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Most Recent Looking to the Future news

Still a while yet till Xbox One goes full HD

forza5The holy grail of video game graphical output is 1080p. This is the highest, if we leave 4K alone for now, available graphical output. Microsoft has long stated that DirectX 12 would re-ignite Xbox One and give it the full HD output needed to compete against PlayStation 4. Sadly, developers working on a plethora of different titles – from Shadow Warrior to Watch Dogs – have all stated that the DirectX 12 Update is a relatively poor update from Microsoft.

For those that do not know, DirectX is a collection of Microsoft created application programming interfaces (APIs) that are designed to handle high-end multimedia output. They are conditioned especially for video game programming on the myriad of Microsoft platforms. The DirextX perspective allows developers to create mind-blowing content that really accentuates the Microsoft platform. This cross-dimensional approach allows DirectX to get the very best out of video game output. This has generally been the case on the PC platform for many years and before you keyboard warriors start, there are many issues but a large part of the community supports the platform!

The soon-to-be released DirectX 12 will work on Xbox One, Windows 8 (and the 8.1 Windows Phone/RT environments) along with the Windows server software. It is earmarked for general release in December 2015. However, Beta versions have been dispatched to top multimedia companies – including Ubisoft, Codemasters, Square Enix and Rockstar to name but a few.

DirectX 12 therefore, as more and more developers go public, might not be Xbox One’s saving grace? The industry honchos discussing DirectX 12 seem to be arguing that 1080p is not the default – in fact it could help in the porting of games from PC to Xbox One but otherwise might be a huge flop. However, since the DirectX 12 edition is still in beta it is too early to completely ‘bin’ the API. But, Microsoft has form here – DirectX 10 was panned and Microsoft just went ahead and released it! That said, the current state of the Xbox One compared to Sony’s PlayStation 4 could, along with the massive re-structuring at Microsoft, cause the head managers to focus on quality and not deadlines and targets. All we can do is hope. The Xbox One needs a coup de grace if it is to avoid mediocrity and uselessness.

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Activision Blizzard CEO on Call of Duty 2014: “PERHAPS THE BEST CALL OF DUTY GAME EVER CREATED”

Robert Kotick, the head honcho at Activision Blizzard which is the second richest gaming company after Nintendo and beats EA by miles, has set the ball rolling regarding their annual cash cow – the beloved Call of Duty franchise. We are, of course, months away from November but when it comes to the current Call of Duty iteration we are prestiging, getting pissed off at Rileys biting your arse while camping and pretty much hating the entire experience and/or layout. I won’t even get started on the horrendous ‘patch updates’ we next-geners are experiencing but anyway, I digress. Activision Blizzard boss Robert Kotick has said the next version of COD will be ‘the best Call of Duty game ever created’. This is quite a statement. Since Ghosts was universally panned by critics and experienced a rather modest number of sales (although this was partially due to the release date being a week or so before the next generation consoles were released).

sledgehammerAt any rate, Sledgehammer Games co-founder, Glen Schofield, has said “we want COD to be ambitious in 2014”. I think this is great, but I hope the developer’s kind of thought about this months ago when they probably started coding the game? But that is not the point. The point here is that with both major partners in the Call of Duty franchise pretty much saying sorry the last couple of titles where total shit, next time we’ll do better, what does this mean for the future of COD?

It has made literally billions – it is officially the biggest revenue generating video game franchise in history (and Wikipedia never lies).  Therefore, the huge amounts of money mean Activision/Sledgehammer and other partners are quite interested in letting this cash cow chomp around for a few more years to come. However, stagnation has resulted in mini restructuring, mini crisis and mini disasters in recent years. The centrality of COD to the entire video gaming calendar cannot be underscored enough! It sees rivals, like Battlefield refocus its own attention to attack COD in marketing terms. So, what went wrong?

Many critics argue they have rested on their laurels for way too long. The overuse of the Infinity Engine, regardless of tweaks, has seen technology become commonplace. The concurrent thrust of Modern Warfare in parallel with Black Ops was a featured norm in the gaming calendar. However, the new Ghosts title has upended this. As they say, “All good things come to an end”, but Ghosts wasn’t the next ‘good’, in fact MetaCritic data shows the game is pretty much despised even hated by a large segment of gamers. So, what can they do to fix this? There are lots they can do, from improving engine tech, better rendering and more fluid multiplayer functionality. However, in reality if they want to improve it – how about releasing a half decent COD title in 2014. We loved MW, and MW2 was epic whilst MW3 had panache. Let’s get back to basics Activision and co, release a COD title with some balls!

