The UpStream

China implements a gaming curfew to fight videogame addiction

posted Saturday Nov 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

China implements a gaming curfew to fight videogame addiction

Over the past few years, gaming addiction has become an increasingly hot topic. While there has been a lot of debate on the validity of the topic, both in the general population and among mental health professionals, some have taken a hard stance. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO), which has been known to overreact to some circumstances, has declared it a mental health disorder.

The WHO has not taken the strongest stance against gaming addiction, though. The Chinese government is working to implement a new videogame curfew system for all minors. While there have been curfew systems in the past, implemented by consoles, operating systems, and game makers themselves, they have all been parentally enforced. This would be the first major governmentally enforced videogame curfew.

The rules in question are beyond strict. Anyone under 18 years of age will not be allowed to play any online games between the hours of 10 pm and 8 am. During the other, permitted hours, only 90 minutes of gaming will be allowed on weeknights and 180 minutes on weekends and holidays. In addition to a restriction on time, there will also be a restriction on monthly spending. Under 16 will be restricted to $29 and under 18 will be restricted to $57 per month. The BBC report does not discuss the possible implications for standard offline POC titles, which would be harder to police than online and mobile games, which would have a much easier process for monitoring.

This move comes as the Chinese gaming market is quickly becoming one of the largest in the world with a lot of global influence. There are several large Chinese game developers, as well as one Chinese company, Tencent, which has been investing heavily in game companies. These investments include Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, Glu Mobile, and complete ownership of Riot Games. This policy could have a direct effect on the bottom line of these companies that Tencent has an interest in.

The Dream is not over, Google open-sources Cardboard VR platform

posted Saturday Nov 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

The Dream is not over, Google open-sources Cardboard VR platform

I was just a few weeks ago that Google officially ended the experiment that was Google Daydream. With that, the era of phone-based virtual reality was officially dead. The two big companies in the space, Google and Samsung, were out, leaving the market void. However, consumers and developers were still interested in the concept - just not as intensely as several years ago.

This week, recognizing the interest in the concept, Google decided to re-release their former VR platform, Google Cardboard, as an open-source project. The move is not unusual for Google, which has frequently open-sourced former products and projects that had failed the marketplace (Google Wave, anyone). By releasing Cardboard into the wild, the Dream of phone-based VR could still live on.

The problem, however, is that a community of developers will have to want to take on the challenge of maintaining the project. Sure, Google Wave, later known as Apache Wave, lived on for 6 more years, it was eventually put out to sea because of lack of interest. That could also be the fate of Cardboard, as it was discontinued for a reason.

However, virtual reality is a far more attractive product than online collaboration to individual developers. VR is a space where individuals can make an impact, and an open-source framework could make it easier for developers to build their first VR apps because it would reduce the cost of learning and deploying. Plus, for those who want to participate inexpensively, Cardboard would still be a way to accomplish it.

If the open-source platform is going to be any more successful than Wave, however, it is going to need someone to build a headset for it that is better than homemade. The likelihood of that now that it is no longer commercial, is unlikely. So, as we said with Wave - goodbye.

PlayStation Vue is looking for a new home, but might have trouble

posted Saturday Oct 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

PlayStation Vue is looking for a new home, but might have trouble

The streaming video space has gone from a two brand system to being overcrowded. We always knew that it was inevitable that brands would begin to dry up and begin to either close, shift owners, or merge with other platforms. Disney+ and Hulu, both to be owned by Disney, have begun running cross-promotions. AT&T TV Now subscribers have seen repeated price increases, now higher than cable.

This week, another streaming service is looking for a change. Sony is looking for a new owner for its ailing PlayStation Vue brand. According to The Information, Sony has begun working with Bank of America Merrill Lynch to facilitate the sale of the brand. The sale comes at a time in which Sony is trying to shed brands that don't add to their bottom line or help to maintain other brands. For Vue, with a smaller subscriber base and a newcomer to distribution, the cost of content was always going to be higher for them. This has resulted in the company raising prices to be profitable. However, as is always the case, it ended up driving customers away.

The brand, from the beginning, was a bizarre experiment from the company on every front. While Sony has always been involved in the production and corporate distribution of television content, they have never really done direct-to-consumer distribution. They also decided to follow Microsoft's lead and try to place their new entertainment brand under their gaming banner. This decision was made as Microsoft was already pulling the Xbox name off of Xbox Music and Xbox Videos. In the end, this branding decision will ultimately make the sale more difficult. There is no way that Sony allows another company to operate a product with the PlayStation name, but a buyer won't want to completely abandon the consumer awareness of the product with a new name.

