Category Archives: Technology

Stuff I’ve written about gadgets & gizmos and whatnot

Everything Changes, Everything Stays The Same

Nigel has a dead-on understanding of the nature of TV going forward. I have long been trying to make people realise that the traditional TV is the natural home of video content, and integrating content with the existing TV paradigm is the optimal experience. Hence my belief that Smart TVs are the only worthwhile innovation TV manufacturers have pushed since FullHD (except ultra narrow bezels, which are also fantastic).

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Xbox One Debacle Redux

So, yesterday, Microsoft did a one-eighty on their consumer-hostile disc-based game DRM policies. All through today, some people have been lamenting the loss of the Xbox One Family Sharing plan as a part of that. As it turns out, they shouldn’t have been. It turns out, it was going to be awful. One of the architects of the Xbox One has (allegedly) posted the following information on PasteBin. It’s got more than its fair share of crazy, and I’m going to respond to it paragraph-by-paragraph.

It’s 4am and I’m still up, some hours ago, we at Microsoft had to basically redact on our Always Online infrastructure and dream. Being part of the team that created the entire infrastructure to include the POS (point of sale) mechanisms I must say that I am extremely sad to see it removed. But the consumer knows what is best, I can place the blame on no one but us here at Microsoft. We didn’t do a good enough job explaining all the benefits that came with this new model. We spent too much of our time fighting against the negative impressions that many people in the media formed. I feel that if we spent less time on them and more time explaining the great features we had lined up and the ones in the pipes gamers and media alike would have aligned to our vision. That stated, we felt the people we would have loss would have been made up by the people we would have gained. We have 48 million Xbox 360 users connected online nearly 24 hours a day. That is much more than any of our closet competitors and vastly more than Steam. The people that we would have left behind I feel would have eventually come around as they saw what advantages the platform had to offer. But as I previously stated we at Microsoft have no one to blame other than ourselves for failing to convince those hesitant to believe in our new system. Microsoft might be a big company, but we at the Xbox division have always been for the gamer. Everything we’ve done has always been for them, we have butt heads with the executives many times on what we’ve wanted to, some times we lost (removing the onboard processor from Kinect 1.0) and other times we’ve won (keeping Gears of War as an exclusive).

Okay, right off the bat he’s off to a bad start, because he just tried to characterise “making Gears of War an Xbox console-exclusive” as being something done for the benefit of gamers. Now, on some level, I’m sure there are Xbox fans who were pleased Gears never went to PlayStation. But, really, nobody but Microsoft benefitted from that.

While publishers have never come right out to us at MS and say “We want you to do something about used gaming” we could hear it in their voices and read it in their numerous public statements. The used gaming industry is slowly killing them and every attempt to slow down the bleeding was met with much resistance from the gaming community. I will admit that online passes were not well received nor were they well implemented, but I felt given time to mature it could have turned into something worth having as a gamer much like DLC (we went from pointless horse armor to amazing season passes like Borderlands 2!). Videogame development is a loss leader by definition and unlike other forms of media videogames only have one revenue stream and that is selling to you the gamer. So when you buy a game used you’re hurting developers much more than say a movie studio. Many gamers fail to realize this when they purchase these preowned games. It is impossible to continue to deliver movie like experiences at the current costs without giving up something in return. It’s what gamers want and expect, the best selling games are blockbusters, the highest rated are blockbusters, the most loved are blockbusters. How can developers continue to create these experiences if consumers refuse to support them? Many will argue the development system is broken, and I disagree. The development system is near broken, it’s used gaming that is broken, but regardless I think more emphasis on this from both us at Microsoft and publishers would have gone a long way in helping educate the gamer, but again it is us who dropped the ball in this regard for that we’re sorry.

Here we have a tired re-tread of the false idea that used gaming is killing the gaming industry. It really isn’t. If it was, used sales would be killing every entertainment industry that has them. Further, there is absolutely zero reason to believe that eliminating the used option would lead to more sales of new games, and every reason to believe it would just mean less sales overall. But you all know this. Hell, even the third party publishers have had to start begrudgingly admitting this. Used sales allow the new game buyers of the future (kids) to develop interest in franchises they will be loyal customers to later. Used sales contribute to the ecosystem. But again, you all know this. Microsoft was fundamentally out of touch with the real world on this.

Next, he suggests Online Passes might have evolved into something positive for consumers. That’s…Certainly dreaming big. I fail to see how that is even conceptually possible myself. Maybe you guys have some idea what the hell he was getting at? I sure don’t.

Anyway, he moves on to blaming consumers for the industry being inefficient and not generating enough money, whilst adamantly refusing to accept the idea that if you can’t afford to produce something you should probably find a cheaper way to produce it. He’s blaming consumers, and then he almost flat out calls consumers stupid, saying that Microsoft needed to ‘educate’ consumers about how unfair it was of them to want to pay less for games, as if seeking the highest possible value is somehow a behaviour unique to gamers and not something any rational consumer does. Frankly, it arguably becomes more insulting as he continues, because no sooner has he implied we’re stupid and Microsoft are a benevolent force seeking to enlighten us, than he tries to walk it back by dropping a quick “but it’s our bad” – without, actually, retracting the implication that consumers are wrong and Microsoft alone knows what’s best.

Going back to Xbox One’s feature set, one of the features I was most proud of was Family Sharing. I’ve browsed many gaming forums and saw that many people were excited about it as well! That made my day the first time I saw gamers start to think of amazing experiences that could come from game sharing. It showed that my work resonated with the group for which I helped create it for. I will admit that I was not happy with how some of my fellow colleagues handled explaining the systems and many times pulled my hair out as I felt I could have done a better job explaining and selling the ideas to the press and public at large. I’m writing this for that reason, to explain to gamers how many of the features would have worked and how many of them will still work.

I find this kind of incredible. He seems to be implying there was absolutely a clearly-defined, succinct set of principles and ideas. If that’s the case, why did employees like himself not simply produce a simple, one-page memo for the likes of Don Mattrick and Phil Harrison to memorise? Anyway, more on this later.

First is family sharing, this feature is near and dear to me and I truly felt it would have helped the industry grow and make both gamers and developers happy. The premise is simple and elegant, when you buy your games for Xbox One, you can set any of them to be part of your shared library. Anyone who you deem to be family had access to these games regardless of where they are in the world. There was never any catch to that, they didn’t have to share the same billing address or physical address it could be anyone. When your family member accesses any of your games, they’re placed into a special demo mode. This demo mode in most cases would be the full game with a 15-45 minute timer and in some cases an hour. This allowed the person to play the game, get familiar with it then make a purchase if they wanted to. When the time limit was up they would automatically be prompted to the Marketplace so that they may order it if liked the game. We were toying around with a limit on the number of times members could access the shared game (as to discourage gamers from simply beating the game by doing multiple playthroughs). but we had not settled on an appropriate way of handling it. One thing we knew is that we wanted the experience to be seamless for both the person sharing and the family member benefiting. There weren’t many models of this system already in the wild other than Sony’s horrendous game sharing implementation, but it was clear their approach (if one could call it that) was not the way to go. Developers complained about the lost sales and gamers complained about overbearing DRM that punished those who didn’t share that implemented by publishers to quell gamers from taking advantage of a poorly thought out system. We wanted our family sharing plan to be something that was talked about and genuinely enjoyed by the masses as a way of inciting gamers to try new games.

And this is where it gets ridiculous.

The way Family Sharing was understood, based on Microsoft’s vague FAQ, people shared to would have full access to the game. Nothing ever implied otherwise. The questions were all about how many people could use how many games at once, and what the prerequisites for being included in someone’s sharing plan were. Now, to be fair, he addressed the latter, and the requirements were indeed at the more positive end of the readings people had of the FAQ.

But here he is, trying to make us believe that Family Sharing was this huge, mind-blowing revolution…And what we find is, it was actually way more limited than the version we were all imagining, which we were still not universally sure was worth the tradeoff. His whole aim in writing this was to convince us the old Xbox One philosophy was better after all, and it turns out it was actually worse than we imagined when we rejected the idea in the first place.

