The UpStream

Microsoft Might be Responsible for GameStop's Troubles

posted Saturday Jan 27, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Might be Responsible for GameStop's Troubles

While the company has expanded its offerings in recent years, there is no doubt that GameStop's main business is in used games. A number of threats have caused the company's diversification, but analysts at The Motley Fool believe that a new move from Microsoft could be a nail in GameStop's coffin.

GameStop has been in trouble over the past year or so, even as the rest of the stock market has rallied. In 2017, GameStop took a slide of over 10%, one of few companies the end the year that way. The company has continued to see a slide in its stock price, as other companies in the industry have recovered or improved on their positions.

The move from Microsoft that could continue GameStop's trouble is the expansion of the Xbox Game Pass. As the service stands today, it offers a large, rotating catalog of games available to Xbox One owners for $10 per month. It's essentially the Netflix treatment for Xbox games: one price, all you can play. Already this is a problem for GameStop, who relies on the sale of older games to keep them alive, and with Game Pass, they are already getting hit.

At least GameStop still has newer releases, right? Wrong. Microsoft has announced that they are expanding the lineup of Game Pass to include Day One releases of first party titles. This will begin with Sea of Thieves, which will release to market in 2 months, and will be available for Game Pass subscribers at the same time. This means that gamers who would normally wait a few weeks for the hype to die down and buy the game used from GameStop in April for 20% off, will be able to play the game Day One for only $10.

If ever there was a threat to the business model of GameStop, this is it. Luckily for GameStop, this only affect Xbox titles, and currently only first party titles. There are still third party titles, and of course PlayStation and Switch consoles, in the mix. But, how long before Sony makes a similar move to include first party titles into their PlayStation Now offering? How will GameStop respond to this new threat to their aging business model? Only time will tell.

For the First Time in Years, Apple Has Analysts Guessing

posted Saturday Jan 27, 2018 by Scott Ertz

For the First Time in Years, Apple Has Analysts Guessing

This week has been a whirlwind of analyst predictions for Apple's future, and for the first time in several years, there is no clear story. Normally analysts are able to piece together the company's plans based on just a few factors, such as current product sell-through rates, parts orders and manufacturer contracts. This years, the numbers are all over the place, and there is no picture coming to light.

A number of analysts, including KGI securities, have said that, because of Apple's lower than expected demand for the iPhone X, and the lower than average satisfaction from those who own them, the iPhone X might not survive the generation. This is significant for a number of reasons. First, this is Apple's first real attempt at any sort of innovation in a decade. The iPhone has been the same device with moderate improvements since the first model. The iPad is a larger iPhone, with a model that incorporates a Microsoft-style stylus. The HomePod is an Amazon Echo, Google Home, Harmon Kardon Invoke catchup device, whose assistant seems to be not up to the task. It would appear that, without Steve Jobs' hands-on management, the iPhone X has not been the success Apple needed.

Second, Apple is notorious for keeping the previous generation devices around after their successors reach the market, as an option for those who do not want the latest device, or are looking for a more budgeted entry into Apple's ecosystem. Infrequently does an iPhone not survive to live another day after its official retirement. The iPhone 4c and iPhone SE are the only modern examples that I can think of that didn't make the cut, and that is because they were bottom of the ecosystem at launch. The flagship device has never been skipped over for retention.

On the other hand, analysts at The Investor have other beliefs. They suggest that the iPhone X will survive the model cut, possibly as the only device to survive, with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus being cut instead. The rest of the line is believed to be an upgraded version of both, presumably being marked iPhone 8s and iPhone 8s Plus. Rounding out the line would be a new version of the iPhone SE, perhaps iPhone SE 2 (launched well ahead of the next generation). These devices are tipped to be larger models, possibly leaving the iPhone X as the smallest device in the family.

Depending on who you ask, the new models, which are definitely coming, could have a variety of screens. Some analysts suggest that all models will feature OLED screens, while other suggest that it will be 2 with OLED and 2 with more traditional LCD. Some report that all of the OLED screens will continue to come from Samsung, who supplied the screen for the iPhone X, while others suggest that Apple is in talks to bring LG's screens into the fold as well.

No matter the outcome, there is on thing that is clear: Apple seems to actually have people guessing what their next move will be, and that is a major change for the industry. Whatever informational hole has existed within the company seems to have been sealed. Whether that is in the company's best interest remains to be seen.

