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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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