This is stunning. I cannot believe Microsoft actually thought this was going to win people over to their policies. I mean…Look, at PlayStation Meeting 2013 (Sony’s two-hour ‘The Future of PlayStation’ reveal of the PS4), Sony had the CEO of their newly acquired Gaikai service reveal that Sony plans to allow everygame on the PSN Store to be tried before purchase, instantly, by streaming the game. Now, sure, Microsoft was going to let the games run natively and we don’t know if Sony’s option will allow progress to carry over to the full game (It’s unlikely to). But, on the other hand, you don’t need to be in a friend who has the game’s sharing group. That’s one less hoop to jump through. Microsoft’s solution is really not that impressive. Frankly, it’s kind of pathetic. Fifteen minutes? Are you kidding me? It’d take longer to download & install the game!

The motto around the offices for the family plan was “It’s the console gaming equivalent to spotify and pandora” it was a social network within itself! The difference between the family sharing and the typical store demo is that your progress is saved as if it was the full game, and the data that was installed for that shared game doesn’t need to be erased when they purchase the full game! It gave incentive to share your games among your peers, it gave games exposure, it allowed old games to still generate revenue for publishers. At the present time we’re no longer going forward with it, but it is not completely off the table. It is still possible to implement this with the digital downloaded versions of games, and in fact that’s the plan still as far as I’m aware.

No, it’s not even remotely like Spotify or Pandora. OnLive Pass is like those things. PSPlus’s Instant Game Collection is even arguably like those things. The Xbox One Family Sharing Plan was like BlackBerry Messenger Music. BBM Music was a colossal failure. You know why? Because you couldn’t access any music your friends weren’t sharing, which meant there wasn’t a lot of use to it. Twitter’s #Music has the same problem. This kind of “sharing” of content is way too limiting. People prefer discovery where they can passively see what their friends are into and then check it out for themselves. Something like seeing “Sarah Greene earned a Platinum Trophy in Knack” and then going and playing the game. Accessing a gimped version of someone else’s library is like (though still inferior to) being at their house and browsing the shelf. It works, sure, but it’s a much less passive experience for both parties, and that makes it a bigger hassle.

It’s certainly not some major innovation that justifies the DRM policy on disc games. It does nothing that Sony’s PS4 isn’t doing anyway – and as noted above, Sony’s PS4 is arguably doing it better.

Another feature that we didn’t speak out about was the fact we were building a natural social network with Xbox One in itself that didn’t require gamers to open their laptops/tablets to post to their other friends nor did they need to wrestle with keyboard add-ons. Each Xbox Live account would have a full “home space” in which they could post their highest scores, show off their best Game DVR moments, what they’ve watched via Xbox TV and leave messages for others to read and respond to. Kinect 2.0 and Xbox One work together and has robust voice to text capabilities. The entire notion of communicating with friends you met online would have been natural and seamless. No reliance on Facebook, or Twitter (though those are optional for those who want them). Everything is perfectly crafted for the Xbox One controller and Kinect 2.0 and given that shine that only Microsoft can provide.

I’m not going to waste too much time on this, because it ties into the same thing about the feature not being all that unique. Both Wii U and PS4 also feature bespoke social networking features which can show off high scores, screenshots and video. Microsoft guy seems to be implying that the integration of Kinect with this stuff makes it much better, and for some gamers maybe it is. But many of them, myself included, think barking orders across the room and waving hands around like a flight-traffic-controller are crummy ways to control a TV experience, so that really isn’t all that much of a plus.

We at Microsoft have amazing plans for Xbox One that will make it an amazing experience for both gamers and entertainment consumers alike. I stand by the belief that Playstation 4 is Xbox 360 part 2, while Xbox One is trying to revolutionize entertainment consumption. For people who don’t want these amazing additions, like Don said we have a console for that and it’s called Xbox 360.

And he closes things up by being a total dick. As if the rest of his article wasn’t already enough of a pile of shit.

There’s a reason this posting is anonymous. If the name was attached, this guy would be getting the Adam Orth Special. This is the exact same horrendous messaging that Microsoft made the change to get away from. In fact, it’s arguably worse, because this guy genuinely seems to think this is an improvement on the message coming form the likes of Don and Phil Harrison. He explicitly said he was frustrated about how much trouble guys like them were having articulating his “vision”.

Well I got news pal, I liked it better the way they described it, and I hated that shit. What does that tell you about your revolutionary vision?

E3 2013: Greatness Awaits

Going into this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, I was as jaded and cynical about the video gaming industry as I have ever been. In years gone by, for every E3 in the past eight years, I have gone in excited to see what was going to be shown. Ready and eager to be wowed by the big three platform holders. Usually, at least one always did manage to excite me. More often than not, it was Nintendo, whose fun-first games design philosophy has always really spoken to me. But many a time, Sony showed a Killzone 2 or Microsoft a Halo: Reach (Halo. But with jetpacks) or what have you, and I was as delighted with their showing as I as when I first saw Nintendo’s Wii in action, in 2006.

Last year though, nothing anyone had to say about home consoles enthused me especially. Nintendo’s Wii U revelations were neat, and it’s undoubtedly a cool bit of hardware, but not in a “huge leap forward” kind of way. And aside from the interest in the exciting newness of Wii U, nothing but 3DS games really caught my eye and made me go “wow, I need to own this!”.

Halo-4

The back half of last year, I got Halo 4, Epic Mickey 2 and Borderlands 2. There were some other games I was interested in enough to have played if I had more money, but nor was I sat in my room before E3 2013 thinking “gosh I missed so many good games”. I’m going to be playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown from tomorrow, thanks to Sony generously giving me a free month of PSPlus, and I have wanted to check it out. But it was the game’s coverage upon its release at Giant Bomb which got me interested in that game, not E3 2012.

Really, I left E3 2012 feeling throughly bored. Very little in the home console space felt new, exciting or fresh. The PS3 and Xbox 360 were still pushing Call of Duty and Fifa and Madden…I’m so done with Call of Duty I can’t even describe it. It bores me to tears. And seemingly every other game being touted was an out-and-out clone of it.

Madden and Fifa were given frustrating prominence at Microsoft's #XboxReveal
Madden and Fifa were given frustrating prominence at Microsoft’s #XboxReveal

Microsoft’s damp squib #XboxReveal event, where they unveiled the improbably named third Xbox; the Xbox One; compounded my feelings of detachment and boredom with the console gaming mainstream. All I could see were games I’d either had my fill of or never wanted to begin with. Sony’s “The Future of PlayStation” PS4 reveal event left me with a slightly more positive impression a while before, but it was too early to say for sure if the games were going to draw me in.

Microsoft’s event in particular presented a vision for the future of gaming which, to me, was a total non-response to everything that was wrong. It was as if Microsoft were oblivious to how expensive and unsustainable things were. As if they saw no problem with assembly-line sequels to generic games with little creativity. As if the rise of the increasingly high-quality and inventive indie games on platforms as diverse as iOS, Android, Windows, OS X, Wii U, PlayStation 3 &  PSVita was mere rumour and conjecture. Here then was a console which would do what AppleTV and Roku already do at a significantly lower cost (and without the recurring subscription fee Microsoft demands for Live Gold to get at the media streaming services) and also play a load of painfully unexciting games which are virtually indistinguishable from the ones you’ve been playing for the past seven years. Except for those powered by EA Sports Ignite, which are distinct in that the engine makes character models more detailed but a million times less believable.

Apple's diminutive AppleTV already does a lot of streaming video, for a low cost
Apple’s diminutive AppleTV already does a lot of streaming video, for a low cost

I had been told to wait for Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference. There, it was said, Microsoft would roll out the games that make the Xbox One worth a damn. Well; after confirming ahead of time that yes, they are – unaccountably – messing around with the existing game sales model; Microsoft trotted out first at E3 and showed some relatively interesting games. None that made me sit up and really go “whoa”, but some decent ideas that had some nice graphics. Then they said they wanted £429.99 for their console. A price eerily similar to the one Sony charged for the PLAYSTATION 3 (£425), back before they resolved to make amends for their hubris in planning that system’s launch. Nothing I saw from Microsoft, game-wise, justified that cost of entry.