DMCA Regulations on Abandoned Videogames: A Step toward Videogame Preservation or a Path toward Legal Piracy?

posted Wednesday Jan 17, 2018 by Guest Blogger

When you buy a book at the store, you expect to read it from start to finish, without any interruption or pages missing, for as long as you want. Often times, revisiting the stories from the book brings back fond memories and nostalgia that you hope to share one day with your kids, family and friends. Unfortunately, this is not the case when you purchase abandoned videogames. When these games are shut down, they often disappear for good, erasing big portions of gaming history forever.

This is because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's ("DMCA") anti-circumvention provisions (17 U.S.C. § 1201) prohibit consumers from circumventing copyright protection measures put in place on games or any other digital media. However, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") has proposed a set of exemptions to the DMCA that would allow gamers to keep abandoned games running.

What is DMCA § 1201 Exemption for Videogames?

In 2015, the USPTO enacted an exemption to Section 1201 that directly impacts the game industry: an exemption for museums, libraries and other archival efforts circumventing the DMCA to preserve (in a playable state) games that require one-time server checks that are no longer available. This exemption allowed for the circumvention of authentication servers in order to render games playable (often called "jailbreaking"), so long as the game content is stored on the player's computer or console. Although there were flaws in the exemption, it was a victory for the videogame archiving community. Additionally, this exemption must be renewed by the USPTO on a triennial basis.

As it currently stands now, the DMCA exemption does not expand to multi-player games; however, the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) petitioned the USPTO to expand the exemption so that it covers multi-player games and allows people affiliated with them the ability to play.

These new set of proposed exemptions to the DMCA has stirred much debate in the gaming industry. Proponents claim that they should be able to 'play the videogames they have already paid for' and that keeping it illegal to fix broken, abandoned games effectively forces people to keep buying newer releases. Whereas opponents argue that the proposed exemptions would, in effect, eviscerate virtually all forms of access protection used to prevent videogame piracy. Specifically, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) submitted oppositions to the exemption to the USPTO, stating that, "(h)acking videogame access controls facilitates piracy and, therefore, undermines the core anti-piracy purposes of (the DMCA)."

On October 26, 2017, the UPSTO reviewed all submissions regarding the new set of proposed exemptions to the DMCA and agreed to continue to preserve old videogames, and thus recommended that all of them be renewed. The USPTO indicated that it didn't "find any meaningful opposition to renewal." At this point, the USTPO is now seeking public comments on the new set of proposed exemptions to the DMCA.

What Happens Next?

Whether or not the new set of proposed exemptions to the DMCA benefits gaming archivists and historians alike - or creates a new path toward legal piracy - a good place to start is to submit public comment regarding this topic to the USPTO. The USPTO has initiated three rounds for public comments, with the first round due on December 18, 2017. If the new set of exemptions to the DMCA gets approved, then your kids might get to play some of the old videogames you once enjoyed as a child someday.

Leia V. Leitner is in an attorney at Watson LLP where she counsels businesses on cybersecurity and other aspects of technology law. She may be reached at (407) 377-6634 or by email at leia@watsonllp.com.

Amazon Might Have Given Up on Google, Creating YouTube Competitor

posted Thursday Dec 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Amazon Might Have Given Up on Google, Creating YouTube Competitor

A few weeks ago, the animosity between Google and Amazon hit a new level, when Google announced they would pull YouTube support for Amazon products, such as the Echo Show and FireTV. This was in response to Amazon refusing to carry Google products, such as Chromecast, in their online store, and not supporting the technology in Amazon Prime Video.

The company agreed to resume sales of Chromecast devices, and also added Apple TV devices back to its lineup, but it is unclear if this will change Google's policies. This week, Amazon responded, by way of a handful of patent filings and domain registrations. Two trademarks were filed: AMAZONTUBE and OPENTUBE. Both of these names are backed up by domain names: AlexaOpenTube.com, AmazonOpenTube.com and AmazonAlexaTube.com.

At first, these names seem to suggest that Amazon has decided to forego negotiating with Google, but instead compete with them on a new front. It would not be out of the question, as Amazon owns Twitch, one of the livestreaming services for gamers. Adding another user-generated video platform would be a natural transition.

