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Battlefield 4 China Rising

Crashing bug plagues Battlefield 4 on Playstation 4

Even with the Playstation 4 patch released and the Xbox One patch imminent, things don’t seem to have got a whole lot better for DICE, the studio behind Battlefield 4.   With the patch in place gamers are reporting perceived increases in the ominous CE-34878-0 crash in Battlefield  4 as well as in a number of other titles, including FIFA 14, Need For Speed Rivals, and NBA 2K14.  While not all EA produced games are being effected, and it seems likely that this is a generic bug hitting the PS4, it’s certainly more prevalent in EA games. With Battlefield 4 being hit particularly hard by the PS4 bug, DICE are taking the issue extremely seriously.

With hints of panic setting in at the helm, DICE are asking gamers to note the exact circumstances with the crash on bug reports; they are asking for details on game mode and map you were playing when the crash happened.  DICE have promised to review every report they are sent in a conscious effort to squish the bug, but are at a loss to its cause and are asking gamers to supply them with details of the crash so they can attempt to reproduce it.

Battlefield 4 squad jumping

There’s little information on what actually causes the CE-34878-0 error, but it seems to occur moments after players start the game; it just crashes and goes back to the Playstation 4 dashboard.   One possible fix that has been suggested was to just delete the save game files and start again, but it seems this only delays the problem and lets you play for a few moments longer before the whole lot crashes again.

In allied news, it seems that DICE aren’t the only ones tugging at their collars to alleviate the heat around Battlefield 4 at the moment either.  EA isn’t to escape the curse of Battlefield  4 either as they are the subject of a federal investigation launched recently by US Attorneys at Law, Holzer Holzer & Fistal.  The Georgia-based law firm are examining whether EA complied with federal securities law, and while not mentioning specifics, have hinted at possible irregularities and are focusing on currently undisclosed statements made by EA during the development of Battlefield 4.  Holzer, Holzer & Fistal are urging any investors who have lost money in EA’s recent share-slide to contact them.

 

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Xbox One vs PS4

PS4 vs Xbox One – A Tale of Two Consoles

There seems to be a very odd approach taken in explaining the sales figures of the PS4 and the Xbox One. Many news sources, like The Daily Mirror, The Independent and the BBC, seem to be reporting that the “Playstation 4 has ‘outsold’ the Xbox One“. However, many analysts argue that such headlines fail to really examine the crux of the whole affair. Are we looking at all this the wrong way?

It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. They’re fruit but they’re not the same fruit. This is a pretty good metaphor to describe the current tit-for-tat battle currently being enacted in the wider media. The Playstation 4 launched in North America only whilst Xbox One launched in 13 countries simultaneously. The on-hand stock is thus, in the case of the Xbox One, more diversely distributed than Sony’s. This meant Sony had more ‘onhand’ stock to be able sell more. This is not to say Sony didn’t break records. But we need to look closer at the detail.

On 30th November, InfoScout publish an ‘investors’ note’, guidance for fund managers to examine how retail sales would affect their share portfolios. The note reported on the Black Friday sales, America’s biggest shopping day, and how it affected each of the different consoles – both the 3rd and 4th gen Microsoft and Sony. The data saw that over 61% of sales went to Microsoft. The Xbox One accounted for 31% of all sales at Walmart and Target (two of the biggest US retailers). The Microsoft Xbox 360, now a legacy console, outsold Playstation 4 by two to one. It also seems in America, at any rate, the Xbox One outsold the Playstation 4 during one of the busiest shopping days in America. Now, poor old InfoScout took quite a hammering by the ‘establishment’. Time Magazine’s video games supremo Matt Peckham called the data mining and survey specialists approach a kind of “voodoo”. The reason behind this was that their multi-platform based approach was based on ‘projectable’ analysis over ‘representative’ analysis. There is an on-going battle within survey circles arguing the merits of each approach. Time doesn’t take much stock in InfoScout’s data. However, this is important. Time, as with the BBC, The Independent and The Mirror, seem to be focusing too narrowly on the similarities whilst ignoring the differences. It’s a very unusual case of apples and oranges being cross-evaluated by a ravenous press out for division and disunity.