So then, it fell to two of the third party juggernauts to have their say. EA and Ubisoft. EA said the magic words for me with “Star Wars Battlefront”, but I was (at the time) disappointed that it was coming to platforms I wasn’t planning on owning. Nothing else they showed particularly excited me. Their next-gen sports titles continue to look horrible, and their presentations annoyed me with their superfluous buzzword names for minor physics and graphical subroutines. Ubisoft showed a couple of games I was already interested in (South Park, Watch_Dogs, Assassin’s Creed 4) but had nothing new that piqued my interest. And to be honest, I would go on to be more enthused by the Assassin’s Creed and Watch_Dogs demos in Sony‘s Press Conference than those in Ubisoft’s own.

Ubisoft's inventive "Watch_Dogs"
Ubisoft’s inventive “Watch_Dogs”

Then came the wait for Sony, with me in a sort of “Meh” sate of mind. Nothing I’d seen of E3 had yet completely sold me on the continuation of the big-budget high-end video game. However, I had less reasons to run in the opposite direction than previously. If nothing else, at least they had stopped parading Call of Duty in front of me as if it was new, and had instead shown things like Watch_Dogs which are a bit more inventive.

Sony nailed it. They sold me games-wise. Kingdom Hearts 3’s mere announcement was a standout, along with the demos of Assassin’s Creed 4 & Watch_Dogs (As I mentioned), the trailers for inFamous: Second Son & Killzone: Shadowfall, the procession of great looking indie games like Transistor, Outlast and the Abe’s Odyssey remake and…Well, the real jaw dropper was Bungie’s Destiny. I was already mostly on board with the game conceptually. But seeing it in action floored me. It combines the appeals of Halo, Borderlands and MMOs into a gorgeous package. For me, it looks very much like Destiny is the next big thing – succeeding, with any luck, the painfully repetitive Call of Duty. And probably obviating the need for more Halo.

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Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Sony confirmed the PS4 will not lock down games with draconian DRM, won’t require online authentication checks and is coming in £80 ($100) cheaper than the Xbox One, at a more than reasonable £350 for the 500GB hard drive equipped machine (And yes, it ships with a headset in the box, undoing a frequent PS3 frustration – unlike the Xbox One incidentally, which instead includes the divisive KinectOne. Also in the box is an HDMI cable, undoing another PS3 foible). Their hardware is significantly more attractive too, evoking the much-beloved PS2.

Indeed, the only bad news from Sony was them putting multiplayer gaming on the PS4 behind the PSPlus paywall. But with online entertainment services like Netflix still available on the free tier (Unlike on Microsoft’s platforms), and PSPlus being so compelling a service as it is with Instant Game Collection that I was planning to buy at least a year’s worth later his year anyway, I wasn’t particularly phased by that.

You can buy a PS4 and a year’s PSPlus, and be set for a year. You’d get a new game every month, for an upfront cost less than the price of one new boxed game. It’s tremendous value. Which is the key thing here. Xbox One, and the vision of the next generation it follows, and which I was afraid of, is terrible value for money. PS4, in stark contrast, is terrific value for money. I’m on board. Sony, you’re PS4 is my number one pick among next generation hardware.

So where does that leave Nintendo? They went earlier today with a slightly more understated event, a Nintendo Direct @ E3 broadcast. They didn’t blow me away. But nor was I disappointed. Mario Kart 8, the latest entry in my favourite franchise, looks fantastic. Similarly, Super Mario 3DWorld and the new Super Smash Bros pair look like wonderful new games. And the Wind Waker HD remake sure looks pretty, and having not had a chance to play it the first time around anyway, its lack of out-and-out newness doesn’t really bother me. Oh, and on a handheld aside, the new Pokémon games look like must-haves.

5008-mario-kart

Definitely a more attractive slate of exclusives on the Wii U than on the Xbox One, for me at least. I’m still interested in having a Wii U, but now it’s behind the PS4 in the queue, so to speak. A PS4 I am willing to buy any time I can from launch day onwards. With the Wii U, I can wait at least until Mario Kart 8. If Nintendo are smart, they’ll do a Mario Kart 8 bundle, and I’ll probably buy that. It seems likely, given the success they had bundling Mario Kart Wii with the Wii.

So there you have it. E3 2013, when I was successfully brought back into the core gaming fold. Bravo Sony, keep on trucking Nintendo, make Battlefront good EA, for the love of god, just make it good. And Microsoft…Well, there’s always the integration of Bing with Apple’s Siri to console yourself with.

(Oh yeah, that reminds me, iOS 7 adds gamepad support, so AirPlay games are about to get a lot more awesome. That happened yesterday too. It was a busy day.)

E3 2012: Thoughts & Wishes

Get hype people! For the 2012 Edition of the Electronic Entertainment Expo is nearly upon us. In just over 43 hours, the biggest week on the video gaming calendar will kick off when Microsoft Entertainment & Devices/Microsoft Studios take to the stage to deliver the first of the E3 Press Conferences, which play host to the biggest announcements in gaming’s biggest week.

It’s always worth paying attention to E3, not just because you find out about all the coolest, most exciting news regarding upcoming games and hardware but also because of the spectacle. And the memes. Dear god the memes.

And so, I am suitably excited about the week ahead. So here’s a look at what it is about E3 2012 I’m looking forward to. And in case anyone’s wondering, I’m still planning to do a Post about the 2012 Eurovision Final and the fact Soluna Samay obviously should have won, but I’m holding off on it until the EBU releases the split jurors/tele-voting results, because I want to give them a look over first.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get to my Thoughts & Wishes for E3 2012!

Microsoft

Oh Microsoft, what is with you guys anyway? You had it all. Mindshare, loyal users, buckets of income, a cornucopia of beloved franchises on your hardware…And yet you’ve spent the past three E3s wasting everyone’s time pursuing a fool’s understanding of the Nintendo formula.

I’m not sure what it is which has caused Microsoft’s Nintendo envy to swell to such incredible heights over the past few years…Certainly Nintendo’s considerable success with the Wii had them looking at the Big N with considerable envy – after all, Microsoft had it in their heads that this generation was their turn for dominance. Every platform gets two generations to call their own, right? Nintendo had two, Sony had two…Then Nintendo, in Microsoft’s eyes at least, stole another turn in the winner’s circle.

Winner’s envy has never been a good look or move for Microsoft. The same thing is what led to the stillborn “zune” line of personal media players. Nor has copying ever done Microsoft much good. Windows Vista was a straight clone of Mac OS X with the Windows legacy and it bombed. Windows Phone 7 in contrast, is critically acclaimed. Microsoft, for all its history of shamelessly ripping off other people’s work, is at its best when it’s doing it’s own thing.

Which is why I think they’ve dug themselves into a hole with the Kinect. Kinect is Microsoft copying Nintendo on a conceptual level. The problem with copying that, as it has been with all notable examples of Microsoft copying other people’s stuff, is that Microsoft doesn’t understand what it’s copying. The flagrantly shoddy user experience of the Kinect is the result of Microsoft’s under-developed understanding of the success Nintendo has had with the Wii. They boiled it down to “motion controls = casual audience”. Wrong, so wrong. So painfully, juvenilely over-simplified.

The casual appeal of the Wii was baked into its very being. It’s not motion controls, it’s simplicity that won the day. Simplicity breeds intuitiveness. Kinect is wholly non-simple, and thus counter intuitive. Microsoft failed to realise that while Nintendo fixed the over-complexity of controllers with the Wii, controllers themselves are not inherently complex. Quite the opposite. They abstract complex actions into simpler ones. Kinect does not. The result is a terrible user experience. But nonetheless, one Microsoft seems to have unwavering faith in. No doubt spurred on by inflated hardware sales. The software sales tell a different story. So the big wish for me this E3 in terms of Microsoft…

For the love of everything you hold dear Microsoft, stop banking on the Kinect. The Xbox 360 is awesome in its own right. You thought so once too. Remember 2007?

Do more of that. Don’t go another year spending half your presser showing off games and game features that most people don’t want, and which will suck. No, seriously, almost anything related to the Kinect can and will suck in some way. Because it’s a wrongheaded solution to a non-problem. You’ve done it now, so continue to pursue it if you will, but let’s have some stuff that ignores it, please?

