The UpStream (Page 2)

Fighting championship series EVO has just been acquired by Sony

posted Saturday Mar 20, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Fighting championship series EVO has just been acquired by Sony

If you have had any interaction within the esports community, you have likely heard of EVO. This competition is famous within the fighting game culture and is by far the biggest competition in that part of the industry. It brings in tens of thousands of viewers, partially because of its place in the culture and partially because of its lack of focus on a single game. The popularity of the event has drawn enough attention that Sony has purchased the company. There are, of course, a number of important questions about this acquisition.

Will the founders stay involved?

Sony, as part of its announcement, assured the very active community that Tom and Tony Cannon will "remain closely involved in an advisory role to ensure EVO continues to service the fighting game community and support its vibrant growth."

This is an important part of the ownership transition, as the founders of these types of events help maintain the event's culture. By ensuring that the founders stick around, they can help sculpt the culture of the event as Sony focuses on expanding the "global reach, scale and fan engagement."

Joey Cuellar, another co-founder of the organization, will not be involved. Last year, he was accused of sexual misconduct with minors. Shortly after, he confirmed the allegations on Twitter, but has since deleted the tweet (it is available archived). After this, he was immediately removed from the team and Sony will not be asking for his input in the future.

Will game choices be restricted to Sony?

EVO Online 2021 lists its games as Guilty Gear Strive, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate, Street Fighter V: Champion Edition, and Tekken 7. You might notice that no Super Smash Bros. game is on the list, but this is not some nefarious Sony-led conspiracy. Melee was dropped from the competition in 2019, and there are significant lag concerns over Nintendo Switch Online and, therefore, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Sony has committed to maintaining the integrity of the event and keeping it an open and brand agnostic competition. That means that, following the return to in-person events in 2022, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will return to the competition's lineup.

For those who are interested, EVO Online 2021 will take place August 6-8, and 13-15.

WTF NFT? What are they and why did one recently sell for $69 million?

posted Saturday Mar 20, 2021 by Scott Ertz

WTF NFT? What are they and why did one recently sell for $69 million?

In the past few weeks, the concept of NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, have become mainstream. With high-profile sales of digital assets, including some weird and others fairly normal, the term NFT has become one that many people have heard of. However, not everyone knows exactly what they are - in fact, few people really seem to know what the term really means.

What is an NFT?

An NFT is a specific token that exists on the Ethereum blockchain. They share a common technological DNA with the Ethereum cryptocurrency but represent something different. Rather than representing a single portion of the overall value of a cryptocurrency ecosystem, NFTs represent a single point in time. That representation can be thought of as a digital certificate of authenticity for a particular digital asset.

These assets are most commonly artwork, music, or video clips. However, there have been some other oddball items, such as tweets. Recently, a nonfungible token representing the first ever tweet, a post from founder and CEO Jack Dorsey on March 21, 2006, sold for $2.5 million. As if that's not crazy enough, shortly after, Christie's auction house sold an NFT for $69.3 million. That token represented a piece of digital artwork named Everyday: The First 5000 Days by artist Beeple.

If I own the NFT, do I own the item?

Headlines about recent NFT sales have not been entirely clear about exactly how they work or what the sale represents. With a traditional certificate of authenticity, you get it when purchasing an item. With NFTs, however, this is not the case. Owning the NFT does not mean that you are the owner of the original digital asset. It's the most difficult part of the concept to understand. Jeffrey Thompson, associate professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey explained it, saying,

NFTs challenge the idea of ownership: digital files can be reproduced infinitely and you do not (usually) buy the copyright or a license when purchasing an NFT.

Another strange NFT sale is for the Nyan Cat meme, which sold for $590,000. The owner of that token does not give ownership of the meme to the owner, nor does it allow for them to prevent others from downloading or using it. What it does is gives the owner a unique token theoretically tied exclusively to that meme.

While it doesn't exactly work this way, you can think of it like going to a convention and buying a print of an artwork. You own that print, and only you can own it. But, it doesn't mean that the artist no longer uses it, and does not mean that you can reproduce it and make money from it.

But, why are they so valuable?

