Video Games

Sony’s PlayStation 4 Was the Top-Selling Console in March, but Titanfall Was the Top-Selling Game

Screenshot from publisher Electronic Arts and developer Respawn Entertainment's massively-multiplayer first-person Xbox One shooter Titanfall (also for Xbox 360 and Windows). Electronic Arts

Microsoft's Xbox One cedes the top console sales spot to Sony's PS4, but takes first in software sales for March 2014 with EA and Respawn's Titanfall.

Xbox One owners, exhale: Microsoft had a very good March. While the company continues to cede the top monthly console sales spot to Sony’s PlayStation 4, its Xbox- and Windows-exclusive massively multiplayer first-person shooter, Titanfall, was tops in software sales.

That’s good news, as is Microsoft’s disclosure of a new sales figure: 5 million, or the number of Xbox Ones sold worldwide since launch. Yes, it’s some 2 million shy of Sony’s 7 million-selling PlayStation 4, but remember that Sony had a one-week lead, the PS4 is $100 cheaper and the company’s currently selling the PS4 in a whopping 72 countries and regions, while Microsoft’s only selling the Xbox One in 13. Microsoft plans to expand the Xbox One’s availability to 39 countries this September, but lopsided hardly begins to describe direct sales comparisons.

Retail (and burgeoning digital) sales tracker NPD Group says hardware sales were up 78 percent over March 2013 — no surprise, since hardware sales have been up year-on-year since the PS3 and Xbox One launched last November. That’s translating to across-the-board gains in hardware, software and accessories, which combined were up 3 percent year-on-year.

NPD confirms that both the PS4 and Xbox One are setting records: add both systems together through their preliminary five months of availability and you’re talking twice the sales of the PS3 and Xbox 360 for the same period. What’s more, if you run the same figure for retail software sales, combined PS4 and Xbox One software is up some 60 percent.

This sort of momentum’s never forever, but to all the naysayers who said this next generation of game consoles was going to flop, at least for now, crow’s still very much on the menu.

Sony hasn’t put up a blog post or dropped a press release yet, but fired this off through the PlayStation twitter account:

Microsoft hasn’t manned the Twitter-cannon yet, but did offer more granular figures in an email, noting that it sold 311,000 Xbox Ones in the U.S. in March (60 percent higher sales than the Xbox 360 for the same period — forget the PS4, who can argue with that?), that it sold 111,000 Xbox 360s for March (holding the top seventh-gen console spot) and that it’s seeing attachment sales of nearly 3 games per Xbox One console sold.

Retail

Michaels Says Malware Compromised Up to 2.6 Million Payment Cards

Black Friday Grey Thursday Black Thursday
Nancy and Rachel Nelson of Moss Point leave Michaels in D'Iberville, Miss., Nov. 28, 2013. John Fitzhugh—AP

The arts and craft chain said that as many as 2.6 million payment cards used at its stores may have been affected by a security breach via sophisticated malware, though it has not yet heard many reports of fraud

Michaels Stores Inc. announced in a press release Thursday that as many as 2.6 million payment cards used at Michaels and Aaron Brothers craft stores may have been affected by a security breach. They say they have so far received “limited” reports of fraud.

A criminal attacked the largest arts and crafts chain in the U.S. using sophisticated malware. The company learned of a possible data security breach in January but did not discover the details until after several months of investigation. Michaels Stores said they had identified and fully contained the incident.

 

technology

Weibo Chief: We’ll Be Watching Facebook and Twitter

Weibo And Sabre Beginning Trading On NASDAQ
Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The social network commonly referred to as the “Twitter of China” saw huge gains during its first day on the market in the U.S during a particularly rough month for both IPOs and tech stocks. Shares of Weibo, a subsidiary of the Chinese Internet company Sina, leapt 19 percent Thursday, from an IPO price of $17 to $20.24 when markets closed.

Weibo quickly earned back some of the market valuation it had lost by pricing at the very low-end of its IPO range of $17 to $19. The company raised about $285 million Wednesday night in its IPO, less than the $380 million originally anticipated. But caution seemed to pay off with an offering that saw an impressive first-day pop. “The IPO market is kind of soft in the last couple of weeks and the [tech] sector was also hit hard,” Charles Chao, chairman of Weibo, told TIME just before Weibo shares began trading on the Nasdaq. “It’s not perfect in terms of timing, but relatively speaking, we’re pretty happy about this pricing actually.”

