The UpStream (Page 159)

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.

More Zynga Execs Leave, Company Fills in the Voids

posted Sunday Sep 21, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

More Zynga Execs Leave, Company Fills in the Voids

Earlier this year, Zynga said it would be shaking up its executive positions and since Don Mattrick took over as CEO, that's been a reality. Even through multiple quarters of missed projections, the company is still looking ahead. Now, two more senior developers have left the company and Zynga is bringing on new talent to fill the holes.

First, both senior vice presidents of games, Tim LeTourneau and Steve Parkis, have left the company. Their successes have been with all of the "Ville" games, specifically FarmVille. Also leaving the crew was the head of Social Slots, Maytal Olsha.

As we talked about in the past, new president of Zynga Studios Alex Garden was brought on in April, with the sole mission of hiring people from outside of the company that have different skillsets unrelated to gaming. In addition to that motive, Zynga will also be looking to give its existing employee new or expanded roles within the ranks. Jamie Davies, one of the critical members of the FarmVille franchise, will become the new vice president of games.

Externally, Zynga has brought in Tony Leech to be the new creative director. Leech's repertoire includes the role of producer for Hoodwinked and Escape from Planet Earth. Sketch artist, art director and production director for Pixar, Jim Pearson, will make his way over as art director for Zynga now. Start-up entertainment company Red Robot will see cofounder Pete Hawley fit into the GM and president of creative positions. Red Robot's John Davison has also joined the company as senior director of network content and has previously worked in the gaming industry press.

Zynga has also started up a new intellectual property, Zynga NaturalMotion. Julian Widdows, formerly with Codemasters Racing and the Dirt franchise will head up the team as general manager. Finally, a second GM has been added to NaturalMotion. Catherine Silvestre has begun employment at Zynga, and has previously worked for Warner Bros.

What do you think of all these additions? Will this put Zynga in a better position to fully understand its position in the space and move forward? Let us know in the comments below.

FTC Commissioner Brill Now Thinks Data is Good, But Still Concerned

posted Sunday Sep 21, 2014 by Scott Ertz

FTC Commissioner Brill Now Thinks Data is Good, But Still Concerned

A few weeks ago, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill made quite a stink about health data. She was concerned that companies collecting all of this health data might be able to predict health issues with it. She felt that she needed to get involved, reviewing policies to ensure compliance with HIPPA, which does not regulate the data she is referring to.

Good news: Brill is back and talking again about health data. She emailed VentureBeat this week, though I am not yet sure why. She had a lot to say, including,

I'm a big believer in the potential for data from mobile and wearable devices to help consumers lead healthier lives and improve public health, but appropriate privacy and security protections are critical to achieving this potential...

It's encouraging to see app developers and companies like Apple recognize that, if they're going to collect and use health data from consumers, they need to institute strong protections for this sensitive data.

In addition, I think Congress has an important role to play in encouraging innovations based on user-generated health data by enacting both data security legislation and baseline privacy legislation that address sensitive health information. And even before Congress acts, industry and other stakeholders should set out strong health data privacy and security best practices, to protect consumers and encourage the development of new products and services focused on consumer health.

Based on the comments in the email, I would assume that her decision to speak again, in this case to VentureBeat, is because of Apple's delay in releasing any and all HealthKit related apps for the newly released iOS 8. The thing that is most interesting to see in her comments is her apparent reversal on her positions. Today, according to the email, she believes that health data is good, not scary, and that Congress should be responsible for the possible legal issues, not the FTC.

This is a position I can get behind. If there are laws or regulations to be passed that handle health application data, it is Congress's responsibility to pass them. Are there possible issues involved here? Of course. However, as we are seeing here, companies that are involved, including Apple, are taking it upon themselves to ensure data security, in Apple's case to the detriment of the product's release schedule.

The other issue at hand is consumer confidence and choice. Before Congress gets itself involved in regulating the security of data collected by smartwatches and fitness bands, perhaps we should let these companies regulate themselves. Apple, which has proven itself not reliable in securing its photo data, IS concerned about protecting health related data. Will every company treat the data appropriately? Of course not. But this type of data should be trusted only to companies which you trust. Companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Fitbit and the like cannot afford to disrespect your data.

Because of this, a consumer should make an educated decision before giving their data over to anyone, right Julie? Well, she is still pushing for major regulation, with or without Congress's intervention. If they don't act, she will instead, legally or not. Hopefully her actions will not kill an emerging and already threatened marketplace: health.

Apple Family Sharing Prevents Pirates, Locks Out Users for a Year

posted Sunday Sep 21, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Apple Family Sharing Prevents Pirates, Locks Out Users for a Year

Apple is fully aware that families use their products. Additionally, Apple is aware that some people like to pirate music and movies. When both of those facts, come together, you can sometimes get headaches, which is exactly what is happening with Apple's new Family Sharing feature on its iProducts.

With Family Sharing, you are able to add up to six family members to your account, allowing you to share media from iTunes and iCloud. It's kind of like the Xbox One's feature for sharing Xbox Live Gold membership with others on the home console. At any rate, it's a great idea to allow your family or room mates to enjoy content you've paid for. However, because Apple recognizes people like to pirate said media, apparently the company is preventing users from adding members to the plan for up to one full year.

The Apple forums are ablaze with reports that customers are unable to add members to the account. Specifically, there seems to be a bug where you are unable to share content to those who you've recently added to Family Sharing. For most people, simply removing and re-adding a person would make sense, but Apple doesn't want you removing people who just want to watch The Hangover during the weekend. So if you removed a person and want to add them back, you won't be able to for a calendar year. Woops.

