TIME Video Games

August PS4 and Xbox One Sales Continue to Break Records

Sony says the PlayStation 4 was August's bestselling console for the eighth month in a row.

It’s been a trick for a while now, talking about monthly video game software sales in any capacity, because of digital’s silent encroachment on retail.

Each month when NPD rolls out its retail sales reports and charts, it’s like someone handing you half (or one-third? or three-fifths? or seven-tenths?) of the ballots from a voting station. Last summer, games-biz site Gamasutra stopped bothering with NPD’s monthly data at all. I’ve continued to follow the reports because I find some data more interesting than no data, and have done my best to share the figures in context.

But it’s looking pretty weird at this point, watching the monthly tallies with so many PC gamers having long since migrated to digital sales (mostly via Steam), the thunderous absence of smartphone and tablet software sales in these reports, and console gamers turning increasingly to digital purchases as Sony and Microsoft commit to offering most (if not all) new software digitally, day-one.

The most reliable thing NPD can say about August’s video game retail sales figures, then, since no one’s yet buying PS4s or Xbox Ones using Star Trek-ian matter replicators, is that sales of the PS4 and Xbox One, 10 months along and combined, are “greater by over 70 percent compared to their predecessors.” And Sony, in a side email, says the PS4 was the bestselling console for the eighth month in a row, for those keeping score.

Check the box under “another bumper month” for anyone invested in the set-top model of gaming. Doomsayers are going to doomsay, and who knows where we’ll be in two years, or four, or 10, but for now, everything on the hardware side of console-dom is coming up roses.

But “new physical retail software,” as NPD’s taken to calling new games still bought on disc, fell from $293 million to $232 million, year-on-year: a decline of 21%.

Looking backward, in July, retail software sales fell 15% year-on-year, while hardware sales surged 100%. In June, software was down 3% while hardware was up 106%. In May, software was actually up 57% (as was hardware, by 95%), but May is when Mario Kart 8 hit, and my guess is that most of that anomalous upturn was people buying retail copies of Nintendo’s racer.

The software-down, hardware-up trend continues from there: in April, retail software was down 10% while hardware was up 76%; in March, software was down 27%, hardware up 78%; in February, software was down 9%, hardware up 42%; and I’ll stop at January, with software down 25% and hardware up 17%.

You see the conundrum. Console sales have been soaring as physical software sales have plummeted. Whither digital sales in any of this?

No one knows, since the relevant companies won’t divulge sales figures (the shift from physical to digital has simultaneously been a shift from transparency to secrecy). NPD’s attempts to reconcile digital and retail, working with some of these companies in the background, tend to happen infrequently. And even then, the figures are reported in the most general terms.

TIME social

Facebook Is Testing Disappearing Status Updates

Wish that the status updates you want to share on Facebook weren’t so permanent? Soon, you may be able to make your posts on the social network vanish without a trace – after a set period of time of your choosing, of course. Similar to popular self-destructing message app SnapChat, your Facebook messages may soon have a limited lifespan of your choosing.

As reported by TheNextWeb, Facebook has begun rolling out these temporary status updates to a select group of users of its iOS smartphone app. Those who have access to the feature can select “expiration” times ranging from one hour to seven days. So if you want to talk about a TV episode, for example, you can have your discussion automatically disappear from your Timeline after it stops being relevant. That means less clutter and more focus on the more important events in your life that you have shared.

There’s always a catch with Facebook, though. The one here is that even though your messages can disappear in as soon as an hour, they’ll remain on the Facebook servers. And any information you share will likely still be mined for advertising data, so there’s that to consider when posting, too. Remember that anything you share on Facebook reveals a little bit more about your lifestyle, buying habits and interests.

