Tag Archives: Stan

With Netflix in mind

I was getting my zone on this morning (through caffeine) and as I saw something pass by last night (way too late) I decided to try and revisit what I shoved on the side something that was regarding Netflix. It was the only bold word I remembered from the 03:12 moment, and as such I did a search. I was not successful (at present); I did get a whole range of other items. Titles like ‘Terrace House on Netflix is an antidote to a world gone insane‘, ‘Netflix’s New Mini-Seasons Steal an Old Trick from Broadcast TV‘, as well as ‘Why Ben Affleck’s ‘Triple Frontier’ is your new macho Netflix guilty pleasure‘, the title or whatever passed me by was not there. It got me to thinking about certain series. You see, in a sea of options people get to drown because they cannot decide. Most (like me) want more than just a little 42 minute hype and that got me to one of the best BBC Drama’s around in decades (besides I, Claudius that is). Waking the dead was brilliant for several reasons. Not only because of the cast Trevor Eve (Eddie Shoestring), Sue Johnston, Wil Johnson and Claire Goose (Jane Kennedy) all awesome as a team! The issue is that the story was deeply overwhelming as every case was a two episode one hour each. The series were not a collected short stage of items; it was an actual story, complete with events to connect to. The makers were brilliant in a few ways as the stories were amazing, but that 2 part one hour approach was the pusher to set the stage much higher than ever before. So when we see these Marvel series, these crime series and other elements. I am surprised that places like Stan and Netflix have not pondered a much larger bet, one that could pay off for a much longer time. Not some vanilla series with happy endings. But based on the stories like Constantine, Elektra, Moon Knight, and optionally some series in the 90’s and 80’s that flopped. Everyone is looking at a new Buffy, Buffy was a huge success, but in that drive we forget to look at series because they failed. Some failed not because they were bad (well they were in that shape), but because we were not willing to make them dark enough and people have taken a real shine to dark TV series. By making them so dark that it makes black the new vanilla, that is the path some need to be on and it should not be some 42 minute series. It should be more like Waking the Dead, 2 episodes of a full hour. You can actually give the people a real story. This is not a new idea, others have voiced it and even as Hollywood is too scared to make that leap, for places like Stan and Netflix it could be the game changer. Netflix learned that when they gave the people ‘the Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina‘, the totally vanilla (and family friendly series) with Melissa Joan Hart has been rewritten into something that people teenagers and those who passed that age limit decades earlier go bonkers over; the mention of a new teaser poster auto evolves into a new viral wave of messages on a global stage. We should be more like Leonard Cohen in You want it Darker? And as we remember “You want it darker, we kill the flame“, we see the stage that several ideas should push towards. It gives light to the 1973 movie ‘The Legend of Hell House‘ which seems to have been the inspiration at least in part for ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘, Netflix blew the roof of their maximum ability to entice an audience and they are not done, not by a long shot.

So how do you think the audience will react, not to some 45 minute chase, but a 2 hour hunt for some truly bad person, raw, bloody and unforgiving by someone like Elektra Natchios, not some sexy looking Jennifer Garner (there will be minimal opposition against that element), but a well-trained, decently muscled and super agile version of a comic book assassin making short work of the bodyguards. Not some 1:43 scene, but a close to a realistic invasion of a well-protected house, taking our guards, optionally avoiding staff and brutally slaughtering the target in one quick sweep, a Jane Wick without all the noise-making, to coin a phrase.

And the people will love that story; we saw that in the original Day of the Jackal with Edward Fox (not the Willis version). There are several series out there that have parts of it, but not all of it and making a double one hour episodes on that would optionally give us all, it would give a totally new appreciation of quality writing and it would show the need for actual stories, it seems that all these marvel series will soon come to a grinding halt. Too much is the same, too much are transferred idea’s from series to series. Waking the dead was never that, it was unique. The BBC writers had a golden equation. It cannot be improved upon, but it can be the mould for something entirely new. and believe me, places like Stan and Netflix are looking for new, they have billions riding on that and they cannot get it wrong, not even once, not in this day and age when they are confronted with an additional $2 billion totaling their debt presently at around $12 billion. Even as they have 139 million subscribers giving them close to $1.6 billion each month, a lot of it is infrastructure and technology. Netflix needs to find new niches to give rise to new and fresh blood that can see series and movies no one else offers and for the most others do not offer dark. Do you expect to see that happen at Disney any day soon? That is the one handicap that Marvel, now part of Disney would face, series that are slightly too vanilla for most, it gives Netflix (Stan also) an opportunity, but it is merely one window and it will not be open for too long, in the end Disney needs to find the proper valves to keep it all afloat making profit, their optional delay in making the call, that is the one brief window that places like Netflix and Stan have for now, for now that is.

They are not the only ones vying for more viewers, in that regard Season One of American Gods hit the spot right on and with the pilot of season 2 hitting just four days ago, noise is rising from so many people on needing to see it, it shows not just how right I am, it might show that what I consider dark is just not dark enough. The numbers will show soon enough if this is what will drive Amazon Prime Video faster and larger soon enough. Even as some are less positive, I believe that it is merely the story taking a moment to adjust to what comes next and that is just my personal take on it, I reckon that in 4 weeks I will be proven correct (or wrong), it is in all that we need to ask, is it about pushing the envelope, is it about something truly novel? Not unlike the Japanese movie ‘the Audition‘. I believe it to be a blend of factors; the entire 43 minute mess to write it all in is no longer holding our attention well enough. There is plenty of short, there are enough movie, but in between there is a whole range of nothing. Waking the Dead had us covered and they were pretty much the only ones. It is time to see that and adjust form something like that. My money is on series of a much darker nature, most people are truly fed up with vanilla, it there is something to be learned from Bird Box that would be pretty much it. We cannot get a decent stress in a total frame of 42 minutes, yet in a double one hour episode we can get more than one and without it interfering with the quality of the story. It is not about the scare moment, it is about binding us to the scene and get us captured for the entirety of the episode, BBC solved it in the most brilliant way possible and we need to use that wisdom to create something the audience has not seen before. Novelty gets us there and having the best quality story keeps them there. From that part I believe that there is space very deep space for a new totally awesome Star Trek Movie. People were not happy about Star Trek Beyond; I do not believe it was about the acting or the directing. It was the story and there is enough evidence that they could have a two part cash cow if they hire the right writer to head that team. The nice part that if he is willing to make that jump you will get to see 125 million star Trek fans (globally) to go utterly nuts with joy, but to get that done, J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino must be willing to make quite the jump into a direction neither had taken before. If they do they end up with two movies each passing the one billion revenue mark with ease. The classics can get you there, if you know the right classical writer who can give to you what wasn’t shown before.

