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No More Unholy Offline Play

That’s the message from Blizzard which is showing every sign of going as evil as Bioware, the other formerly creative company bought up by a mega publisher.

Want to play Diablo III as a game? No thanks. You’d better have an internet connection online all the time. Otherwise it’s not sacred.

During an interview at last week’s press event, Alex Mayberry, senior producer on “Diablo 3,” discussed the required connection. “You can play by yourself but your character is going to be saved on our servers. You have to authenticate through our servers to be able to play the game. I think it’s not just ‘Diablo 3’ but with our games as a whole we’re tying everything into Battle.net these days…We can provide a much a much more stable, connected, safer experience than we could if we let people play off-line.”

Why would we let people play off-line? Next thing you know, they’ll get the idea they own the game.

Forcing people to have an online connection to play is a more stable experience? How, when you can’t even play your game on a laptop without access.

Safer? From what. Being able to play your own game.

Oh and Alex. I remember when Battle.net was a good thing. A model for the industry. Now you just turned it into something people curse. Congrats.

“I’m actually kind of surprised in terms of there even being a question in today’s age around online play and the requirement around that,” said Bridenbecker.

Most games can still be played without an internet connection, even in this day and age when PC game companies think in console terms.

When you look at everything you get by having that persistent connection on the servers, you cannot ignore the power and the draw of that.”

What’s the power and the draw of it… I mean for the player, not the company.

Also if the draw is so powerful, why not let end users make the choice?

“Internally I don’t think [DRM] ever actually came up when we talked about how we want connections to operate. Things that came up were always around the feature-set, the sanctity of the actual game systems like your characters. You’re guaranteeing that there are no hacks, no dupes

No hacks and dupes of what? If people want to change their offline play, what’s the problem? Oh right, sanctity. The Church of Activision doesn’t want you to control your own experience.

But if there’s a compelling reason for you to have that online connectivity that enhances the gameplay, that doesn’t suck. That’s awesome.”

He used suck and awesome. So in touch with the youth culture this one is. Know what’s really awesome? Not being able to play your own game! High five?

So basically Blizzard has decided to force people who want to play their game without being forced to be online all the time to download cracks. And then a month from now they’ll complain about it. Awesome!

So if piracy and DRM never came into the decision, why not just offer an offline mode for those that want to use it? “Let’s say we want to create an offline capacity,” he explained. “You’re introducing a separate user flow, a separate path that players are going to go down. And, at the end of the day, how many people are going to want to do that?”

Uh people who don’t work for Activision? People who don’t have online access? People who play on a laptop when they’re not connected? People who don’t have a stable internet connection. People who don’t want to be forced to link up to Blizzard’s servers just to play a damn dungeon crawler.

You know, people. People who are going to buy Torchlight instead.

Is Hulu Getting Worse?

Free service plus pressure to monetize from corporate overloads plus virtual monopoly, equals this. Few sites actually keep getting worse over the years, but there’s just no way to compare the Hulu of today with the Hulu of 2008. The content isn’t as good, the format is worse, the interface hasn’t moved forward except for the social stuff that no one wants or needs, and the monetization is getting obnoxious.

Sure Hulu is entitled to push Hulu Plus. I hope it’s successful too. I don’t need it myself, but if it builds a business model for networks streaming their programming, so much the better. But there’s a way to do it without alienating regular users. Filling up Hulu Plus content that you have to click through, and doing it especially so you have to click through it, is obnoxious. And it’s not even the best way to sell you on it. It’s low level marketing.

The front page is as much of a mess as ever. When Hulu did its 1996 flashback, it wasn’t just a fun flashback, it was actually a much better page. Free of Hulu’s own crap like The Morning After, a show about TV shows, trailers and random Saturday Night Live clips.

Looking at the Hulu front page right now, there’s three Daily Show/Colbert things, one Family Guy clip and four Family Guy interviews, the Morning After, a Lego trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean, a Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live clip. The only episodes featured are Cougar Town, Happy Endings, and Modern Family. Sure you can manually change that, but it makes Hulu look like it’s cluttered with crap. And it’s an outlet for two or three productions.