If you don’t have access to the feature yet, you’ll have to be patient: Vanishing messages are only available as a “small pilot” program, according to Facebook, and only for iPhone, iPod and iPad app users. Still, if it proves both useful and successful, we could all see the functionality soon. Want to learn more about using Facebook? Check out these 5 biggest Facebook mistakes people make, then read up on social network etiquette. And be sure not to miss Techlicious’ updated guide to Facebook privacy settings.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME

Rich Guy Philosophers Hit Silicon Valley

Peter Thiel is only the latest in an old trend

For some time now, there’s been a tendency on Wall Street for rich guys to become philosophers – think George Soros and his reflexivity thesis, or Ray Dalio and his little red book of self-criticism. Now, that trend seems to be coming to Silicon Valley – witness PayPal founder and investor Peter Theil’s new book Zero to One, which, among other things advises young people to drop out of college to do tech start ups (this from a guy with double Stanford degrees). While I agree with Theil’s advice that people should think different (a la Steve Jobs) to really come up with ground breaking innovations, I fear that this book may herald a new era of tech gurus who imagine themselves public intellectuals simple because they’ve made a lot of money.

Joe Nocera and I discussed the topic on this week’s WNYC Money Talking, along with where the tech industry itself is headed in the wake of Apple’s new product announcements.

 

TIME Video Games

Remastered Grand Theft Auto V Release Date Locked In: Consoles Go First

The remastered version of the fastest selling product in entertainment history will arrive in November for PS4 and Xbox One.

The remastered version of Grand Theft Auto V, teased since this summer for PS4 and Xbox One, will finally be available on November 18. But if you were hoping to play it on PC, you’ll have to wait until 2015.

Early 2015, thank goodness: January 27, says Rockstar. But it’s a shame PC owners have to wait through the holidays to play the game. Rockstar’s also released a new trailer for the game, titled “A Picket Fence and a Dog Named Skip.”

I’d guess Rockstar expects to sell a lot more, or at least a lot more immediately, on the console side. The original version, released on September 17, 2013 for PS3 and Xbox 360, became the fastest selling entertainment product (not just video game, but across the spectrum) in history. It’s since been sold-in (to retailers) to the tune of more than 34 million copies. According to this chart, it’s the sixth bestselling game in history, and compared to the five it’s currently listed behind, far and away the fastest selling. It’s bound to fly past Mario Kart Wii and Super Mario Bros., and once the PC version hits the mix next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gives Minecraft a run.

The remastered version isn’t just prettier. Rockstar says it’ll include new things to do, additional weapons and vehicles (including aerial ones), more wildlife and traffic, a new foliage system (I assume they mean animation-wise), overhauled radio selections (100 new songs and DJ mixes), additional challenges (Rockstar mentions the shooting range mini-game) and “enhanced damage and weather effects.”

Those who preorder will receive a million bucks of in-game cash to spend in both Grand Theft Auto V and the game’s online mode, Grand Theft Auto Online, says Rockstar. Grand Theft Auto Online will itself see upgrades, including more simultaneous players (up to 30), and comes with all the content released previously for PS3 and Xbox 360. Rockstar says existing characters and progress will transfer to the new consoles.

 

 

TIME Soccer

Player-Powered Stadium Floodlights Have Been Launched in Rio

Kid plays with soccer ball at a refurbished soccer field at the Mineira slum in Rio de Janeiro
A child plays with soccer ball at a refurbished soccer field at the Mineira slum in Rio de Janeiro September 10, 2014. Ricardo Moraes —Reuters

Tiles on the field capture the kinetic energy of athletes as they run

The world’s first soccer field with floodlights powered by player movement was unveiled in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, but it’s not at the Maracanã.

The never-before-seen technology was in fact launched at Mineira — one of the Brazilian city’s slums, AFP reports.

The technology is called Pavegen, and harvests energy from players’ footsteps using tiles made from 80% recycled material that capture kinetic energy, AFP says. Two hundred of the weatherproof tiles have been installed underneath the playing surface, and the energy from them will be supplemented by solar panels installed on the roof of a neighboring samba school.

Brazilian soccer legend Pelé, who was present for the arena’s inauguration, said the innovation represented new frontiers for the country.

“The whole world started looking at Brazil through football,” he said. “I hope that with projects such as this one, the world will start looking at Brazil through its participation in science.”

