The UpStream (Page 224)

Third Time's a Charm: EA Announces More Studio Layoffs and Closures

posted Saturday Apr 27, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Third Time's a Charm: EA Announces More Studio Layoffs and Closures

More shutdowns and layoffs are hitting the Electronic Art studios after the former CEO, John Riccitiello, stepped down earlier in the month. This comes after last week, when we EA studio Playfish announced closure of the entire studio.

So what's the damage this go-around? EA has said that PopCap Vancouver and Quicklime, who's in charge of the Need for Speed: World series, are both shutting its down. This "reorganization" should bring the total amount of workforce reduction from these three rounds to 10 percent. Kotaku has reported that the headcount of employees who have been let go from EA due to the three rounds of layoffs are in the 900 range. Now, we know every time a CEO steps down and a new - or in this case, old - one enters, things will go away and employees will be terminated. However, EA has put the hammer down once before Riccitiello resigned and twice immediately after.

In the statement from EA,

In recent weeks, EA has aligned all elements of its organizational structure behind priorities in new technologies and mobile. This has led to some difficult decisions to reduce the workforce in some locations. We are extremely grateful for the contributions made by each of our employees - those that are leaving EA will be missed by their colleagues and friends. These are hard but essential changes as we focus on delivering great games and showing players around the world why to spend their time with us.

Now, we've also discovered an internal notice sent from the new CEO, Larry Probst, which does not disclose the exact amount of people being fired, but goes into detail about EA's restructuring. Here it is, in full.

As we begin the new fiscal year, I want to provide you with a brief update on some important changes to our organization. As Executive Chairman, my focus is to ensure EA is delivering high quality games and services to our consumers, while helping the executive team develop a FY14 operating plan that drives growth, rationalizes headcount and controls costs.

In recent weeks, the executive team has been tasked with evaluating every area of our business to establish a clear set of priorities, and a more efficient organizational structure. This process has led to some difficult decisions about the number of people and locations needed to achieve our goals.

The workforce reductions which we communicated in the last two weeks represent the majority of our planned personnel actions. We are extremely grateful for the contributions made by each of these individuals - they will be missed by their colleagues and friends at EA.

We are also taking action to streamline our organization, including changes in two key areas:

•Core marketing functions have been consolidated under our COO, Peter Moore. The combined group will bring together our Label marketing teams, Global Acquisition Marketing and Marketing Analytics into one multi-talented team under Todd Sitrin's leadership. The development and marketing teams will continue to work as cohesive units, driving clear and consistent messaging and consumer engagement for each of our franchises.

•Origin will move into Frank Gibeau's Labels organization. Andrew Wilson will take on the leadership of Origin, working with CJ Prober and the team to create more value and an enhanced entertainment experience for our consumers.

Change is sometimes difficult, but essential. The adjustments we are making will put us in the best position to build great games and services, deliver them more efficiently to consumers, and demonstrate to players around the world why they should spend their time with us.

EA is a great company, with talented and hard-working teams, a strong portfolio of products and an extremely bright future.

Thank you all for your dedication and commitment to our long term success!

So, now that Probst has hopefully eliminated all of the waste, can EA continue moving forward? Will this be a wake up call to all of the studios EA owns, causing them to wake up from producing horridly bad games, followed up with ridiculous customer service and all-around business policies? I'd love to hear the consumer's thoughts on all of this in the comments below.

Amazon Rumored to be Releasing Their Own Set-Top Box

posted Friday Apr 26, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Amazon Rumored to be Releasing Their Own Set-Top Box

In the race to stay competitive, Amazon has found new and interesting ways to try and get customers to switch over to their Amazon Prime Instant Video service. Most recently, they've piloted 14 different shows, in hopes that you, the customer, will pick the ones you want to see the most. Now, since all the cool kids are rumored to be doing it, the gigantic e-store is said to be planning to release a TV set-top box for streaming video.