Just like any item, the value comes from people's belief in its value. And, like many collectables, value will be variable over time. People might remember the comic book craze of the 80s that collapsed by the 90s, or the Beanie Baby craze of the 90s that crashed by the 2000s. Those markets crashed because people lost faith in the value of the products. Marvel almost went out of business because of this loss of perceived value. Some collectables, however, maintain their value. Baseball cards, Magic: The Gathering, and Pokemon are all good examples of collectible commodities that have maintained for decades.

For NFTs, the future of value is unpredictable. It could go the way of Beanie Babies and Pogs, but it could be more like Pokemon and persevere. The fact that it is blockchain-based will help it maintain its momentum, at least among blockchain diehards. However, it is going to need to make a play for general acceptance, like cryptocurrency has, in order to maintain its growth.

PlayStation Store to remove all TV and movies later this year

posted Sunday Mar 7, 2021 by Scott Ertz

PlayStation Store to remove all TV and movies later this year

Digital video has become a big business, spurred on by the 356 days of "15 days to slow the spread" here in the US. We have seen companies that were not previously in the space enter, and others that were in the space change the way they offer their content. One company that is trying to finish off that transition is Sony, which has announced the end of sales and rentals in the PlayStation Store.

What is Sony Up To?

Later in 2021, Sony will completely discontinue both sales and rentals of all video content from the PlayStation Store. This is a service that has existed for years, but sales have waned. This is not a Sony problem, but a change in consumer behavior. No longer do people really want to buy or rent digital content. If they want to buy, it's going to be on physical media, and if they just want to watch it, it's going to be on streaming.

Rather than focusing on the licensing and distribution of digital content through the PlayStation Store, the company has focused on an area of the industry where they already have standing: anime. The company's Funimation division recently acquired anime streaming service Crunchyroll, which puts Sony firmly in the streaming space, in a niche market where no one else really thrives.

Why the Pivot?

Consumer behavior has changed in recent years. Some of it has come because of convenience and cost. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Paramount+ give a ton of content for a small monthly fee. That is generally preferable to paying almost the same amount to rent a single movie for a night or two.

Because of this, NBCUniversal has pivoted and launched Peacock, moving away from the NBC website, HBO unified behind HBO Max, and Disney+ brought together Star Wars and Marvel.

For some, the behavior change has come because of longevity. Making a purchase of video content on a digital distribution platform does not mean that you own it. It's a confusing scenario, made a little clearer when Amazon won a lawsuit for deleting purchased content, because you are not buying the video, but access to it. This has shifted purchasers back to physical media, which cannot be revoked. The inability to revoke access has become even more important in recent months as companies pull content that they decide you should not be allowed to see based on their view of the world.

Google claims Privacy Sandbox is just as valuable for advertisers

posted Sunday Mar 7, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Google claims Privacy Sandbox is just as valuable for advertisers

As Google's deadline to retire third-party tracking cookies approaches, many industries have asked what the future holds. Will Google come up with another way to create a unique tracking ID, or does it have another plan up its sleeve? The company addressed the elephant in the room this week, claiming that its days of tracking individuals are over thanks to Privacy Sandbox.

We continue to get questions about whether Google will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers. Today, we're making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.

The replacement technology, called the Privacy Sandbox, takes on the idea of group tracking surrounding interests, as opposed to individuals. The company claims that this new approach improves individual privacy while aligning with the way advertisers think.

advertisers don't need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising. Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers.

How Does It Work?

While none of the technology actually exists yet, the concept is pretty public. The current model uses cookies to track all activity, and sends that data to a collection of servers, where a profile is created for you based on your activities. Privacy Sandbox does all of the tracking locally within the confines of the browser, where it builds your interest profile. Then, only that interest profile is sent to the servers, theoretically allowing for an equivalent amount of targeting without the need to invade every web user's privacy.

Not Everyone Agrees

While Google is adamant about its plans to not create a new version of a tracking ID and that the new technology is just as useful to advertisers, industry insiders don't have the same opinion. Brian Handrigan, CEO of Advocado, who we met at Collision, told Multichannel News,

The Google announcement is somewhat of a "wolf in sheep's clothing" approach by the largest digital advertising vendor on the planet. Their claim to eliminate individual tracking IDs may seem like a win for privacy advocates, but is actually more of a land grab. Google can build their cohorts because, when a user logs into chrome, they give Google permission to track.