Innovation is not merely seeing new, it is about the need and ability to adapt into another frame not making it merely novel, but giving a classical pressure to what still is, that is the field where all the leprechauns bury their pot of gold. There are plenty of plots to draw from; you merely need one man and a decent shovel to get you there.

 

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That Lion cliché

Do you remember the time when art was about art? Perhaps you remember the studio that had the lion in their logo? I think that the very same lion was also very active in an old TV series called Daktari (1966, CBS). They had on their logo ‘Ars Gratia Artis‘, although some refer to it as: Arse for the sake of the artists, which is not the same thing.

It means art for art’s sake and that ideology came under assault by the Business Insider through Netflix last year (2 days ago), or did it? The article (at https://amp.businessinsider.com/netflix-bird-box-sparks-debate-over-data-in-hollywood-2018-12) gives a very different light on Hollywood. We initially get: “Netflix said its original movie “Bird Box,” starring Sandra Bullock, was viewed by 45 million accounts in its first seven days on the streaming service, a record for the company“, which is a good achievement, considering that there are 137 million subscribers, we get the setting that 30% watched it, something that should be regarded as a huge success. Yet Business Insider does not think so, it goes on with the quote: “Though Netflix revealed the huge number, it didn’t give specifics. How many of those 45 million watched the movie from beginning to end? What were the demographics of the viewers? Those are the types of stats that movie studios and TV networks release about their content“. Here we have a larger issue; those in the cinema, with rare exceptions will sit out the movie in the cinema, in the digital world we get to consider a new stage: how many watch it completely? Just like Google ads on YouTube where the first 5 seconds is ‘free’, or better stated might not be a viewer, and after 5 seconds the person can skip, so that is not a viewer either, these metrics now count towards the greater need to understand the Netflix viewer, because those who start the movie are optionally not actual viewers, so setting the purchase stage towards those metrics will be the downfall of Netflix soon enough, yet in all this, the viewer, including me, we are all new to the Netflix, Stan and other parts, so we get to switch products, like we switch channels and as such, finding what we like is going to be important to Netflix et al. Also, multiple watching might imply that, or another person at the house was watching, or perhaps I merely nodded off after 24.3 minutes only to realise that a comfy chair and warm weather implies that watching is a lot more challenging? In all this metrics, especially top line metrics with demographics will be increasingly important to all these digital providers. Even as we see: “That 45 million number has not been verified by a third-party measurement company in the way TV ratings and box-office results generally are“, we do not realise that for the most, cinemas have an utter lack of these metrics (other than amount of tickets sold, tickets per purchase and date of purchase), so even as Digital channels have more granularity (a lot more), we can debate and even question these metrics on a few levels. I once heard that a friend has his father drop by every weekend to use his Netflix account and keep up on TV series whilst the sunshine lad was at the beach entertaining his tan and swimming ability, so when he got home, he shared a meal with dad and they talk and watched a little more Netflix. So that implies that for that day the metrics are no longer matching the demographics, merely the member graphics, which again is not the same, not even close.

So when we look back at bird box, we see the interesting quote: “she believes that the latest Netflix news is nothing but a publicity stunt and that Netflix’s lack of transparency about data hurts filmmakers“, which is when the wheels leave the carriage in every direction. If movies are about art, why would data transparency be important? How is a vision or art an indication of data requirement? I get the statement, I get the implied stage where the TV industry is now mimicking Ubisoft when they started claiming another Assassins Creed every year. The implied part is forgotten as soon as you read it, but the danger is there. Those makers who rely on data to form the next hit will never ever get one. You see, the lesson that Ubisoft has been learning the hard way is that a game that appeals to everyone is a game that appeals to no one. The sales figures show that flaw, the ratings of games that at $50 million should have been 90% or better get nowhere beyond the 65%-85%, so basically a products that gets a little more than break even, it is a business model that theoretically works, but it will never produce any diamonds. The 78%-81% for Far Cry 5 is a direct indicator of that, some gave it as little as a 60% rating, a total change from the 90% that AC Origin deserved and that supports my thoughts there.

Yet in TV and movies on digital format we see another shift, we see the lack of materials making the makers a little desperate for choices. Even as we see Bird Box as a massive win, we see that choices are now coming at a much steeper investment curve, making the game a lot more dangerous, and it is pushing these analysts towards the metrics of watchers and optional watchers giving them a dangerous step towards anticipated interest versus real interest. Netflix is the most visible player here, but they are not alone. Stan, Foxtel, Canal Plus and a few others will face their own demons. Disney is the safest player for now as they have the best established brand on any medium, yet over time they too need to face the choices of data use available.

For me this data war is important in other ways too, as we see Bird Box and a title like the Blair Witch project in one box of choices, we see the link of mass media towards creating an inflated hype, yet when we look in another direction we realise that gems like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina would lose their footing into getting a place in creating and release. Sabrina is as I personally see it the true approach to ‘Ars Gratia Artis‘, the moment that data takes over, things will fall apart. It is not the data itself, it is the fact that in the first the data is mostly non-confirmed (member versus actual viewer), anticipated issues on re-watching versus actual reason of re-watching and that list goes on, the inability to properly vet data for a whole league of reasons will diminish the playfield and the Ubisoft stage takes over from the actual artistic stage, it could optionally kill a series like Sabrina overnight and will kill a whole range of other series in the same way in their first seasons too. There is other evidence too, the series Lucifer that got canned in one place, got taken up by Netflix and the fans win, in this case Netflix wins too and they deserve to win, but we need to realise that Lucifer is not unlike Star Trek, a series that initially got canned because the executives did not comprehend their fans (the watchers). We can add Firefly, Dollhouse and several other series to that list. I believe that Dollhouse was going towards the place that Westworld is moving on to and that is great, the stories are still accepted and they evolve for the viewing acceptance and appreciation levels and rightfully so, yet how many TV series were lost to us for the same reason? You see, I believe that the wrong approach to data and the non-comprehension (or wrongful use in dashboards) will make this a much larger issue soon enough, and guess what?

