The UpStream (Page 146)

Columbus Nova Acquires Sony Online Entertainment, Renames to Daybreak Game Company

posted Sunday Feb 8, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Columbus Nova Acquires Sony Online Entertainment, Renames to Daybreak Game Company

Sony Online Entertainment, the game studio behind popular titles like EverQuest, PlanetSide and more recently H1Z1, has been acquired by Columbus Nova, an investment group. SOE will now become its own standalone studio and will operate independently under a new name.

Since 1999, Sony Online Entertainment has been creating top titles that have won over gamers from around the world. Now, the studio will be rebranded and called Daybreak Game Company. The new owners of the company said that its acquisition will stay true to the course of making new online games and placing those games on multiple platforms. The company also said they would not be shutting down any current SOE titles or services.

Jason Epstein, senior partner with Columbus Nova, said in a statement,

Sony Online Entertainment, newly rebranded as Daybreak, is a great addition to our existing portfolio of technology, media and entertainment focused companies. We see tremendous opportunities for growth with the expansion of the company's game portfolio through multi-platform offerings as well as an exciting portfolio of new quality games coming up, including the recently launched H1Z1 and the highly anticipated EverQuest Next to be released in the near future.

The terms of the deal have not yet been disclosed. However, given Sony's current status and how infectiously popular (no pun intended) H1Z1 has been even before launch, it's not surprising to see the studio picked up by a group that has a lot of cash to throw around.

Columbus Nova has been around since 2000 and has had a hand in numerous ventures. The investment management firm brought back Rhapsody from the brink of disaster in 2013 via a huge cash injection, and the company has also invested in companies like Fiverr and Rabbit. Additionally, Epstein purchased Guitar Hero from Viacom in 2010, so take that how you wish.

Perhaps with a bit of cash and the freedom to produce a great game, H1Z1 might get the support that PlanetSide 2 lacked. Daybreak Games might end up being a formidable opponent in the videogame space.

Potential Multiple Swatting Perpetrator Arrested in Las Vegas

posted Saturday Feb 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

A huge problem in the online gaming world, particularly within the streaming sector, is a phenomenon called swatting. In this, a person makes an illegal prank call to local emergency services for a game streamer. They then claim that, within the home of said streamer, a terrible crime has been committed or is in progress. A common claim is a murder or hostage situation. The home is then swarmed by the local SWAT team.

Obviously, this is both dangerous and stupid. First, it wastes the time and resources of local law enforcement. More importantly, though, it is massively dangerous for the people in the home. If a law enforcement officer is a little trigger happy, or there is a misfire on a weapon, people within the home can be injured or killed. Even if everything goes right, a person can be injured being taken to the ground, etc.

A fairly well-known incident on July 10, 2014, might have revealed a bigger problem. 19-year-old Brandon Wilson, who goes online by "Famed God," was arrested in Las Vegas in conjunction with the July event. Among the evidence for this incident found on Wilson's computer was evidence of his participation in other swatting events across the country.

In addition to the swatting evidence, there is evidence that Wilson threatened at least one other gamer and hacked into online accounts of two others, changing or stealing their information. It is possible that, with this information, he might have been looking for addresses for future "pranks."

Wilson is currently facing up to 5 years in prison for the variety of charges. He is currently waiting extradition to Illinois, as the crime falls within the state's jurisdiction.

RadioShack Files Bankruptcy, Signs Deal With Sprint for New Store Concept

posted Saturday Feb 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

RadioShack Files Bankruptcy, Signs Deal With Sprint for New Store Concept

After nearly 10 years of CEOs who were either shysters or morons, and a board of directors who may not have known what the company sold, the inevitable has happened: RadioShack has filed chapter 11 bankruptcy. This comes mere hours after the New York Stock Exchange delisted the company's stock because of corporate value.

While announcing the filing, the company also announced part of their plan to deal with bankruptcy. Currently operating over 4,000 stores, the company will sell between 1,500 and 2,400 of the stores to General Wireless. General Wireless is a new company, formed between Standard General and Sprint, who will create a "new" store within a store concept.

This new concept will move in to 1,750 of these acquired stores. The store will sell exclusively Sprint-owned wireless services (including Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile) in one-third of the store, paired with mobile-supporting RadioShack-branded products in the rest of the store. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said,

We've proven that our products and new offers drive traffic to stores, and this agreement would allow Sprint to grow branded distribution quickly and cost-effectively in prime locations. Sprint and RadioShack expect to benefit from operational efficiencies and by cross-marketing to each other's customers.