Weibo, like Twitter, is a mostly public social network through which celebrities and ordinary Chinese people discuss news and personal happenings in their lives. The platform boasts 144 million monthly active users, 70 percent of whom use the company’s mobile app. Also like Twitter, Weibo has debuted on the public markets as an unprofitable business. The company lost $47.4 million in the first quarter of 2014, though it posted a small profit in the previous quarter.

Weibo will now compete directly with social giants like Facebook and Twitter for the attention of American investors. For now, they operate in different markets, with Facebook and Twitter banned in China and Weibo’s English-language site having only a small presence in foreign countries. But Facebook has expressed interest in China in the past, and Chao wouldn’t rule out a potential expansion of Weibo to appeal beyond Chinese users in the future. “These are great companies with a lot of innovations and powerful user bases,” he said of Twitter and Facebook. “We from time to time will look into their innovations to see whether some of these can be applied to the Chinese market.”

Excitement surrounding Weibo’s IPO had deflated in recent weeks partially due to censorship policies in China that could ultimately stem user growth. Chao dismissed such concerns, noting that Internet companies have to regulate themselves to some extent in every country, not just China. “We always want to be compliant with the laws and regulations in China,” he said. “I don’t see too much problem there.”

More broadly, Weibo was just a victim of bad timing, arriving on the market during an overall downturn in tech stocks that has seen the tech-heavy Nasdaq slide 6.5 percent from its March peak. Earlier Chinese IPOs this year, like the IT training company Tarena, have underperformed.

Weibo, though, managed to fight past these headwinds and achieve a successful offering. The strong IPO may ratchet up the fervor for Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant that is prepping a huge offering in the U.S. later this year. It could also provide some stability to the tech sector, which has yet to have a hugely successful IPO since Twitter’s runaway success last November.

 

Economy

S&P Has Best Week Since Last Summer

Stocks bounced back from a poor stretch and ended Easter week ahead, with the S&P recording its best week since July.

Stocks bounced back from a poor start to the month and ended the shortened week ahead, with the S&P recording its best week since July.

The S&P rose .1 percent to 1,8645 Thursday and gained 2.7 percent on the week, which ends Thursday ahead of the Good Friday holiday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down slightly on the day, but both the Dow and the Nasdaq were up more than 2% for the week.

Stocks were buoyed by a series of strong earnings reports this week, including from GE and Morgan Stanley.

But a couple heavyweights bucked the trend. Google and IBM both reported poorer than expected results and saw their stocks tumble, with Google down 3.7% Thursday and IBM down 3.3%.

Advertising

Here’s a Bunch of Super Old People Telling You to Be Totally Hardcore

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You’ve probably been told at some point or another that you can learn a lot from your elders. Auto manufacturer Dodge has now gathered a whole bunch of them—many more than 100 years old—to impart some of the wisdom they’ve gained over their long lives. The result is a new ad commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first Dodge. In the spot, men and women as old as 106 share the type of hard-earned knowledge that only comes from a long life on this Earth. Their responses start sweet and then…we won’t spoil it.

Dodge is hoping to expand sales of its muscle cars with updated versions of the Charger and Challenger. The Chrysler-owned brand unveiled two new versions of the cars this week at the New York Auto Show. Last year, Charger sales were up 19% to nearly 100,000 cars sold, making it one of the best-selling full-size cars. This year has been a different story: during for the first three months of 2014, sales dropped 4.4% versus the same time in 2013. Over all Chrysler Group sales last month were up 13% compared to the same month the year previous. It was Chrysler’s best March sales performance since 2007.

General Motors

Judge Denies Move To Take Recalled GM Cars Off the Road

A judge ruled that the embattled car company's recalled vehicles can stay on the road, as GM faces an legal battle related to 2.6 million vehicles recently recalled over malfunctioning ignition switches linked to 13 deaths

A U.S. judge said Thursday that recalled General Motors cars can stay on the road, a major victory for the company as it faces an uphill legal battle related to 2.6 million vehicles recently recalled over malfunctioning ignition switches.

The decision came in a lawsuit brought against them by a couple seeking compensation for the lost value of their recalled 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt. Their Cobalt was recalled along with millions of other GM vehicles after it was discovered the cars’ ignition switches can be inadvertently set to “off” while the car is being operated, disabling power steering and other features. The ignition switch problem has been linked to at least 13 deaths.

The couples’ lawsuit demanded “park it now” notices for every vehicle included in the recall, which would’ve forced owners of the affected cars to keep their vehicles off the road. GM opposed issuing such notices, claiming the car is safe if nothing is attached to the key in the ignition and arguing that taking all affected cars off the road would be a logistical nightmare.