Halo 4 is so far Kinect-less. Keep it that way. New Gears of War, huh? Do yourselves a favour and keep the Kinect the hell off it. If you absolutely have to use it, just use the voice commands. And let’s get some new game announcements which are also Kinect-free. I can’t think of a single game announcement from you last year that was Kinect-free except the two Halo titles.

Cut that shit out Microsoft.

I’d also like to see you un-tie some of the internet service on Xbox 360 from Xbox LIVE Gold subscriptions. It’s flat-out dumb to expect me to pay you for services other platforms provide free access to, especially (though not exclusively) those which are themselves subscription based services. Of course you’re not going to do that though, are you?

Majorly uncool, Major Nelson.

Sony

So…About time you cut the price on the PlayStation Vita, huh?

Sony seems to be a company taking two steps forward then (at least) one back lately. They got away with the PSN debacle last year with surprisingly few wounds to show for it, then set about repeating past errors in the handheld market for…No adequately explored reason. In launching the PS Vita, Sony didn’t learn from Nintendo’s troubles with the pricing. More egregiously, they did not learn from the mistakes of the PSP.

“But Paul!” I hear you cry, “The PS Vita has two thumb sticks and like, zero piracy!”

Yeah, see, those were actually by far the least of the PSP’s worries. The lack or a right stick and the poor security were periphery mistakes. They were lessons easily learnt. Even Nintendo quickly supplied an option for a second analogue input of the 3DS. The lack of a second stick was never as big a deal on the PSP or the 3DS as it was made out to be. The PSP was a failure because it was wrongheaded on a purely conceptual level (The basic system vision and design was fundamentally unappealing outside of a theoretical scenario).

And the Vita is…Identical. The vision and design are…Unchanged. It’s so much just the PSP again that not calling it the PSP2 is quite frankly a laughably transparent coverup of its sameness.

Still, while – like its predecessor before it and unlike the 3DS and DS – it fails to offer anything unique to justify its existence, it could still find a level of success akin to the PSP itself if they’d just drop the damn price. To the point I’ll actually be shocked if they don’t announce a price drop.

In contrast to the poor fortunes of the PSVita, the PlayStation 3 is ticking along nicely. The third-placed home console is nonetheless the most successful third-placed gaming platform ever. The Xbox 360 is only beating the PS3 to second place by a few million units despite a year head start and the PS3’s preposterously shaky origin story as the Five Hundred And Ninety Nine US Dollars PLAYSTATION 3.

Sony needs to continue with its efforts to one-up Microsoft on the entertainment services front, and it looks likely they will. Meanwhile, some of Sony’s special blend of “high profile exclusives” would do well to materialise this holiday season, to see off the juggernaut that is the mighty Halo franchise and Nitendo’s Wii U.

It’s probably tempting for Sony to push a lot of high profile developments to PSVita, but that would be an error. The PS3’s position for the next year is more important. Big games for the PS3 Sony, it has to happen. The Vita has time yet, especially if you drop the price. The PS3’s got a limited opportunity to strike the Xbox 360 dead. Don’t give up on that.

A fascinating rumour doing the rounds pre-E3 has Sony acquiring cloud gaming service OnLive and integrating the service into their gaming ecosystem. It makes some strategic sense – Sony seems to be in love with the idea of PlayStation Anywhere & EVERYwhere. Seems amazing they’d be able to pull off such a high-profile gambit though. Colour me intrigued by the prospect at least.

Nintendo

Oh boy, this is gonna be a big one.

Nintendo are the first platform holder to blink in the arms race that is developing the Eighth Generation Home Consoles, and last year showed off some impressive tech demos and introduced us to their latest wacky idea: “I know, let’s make the DS, but like…HUGE and with your TV!”

Snark aside, Nitendo heard you liked to iPad while you TV’d and TV while you Wii’d & iPad’d so they put an iPad in your Wii so you can iPad while you TV while you Wii.

Again, snark aside, the Wii U is Nintendo’s (unfortunately named) latest vision for disruption in the industry. They’re playing a risky game though – they’re going first. Ask perennial “first out the gaters” Sega, and most recent first blinkers Microsoft, how well going first in the home console arms race usually goes.

Nah it’s probably quicker if I just tell you: Poorly.

Still, Nintendo has never been one to play by the beat of someone else’s drum. The mere existences of the Wii/DS and the DS/Wii U are proof enough of that. What Big N sorely needs to do at E3 then is show us why this…Tablet thing is worth our attention. They need to showcase games which shift the paradigm the way Wii Sports did. Having a map on the tablet isn’t gonna cut it. Blown up DS games won’t either. It needs to be fundamentally disruptive, something totally game-changing. Wii, with Wii Sports, showcased approachability unparalleled since the NES. Wii U is more complex, so approachability will be the remit of the existing Wii Remotes (Which are part of the Wii U ecosystem too of course). The centrepiece tablet controller has to offer something else.

Versatility seems like the obvious pitch Nintendo is going to run with – not least because their promo video last year showcased a number of different use case scenarios.

To that end, Nintendo is in big trouble if they don’t get their online services house in order. Nintendo Network is already an improvement on WiiConnect24, but it needs to put on a pair of big boy pants if Nintendo’s power play on versatility with the Wii U is going to pay off. It needs accounts. It needs to have communication (Seems likely they’re at least planning on sorting that out, the tablet controller is confirmed to support video conferencing in some way at least). It needs periphery entertainment solutions.

Day one, Nintendo needs the Wii U to be as personal as its name and main controller imply, but it also needs to take Nintendo’s existing social strength and combine it with their weakness, online. Nintendo blows the doors off their competitors at local multilayer and intimate social interactions. Now they need to recognise the importance of broader social and networking features and do them right.

This is something they should try and do with the 3DS too. It would benefit from software updates adding these kinds of features. In terms of games, the 3DS is doing alright. There are already some great 3DS games slated to appear at the show (Luigi’s Mansion 2, New Super Mario Bros. 2, Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion) so Nintendo are probably in good shape there.

I’d like to see Pokémon Black & White 2 make some kind of appearance in the presser, but it’s unlikely. Game Freak and Creatures Inc seem to keep their own counsel on when to show off Pokémon franchise stuff. Still, Black and White 2 is probably the DS’s last major hurrah – to the point that it’s almost baffling the pair are not 3DS games – so it’d be nice to see Nintendo show off something.

Third Parties

We have got to see more about this:

Professor Layton Versus Ace Attorney (Née Professor Layton Versus Gyakuten Saiban) is one of the coolest collaborations ever. It’d be great to get a date for it – especially if there as a Western date alongside the obviously earlier Japanese one.

On a similar note, if Capcom could see their way to showing or telling us something about Gyakuten Saiban 5, confirmed as inbound in January. Who’s the star? What’s the platform (It’s obviously 3DS and probably Vita, but damn it I want you to say anyway)? And when can we play it!?

I hear EA is prepping a sequel (Or some kind of revival at any rate) to the most beloved of all Need for Speed games. If the mooted Need for Speed: Most Wanted title does materialise, you bet your ass the Fandom Will Rejoice. I’m really keen to see if they can recapture the magic of Most Wanted’s story, characters, modes and aesthetic. There was something about Most Wanted that was like lightning in a bottle. It was so correct it seemed obvious – hence Carbon was mostly a clone of it (A passable if unspectacular one) and the later Need for Speed games which diverged from its formula have been, to varying degrees, let downs.

Need for Speed needs a kick in the pants after the hugely disappointing  The Run (Failed to properly execute on an actually decent premise). Reviving Hot Pursuit did the franchise favours not too long ago, so there’s high hopes for reviving Most Wanted.

I also want EA to announce a Mass Effect Trilogy pack. It seems almost inevitable that such a product will come to be. Having not played Mass Effect but recently having finally found time for Knights of the Old Republic, I’d be very interested in such a pack. Meanwhile, EA also has a giant elephant in the room to deal with from the same developer: The Old Republic.

