The UpStream

Epic Games makes another if its product better for game developers

posted Saturday May 16, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Epic Games makes another if its product better for game developers

Over the past year or so, Epic Games has been adjusting the way it does business. Much of the company's new focus has been based around a philosophy of helping developers to keep more of the money they make. First was the Epic Games Store, which broke from the traditional 30 percent revenue sharing model in favor of only a 12 percent fee. Earlier this year, the company launched Epic Games Publishing, which followed the same model. Full ownership of intellectual property, possible full funding, and a smaller than normal licensing fee.

This week, the company applied the same general logic to another aspect of its business: Unreal Engine. In 2014, Epic Games made the engine available to the public. The licensing fee was $19 per month and 5 percent of the product's sales. They adjusted that licensing model to only require the 5 percent after revenue of $50,000 and removed the monthly fee. This week, they made an even bigger adjustment. The revenue sharing threshold is now $1 million. This comes at an opportune time, as the company also released the first major demo of Unreal Engine 5.

When combined with the company's existing Epic Games Store perk of no licensing fee for Unreal Engine, there is a lot of potential for game development using the already popular engine. A small game developer could build a game without any licensing for Unreal Engine. They could work with Epic Games Publishing and get funding for the development of the game itself. The game could be released to the Epic Games Store, saving the licensing fee and minimizing the revenue cut. They could use all of the extra profit to then release to Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, only then paying the licensing fee.

This move is the final piece of the puzzle for Epic Games' attempt to create a complete ecosystem designed for indie developers to thrive. Considering the popularity of some indie titles, it could open a big business for the company - but only if they can attract the developers.

Surface Duo leak suggests a unique, but basic Android device

posted Saturday May 16, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Surface Duo leak suggests a unique, but basic Android device

2019 began the era of the folding phone. Samsung took a side by side approach to the concept, while Motorola took a top to bottom approach. While both were different, they were variations on the same theme: one piece of bendable screen. Microsoft also announced an entry in the folding phone category, but they took a very different approach to the concept. Rather than trying to bend glass and LCD panels, Microsoft's Surface Duo decided to take a page from the Kyocera Echo's book and simply have two distinct screens.

Sprint announced the Echo in February 2011 and made it available for sale in April 2011, and the phone was the first dual-screen Android device. It folded in the middle and looked similar to a Nintendo DS. Microsoft's Surface Duo is a significantly updated version of the concept which is scheduled to release later this year. Despite the looming release and the device being used daily by Microsoft employees, we have heard very little from Microsoft on the specs of the device.

So far we know that the device has two 5.6-inch displays, each with a resolution of 1800x1350. The screens support Surface Pen, which makes it worthy of the Surface name. The width of the device is 4.8mm. And that's all we have known for some time. That changed this week, in a way, with a leak to Windows Central. The leak comes care of someone testing the device and likely shows the final hardware for the product.

The missing specs include a Snapdragon 855 SoC, 6GB of system RAM, and configurations including 6$GB and 256GB of storage. Like too many modern phones, it will offer no external storage. It will, however, offer a USB-C connector, something that Microsoft is finally coming around on with its modern devices. The phone will feature a single 11MP camera on the back, meaning that it will likely not have any facial recognition capabilities. It will, however, offer fingerprint security.

With the specs finally out, though unofficially, we can assume that Microsoft is close to complete on the device. That could mean that the rumors of an earlier launch of the Surface Duo might be true.

AMC to boycott future Universal films over distribution disagreement

posted Saturday May 2, 2020 by Scott Ertz

AMC to boycott future Universal films over distribution disagreement

With movie theaters closed thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown, movie studios have had to make big decisions about the future of their films. Many studios have moved the release dates for their blockbusters into the far future, altering their timelines. Most notable has been the Marvel studios releases, some films being pushed over a year past their release dates. Other studios have adjusted their release styles instead. The biggest alteration was for Trolls World Tour.

The film was scheduled to release in theaters just after the lockdown began. But, Universal decided to forego the theater and release the movie directly to premium video on demand (PVOD), renting the film for $19.99. As a family movie, this rental price is lower than a trip to the theater and it allows everyone to enjoy it in the safety and comfort of their own home. A win-win for families for sure, but what about for Universal? As it turns out, the move worked wonders - possibly exceeding the box office gross it would have had if it had premiered in theaters. It definitely exceeded the take form the original movie in 2016, taking in more in three weeks of PVOD than the original did in 5 months of theater showings.

And therein lies the problem. It was far more lucrative for Universal to forego the theater and go direct to PVOD. Theaters, which are already in trouble because of months of lost revenue, do not want to hear that their business model is not good for the studios which make the films that keep them going. However, Universal recognizes that some films are simply made for the big screen, while others can thrive on a small screen. As such, the company has said that it will evaluate its release of future films, potentially breaking the longstanding tradition of the box office window.

This window is the gap between the theatrical exclusivity and additional release platforms. There is no legal requirement to maintain this window, but it has been around for a long time. Removal of the window would mean Universal might release movies in theaters and PVOD at the same time, immediately adjacent, or any other combination that they see fit. This did not sit well with the CEO of AMC, Adam Aron. In a letter sent to Universal chairman Donna Langley,

Effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.

