The UpStream

Loot box odds to be made public by 2020 thanks to self-regulation

posted Friday Aug 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Loot box odds to be made public by 2020 thanks to self-regulation

Loot boxes have long been an annoyance of videogames, especially when you pay for the box. When you spend your $5, will you get three $1 skins, or will you get a $25 weapon? There is never any telling, and it has caused a lot of trouble. There is no better example than Star Wars: Battlefront II, the game synonymous with the problem. Gamers were not happy with the almost requirement of purchasing boxes with no idea of what they would be buying. EA eventually killed the feature, but not before taking a huge hit in sales.

Since then, governments the world over, including the US Federal Trade Commission have investigated the legality of the practice. With unknown chances, the governments maintain that the practice amounts to gambling, which is illegal outside of designated areas in most countries. As with most government activities, these inquiries have been slow going, and will likely not amount to much. However, the gaming industry has always been great at regulating itself, thanks to the ESA, most famous for the game rating program.

This week, at an event, called "Inside the Game," Michael Warnecke, the chief counsel of tech policy for the ESA announced that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony had worked together to require loot box odds disclosure on future games.

I'm pleased to announce this morning that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have indicated to ESA a commitment to new platform policies concerning the use of paid loot boxes in games that are developed for their platform. Specifically, this would apply to new games and game updates that add loot box features. And it would require the disclosure of the relative rarity or probabilities of obtaining randomized virtual items in games that are available on their platforms.

This will not apply to games that are out in the wild already, as some of those games would be outside of their update period. However, it will apply to all new games released on the big three platforms, as well as any existing games that add loot boxes after the rules go into effect. The exact timeline for implementation is unknown, but it will be completed by the end of 2020.

This comes as other members of the industry have been abandoning paid loot boxes entirely. Fortnite is phasing out the concept now, as will Rocket League, which was recently acquired by Fortnite developer Epic. This is definitely the direction that most gamers would prefer, and these changes from such a large publisher are a move in the right direction.

Samsung and Microsoft make Android and Windows better friends

posted Friday Aug 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Samsung and Microsoft make Android and Windows better friends

This week, Samsung finally announced the highly leaked Note 10 smartphones, the newest member of the popular phablet line. While the Note 10 brings many new enhancements, the biggest news (for us) was the enhanced relationship between Samsung and Microsoft. For years the two have worked together, with Microsoft edition Galaxy phones being made available with Microsoft apps pre-installed. Now, the two have come together even closer to bring some expanded capabilities between the phones and Windows 10.

The Your Phone app on Windows 10 is nice, it can bring notifications, text messages, and even photos from your Android device to your desktop or laptop with ease. Now, starting with the Note 10, you'll be able to do a host of exciting new capabilities. For example, Your Phone will interact with Samsung's DeX, bringing screen mirroring directly to the app. This means no more third party software or questionable downloads, it will be built right into your devices. This also means that DeX will be front and center, allowing you to use the desktop features of the phone on an existing PC. It also means that Android apps will be easily accessible on your Windows 10 PC, allowing for Snapchat on the PC for the first time (officially).

This is just the beginning, though. In a future update later in the year (likely in conjunction with the semi-annual Windows 10 update), Microsoft plans to bring phone calling to the application. This would allow you to use Your Phone to make and receive calls from your phone on your computer, eliminating the need to have the phone easily accessible.

This is all part of Microsoft's cross-platform access campaign, which seems intended to counter Apple's closed-loop ecosystem. iPhone owners can do many of these things now, but only if they have a Mac. With Mac being a statistically insignificant portion of the computer world, this means that the majority of iPhone users are left in the dark. Apple has always followed the old Sony methodology, hoping that restricting capabilities will drive sales, despite that philosophy almost bankrupting Sony, and hasn't worked for Apple, either. The open nature of Android and the modern Microsoft seems to be driving growth (just look at iPhone sales numbers).

Broadcast networks sue Locast for illegally streaming local channels

posted Friday Aug 2, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Broadcast networks sue Locast for illegally streaming local channels

A few years ago, a unique company popped up, offering the ability to stream live TV over the internet. While that concept is far from novel, Aereo was streaming directly from local TV antennas, giving people access to local programming from markets they were not in. This was really popular for sports fans who lived in different markets, such as our former host who used it to watch Giants games when they were blacked out in Tampa. The company was sued, eventually losing a Supreme Court case, inevitably ending their operations in 2015.

It is unusual for someone to attempt to revive a business model that has been deemed illegal by the highest court in the land, but that is exactly what non-profile Locast has done. The difference is that Locast offers the service for free, assumedly hoping that the lack of charge would prevent the legal challenge that ended Aereo's dreams. That has absolutely not been the case, as the organization has been sued by, well, everyone. A lawsuit filed by ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC asks that Locast be shutdown and financial damages be awarded. With a Supreme Court case in their favor, it seems likely to go that way. According to the lawsuit,

Locast captures over-the-air broadcast signals, strips critical data from those signals, and then retransmits those signals, and the copyrighted content that they carry, to registered users over the Internet. The catch is, unlike licensed cable, satellite, and streaming services, Locast neither obtains Plaintiffs' permission nor pays for its exploitation of Plaintiffs' exclusive rights to publicly perform their copyrighted content. Instead, Locast simply takes Plaintiffs' copyrighted content and retransmits it to its registered users at will over the Internet.