Sources who have wished to remain anonymous but are very close to the matter said that the set-top box would further expand the Instant Video service, including the Amazon Video on Demand store. With Apple, Roku and Boxee all having STBs plus Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo pushing their own media services through their gaming consoles and the upcoming 4th iteration of GoogleTV, there is a lot of competition in the space right now. Amazon's Instant Video service has quickly surged to the front of most of these services, and is even available on a huge array of tablets and smartphones, giving Amazon enough justification to push their own STB.

Co-founder of Sling Media, Jason Krikorian, agrees with Amazon's plans moving forward.

It would certainly make some sense. They have a ton of content, an existing billing relationship with millions of users.

Amazon reps have declined to officially comment on the matter. However, we do have some details on who is creating the actual box: Amazon's Lab126 division, which is headquarted in Apple's stomping grounds of Cupertino, California. The same sources say Lab126 has been playing around with connected TVs and set-top boxes for some time and has an extensive background in these products. Running the entire operation is Malachy Moynihan, who was previously Cisco's VP during Cisco's time messing around in video offerings. Moynihan was also with Apple during the late 80s and early 90s. Complimenting the exec are Andy Goodman, who came from TiVo and Vudu and Chris Coley, who was formerly with ReplayTV, a DVR start-up.

No rough figure on pricing was given from these sources. However, with all of the news we have right now, would an Amazon set-top box be something consumers would be interested in, given all of the other options? The Xbox 360 is really becoming a solid media hub with each passing day and if that isn't up your alley, the Roku is a less expensive, yet powerful little alternative. Is there room for the Kindle TV, the proposed name for Amazon's device? Let your text be read in the comments section below.

UK Sentences Counterfeit Headphone Seller to 30 Months in Prison

posted Thursday Apr 25, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

UK Sentences Counterfeit Headphone Seller to 30 Months in Prison

We've talked about counterfeiting in the past, with government agencies taking down fake product sites worldwide. Trying to pass off fake merchandise as real is also common when it comes to well-known brands of headphones, like Monster Products and Sennheiser. This week, the UK took down a heavy-hitter in what the country is calling the largest-ever seizure of fake Monster products, among other brands. Michael Reeder has been convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison on 13 different counts of selling the knock-off products.

Reeder's house and workplace were stormed by federal agents in February of 2011, where the task force found over 2,000 counterfeit products from big-name brands like Monster, Sennheiser, Apple, Sony and Nintendo. The con artist was already under watchful eye by the courts after a 2009 case for not giving customers refunds and shipping product in an excessively untimely manner. Since the initial case, hundreds of customers have complained to Monster directly about receiving headphones from Reeder's company, Odds and Pods, saying that the headphones had bad sound quality, buzzing and came in very strange packaging.

Fast-forwarding to September of 2011, government officials found another 1,500 fake Monster, Sennheiser and Sony headphones, along with Sony PS3 controllers and Wii accessories in the handful of raids they performed that month. The raids even caught the attention of David Tognotti, Monster's General Manager and Vice President of Operations, when he said,

Everyone at Monster is gratified that this long and complex investigation has finally reached such a favourable conclusion. The sale of counterfeit products literally hurts everyone, including manufacturers and retailers, but most especially honest consumers who might have no idea that the goods they purchase are not genuine.

At the sentence hearing this week, the actual size of Reeder's operations were exposed. A report submitted by Sennheiser showed that the seizure of all of their products came to a total of 4,000 different headphones, worth over $250,000 if they were legitimate. The court added that they estimate this was just one percent of all of the illegal activity and inventory Reeder was trafficking, as officials found a handful of sites selling the counterfeit headphones and gaming items.

Sennheiser's President of Corporate Services, Volker Bartels, said the company received an extremely high amount of reports of fake product from Reeder's companies.

At one point we estimated that almost 80% of all the complaints we received were due to the fake products he was selling illegally under our brand name... This is why Sennheiser launched a global anti-counterfeit campaign last year. We will not accept fake product in the market place as we want to protect our customers from fraud.

So after the 2,000 pages of evidence the Portsmouth UK City Council collected on Reeder and all of his fake product, is 30 months in jail enough of a punishment for what seems to be a multi-million dollar scam? The UK court also ordered refunds to all affected customers, although a final number and judgment has not been determined as of yet. I'd be curious to see the exact figure in damages they reach once they sort through all of the transactions.

