The UpStream (Page 158)

Apparently Blizzard Can't Make an MMO Fun Anymore

posted Sunday Sep 28, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Apparently Blizzard Can't Make an MMO Fun Anymore

For almost as long as we can remember, Blizzard has been the king of MMOs. Try as they might, no one has been able to touch the successes of World of Warcraft. In recent years, however, that lead has begun to wane. With changes aimed at making the game more accessible to non-hardcore gamers, long-time loyalists have given it up for more challenging titles.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Blizzard began work on a new MMO title. Referred to internally as "Project Titan," Blizzard has never officially announced the game, but has made comments about it publicly. For example, last year Blizzard said the game was going to see an overhaul, which would delay its release until at least 2016.

As it turns out, the problems behind the overhaul seem to have been bigger than first thought, as Blizzard has cut the game. Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime described the project,

We had created World of Warcraft, and we felt really confident that we knew how to make MMOs. So we set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine. And it didn't come together.

We didn't find the fun. didn't find the passion. We talked about how we put it through a reevaluation period, and actually, what we reevaluated is whether that's the game we really wanted to be making. The answer is no.

So, after 7 years of development, and at least the beginning of a reconsidering, the king of MMOs couldn't make a new title fun? Did they fire everyone who helped them create the World of Warcraft phenomenon? Was that game's success a fluke? Or, more realistically, did they truly come to believe that the changes made to World of Warcraft were fun?

Either way, it would appear that the company's plans going forward will be less AAA titles, more small format games. They have discovered through the successes of Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm that they can have success with smaller games. Senior vice president of story and franchise development Chris Metzen said,

Maybe we can be what we want to be and inspire groups around the company to experiment, get creative, think outside the box and take chances on things that just might thrill people. Maybe they don't have to be these colossal, summer blockbuster-type products.

So, expect Blizzard to focus on smaller, story-focused titles and less focus on traditional Blizzard-style titles. Unfortunately, this also means we can say goodbye to the non-existent "Project Titan.".

Comcast Says Its Streaming Service is Unpopular, Not a Threat

posted Sunday Sep 28, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Comcast Says Its Streaming Service is Unpopular, Not a Threat

The Comcast-Time Warner merger has had a lot of issues in getting off the ground. That is to be expected, considering the size of the prospective company, both in physical size and consumer reach. While Comcast has continued to argue that the new company would not impede competition, many companies have protested. Possibly the loudest has been Netflix.

Obviously Netflix has a lot to lose in this merger. Netflix already pays Comcast for decent speed, the price of which could only go up if Comcast represents a larger market. In addition to paying for speed, Comcast also has a service which is a Netflix competitor, marketed directly to Comcast subscribers and included in their cable boxes.

The service, Streampix, which was launched in 2012, has not exactly been successful. While most companies would be distressed by this fact, Comcast is using it to their advantage. In their 300+ page FCC filing, Comcast said,

Commenters try to make this a transaction-specific issue with claims that Comcast has a greater incentive than TWC to foreclose OVDs due to Comcast's Streampix offering and its more rapid migration to an all-IP network. But Streampix is not designed as an out-of-footprint, over-the-top video service, much as commenters would like to pretend otherwise. It is a branded VOD offering, available on Comcast's set-top boxes; its unique claim is simply that in assembling the service, Comcast set out to acquire full online rights as well, and highlighted the over-the-top access of the network. And though Comcast sought to create excitement around Streampix by offering the online version through a unique online site and app, and offered Streampix to a small number of Xfinity broadband-only customers in one region, these attracted minimal interest: both the site and the app are being decommissioned, and the standalone offer was discontinued. Going forward, Streampix will simply be part of the Xfinity TV app and website like other VOD offerings.

So, according to Comcast, because Streampix has not had a lot of success, it should not be considered a legitimate competitor to Netflix. Therefore, they will argue that some, if not all, of Netflix's whining about unfair business practices are overblown.