Local networks receive a lot of money from cable, satellite, and streaming licensing deals. In fact, the amount could have been as high as $10 billion in 2018 alone. A service like Locast undermines that aspect of their business, which is how the brands can afford to continue operations. It is no surprise, however, that the organization in question is financially backed by AT&T, who owns DirecTV. The organization is also founded by Dish Network lobbyist. The non-profit status of the organization gives them some new ground on which to fight, but the resources of the 4 big media companies will make it a challenge. The fact that the organization has such ties to Dish and DirecTV won't help either,

These two for-profit businesses (AT&T and Dish) provide Locast with valuable nationwide distribution of the Locast app on the Internet-connected set-top boxes of their subscribers. At the same time, Locast provides these two major distributors with commercial benefits that include the ability (a) to avoid obtaining retransmission consent from local stations to include local stations in their pay-TV offerings by integrating the Locast app into their customers' set-top boxes; (b) to gain leverage in negotiations with broadcast stations over retransmission consent rights to offer their subscribers access to broadcast channels; and (c) for Dish, to promote a version of its Sling TV Internet television service that does not carry local broadcast channels by telling potential customers that they can "supplement" Sling TV by getting the broadcast channels via Locast. Locast is not the noncommercial, community public service it purports to be. It is a strategic play funded by and functioning for the benefit of decidedly commercial interests.

Those ties will certainly be called into question and the bypass of an official Act of Congress almost certainly will prevent Locast from winning this fight.

Domino's wants to take an ADA compliance case to the Supreme Court

posted Friday Aug 2, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Domino's wants to take an ADA compliance case to the Supreme Court

Since its implementation in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act, better known as the ADA, has created a scenario for people with special needs having accommodations provided across the country. This can range from ramps and elevators to aisle clearance in stores. However, it has also consistently provided headaches for business owners, as compliance and rules are neither consistent nor well defined. While everyone knows the simple rules, such as 36-inch clearance in all public spaces, other rules are simply stated as "reasonable." The definition of reasonable varies, sometimes from town to town, making compliance difficult for many.

Nowhere is the compliance issue more confusing than in the digital world. In fact, the question as to whether or not the ADA applies to digital storefronts is not even firm. Lawsuits have been filed all across the country, with courts, including federal courts, making distinctly different determinations on identical issues. A surprising company has decided to try and get a final ruling on the issue, asking the US Supreme Court to hear their case. The company is Domino's - the pizza company.

As the company's mobile app has grown in popularity for ordering pizza, it has not just become the primary ordering method, they have stopped taking orders over the phone in many cases. This has caused an issue for customers who are blind, as the app and website are not really setup for screen reading, leaving blind customers without a way to order. As Domino's points out in its petition to the Supreme Court, there is no legal consensus on whether or not they have a duty to spend the time and money to add accessibility features to their platforms.

Federal courts have ruled almost 50/50 on similar cases, which is why the company hopes to get guidance for itself, as well as all other companies with digital storefronts, once and for all.

Ninja is jumping ship, moving from Twitch to Microsoft's Mixer

posted Friday Aug 2, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Ninja is jumping ship, moving from Twitch to Microsoft's Mixer

Over the past few years, videogame streaming has become big business. The household name is certainly Twitch, and for good reason: it is the brand that brought the idea into the mainstream and currently houses the majority of the big-name streamers. It also has the financial might of Amazon after a $970 million acquisition. Since the acquisition, many have tried and no one has succeeded to take on the market leader, but that is about to change.

Microsoft purchased Beam, a Twitch competitor, in 2016. After renaming the service to Mixer, the company has quietly been making the service better, integrating it directly into Windows 10 and Xbox One and adding additional ways to financially support streamers. However, the company has had some trouble bringing in strong viewership on streams other than their own, including their E3 announcements. Microsoft has really needed a big name to join the Mixer community, and that happened this week.

The closest to a household name for streamers themselves is definitely Ninja. Ninja rose to fame in the early days of Fortnite, solidifying himself as one of the main faces of the game. He has even been hired as a spokesperson for various products in the gaming realm. This week, he announced that he is leaving Twitch and will be moving exclusively to streaming on Microsoft Mixer, effective immediately.

In just 2 days of streaming on the platform, Ninja has over a half million followers and more than 3 million unique views of his streams. If Ninja is not already the top streamer on Mixer, he will be within just a few days at this rate. That will be in part because of huge promotion by Microsoft. On the Xbox One dashboard, there is an advertisement for Ninja on Mixer. Microsoft is also making it free to subscribe to Ninja for the first month, giving you 22 emoticons and more. As Mixer streamers ourselves, for F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, PLuGHiTz Live Presents, and FIRST Looks, it is nice to see Microsoft putting some real weight behind the platform.

Google begins testing subscription service for Android apps and games

posted Friday Aug 2, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Google begins testing subscription service for Android apps and games

If you haven't noticed over the past few years, subscription services are all the rage. That's because guaranteed recurring revenue is far better for a company's stability than peaks and valleys of individual product sales. Many companies in a variety of industries have begun implementing this business model, from Netflix's primary business to Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass. Google has a collection of subscription services, including YouTube Premium, the ad-free version of YouTube.

This week, word of a new subscription service from the company hit, later confirmed by Google. This new service, dubbed Google Play Pass, is an app subscription for Android which will give you "access (to) hundreds of premium apps and games." The service is priced at $4.99 per month, for those who have been included in the test group.

This service is almost certainly in direct response to the recently announced Apple Arcade, a service that will provide "over 100 groundbreaking new games." With Apple having a very similar service, Google needed to make this move. In addition to the competition, Android has consistently had an issue with revenue available for app developers. In every study conducted, Android owners are less likely or less willing to spend money on apps than iPhone owners are. It is one of the main reasons why paid apps, such as games, release on iPhone first so that they can generate revenue from Apple owners. The monthly revenue from Google Play Pass will be shared with publishers, based on the amount of time their app is used.

While Apple's service will launch this Fall, Google's service is just in testing, with no public market plan. It's always possible that any of the details of the service could change, including the pricing, app availability, etc. They could also abandon the plan entirely, though that is not likely.

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