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Crowdfunding – The Demise of Indies and Rise of Failures

“Hype, is the greatest asset a games developer can hope to call upon”
Developer at Ultimate Fantasy Studio, creators of Meridian Shard

 

Hype has come to define the entire experience of the indie game development circuit. The parameters of success are enamored on wider social media and digital hype that content can, and does, drown beneath a sea of bloated social media hype. Ultimate Gaming Paradise has contacted small, medium and large developers and surveyed their responses. We have found that crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter and Indiegogo, are in fact helping multi-million pound developers at the expense of independent developers.

The gaming development sector is heavily influenced by major players – and the crowdfunding platforms are no different. If you are a stalwart of the video game industry like Chris Roberts of Wing Commander, or even InXile’s team of development titans, you’re crowdfunding project is deemed to be a total success. However, if you are a one-man-band with an epic idea in need of funds, what are the chances of crowdfunding success?

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Let’s look at the findings in detail. Between February and March 2014, 15 game developers were contacted. Out of the 15 initially contacted, only 12 decided to participate. The survey was sent to respondents who completed and returned within seven working days. After receiving all the data, we collated the findings and are now ready to blow the indie games scene apart through our rather eye-popping findings.

We contacted developers from around the world, from big names to minnows, and asked three simple questions;

  1. Do you think low-capital crowdfunding avenues for developers are a positive contribution to the gaming industry
  2. Do you believe that the value of your organisation’s reputation and heritage before the crowdfunding appeal is the foundation to your success?
  3. Do you believe your prior organisation/individual heritage is the reason for your success or failure?

Our respondents answered as such:

  • Out of 12 respondents, 12 out of 12 agreed that low-cap crowdfunding was “a positive contribution to the gaming industry”.
  • However, 9 out of 12 said yes to the question “do you believe the value of your organisation before the crowdfunding appeal is the foundation to your success?” When contacting these developers direct, to confirm the survey details, one developer stated that without heritage “the greatest video game idea in history would fail to get a single dollar’s worth of support”.
  • The final question about heritage was the most important. Our middle sized and large developers in unison stated that it was not the case. However, all 6 minnow developers stated that yes, without heritage a project was doomed to failure.

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These details are important in understanding the nuance of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. These platforms are meant to be avenues whereby fan-paid or fan-sponsored projects and new innovative ideas collide. However, our data seems to indicate that larger developers and authors funding spin-offs or products loosely based on legacy titles are gaining a massive foothold over new and innovative titles.

One developer, working on Age of Ascent, told Ultimate Gaming Paradise that their previous title, Illyriad, played a big part in raising income for the current project. However, Managing Developer for “A Hat in Time” argued that raising $300,000 was the most difficult thing he had ever done, “even considering the business was launched with a bank loan and I’ve personally got a mortgage.” The small cap developers, especially smaller teams with no legacy titles or superstar developers, fail to truly ignite popular support. Ultimate Gaming Paradise contacted Kickstarter who stated that “whilst the majority of our funding projects win popular support, we are working with smaller clients to help build up stronger public awareness campaign strategies”. The importance of that statement is backed-up by the developers who have told UGP that if the current trend continues, crowd-funded titles will be the domain of failed major titles being funded by fans and minnow developers will be relegated to funding oblivion – with some developers uncertain of where to take their games next.

After talking with one developer, working on Armikrog, a Pencil Test Studios game, who successfully raised $974,578 (with $200,000 from private backers) only succeeded because of the full support of Doug TenNapel, who was used as a marketing figurehead. The creator of The World’s Biggest Wordsearch Puzzle, SuperSonic Software, argued that their involvement in the crowdfunding platform, whilst unsuccessful in that project, was not taking away from smaller developers. SuperSonic Software Limited has deals with the BBC for creating software like the Top Gear apps and profits of £388,000 in 2012/13. This was the same year they crowd-funded £2,800 to help create The World’s Biggest Wordsearch Puzzle app.