Spotify Expands to Eight New Markets, Boosts its Paid Subscriber Numbers

posted Sunday Apr 21, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Spotify Expands to Eight New Markets, Boosts its Paid Subscriber Numbers

As I mentioned on our 300th episode, one of the best topics of discussion all year has been following the Spotify saga. As the company picked up a second round of funding late last year, they've been making a couple of remarkable moves. Spotify has taken some of the funding and added new features and started up a new TV marketing campaign, which has given the company enough of a bargaining chip to push for lower rates with the major record labels. Now, Spotify looks to expand beyond Europe and the US, further rivaling Pandora and other music-streaming services.

Spotify said that it is looking to Asia and Latin America in its next round of offerings. On the website this week, they said,

Exciting times! Today we're thrilled to announce that we're bringing a new world of music to eight new countries across the globe... This fantastic step now brings us to 28 markets and closer to our dream of making all the world's music available instantly to everyone, wherever and whenever they want it.

Mexico, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Iceland are all getting to now enjoy the Spotify in their respective companies. The company also updated its user statistics, saying that out of the now 24 million active listeners, six million are currently paying for the service. Spotify also has "driven more than half a billion US dollars to rights holders and expects to drive another half a billion US dollars to rights holders during 2013."

Expanding to new markets and converting customers to their paid tiers are the best ways to get even more strength behind the company to take on the big gun, iTunes. Moreover, it'll force other competitors to adapt and innovate, or in the case of Pandora, go the other direction. As we've said time and time again, having more solid competition in any space only drives benefits to consumers at the end of the day. So, what music-streaming service do you currently use? Shout it out in the comments below.

Fitbug Sues Fitbit for Trademark Infringement

posted Sunday Apr 21, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Fitbug Sues Fitbit for Trademark Infringement

Fitness products were a big thing at CES this year, and it you don't believe me, look at our interview list. One of the first fitness products I encountered was Fitbit, a company that made a small pedometer that connects to your phone. Initially I thought that the company name sounded familiar, but quickly dismissed the thought. As it turns out, dismissing the thought was the right thing to do, as I was actually thinking of another company - Fitbug.

This company has been around for many years, creating very similar products to Fitbit, including a connected pedometer. Apparently I was not the only one confused by the branding. It has become so common that Fitbug has filed suit against Fitbit, claiming trademark infringement and brand confusion.

It seems that they might have something here. It turns out that Fitbug receives support requests for Fitbit products regularly and even receives Fitbit media inquiries. Adding to the similar names and similar product lines, having a logo that even incorporates the same general shade of blue for the dot over the "I" certainly does not help Fitbug's case. Add to that the fact that their website imagery is almost a direct ripoff and you end up with a nearly slam-dunk lawsuit.

To check out the website imagery comparisons, hit the source link and let us know what you think. Did Fitbit steal Fitbug's brand? Answer in the comments.

Amazon Lets You Pick Next Big Show

posted Sunday Apr 21, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Amazon Lets You Pick Next Big Show

With Netflix and Hulu continuing to create original content, Amazon Instant Video wants to get into the game. Their approach is a little different than the competitors, however. Amazon has pitched their pilots to YOU instead of the executives in the hopes of finding shows that people want to watch.

There are currently 14 pilots for you to take a look at; 6 for kids and 8 standard comedies. There is definitely something for everyone:

  • Zombieland: Four survivors are killin' zombies and searching for a home.
  • Those Who Can't: The most immature guys at this high school are teachers.
  • Alpha House: They work in the Senate. They live in the house-Alpha House.
If those 3 don't show the variety available in these pilots, I don't know what will. I am most excited about Zombieland and Betas, a show about 4 friends who create a Silicon Valley startup. There's also a music-based show, a space series, a cartoon and even a series from The Onion. How can this possibly go wrong?

Everyone, Amazon Prime customer or not, should check out these shows and vote for the ones you want to see made into a full-fledged series. Only with enough votes will any of these series be picked up for a full season, and from the looks of it, several of them deserve it. Check them out and let us know which are your favorites in the comments.

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