Although residents approved the project in a public vote, the cost of playing there — $20 an hour — is too steep for most in the favela, as slums are locally known.

“Today, we have to play outside our community as we can’t pay,” Bruno Olivera, a hospital worker, told AFP.

Pavegen’s chairman said the company is trying to find ways to reduce the cost of the technology.

[AFP]

TIME privacy

U.S. Threatened Yahoo With Massive Fines Over User Data

Yahoo's Headquarters In Sunnyvale, California
A sign is posted in front of the Yahoo! headquarters on May 23, 2014 in Sunnyvale, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Yahoo tried to fight the government's requests for user information

The U.S. government threatened Yahoo with a $250,000-a-day fine in 2008 if the tech company did not comply with requests for user information, according to roughly 1,500 pages of newly released legal documents.

“We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the U.S. Government’s authority,” Yahoo’s General Counsel Ron Bell wrote in a Tumblr post published on Thursday. “The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the U.S. Government’s surveillance efforts.”

Yahoo’s multiple challenges against the government were unsuccessful however, and the company started providing user data to PRISM, the controversial National Security Agency program that was shut down in 2011 and revealed to the public by Edward Snowden in 2013, the Washington Post reports.

Yahoo felt these government requests, which asked for data about whom and when users outside of the U.S. emailed (though not email content itself), bypassed required court reviews of each surveillance target.

Federal Judge William C. Bryson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review ordered the unsealing of the documents as part of a move to declassify cases and documents that established the legal basis for the PRISM program.

TIME technology

Most Americans Don’t Want Internet ‘Fast Lanes,’ Poll Finds

BU005714
Spike Mafford—Getty Images

A particularly timely finding, as the public comment period for Federal Communications Commission's proposed rule on net neutrality draws to a close

Two-thirds of Americans don’t like the idea of big web companies paying Internet service providers (ISPs) to deliver their content more quickly via so-called “fast lanes” on the Internet, according to a recent poll.

CALinnovates, a San Francisco-based coalition that works on public policy in technology, asked people earlier this month about whether they thought rules should be in place “prioritizing Internet traffic – such as one company willing to pay over another.” Well over half of the respondents–63%–replied either that all traffic should be treated equally or, if priority gets placed, the reason behind the prioritization shouldn’t be because one company pays for it.

The results of the poll, released Thursday, arrive just as the end of the public comment period draws near for the Federal Communications Commission’s sharply criticized proposed rule on net neutrality, the idea that ISPs cannot discriminate against certain web content. The deadline is Sept. 15.

The FCC’s proposed rule on net neutrality has come under fire in recent months, resulting in the Commission’s receipt of a record-breaking 1.4 million public comments.

On Sept. 10, a coalition of tech companies, consumer advocates and public policy groups organized a “day of action” called Battle for the Net, in protest of the FCC’s proposed rule, which generated nearly 2.5 million calls and emails to members of Congress and more than 700,000 comments to the FCC. That coalition advocates for the FCC to categorize ISPs under “Title II” of their statute, which would give the agency the legal jurisdiction to strictly regulate the broadband industry.

When it came to the concept of “net neutrality” within CALinnovate’s poll, however, Americans responded more ambivalently, CALInnovates Executive Director Mike Montgomery told TIME in a conference call. Two-thirds of those polled would like “new laws to deal with fast-paced changes that occur in technology,” but three-fourths weren’t sure the Federal government is capable of keeping up with the pace of technological innovation.

The Internet Association, an umbrella group that includes Google, Amazon, Ebay, Facebook and other web giants, also opposes the FCC’s proposed rule, but like many of those polled by CALinnovates, stops short of advocating for a specific solution.

“Protecting an open Internet, free from discriminatory or anticompetitive actions by broadband gatekeepers should be the cornerstone of net neutrality policy,” said Michael Beckerman, the President and CEO of the Internet Association. “The FCC should leave all of its legal authorities on the table to accomplish this goal.”