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The muscling-in of more famous and financially powerful developers and authors risks alienating minnow developers. How will the next ‘big game’ get its release if everyone is paying a couple of dollars for a crappy remake of a crappy game that was panned by critics, sold bugger all on Amazon and Game and made only to placate a few hundred ‘die hard’ fans? This is not a positive thing. If this continues, we could see a powerful avenue for creativity steamrollered by studios with big financial clout and media reach. A lot of games are due to the hard work of the little guy (or girl) hammering away on a keyboard and innovating the next stages of games development – just as much as the big R&D labs of software houses. We need to realise that both need support. In one corner we espouse that software piracy is wrong but we must also take a stand against established developers ‘crowding out’ minnow developers on the crowdfunding platforms of the world – otherwise we will lose out as video game aficionados and that will be a massive loss for all of us.

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The Oculus Rift Is Opening

We like success stories in the Ultimate Gaming Paradise office so we were doubly pleased with the latest news from Oculus VR regarding their forthcoming ‘Rift’ head-mounted display (HMD).  The product of both an intense and lengthy design process, and owing much of its development budget to crowd-funding, it’s proof that given a good idea, an innovative company can break in on the lucrative games market.

Oculus-Rift-CES2014,7-T-417593-22Oculus have raised the stakes in the fast expanding VR market by demonstrating a new multiplayer game utilising the Unreal 4 engine.  Entitled “Couch Knights” you control a diminutive knight atop a coffee table in a trendy down-town apartment…..yeah, just read through that again to make sure you got it right the first time.  You control one of the two players with the headset via reverse kinematics to change your view of the play space simply by looking around within the goggles.

Virtual reality – sometimes referred to as Immersive Multimedia – has a surprisingly long and rocky past. From its first beginnings in air flight simulators and on through to gaming, it has always promised to produce worlds indistinguishable from our own reality, and to project us into something where we could stand and wonder with slack jaws.  Invariably this took huge amounts of processing power and the reality – if you’ll excuse the pun – has never lived up to the expectation.  The computing power to generate anything other than blocky and highly pixilated scenarios as taken a long time in coming but with the latest processors working hard, it seems that we could finally be entering a phase when VR lives up to the hype.

Following a successful demonstration of the Oculus Rift prototype in mid-2012, the company made the decision to seek cloud-funding to raise funds for the next stage of the development programme.  The successful conclusion of this phase has resulted in the release of the Oculus Development Kit 2, which is now available for pre-order.

Oculus is leading the VR charge and is endorsing Epic’s new Unreal 4 engine as the engine to develop with. The graphics are stunning and it’s going to be interesting to see if games can be rendered in the same mind-blowing detail we’re now seeing, queue Assassin’s Creed UnityWe’ll have to wait and see if the attempts from Sony and Microsoft equal or better those of Oculus.

The link-up between Oculus and Epic sees a new milestone in the virtual reality journey, and marks a point where virtual reality becomes a credible alternative for the not too distant future, and we are dead excited.

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Sony announce Virtual Reality tech development for PS4

And so it begins. The next step in the evolution of gaming well under way with Sony now entering into the fray with PS4 virtual reality technology. So far we’ve seen fledgling virtual reality (VR) like the Oculus Rift and Microsoft has announced that it is developing virtual reality technology for the Xbox One.  Now Sony are getting involved and are revealing their plans at Game Developers Conference 2014 in San Francisco. A move away from viewing on a panel towards being totally immersed in the gaming experience and using your body as the controller seems like natural progression. It won’t be long before a “gaming room” resembles Jean-Luc’s Holodeck!

Sony’s virtual reality development is named “Project Morpheus” or Morpheus for short. It is a virtual reality system designed for the PlayStation 4 that promises to take gaming into the future with a new level of immersion.  

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Shuhei Yoshida, President of SCE Worldwide Studios had this to say – “At SCE we view innovation as an opportunity to build on our mission to push the boundaries of play. Project Morpheus is the latest example of innovation from SCE, and we’re looking forward to its continued development and the games that will be created as development kits get into the hands of content creators.”