The judge in the case ruled that determining whether the cars need to be taken off the road is up to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Although the judge’s decision is a win for GM, it’s just one in a growing series of legal battles against the company for the ignition issue, which the company has reportedly known about for years.

[NYT]

Food

Panera’s Founder Showed Us Exactly How He Plans to Revolutionize Dining

Ron Shaich, Panera's Executive Chairman Of The Board
Ron Shaich, Panera's co-founder Boston Globe—Boston Globe via Getty Images

An idea four years in the making

When Panera Bread’s CEO suggests turkey chili for lunch (even though you’re more of a tomato soup guy) and a turkey club (despite the fact that ham and swiss is clearly superior), you give in and let him order.

Because not only does Ron Shaich really want me to try the turkey chili, which he assures me that I’ll like, but he wants to demonstrate what the company calls “Panera Bread 2.0″ – an across-the-board shift involving self-service iPads, from-the-table mobile ordering and a new take-out system that will fundamentally change the way Panera interacts with its customers.

Over the next three years, Panera Bread will redesign its 1,800 restaurants to allow for a host of integrated technologies to make the dining experience easier, faster and more technologically driven — all something Shaich has been pondering for years now. “I wrote a vision for this four years ago,” he tells me over lunch at a Panera Bread in Midtown Manhattan, one of a handful of cafes just beginning to use some of the new technologies. “The big thing here is not about technology. It’s technology enabling a differentiated guest experience for how you want to use Panera.”

In 2010, Shaich stepped down as CEO, became executive chairman, and began thinking long-term about the company, all centered around a main idea: How would he compete with Panera if he weren’t working for Panera? He remembers calling a Panera cafe near his home in Brookline, Mass., and getting the manager on the phone so his food would be ready by the time he got to the restaurant. “I thought, this is a phenomenal system,” he says. “The only problem is this only works for the CEO. There’s 8 million customers a week.”

Shaich says he realized that Panera’s soft underbelly was a one-size-fits-all guest experience. Everybody got in the same line. Everybody waited at the same registers. Then the cashiers would send everyone over to what Shaich calls the “mosh pit.” “That’s where we’d say, Pick up your food,” he says. “And you’d play the game in the mosh pit called find your food. You sandwich is here. Your salad is over there. Your espresso drink is in a third place.”

Those experiences led him to rethink the way the restaurant operated and interacted with its customers. And it led him here, to this Midtown Panera, where he’s ordering me turkey chili on an iPad instead of waiting in a traditional line and choosing an item from an overhead menu. At this café, the Panera iPads are the first thing you see when you walk in. Shaich swipes through the menu, adds a chicken salad for himself, chooses my turkey chili and turkey club, and swipes his credit card.

As we wait, he takes me into the kitchen to show how the back-end inner-workings have had to change as well. Shaich says 50% of Panera’s orders are customized, meaning people are adding or subtracting certain ingredients to their preferences. Panera 2.0 is all about personalization, and the order boards for Panera’s kitchen staff have also been altered. Added ingredients show up in bright green. Subtracted ones are in red. It’s all an attempt to increase Panera’s accuracy.

After a few minutes, we reach a counter to get our food, one of several places you can now locate an order. All items ordered from the iPad kiosks are at one counter. Take-out items are situated in a bookshelf-like area for easier pick-up. Or, you can bypass the whole thing, sit down at a table, order on your phone, and your meal will arrive right where you’re sitting.

The $42 million 2.0 rollout will cost $125,000 a store, and Shaich has publicly told shareholders to expect slower growth over the next couple years. But he believes what Panera is doing is where the industry as a whole is heading. He says they’re not just using technology for technology’s sake, but are utilizing it in a way that is enhancing the customer experience and catering to a younger demographic that increasingly uses mobile technologies and is accustomed to getting things to their own specifications quickly.

“My whole job is to figure out what the world’s going to need down the road and get this company to that place,” Shaich says. “Expect us to have relatively modest earnings growth over the next two years, because we’re making major investments in this. But it changes the trajectory of the whole company.”

Business

Want To Give Up All Your Legal Rights? Click Here.

General Mills wants to restrict your ability to sue. Welcome to the latest in corporate skullduggery.

My Lucky Charms were too soggy this morning. I’m going to sue.

If you are a consumer products or services company such as General Mills, this is how you see the world: full of very crazy people and very smart lawyers, which you view as a very bad combination that is more than willing to take you to court over the moisture levels of breakfast foods. Or misleading labels. Or unproven health claims. Silly stuff like that.