This will not be contained to the Hollywood world, the shift of data and dashboards will push into every realm that uses data soon thereafter. You might not think it now, but you all are part of this, it will affect you all soon enough. 5G is not merely a mobile platform, it is a data platform and we will personally see, feel and experience the impact of data. That impact is not theoretical, it is an actual impact. At Cornell University we saw the creation of a paper in March 2018 called ‘Load Balancing for 5G Ultra-Dense Networks using Device-to-Device Communications‘ by Hongliang Zhang, Lingyang Song, Ying Jun Zhang that gives us that to some degree directly. When we consider: “data traffic can be effectively offloaded from a congested small cell to other underutilized small cells by D2D communications. The problem is naturally formulated as a joint resource allocation and D2D routing problem that maximizes the system sum-rate. To efficiently solve the problem, we decouple the problem into a resource allocation subproblem and a D2D routing subproblem. The two subproblems are solved iteratively as a monotonic optimization problem and a complementary geometric programming problem, respectively. Simulation results show that the data sum-rate in the neighbouring small cells increases 20% on average by offloading the data traffic in the congested small cell to the neighbouring small cell base stations

Say What?

I am geting there the long way round, stick with me, it will soon make sense, as such, let’s look at this from another angle so that it makes a little more sense. Here I use a quote “We also know that the capacity (density) of current macrocellular 4G networks will continue to increase in the foreseeable future since there’s still spectrum available around the world that could be used or reused for mobile broadband“, this is a given, actually more than a given as both Cisco and Alcatel passed through the average barrier by 100%, as well over half a dozen carriers are on the average expectation, the other two crushed it by almost 100%, and that was 4G, the game changes in 5G (yes this is still about art).

Now consider that we are not set in metrics, my viewing pleasure never was, even as early as the late 70’s; that means that the metrics never fitted me and more importantly these metrics are failing a larger population to a much larger degree and it will increasingly fail those relying on them, no matter how good the story sounds. This part is important in a few ways. You see, from my point of view (always debatable whether it is correct), we see the flawed Ubisoft formula and consider that the choice fits 80% of all, this might be seen as a good thing. Yet in art the change is slow learned and even as with a video game the initial payment is done, we see a much larger stack of players going towards pre-owned games (for financial reasons). Now consider that in the Netflix et al world, it is not set into a $99 purchase, it is a $15 per month and everyone bailing after a few months will increase the financial dangers for players like Netflix (and others) as they have amassed a multi-billion dollar debt, whilst the people can leave at any time; even as leaving in the first year (or after the first free month) is not likely, especially at $15 a month, that same given part is not guaranteed after year one, so getting the right series up and running is a lot more important. Now that Netflix is no longer the one option and now that Disney Plus is gaining a global insertion, having the right data is increasingly important, we do get that, yet the Netflix data is lot more debatable than some think and this is where the problem starts. There are several indicators that the data is not that great or that complete. Unless Netflix is gathering data incorrectly (read: ethically immoral), which is not a given and there is no indication that this is happening, we have the direct issue with valid data versus non validated data and there is a much larger hiatus in play.

And now we get to the producer Rebecca Green, now we get to look at the part that is important. (apart from her ludicrous believe that Netflix data needs to be more transparent), we need to look at: “My goal is to create original content for wide audiences, but how do I cater to an audience if I do not know what they are turning in to watch?” she said. “‘It Follows’ has been on Netflix for two years, and I have no idea how many people have viewed the film. ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ has been on Amazon Prime for two years as well, and I have no idea how many people have viewed the film on that platform. Why share the stats for one film but not the others, aside from wanting to create buzz?“, right next to “Netflix needs to be more transparent about the performance of its titles so that people can better contextualize the data and to help more of these types of movies get made. I Personally believe that an adaptation from Forest Gump is needed: “Stupid is as Ubisoft does!“.

She is implying that she is out to make sure that she will not create a failure, and as such, she is unlikely to ever help create a true blockbuster. That is how I personally see it and so far my view has been supported with the results by Ubisoft several times over, so I feel decently confident on my view. She needs the right dreamers, the ones that dream the new stuff, not data driven, but vision driven. I dreamt the sequel to Mass Effect Andromeda two nights ago and it is still unsettling me today, I hope I never dream in that direction again, this does not imply a success, but it could potentially show to be a blockbuster to a lot of people, enough to take the Nexus for another spin if the investors are willing to take a (likely huge) risk. It is not merely the risk, the state that if they go all in that they are looking at optional sales of 6-8 million copies. That would be the stage where the game gets to approach the billion dollar mark and I am trying to remain conservative there. You see, it is not about the game, it is about offering something not done in gaming ever before, especially in console gaming. So there is the space to truly shift the field onto another track, a high speed track, but to get vested in that, it will cost the makers to get the right software engineers hat can give view to vision and that is a much larger call than some might think. I did a similar exercise with Elder Scrolls VI (not the one that is being made). It was not about a new story, it was about where can we push the story to and more important, how can we instill additional value, for me that has always been the ability to replay a game, not merely watch an interactive story with a few variables. What if we could evolve the game not merely in size, but in the ability to give a game 100+ hours of challenge and fun? In my mind, I gave that setting a whirl with Elder Scrolls VI: Resurrection by changing the nature of the challenge and by adding the openness of the game. Oblivion had done a terrific job initially, but I learned that in the 4th play through that I went for the anticipated goals too fast, I wanted a change that gave the challenge , but removed grinding to a larger degree (removing grinding 100% in an RPG is pretty much impossible). It is done not by adding more repetitive challenges, but by limiting options. You see, in my view a person cannot join all guilds, they can be members of some (until completed), so mages will auto decline Necromancers, thieves will reject assassins and fighters will not allow for thieves or assassins to enter the guild, so you can do all, but not all at the same time giving an additional layer to the gameplay, because at a later stage one guild will be a lot more challenging than before. Having a long term quest, one that goes on over time, even as you are working other challenges is also a path to set the stage and a third one is seen in choice. In my view The shrines were no more, the [main quest challenge] had undone something and we get to choose whether we fix that, and also having to decide what goes where, or continue on the path Tamriel was on, in that stage I have set 5 main quest lines in a different path, optionally giving a severe different view to how Tamriel continues as a nation, whether the initial main quest is resolved one way or another, that is the shape of close to 50-100 hours of additional playtime, will people like that? What happens when you really give the option of choice a new dimension?