Morpheus gives developers the power to build games the generate a sense of presence, the feeling of being actually in and part of the game compared to looking in and controlling an avatar. Morpheus’ goal is to increase the emotional experience players feel as they navigate their way through a game world. A head mounted visor will deliver a seamless experience right in front of the player’s eyes, working with the PlayStation camera to do so. Head movement is tracked with pinpoint accuracy thanks to inertia sensors in the visor meaning that as a player turns their head, the game world will intuitively turn with you as you look around. To further the sensation of being in the game world, supporting games will utilise the PlayStation Move Motion Controller as a control object such as a sword or bat. In game, the player’s hand and relevant object will be recreated further blurring the divide between game and reality.

Essential to any reality substitute is satisfying the sense of sound. Morpheus adopts Sony’s uniquely developed 3D audio technology to recreate sounds from the typical front, side and rear as well as noise from above and below the player. The true third dimension will be vastly improved with an audio stimulation of above and below. Players hear sounds change depending on their head orientation creating a highly realistic and immersive 360 degree audio environment.

To date, the PlayStation 4 has vastly outsold the Xbox One, racking up over 6 million unit sales in just three and a half months. With these kinds of numbers, it’s fair to say that developers are likely to be give more attention to developing VR games for PS4 rather than any other console.

We will be keeping a close eye on how virtual reality technology progresses and will be sure to keep you informed of any developments.

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Sky Go’s a Big No Go on Xbox One

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Anyone who is waiting on the release of Sky Go for the new gen consoles and still clinging to the idea is to be sorely disappointed. Sky, categorically, has no plans to launch Sky Go on either Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Instead, wishes are for existing Sky customers to either pay through the nose for Now TV ( a Sky product) or upgrade their subscription to include a new set top box and Sky multiroom. Which isn’t a fully supported Xbox experience yet.

Just Google “Xbox One all in one entertainment system” and you’ll be presented with four xbox.com results the all reference all in one entertainment system in the page title. The official “Meet Xbox One” website page harks on about how Xbox One is the next generation entertainment system. PlayStation has never had Sky Go but this news is relevant to those who were hoping PlayStation may enjoy the same level of entertainment services provided by rival Xbox.

For many Sky customers it is the norm to have Sky in one room and the console in another and Xbox 360 users have been able to enjoy the option of watching Sky in two rooms at once with no additional charges via the Sky Go app. When I quizzed Sky on the whereabouts of a Sky Go app for Xbox One and PS4, I was told that “We enjoy a long track-record of innovating with Microsoft and look forward to the launch of NOW TV on Xbox One by summer.  As a dedicated over-the-top service, we have prioritised the availability of NOW TV, to extend the reach of the service to the main TV.  Looking ahead, we will also consider any future opportunities for Sky Go.”

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As we know, Now TV is coming to Xbox One in the Summer of this year and is there to replace Sky Go, it would appear. For non-Sky customers that’s great because now you can enjoy Sky when you want without the monthly contract. But what about existing Sky customers? Well, there’s two options. The full Sky TV package costs around £60.00 per month. Now TV, if you’re a sports fan and watch movies, will cost you around the same each month, if not more. Not an option really. A better idea is to get Sky multiroom which will only set you back £15.00 a month and a one off setup fee of £60.00. However, Sky isn’t fully supported on Xbox One so you’re still going to need that Sky remote on the arm of your chair to navigate the Sky Guide. The One Guide does not work for Sky TV, unlike Now TV which which will of course be fully supported on both Xbox One and PS4.

I wasn’t overly happy with Sky’s official line on the lack of a Sky Go app so I spoke to several different representatives of Sky in their sales and technical support departments to try and get some insight into what was going on. What I was told by one very knowledgeable and open representative was that there are categorically no plans to bring Sky Go to Xbox One or PlayStation 4. During our conversation, it was revealed that Now TV is in no way designed for Sky customers and the pricing is set to match the cost of a full Sky TV subscription, should someone use Now TV that much – i.e a football game each weekend and movies for the month. However, it can be assumed that Sky aren’t trying to push people to take out Sky TV subscriptions as they don’t support your Sky box being plugged into the Xbox One or PS4 with the  necessary software to enable the likes of voice control and the One Guide. Something USA subscription TV providers have done from launch. Gratned, it would appear that Microsoft are as much a part of One Guide integration as the provider of the TV service and Sky aren’t very forthcoming with any information on where they are with integrating their service with One Guide.