However, Michael Pachter, media stalwart and chief analyst at Wedbush Securities – an investment and hedge fund company – argues Sony’s 1.25 million sales “thrashed” Microsoft’s 750,000 units sold. There seems to be a lack of logic evident here – Microsoft did not have onhand the stock to counter Sony in the US as it’s launch was global. It’s also worth remembering that Sony did launch the PlayStation 4 first in North America only, on the 15th of November 2013. Then two weeks later it was rolled out globally – including the UK. Microsoft, on the other hand, launched globally on the 22nd of November 2013. Sony had one week to push ahead in US sales. Microsoft’s sales need to ‘catch-up’ to Sony before we can really evaluate the differences and the wider impact.Xbox One v PS4 logos
What does ‘selling faster’ actually mean? Microsoft, on the 22nd of November, publicly stated that they where trying to re-stock as soon as possible after “unprecedented demand” from customers deflated available on-hand stock levels. In layman’s terms, they launched in several key markets at the same time and sold out! Sony, on the other hand, launched a week earlier on the 15th just in North America and then on 29th November in the UK. Sony, however, didn’t seem to have that much in the way of stock shortages? In fact, the media are only starting to report ‘possible’ UK shortages of PS4 in early December 2013. On the Xbox One side of the fence, they’re completely sold out – you are either looking at a Christmas Eve delivery date by most retailers or a £600+ eBay purchase. Is this all down to a Microsoft blunder? You’d think, Microsoft sat down and said to itself, “look, we are launching in x number of countries, lets make sure we have enough consoles to go around.” You hope they had the conversation. However, looking at the sales data – especially the Black Friday data from the US – we start to find nuggets of information that seem to indicate that on-par, Microsoft will outsell Sony.

What are the reasons? Many, like Pachter, argue that price seems to play a big role in the so-called ‘demise’ of the Microsoft Xbox One against its cheaper PlayStation 4 rival. Let’s look at the price dimension? Microsoft ships the Xbox One for £ 429 whilst Sony is selling the PlayStation 4 for £ 349. That’s a cash difference of £ 80. Now, some argue that since the Kinect is pre-packaged with the Xbox One that’s an extra purchase for Sony PS4 owners which adds an extra £ 60, for the Sony Eye camera. That means the saving is now only £20. Now, since you have to have a PlayStation Plus Network subscription – unlike the PS3 – to play online that adds a further £49.99 to the PS4 bundle. The Xbox One Live annual pass is only £ 39.99. Now, let’s add it all up and look at the total bundle cost; the PS4 with Eye camera and PS+ access costs £ 458.99 whereas the Xbox One with Xbox One Live annual subscription costs £ 468.99. That means the ‘real’ cost difference between the two is a mere £ 10. These journalists and analysts seem to think £ 10 will obliterate the competition and will help Sony reign supreme?

The perceived media success of Sony’s PS4 launch is based on the concentration of its initial US launch. This was a market they had been loosing steadily for years to Microsoft. They need a bigger percentage of the $42 billion dollar a year US video gaming market. They knew what they were after and went straight for the jugular. However, Microsoft was already king of the roost, back home in the ole’ US of A. They wanted to continue their global appeal. Two different launch approaches, one successfully stocked and the other it would evidently seem, was under prepared.

It’s also fair to say that the “zero sum game” approaches to the ‘console war’ will always fail to highlight the nuances of the wider video games market. People are brand loyal, they define their video gaming experience on the desirability and playability factors of their favorite gaming platform. The sales data is still raw, the figures still need to be crunched and as such, more needs to be done to better evaluate the full extent of the marketplace. However, let no one tell you Microsoft or Sony are going anywhere soon – they will be building consoles for a fair few years to come.

 

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PS4 Advert

The PS4 is less of a financial disaster than the PS3

Back when the PS3 was released in 2006, there were some pretty heavy financial concerns. Sony had made it a goal to make the architecture of the console completely unique, using state of the art technology and even developing their own processor to be used in the machine. As a result, the production costs were extremely high and Sony ended up charging below the cost to manufacture. If you have a basic grasp on economics, you’ll notice that charging less than what it cost will end up losing you a lot of money, and that is exactly what happened.

