The UpStream

Bethesda addresses Fallout 76 concerns with new subscription

posted Saturday Oct 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Bethesda addresses Fallout 76 concerns with new subscription

When gamers think of recent failed game launches, most will point to Fallout 76. While a lot of players had fun with the game from the beginning, others found certain aspects of the game to be out of line with the franchise. One of the primary concerns was that you could not play the game in a closed environment, being forced to play on public servers, subject to the unpredictability of random players. Granted, the game was billed as an MMO in the Fallout universe, it still caused displeasure.

Addressing this concern, developer Bethesda has announced the availability of private servers - for a cost. What the company announced was a subscription service called Fallout 1st which adds a new cost to the game. For $12.99 per month or $99 per year, gamers will finally get access to their long sought after private worlds. But, that is not all that will be part of the subscription.

In addition to private worlds, gamers will get unlimited crafting storage through a Scrapbox container, a travel point with a sleeping bag, stash, and more, called a Survival Tent, as well as in-game currency monthly. Like other subscriptions, it will also include emotes, icons, and an exclusive outfit.

No one would have expected this launch to go any better than the launch of the game itself, and it hasn't. Gamers on Reddit have documented issues ranging from the new Scrapbox eating items to friends list privacy issues. While the first is annoying, the latter is a legitimate problem. Currently, anyone on your friends' list can see your private world. For those who maintain a large list for trading purposes essentially lose the private part of the private world. Bethesda has responded to this issue, pledging to address it, saying,

We understand this is not what players expected for their Private Worlds... we are looking to provide an option in an upcoming patch that will allow Fallout 1st members to restrict access to their servers more completely.

This is a smart move, but "an upcoming patch" is far from definitive.

Tired of waiting for Google, wireless networks to upgrade texting

posted Saturday Oct 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Tired of waiting for Google, wireless networks to upgrade texting

When Apple introduced iMessage, it seemed like a strange move. Today, however, it is the standard by which messaging services are judged. That is partially because it was responsible for eliminating text messaging caps across the board, but it's also because it adds features to texting that the SMS standard lacks. For those who live in the Android ecosystem, iMessage offers delivery receipts as well as read receipts. Its biggest downfall, however, is that it is not a standard, but instead an Apple brand. That means that it is an iPhone exclusive.

However, there is a texting standard in the wild called Rich Communications Service which transforms the SMS standard into a more modern platform, bringing it in line with iMessage. Despite the standard being introduced in 2016, it has been implemented by nearly no one. Google announced in 2017 that 27 carriers worldwide had agreed to adopt the system, it is still nowhere to be found. In 2018, Google doubled down on RCS, but here we are.

The major US carriers, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, have announced a partnership called the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative to bring RCS to the US market on Android devices in 2020. This would be an unprecedented move on the part of the carriers, who usually fight with one another on technological exclusivities. The carriers have finally realized, however, that the only way that RCS is useful to users is if it works everywhere with everyone. John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, said,

Efforts like CCMI help move the entire industry forward so we can give customers more of what they want and roll out new messaging capabilities that work the same across providers and even across countries.

Once the Big 4 get involved, the smaller carriers, including virtual carriers, would likely follow suit. In the end, they might even be able to shame Apple into implementing RCS into iMessage, another unprecedented move.

Is the addition of RCS messaging to Android and possibly iOS a move that would make texting a better experience for you? Let us know in the comments.

Quibi signs distribution deal with T-Mobile, limiting their reach

posted Saturday Oct 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Quibi signs distribution deal with T-Mobile, limiting their reach

As more video streaming services enter the market, each one is looking for a way to differentiate themselves. Disney+ is focusing on the big Disney franchises. Apple TV+ is focusing on high profile original content with a large production budget. Quibi, short for "quick bites," has decided to focus on short-form episodic content. It's a strong pitch in a market filled with traditional length content on all of the services.

The next step for the new services is to determine how to expand their initial reach. Disney has been running a promo with Hulu, combining the services into one subscription. Apple announced that TV+ would be made available for free to new iPhone owners. Quibi, on the other hand, has made a strange move in significantly limiting their initial reach.

This week, the company headed by former HP CEO Meg Whitman, announced a partnership with T-Mobile, making them the exclusive wireless partner for the service at its April 2020 launch. This move means that the #3 carrier will be the only way to subscribe to the service. T-Mobile might see a small bump in business because of it, but nothing that's going to be earth-shattering. Quibi, on the other hand, stands to lose a lot. T-Mobile's current subscriber base represents less than 18% of US wireless subscribers. Sure, that's going to so up significantly if the Sprint merger completes, but it will still be the #3 carrier, even with Sprint.

The company may have a plan on how to make this work, but it seems like a strange and short-sighted move. It also seems like a strong way to damage your brand image. For example, say you subscribe to the service on your Xbox One. But, you know that you're paying the same amount as another subscriber who also gets the ability to use the service on their phone, but you can't because you're a Verizon customer. Other services have suffered from these exclusivity deals in the past, and Quibi might suffer a similar fate. However, we will have to wait until April to find out.

Tech industry could be in for an awakening if new bill passes

posted Saturday Oct 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Tech industry could be in for an awakening if new bill passes

Over the past few years, we have seen a rise in inappropriate data usage. Some of it has come from the data collectors themselves, such as Twitter's recent revelation that they had used security recovery email addresses and phone numbers for targeted advertising. Others have come from third parties, such as Cambridge Analytica and Hyp3r. No matter the source, the inappropriate or unintended use of personal data is on the rise and is causing the world to have less trust in tech companies.