The real losers are competitors to the Google Ad products, advertisers and even consumers. Consumers will receive less targeted ads, and advertisers will have more ad waste.

So, What is the Reality?

The reality of the change likely lies somewhere in the middle. Google is certainly trying to avoid additional governmental battles by reducing the amount of data it collects about everyone. However, the move will probably decrease the fidelity of ad targeting. Of course, consumers are probably going to be okay with the trade-off between privacy and accuracy, but if Google doesn't address the concerns of the advertisers, someone else will find a way to do it and knock Google off its pedestal.

Epic purchases Mediatonic, developer of popular game Fall Guys

posted Sunday Mar 7, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Epic purchases Mediatonic, developer of popular game Fall Guys

Mediatonic is a name that 2 years ago, no one would have recognized, and had little public value. However, last year they took the gaming world by storm with the release of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. This game is especially popular among online streamers, attracting 3.5 million followers on Twitch. The game is also known for its memes, many of which start on the game's official Twitter account. Epic Games recognized the value of the game and its developer, bringing them into the fold.

But where does Mediatonic fit

It might seem like Epic Games purchased the company and the game studio might seem obvious. It's a popular game that competes against Epic's own Fortnite. But, that is only part of the equation. Fall Guys has an active community, and the company is good at creating and cultivating virtual experiences. And that is where the brand fits inside of Epic - as part of the experience building team for the Epic Games Metaverse.

What is the Epic Games Metaverse?

Metaverse is a word that originated in science fiction, but is becoming a more standard part of the online language. The idea is a shared virtual space. The failed PlayStation Home was a simple version of the concept. Facebook's VR ambitions are centered around the concept.

However, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney is the most vocal about the contept. Last year, he described the project saying,

The metaverse is going to be some sort of real-time 3D social medium where instead of sending messages and pictures to each other asynchronously, you're together with them and in a virtual world, and interacting and having fun experiences which might span anything from purely games to purely social experiences.

This might sound familiar, especially considering what we've seen in Fortnite over the past year. But, it's not enough - expanding the experiences and the variety of options is essential, and that is what Epic Games is hoping Mediatonic can bring to the table. Sweeney said of the integration,

It's no secret that Epic is invested in building the metaverse and Tonic Games shares this goal. As Epic works to build this virtual future, we need great creative talent who know how to build powerful games, content, and experiences.

Biden Administration recruits Tim Wu, an anti-Big Tech advisor

posted Saturday Mar 6, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Biden Administration recruits Tim Wu, an anti-Big Tech advisor

The Biden Administration is in the process of nominating and campaigning for confirmation to positions across the Federal government. However, not all positions require confirmation, and those tend to go to people who might not have a chance at confirmation. This could be because they have ruffled the feathers of those who confirmation they need, like Neera Tanden. Others may be because their ultimate goals go against the party. That is more where Tim Wu falls.

Tim Wu has been appointed to the National Economic Council (NEC), as a special assistant for technology and competition policy. His position within the administration suggests that the Biden Administration will be focusing on Big Tech in a big way. That's because Wu has a history of criticizing the industry, and has been vocal in his concern about the growing influence of the major tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. He was involved in the 2019 campaign to break up Facebook, which included the company's co-founder Chris Hughes.

Over the past few elections, tech companies both big and small, have put a lot of money into the Democratic Party in an attempt to curry favor with the party. Despite all of that money, it seems that the industry is no safer in their hands than in the hands of the Republicans, who have been distrustful of the Big Tech companies for years. In fact, many Democrats praised the appointment. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has proposed an overhaul of antitrust law, said,

It is clear this administration is serious about promoting competition in the United States. America has a major monopoly problem that must be urgently addressed... I look forward to working with Tim to modernize antitrust enforcement, strengthen our economy, and protect workers and consumers.

It seems that, if there is one topic that both parties can agree upon, it is the distrust over the growing power of the Sith Lords. No, sorry - the growing power of the Big Tech companies.

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