Despite EA’s repeated posturing that they have no intention of making TOR an F2P title, you have to wonder at what point the dwindling subscription numbers will force their hand. Perhaps they have another solution to the problem up their sleeves. Regardless, it will be interesting to hear what, if anything, EA has to say about TOR. Also, MAKE WITH THE MAC PORT ALREADY.

Jeez.

Another big one from the third parties is Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed 3. After a serious bout of Capcom Sequel Stagnation, Ubisoft is finally bringing out an all-new AC and it looks fantastic. They never, in all they hyping of the previous fur games, gave me any idea of why it was I should care. But AC3 looks like it could win me over. In a similar vein, Hitman: Absolution looks like drawing me back to that franchise after some brief flirtations in its early days.

From our friends at Disney, there’s two new Epic Mickey games. The big budget sequel, Power of Two, and the first portable entry, Power of Illusion. They both look absolutely fantastic and I’m keen to see and hear more about them.

Those are the big third party games that spring to mind as being what I’m looking out for. I’ve doubtless missed a few.

Miscellany

As I tweeted earlier, one of the games I want to see isn’t even a real thing, it’s a nebulous wish for a certain kind of game with a certain theme. I don’t even care who makes it. I just…I want a dinosaur game, guys.

A big-budget, kick ass dinosaur game. I want someone to do for Dinosaurs what has been done to death for zombies. I want like Jurassic park: Trespasser done right with modern technologies or something. Maybe you can capture the dinosaurs and try to train them or something? I dunno. Just…Dinosaurs guys, come on. Jurassic Park: The Game from Telltale Games is pretty good (Not quite as good as their Back to the Future effort mind you), but I want something a bit less Heavy Rain and a bit more…Actual video game.

Hell I think at this point I’d buy a Turok game.

Just get it done. Dinosaurs are rad. Why is nobody making dinosaur games? Seriously, I saw like THREE new zombie games last year. It’s played out – and I LOVE killing zombies. Let’s shoot dinosaurs for a while, how about it?

Revolution: The Sky’s The Limit

Rupert Murdoch always saw himself as a revolutionary. He blustered onto the scene in the United Kingdom with a singular aim: to take on the entrenched elite – the highly conservative establishment and the liberal elites who went some of the way to keeping the establishment in check – and deprive them of their power. His attack was ruthless, long and, for a time, successful.

But as with all things under his domain, Murdoch singularly failed to see the world change around him when seeing that change wouldn’t suit his vision of himself, and the world. He was all too happy to enjoy the perks of the power he wound up wielding over the UK’s political class – the elite he came to conquer.

But what he failed to recognise was that they weren’t the establishment if they were singing to his tune. He was the establishment. And what goes around comes around.

There comes a time in the reign of any despot when he creates his own worst enemy, and even hands that enemy the weapon needed to beat him. It’s an unavoidable fact. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. And when you’re absolutely corrupted by absolute power, arrogance is unavoidable. And arrogance seeped out of every pore of the News Corp operation. From Rupert’s stubborn insistence that Paywalls online will work (When they patently do not – his own efforts at The Times and sunday Times are laughingstock loss-makers) to James Murdoch, the heir apparent, having the audacity to lecture the media on how the BBC is corrupt, News Corp has conducted itself with unmissable swagger over the past few years in particular.

The news colossus had thought itself untouchable because, rightly or wrongly, it was perceived as the opinion maker. Sometimes the appearance of the ability to sway opinion is as powerful as that actual ability. It’s like when someone says “I’m not saying so and so is a murderer, I’m just saying he hasn’t said he’s not”. The status as the opinion maker was enough to allow them to frame the public narrative their way.

This arrogance spread like a cancer. It started at the top, with Murdoch’s diabolical grip on the corridors of power in Whitehall, and spread all the way down. Until finally, it infected some of the journalists, who saw their leaders picking and choosing whose political careers flourished and therefore assumed their publications were untouchable – Murdoch always got his way. And repercussions were dealt out to those who wronged his people.

And that’s when News International signed its own death warrant. And probably that of (At least part of) its global parent, News Corp.

Which brings us to how the deed was done. It was all deliciously simple. People working for News International – under the watch of James Murdoch, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks – used illegal means to get their stories. And they did it a lot. And then they made the ultimate mistake: they let arrogance erode common sense and put themselves on the wrong side of certain public outrage.

When it was just celebrities and politicians believed to be victims of the widespread use of illegal investigative tactics, the sad fact is the vast majority of the public couldn’t bring themselves to care. This is pretty understandable. News International has orchestrated a culture of austerity, which has the masses more concerned with their own lives than the whinging of their oppressors (the politicians) and the better off (celebrities).

When you think about it, that was almost the perfect crime. Murdoch got his neo-conservative austerity programmes implemented and was able to use the atmosphere they created to smokescreen the dirty laundry used to get there. But then there’s that arrogance thing. The journalists responsible were blinded by their perceived invincibility.

They did the same thing to the public. Worse, to murder victims and grieving families. They crossed the moral event horizon.

And even more stupidly, they didn’t do a terrific job covering their tracks. Imagine that: journalists dedicated to finding scandalous scoops didn’t properly cover the tracks of their illegal dealings. What arrogance! Did they think that aside from being invulnerable to government and judicial intervention, the rest of the Fourth Estate was beholden to Murdoch just like the corridors of power? Or did they simply forget their power was not the result of superiority over their colleagues?

Whatever the manner of their hubris, they were undone by journalists doing real journalism.

The Guardian blew the doors off the whole thing over the course of a few years (They wanted to move faster, but judicial processes slowed things down). And once they blew the lid, everyone else seized the opening.

And really, it’s also amazing that News Corp didn’t see that coming too. The sheer arrogance of the operation is frankly incomprehensible. They were either so corrupt they were basically blind or else the outfit was run by a bunch of idiots. More likely, both.

For the truth is, News International and its parent have not done a great job making friends. All their “friends” were the politicians. And even they were never really friends. More brown nosers. Perhaps News Corp’s biggest error of judgment was in making rivals like the BBC, Trinity Mirror, Telegraph Media, Guardian Media and more not simply dislike them, but despise them.

Indeed, the enemies of News International in many ways needed to Kill the King to ensure their own survival. News International was the biggest game in town, and if they got a hold of the rest of BSkyB whilst managing to force the BBC – the only legitimate competitor to News International in terms of size – to cutback, scale down…Well the future was bleak for everybody else. Trinity Mirror, the sole remaining truly Left-Wing voice as it was would have been an especially big concern.

After all, what if The Sun crushed The Mirror, and then there was an election where the Indy and the Guardian endorsed the shamed Lib Dems again? All the papers in the UK endorsing the right wing and their lap dogs? That’s a chilling thought.

Meanwhile, what response could Virgin Media have had to the sudden massive escalation in size and power for its entrenched, larger rival – BSkyB? They already have to be in an uneasy partnership with them because of BSkyB’s borderline anti-competitive stranglehold on content. A combined News International-Sky could have snuffed out Virgin Media in a heartbeat. And all this whilst the BBC was thrown to the wolves by the News International attack dogs – the Conservative-led Coalition of the Losers.

So every player in the game had reason to let loose the dogs of war at the first sign of weakness in the King’s Castle. Worse still for News International, they had made an enemy of an old ally: they duplicitously went back to supporting the Tories after Gordon Brown’s (Initially hugely popular) Labour Party made overtures to going its own way on the back of Brown’s initial success. Call a snap election, win, and then be able to lead without Murdoch’s interference. That was the plan.

George Osborne, thinking himself clever, encouraged the ailing new leader of the washed up Tories to take the opportunity to become the new News International golden boy. Cameron went ahead with it. He hired Coulson, came to think of him and Rebekah Brooks as friends, followed their advice, did as Murdoch instructed. But more on the Tories later.

With the News International attack dogs forcing Labour out of power, the new boy came on scene. Ed Miliband. A politician in a mould so fresh the press kept trying to brush him aside rather than bother trying to comprehend it. The press had gotten lazy. They wanted politicians to be artificial people – puppets controlled by the Andy Coulsons of the world lurching from crisis to crisis with spin and PR. Ed Miliband is a straight-shooter. He talks like a human being. He was one of so-called “saints” of the expenses scandal. Murdoch, the epitome of press arrogance, dismissed Miliband because he didn’t understand him. The News Corp top brass didn’t consider this man a threat.