Interestingly, this is not the "new" concept that Sprint or RadioShack would have you believe. In fact, Sprint once operated a smaller concept of the same store within a store within RadioShack for many years. The difference here is that Sprint employees will be tasked with selling Sprint services, as opposed to RadioShack employees. Also, these stores will be co-branded, with Sprint being the primary brand, as opposed to RadioShack.

In addition to the sale of some stores, the company also plans to close another 1,784 of their stores in 3 rounds. Those stores have been detailed: many being expected, some a bit surprising. In our local market, a brand new store (less than 6 months old) will be closed and not transferred to Sprint. It would appear that the intent is to close its mall stores, leaving mostly neighborhood stores behind. The stores that will be going away are planned to close by the end of March, giving them very little time to accomplish the goal.

If these closures go as previous RadioShack closures, a liquidation company like Hilco, who also handled Circuit City and Kmart/Sears Essentials closures, will be brought in to accomplish the goal. This means that if you are looking for deals on tech products, checking out whether your local store will be closing or not might be a great idea.

Disclaimer: The author is a former RadioShack employee with 10 years with the company in a variety of roles.

Netflix to Produce Live-Action Zelda Series [Report]

posted Saturday Feb 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Netflix to Produce Live-Action Zelda Series [Report]

Nintendo just announced their best quarter in years, and they pulled it off, at least in part, through creative licensing. Our good friend Jason Michael Paul, who produced rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes, has begun touring with The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, the latest Zelda-themed orchestration.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Nintendo is currently in talks to bring Link and Zelda to a new venue: Netflix. If this report turns out to be correct, it would mark a pretty major diversion for the company from its long-standing avoidance of live-action. The unwritten policy has been in effect since the very odd film interpretation of Mario and Luigi, Super Mario Bros. in 1993. Since then, the company has smartly avoided anything live-action stemming from their IP.

In addition to their own bad experiences, there is the issue that videogame adaptations are traditionally terrible. Resident Evil has turned out some mediocrity, but in general, live-action videogame content has not been successful. The tides could be turning, with films based on the Warcraft and Assassin's Creed universes in the works, but those are franchises with well-established characters and stories - Link and Zelda don't have that.

As much as we all may love the games presented in this universe, I don't think many of us can attribute it to deep character development or loving stories. Instead, our love for the games comes from incredible gameplay, unique visuals, carefully considered level design and unmatched music. Our main character Link hasn't really spoken, outside of nonsense grunts, in what would seem like decades. Zelda hasn't done anything remarkable, outside of becoming Sheik. Even Ganondorf, our bad guy, seems to have very little driving him under the hood.

Now, the other side of this coin is that this could give the series developers full control over where these characters go and, more importantly, where they come from. It would give the series the ability to create stories from nothing, giving characters backstories who have, until now, had nothing but a goal. With full control, we could see the Zelda universe turn into something truly beautiful.

However, we are still dealing with the modern Nintendo, who has not had a great track record of letting things go recently. A company once known for their open acceptance of fan art and production, has begun cracking down on footage and music used on YouTube and Twitch. The Nintendo of 2015 might not let Netflix or their how runners have full control; in fact, they might not let them have any control. That could shoot this project in the foot before it even gets off the ground. This is a case where you let people work on the parts of the industry they are talented in, but Nintendo is unlikely to let that happen.

If the project does make it into production, it would certainly be interesting to see the final product. The good news is, even if it is a Bloodrayne-quality disaster, it is unlikely to do any lasting harm to the franchise. If Phillips was unable to sink the franchise in the 90s, Netflix is unlikely to accomplish it today.

Verizon Continues Its Focus on Wireless with $15+ Billion in Asset Transitions

posted Saturday Feb 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Verizon Continues Its Focus on Wireless with $15+ Billion in Asset Transitions

Last month, Verizon announced they were "nearly done" with FiOS installs, bringing to completion a promise made in 2010. While it would seem from their marketing that Verizon is highly focused on its FiOS business, their actions would suggest otherwise. In fact, their focus is on enhancing their wireless business at any cost.

This week, two of those costs were revealed through the transition of assets in both the wireline and wireless businesses. In the wireline business, Verizon agreed to sell all of its consumer wireline assets and customers to Frontier Communications in California, Florida and Texas for $10.54 billion. The sale includes Verizon FiOS Internet and Video, access lines, DSL Internet and long distance services. It does not include Enterprise or Wireless services. Verizon will continue to operate these services in 9 other states, plus the District of Columbia.