I do not think that those bragging on how they cleared Skyrim in 2 hours will like it, but I am not making it for those few, I thought up ES-Resurrection for those who loved travelling in Skyrim (and beyond), those who create additional content and loved the time they had in Skyrim, the true RPG players that want to see it all. That same situation exists on any RPG (read: Mass Effect) and those value art and the creation of art by software engineers and graphical artists, gamers will bend over backwards buying such a game the very moment it arrives.

This is the same for movies and TV series, You merely have to watch fans going nuts on social media regarding Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to see my point proven; in addition, we saw a mere 3 weeks ago: “‘Firefly’ Fans Are Upset That Trending Hashtag Isn’t About the Show Being Revived“, when we see such impacts, we know that something is missed and some of these metrics will merely increase the amount missed by series makers (read: initial funders) and producers (read: investors). In this it is important to see the view of Robert Bianco (USA Today) with: “that Joss Whedon’s most devoted fans will debate and embrace, and a mass audience just won’t get“, that view is fair enough and the makers invest in the series, so as we see that there was a drop of 50% in viewers, it made sense to them not continue, yet a lot of the story was lost in the end. Could this have been prevented if data drove the choices of writing? I do not believe that to be the case, if anything, when we look at the Netflix setting, data would have made it worse; the series might have fallen over quicker. That is the setting for Rebecca Green (as I personally saw it). She might adhere to data transparency, yet there we see the most likely failure to be a choice made on non-validated data making matters worse, shying actual fans away because of adherence to the masses, which in my personal view makes matters worse, not better. Consider that 5 series with an 80% score, what are the chances that overlapping groups of people that end up no liking 2+ series released? How many members will that cost them in the months 13 and onward? In a stage where they invest $8 billion, how many losses will that ensue?

In all this (a very personal view) when we stop adhering to art for the sake of art, we see the path of data driven art and it will be nothing more than mere marketing of brand, viewers created through awareness, a dangerous setting in any form of art, video games have proven that; how long do you think it will take for people to switch away from 45 minute branding shows? How quickly will we switch to another provider? I believe that this stage will be reached sooner than we think. We might still adore and worship Game of Thrones, yet what will happen in season 8? Will it keep us on the edge? I am not handing the same values to GoT as we have had 7 seasons of GoT already, and a following will continue the story for now; more important at what point will see that there is a stage for season 10? Even if season 8 flops, there will be a drive to end the story lines at this point handing the need for a season 9 at the beginning of season 8, yet for new series that premise does not exist, so how can a series survive when it becomes data driven in a stage where the quality of data is debatable to a much larger degree at the very least.

This is not in the same range as the TV series were, it seems that the new digital series are effectively marketing driven and that might depend on data, but in all that, how many people would have given the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a proper vetting in the initial hours? As the choice of streaming digital TV companies’ increases the timespan given to vet series changes as well. That is where my reference of that 4G paper comes into play. The stage of “Using higher modulations is a proven, reliable, and well-understood method to increase capacity in a given communication channel, but it has clear limits“, you see for people it is not bandwidth, it is time, yet the equation is basically the same, we have a finite 24 hours, minus 6-8 hours of sleep, minus time for food, hygiene, travel and work. Time is an absolute here and many forget that part; it is equally an issue in gaming. That part is even more so an issue as the digital age is trying to get attention from gamers (and vice versa) in the same way, more than you think. Marketing, TV marketeers and investors are trying to create hype’s anyway that they can and it gives an additional increase, but the personal impact is spread all over the board, so these people are trying to get towards data driven solutions forgetting about art to the larger degree and in that way losing an audience to a much larger degree than they could fathom. that is hard to prove in any direction, yet I feel that (when we translate this to movies), my part is proven by Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal with: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; It’s as if everyone had set out to make the best Spider-Man movie ever, which is exactly what they’ve done“, the mere stage of a movie, an animated movie that is showing to be a comic book that has been close to truly been brought to life, I personally hope that Stan Lee had been able to see the final result whilst he was still alive (he might have done that), the fact that his visionary view on comic books took on a life of its own, data would never have gotten us there, it required art to get there, the fact that Channel 18 gave the people: “This may be the first Spider-Man feature to qualify as a great New York movie, drawn from the life of the city rather than outdated stereotypes“, I personally believe that this was achieved with art, not through data, or data as a mere assistant, not a driver.

We might think of the MGM lion as a cliché, but their slogan is still a driving force in entertainment and arts, it will most likely survive the data farmers for at least two generation, it is only when AI evolves through insight leading to wisdom that we will see a 90% appreciation level through data on arts, I doubt I will live that long, but part of me hopes to see that day where the quantum computer is asked what the state of the cloud is and it answers with an image of a Cumulus or a Cirrostratus with a defined point of arrival. It is my personal believe that people like producer Rebecca Green will always have a place in Hollywood, yet they will never become the Whedon’s, the Howard’s or the Russo’s, they got there by artistic vision, yet that too remains the issue of debate, how will the producers and directors see eye to eye on art versus data? It is something we will see a lot more in 2019, as it will drive the digital providers, as well as their content makers to a much larger degree than ever before.

