The UpStream (Page 192)

Activision Blames Consoles for Ghosts Sales

posted Saturday Dec 7, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Activision Blames Consoles for Ghosts Sales

In the latest issue of GameInformer features a discussion with Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg about the recent sales drop for Call of Duty: Ghosts. Despite being the top-selling title on next generation consoles, overall sales for the title have been lower than that company had hoped.

Obviously, the belief in the industry is that the yearly release schedule has caused people to have less of an urge to purchase each individual title. With that type of schedule, you end up with a lot of cookie cutter-style gameplay that would be better served as DLC rather than a branded title. Even EA has weighed in on the concept, publicly stating that they had abandoned the idea of annual Battlefield titles for fear of diluting the franchise.

So, what does Activision believe the problem is? Too many active consoles on the market. Apparently, since many people have the ability to purchase the title more than once, they have decided not to purchase it at all.

We've been pretty transparent all year that we think, because of the challenges of the console transition year, that that was likely in the short-term. I think it would be a mistake to conflate the challenges of the console transition year with any indications about the health of the franchise.

Of course, there is no way it could be possible that mimicking the Guitar Hero business model could lead to a similar fate. It is more likely that doing the exact same thing twice will result in significantly different outcomes. Hirshberg's response to critics of the business model is possibly the most disconnected from reality.

Well no, obviously not - and obviously I don't agree with the critics there. I know that Call of Duty's a polarising franchise with some of the critics, and it's clear to me that not all the critics like our strategy of making a game every year, but thankfully our fans do.

It's also clear to me that the critical response doesn't always mirror the fans' appreciation of a game. We actually do read the critics' comments and take them into consideration during our creative process, but we just can't measure ourselves by that yardstick alone.

It is a good thing that Activision listens to critics during the creative process, as Ghosts is the lowest rated game in the franchise of the entire generation.

Our most important audience is our fans, so we try to stay laser-focused on making games that they love. If you look at the fact that {Ghosts is} the most pre-ordered game of the year, it's the most pre-ordered next-gen game of the year, it's already the number one most played on Xbox Live, and that we're seeing longer average playtimes than ever before, we're confident that we're doing well by the criteria that matter most.

So, we listen to critics, but stay laser-focused on gamers. While that might sound like a major disconnect, in this case they are the same. Low ratings, plus low sales hopefully equals an altered release schedule with an actual focus on gamers and gameplay, rather than just saying it in an interview. We won't know until E3, but Activision is not known for making fact-based business decisions, so if there was money on it, I would bet for a new title in 2014.

Apple Testing the Waters on Customer Tracking

posted Saturday Dec 7, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Apple Testing the Waters on Customer Tracking

It has been two years since we discussed Foot Path's customer tracking service and the inevitable consumer fallout that occurred as a result. In those two years more smartphones have been sold and consumers have become even more weary of being tracked, both online and in reality. The move away from cookies on the Internet has been the biggest recent indicator.

With all of that market research available to them, Apple has decided to take the concept of tracking customers a step farther and, instead of simply anonymously watching a device as it travels through a store or mall, will be uniquely tracking iOS 7 devices as they travel through Apple stores and pushing messages to their devices.

Using their iBeacon system, they will, via low-power Bluetooth technology, determine your position in their retail store and, based on what display you might be interacting with, send your phone information about what you are looking at. For example, if you are using an iPhone 4S and have stopped in the iPhone 5s display area, the system will be able to alert you of deals on the phones, as well as your current upgrade eligibility.

Fortunately, according to Apple, there are checks involved to prevent tracking people who are not interested in participating. For example, you must have an iOS 7 device with Bluetooth 4.0, meaning the iPhone 4S and above, or the 3rd generation iPad or above, with the Apple Store app installed. When you enter the store, the app will ask your permission to track your location, then to send you notifications. Apple claims you must enable both for the system to work.

The only problem with that theory is that there is no system pairing involved in the system, meaning that there is no way to guarantee that Apple is not at least tracking your device throughout the store without permission. Of course, without the app and permissions there is no way to push notifications, but pinging the Bluetooth radio is not an impossible feat.

Apple is not the only organization in the process of implementing iBeacon: Major League Baseball and Macy's are both testing or implementing the technology in their facilities. iBeacon is also compatible with Android 4.3 and above devices with Bluetooth 4.0, meaning that having an Android device won't hide you from Apple's possibly prying eyes.

Are you willing to trade privacy for convenience? Let us know in the comments section.