TIME Video Games

8 Things Bungie’s Destiny Could Have Done Better

Bungie

I’ve just finished watching the credits roll after sewing up Destiny‘s story-related finale. The credits are optional, just an icon that lights up in the lower righthand corner of the game’s map screen. You can ignore it, and no one would blame you for doing so–I have no idea who 99.8% of those people are either–but I like to give credits sequences their due.

They’re a humbling reminder that a ridiculous number of people probably devoted an insane amount of time to build something unfathomably complex. As someone on Twitter put it after I called Activision’s $500 million early sales windfall surreal: “The whole enormous enterprise of video game production is surreal.” Indeed.

So before you wade into this “cons” list, know there’s a “pros” one in the offing and that I like Destiny more than I don’t.

It’s Bungie doing what Bungie still does better than just about anyone else. It’s a slicker, no-frills version of Halo, sure, only by way of more recent online exemplars like Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3.

Some of the game’s vistas are gobsmacking, and the way Bungie dynamically folds other players into or out of your particular game instance while keeping areas from overcrowding verges on ingenious.

I’m thoroughly impressed with that stuff, and I’ve only scratched the surface of competitive multiplayer, which I’m pretty sure Bungie views as Destiny‘s heart and soul.

But the game has several unmissable problems. Here are eight that come to mind.

The writing’s pretty terrible…

I’m sorry, Bungie’s team of crack creative writers. I’m sure you lingered over every plot point and sentence and punctuation mark, but as someone who was surprised and inspired by your grand-ol-science-fiction trailer (up to about the 1:00 mark, anyway) wrapped across a gazillion Brobdingnagian screens at Sony’s E3 presser, I was expecting a story more on par with Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.

Instead, Destiny feels like a paean to fictive mediocrity glommed onto shooting galleries wrapped in locales with meaningless gothic refrigerator-magnet names like “Shrine of Oryx” and “Temple of Crota” and “Rubicon Wastes.” It’s all visual sumptuousness backloaded with a boilerplate story so forgettable I probably couldn’t tell you what happened or why from memory with a gun to my head.

Halo was more ambitious (far from literary, but narratively bolder). The Library level alone was terrific. The series even inspired Hugo/Nebula-winning writer Greg Bear to write a bunch of books that play out in the Halo sandbox.

Destiny‘s story, by comparison, feels like something you get from the worst of the sorts of books you find shelved at the end of a bookstore’s sci-fi/fantasy section, the poorly written ones churned out every few months to placate franchise devotees.

Is that snobbery? Maybe, but it’s honesty from a guy still waiting for gaming’s Alan Moore or Gene Wolfe (that, and I’d argue Destiny‘s buildup promised more).

…as is the voice acting

Poor Peter Dinklage. The guy’s fantastic in Game of Thrones, no argument from me, but here he sounds like someone distractedly reading a bedtime story to a child while texting on his smartphone. My guess — knowing nothing about voice acting, mind you — is that since he plays a sentient robot-thingy, Bungie asked for a more neutral delivery, then forgot to apply the vocoder effect before shipping.

If Dinklage sounded less like bored-Dinklage and more like the computer in Wargames, we might not be having this conversation about wizards, moons and practically studied disinterest.

Carmina Burana wants its musical tropes back

Raise your hand if you’re as tired as I am of composers (in games or films) ripping off Carmina Burana‘s “O Fortuna” anytime they want to establish gravitas.

Some of the game’s music taken by itself is wonderful (I love the choral dissonances of the background music that plays while you’re in orbit, for instance), but marrying arcane-sounding lyrics and ethereal chanting/singing to climactic events for the umpteenth time is now the enemy. (As is not letting you turn the music down or off.)

It feels an awful lot like Halo

The way your health meter replenishes (and the sound it makes as it does), the fast-beeping klaxon that triggers when you’re down to a single health bar, the floating power jumps, the constant chatter of an A.I. companion you have to “deploy” to hack alien computers, the wave upon wave of enemies that storm from drop ships — Halo‘s fingerprints are all over this thing.

