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Deja Vu All Over Again: Microsoft, Sony Making Vague Statements About Exclusivity In Activision Titles

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And here we go again. When Microsoft acquired Zenimax/Bethesda last year, the first question that leapt to most people's minds was whether or not Microsoft would wall off long-running franchises from Bethesda with exclusivity to Xbox and/or PC platforms. Those looking for answers were surely initially confused by conflicting statements from both sides of the deal, which was then "clarified" later by Microsoft execs saying that titles would be "first/better on Microsoft platforms" but not exclusive. That was then clarified further by Microsoft's actual actions, which was to announce that the next Elder Scrolls game would indeed be a PC/Xbox exclusive.Well, as we were just discussing, Microsoft is finalizing its biggest ever acquisition into the game publishing market with a purchase of Activision Blizzard and King Digital Entertainment, and all the same questions immediately leapt to everyone's mind. And, because past is prologue, the players in this deal and those impacted by it are churning out vague, unclear statements on what this means for exclusivity for franchises from those studios.We'll start with what Sony said in comments to The Wall Street journal.

“We expect that Microsoft will abide by contractual agreements and continue to ensure Activision games are multiplatform,” a Sony spokesman told The Wall Street Journal today. Read one way, it seems like confirmation that the owner of PlayStation thinks nothing will change. Read another, it means that existing Activision games will remain multiplatform, but doesn’t provide any clarity on what might happen to future projects that haven’t even been announced yet.
Indeed. And, frankly, Sony can expect anything it likes, but Microsoft probably didn't spend $69 billion on these studios without its own plans in place. Whether that includes exclusivity... who knows? But the company has its plans and Sony's expectations probably don't factor into them all that much.Then came the public comments by Xbox's Phil Spencer. Spencer was one of the Microsoft folks commenting publicly about the Zenimax acquisition, vaguely saying that Microsoft could recoup its $7.5 billion investment even by excluding non-Microsoft platforms from future games, but that, hey, maybe it wouldn't go that route. Here he is commenting on his talks with Sony.
Now the Twitter reaction to that was all sunshine and rainbows as everyone took it to mean there would be no exclusivity deals for CoD games. But go read that tweet again, because that isn't what it says at all. There are a million ways to read that tweet, including: we'll honor existing agreements for existing games by keeping them on PlayStation. Read that way, the tweet says virtually nothing about new or upcoming games. Nor anything about other Activision or Blizzard franchises. Also, there are a bunch of non-committal words sprinkled in there. Intent? I intended on losing weight after the new year. I very much did not. See how that works?It's all very unclear, which is annoying. Microsoft knows what it wants to do and the fact that they aren't making definitive statements tells you this is probably going to follow the Bethesda track. Not everything will be exclusive, but some franchises certainly will.
According to Bloomberg’s report, “Microsoft plans to keep making some of Activision’s games for PlayStation consoles but will also keep some content exclusive to Xbox.” That could mean that Call of Duty, consistently the best-selling game every year, will remain multiplatform. Or it could mean that nearly every new Activision Blizzard game except for its free-to-play battle royale, Warzone, won’t be coming to PS5.
While industry consolidation doesn't always have to be a bad thing, this is and always has been the major concern in the gaming industry. When the makers of the platform also make the games you play on them, you're at the mercy of corporate interests as to whether you'll have access to them or not.And whatever you think of any of this, that simply isn't how you continue to grow an exploding industry.

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posted at: 12:00am on 25-Jan-2022
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Correcting Error 402: Rethinking The Web And Monetization

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We're excited today to announce that we've received a grant from Grant for the Web to create a content series on Techdirt exploring the history (and future?) of web monetization, entitled "Correcting Error 402." We'll get more into this once the series launches, but lots of people are aware of the HTTP 404 Not Found error code -- and some people are at least vaguely aware of 403 Forbidden. What most people probably don't know about is the Error Code 402: Payment Required. It's been in the HTTP spec going back decades, with "This code is reserved for future use." But no one's ever actually done anything with it.And, arguably, the lack of standardization there has created some ancillary issues -- including a few giant, dominant payment processor companies, high transaction fees, as well as the current (and more recent) mad dash scramble to fill the gap by trying to build a zillion different kinds of cryptocurrencies, most of which are fluff and nonsense, but without actually understanding what makes the most sense for an open internet.Grant for the Web is a project of the Interledger Foundation. Interledger is an attempt to create an open protocol, web monetization standard for handling internet payments and monetization. We've talked a little about all this in the past, when we started experimenting with Coil (a provider of tools to help enable web monetization), and on the podcast we did with Coil founder and Interledger co-creator Stefan Thomas.But we wanted to dig deeper into the questions of what the web might look like if monetization was built on an open standard as part of the web, and that's what this content series will entail. Expect the series to startup in about a month, and to explore the history, present, and future of monetization. And, just to answer a few questions you might have: this series is not going to be about cryptocurrency (though it may get mentioned in passing), because that's not central to the questions here, and it's also not going to be just about Interledger/Coil's vision of the future. It's designed to be a deeper exploration of the question of monetization online and how it should work.