Oh how very, very wrong.

Miliband was the worst possible man for Cameron to face across the Dispatch Box when News Corp blew up in his face. Ed was on the right side of public outrage. Ed was no News International apologist. He wasn’t paying that game. He didn’t need to hop on the bandwagon, because in the political sphere he was the man driving it. Sincerely. And he was surely in no mood to be cautious. News International deposed his Party and assaulted his leadership.

Fitting then that is Ed Miliband who will probably Kill the King this coming Wednesday, by showing the leadership the Prime Minister lacks and leading the House of Parliament into a vote to block the BSkyB takeover bid which has so infatuated the Murdochs.

Welcome to the rise and rise of The Rt Hon. Ed Miliband, MP – The Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition and likely The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s Seventy-Sixth Prime Minister.

But let’s get back to the Tories, they who were the last ones tied to the News International Pole when the music stopped (And, really, the ones who have mostly been in that position – Murdoch is a dreadful right-wing dinosaur and his family are much the same. That’s part of why they hate Ed Miliband, he comes from the core Centre-Left bedrock of Labour, where the Labour activists mostly lie). You’re probably wondering why I’m now so certain Ed Miliband will ascend to the Premiership when last week it looked like a tough ask (At least according to some analyses).

The Conservative-led Coalition of the Losers is held together by duct tape and the fact Nick Clegg is spineless. Had he not made the Coalition pact, Clegg would have been politically finished. Most Party Leaders would resign for doing far better than Clegg did. Gordon Brown did, for example. Many of us gave the Coalition two years at most before collapsing when it was formed. It turned out, Clegg was even more toothless and spineless than we thought. So we revised our assessments: it was going to run to term. Meanwhile, the presumed dissenting voices in the Lib Dems failed to step up to the plate. Rather than voting “no,” they would abstain like cowards.

So the Coalition, with its politically gerrymandered foundations and supports, looked set to rock on. After all, it was politically impossible for the Lib Dems to leave the Tories, they had all the toxicity. The Tories had somehow escaped. The Lib Dems were finished if they rebelled and the Tories would call a snap election they’d likely win.

But now, the Conservative Party’s leader, the Prime Minister David Cameron, has allowed himself to be seen to be on the wrong side of public outrage, whilst the Honourable Gentleman opposite him was The Public’s Voice in Tough Times. Cameron has had to back down, capitulate to Miliband’s demands. And still he has failed to move from the wrong side of public outrage by failing to apologise for hiring Coulson, by failing to call for Rebekah Brooks to be immediately fired.

And we now know there are more awful things about News International’s actions set to come out. So how can Cameron afford to be seen to be standing by any of the Chipping Norton set? He can’t, not really. The time then is ripe for Clegg to recognise his folly last year and bite the hand which has had him by the collar.

The Lib Dems can whack the Tories mercilessly on this, leap to Labour’s side, the side of public outrage, condemn their partner’s actions. And all the toxicity is flung onto the Tories in one fell swoop. Memories are short. Sure, Clegg will probably still lose his seat if he stands at the next General Election, but if he grows some balls and punishes the Tories for the public, some of his failings will be forgiven and he can be safely deputised to Europe by the inevitable Labour Government.

Have the Lib Dems set a date? No. Ed Miliband has though. This coming Wednesday. This coming Wednesday, the Coalition Government will be rocked by the fact that Ed Miliband commands a Majority in the Commons, however briefly. But once the Lib Dems and the factions within the Tory Party who want Cameron out have rebelled en masse once, what’s the point in stopping? Especially if the situation with News International and Cameron worsens. How long can Cameron reasonably expect to command a Majority?

I give it till no later than the end of October at this rate. Something unforeseen may occur to allow them to cling on, or the Lib Dems might be cowards after all. But barring that, the Government will likely collapse once Coulson et. al. are hauled back into the Old Bill. I could see the Lib Dems publicly trumpeting their future independence at their conference, Miliband preparing his Party to return to power at theirs, and Cameron resigning at theirs. It’s so beautiful in my mind.

Of course, it’s just the dream right now. But this is the moment in time we’re at. Revolution. It’s exhilarating, especially for those of us on the left, the progressives. We live for this. And it’s all the sweeter to turn the cannons on Murdoch, a man who once claimed the mantle of revolutionary, only to out-establishment the establishment.

The trouble, as I see it, is that whilst the downfalls of News International and their attempts to ensnare BSkyB are both inevitable (More on that in Part 2), the downfall of the Tories rests with the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg, a man of no political courage or power at present.

Still, the prospect of News Corp losing its 39% of BSkyB (Never mind failing to get the rest) is plenty exciting. We stand at a fork in the road. Ahead lies a bold new future of media plurality here in the UK. That’s down both paths. But down one, the age of austerity continues.

On the other road, the age of austerity withers and dies. Labour rebuilds this country and we all get back on with fulfilling the British Promise.

Remember this moment in time when we eventually do go to the polls, whenever it may be. 2011, 2012, 2014, whenever. It was Ed Miliband at the forefront of the Revolution. Ed Miliband leading for the people.

Turn Left, Go Forth: Vote Labour. A Future Fair for All, Free from News International’s Influence.

Christmas Letter 2011

Season’s Greetings Friends, Family & assorted hangers-on!

It’s that time of year once again where many people choose to send each other nice simple Christmas Cards – short, sweet indications that they’re thinking of you at this, the most wonderful time of the year. And, as has become tradition, I am instead wasting your time with this, my annual Christmas Letter, in which I reflect at unnecessary length on the year that was and, of course, the festive season.

So here I am, sitting in the glow of the unnecessarily large Christmas tree in my bedroom with my (infamous, and only partially accurately named) Xmas in Pompey 2 Spotify playlist filling the room with the sounds of Christmas cheer. Which sounds incredibly cheesy, but I’ve always said* it’s not cheesy if you can think of something either as cheesy, or more cheesy, which is also less appropriate for the given situation. And I have:

A Margherita.

Now, with that out of the way, on to the reflecting on the year. And frankly I think nothing this year says more about our modern era than the way that godawful “Friday” song by Rebecca Black infected every facet of our lives over the course of about a month earlier in the year – and it already feels like it’s ancient history.

Either the years are getting longer or we’re finding more ways to do stuff in them. Luckily, Mark Zuckerberg has come up with a way to find out in Facebook Timeline, whilst Twitter continues to give us an avenue to voice our every trivial thought (And say bitchy things about the way candidates on The Apprentice choose to dress). And I for one welcome our new Social Media overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted (Ahem) TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

Speaking of TV, the has been a great year for TV and I can prove it in just ten words:

The Simpsons has been renewed through its twenty-fifth season.

There have of course been some downsides though. The X Factor has unfortunately not been canceled yet, Big Brother was (Unfathomably) brought back and the BBC decided to hand over half their F1 (More on that in a moment) coverage to Sky Sports, which was probably not the best idea considering that they did so right at the same time as the entire country was furious with Rupert Murdoch, News Corp & Sky over the flagrant corruption & use of phone hacking. As own goals go, the BBC pulled off a belter there.

Oh and while I’ve got you, I still say Germany should have won Eurovision again. Yeah, I’m still bitter about that. And what?

Anyway, I said I’d say something about Formula 1. Ignoring the fact Vettel made the whole season rather dull with his overpowered Red Bull car (I really don’t think it’s fair that he gets a car which gives you wings), this was still a cracking year with some all-time classic races, including the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, the longest race in F1 history (A record it will hold forever as the rules have now been changed to prevent races running as long as that one did).

Also, over the two-year period since Jenson Button joined McLaren, he’s outscored Lewis Hamilton. At the risk of saying I told you so, I TOTALLY FRIGGING TOLD YOU SO.

Ahem…Anywho, I suppose I should say something about some other sports for the sake of balance, but they’re going to have to be eternally true platitudes because I barely pay attention to most of them so er…Manchester United are evil, cricket is dull & tedious, Rugby is vaguely homoerotic etc. etc.