 

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Upping the game

Today started with a nice revelation, Microsoft has taken the sales offensive. Even as we were treated to ”Bethesda’s online action role-playing game “Fallout 76” won’t be available on Valve’s Steam platform during beta or when it launches on November“, the story changes when we look at the PC games in the Microsoft store we see: “Pre-order to get access to the Fallout 76 B.E.T.A.“, so it seems that Microsoft is setting the bar really high, in addition for that part the game is equally available on launch day for those who have the Microsoft Game Pass. The Game Pass is $11 a month solution (in Australia); you get no option to buy the pass for a year (as far as I could tell), which is a drag, and you better have the download options (not to mention the storage) before you commit to it, but there is no denying that it is a deal that is way too good to be true. Microsoft even offers a 14 day free trial, which implies that the games are only available to play as long as you are a member (this is speculation!), not unlike the PS Plus setting. The pass has XB1 and Xb360 backward compatible games and it is a HUGE list. It includes a list of the upcoming top games to be released this year makes the Game Pass an essential choice. The Pass at roughly $130 for a year) will include well over $600 of AAA+ top games, yet to be released in 2018. So apart from the download hassle the pass represents hundreds of dollars of saving in this year alone. I personally believe that they messed up some of the visibility and marketing, but that was their choice. The smaller issue is the backward thinking cap of the US, for people outside of the US (Australia for example) games (when bought outright) are roughly 28% more expensive (and that is after I corrected for the exchange rate). There are also ‘shadows’ here. I do not believe it to be, but there are. For example one source gave me “These eleven Xbox Game Pass games are “leaving soon”“, I cannot tell whether they will also be removed if you have added them to your library (so check this when you decide), the second shadow needs to be mentioned as the quote was: “Personally, paying for the Xbox Game Pass program and Xbox Live Gold is quite a monthly cost“, which is ABSOLUTELY BOGUS! The Xbox Live is a service subscription to play multiplayer, so if the Game Pass title has that, then yes, you will need Xbox Live as you always would have needed it. For the simple player part it is not needed, just as the setting is today. In addition ‘quite a monthly cost‘, is silly to say the least, even on a budget, the setting is that you have Xbox live $80 and Game Pass $130, gives us full and complete access to $12,000 worth of games for $210 a year, anyone debating whether that is expensive needs to get their heads examined. Now, there is no way that you will like all games that would be silly. Yet the setting now allows for you to try games at $0 that you would never have bought in the first place, a setting where you can grow the games dimension that you are in. I believe that to be a really great setting. The part not mentioned is of course the downloading time and subscription fees of the internet, even as those prices have been going down, or better stated giving you more download at the same price, it is a cost you need to consider, yet at the setting where you get access to $12,000 in games, which represents more than I have ever bought in a lifetime across the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One together is an astounding part you must remember. If only Microsoft had thought that hard drive issue through in 2012, things would be even better for them. I still see that as the one Achilles heel in all this, yet with the rumoured new Console (Project Scarlett) announced for 2020, we do know that Game Pass is a long term setting of gaming for Microsoft and whatever sets the console will be optimised for the billions that Game Pass will bring in. In all this we might ramble too early on the storage issue, but it is an issue Microsoft knowingly and willingly ignored and in all this ‘the most powerful console in the world‘ is impacted through it. In addition, I have had the longest issue with Microsoft marketing (for various reasons, so as Microsoft states in Windows Central: “Xbox Scarlett hardware will ‘set the benchmark’“, I tend to get nervous, you see, they have no idea (well some idea) on how gaming evolves, yet in the end, we will not know what will be available by 2022, so at that point any console will be merely on par, 14 months after it is bought. I moved to console gaming as the update for a PC in 2002 went overboard. Processor and graphic card showed that you would need $2500-$3000 to be up to date for high end gaming and that got you roughly 24 months at best. So gaming with the additional $200 a month, as well as updating drivers, patching and whatever else needed made me move more and more towards consoles and the Xbox 360 delivered perfectly for almost 8 years (at $700), so the cost of living was set to the games bought not to the additional cost of upgrading the hardware to play games. An awesome setting, Yes there was the one off for the hard drive (from 20 to 120 gigabyte, at $119 at that time), but it was well spend. In the end I bought 2 Xbox 360’s, the second one was essential as I got another red rings of death 75 hours before the release of Fallout New Vegas, so I went: “Eff That!” and got the one with the 250 GB drive and it still works, so apart from a high blood pressure event once, the Xbox 360 was a golden choice for any gamer. I also had the PS3, which had the option to upgrade the drive as the PS4 had, so in all this the entire hard drive issue was out there for 12 years, ignoring that part (as well as always online bullying) angers me, because there was never any need, for none of it.

Why does it matter?

It is a level of orchestration, pushing people into a direction before they are ready (and perhaps they never will be). In this Cambridge Analytica is a larger hurdle then anyone imagined and the gamers are sketchy under the most stable conditions. Hackers, phishers, cheaters and trolls are always around the corner and it is best seen when you investigate ‘League of Legends’, I never played the game, but the amount of messages giving way that the victims of bullying and trolls are worse off than the perpetrators is why there should be an online ‘off’ switch. It is essential because the resources needed are allegedly not used correctly (debatable if that would have been possible), and the systems do not have the settings to protect players. The option to just play offline for a while is perhaps the only pressure valve that works (not on all games though), so when we look at MailGuard and we get it in regards to Office 365 (just one day old): “The cunning thing about this phishing scam is that once the victim has entered their username and password, the fake login page redirects them to a genuine Microsoft website, so they think that nothing is amiss. Meanwhile, the criminals have collected their login credentials and are able to steal their online identity for all kinds of nefarious purposes, like fraud, invoice falsification and malware spamming“, Microsoft needs to realise that they have a larger issue and they cannot fix it (basically no one can). Well it is possible, some of the kids involved have been identified, and by shooting them in the back of the head and leaving a message with the parents to start taking notice of what their kids are doing you get change, although some might find it a bit extreme (an issue that is probably a setting for the eyes of the beholder).

Why the extreme example?