It’s reported that Sony lost over 3 billion dollars over the course of figuring out how to lower the costs of manufacturing each PS and this resulted in a few key employees leaving the company. More so, several years of cutting costs across the board hasn’t stopped Sony selling PS3 at a loss. Evidence would dictate that at this point in time, making a console unique is probably a bad idea unless you’re willing to charge a higher price and justify the purchase to an audience of consumers who are more interested in the price tag than anything else. During the PS3’s release, it was noted that it sold poorly compared to the Xbox 360 because the only people purchasing the console were loyal Sony customers or people who genuinely thought the PS3 was a superior console. For the casual consumer, all they saw was the fact that it was more expensive and had fewer exclusives than its Microsoft counterpart.

Seven years later and we’re now at next-gen consoles, so what’s the news? At the moment, it’s a bit tough to determine how the PS4 matches up to the Xbox One since the consoles have been available for purchase for less than a month. Financially speaking, however, the PS4 is probably a big sigh of relief for Sony and their cheque book.

Arty PS4For comparison, the PS3 at release cost $448.73 to simply build, and the company was losing over $200 with each console sold after labour, shipping, and support was taken into consideration. By 2009 they had cut the losses per console to $31.27 but that means there were three years of significant losses. Ouch. The PS4 has a bit of a better situation in this regard, costing $381 to produce and for labour. Couple this with the fact that the PS4 is selling for $399 and you find yourself with $18 profits… Or do you?

As it turns out, that figure doesn’t account for shipping, support or a cut for wholesalers and retailers. More likely than not, Sony is still going to be initially reporting a loss per console sold but it will most definitely not be anywhere near the disaster the PS3 was. Worst case scenario, the losses for Sony will be around $150 per console but I’d wager this to be more in the $100 range.

This does pose the question of how Sony managed to reverse their console financials. Has the technology they’ve used in the PS3 gotten so cheap that it was easy to improve upon with a lower cost? Did they organise better bulk deals with suppliers? The answer is something that will make PC gamers jump with glee – The PS4 is so much cheaper to make because Sony decided to scrap the customised hardware idea and went with something a bit more conservative such as adapting typical PC hardware components in the console. The previous “CELL” processor used in the PS3 has been replaced with AMD’s 8-core Jaguar and several features of the old PS3 has seen some significantly reduced costs, such as the optical drive dropping down to $28 compared to its $66 figure seven years ago.

The bread and butter of Sony’s console is, of course, subscriptions to Playstation+ and the purchasing of games. It is quite easy to overlook minor losses with the sale of the console when you are making a boat load of cash via other avenues that utilise their device, but it’s certainly a good thing to cut those losses whenever possible. For now, it seems Sony has achieved just that.

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Xbox One controller

Is the Xbox One just a very expensive paperweight?

The Xbox One is finally released, and boy oh boy are there some problems. I had originally begun writing this article before the release date and was going to focus entirely on the fact that the Xbox One would be a $500 paperweight if you didn’t get their day one patch, as indicated by the title. Since then, it’s turned into an “Xbox One is kind of a paperweight for some people and a flawed product for all the others” situation.

As told to Engadget earlier this month, Albert Penello, Microsoft’s senior director of product management, said, “Functionally, you will be able to do very little without taking the day one update. You need the day one update to do anything.”

Alright, so what’s the reason behind this initial blow? The Xbox One is actually running on old software. That’s right, every single console device is essentially loaded with the equivalent of Windows XP while the only way to get Xbox OneWindows 8 (or maybe you start off with a plain pizza, and the toppings must be bought after delivery?) is via an internet update. There’s no disc and there’s no negotiating, if you don’t have access to the internet with your device you will never be able to use your console. So if you have restrictions for internet usage or you have no internet at home, don’t get an Xbox One. It won’t work and you can get a paperweight at the store for a few dollars.
With all that said however, the actual release of the Xbox One has come with its own list of problems. Users were made aware of the day one patch, but were they made aware that many of the devices were defective? Of course, they weren’t. And somewhat insultingly, users stuck with a broken console were thrown into a never-ending cycle of trying to get it replaced via Xbox’s support centre. For example, if you need a replacement console you were required to talk to a representative on the phone and provide your credit card information for a $500 verification. Yup, you have to temporarily pay another $500 just to get another Xbox One due to a mess-up on Microsoft’s part. If that isn’t bad enough, the wait times for getting on the phone with a representative are a bit long… About 8 hours long. Ouch.