Unfortunately for Comcast, that isn't exactly how things work. The fact that they actively work to sign exclusive streaming deals does make them a competitor. In addition, they plan to roll the service into their Xfinity offering, meaning that it will be easier to access and included in their existing mobile apps. In addition, it is already available on Comcast devices, making it easier and more direct that Netflix for Comcast customers.

With that, it makes all of Netflix's comments not only valid, but important. The FCC will need to take their issues into account before approving or disapproving of the merger. As we know, a merger this large can fail and cost a fortune. This is because of the intense effect on the market. No wonder both sides are fighting so hard.

Yahoo Urged to Add AOL to Its Portfolio

posted Saturday Sep 27, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo Urged to Add AOL to Its Portfolio

Last week, Alibaba went public, outperforming even their own projections. While the record-breaking IPO made a lot of money for employees of the company, a lot of early investors got a big payday as well. One of those early investors was Yahoo, who banked $6 billion from its holdings. For public companies like Yahoo, with money comes hedge funds who have ideas how to spend it.

Hedge Fund Starboard Value wrote to Marissa Mayer, giving her ideas on where she should take the company next; particularly what she should do with the newfound Alibaba money. While Marissa has done a pretty great job of turning around the company, including an ongoing battle for the top visited domain with Google. She has done this by consistently looking for new companies to add to the portfolio, and existing properties to bring back to relevance.

Of all of the ideas pitched, the most intriguing is the purchase of AOL. While it might seem like purchasing an Internet relic, there are a couple reasons why this might just work. First, Mayer has proven herself an expert at reviving relics, such as Flickr. While Time Warner had no success with the brand, Mayer might be the one that could turn it around and make it a viable brand again. Failing that, she could use the expertise of AOL to bolster Yahoo's relevance.

That leads us to the second point. AOL has one area in which they thrive: news and video. Coincidentally, Yahoo is in the process of amping up their offerings on both of these areas. For example, they recently added Katie Couric as the face of their news team, hoping to increase homepage relevance. In addition, they have been really focusing on video, with live concert streaming, Saturday Night Live syndication and talk of a YouTube competitor.

Marissa Mayer responded, rather broadly, saying,

Going forward, we have great confidence in the strength of our business. The management team and the board of directors remain committed to building value for all shareholders through the continued execution of our strategy, investing in products that will drive sustainable growth: search, communications, digital magazines and video.

With a focus on video, and AOL's relatively high success rate in the video arena, this might just be a proper match.

Apple and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

posted Saturday Sep 27, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Apple and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

It isn't often that a company has an entire week they would like to Ctrl-Z. This week has been exactly that for Apple, or however you might accomplish an Undo on a Mac. It seemed that every time we turned around, Apple was making negative headlines again for a new reason. Between shoddy products, security disasters and knowledge thereof, plus an update that could brick phones, this is a week Apple would like to strike from the record. I don't think that's going to happen.


Let us begin with Bendgate, the unfortunate hardware issue amusingly named to mock Antennagate, which was another major Apple hardware issue. This issue, however, is not so easily fixed as to hold your phone by the top with just 2 fingers: this is destroying handsets, though not the first release manufacturing issue.

If you are a woman, you know the burdens of pants pockets - they almost do not exist in the front. This is why most women, especially younger women, carry their phones in the back pockets - there's actually room. Men, on the other hand, tend to carry theirs in the front pocket, halfway down their leg. Either way, the phone lives in a part of the body that receives pressure against a curved surface when sitting. While Samsung and LG are releasing curved screen phones, Apple's iPhone 6 is not even designed to be close to curved surfaces.

Because of the pressure placed on the phone when sitting, users on social media have reported that their phones has physically curved or bent. Apple has claimed that only 9 customers have complained of phones bending or curving, but the results on Twitter seem to suggest a higher rate of failure. Even if we are to assume Apple's number, how in the world could 9 phones have bent, other than cheap aluminum in the manufacturing?

