“What I would like, more than anything else, is an explanation from Sony about how and why this will never happen again,” wrote one user. “Use the money to strengthen and diversify the network infrastructure so these types of attacks become harder to make and easier to recover from.”

In another blog post, Sony had attributed the outages to an attack creating “artificially high levels of traffic designed to disrupt connectivity and online gameplay.”

The DDoS attacks, which also took down Microsoft’s Xbox Live game network, were apparently launched by hacker group Lizard Squad, which later took aim at anonymous network Tor.

 

 

Hackers Continue Attack On Tor

December 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Hackers who apparently attacked Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) and Microsoft’s Xbox Live on Christmas Day have turned their attention towards anonymous network Tor.

Lizard Squad, which claimed responsibility for the outage, on Friday tweeted, “To clarify, we are no longer attacking PSN or Xbox. We are testing our new Tor 0day.”

While at least one site that maps the Tor network showed numerous routers with the name “LizardNSA,” the extent of any attack was unclear.

Tor directs user traffic through thousands of relays to ensure anonymity. In a Dec. 19 blog post, Tor managers warned of a possible attack, saying, “There may be an attempt to incapacitate our network in the next few days through the seizure of specialized servers in the network called directory authorities.”

Sony engineers, meanwhile, continued to struggle to get PSN back online Friday following the suspected denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on Thursday.

Sony’s Twitter account for PSN asked frustrated gamers to be patient as staff worked to get the service back up and running, saying it did not know when PSN would be back online.

“We are aware that some users are experiencing difficulty logging into the PSN,” Sony said on its PlayStation support page, where the network was listed as offline.

In a Twitter post showing a chat with the alleged hackers, MegaUpload founder Kim Dotcom suggested he had convinced Lizard Squad to stop the attacks in return for lifetime memberships on his file-transfer site Mega.

Lizard Squad had taken credit for an apparent attack against PSN earlier this month, as well as an attack in August. The incident came at the same time that a U.S. flight carrying Sony Online Entertainment President John Smedley was diverted for security reasons.