Sky+ HD boxWhat I can tell you is that existing Sky customers simply aren’t a priority with regard to watching Sky TV on  consoles. Sky’s reasoning is that the 3 million and counting Sky Go users have Sky Go as a consequence of having a Sky subscription and can just turn that on on their main TV and watch Sky like normal. This is fine but a lot of people, myself included, have Sky in the lounge and the console in another room. Sky’s focus is on increasing the mobile devices that Sky Go works on in the form of Android tablets and smartphones, plus one or two others, and getting Now TV up and running which of course doesn’t benefit existing Sky customers in anyway shape or form. Now TV is the priority at the moment and while details are still quite limited, more announcements are being promised nearer launch. What can be said for sure is any speculation that existing Sky customers will get existing customer discounted prices or perhaps be able to use Now TV as a second set top box, can be forgotten about. I can confirm that Now TV is in no way shape or form designed or meant for existing Sky customers. What would have been nice would be to use a multi room subscription through the Now TV box so that Sky customers at least have a bit of hardware that actually works fully with the next gen consoles.

So there you have it folks, there’s a serious blind spot when it comes to existing Sky customers being able to enjoy Sky TV on the new consoles. While Sky customers can, it’s going to cost and there’s no hope of Sky Go coming to relieve that anguish any time soon!

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The Truth behind Xbox One iPlayer Delay: BBC Development Blunders Exposed

Ultimate Gaming Paradise has uncovered that the developers hired by the BBC to work on the iPlayer app for Xbox One have encountered serious development problems – more specifically, issues surrounding the Kinect sensor technology and integration into the iPlayer experience. One unnamed development source, working on the iPlayer project, has told UGP that “we can’t seem to get it working; it [the Kinect senor] is causing a major development headache for the team.” This information, however, has found Ultimate Gaming Paradise in a bizzare situation. We have been “warned off” from publishing this article with the threat of “consequences” for UGP if we do go ahead and break the story. So, here we are, breaking the story!

BBC iPlayer LogoIn a previously released statement, the BBC stated that they “are working to bring BBC iPlayer to Xbox One in the future, and that they have no further details to share at this time.” When contacting the BBC last week, Ultimate Gaming Paradise was ‘stonewalled’ with statements of “the BBC is working hard to deliver the app”. Furthermore, after talking to Microsoft and the BBC, this reporter was contacted by an individual who refused to give me his name or contact details. All he said was that he claimed to be from Microsoft’s PR department and wanted to “warn” UGP of the “consequences” of publishing – from a blocked number! With the iPlayer app originally being billed as a launch app, it’s understandable that Microsoft and the BBC are very quiet on the matter and don’t want this story seeing the light of day. However, in the spirit of free press, freedom of speech and a bucket load of bollocks, we have decided to throw caution to the wind, give two fingers to our mystery caller and unveil the juicy details as to why Xbox One is still without iPlayer and what this means for you, me, Microsoft and the BBC.

It all started when a whistle-blower spoke to UGP and discussed the reasons for the lag behind PS4 iPlayer app launching and the no-show Xbox One iPlayer app launch. Our anonymous whistle-blower, who works on the development team, informed UGP about a serious iPlayer flaw, which surrounded the user interaction with Kinect. Testing indicated that slight movements, from picking up a cup of coffee to scratching your nose, interrupted entertainment playback. Hardly ideal and curious that that is the sole problem when there are already a plethora of games and apps utilising the Kinect’s voice recognition and motion sensor technology. It must be said that this is of tremendous embarrassment to the BBC who only last year publicly acknowledged a £100 million IT project to update the BBC archives software, failed. That failure was cataclysmic with the £100 million software, completely useless and unable to perform the task for which it was commissioned. A total waste of money! The availability of the PlayStation iPlayer app has led many to question the BBC’s lack of public communication on the matter. According to a freedom of information request, the iPlayer costs upwards of £4 million per year to develop and maintain. This blunder will obviously cost the license fee payer even more money in the long run. It also begs the question, how much of this money over the course of the past year has been wasted on this now problem-riddled Xbox One iPlayer project?