There’s no way to get rid of Featured Content, which is almost always crap. Oh and under Popular Movies, 7 Lifetime movies. Seven! A documentary on beer and a documentary on salt. Really. Nothing from the Criterion collection even shows up.

Hulu front page, you’re starting to make YouTube’s front page look good.

Skype is Dead

Well why not, Microsoft has a lot of money and no idea what to do with it. Analysts are claiming there’s a plan. I doubt it. I think it’s Microsoft buying up a company to buy the company. It will botch any attempt at integration and kill Skype in the bargain. Sure there’s an upside. At least AOL isn’t buying Skype. If that happened, Skype would really be toast. Instead Skype will probably be renamed Microsoft Live Sky Connect or something like that and hang around. Skype integration on sites will be oversold. Skype integration on XBox, maybe. Mobile Skype, in a smarter company maybe. But Skype was already flailing. A great product looking a little unbalanced in the mobile wave. The sale will put money in everyone’s pockets and give Skype a weak sendoff into the wild blue digital yonder.

The End of the Movie is Here

The end is here and its name is on demand movies. Forget the days when movies lingered for months in theaters. That’s already getting rarer. And it’s about to go extinct with a plan by the big four, WB, Fox, Universal and Sony to give DirectTV streaming rights on new releases 60 days later. The theaters are threatening boycotts, but how do you boycott the major studios and still have movies to show.

The development was inevitable. Movies are now expected to make most of their money in 2 or 3 weeks. Few movies stick around longer than 6 weeks and by then they’re making pocket money. A few million if they’re lucky. A few hundred thou if they’re not. The formula is a big opening weekend and then everyone goes home. Oscar worthy pics may get a boost later on, but that’s the rare exception. Indies stick around but the big studios aren’t big on the indie business now.

Theater owners are seeing red. Major investments in 3D and digital in partnership with studios were supposed to keep them all fat and happy. But the business model is bad.

Theaters and studios both complain they’re losing money. Even with studios covering promotion costs and theaters taking home a big percentage of the box office, theaters are not on solid ground. And studios are starting to look at theaters as one venue among many. It’s not a smart move when little divides them from just making video that can be streamed anywhere, but maybe it is.

TV licensing has always been big business, but that’s a fading business. Direct TV’s model promises a new era, or the death of the old one. With DVD sales in the toilet thanks to the big HD-DVD/Blu-Ray battle and the rise of internet content delivery, they’ve got to try something. The dwindling release window is leading to cannibalization. And that is going to force theaters away from the movie and toward more experimentation with premium concert and sports content.

Streamfight

Slate praises Time Warner as buccaneers for streaming cable to iPad’s via an app, but it’s more like desperate piracy. I can’t feel much sympathy for Time Warner, which would have none if anyone had streamed its cable offerings that way without permission. And Viacom has a point. Time Warner cable was supposed to be in the cable business, not in the Hulu business.

For customers this is probably a win-win. If Time Warner wins, then Viacom and everyone else will have no choice but to stream on their own, creating a crazy competitive environment. But odds are that it will be settled with Time Warner ponying up more and reaching an agreement with Viacom on what programming is restricted and what isn’t.

Time Warner is squeezed by the need to provide added value to cable customers who don’t think of cable as the end all anymore. Streaming to mobile device can help make cable look relevant again. And prevent customer defections.

Microsoft Sees Chrome as the Competition

Firefox is still the dominant non-IE browser, its market share may even surpass IE, so why is Microsoft ignoring Firefox to focus on Chrome, which despite Google’s heavy backing has a much smaller browser market share than Firefox does?

Microsoft’s touting of IE9 and IE10 features focuses on its speed acceleration versus Chrome. Firefox goes unmentioned. And Microsoft’s hyper development and release schedule for IE9 mirrors the rapid speed at which Chrome goes through new version, not Firefox’s glacial speed of updates. And it’s subtle, but IE9 shows Chrome influence.

Some of this is about corporate rivalry. Microsoft sees Google as a major rival, the Mozilla Foundation looks more like an eccentric blip. Creating a corporate strategy to take on the Mozilla foundation looks silly, but fighting Google makes more sense. Chrome is also more of a multiplatform challenger and Microsoft rightly views it as the opening of a much larger wedge.