Nearly every publication has tested the issue, with most coming up with the conclusion that the phone is far easier to bend than most other phones on the market, but still higher than what would be normal pressure. The iPhone 6 comes in around 55 pounds of pressure, whereas the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 comes in around 150 pounds of pressure. That is a pretty huge swing, but for anyone who has worn skinny jeans and sat on their phone, you know that more than 55 pounds of pressure is placed on your phone. Maybe Apple will blame Gap for this one the way they blamed BlackBerry for Antennagate.

iOS 8 Updates

Let us pretend that you plan on keeping your phone iPhone 6 in a bag protected with an Otterbox case, preventing all chances of it bending. The ability to use one of the most advertised new features of the phone, HealthKit, is something many customers expected to use right out of the box. Unfortunately, that wasn't really how it worked. Apple promised that iOS 8.0.1 would bring HealthKit, and it did. It also brought about TouchID failure and reception issues. Some users even saw their phones completely fail to download and install.

Many customers discovered that their cellular reception was less than optimal. In fact, it appeared to be iPhone 4 quality, which is not something of which to boast. Apple discovered an issue in iOS 8.0.1 that was iPhone 6 specific, for which they released a patch, iOS 8.0.2, which was capable of downloading, installing and fixing the reception issue! No need for Nokia to get offended this time.

Security: iCloud

The celebrity photo hacking issue has become almost epidemic - personal iPhone photos being stolen and leaked online. Apple initially claimed that their platform was secure and that the data could not have come from iCloud. Well, that is not exactly true. In fact, their platform is almost certainly to blame, and they know it.

In fact, Apple received reports 6 months ago from a security firm in London informing them of the iCloud API issue. Ibrahim Balic sent in reports to the company through various means, including email and the company's own bug reporting platform. In a March 26, 2014 email he said,

I found a new issue regarding on Apple accounts (sic)...By the brute force attack method I can try over 20,000 + times passwords on any accounts. I think account lockout should probably be applied. I'm attaching a screen shot for you. I found the same issue with Google and I have got my response from them.

Unfortunately, this problem was left unattended. In fact, it was entirely discounted by Apple.

Based on the information you provided, it appears that it would take an extraordinarily long time to find a valid authentication token for an account. Do you believe that you have a method for accessing an account in a reasonably short amount of time?

Time to hack is not an issue when there are Russian hack shops with hundreds of people, paid a dollar an hour, to exploit exactly these types of vulnerabilities. Coincidentally, celebrity photos were leaked to the public. Shocking, isn't it? A known vulnerability, reported and discounted, was eventually exploited by hackers on the Internet? That has never happened before. No, I'm sorry, ask Target and Home Depot about how well it works out after the class action lawsuits.

Security: Apple Pay

How secure will Apple Pay really be? Well, if Payment Token documents are even remotely accurate, not very. As you can see, the token that is passed around contains a tremendous amount of data, all accessible via Apple's NFC radio. This data includes Card number and expiration date, optional cardholder name.

Now, Apple will tell you that since it uses two-factor authentication on every transaction (iPhone and fingerprint), simply making this data available from the phone is not unsecure. The issue is that the iPhone fingerprint scanner is remarkably easy to fool. While it may not be "an easy attack" it is something to be concerned about. A simple lifting of your phone, and a hacking of the fingerprint scanner, and the ability to lift all of your personal credit information is EASY. In fact, this token has enough information to generate a whole new physical card. At least Apple is really good at protecting its data (see above).

Security: Bash Bug

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple after being fired, he brought with him the company he founded while he was gone: NeXT. This company had developed a UNIX-based operating system, which no one cared about, except Jobs. In fact, he cared so much, it kind of became MacOS X, which is still in use today. How could a "modern" operating system running on a 40-year-old backbone possibly cause a problem?

This week, a new bug was discovered, called Bash Bug. This simple command-line bug can cripple a computer with ease. Luckily, it only runs on UNIX-based machines. This means that UNIX, Linux (including Android, webOS and Tizen) and MacOS X are all susceptible. Because of the ease of use and nature of this bug, it is considered to be considerably bigger than Heartbleed, which nearly shut the Internet down for a few weeks; at least that part running on UNIX, Linux and MacOS X servers.