BERT will make Google's search results better and more relevant

posted Saturday Oct 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

BERT will make Google's search results better and more relevant

Google updates its search algorithm daily. They add little tweaks manually and their AI platform makes small adjustments on its own. However, it is unusual for Google to make a change so big that it requires a big announcement. That is exactly what happened this week, with Google announcing a change that could affect 10% of all searches on the platform.

The big change comes in the form of BERT, the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. This system will allow the search engine to better identify the things that users are looking for, especially when using awkward phrasing. Currently, Google looks for active keywords, which they refer to as a "bag of words." This group of keywords often led to bizarre results.

For example, a search for "can you get medicine for someone pharmacy?" would target only "medicine" and "pharmacy" and would show you local pharmacies. Not quite what you were asking about. With BERT in action, the context is not lost, and appropriate results will be displayed. Another great example from Google is the search term "Parking on a hill with no curb." The current system excludes the word "no" which, in this case, is the most important word, meaning the results were about parking with a curb.

While users are likely going to love this change, it could cause problems for content creators. SEO hungry sites work hard to produce content to take advantage of the little intricacies of the Google algorithm. That includes things like knowing how a search will fail and creating content to capture those failures. With BERT, a lot of that work will either be voided or, worse, cause lost traffic. For those who produce standard content, however, it will likely drive more traffic instead of less.

If you see your search ranking change in the near future, you can likely blame BERT. This is just proof that trying to game a system will eventually fall apart.

Bethesda addresses Fallout 76 concerns with new subscription

posted Saturday Oct 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Bethesda addresses Fallout 76 concerns with new subscription

When gamers think of recent failed game launches, most will point to Fallout 76. While a lot of players had fun with the game from the beginning, others found certain aspects of the game to be out of line with the franchise. One of the primary concerns was that you could not play the game in a closed environment, being forced to play on public servers, subject to the unpredictability of random players. Granted, the game was billed as an MMO in the Fallout universe, it still caused displeasure.

Addressing this concern, developer Bethesda has announced the availability of private servers - for a cost. What the company announced was a subscription service called Fallout 1st which adds a new cost to the game. For $12.99 per month or $99 per year, gamers will finally get access to their long sought after private worlds. But, that is not all that will be part of the subscription.

In addition to private worlds, gamers will get unlimited crafting storage through a Scrapbox container, a travel point with a sleeping bag, stash, and more, called a Survival Tent, as well as in-game currency monthly. Like other subscriptions, it will also include emotes, icons, and an exclusive outfit.

No one would have expected this launch to go any better than the launch of the game itself, and it hasn't. Gamers on Reddit have documented issues ranging from the new Scrapbox eating items to friends list privacy issues. While the first is annoying, the latter is a legitimate problem. Currently, anyone on your friends' list can see your private world. For those who maintain a large list for trading purposes essentially lose the private part of the private world. Bethesda has responded to this issue, pledging to address it, saying,

We understand this is not what players expected for their Private Worlds... we are looking to provide an option in an upcoming patch that will allow Fallout 1st members to restrict access to their servers more completely.

This is a smart move, but "an upcoming patch" is far from definitive.

Tired of waiting for Google, wireless networks to upgrade texting

posted Saturday Oct 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Tired of waiting for Google, wireless networks to upgrade texting

When Apple introduced iMessage, it seemed like a strange move. Today, however, it is the standard by which messaging services are judged. That is partially because it was responsible for eliminating text messaging caps across the board, but it's also because it adds features to texting that the SMS standard lacks. For those who live in the Android ecosystem, iMessage offers delivery receipts as well as read receipts. Its biggest downfall, however, is that it is not a standard, but instead an Apple brand. That means that it is an iPhone exclusive.

However, there is a texting standard in the wild called Rich Communications Service which transforms the SMS standard into a more modern platform, bringing it in line with iMessage. Despite the standard being introduced in 2016, it has been implemented by nearly no one. Google announced in 2017 that 27 carriers worldwide had agreed to adopt the system, it is still nowhere to be found. In 2018, Google doubled down on RCS, but here we are.

The major US carriers, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, have announced a partnership called the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative to bring RCS to the US market on Android devices in 2020. This would be an unprecedented move on the part of the carriers, who usually fight with one another on technological exclusivities. The carriers have finally realized, however, that the only way that RCS is useful to users is if it works everywhere with everyone. John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, said,

Efforts like CCMI help move the entire industry forward so we can give customers more of what they want and roll out new messaging capabilities that work the same across providers and even across countries.

Once the Big 4 get involved, the smaller carriers, including virtual carriers, would likely follow suit. In the end, they might even be able to shame Apple into implementing RCS into iMessage, another unprecedented move.

Is the addition of RCS messaging to Android and possibly iOS a move that would make texting a better experience for you? Let us know in the comments.

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