But Microsoft isn’t alone in seeing Chrome as the future and Firefox as the old IE. And they have a case to make. Firefox has gotten bulkier over the versions. Chrome isn’t really faster, but it is flashier. Chrome takes a different approach to browsing, with its underemphasis of the browser, and that’s a bigger threat to Microsoft than anything else.

Firefox Four Folderol

Yes Firefox 4 beat IE9’s record, which would be more of an achievement if anyone besides web developers actually waited to download a new version of IE. But while it looks faster, Firefox releases clog up with time, and I’m not so sure that Firefox 4 will be any different. For such a long delayed release, Firefox has its share of bugs and isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

What’s new? Pandering to power users mainly. More tab management features, for obsessive tab managers. Do No Track. And a few features that were already implemented in Chrome, from HTML5 to flash crashes not shutting down the browser. (Chrome’s new talk search update and icon adjustment is even more useless.) It’s underwhelming. And not too stable.

The visuals are Opera, but badly implemented and ugly. More like a bad hybrid of Opera and IE9. It’s annoying enough that I had to switch from the default look. Firefox used to be the cool alternative browser, but FF4 is a long way from those roots. Sorry guys.

Google Books’ Copyright Grab Smacked Down

Shocking, but Judge Chin did the right thing by smacking down the bogus Google Books, Author’s Guild deal in which Google got an open door to stack up all the books it wants and the Author’s Guild gets paid for them. Judge Chin rightly observed that this was a precedent sneaking through as a settlement, which means it goes to congress next.

At stake is the whole Orphan Works scam. A beloved term of librarians and academics, orphan works means material whose authors can’t be identified, found or contacted. In practice it usually means a blank check to make use of material and then puts the obligation on the owner to file a complaint. Judge Chin’s basic point was that Google is big enough that it shouldn’t get this kind of blank check and books should be opt in, not opt out.

There’s no real reason why Google Books and the Author’s Guild should be able to take material, make money off it and go on doing it until the rightful owners object. If they do. Google has gotten away with this on YouTube, and beaten Hollywood with a stick. But Google Books isn’t a collaborative effort by users, but a project of a major corporation.

The Social Account Singularity of Gaming

Or another reason to avoid creating an account to play a game you bought. After EABioware banned Arno, a user’s account for something he said and cut off his access to the games he bought. Obviously this is fallout from the way people have gotten used to doing things with XBox Live, but it’s completely unacceptable on a PC platform for single player games. And it shows how dangerous the integration that companies like EA have been pushing so hard.

A PC game should never be server dependent. It shouldn’t require constant approval from the company you bought it from. Anyone who paid 60 dollars for a game owns it. And the company who sold it to him has no right to disable it no matter what he says about them. This is a really bad precedent and makes complaints over normal DRM look petty.

Almost equally creepy, is EA’s terms of service calling the game an entitlement or a service. Not the product that you bought, but an entitlement or a service being provided to you. This is the gaming singularity swallowing up customer rights completely. And the only response is to crack the games you buy, keep them from accessing the internet and avoid creating accounts. No company should have this kind of power to steal what their customers buy from them. It’s reverse piracy.

And yes Bioware clearly has sold its soul to the EA console devil.

The Browser Times Are Changing

So Chrome has finally broken the 10 percent mark. Google promoting it on every page it owns wouldn’t hurt. Especially when between its search empire and YouTube, Google also commands a huge percentage of the traffic. Microsoft’s own market share is down to 56 percent. Around double Firefox’s 22 percent market share. Opera has increased a little, but not as much as it deserves.

The news isn’t all that good. Chrome isn’t a good browser, it’s just a well promoted one. The only good thing you can say about Chrome is that it’s light, though it has its own memory issues, and easy to flip through. It beats clunkers like IE and Safari, and it feels lighter than Firefox, which is turning into the new IE. That plus the marketing elevates Chrome up in the competition.

Firefox really needs to come up with a winner in 4.0 and they’re taking the time to do it. But can Mozilla turn this around? Firefox was important because it was the first browser to really put IE in the corner. IE9 is Microsoft’s latest attempt to learn from its mistakes, but IE9 is still clunky. Just less clunky than its predecessors. The browser that really gets it is Opera, but it’s also the least used of the big 5.

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