The unnamed whistle-blower, a programmer on the BBC’s development team, has been working on the Xbox One project since its inception last year and is a coder with many years’ experience. However, bureaucratic wrangling and BBC top-down project management has resulted in project deadlines being overrun. The additional problem of the Kinect sensor affecting playback has caused the development team to re-write segments of code for the application. The unnamed source claimed the app wouldn’t be available to UK Xbox One gamers until the second quarter of 2014 at the earliest – which begs the question will it be released by this summer?

Due to confidentiality agreements, the unnamed whistle-blower did not divulge the technical nature of the issue. However, the whistle-blower did state that playback functionality was stymied by the Kinect technology. He also stated that since other developers have managed to get their Kinect-ready apps (meaning NetFlix or LoveFilm) working seamlessly, this is a marketing disaster for the BBC, what with being a digital media partner of the Xbox One. We have to ask, with the BBC saying as early as October last year that iPlayer won’t launch with Xbox One, just how long have the developers been trying to find a fix?

xbox-one-kinectThis issue will also affect Microsoft, as the Kinect sensor is a big part of the entire Xbox One gaming experience. Microsoft has remained tight-lipped over the news. The unnamed source claims Microsoft has known about the issues with iPlayer for “several months”. However, Microsoft has continued to state in the press that the BBC (iPlayer software) will be a crucial entertainment “partner” platform on the new Xbox One ecosystem. Entertainment is a crucial cash cow for Microsoft and digital partners. The BBC’s iPlayer app has been hugely popular and it’s availability on Xbox 360 has resulted in increased popularity of on-demand platforms.

The BBC who “have been working with Sony” to allow PS4 users access to the iPlayer service highlights the difference in development. According to our source, “Sony would send the [PS4] team any and all assistance. However, Microsoft was slow in each and every request for data or help.” However, the lack of support from Microsoft dwarfs in comparison to the realisation that a team worked on a project for months and months to then find a core element of the experience was faulty. The source claims “Kinect was so central, so crucial and so important, we kinda forgot about the user experience.” Furthermore, “meeting our [project managers] targets along with [project] meetings ate up development time.” Adding “we feel like they don’t understand how important good quality code is. Any problems just seem to take second fiddle to ‘timetable’ requirements.”

The delay is likely to cause embarrassment to the BBC during a period when they scramble to rebuild public confidence in the corporation after the IT blunders of last year followed up by the heinous Saville allegations. All of which have affected the corporation’s public standing. This debacle will be another in a long line of problems the BBC has kept hidden from license payers and the public.

However, the gaps in delivery will likely worry Microsoft also, who is failing to catch-up to Sony in the so-called “console wars”. The always-on and entertainment centrality of the Xbox One makes the iPlayer’s absence even more conspicuous. Microsoft and the BBC need to discuss this “development delay” in order to release iPlayer for Xbox One users, as their next-gen counterparts in the PlayStation 4 camp are already watching episodes of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ in the comfort of their own PlayStation 4 platform. Could this delay only prove to hurt the Unique Selling Point of the Xbox One? Why spend a hundred quid more on a console that won’t even play iPlayer? NetFlix and LoveFilm are fine, but license-fee payers get iPlayer for free?

This needs to be sorted out as soon as possible as it will affect the wider public perception of both the BBC as a vendor-neutral provider and Microsoft as a developer of a top-class platform. However, questions do need to be asked of the BBC. This is the second major IT blunder, in as many years now. The corporation must come out in public and state when the millions of UK Xbox One users will get access to content covered by their license fee? Furthermore, the BBC must investigate why developers were forced to conform to bureaucratic top-down management, since our whistle-blower seemed to pinpoint the blame on “BBC Senior managers.” The BBC must launch an inquiry into the management of BBC iPlayer development and find out how these blunders could have been avoided and also come clean with the amount of public money wasted on what is now defunct software.

UGP have already got the wheels in motion to discover just how much the contract that was awarded to develop iPlayer for Xbox One is worth and how much the delay has cost license fee payers. We will be investigating in depth, just what has been wasted and whether or not the BBC got the best value for their money, or should I say, our money, when they undertook this project and indeed many others.

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