Also if I don’t mention video games, the citizens of Giant Bomb (dot) Com will probably shoot me in the knee with an arrow. I don’t fully get that joke because I never played Skyrim (Too busy playing The Legend of Zelda IN THREE DEE on my 3DS), but they make references to it all the time on Reddit so I guess it must be pretty funny. The biggest thing in games this year for me was probably the return of Pokémon. Oh god how I played a lot of Pokémon.

So then, with that all out of the way, I leave you with this topical reference to both 2011 & 2012 in the form of a brain teaser:

If you ask Siri to schedule “the end of the world” for December 21, 2012, does that make you God if the world does end then**?

Have a
Merry Christmas,
Happy Holidays,
Helluva Hanukkah
Perfect Pancha Ganapti***,
Delectable Dies Natalis Solis Invicti***,
Dignified Quaid-e-Azam’s Day***,
Marvellous Malkh-Festival,
Kwazy Kwanzaa,
And a Happy New Year,

Your Pal,
Paul Douglas.

* Not true. I’ve never said that.
** No, no it doesn’t. That would be stupid.
*** Look it up.

Video Industry & Television Studies Academic Essay June 2011 – A vision of the future for British broadcasting

The following is an Essay written for the Video Industry and Television Studies Module of my Degree Programme at the University of Portsmouth. It received a 2.1 Passing Grade, my First Year overall was passed at First Class Standard. The title for this Essay was “Using an historical perspective, outline a vision of the future for British broadcasting” and it was printed for submission on June 10 2011 – note that certain details may have become outdated since then owing to rapid developments in the UK Media.

Introduction
British broadcasting has, throughout its history, been an highly changeable medium. It has evolved constantly to keep up with advances in technology, changes in taste and an evolving political situation. This pace of change, always considerable, has been accelerating at an ever increasing rate. Today, the industry faces its largest upheaval ever as trends in multiple areas are shifting concurrently.

As a result, British broadcasting in the future will be virtually unrecognisable…

A Brief History of British Broadcasting
In the early days of broadcasting in Britain, Television, the dominant form of broadcasting today, was mostly a dream. The broadcasting age was kicked off by the advent of the radio in 1922. That year, a number of independent stations began broadcasting and the BBC was formed, initially broadcasting in London.

Right from the start, the BBC was funded by a License Fee. Initially, the Broadcasting Receiving License. The industry as a whole was protected from collapse by forming a syndicate, with royalties being earned on all wireless sets sold. By 1925, though, change was already in the air as the wireless manufacturers wanted out of the deal. Meanwhile, the BBC’s leader (Lord Reith) successfully convinced the Government’s Crawford Commission to continue Public Service broadcasting.

As a result, the British Broadcasting Commission, which largely survives to this day, was established to oversee the nascent British Broadcasting Corporation under the authority of the Crown.

That set the scene for much of the remainder of the post-war period, until around 1935 when the BBC began experiments with television broadcasts, initially using Baird’s 30-line system. By 1936, “High Definition” had already arrived – 405 lines versus the 240 of the Baird system used at that point.

The service wasn’t available for long, however, as service was interrupted by the breakout of World War II.

Once the War ended and stability returned, efforts to resume television service began. In July 1946, the TV License was introduced and TV Service resumed, with the BBC showing a Mickey Mouse cartoon (Mickey’s Gala Premiere) which had been the last programme aired prior to the shutdown of the service seven years earlier.

Three years later, the BBC Television service began to expand outside of London. This expansion continued, with the BBC maintaining its monopoly, for a number of years. Then, in 1955, Independent Television – commercial broadcasting – arrived. And the shape of British broadcasting was altered once more.

This was just the first of a rapidly accelerating number of paradigm shifts in British broadcasting over the coming decades. In the 60s, BBC2 and colour television arrived. In the 70s, Ceefax launches – a nascent foray into information services for the broadcast industry.

But things really changed in the 1980s. Channel 4 launched, bringing commercial broadcasting to the state-owned broadcasting slate, with a focus on exploring new ground with programming aimed at niches not catered to by the existing BBC/ITV Duopoly – most notably the rising “youth” movement of teens and young adults, an increasingly distinct set of demographics.

On top of this, satellite broadcasting went online, beginning an industry in premium TV which would eventually become one of the most important sectors of British broadcasting. Amazingly, it was only in this same decade that British networks began 24-hour broadcasting, which just serves to demonstrate the rapid pace of acceleration in British broadcasting’s evolution.

By the end of the 90s, Channel 5; Six TV and a plethora of premium channels like Sky 1 and the Disney Channel had become available to British audiences. Whilst some were unsuccessful (Six TV went defunct in 2009 after a troubled and highly limited run in its ten year lifetime) others, like Sky 1, remain dominant forces.

Into the 21st Century, analogue broadcasts – satellite, cable and over the air – began to cease. Freeview, Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media Television have battled for eyeballs, and all four have launched new HD services in 1080i. But a growing competitor in the form of the world wide web, born in the 90s, has begun eating into television’s market – both with original content on sites like YouTube and blip.tv and through on demand distribution of television programming through services like BBC iPlayer.

This is the scene as we look ahead to the future of British broadcasting.

The Future of British Broadcasting: A Vision
As it stands, British broadcasting is engaged in a massive-scale “war for eyeballs”, caused by the plethora of services demanding the attention of the public.

There is little chance that all these services can continue to co-exist. As a result, going forward, it is inconceivable that we will not begin to see ever-increasing instances of convergence amongst these services. Already, we have seen television broadcasters like the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BSkyB and more make their programming available online.
Some, like the BBC and BSkyB even allow viewers to watch television live as it is broadcast over the web – and even on mobile phones.

The future of British broadcasting will be crafted in this image. Video content is platform-neutral at its most basic level. As a result, video services from one platform can be delivered on another platform with minimal additional effort. We are beginning to see this coming to fruition in the form of Internet-Enabled TV sets and devices powered by software like GoogleTV.

These products, which will become increasingly prevalent in the coming years, invert the move of television to the web by bringing the web to television sets. As a result, audiences are able to watch live transmissions or on demand content from the comfort of their living room, on their big screen, without additional effort on their part.

The secondary result of this will be the resurgence of independent and even semi-professional video producers. With internet video services – which offer a far more accessible platform for smaller producers – with equivalent prominence to conventional broadcasters on TVs, independents and semi-professional individuals will be able to reach a far wider audience than at present, radically increasing the viability of small producers.

One possible side-effect of this will be the collapse of the Government’s efforts to launch a new sixth terrestrial broadcaster. The new sixth channel is being pitched has having a localised remit, patterned after the US Networks system, where a national Network produces prime time, late-night, (in some cases) daytime and news programming and local stations broadcast it to small areas (Eg. Cities) along with locally produced content like the local news and weather. Note, ITV used to be organised in this way prior to a mass of station mergers which has rendered the ITV Regions system a nominal one only.

This focus on localised programming will likely have its audience consumed by independent efforts making use of the web. Already, services lie Portsmouthlive.tv are serving the same basic purpose – at very low cost – without the government’s backing.

Similarly, it is highly unlikely that the proliferation of channels (Hundreds broadcast in the UK at present) will continue. Indeed, it seems likely that the number of channels available to UK audiences will plummet over the next ten to twenty years as the niche markets catered to by satellite and cable begin to be eaten up by web services. These niche channels are by far the most vulnerable to being subsumed by the web, as their inherently smaller audiences mean it will be viable for users to stream video live far sooner because less bandwidth will be needed.

As bandwidth concerns are overcome, channels with ever-wider audiences will be able to move online. Theoretically, if enough bandwidth can be added to the UK’s internet infrastructure, every channel currently on the air could be broadcast via the web. But that is a long way in the future.

One other thing seems likely: 3DTV will not achieve truly widespread adoption. Whilst their is a market for 3D content, the inconveniences of the technology make it ill-suited to broadcasting as it is generally consumed. Studies in the UK (The Guardian Online, 2010) and the US (NTDaily, 2010) have shown that an increasing proportion of the audience – particularly amongst younger viewers – prefer to multitask whilst watching television. This means their attention is divided between a TV, perhaps a laptop computer and even a mobile phone. They are social networking and reading the news whilst they watch.