Apple claims that Bash Bug is not a real threat to MacOS X users, as the command line itself is not exactly a known feature to most, and the permissions required to execute it are, by default, not granted to any user of the computer. Oh, for that pesky root access I might believe this one, but Apple has already not been forthcoming about its security issues this week, so maybe don't believe this one as gospel, either.

Alibaba Outdoes Its Own Projections, Becomes Largest US IPO Ever

posted Sunday Sep 21, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Alibaba Outdoes Its Own Projections, Becomes Largest US IPO Ever

In June it was revealed that Alibaba had chosen the NYSE to list their record setting IPO. They expected to raise as much as $20 billion, becoming the largest US Initial Public Offering, not on the stock exchange that was once considered the go-to for tech companies.

As it turns out, their opening was even better than expected. Stocks opened at $68 and ended the day at $93.89. The opening price means that the company actually raised $21.8 billion, almost 10% higher than they had hoped. This is great news for the company, especially after the rather rocky time companies have had with IPOs in the past few years. Groupon failed pretty miserably in 2011, Facebook had its issues in 2012, whereas LinkedIn had major successes in 2012 and Twitter had mixed results in 2013.

So, with Alibaba technically being a Chinese-based company, why is all of this important? Well, it has to do with US filing and market capitalization. At its initial price, Alibaba's corporate value was $168 billion. All of the other US IPOs in 2014 combined have a market capitalization of $180.5 billion. With a single IPO, the new IPO capitalization for 2014 nearly doubled.

Not all companies going public for the first time are large, so let's take a look at existing companies' values. One of the companies that best relates to Alibaba is Amazon; the big difference being that Amazon sells directly to consumers, whereas Alibaba is more about pairing up wholesalers and distributors. Also, Amazon has aspects of their business, such as Amazon Web Services, Instant Video, etc. Amazon's current market cap is $158.3 billion - lower than the initial value of Alibaba by their entire IPO value. If you take into consideration current market value, there is more than a $50 billion discrepancy.

Another Chinese company listed in the US is Baidu, the Chinese Google, or so they believe. With everything from search to advertising and even a mobile operating system, Baidu has everything they need to be Google, and are even in the same physical market as Alibaba. So, how do they compare? A market cap of only $78.86 billion. That is about a third of Alibaba, which has far less to offer overall. Apparently it really pays to be in the right business, not every business.

Videogames for Ice Cream - What Could Go Wrong?

posted Sunday Sep 21, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Videogames for Ice Cream - What Could Go Wrong?

Apparently October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and, in observation of this event, Marin County in California has created an oddly unrelated program. On Saturdays during October, Marin County will accept trade-ins of toy guns and violent videogames in exchange for ice cream. I'll give you a moment to let all of that sink in.

The program is headed by District Attorney Ed Berberian, who led a gun buyback program in California two years ago. For a state in such financial disaster, it was definitely a good idea to spend so much money they had to increase the budget to handle all of the buybacks. That same clear, concise thinking is what has led to this buyback program.

Thankfully they have learned from their prior mistakes and will not be offering their own money, or I suppose your own money, as it was paid out of tax money. Either way, this time their attempted buyback program will not affect the ailing state's bottom line. Unfortunately Ben & Jerry's has gotten involved with this crazy concept, donating ice cream for anyone who turns in a toy gun or videogame.

Development and community relations manager for the Center for Domestic Peace, Marla Hedlund, said in defense of this program,

Children reflect the culture they live in. This is really all about having a conversation with our community and our children about the culture of violence. We're trying to inspire people to become part of the movement to create peace in a violence-free environment.

Berberian added,

As we know domestic violence incidents almost always have children present and these children develop over time imprinted images of the family violence. These children then carry those experiences into their adult lives and often repeat the pattern of violence in their own family units.

The issue here is that time after time, studies have found that playing videogames does not increase your chances of being violent. In fact, for many people it decreases those chances, as it becomes an outlet for any aggressions collected throughout a normal day. Also, California has had a rough history with banning videogame sales. After a cost of $1.8 million for a failed court case, at least they aren't putting up their own cash this time around.

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