The European Union tried to address the issue, but they did it in a controversial and unproductive way with GDPR. In the United States, legislators have been mulling about how to address the data usage issues differently. Senator Ron Wyden has proposed the comically named "Mind Your Own Business Act," which is intended to punish companies who engage in inappropriate data usage. In a statement, Wyden said,

Mark Zuckerberg won't take Americans' privacy seriously unless he feels personal consequences. A slap on the wrist from the FTC won't do the job, so under my bill he'd face jail time for lying to the government. I spent the past year listening to experts and strengthening the protections in my bill. It is based on three basic ideas: Consumers must be able to control their own private information, companies must provide vastly more transparency about how they use and share our data, and corporate executives need to be held personally responsible when they lie about protecting our personal information.

This bill, as Wyden stated, takes the responsibility off of the FTC and places it in the hands of the courts. That means that breaking the law could result in jail time for the executives involved in data usage decisions. That would be a massive change in policy and could actually affect the behavior of the tech companies and their executives. If Zuckerberg faced jail time for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the system may have never made that data available to the company in the first place.

The bill is a far way from being law. Plus, by the time it could become law, it will be changed significantly from what it is today. Do you think this could make a difference in the tech industry?

Blizzard is quickly throwing away all of their consumer confidence

posted Saturday Oct 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Blizzard is quickly throwing away all of their consumer confidence

In the past few weeks, Blizzard has made some decisions that have caused not just consumer, but international backlash. It started a few weeks ago when a professional Hearthstone player, Ng "Blitzchung" Wai Chung, made a pro-Hong Kong protest comment after a competition. The company stripped him of his tournament win and banned him from professional play for a year. Consumers responded swiftly, with people across the globe canceling their Blizzard game subscriptions. As a result, Blizzard seemed to disable the ability to cancel a subscription, claiming technical difficulties. After backlash, the company reinstated his win, as well as reducing his ban to six months instead of twelve.

Blizzard hoped that this would be the end of the controversy, but it seems to be just the beginning. This week, Blizzard decided to cancel a big event at Nintendo World in New York City, which was to be part of their much-anticipated release of Overwatch for the Switch. While Blizzard had not given a public statement about why the event had been canceled, many believed it was in response to a request from the Chinese government. There was an almost guaranteed chance that there would be protesters at the event, and their message would have been broadcast internationally with the Blizzard and Overwatch logos behind them. China has been flexing its muscles lately in regards to the Hong Kong protests, threatening to end business relationships with companies that even indirectly present an image of supporting the protests. Many companies have kowtowed to these requests for fear of losing access to the lucrative market.

Consumers are not the only ones concerned about Blizzard's relationship with China. A group of US Congresspeople who share almost no political positions, came together this week to express their concerns. A letter was sent by Republicans Marco Rubio and Mike Gallagher, Democrats Ron Wyden, Tom Malinowski, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to the company. They cite consumer response, employee response, and concerns over the reasoning behind these moves.

Blizzard and other companies have been put into a sticky situation when it comes to Hong Kong. The Chinese market can be a big one for these companies, but only if they play the government's games. Hong Kong has been China's first real flex outside of internet censorship. In addition to Blizzard, Apple was seemingly forced to remove an app from their store that allowed protesters to communicate. Apple also received harsh criticism and government questioning.

This could be the event that finally re-ignites the rift between the West and the Communists of China.

Is phone-based VR finally dead? Google and Samsung think so.

posted Saturday Oct 19, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Is phone-based VR finally dead? Google and Samsung think so.

At the resurgence of virtual reality in this decade, many companies saw using your phone and its screen as the basis for VR systems as the best solution. Samsung and Oculus built the Gear VR platform. Google created the Cardboard and then the Daydream platforms. A variety of other companies, including Monster, got into the game. All of these used your phone as the center of the VR experience, rather than creating dedicated VR hardware.

The problem with this approach is that consumers seemed unwilling to care. Outside of educational venues or corporate demos, I never saw a Google Daydream in the wild. Samsung was so desperate to make the platform work, they gave Gear VR headsets away with a Galaxy S8 purchase, and owners didn't request their free hardware. In response, Samsung didn't even make the 10 series, the Galaxy S10 and the Note 10, compatible with their Gear VR headsets.

Following suit, Google announced this week that the Google Daydream View hardware had taken the eternal nap. The dumb headset, as it were, was launched in 2016 and featured VR lenses and nothing more. Visually, it was probably the best recognized of the headset hardware, as it featured the strange grey fabric on the outside. However, being recognizable does not make you successful.

With this move, the era of dumb headsets and phone-based VR is all but dead. Sure, the existing hardware is still out there, both from Samsung and Google, but with no new hardware development, there is little chance that developers will put any effort into supporting these systems. So, during any software overhaul, you can expect Daydream and Gear VR support to be dropped. Hulu, as part of their UI overhaul last month, already dropped support for Daydream, beating Google to the punch.

So, with that, the failed experiment has completed. If you want to use VR going forward, you will need to use dedicated VR hardware. Fortunately, we have standalone platforms like Oculus Go, which will allow you to use VR without a computer, just like Daydream and Gear VR did.

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