3D doesn’t fit in this lifestyle, as it requires concentration to work. So whilst it has a market in event programming like live sport and movies, particularly movie premieres, conventional programming is unlikely to move to 3D in a meaningful way.

Conclusion
Ultimately, it seems possible that in the future, there will be no Freeview, no Satellite and no cable – as we know it. Instead, broadcasting will be consumed via an online portal with access to all the channels and on demand content in one place and an interface which scales from small screens (mobile phones) through laptop screens all the way up to big screen TVs.

Additionally, this portal could integrate with social networking services, to tap into broadcasting’s role as a creator of shared experiences and converge it with the advent of modern day social media.

Bibliography
Wearden, G. (2010) The Guardian Online: Multi-tasking media consumption on rise among Britons, says Ofcom study. Retrieved 9 May 2011 fromhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/aug/19/multi-tasking-media-ofcom-study
Landry, N. (2010) NTDaily: Study shows increase in technology multitasking. Retrieved 9 May 2011 from http://www.ntdaily.com/?p=7975

On Final Cut Pro X: What Pro Video Editors Won’t Tell You

And the Pro Editors are hopping mad about it. You’ve probably seen the brouhaha all over the tech corner of the web, with Pro Video Editors fuming at Apple’s slick new upgrade for Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Pro X which EOL’d Final Cut Express and the Final Cut Studio Package, unifying Pro and Express and splitting the Studio Suite into three core Apps all available on the new Mac App Store. What’s got the Pro Editors hot and bothered? They’ll tell anyone who asks (And anyone who doesn’t) that it’s simply the fact that Apple has abandoned them, Apple doesn’t care about Pro any more because this App is “unsuitable” for professional video editing – it’s not Final Cut Pro, it’s iMovie Pro! (Note the irony here: the iMovie Pro name is supposed to demonstrate that Final Cut Pro X is not a tool for Pros. One would wonder then why it has Pro in its name even in this derisive nickname?)

Here’s the truth. That’s all a load of FUD. And I’ll tell you why: the reality is, the world of video has grown and changed. Pro Video Editors? They have not. They’re dinosaurs, stuck in a world of TV (TV Networks in general can be considered at least partially responsible for the dinosauric attitudes of the Editors owing to their cheapness and general unwillingness to upgrade technology – many still require masters on tape) and film in an era where video has shifted.

Simple question for you: where would you say you saw the most video content in the past 24 hours? For most of you I’d wager the answer is not “Traditional TV broadcast” and certainly not “in a movie theatre”. Nor is it likely to have been film or TV on DVD/Blu-Ray. For most of you, the answer is probably “the web”, or some variation of it – such as on-demand on a TV.

Apple’s aim with Final Cut Pro X was to produce a Pro Editing App for the modern era. Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere and even Sony Vegas are all built from he perspective of the past. And it’s one the Pro Editors love. It’s conservative, it’s heavily keyboard-driven, it’s bathed in dependence on timecode and syncing and preposterously complicated formats and drivers and encoders and decoders and tapes and format wars and piles of jargon-heavy windows with unusual and complicated interfaces. It’s built on a foundation of “you’re going to do x by doing y or else z is going to break unless you a b and reverse the c of n”. In short, it’s complex, hard to learn – harder to master – and inaccessible.

Existing Pro Video Editing Apps are built with the wrongheaded belief that you should be made to learn the App to edit the video. It’s My Way or the Highway with Avid and Adobe. Even FCP 7 was guilty of this to a certain extent.

And that was weird, because it’s not Apple’s way. Nor is it a credible way to design a video editing app. A lot of Avid Editors will scoff at the idea of someone using the new Smart Tools Avid added in the latest version of Media Composer. Know why? They use the mouse. Editors don’t like the mouse, they like the keyboard. Know why? Cos anyone can use a mouse, and video editors are special. But that’s their own hang up. If they want to prove you need to be a Pro to be great at editing, then the tools shouldn’t matter. A Pro should always be able to edit better than a consumer, regardless of the App, otherwise their training in editing theory was an expensive nothing.

The real reason the Pro Editors all hate FCP X so much is simple and twofold: it makes editing too easy and it’s not optimised from a conservative worldview.

Final Cut Pro X is optimised for an all file-based workflow. Do you know who uses all file-based workflows?

People like me. People like the folks over at Channel Awesome.

Oh sure, some independent web producers use tape or DVD in their workflow right now (I believe Cinemassacre do, or at least did until recently) but it’s more about that kind of work than any specific producer. I myself do use a tapeless workflow. And FCP X cures literally all the bottlenecks and hangups in my workflow. Better yet, it operates in such a way that editing is easy, the App gets out the way and lets you arrange the video and audio and export for the web with ease.

Independents like me and the other examples do need Pro grade tools – I couldn’t use iMovie for what I do – but that doesn’t mean we need Avid Media Composer. I’ve been professionally instructed in Avid and I still hate using it because it constantly gets in my way. Likewise Premiere Pro which I found to be mess of complications and incompatibilities – as well as being hideously ugly and suffering the worst UX of the big three (FCP, Avid and Adobe Premiere). The App being simple o use is very important in the era of democratised video:

Sometimes the editor is the talent. And the producer. And the cameraman. And the writer. And the director. Certainly that’s the case with me. In this era, we need pro tools which do not require speciality training in order to use.

Pro Editors hate all this because it means change which offends their conservative nature and it also means they might not be able to command such high salaries or face tougher competition. Unfortunately for them, that’s just the way it is.

About ten years ago, Apple heralded the birth of a new era when they claimed that home video production was about to be the next Desktop Publishing. Like the way desktop publishing took longer to evolve than assumed and wound up a very different beast (The World Wide Web supplanted the original vision of people printing their own newsletters, but had an all the more devastating impact on the traditional print industry because of its inherent advantages, including cost) Apple is being proved sort of right, much later than they probably planned.

The big growth in video is small operations – less than ten people on the whole production, often as few as one person or two people doing to the majority of the work – producing for the web. Final Cut Pro X was designed with that in mind. The response thus far has suggested it’s the answer to a question no one asked at best and at worst, the wrong answer to the question the pro editors asked.

The truth is, the Pro Editors were asking the wrong question. FCP X is the Right Answer to the Question the Modern World Asked.

The 24 Hour Web

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Twitter. In fact, I’m notorious for it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Twitter is my “life online”. But it’s not just interesting for the way in which I can update friends on what I’m thinking or doing. It also represents an exciting shift in the way the web is acting.

Ever since its rise to popularity, the Web has been hailed as the fastest and most up to date way of accessing news and information. But in it’s so-called 1.x state, it remained largely a daylight system, at least for the mainstream.

Geekery continues at all hours of course, and if one has an interest in things taking place on the other side of the world, you can often find new stuff at any given hour.

But these are relatively limited, altogether niche applications of the Web’s ability to update at any given moment. They are constrained by that human phenomenon, “Office Hours”. Web 1.x was characterised by a revision of the same Publisher mentality that reigned in Print Media, later augmented by the rolling update mentality of Television.

But with the advent of Web 2.0, those mentalities are no longer relevant. News sites and so on continue to function in this manner, by necessity, but User generated Content is unaffected by Office Hours. And cares naught about time of day.

Web 2.0 has spawned the true 24-Hour Web. Users are constantly providing a live or near live stream of information and content, updating sites like Wikipedia instantly with breaking news. Twitter tracks reactions to events in real-time.

Qik, a leader in mobile web streaming, and similar desktop-oriented sites have given us a platform for providing video coverage of just about anything, far faster than any TV or WebTV crew could arrive on the scene. This change, as it stands, is nascent.

There has yet to be a major event that can demonstrate the power of the User-Controlled 24-Hour Web, but it’s already showing signs that it is coming. Real-time reactions to Elections, international sporting and media events and so on have already become the norm. I, for one, would feel lost without a Twitter to post my thoughts on breaking events.

The time is coming and coming soon when you’ll be able to ignore conventional reporting and just get your news from the 24 Hour Web.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s awesome. And it should prompt innovation in conventional broadcasters/publishers, as they need to find a way to catch up.