SEC Investigated IPO Claims from Twitter

posted Saturday Dec 7, 2013 by Scott Ertz

SEC Investigated IPO Claims from Twitter

Between the time Twitter filed its Initial Public Offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 12, 2013, and its official IPO announcement, an interesting conversation happened between the two organizations. In this time frame, it is fairly common for the filer and the SEC to discuss the details of the documents to clarify confusing or misleading information. In Twitter's case, however, the details in question were material to the valuation of the company.

For example, Twitter's 2012 financial statement showed a loss of $79 million, with a loss of $69 million in the first 2 quarters and $134 million in the first 3 quarters of 2013. Their initial filing, however, described a significant improvement in revenue instead of discussing the fact that the revenue cost more to earn. The SEC's response was,

We note your statement that you 'have experienced significant improvements in {your} operating results in recent periods.' Please revise this disclosure to address the fact that your net loss in the first quarter of 2013 was larger than the same period in 2012 and the two quarters immediately preceding it.

Twitter revised its filing to discuss the losses, but still emphasized the growth of revenue.

In addition, Twitter completely neglected to discuss the results of Facebook's acquisition of Instagram during its own IPO process. More importantly, they failed to discuss Facebook's decision to change their integration policy for Twitter.

We note that following Facebook's acquisition of Instagram, Instagram disabled photo integration with Twitter. Please describe the consequences of Facebook's decision in terms of your service and the user experience. In addition, identify any other material third-party integration that you believe is at risk for similar elimination and the potential consequences

Twitter's response was to claim that no further integration issues were known, though they did engage the topic of Instagram.

These were not the only issues raised by the SEC, but they were certainly the material information on the company. Without directly disclosing that the company has yet to make a dollar of profit in its existence and, instead, continues to lose money at an alarming rate changes the value of the company. Somehow, however, they still managed to have a fairly successful IPO.

Yahoo Adds to Media Offering with Live Concert Acquisition

posted Saturday Dec 7, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo Adds to Media Offering with Live Concert Acquisition

Since Marissa Mayer took over the company, Yahoo has been on a brand reinvention binge. With the purchse or Tumblr and reinvigorating Flickr in its rearview mirror, the future seems to belong to media streaming. After several failed attempts to purchase Hulu, Yahoo decided to purchase exclusive rights to a huge brand, Saturday Night Live.

In the past 2 weeks, Yahoo has beefed up its media offerings two new ways. First, last week, Yahoo hired veteran news anchor Katie Couric to help increase the credibility of its news division. This week, Yahoo is trying to shore up its Yahoo Screen and Yahoo Music offerings with a new acquisition.

Freshman startup EVNTLIVE has joined the Yahoo family this week for an undisclosed price tag. After publishing its beta program in April of this year, EVNTLIVE has hosted hundreds of live-streamed musical performances and festivals, in attrition to interviews and music videos. 8 of EVNTLIVE's team will be moving in to the Yahoo offices in Sunnyvale, California, though Yahoo has not commented exactly on where they will be helping out.

With their new focus on entertainment and media, however, it would seem that the new team members will be joining Yahoo's music division. While they currently offer music videos, live events is a great market to get into. Microsoft and Sony have proven that people will even watch live press events and NBC this week proved people will watch live music events despite their quality, making way for a whole industry of live music broadcasts.

This will be the first time Yahoo will be at the leading edge of an emerging market in nearly a decade. If we are in a post-transitional period and into a time to evaluate Marissa as CEO, I would say these moves are a good start to continuing Yahoo's focus on content.

Black Friday Sales Numbers Show Xbox One Doubles PlayStation 4

posted Wednesday Dec 4, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

I've always said that in the gaming industry, nothing matters until we see the sales numbers. This held especially true this past week, as Black Friday had customers shopping in stores across the country, from dusk to dawn, purchasing their favorite gadgets and other items. On their lists were video game consoles and, regardless of the initial Internet onslaught of negativity, you might be surprised at the console that came out on top.

Courtesy of Infoscout, we have sales totals for the current and next-gen consoles for Black Friday. The Xbox 360 and the Xbox One made up 61% of the entire post-Thanksgiving sales day market, with the Microsoft's latest console squeaking out a one percent edge over their former 360. The PS3 and PS4 both tied at 15% a piece and the Wii U made up six percent, leaving Nintendo's Wii to own the remaining, single percent of sales.