What’s wrong with a no-frills Halo and even better-finessed cooperative play? Nothing. Unless you’re burned out on Halo, because Destiny is strictly Bungie furiously tweaking and polishing a 13-year-old template, not subverting the genre, and certainly not tapping into whatever John Romero means (assuming he has the faintest idea what he’s talking about) when he says first-person shooters have “barely scratched the surface.”

Every mission is the same mission

Drop onto a planet’s surface, run down linear overland paths or underground corridors while taking out popup bad guys, deploy your tagalong robot at stations while fending off waves of more popup bad guys, then battle a boss. I’m not exaggerating: that’s every story mission in Destiny.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the execution, given how well-rounded everything else feels, but know that Destiny basically has one story-based mission that it trots out ad nauseam.

Where’s random matchmaking for story missions?

Every story mission in Destiny is hypothetically cooperative, but only the Strikes (abnormally difficult boss-surrounded-by-battalions takedown missions) grab other players at random. If you want to play story missions cooperatively, you can, but you have to manually invite friends or pull up your friends list and bother nearby strangers.

It’s sometimes hard to play tactically in first-person scrums

Destiny‘s environments are busy environments. They look terrific, but they’re also overflowing with nuanced geometry in the way of irregular crevices and protrusions, especially underground. It’s easy in cramped confines crosscut by one-shot-kill energy bolts to get stuck on objects, because there’s no depth awareness when everything’s squashed into a hybrid 3D-over-2D plane.

That’s an any-first-person-shooter conundrum, to be fair, but I noticed it more than I usually do in Destiny. That may also be because Bungie employs a third-person view whenever you visit the Tower (Destiny‘s social hub where you can buy stuff, decrypt found items, pick up bounties and collect rewards).

Would a third-person view outside the Tower area break the game? If not, I’d love to see it as optional (speaking as a guy who played the game as the profession designed to lay back and snipe from cover).

Boy, do I miss Legendary mode

I’m that guy who’ll fire up a Halo on Legendary and inch along, dying just to see how each tactical scenario re-rolls: in the Halo games, the tactical permutations are endless.

In Destiny, by contrast, I’m pretty sure my knife-to-the-face/bullet-to-the-head ratio’s been about 60/40 or 70/30. With rare exception, I’m able to sprint right up to throngs of stupid-slow enemies and do the deed without recourse to cover. Playing story missions at either Bungie’s recommended character levels or the optional ones (“normal” or “hard”), Destiny‘s enemies are tenpins, even when the game thinks its compensating by spawning waves in the dozens.

Halo gave you difficulty options to make that sort of tank-rush tactic punitive and often impossible. Destiny, in Bungie’s naked attempt to lubricate your journey toward its multiplayer-angled endgame, just winds up feeling tediously breezy as you roll through the story to hit the game’s level cap over its first dozen-plus hours.

TIME technology

Why Terrorists Love Twitter

Mosul Iraq ISIS
Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 23, 2014 AP

ISIS and the challenge for social media sites

In 2011, the Somali Islamist group known as Al-Shabab took to Twitter. Its official handle taunted the group’s enemies, boasted of battlefield triumphs and shared images from the front lines of conflict zones. It sparred with political antagonists, rattling off missives in grandiose English. The terrorists—like the site’s less murderous users—used Twitter to share news and promote their brand. In 2013, a Shabab account live-tweeted commentary as allied fighters carried out a terrorist attack at a Nairobi shopping mall.

Terrorists love Twitter. That includes the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Sunni Muslim extremists whom the U.S. is targeting in an expanded military campaign. ISIS has emerged as the most sophisticated group yet at using the service to spread its bloodthirsty message. And when ISIS jihadists and tens of thousands of acolytes swarmed Twitter in recent months, it raised the question of how social media sites should respond when unsavory groups colonize their platform.