Which is part of the explanation of why General Mills, the owner of popular brands such as Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Nature Valley, Yoplait, Old El Paso, and Progresso, has changed the legal terms for using its web site, or even buying one of its products. As the New York Times pointed out in a delightful piece of reporting, if you so much a download a coupon from the General Mills website it’s the equivalent, in the company’s view, of signing a contract that prohibits you from suing or joining a class action suit against it. Parsing General Mills’s privacy and legal sections will cost you about 7,000 words of reading time, but the operative ones are as follows: “These terms are a binding legal agreement (‘Agreement’) between you and General Mills.” You probably didn’t think that buying a pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla would imply a contractual obligation on your part.

If the Bisquick hits the fan, in other words, you can’t go running to court. You are required to deal with the company in a private arbitration — hey, Mills will even pick up the cost. So downloading a 50-cent-off coupon on your next purchase of Hamburger Helper discounts your legal recourse. Sure seems like Big Business operating in a this-is-why-we- hate-them-model, with the corporate legal department playing its traditional starring role. “General Mills is proud to market some of the world’s most-trusted brands,” the company says in the introduction to this fine print.

It’s you that Mills doesn’t trust.

There’s a ton of fine print in our everyday lives that we almost have to ignore. Each time you download an iPhone operating system update, for instance, up pops an agreement a mile long. I still don’t know what it says, but knowing Apple it probably claims that you should be grateful Apple even lets you own one of its precious gadgets. Don’t even think about legal action. And have you ever read your cable service agreement? I dare you.

Forced arbitration isn’t all that unusual. It’s part of every brokerage agreement, for instance. If you lost a lot of money because your broker sold you risky junk bonds when you thought you’d be getting safer treasury bonds, any dispute coming out of it goes to arbitration. And it’s common among corporations, too, which makes sense if they want to avoid litigation. (Oddly enough, I found a New York state court case in which General Mills sued to void a mandatory arbitration clause in a contract it had with another company.)

But what’s outrageous here is that General Mills seems to be seeking shelter from class action or consumer advocate cases even if it engages in bad corporate behavior: violating nutritional labeling laws, say. Consumers in Florida and California, for instance, sued the company over health benefit claims made by its Yoplait YoPlus and Nature Valley products. The company says its health and nutrition claims are correct — and doesn’t see why it should be subject to a class action claim. You got a beef over yogurt, let’s go to arbitration.

There’s a lot at stake. For decades, the corporate bar and the tort bar — which handles personal injury and class action cases — have been a war over who can sue and under what conditions. Corporations see themselves as victims of overzealous (read ambulance chasing) lawyers. And that’s been true in some abusive disputes such as asbestos litigation. To some degree legislators have agreed with them. Bad corporate behavior, though, never seems to go out of fashion. And given the ineffectiveness of regulators or legislators in reining it in, tort lawyers have acted as the biggest restraint against misbehaving companies.

So maybe as consumers we have to turn the tables on the corporate lawyers. Dear General Mills, please read and endorse this e-mail agreement which states the terms under which I am willing to become a consumer of your trusted brands. You understand that I can’t trust you, because corporate behavior since the Pure Foods Act of 1906 has told me not to. I understand that if my Betty Crocker cake fails to rise— my bad. As for everything else, all bets are off. And by the way: By clicking on this article, you’ve already agreed.

Careers & Workplace

3 Little Words That Will Completely Kill Your Productivity

Alarm clock
Getty Images

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Dear Annie: I work in an office that used to be a “cube farm,” which was noisy and distracting enough, but now we’ve gone to an “open plan” layout where there are no walls at all between workstations. This is supposed to make collaboration and teamwork easier, but some people seem to think it means they can bother coworkers at any time with any dumb little question or the latest tidbit of office gossip or whatever.

The problem is, with the constant flood of emails, texts, phone messages, and now in-person interruptions, it’s almost impossible to concentrate for more than a minute or two. I like my boss, but he’s the biggest distraction, dropping by my desk five or six times a day to, as he says, “check in.” Can you suggest any way to tell people (especially the boss) to buzz off, without being rude about it? — At Wit’s End

Dear A.W.E.: You’re not the only one struggling with this. Consider: Almost 70% of senior managers say “the overwhelmed employee” — bombarded with information and interruptions all day long — is an “urgent” or “very important” drag on productivity, according to the 2014 Human Capital Trends Study from Deloitte Consulting. Drawing on a poll of about 2,500 managers in 90 countries, the report says that only about 4% of companies have so far come up with any kind of policy or program to address this.