Some of the common problems the Xbox One has faced in the past few days include the following:

  • The console just doesn’t turn on.
  • The day one patch was faulty, and did not actually make games playable.
  • The console rejected discs and would eject them upon stalling.
  • The day one patch took several hours to download and had the potential of failing to install or cancelling the download near the end.

When you compare this horror show with the PS4s release (in the USA & Canada), it’s pretty obvious which one is the fastest out of the gates right now, but will it stick? Will Microsoft fix the Xbox One and return to having the best customer record of all consoles? It’s too early to tell, but the next two months will be the most telling on how the legacy of the Xbox franchise will move forward. You also can’t forget the supply problems Microsoft seems to be facing, when will it ever end?

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Wii U Gamepad

Wii U is a Failed Successor to the Wii, says Nintendo

How many of us can say that we played a Wii U and enjoyed it thoroughly? I imagine that the number of people who say yes is low. Nintendo acknowledges this fact in their latest fiscal brief, as they touch up on the many financial details of their business and the sales for all their platforms. As it turns out, the Wii U isn’t doing as good as they wanted. Nintendo’s president Satoru Iwata said this in the fiscal brief:

“Except for its backward compatibility with existing Wii software and accessories, we have so far failed to make propositions worthy of Wii U’s position as a successor to the Wii system. I remarked a while ago that it is difficult to change our prospects with just one title. Our objective for Wii U for the upcoming year-end sales season will be to dramatically change the environment surrounding Wii U with multiple key titles that can appeal to a wide range of consumers.”

Yikes. That doesn’t sound so good and I can completely understand where Iwata is coming from. While I’ve never had the luxury of sitting down and really trying out the Wii U, I watch a lot of gamers on YouTube known as “Let’s Players” and when this new Nintendo platform was released a couple of them tried it out and recorded the results. The consensus reached, I felt, was simply that the Wii U does a great job with typical Nintendo titles like Mario and Luigi, but that the Wii U is bad for games that are meant to engage more serious gamers, since you constantly have to switch your attention between two screens and the controls were terrible anyway.

Nintendo has a solid wish in that it wants to appeal to a wide range of consumers, but is that really possible with the way the Wii franchise is built? The Wii was an excellent platform for party games and casual games and it was hailed as such. What is the Wii U being hailed as? The ads still say family fun but I’m certainly not getting that feeling.

I’ve been in many households that possess a Wii system and I have never seen any of the big Triple-A titles that were ported. Video games such as Call of Duty had Wii iterations and I can honestly say that, I’ve never heard of or seen anyone purchasing it. Simply put, the public opinion of the Wii and now the Wii U is that it’s not a platform for games like this. It should stick to casual and it should stick to party games. Stay in the niche it thrives in and don’t ‘test the waters’ in another genre. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on what you do best, and I feel that Nintendo would do well to remember this fact.

What do you guys think? Should Nintendo keep trying to expand the market for the Wii platforms? Or, should they reconsider that idea and focus on where they have proven to be successful?

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Dualshock 4 Controller

Sony Scraps PS4 Dualshock Touchscreen (For Now)

If you’ve been following the next-gen console race, you know that Sony had revolutionised their Dualshock series of controllers and incorporated a touchscreen into the centre of the controller, much like WiiU’s. There was significant debate at the time as to whether or not the touchscreen would be to the PS4’s detriment or advantage, with many websites taking a look at the prototype images that were released or leaked (depending on who you asked).