The other possibility, which could be more likely, is that Amazon is going to build their own YouTube client for their platforms. A plan like that would explain the highly derivative nature of the name, which includes "Tube," a suffix used mostly by Google and porn sites. Unless Amazon is truly not trying, chances are we are looking at an Amazon-built, 3rd party interface for YouTube, specifically for Amazon devices. This would allow Amazon to get YouTube capabilities back onto their devices without having to negotiate with Google, but instead use the highly capable YouTube API to circumvent Google entirely.

Microsoft tried a very similar tactic, building their own YouTube app for Windows Phone when Google refused. Google eventually pulled Microsoft's developer key after Microsoft included a feature that Google disagreed with, effectively killing the app. Amazon could face a similar fate; after building and releasing the app, Google could easily disable it with a single keystroke. Amazon is playing a potentially dangerous and expensive game with Google, who has never been afraid to be vindictive.

Eric Schmidt, Alphabet's Executive Chairman, To Step Down

posted Thursday Dec 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Eric Schmidt, Alphabet's Executive Chairman, To Step Down

For the past 17 years, one man has sat at the top of the pyramid that is today known as Alphabet, and was once known as Google: Eric Schmidt. He joined the company in 2001 as the executive chairman of the board of directors, but was quickly made CEO. After Larry Page's return to the company and claiming of the CEO title, Schmidt returned to the executive chairman role, where he has stayed since.

This week, the company announced that, as of the January meeting of the board of directors, Eric Schmidt would be stepping away from the executive chairman position. He will not be leaving the company, however, instead remaining on the board and taking a position of technical advisor. No interim chairman has been announced, and the company has decided that a new chairman would no longer retain the executive position, but instead simply chair the board.

Schmidt has overseen big changes at the company, including the restructuring that resulted in the renaming of the corporation to Alphabet. He brought Android and Nest under the company's umbrella, and made Chrome OS a force, even if only in education. He also oversaw flops, such as the Google+ integration into YouTube and Google Buzz, which was a privacy nightmare.

Speaking about the transition and its timing, Schmidt said,

Larry (Page), Sergey (Brin), Sundar (Pichai), and I all believe that the time is right in Alphabet's evolution for this transition. The Alphabet structure is working well, and Google and the Other Bets are thriving. In recent years, I've been spending a lot of my time on science and technology issues, and philanthropy, and I plan to expand that work.

While one explanation is that he wants to spend his life like Bill Gates, creating foundations and changing the world, it's hard to ignore the timing. Google and Amazon have become vocal, public enemies, fighting on everything from online product assortments to YouTube availability. Countries all over the world, including their home base of the United States, have begun to grow distrustful of the company and its intentions. There are no strong indications that Schmidt might have been asked to leave his position because of the company's hardships, but with waning trust from consumers, the industry and global governments, a change like this would not be unreasonable.

Nintendo Power is Reborn as a Podcast

posted Thursday Dec 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

<cite>Nintendo Power</cite> is Reborn as a Podcast

In the 1990s, one of the most loved videogame brands was Nintendo Power, the Nintendo-focused magazine. Some great content, including interviews and game announcements were published in the magazine. It was so popular, gameshows on Nickelodeon used to give subscriptions away as prizes. Unfortunately, the magazine was shutdown in 2012, seemingly off into videogame history.

This week, Nintendo Power was reborn, but not as a magazine. Instead, this time the brand is reborn as a podcast, published officially by Nintendo of America. The new series is hosted by Chris Slate, who served for 5 years as Editor-in-Chief of Nintendo Power, and is now the corporate communications manager of Nintendo of America.

The series is currently available on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud, which we'll come back to in a moment. The inaugural episode focuses on Nintendo's 2017, which has been a great turnaround year for the company, as well as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, featuring an interview with producer Eiji Aonuma and director Hidemaro Fujibayashi.

The problem here is that there is no word as to how serious the company is about the Nintendo Power renaissance. The idea that Nintendo would commit enough resources to produce a weekly show is unlikely, as much as fans might want that. Given the publication's previous frequency, it would not be absurd to believe that they will publish episodes on a monthly basis.

The fact that the series is currently hosted on SoundCloud, however, is an indication that the company itself has not committed to anything past the initial episode. Professional podcasts do not host their content on a non-podcast host like SoundCloud; in general, that is reserved for hobbyists, as these platforms do not perform well, or lend a positive image to the series itself.

Nintendo fans will all enjoy this single episode, but before we see any further episodes, hopefully Nintendo will decide to get serious about what they are doing.

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