Of the customers polled, 80% of them said that they'd purchased a console as a gift, and 10% of those gift-givers said the console would be opened before Christmas. 85% of game system buyers said they'd also purchase two or more video games along with the system, with Call of Duty: Ghosts sadly being the top choice, by almost double of the #2 spot, Disney Infinity. Rounding out the top five choices for video games on Black Friday were Skylanders: Swap Force, GTA V and Madden 25.

Probably the most pressing question though is why did the Xbox One come out on top? There are several reasons that initially drive this number home. First, Sony chose to release their console a week earlier than Microsoft, with pre-orders and week one sales already being delivered to customers before Black Friday, to the tune of one million total PS4s. Secondly, Sony did mention that the company was having a tough time keeping up with demand, causing a shortage of next-gen PlayStations for customers on Black Friday. To be fair, Microsoft did announce one million consoles sold before Black Friday, too, and although Microsoft's gaming system was available in more markets, that still equates to a substantial amount of units moved.

There's a little more to the story, too. When asked about different consoles, here's what the majority of customers had to say about each one.

PlayStation 4

"Too much hype when Sony doesn't produce enough"

"Expensive. Games are expensive."

"It's too high tech. None if the older PS games will work with it and everything is way too expensive; I think it's more for the adults."

"My oldest child wanted a PlayStation, I have no opinion."

Xbox One

"It's the only system that has the game my kids want. I'm not happy about it."

"Waiting to see the first 'Must have game'"

Xbox 360

"I think its a great system. With the Kinect, the family can get up and move around"

Nintendo Wii

"Fun for kids and families. Love the old school games that you can download"

"Older technology, so less expensive"

To me, it's interesting to see the masses respond to the marketing campaigns, hype and overall message from both Sony and Microsoft. Even though the PS4 is $100 cheaper, Sony might have missed portraying the PS4 as something everyone could use, since they geared a lot of messaging towards the hardcore gamer who has strayed from Sony over the past eight years. Instead, Microsoft has realized for years now that customers want more than just gaming systems underneath their TV and by incorporating entertainment and media into the Xbox One marketing, the amount of sales speak for how well-received the message was. In the end, the "hardcore gaming" market is a very small percentage of the total number of people who game in today's age, and a lot of people have proven they're willing to spend money on a console that fits all of their needs in one device.

However, we still don't have the official total console sales numbers from NPD and we'll probably have to wait until after Christmas for them. Then and only then can we see the true magnitude of success of failure for either of the companies' respective launches. Did you pick up any next-gen gaming system for Black Friday? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments section.

PS4 Still Having Network Problems, Shuts Down Redemption of Promo Codes

posted Sunday Dec 1, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

PS4 Still Having Network Problems, Shuts Down Redemption of Promo Codes

After more than two weeks on the market and over a dozen issues being reported even before launch, the PlayStation 4 is still going through some serious growing pains. The biggest issue that still remains is the uncertainty and instability of the PlayStation Network, Sony's online gaming platform. Without mentioning any new server upgrades to handle the heavy influx of gamers coming on to the network after the E3 presentation battle, Sony's has now shut down part of the system in order to handle server loads.

If you want to redeem any PlayStation promotional codes or PSN Card codes, you won't be able to for the foreseeable future. Aside from the PS4 just sitting there at the Redeem Code screen after number entry, a blog post appeared on the PlayStation Blog about the service interruption. Social Media Manager Sid Shuman wrote,

We are aware that users are experiencing some disruption to the PSN service. To minimize the inconvenience we have suspended the "redeem voucher" functionality while we investigate further. Unfortunately this means that money cards, product vouchers, PlayStation Plus vouchers, PS3-PS4 upgrade vouchers and any other vouchers for digital content are not redeemable at this time. Other PSN features such as log in, online multiplayer gaming, PlayStation Plus trials, PlayStation Store (excluding voucher redemption), Trophies, messages, friends, etc. are all available.

We apologize for the inconvenience and will provide an update soon.

There's also a thread that has been updated a few times since the announcement, with no real answer in sight as to when the service will be brought back up. Sony says that it still does "not have an estimate on when the system will be available at this time" and to "please try again later this evening or tomorrow."

In trying since the post, I've still not seen any successful redemption of a promo code. Now, I know this may not seem like a big deal to most people, however, it speaks a lot to the stability of the network as a whole. Gamers are still reporting complete meltdowns of the PSN service, including dropped lobbies, lagging out of games in-match and trophies not saving or being lost. So while the Redeem Code screen might not be something you use, it's the place Sony is working on a stop-gap to try and fix other problems at the same time. For now, PS4 users will still have network latency issues and will have to deal with it until Sony fixes the problems.

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