The UpStream

Todd Howard says Elder Scrolls 6 is unlikely to be Microsoft exclusive

posted Friday Oct 30, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Todd Howard says Elder Scrolls 6 is unlikely to be Microsoft exclusive

When Microsoft purchased Zenimax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, the biggest question that was asked was, "Will future Bethesda games in existing franchises be Xbox exclusives?" We discussed this possibility a few weeks ago on the show, agreeing that Microsoft's ownership would not limit the release of future entries, especially for The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. This week, Todd Howard hinted that our theory was correct.

In an interview, the Bethesda director and producer on both of the company's high profile series said that it would be hard to imagine Microsoft locking future entries in either franchise behind the Xbox or PC brands. However, he did also state that Microsoft and Bethesda have not fully discussed future plans in detail. On the decision-making process, Howard said,

We do view it, and always have by ourselves, on a case-by-case basis. We'll do that as part of Microsoft as well. They've been pretty open on other platforms and not just within Xbox. This is an outside perspective, but if you go back 10 years at Microsoft, you wouldn't expect them to have a full Office suite on an iPhone either.

The beginning of the response is similar to what Xbox's Phil Spencer said during the announcement of the purchase, stating that they would evaluate each future title individually to determine its availability. But, that is what all studios do with every release. If they didn't, the Final Fantasy games would still be Nintendo exclusives, which would not have been good for the brand. He also discussed the company's business model, saying,

We felt very strongly about their view of access; games for everybody that we can bring to anybody regardless of where they are, what devices they're playing on. We're very, very passionate about that, and at the end of the day we're convinced we'll make better products and get them to more people easily by being part of Xbox as opposed to being just a third party.

Microsoft's business model under CEO Satya Nadella has been to offer the company's products everywhere people already are. It's why Microsoft Office offers some features for iPad Pro that take advantage of the device's unique hardware capabilities, despite having its own Surface tablet line. Plus, after purchasing Mojang, Microsoft expanded the number of platforms Minecraft was available for and fought to make the PlayStation version crossplay capable.

With this business model, it seems incredibly unlikely that they would behave differently on these titles than other game franchises they have acquired.

Yahoo Phone is a strange but affordable trip back to the 90s

posted Friday Oct 30, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo Phone is a strange but affordable trip back to the 90s

When Verizon bought Yahoo, we assumed that would be the strangest thing to happen with the aging brand. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of a very strange usage for Yahoo. Earlier this year, the company created Yahoo Mobile - an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) running on their own network. The idea is to compete with AT&T's Cricket and T-Mobile's Metro, offering unlimited data for $40 per month. Adding to the collection of odd decisions comes the newly announced Yahoo Phone, a Yahoo Mobile exclusive.

This new device is an Android 10 powered phone with a very purple body, which they call grape jelly. The phone is simply a rebranded ZTE Blade A3 with a lot of pre-installed apps, which we assume cannot be uninstalled. These apps include Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo News, Yahoo Sports, and Yahoo Weather, plus the obvious Yahoo Mobile companion app.

The Yahoo Phone is a very low powered device, with only 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and a 720p screen. However, the company is trying to make up for the low specs with a low price of only $50. Of course, the phone is designed only for the Yahoo Mobile prepaid service, so they aren't focusing on the high-end or high price market.

In 2020, all of this leaning on the Yahoo brand seems confusing. Yahoo has never been known for understanding the mobile ecosystem, making the branding odd. Yahoo was successful in the early days of the web, long before search engines changed the way we used the web. Providing an index for the small number of web pages that were available made the site popular, and the custom homepage angle made it a success. But, those days are long gone, and people generally do not think of Yahoo as a mobile-friendly brand, let alone their primary mobile brand.