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posted at: 12:00am on 25-Jan-2022
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This Week In Techdirt History: January 16th - 22nd

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Five Years AgoThis week in 2017, outgoing FCC boss Tom Wheeler warned about the perils of killing net neutrality, while leaked details of Trump's FCC transition plan revealed his plans to gut all the agency's consumer protection powers — then, on Friday, it was confirmed that Ajit Pai would become the new FCC boss. Meanwhile, we marked the five year anniversary of the SOPA protests (and be sure to check out our much bigger celebration for the ten year anniversary) by reminding lawmakers of what happened and discussing what it could teach them about tech.Also, in surprising but welcome news, this was the week that President Obama commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence.Ten Years AgoThis is it: the week of the 2012 SOPA/PIPA blackout protest. First, it was announced that Wikipedia was officially on board. Then Google promised to do something big, and the Internet Archive announced plans, as did Rock, Paper, Shotgun. The day before the protest, Lamar Smith and the MPAA brushed it all off as a publicity stunt and Smith announced that markup on SOPA would resume in February.Then, on Wednesday, it began. Many sites went dark, Google blacked out their logo, and here at Techdirt we focused on covering the events as they unfolded. Although the MPAA was in denial, and being condescending (and one-upped by the RIAA the next day), the effects were clear: Rep. Lee Terry was the first co-sponsor to remove his name from SOPA, then Senator Marco Rubio ditched PIPA followed by several other senators — and when the dust settled, we couldn't help but notice that most of them were Republicans, since Democrats seemed to be dropping the ball. Ultimately, the internet won, and the bills were officially, indefinitely delayed.But, of course, the week couldn't be all good news. At the very same time as this was all going down, the DOJ unilaterally shut down Megaupload and arrested many of the principles with the help of New Zealand law enforcement. The details of the case raised massive concerns, and the internet was quick to strike back: Anonymous managed to take down the DOJ, RIAA and MPAA websites. The war for internet freedom was far from over...Fifteen Years AgoThat was a lot of detail on 2012, and this week in 2007 was nowhere near as exciting — but there were two developments that were small and interesting at the time, but in hindsight were pretty big deals. First, DVD rental company Netflix started rolling out a new feature allowing some users to stream a limited selection of movies. Second, we covered the announcement of a curious experiment that aimed to support dissident government employees in oppressive regimes: "a new site called Wikileaks".

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posted at: 12:00am on 23-Jan-2022
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Netflix Hits Users With Another Round Of Price Hikes

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It's been obvious for a while that the future of internet television is starting to look increasingly like traditional cable. Initially, the streaming sector was all about innovation, choice, and lower costs to drive subscriber interest. But as the market has matured and become dominated by bigger players, some familiar patterns have emerged, including giant companies trying to lock down as much content as possible in exclusives, and a steady parade of price hikes that slowly, surely, start to erode the value proposition.Last week Netflix announced that the company would be imposing yet another price hike. Here in the U.S., the company's 720p "basic" tier is increasing $1 to $10 per month, its 1080p "standard" tier is increasing $1.50 to $15.50 per month, and its 4K "premium" will see a $2 increase to $20 per month. Similar hikes are also on their way to Canadian subscribers. In a statement, Netflix justified the hikes using familiar rhetoric about "improving the customer experience":

"We understand people have more entertainment choices than ever, and we're committed to delivering an even better experience for our members," the statement said. "We're updating our prices so that we can continue to offer a wide variety of quality entertainment options. As always, we offer a range of plans so members can pick a price that works for their budget."
Granted every time the company imposes a rate hike, folks act as if the world is falling. Back when the company bungled its "Qwikster" DVD unit spin off and imposed price hikes there were no shortage of critics insisting the company was doomed. But for now, consumers continue to find the value proposition streaming offers to be worthwhile, especially in comparison to the still high prices of traditional cable TV options. Streaming still generally sees the kind of customer satisfaction ratings traditional cable companies can only dream of.But the price hikes that have hit streaming TV services (especially live streaming services) haven't been without repercussion. Not only did more customers cut the traditional TV cord last year, streaming TV services saw a significant reduction in growth. Netflix itself saw a significant drop in subscriber growth across 2021 and a loss in total subscribers in the U.S. and Canada, in no small part due to a 2020 price hike.With the pricing for live streaming TV services like YouTube TV increasingly looking more and more like traditional cable, and the hunt to lock down exclusives driving increased confusion among consumers trying to find their favorite content, there continues to be a real risk the entire sector simply forgets to learn anything from the plight of traditional TV. As in, keep pushing price hikes for the same or an eroded value proposition, and you can expect a lot of potential subscribers to move to alternatives... whether that's over the air broadcasts using an antenna, or TikTok.

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posted at: 12:00am on 22-Jan-2022
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