The UpStream (Page 2)

Xbox Live is now Xbox network as free-to-play games drop requirement

posted Saturday Mar 27, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Xbox Live is now Xbox network as free-to-play games drop requirement

In the console wars, one of the biggest arguments against Xbox has been the requirement for Xbox Live Gold for online gaming. In the early days, Gold for all games was an easy argument because the cost of managing XBL was high, and all communication ran through Microsoft's system. But, in recent years, more of the communication has happened off-network because of cross-platform gameplay. So, as times are changing, so is Xbox Live.

This week, the most recent Alpha build for Xbox Insiders shows "Multiplayer in Free-to-play games, Looking 4 Groups and Party Chat on Xbox no longer requires an Xbox Live Gold membership." This move brings Xbox Live requirements inline with Sony and Nintendo when it comes to free-to-play games. It is also in line with the actual value that Xbox Live is providing to gamers playing these particular games. Fortnite players put little load on the system compared to Halo.

Along with the change to Gold policies, another big change seems to have come along with the update: a name change. Rather that being referred to throughout the system as Xbox Live, all references now show "Xbox network" with a lowercase n. The Verge received a statement from Microsoft saying,

Xbox network' refers to the underlying Xbox online service, which was updated in the Microsoft Services Agreement. The update from 'Xbox Live' to 'Xbox network' is intended to distinguish the underlying service from Xbox Live Gold memberships.

So, going forward, the actual technology will be referred to as Xbox network, while the paid subscription will retail the original name of Xbox Live Gold. For longtime gamers, the naming change is going to take some getting used to. Xbox Live and its name (while not the logo) have been around for 18 years - since the original Xbox. Like when a sports field changes names, many people will continue to use the original name for years. It is likely that the same will be true about Xbox Live.

LG, after years of struggling, is ready to exit the smartphone market

posted Saturday Mar 27, 2021 by Scott Ertz

LG, after years of struggling, is ready to exit the smartphone market

LG has a lot of product categories that might be in your home. Refrigerators, ranges, and microwaves are everywhere. Their smart TVs are also one of the big categories for the company. However, one category that people don't currently think of when they think of LG is smartphones. Because of this shift in market share, the company is thinking about abandoning the market entirely.

A decade ago, LG was one of the major players in smartphones. Before Apple got involved, they were one of the big names, along with HTC and Motorola. Today, none of those companies play a major role in the industry. Motorola has changed hands a couple of times over the past few years, currently part of Lenovo. HTC has suffered a similar fate, once considering abandoning the market, later changing course and selling most of the business to Google (who sold Motorola to Lenovo).

Now, LG is in a similar position. Recently, the company was rumored to be considering a sale of the smartphone division to another interested company. However, new reports suggest that LG is now considering simply shuttering the division entirely and moving on. This could be because there are simply no interested parties, or because the amount of work or time involved in the process of a sale would exceed the value of the brand. Sometimes the best course of action is to walk away and cut your losses, which might be where LG is headed.

Now, this is not to say that LG would be entirely absent from the smartphone world. The company is one of the major manufacturers of components like screens for other bands, including Apple. There is no suggestion that LG is considering abandoning that aspect of its business, which makes sense. They have consistently held a position of quality in the component space, so continuing with that aspect of the business is a way to keep participating while not trying to follow the bizarre trends of the smartphone space, which they have struggled to understand.

NFL reaches $100 billion agreement with broadcasters for next decade

posted Saturday Mar 20, 2021 by Scott Ertz

NFL reaches $100 billion agreement with broadcasters for next decade

2020 was a bad year for most of us, but the National Football League (NFL) had a particularly difficult season. Despite people being at home nearly 24/7, the league saw a significant drop in viewership. The slump culminated in a Super Bowl whose ratings were the lowest in almost 15 years. Even with these issues, the NFL has managed to address them at least with broadcasters, as the company has reached a major broadcast deal for the next decade.

The biggest change to the agreement is the heavy addition of streaming services. Most interestingly, Amazon has obtained exclusive rights for Thursday Night Football. This marks the first time that a flagship brand will move exclusively to an online platform. Amazon will pay $1 billion per year from 2023 through 2033 for this right - the least expensive of the deals (TNF traditionally has the lowest ratings).

Last season, Amazon streamed TNF games from Fox on its primary streaming platforms: Amazon Prime Video and Twitch. Both had unique capabilities, with Prime getting alternate commentary options, and Twitch included the traditional social interaction. For its singular exclusive game, it even featured a casual chat with ex-NFL players. It is possible that we can expect more of this now that TNF will be exclusive to Amazon's platforms, though Amazon has other fish to fry. Originally Amazon viewers were treated to Fox's coverage in simulcast, but this season Amazon is going to have to do its own production.

Under the deal, the NFL's traditional broadcast partners will also be able to add the content to their streaming services. NBC Universal (Comcast) can stream games on its Peacock services, CBSViacom can stream games on Paramount+, and Fox Sports can stream through Tubi. The only future in question is that of NFL Sunday Ticket. It has long been part of DirecTV's offerings, but with the brand in financial trouble and recently jettisoned from AT&T, it seems likely that a streaming service will end up with those rights.

Zuckerberg changes stance on Apple's upcoming privacy feature

posted Saturday Mar 20, 2021 by Scott Ertz

Zuckerberg changes stance on Apple's upcoming privacy feature

Ever since Apple announced that iOS 14 would eventually add a new feature called App Tracking Transparency (ATT), Facebook has fought the change. The feature allows users to deny an app's request to track their behavior on and off of the app. Facebook, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in particular, have argued that the feature will be bad for Facebook and its users, since day 1.

This week, Zuckerberg changed his tune somewhat, focusing on what this will do for the company. During a session on the social conference call platform Clubhouse, Zuckerberg said,

The reality is that I'm confident that we're gonna be able to manage through that situation well and we'll be in a good position. I think it's possible that we may even be in a stronger position if Apple's changes encourage more businesses to conduct commerce on our platforms.

While the previous argument was that Facebook was being targeted specifically with the feature and that it would significantly harm the company's business, now they believe (or Zuckerberg is saying) that the end result will be more users being driven to the Facebook apps directly. It's an interesting argument, believing that more users will go to Facebook and Instagram because the apps are not tracking their web behavior anymore.

On the other hand, the argument that ATT could harm small developers is a decent argument. Many small developers rely on highly targeted ads for the bulk of their revenue. Individuals creating projects or early-stage apps are only possible because of these ads. With less targeted ads comes less revenue for the apps. This could, potentially, lead to fewer free, ad-supported apps, and more 99 cent apps showing up in the App Store.

On the other hand, it's not as if all users are going to go into privacy mode. Many users will continue with business as usual, allowing the apps and platforms to do as they please. Only time will tell if Facebook has a point, or if Apple's move will be better for the little guy.

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.

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