The issue is not merely being online, the issue is that too much is online and even if we wanted to apply Common Cyber Sense all the time, there will be a hiatus and when it comes, it will be at the wrong moment in the wrong place. At present the actual success rate on finding and convicting cyber criminals is less than 2%, it is even less when we realise that not everything gets reported. It is in that atmosphere that game streaming is about to be set to a much larger extent. A setting that is based on mere authentication and not on non-repudiation (uncertain how achievable that is at present). You show me a company that guarantees you 100% safety and I will introduce you to someone who is lying to you. As the gaming industry is a $100 billion plus market, the issue was forever that gaming was low impact (for the most), people had more often than not a physical copy, there were more and more parts that one had to overcome, so for cyber criminals it was not an interesting market. Yet with the upcoming changes to the gaming environment it changes, all is online, all is set on central servers and that is when BlackMailWare and RansomWare will become a much more lucrative business for those targeting gamers. Even when you think it does not happen, what happens when your online account gets scrambled, your passwords changed from the outside and for a mere 0.01 bitcoin you can get it back. Systems like that are already used, some will consider that paying $88 is preferable to waiting and losing scores, statistics and access to files with the logs of hundreds of hours of playing a game. When you see the time some invested on games like Diablo 3, Skyrim, Fallout 4 and now upcoming Fallout 76 you get the optional setting where ransom might be successful. And the setting of ‘always online’ makes the threat to console gamers a lot more realistic. You merely have to google the issues on League of Legends and World of Warcraft to see the impact and it is much larger than some think it is. You think it is simple and an adult thing to live with, yet when Microsoft has to explain that danger 250,000 times to the non-technological mother and father of a 16 year old playing and suddenly losing all access, perhaps being permabanned in the process as well, at that point the game changes quickly.

Having a decent non-repudiation solution in place might limit the damage to a larger extent, but that system does not exist for gamers, mere authentication and even when upgrading the issue is not the 100 that do, it is the 15,000,000 who haven’t. this is part of the setting that Microsoft faces and it is facing it on a daily basis with Microsoft 365, where the users are (for the most) adults, so when we get to the console it becomes a different setting. This is why the console evolution is a little more treacherous. When the gamer has the option to remain offline (when needed) he/she has options, when forced online they fall away. Sony got hacked a few times (at least twice), with millions of accounts and the details in the open, the damage was larger than some expected and I reckon that most avoided damage was because the overwhelming amount of gamers had physical copies of the game. So offline gaming was never impacted, merely the multiplayers losing a few days of access.

Now, with Game Pass that would not be an issue and the optional overall damage of $210 (two subscriptions) are easily tended to, in the worst case scenario you pay for it twice and a few weeks later it is either refunded, or you are all paid up for +1 year.

Now, let’s change the setting that the Business insider gave us one month ago. With ‘A desperate hacker tried selling US military files for $150 — only to find no one wanted them‘ (at https://www.businessinsider.com.au/hacker-us-military-drone-files-for-sale-2018-7), this seems hilarious, until you consider the following facts, the first one is “The hacker, who is believed to reside in a poverty-stricken country in South America, said his internet connection was slow and that because his bandwidth was limited, he did not download all the files prior to finding a willing buyer“, so it is in a low yield place, the second one is “The hacker also tapped into live footage of surveillance cameras at the US-Mexico border and NASA bases, and an MQ-1 Predator flying over the Gulf of Mexico“, we still have a sense of humour, live camera watching! Yay! Now we add “the vulnerable computers were taken offline, which inadvertently cut off the hacker’s access to the files“, OK, it happens, sometimes a computer has a missed security patch. Now we add ‘a maintenance manual for the MQ-9A Reaper drone, a list of airmen assigned to a Reaper drone unit, manuals on how to suppress improvised explosive devices‘, is seems harmless, right? Yet when you consider that this was a professional setting where the person had access to “documents belonging to a US Air Force service member stationed at the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, and documents belonging to another service member believed to be in the US Army“, we see the setting where Military security was circumvented, from a close to powerless place into Military hardware. so when we are confronted with “enough knowledge to realise the potential of a very simple vulnerability and use it consistently“, we see the first part, the second part was given with “The Netgear router vulnerability, which dates back to 2016, allowed hackers to access private files remotely if a user’s password is outdated. Despite several firmware updates and countless news articles on the subject, thousands of routers remain vulnerable“, this is a setting involving adults (one would hope), they cannot get their heads right and you are submitting teenagers and gamers (in a non-professional setting) to those exploitations. Microsoft can market all it can, and to some extent they can fix some parts, but the ‘always online‘ will still be out there and that is where the damage gets to the people.

The prosecution fail rate makes it cool and interesting to go after gamers and the many hours of having to download games will at some point present an opening for hackers, that market is growing and it will hit gamers, there is close to 0% avoiding that.

The question becomes, how ready will Microsoft be? How much resources will be impacted on their customer care and customer service when it hits? The Xbox 360 gave them the red rings of death issue (which went it happened to me was fixed awesomely, it merely took 3-4 weeks), which is acceptable as a new console was shipped to me. The setting when it is in cyberspace, the game changes as a million accounts could be affected. Some hackers will be creative and resort to a low corruption setting (like the dBase virus), some will merely download and wipe, the fact is that even if it is resolved, it will take time to resolve and that is where gamers lose patience really really fast. My setting to buy another console to fix it is one example (I had the funds when it happened), yet what happens when you are in the middle of a Diablo 3 season, which is time restrained and someone ransoms your access? In current setting the damage is partially avoidable; the new Scarlett setting leaves the partial part up for debate. In addition, as the number of people resorting to that path increases, the interest to mess with that part becomes a lot more interesting to Cyber criminals.

In this we need to look at the other side too, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) gives us “cybercrime is costing the Australian economy up to $1 billion annually in direct costs alone“, when we look global, we see Experian with the quote: “Ransomware attacks, data breaches, theft of intellectual property, sales of counterfeit goods and other illicit activities are generating at least $1.5 trillion in annual revenue“, so globally, when gamers are added to that list of victims, how high will that priority be? Do you think that they get prime time consideration, or will the party line become ‘the best and easiest thing to do is to just start again‘, I was told that by Microsoft when my Xbox one profile got somehow damaged in the first year. Now try the setting with access, invested cash and time and tenfold the amount of open targets. From my personal point of view, when there is an Office 365 impacting against the Xbox Red accounts wiped, how many resources will Microsoft have? I am certain that the business customers get first dibs on whatever they need. Now this last part does not count against Microsoft, it is merely the lesser of two high cost evils, it is reality.