Don't expect this grandstanding to last, however, as this will do far more damage to AMC than it will to Universal if the last few weeks is any indication. That will become even more important as reports indicate that theaters, including AMC, might file bankruptcy following the lockdown.

Congress calls Jeff Bezos to testify about Amazon's use of seller data

posted Saturday May 2, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Congress calls Jeff Bezos to testify about Amazon's use of seller data

Last year, as part of its inquiry into the way big tech companies use their market positions to compete with those who rely on these companies, Amazon representatives were asked about their use of data. In particular, Nate Sutton, Amazon's Associate General Counsel was asked about the company's use of seller data on its platform to determine its own product offerings. Mr. Sutton said that Amazon does not use information about its sellers to compete against them. Those words are at the center of a new controversy for the company.

Following a Wall Street Journal report, a bipartisan House panel has requested that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appear before the panel to answer questions. Those questions, once again, revolve around Amazon's use of seller data to build its own product line. The report, which cites conversations with more than 20 previous employees in the private label division of the company, states that Amazon regularly uses data about sellers on the platform to plan its product moves.

One example cited is a trunk organizer. Employees were urged to research the top seller in the category on the platform, including which features were most important to customers, the best price at which the product sold, and what Amazon's profit was for hosting the product. After this research, Amazon launched its own branded trunk organizer, based on the research conducted.

Congress does not generally appreciate being lied to, which is probably why the concept of perjury exists. If there was any question about whether that's how they feel here, their letter to Bezos makes their feelings clear. They expect that Bezos will appear in front of the panel voluntarily, but are prepared to subpoena him if necessary. If it turns out that the company lied to Congress last year, there could be big problems for the company in the future. The company, however, has continued to insist that they do not use competitor data to develop their own products and take the accusations seriously.

SteamVR for macOS is coming to the end of its very short life

posted Saturday May 2, 2020 by Scott Ertz

SteamVR for macOS is coming to the end of its very short life

This past year has seen a lot of changes to the landscape of the virtual reality market. We saw the end and then open sourcing of Google Daydream. This was followed closely by Gear VR closing shop. This week, another big hit is coming to the landscape, with SteamVR support likely coming to an end for Apple computers. This would include older and current OSX and macOS implementations.

In this age of staying home, virtual reality should be seeing its renaissance. VR offers a way to escape reality and explore an alternate experience without leaving our homes. This would seem the ideal time for people to be experimenting with the technology, and yet, a whole platform is being abandoned instead. This move is not a surprise, as macOS has never been a popular platform for gaming. While it has always struggled to attract game development, the company hurt the momentum even further when they eliminated 32-bit applications, including games, in macOS Catalina.

But, the end of SteamVR for macOS does not signal anything other than Valve's recognition that its efforts to maintain virtual reality on Apple computers is not equaled by the results. The development of anything of value for macOS is a larger undertaking than developing for Windows or Linux. As such, the number of resources required are often higher than these other platforms. However, as Apple has never been a destination for gaming, the higher cost for fewer gamers is not a good investment.

Valve has no intention of moving away from either the Windows or Linux versions of SteamVR, which is good news for gamers since statistically, that's where they are. Eliminating support for macOS will give the company more resources to keep those projects going and, more importantly, keep them fresh. No timeline has been given on the official end of support, but expect it to be a slow retirement.

Clearview AI wants to add facial identification to contact tracing

posted Saturday May 2, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Clearview AI wants to add facial identification to contact tracing

Since the concept of contact tracing was first announced, it has faced privacy and accuracy concerns. While Apple and Google addressed concerns, other firms who have been tapped for additional technologies are still under fire. One of the most recent to draw attention is a company that is used to the negative spotlight - Clearview AI. Many people around the world have been worried about the privacy and accuracy of the technology. These are definitely two topics that should stay as far apart as possible.

However, despite the obviousness of the fallout here, Clearview has been in talks to use its facial recognition technology in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. A lot of people see this as a ploy by the company to get involved in government processes so that they can work their magic in selling their law enforcement products. One of the loudest oppositions to Clearview being involved in this fight is Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who sent a letter to the company asking for information on their discussions and plans. In fact, he demands that the company turn over the names of any agencies they are in discussions with, and any contract terms they are working on or have signed.

The rationale behind this demand is the fear of Clearview's technology. For starters, the accuracy of the technology has been questionable at best, and basing a medically-focused program around dubious tracing could be harmful to people. Using their facial identification in large crowds to determine who has been in contact could inaccurately mark people as sick and spread false panic.

More importantly, however, is the increase in public privacy violations. Clearview stores all images it is sent for analysis indefinitely, meaning that any image captured and processed by this system would be stored forever and used to expand its facial identification system. By installing cameras attached to the system in high trafficked areas, Clearview would have a better idea of who it has NOT identified. This will certainly be contested by more than just a single Senator. Expect privacy and consumer advocacy groups to be right behind.

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