Here's where it gets more interesting. A person is only allowed to be added to two "families" in the course of a year. Even if you leave a family to join a third, you won't be able to for, you guessed it, a full year.

Looking at it from the broader perspective, it makes sense that Apple would restrict people switching back and forth on these accounts. Those switching multiple times probably aren't using the Family Sharing for its intended purpose. However, these restrictions are quite heavy for Apple users, especially those who are trying to add people and aren't understanding why the feature isn't working. These are the same consumers who believed the iPhone 5 was waterproof and that the iPhone 6 can be charged by putting it in the microwave. If Apple didn't think its customer base wouldn't be confused by this new addition to their phone, and would be removing and re-adding people, then they clearly do not have a grasp on their demographic. Quick side note: has anyone actually microwaved their iPhone 6? How has that worked out for you?

Kickstarter Brings Accountability to Project Creators

posted Sunday Sep 21, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Kickstarter Brings Accountability to Project Creators

Kickstarter, one of the popular crowd-funding sites, has changed its policies in order to try and prevent companies from taking your money and running. The company has begun to understand that people have become more reserved about handing over cash to a project that might not ever turn into anything. Kickstarter has now outlined requirements the campaign must adhere to and looks to make the site a safer place to invest your money.

The key rule changes seem to be around how a campaign documents its use of funds, or how to detail any possible shortfalls or delays in the project. It also clearly states that if you get the money you ask, you must come through with the product. No exceptions. Overall, the message is one of transparency and communication, something a lot of projects weren't doing. Kickstarter now says you don't get a choice. If you're going to ask for money from people for a thing that hasn't been created yet, you are going to be held accountable for how you spend that money.

Here's some of the highlights from the policy amendments to Section 4, "How Projects Work."

When a project is successfully funded, the creator must complete the project and fulfill each reward. Once a creator has done so, they've satisfied their obligation to their backers.

If a creator is unable to complete their project and fulfill rewards, they've failed to live up to the basic obligations of this agreement. To right this, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers. A creator in this position has only remedied the situation and met their obligations to backers if:

  • they post an update that explains what work has been done, how funds were used, and what prevents them from finishing the project as planned;
  • they work diligently and in good faith to bring the project to the best possible conclusion in a timeframe that's communicated to backers;
  • they're able to demonstrate that they've used funds appropriately and made every reasonable effort to complete the project as promised;
  • they've been honest, and have made no material misrepresentations in their communication to backers; and
  • they offer to return any remaining funds to backers who have not received their reward (in proportion to the amounts pledged), or else explain how those funds will be used to complete the project in some alternate form.

The creator is solely responsible for fulfilling the promises made in their project. If they're unable to satisfy the terms of this agreement, they may be subject to legal action by backers.

As you can see, Kickstarter has even said that projects who do not play by the rules can now be subject to legal action, which is something that's been sort of a grey area until now. This definitely puts some pressure on creators to follow through, no matter how big or small the project is.

Do you think that this addition to the agreement between creators and backers has anything to do with creators taking funds to buy Ferraris? Maybe creators making millions and not delivering the first prototype, let alone the final product?

Vimeo Lands Deal with Mystery Science Theater 3000 for its OnDemand Service

posted Saturday Sep 20, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Vimeo Lands Deal with Mystery Science Theater 3000 for its OnDemand Service

Just recently we've talked about YouTube fighting a losing battle in keeping its top spot as the world's go-to video service. Despite recent platform and service enhancements, Google is still losing to the competition like Hitbox, Twitch and DailyMotion. Another company YouTube needs to look out for is Vimeo, a site that's been rapidly growing over the past two years and is gunning for the lead position in all things video. Vimeo further proved its motive this week, when it acquired the Mystery Science Theater 3000 catalog.

MST3K being picked up by Vimeo is cool for a lot of reasons. First, listeners and readers of our content will now we are proudly partnered with Rifftrax, the new endeavor formed by the creators of MST3K. Knowing that 80 episodes of the crew's previous work will be on display for people both familiar and unfamiliar with the series to see is kind of cool. Next, this finally gives people a legal way to view the content. Until this deal, episodes have been trickled to Netflix and Hulu, or you have to pick them up on iTunes, Google Play or Vudu as you wished.

So, how is this all going down? 80 episodes of MST3K are up on Vimeo right now, but not in the way most video content on Vimeo is viewed. Instead, this collection is behind Vimeo's OnDemand service. For $299.99, you can have unlimited access to all 80 episodes, wherever you want to watch them. If that's not up your budget alley, that's okay. You can rent each episode individually for $2.99 or buy it for $9.99. Even at that $10 price point, I can assure you most of these episodes are worth it, but you can see how you save money by buying them all up in one shot.

Here's where it gets better. In the next year, MST3K will be clearing about another dozen episodes, and those will also be available on the platform. Vimeo says it is working with the show and the movie studios to get rights to all 198 episodes at some point, but have not said where the parties are in the contract negotiations. And for those who are wondering about those new episodes and how it plays into you purchasing all 80 existing for $300, Vimeo said any newly-released content will be included in that bundle, so that's even more value added to the offer.

So I'm pretty excited about all of this, especially that you can now pick up the entire digital collection in one place. Are you excited, too? What's your favorite MST3K episode? Let me know in the comments section.

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