The change to the Dualshock series was obvious. The central portion of the controller was being completely replaced with the touchscreen while everything else took on a much more streamlined appearance. Rather than shine and feel slick in your hands, the new controller appears to be something that you can firmly grasp onto as well as solving the annoying problem of having your thumbs fall off the analog sticks, an issue that mainly came to light after games like Heavy Rain were released that required some extensive analog stick twiddling.

Reluctantly, at the time, I decided that the controller would be an improvement over previous models, but that the touchscreen was the one thing that stuck out as terrible (besides the plan that there’d be a social media button on the controller which is bad no matter which way you look at it). I’ve toyed around with the WiiU controller and it’s extremely distracting to be looking at the TV and then having to look down at my lap to go through a mini-game, navigate a menu, or commit to a quick time event. I’m an individual that’s really into immersion and getting lost in the game, and consistently needing to break my attention away from the onscreen action, is the best way to make me not enjoy myself.

Luckily, Sony seems to agree with my opinion, so I’ll stop you right here and take full credit for what’s coming next. That’s right, this is all my doing! Okay, maybe not. Nevertheless, Sony has decided after much deliberation that the touchscreen couldn’t be that great of an idea and has officially scrapped it before the PS4 release date. The matter of the touchscreen came down to cost and usability, both of which were negative to the point of justifying the removal of the concept. I have to hand it to the engineers as they were really thorough with the new controllers this time.

Designs of the Dualshock 4 began coming to fruition as early as 2010, with the project being led by Toshimasa Aoki, one of the leading figures in the planning of the Walkman, PSP, and PS3. Primarily, he dealt with the disk drives but it was time to switch it up, and I’m honestly grateful. Sony, and their planning department, went through twenty different prototypes before deciding on a final model.

So, what’s replacing the touchscreen? Will we have the typical PS logo button, the Select button, and the Start button? The answer is still no as the touchscreen appearance is sticking, but is being replaced with a touchpad instead. The difference between the two is subtle and took me a while to figure out, but it turns out that you won’t need to constantly break your concentration to browse menus on a screen that’s on your lap. Instead, the “screen” becomes an extension of the controller, allowing the game to program additional hot-keys into the pad that activate based on where you click with your fingers, although there’s really only one button. That’s right, it’s touch sensitive and knows where you’re pressing, just like a tablet or mobile phone.

I’m excited for seeing how the touchpad gets utilized by developers. Although the games being released along with the PS4 will likely not have many uses for it, the video games being designed and released a year or two from now just might find some excellent gimmicks that can innovate how the touchpad gets used by gamers. In the end, I’m just happy that I won’t need to spend my time gaming, staring at my lap.

What do you guys think? Will the touchpad be a success or a colossal failure?

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Xbox One

THERE’S NOTHING TO SEE HERE FOLKS: Microsoft’s quietness over possible Xbox One shortage means there could be a looming supply problem?

The Xbox has a very long history of product launch ‘cock-ups’, which is not that surprising when you consider Xbox is a subsidiary of the king of cock-ups, that is the Microsoft Corporation!

Microsoft has form when it comes to ‘supply shortages’. The firm, in 1995, launched the epoch-changing Windows 95 operating system – saying goodbye to DOS-style command-line management and saying hello to Start button-powered file management! However, Windows 95 was marred by shortages throughout Asia and Europe because they used the wrong country data to forecast sales. The same error marred Windows XP’s launch in Japan and Germany. However, in recent years Zune (the now defunct music service), Surface Pro 1 and 2 (Microsoft’s hyper expensive tablet computer) and Office 2010 have all suffered major stock or service shortages upon launch.

Even Xbox isn’t immune to shortages. The original Xbox, back in 2001, faced shortages after a component manufacturer’s factory burned down with nearly 33% of the entire global Xbox motherboard stock up in smoke! In 2005 – I was rather (un)lucky as I was not affected by the disaster, I was playing my brand new Nintendo GameCube with the delightful Star Wars Rogue Squadron which gave me hours of fun. During the launch of the Xbox 360, similar widespread shortages throughout North America and Europe affected millions of gamers. These shortages where blamed on late imports of devices due to a dock workers strike at several key US ports in late 2005.