There are no easy answers. Social-media networks exist so users can share information; sites like Twitter are neither equipped nor inclined to police large numbers of rogue feeds themselves. And within the intelligence community, there is no consensus on whether the use of sites like Twitter as a propaganda tool hurts or helps U.S. interests.

To some observers, Twitter was derelict in allowing extremist accounts to flourish. “For several years, ISIS followers have been hijacking Twitter to freely promote their jihad with very little to no interference at all,” says Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadi extremists’ behavior online. “Twitter’s lack of action has resulted in a strong, and massive pro-ISIS presence on their social media platform, consisting of campaigns to mobilize, recruit and terrorize.”

Others say it’s not so simple. “There is a case to be made for removing the content or removing the most prolific [jihadist] accounts online. Each time that happens, they had to rebuild their audience. It has a disruptive effect,” says counterterrorism expert Clint Watts, who has studied ISIS’s behavior online. But ISIS accounts may also, in some cases, be a boon to intelligence-gathering efforts. “Their braggadocio tells us what we don’t know about what’s happening in eastern Syria,” Watts says. “In Iraq they show us every one of their successes. There is value in that.”

For that reason, some government officials may prefer the accounts remain open. “There is some value to being able to track them on Twitter,” says William McCants, a former State Department senior adviser who directs the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution. McCants recalls that a U.S. intelligence official described the site as a “gold mine” of information about foreign-fighter networks, better than any clandestine sources. The State Department is using Twitter itself, with a counter-propaganda campaign run through an account, Think AgainTurn Away. It tries to nettle ISIS and neutralize their recruiting.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment for this article. The site’s rules prohibit threats of violence, harassment and other abuses, and government agencies or law enforcement officials are able to request the removal of prohibited content. In 2013, it received just 437 such requests from governments worldwide; it received 432 in the first half of this year.

In recent months, Twitter has cracked down on some accounts, including those sharing macabre images or videos of the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. But it is not trawling for the content that some government officials believe has the greatest potential to convert potential conscripts. “This is not necessarily a bloody picture. It’s somebody telling you to go kill,” says Alberto Fernandez, coordinator of the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, whose digital outreach team is responsible for the Twitter counter-messaging campaign. “That discussion is not being taken down by Twitter.”

It’s easy to see why terrorists flocked to the platform. Beginning in the mid-2000s, al-Qaeda has been organizing online through bulletin-board forums, which were largely password protected and sometimes required special contacts to gain access. Moderators would scrub signs of dissension. In contrast, Twitter is something of a digital town square—a free megaphone to reach a mass audience, easily accessible on smartphones and largely unmonitored.

As ISIS fighters began capturing vast swaths of Syria and Iraq this summer, its network of online organizers—there are around 30 key players, according to analysts who study global extremism online—tweeted about territorial gains, posting photographic proof of their conquests. They softened their hard-edged image by sprinkling in common humanizing touches, like pictures of meals and cute cat photos. And they set about trying to recruit more conscripts—including Westerners—to the cause.

It may seem incongruous; religious extremism is in large part a renunciation of modern society, while the social-media platform is both emblem and enabler of the networked world. But since it is impossible to scrub all pro-ISIS sentiment from Twitter, U.S. analysts are trying to use the service to piece together a better understanding of the terrorist group’s dynamics. Twitter’s decision to silence some accounts but not all is fine, McCants says, and watching the group latch onto a new account when a big one is blocked can be instructive. “When you knock one of them down, it’s interesting to see how quickly they reconstitute and who their earliest followers are,” he says. “Those are the guys that are plugged in.”

TIME Smartphones

Specs Shootout: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus vs the Competition

Choosing the right smartphone involves plenty of intangible metrics, to be sure. But if you’re looking for raw data about how the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus stack up against high-profile Android handsets, check out the below chart. The iPhone 5s has been thrown in for good measure, just so you can get a good idea of the newer models’ enhancements (or lack thereof).

You can also build your own comparisons if you’d like to include other phones. Head over here and check the “Add to compare” box next to each phone you want to examine, then click the “Compare Now” link in the right sidebar once you’re ready.

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