Verizon said in a press release,

Selling wireline operations in California, Florida and Texas to Frontier will concentrate Verizon's wireline operations on the East Coast. Verizon will focus on further penetrating the market for its FiOS business across a contiguous footprint in Eastern states.

We will pretend that Florida isn't an East Coast state, and instead say that focusing their operations in a particular geographical region makes financial sense for the company. Maintaining the aging copper lines, as well as installing fiber lines, is an expensive project; keeping them connected to the rest of the Verizon network, through states that they do not operate within, is even more so.

As the transition begins, likely in the first half of 2016, Verizon customers will become Frontier customers, and approximately 10,000 Verizon employees will make the leap. The two companies have made this transition in the past, with Verizon selling assets in 2009. There were few issues during that period, so it is expected that this period should be just as uneventful.

In the wireless business, the company will be transitioning over 11,000 of its towers to American Tower Corporation for approximately $5 billion. This will leave Verizon with very few remaining corporate towers, but instead will allow Verizon to lease back space on the existing hardware. American Tower Corporation will assume responsibility for land leases and tower maintenance, in exchange for the ability to lease unused space on the towers to other wireless providers. Verizon will have access to all of their former hardware for at least 10 years, with the option to extend to 50 years.

Verizon intends to use $5 billion of its new found money to accelerate their stock buyback program, while the rest of the cash will go to enhancing their other businesses, including wireless. Lowell McAdam, Verizon Chairman and CEO, said,

Our long-standing strategy has been to consistently invest in our networks, improve our customers' experience, and develop new products and services while delivering profitable growth. These transactions will further strengthen Verizon's focus on extending our industry leadership position in our core markets and return significant value to our shareholders.

From this statement, it can be assumed that they consider Wireless and Enterprise to be their "core markets" and wireless to be far less. It is an interesting move, and one that shows that Verizon's belief in its wireless technology is strong. As XLTE continues to expand across the country, Verizon Wireless suddenly has enough capacity to begin to replace copper and even consumer fiber for many customers. Hopefully this will also trigger Verizon to consider lowering the cost of wireless offerings, especially on data.

Xbox One Will Also Benefit from Microsoft's DirectX 12 Announcement

posted Sunday Jan 25, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Xbox One Will Also Benefit from Microsoft's DirectX 12 Announcement

This week's Microsoft Windows 10 event showed off a lot of what Windows 10 can bring to the Xbox. One of the big announcements was how the new DirectX 12 would benefit gaming on the Xbox One. Xbox head Phil Spencer took the stage to explain all of the pros behind DX12 coming to not only the PC, but to the Xbox One.

For those unaware, DirectX 12 is a Microsoft programming interface that handles video activities on the computer, namely for gaming. It's had many names in the past but they now all live under the DirectX name. With each iteration, improvements and enhancements always come with it, giving developers more tools and capabilities, which can then be passed down to gamers in terms of graphical additions and gameplay benefits.

Spencer focused a portion of the event to talk about DX12 and how it would relate to the PC, but also made mention that the API would be open for Xbox One games, too, since Windows 10 is making its way to the console. How? Well, it first starts with the developers. Marketing head Aaron Greenberg took to Twitter about DirectX 12 after the event concluded. When asked if DX12 would affect the Xbox One substantially or would the PC benefit more, he replied, "both, but devs have to make use of it."

It will help developers on Xbox One. It's not going to be a massive change but will unlock more capability for devs.

Simply put, the devs will have the tools and will just need to take advantage of them for gamers to experience the benefit. DirectX 12 will allow better performance by giving developers the ability to send the GPU tasks to perform on the numerous threads available on the chip. In the past, this was not possible, as most of the task management is CPU-bound. The essence behind DX12 is that it changes this process by allowing many CPU cores to communicate with many GPU cores. Plus, with the Xbox One just recently unlocking its 7th core for gaming, although it will take some development time for us to see the benefit directly, it gives devs more power than they previously had on the Xbox One. This is key for the One's lifespan and usage, and will be especially powerful with exclusives.

What does that all mean for the average person? We should expect to see graphic performance increase by almost 50% and CPU usage drop by 20%. Current games will also see a slight boost to performance just by the firmware upgrade. An oversimplified comparison of DX11 vs DX12 breaks it all down in extremely fine detail, but in the end, this is good news for gamers on Microsoft's latest console.

We'll see more information about this at the upcoming GDC as well. If there's one thing to take away from all of this tech talk, it's that there are great things in store for gamers. And those things are coming very soon, so we should all be excited about them.

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