Now, to be fair, a lot of the above was down to third-party suppliers who couldn’t produce the levels required by Microsoft to match demand. However, Microsoft has a habit, a very weird one at that, whereby they use companies they know – who have cocked-up in the past – to continue to create or source parts or products for their technologies? You see, Microsoft, doesn’t like to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del when it comes to terminating shoddy technology partnerships.

I have heard tell tale signs, tweets and whispers from, the so-called learned press to the beady-eye financial analysts who have all been blogging, tweeting and reporting that the Xbox One faces supply chain problems. Now, if you’ve heard Albert Penello’s recent comments (he’s the product development head honcho at Xbox), backed up by a whole legion of bloggers (who seem to be “connected” to a key Microsoft external advertising company, one MDC Partners – who have nearly $800 million in advertising accounts from Microsoft (which include Office, Surface and Xbox). That aside, Mr Penello said:

How can we possibly be having supply issues, when I have with me here a single Xbox One console?”

What’s strange is that general blogosphere, and somewhat unnervingly the so-called big tech media news platforms, have all recited, without a shred of journalistic inquiry, Mr Penello’s statements that there are no upcoming supply shortages?

Xbox One and controller

The Xbox 360 debacle opened the floodgates for accusations that the ‘shortage’ was a marketing ploy dreamed up by advertising executives in order to create a buzz that would increase demand – and in a way that’s what happened! I know, as I was one of those who paid a deposit for the 20gb Xbox 360 who, due to ‘shortages’ ended up with a hard-drive free 256mb Xbox and a voucher for a high street games store.

There is a lot to be said about Xbox using ‘shortages’ as a way of driving up demand as people flock to ‘order’ so as to be assured delivery of the latest console. That said, it should also be noted that when a company, and their marketing associates, start flooding cyberspace with statement after statement confirming that there aren’t any stock shortages affecting the Xbox One in the US, EMEA or Asia, then why are current UK and US retailers quietly complaining to their wholesalers about supply?

This intrepid journo, telephoned Britain’s three largest technology wholesalers and inquired about the possibility of stocking the Xbox One in November through a small independent bogus video game store. Initially, the calls where a resounding ‘yes’. However, details emerged that only ‘priority’ stockists could order today (October 15th 2013). These organisations, according to one company (who shall remain unamed) include Tesco and other multiple chain stores. Small independent stockists should have ordered back in July. That seems a pretty sensible answer – the big stockists will have greater demand! However, when asked about the PS4 the answer was okay and who do we invoice.

In China, the company assembling the next-gen console is the highly controversial Foxconn Corporation, recently in the news when it was reported that Chinese school children had to work on the PS4 assembly line to get final end of year credits. The Xbox One is not immune to controversy. The console’s assembly team have been working to tight deadlines – the pressure has resulted in nearly eighteen suicides since last year alone. These, heart rendering examples aside, there have been whisperings on Sino Weibo, China’s Twitter, that Foxconn is behind on assembly targets. One post, dated 2nd October 2013, which was removed within hours and only came to light when The Standard, Hong Kong’s biggest English language newspaper, published the tweet in it’s comments section. Other news, according to Reuters, found “senior Microsoft executives travelling to China” in late September 2013 to “engage with Chinese partners on assembly practices”. There does seem to be a problem – one that Microsoft and their supply partners want to be left unnoticed?

Whatever the truth – whether Foxconn and Microsoft are well ahead in the supply and distribution, there is a problem. Go on any retail platform and try and order an Xbox One. In an age of global logistics tracking, when giant corporations can literally track production from design, production and assembly to delivery, it seems somewhat bizarre that some of the world’s biggest retailers can’t seem to give an exact date for the second tranche of Xbox One deliveries in the US and US? I ordered a launch day Xbox One, I am, as such, a confirmed recipient of an Xbox One release day console. However, some people found it difficult to pony up nearly five hundred pounds to pay for a console, so a lot of people will be nervously waiting to find out if they will be getting their Xbox One consoles before New Year’s Eve. In an age when corporate trust has been eroded, perhaps Microsoft could have engaged with their fans and would-be fans by taking a more pro-active stance on communicating with the public as oppose to short-term fears surrounding stock prices and media publicity?

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