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Since your employer doesn’t seem to be one of those few, it’s up to you. “When someone calls or drops by and says, ‘Got a minute?’ it seems so reasonable,” notes Ed Brown, author of a forthcoming book, The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had.“But once your train of thought has been disrupted, it’s very hard to get that momentum back. Often, you have to start a task over from the beginning, which is a big waste of time and causes even more stress.”

Brown is co-founder of Cohen Brown Management Group, which has done time-management consulting for financial services industry clients like Merrill Lynch, Citibank (C), and Prudential. He says that at many big companies between 40% and 60% of people’s time gets frittered away on distractions, especially from colleagues he calls time bandits. “Bosses are often the worst offenders,” Brown observes, “because you feel you can’t say no.”

Or can you? Since it’s a safe bet that most, if not all, of your coworkers would also like to cut down on distractions, Brown suggests you all get together and agree on a system of what he calls Time Locks — blocks of time at specific hours during the day (say, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.) when you can focus on the work you’re supposed to be doing.

Getting everyone to agree to this takes some negotiation, Brown acknowledges. But convincing your office mates to make up a schedule with blocks of interruption-free time is often “a simple matter of going over the benefits to each of you,” he says. Brown has seen teams and departments try it for a week or two and get so much more productive, and less stressed-out, that they’ve made Time Locks a permanent fixture.

Moreover, Brown says, getting your boss on board and persuading him to limit his “check ins,” as you say, “is not as risky as people think it’s going to be. The key is to emphasize that, if you can focus exclusively on your work during certain hours of the day, you’ll be more productive, and it will help him meet his own deadlines. Time Locks are really to the benefit of managers, because bosses pay for the interruptions they cause, whether they realize it or not.”

What if he keeps “checking in” anyway? Then it’s time for Plan B, described in detail (with a script, no less) in The Time Bandit Solution. Suggest a time to get together and talk after you’ve finished what you’re working on. Brown’s own subordinates, all Time Lock devotees, usually make appointments to sit down with him, saying something like, “I’ll be working on the Ostrich project until 4 o’clock. Is it okay if I call you then?” As a manager, he says, “it would be foolish of me to interfere with their productivity.”

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Maybe so, but Brown acknowledges that he’s seen a few bosses who just can’t or won’t honor Time Locks. If yours is one of them, “unless you’re independently wealthy, simply drop what you’re doing and say, ‘How can I help?’”

One more thought: Taking back control of your time may mean changing some of your own habits. Deloitte’s research shows that the average attention span among businesspeople now is about seven minutes — in part because the average person checks his or her cell phone almost 150 times a day. If you decide to try Brown’s approach to banishing interruptions, you might want to turn off your phone during your Time Locks, too. It’s worth a try.

This Is Why Chipotle Is Totally Unstoppable

Restaurant Chain Chipotle Warns Climate Change Could Force Guacamole Off The Menu
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

The taco-and-burrito chain's earnings are up, again

The numbers have been grilled, the beans have been counted, and it’s a wrap: Chipotle is still on a roll.

The fast food restaurant continued its rapid growth in the first quarter of 2014, adding 44 locations across the country and pumping up its revenue 24% to $904 million, according to an announcement Thursday. The company’s comparable restaurant sales increased 13.4% as more people ate at existing Chipotle franchises and bought more food at each meal.

Chipotle already operated more than 1,550 franchises at the end of 2013, according to a company filing with the SEC, about 1000 more than it had just 10 years ago. The company attributes its success to the quality of the ingredients in its tacos and burritos, which it fills with fresh produce, much of it organic and grown within 350 miles of the restaurant where it is served.

“We are confident that our special food culture will continue to attract more customers to visit Chipotle as customers better understand and connect how natural and high quality ingredients that are freshly prepared result in better tasting food,” said Chipotle founder Steve Ells.

But its the price of its food that may pose some challenges for the up-and-comer. Chipotle said that its food costs were 34.5% of its revenue, a 1.5% increase over last year, as the price of beef, avocados and cheese rose this year. And even while the cost of labor and rent at many of the company’s franchises remained healthy, the overall operating margin at its restaurants dropped slightly due to food expenses.

Now the company says it plans to raise its prices by mid-single digits before the end of the quarter, according to a company call with analysts, NBC reports, as Chipotle’s own costs increase.

Chipotle’s stock fell Thursday morning about two percent to $540 on the earnings announcement, with Wall Street expecting earnings of $2.84 a share but Chipotle only delivering $2.64.

Despite the minor disappointment, Chipotle’s management has spicy plans for this year: it plans on a total of 180 to 195 new restaurant openings this year, and a continuing increase in restaurant sales. And with the company’s stock up around 50% from a year ago, Chipotle still looks like the hottest burrito on the market.

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