Even as Microsoft is showing that it is upping the game on gaming and consoles, it is also upping to optional damage and hardship to gamers. I say optional, because in the first, we have no idea what that red box will be doing, we have no idea what the settings are for near future gaming (in 16 months) and we do not know how certain changes will actually impact the gaming sphere, but Sony has shown us that the dangers are real.

In the end, we see that Microsoft is upping the game when it comes to gaming, there is no denying it, yet how the future will pan out and whether Microsoft has truly upped the game for gamers is still to be determined. That is not a negative thing, because any expectation for the future is merely speculation, yet the dangers to their gamers will increase by a lot and that part remains the question mark in all this. Some could have been prevented by a lot, but Microsoft is clearly steering into a settings where adherence to ‘always online‘ is the setting they demand, one way or the other. Even if the prison has golden bars, it remains a prison and that part needs to be clear. The fact that gamers do not get the choice in the matter is what matters, not only from the cyber threat side. Congestion is a growing concern on a global scale. Even as Bill Morrow, Chief Executive of NBN Co. was idiotic enough to initially blame gamers for the congestion, the truth is that against 4K Netflix and YouTube, gamers are not even a blip on that radar, yet congestion is a present and growing issue, so there is a problem there too. The system is already under pressure and globally 200 million gamers when a large slice of that pie is set to the streaming and virtual copies of games only come into play, congestion will rear its ugly head and those gamers become more than a mere blip. Consider that Bethesda shipped 12 million units to retailers within the first 24 hours of Fallout 4, and consider that a large chunk of these people will immediately download the game on launch day of Fallout 76. so optionally up to 12 million people all downloading a game that is also stated to be 4K, so we are looking to around 100 GB download, that is merely one game title, it will be in a time when there is plenty to download and even now, as we accept that most are physical copies, the truth is that gaming in that way will add to the congestion in a really big way. Most providers are not ready and it will impact the gamers, Netflix users and Stan (the list goes on for a long time) are merely part of all this traffic. I named Bethesda and they are merely one of many players in all this. Microsoft, Ubisoft, Bethesda, and Electronic Arts; all people pushing (or getting pushed) towards the virtual release only side of things down the track.

Why does this matter now?

One of the big events QuakeCon 2018 starts tomorrow and that will also be the place where more specific information will be given by the actual makers on more than one title by the way. It will be important on how games are moving forward. It is not merely Fallout 76 (one of the biggest titles anticipated) that is in the upper limits of gaming on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation; it would potentially give the direction of where they are going with the Elder Scrolls VI. Merely two Bethesda games that literally has millions of followers, so there is an essential need to take notice of Bethesda for several reasons. This reverts back to Microsoft, because Bethesda games have a huge following on all platforms. It also means that in that setting (set against the rumour that Fallout 76 is online multiplayer only, yet you can play the game alone) any congestion will topple game joy completely. We know that there is enough experience with Elder Scrolls Online, so it is not the setting that Bethesda is going in blind in any of this, but at the same time the gaming dimension is changing at the same time, so that change is impacting in more than one way; that is the push that Microsoft is going for, which is all fine, yet at that that point we will be faced with more outside interference factors and congestion is a real factor, one that players will be confronted with to a much larger degree in the near future.

If Microsoft gets that all right, then it will be picking up momentum in a scary way and at that point the question will be, can Sony match this? I personally love that part, if we see a setting where Sony and Microsoft push each other to new heights is great because in all this, the gamer ALWAYS wins! And over time this push is a realistic one, yet in some places we will optionally see a time where the providers cannot match what the consumers need and that is a new setting for many gamers. In the past we merely accepted what was available, in the new setting you get to play based on what you pay for and that is something we have not been confronted with. Anyone thinking that this will not happen; think again! It might be the selling point for people to switch providers, but there will be a clear setting of borders, borders that set what you can do and that is where we see the overall cost go up, yet to what extent is a clear unknown for now.

 

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The last stretch?

The E3 is now 4 weeks away, we see more leaks and a few confirmations. Most confirmations are to counter the ridiculous statements we have seen in the near past. Statements like: ‘we could see a first announcement of the new PS5‘, utterly ridiculous from the first moment it was voiced. The PS4 and PS4Pro are doing just fine at present, there is no need for new hardware, especially with all those games that are coming. Places like the UK Daily Star, who gave us ‘THE SONY PS5 console is coming – eventually – but some BIG E3 2018 news revealed this week could give us our biggest hint yet for when Sony will release a PlayStation 5 games machine‘, with ‘eventually‘ they cover their setting of utter stupidity. It is basically on the same level as ‘If we have unprotected sex the coming year every night, you might end up being pregnant at some point‘, it is on that level we need to see this. As stated previously, the Nintendo Switch will release 28 games between now and August 2018, that is rather huge, some of these titles have been revered for the longest of times, so the current owners are already hyped and if that was not enough, it is also hyping those who want one, so that is working for Nintendo at least twice over. In that regard, another source gave us earlier this month “Microsoft Won’t Release Xbox One Sales But Claims There’s Been Growth … as a key indicator of our success and will no longer report total console sales“, the upcoming degradation to third position has shaken Microsoft to the core, even as we accept ‘There’s Been Growth‘, the issue remains that there will always be growth, there will be an interest in buying an Xbox One, it is not a bad system, merely a flawed one and in that regard, it still has games, good games too. What is remarkable is the entire setting change within Microsoft. You might remember on how it was not a gaming system but set as an ‘entertainment‘ system for the whole family, which bites even more when you realise that some top boxes offer well over 100% more storage, so the ladies can get all 6 seasons of Sex in the city, whilst the partner can hold onto his entire NHL annual season games. Yet beyond that, when we dig deeper, we see that Microsoft fumbled yet again. In this case I must stand up for Microsoft in its defence (just a little), the market was suddenly overwhelmed with all kinds of Fetch options and recording of TV shows. It took a bigger leap as some offer Netflix, Stan, National Geographic and ABC iView whilst it will not count towards the data usage, which for the Netflix addicted is the sales pitch of the century. The fact that some offer mobiles a special deal that now includes a set top box is just a bonus. Microsoft will not be offering the Xbox One X for a mere $80, will they? That is not their fault, it is my personal belief that those offering these deals know what the data value of a consumer is, and this started merely a year ago, years after the console was released.