The sun sets on Quibi, the first major victim of subscription fatigue

posted Sunday Oct 25, 2020 by Scott Ertz

The sun sets on Quibi, the first major victim of subscription fatigue

The mobile-focused streaming service Quibi has been in trouble since before its launch. This week, that trouble has turned to disaster, as the company has announced it is shutting down around December 1, 2020 and looking for a buyer for the corporate assets. The executives did everything in their power to raise the value and recognition of the brand months before it was made available. They signed an agreement with T-Mobile, which brought the service to T-Mobile Tuesdays offering 6 months for free. They also signed big-name content, such as Reno 911!.

However, the problem the company faced was a lot of competition and a difficult value proposition. The short-form content concept was going to be a difficult sell under normal circumstances, but 2020 did not make it better. While under 10-minute episodes would have been good while waiting in line, walking on a treadmill at the gym, or sitting at a diner, none of those things have been common this year because of the lockdowns. Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman said in a joint statement,

Quibi is not succeeding. Likely for one of two reasons: because the idea itself wasn't strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service or because of our timing. Unfortunately, we will never know but we suspect it's been a combination of the two.

The company began to recognize that the business model wasn't working, and experimented with a free tier, similar to the Peacock service. Unfortunately, the experiment was only run in Australia and New Zealand, so it was not enough of a test to see if it would work. Because of the limited content available, it was difficult to convince people that $5 per month was worth the investment. A free, ad-supported tier with a portion of the content may have attracted users to the platform in the same way that it has worked for Comcast.

In addition to issues with the value proposition, the company has also been sued over patent infringement with its shifting view for landscape and portrait mode. This lawsuit has hurt investment which may have been able to keep the lights on longer.

The future of the content that was produced is unclear. The agreements with creators were very creator-friendly. The company paid to produce the content, and then licensed the content under 2 year exclusivity deals. With the shutdown of the company, it's not clear if the exclusivity would expire. If it does, the creators could shop the content to other services. If it does not, Quibi might be able to sell the license to other services. Either way, it is going to be on a one-off basis.

US Justice Department files antitrust suit against Google after years

posted Sunday Oct 25, 2020 by Scott Ertz

US Justice Department files antitrust suit against Google after years

2020 is shaping up to be a difficult year for Google legally. They have potentially lost its Supreme Court case against Oracle. Now, they will be heading back into court to defend themselves against the entirety of the United States legal system, care of an antitrust suit filed by the Justice Department. The suit has been imminent for months, but a formal filing marks a major change in the relationship between the government and the tech giant. This filing represents the largest US antitrust case since Microsoft in the 1990s that paved the way for Google's rise to power.

While Microsoft's case involved using the company's position in operating systems, Google's case involves its position in search. The suit claims that Google has continually used its search position to unfairly promote and prop up its other businesses. In a media call, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said,

Google is the gateway to the Internet. It has maintained its power through exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.

The DOJ also points to its use of its other brands to increase and maintain its search position, including pre-loading Google Search onto its Chrome browser as well as Android devices. The Android issue has continued to pop up across the globe ever since Google changed its licensing rules, forcing manufacturers to maintain certain Google products on their devices if they want access to the Play Store. In 2018, the European Union fined Google $5 billion in an antitrust case over similar issues.

Google has publicly responded to the charges, saying that the case could not possibly help consumers. The statement said,

Today's lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to, not because they're forced to, or because they can't find alternatives.

This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.

Google makes the comparison between Android and Windows, pointing out that Windows comes preloaded with Edge, which uses Bing as its default. The search bar in Windows 10 also uses Bing as its search engine of choice. However, there is no rule in Windows that says that Edge must be the default in order to use core features of the ecosystem. If HP want to include Chrome on its computers, it is welcome to do so, giving consumers a choice.

Clearly, this is just the beginning of the process, with charges just being filed. The Microsoft suit took from May 18, 1998 when the suit was filed, through April 3, 2000 when the judgement was announced. The Microsoft case was fascinating to watch, as the government continually proved its lack of understanding of the topic. It's been over 2 decades since that case, but something tells me this will be no less confusing.

Will the future of game streaming require streamers to get a license?

posted Saturday Oct 24, 2020 by Scott Ertz

This week saw a pair of scenarios that could indicate an existential crisis to videogame streaming. Streaming has become a very big business, whether it be individuals streaming on Twitch and Facebook Gaming or competitions streaming the professional matches. In some cases, game developers and publishers are officially involved. For example, Ninja was reportedly paid $1 million to play and promote the launch of Apex Legends. However, for the most part, the developers and publishers are not involved. Twitch is filled with hundreds of everyday people playing games for others to watch.

Typhoon Studios (a Google Stadia studio) Creative Director Alex Hutchinson tweeted this week that he believed that anyone streaming a videogame should be forced to obtain a license from the game studio or publisher for that privilege. Obviously, the tweet was met with concern and mockery from the gaming community. He later tried to clarify his position, saying,

Amazing to me that people are upset at someone saying that the creators of content should be allowed to make some of the money from other people using their content for profit.

The argument is an interesting one, which is worth exploring. From a legal perspective, he has a point. Gamers, without written permission, have no right to stream the games that they are playing. All aspects of the game, from the story and art to the voice acting and music, are protected by the same copyright laws that protect television and movies. Some have long argued that it falls under Fair Use, though there is no aspect of Fair Use that would cover game streaming past 30 seconds.

However, there has always been an unwritten agreement between the studios and gamers that streaming is beneficial to both sides, so it is okay. A great recent example of this is Among Us, a game that has lived the past 2 years in obscurity until a group of Twitch streamers began playing it on the site. Today, Among Us is such a popular game that, while writing this paragraph, Facebook played a parody video of the game. In some cases, publishers recognize the value and have begun providing written, free licenses for streamers.

To add insult to injury, many Twitch streamers received a vague email, as pointed out on Twitter, claiming copyright infringement. The email contains no information about what the infringement is. It gives no way to counter the claim. In fact, it lets the creators know that their content has been deleted (not suspended). Likely, what has happened here is that RIAA has begun to index Twitch's content looking for copywritten music used without permission. Streamers have long ignored copyright law, possibly because of the unofficial treatment by the studios, and possibly because there have never been any repercussions. A day of reconning was inevitable, but Twitch's decision to flat out delete content without an appeals process should still be alarming.

It appears that, as game streaming gains in popularity, more interest will be placed on the industry. This is obvious from the comments and actions of the week, but is likely just the beginning. We've seen similar behavior in the podcasting space over the past few years, with podcasters having to answer for their behaviors with copywritten content.

T-Mobile gets off with warning after its massive outage in June

posted Saturday Oct 24, 2020 by Scott Ertz

T-Mobile gets off with warning after its massive outage in June

On June 15, 2020, one of the biggest wireless outages in US history happened when a large portion of the T-Mobile network failed across the country. The system was down for 12 hours, with calls failing, including calls to 911. If you weren't a T-Mobile subscriber, you likely saw your friends posting on Facebook asking if anyone else was experiencing issues with their phones.

The investigation into the failure showed that the issue was caused by a cascade of failures. Unfortunately for T-Mobile, all of which have industry-standard practices to prevent, but they seem to have all been skipped. The company was installing new routers in the Southeast when a fiber transport link failed. If everything had been set up correctly, the network would have automatically switched to a secondary link and carried on - business as usual. However, things were not configured correctly, so the switchover never happened, isolating Atlanta's devices from the network.

As the Atlanta devices tried to re-assign to Wi-Fi or other nodes, they were blocked by a software issue that directed them back to their previous node, which was also isolated. The assignment process eventually got out of isolation, but the traffic cascaded, bringing more and more of the network to its knees. Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Voice over Wi-Fi continued to fail nationwide, moving all voice traffic to the older smaller capacity 2G and 3G networks, causing over congestion and failed calls.

While the failure violated FCC guidelines and could have been prevented if the company had done what it was supposed to, the carrier has received absolutely no repercussions. It's not a huge surprise, as the FCC is notoriously lax on enforcement of rules. In fact, the FCC's only real response to the issue and the results of the investigation was a press release which just reminds all carriers to follow the rules. Hopefully, this will work to prevent these issues in the past.

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