So when we go back 3 years (for the comparison), take a look (at https://www.onmsft.com/news/xbox-one-more-all-one-home-entertainment-ever), where we see: “Where media entertainment and television integration were the first talking point announcing the Xbox One, they are now on the back burner. Gaming has taken its rightful place as the emphasis of Microsoft’s gaming console. At E3 Microsoft didn’t focus on anything related to cable television or media streaming, they focused on their library of games, and gaming features such as Xbox One backwards compatibility with the Xbox 360. And that’s smart of them to do, but that doesn’t mean the Xbox One isn’t a home entertainment system. In fact, it’s even more of one than when it was initially announced“, which is all true and fair, yet as I basically stated about 2 months BEFORE that date, when you rely on a 1TB drive, whilst for the consumer the difference between the 1TB drive and the 2TB drive was at that point no more than AU$27, meaning that the difference for Microsoft would be a lot smaller, so why be so stupid to settle on 50% storage? I believe that their sense of pushing people into the Azure cloud never faded, it merely bites them now as we see data collecting abuse (Cambridge Analytica is one among many). That set off the gamers in the same way that ‘always online‘ did, and there is not denying it, it hurt Microsoft bad. Now, do not think for one minute that Sony would have been any better, because it took a while for them to back paddle the offline achievements, but they did and Microsoft did not (well only partially). From my point of view to some extent, the Xbox One offered in some ways less than the Xbox360 did.

Even Nintendo Switch would at some point make an error or two, but in all this the Xbox was the worst, even as we see news left, right and centre, and we see gossip on those same three paths, I am trying to see the reality and report on that. Yet in the end, we are still unsure what big whoppers Microsoft will offer during the E3 and that really matters. Even as we now see that Sony and Nintendo are ready to hit it out of the ballpark during their presentation, we still do not know how ready Microsoft is, because that is at the heart of the mounting pressure; The Daily Star gave us last week “It’s a great time to be a gamer and to be a part of Team Xbox. We’re hard at work on exciting plans for E3, from what will be a great briefing filled with new games to the fan experience at the Microsoft Theater. This is our biggest E3 yet, and we look forward to a great week for gamers“, it sounds cool but there is no beef on the bone of rumours, so we will have to wait another 4 weeks.

In all this I am not alone, more and more professional gamer sites and magazines give responses like ‘Microsoft has a lot of pressure to compete with Sony’s fantastic line-up‘, that is the crux of it, Microsoft cannot hope for a homerun, it desperately needs one at present that is for certain. In this, places like Techradar give us: “Now that the Nintendo Switch is so beloved and Microsoft can boast the most powerful console on the market, we’re hoping to see Sony pull out all the stops for PlayStation this year“, Sony who started and still embraces ‘For the players‘, seems to be ready to do just that. That is the setting that Microsoft is up against. when I look at their victory there is no way around Minecraft 4K, that is not a joke, for those addicted to Minecraft, seeing the 4K version on Xbox One was jaw dropping, in equal measure Forza Motorsport 7 will boast and deliver. Honest to god, what I saw (the short part I did see), I could not tell the difference between watching an actual F1 race on Blu-ray and Forza 7 4K. So they have the goods, and there is no way that it will not drive sales for Microsoft. From what I did see, whether you are a racing fan or not, there is no way around Forza this time around, only the foolish and the dead are unlikely to purchase that game if they have an Xbox One X. Yet, will it be enough? We will know in 4 weeks, for now, there is the smallest chance that Microsoft can turn the downturn around, but it will not be cheap and they have no further room for error, because the moment we see an actual first announcements of the PS5 (I reckon in 2020) and Microsoft has not mended its way, it will no longer be seriously considered by anyone but the devoted Microsoft fans, which remains fair enough.

It is up to Microsoft to figure out whether they are in their final stretch, the only real advice I have for them is to boot their marketing department and actually start listening to the gamers, not the Azure department, the Microsoft cloud needs and whomever else could benefit, because it did not bring the Xbox department anything at all (speculative on my side). Putting Phil Spencer on top of all this was a good first step, in 4 weeks we will see what the Xbox Owner gets to play between June 2018 and December 2019, we should hope for the best for more than one reason, because from my pragmatic view, as I see it, when Microsoft properly ups the game, Sony will be forced to do the same and that is good for every gamer in the world. In that Nintendo remains the wild card, they do what they it is that gamers want and they really got it right this time around (referring to the WiiU vs Nintendo Switch),

No matter what system you are on, there will be huge announcements for every system, which is always good and those who have more than one system will have to decide on which system to buy their games more, or less. It is in the end, the gamer’s choice!

As For the E3, the spaces are set, Sony rocks the western hall, see the image below , it is right next to Nintendo, which has half the space Sony has, so that will be one hell of a bottleneck. I wonder if the media will be there asking if people have both systems. Nintendo has two more attached stands, just like Sony. An interesting setting is that Big Ben Interactive is there too, as is NVidia and at least a dozen others. In the South hall, also below it is different. Most large ones are pretty much the same size, except for Square Enix and Bethesda being slightly larger. Microsoft has a tiny presence there, but it has its own venue as stated by some ‘across the street’, There was no mention of any Microsoft at the West hall at all, implying that their small presence in the South hall is merely some stations for playing. The images are nice to see and to behold some of the names there, what is clear is that Sony and Nintendo are ready to take this to the next level, especially in light of how unrealistically expensive floor space on the E3 is. Yet the best source of released info is the site of the venue itself (at https://www.e3expo.com/).

 

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