WHAT NINTENDO NEEDS TO DO TO MAKE ITS SWITCH CONSOLE A SUCCESS

We’re at the start of a new year, which promises to bring both great new games and two (2) new gaming consoles.  The Xbox Scorpio is a topic for another time, since very little is known about it (though Microsoft and AMD let a few new tidbits of information slip out at CES last week.)  The Nintendo Switch, however, is another matter.  Nintendo has already shown the console’s form factor, first through a Youtube teaser, and later in an appearance By Reggie Fils-Aime and Shigeru Miyamoto in “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.

 

 

Now Nintendo is revealing the remaining details about the system in a special event on January 12th, 2017, followed by Nintendo Treehouse videos showcasing the system and the games on January 13th, 2017.  There are rumors about the Switch’s hardware internals, which, contrary to the PS4 and Xbox One, are not x86/AMD (PC hardware) based, but ARM-based (mobile hardware designed for cellphones and tablets.)  The specific System-on-a-Chip (SoC) will be provided by NVidia, and at least the latest devkits have the following configuration:

 

CPU: Four ARM Cortex A57 cores (theoretical max 2GHz)
GPU: 256 CUDA cores (theoretical max 1GHz)
Architecture: Nvidia second-generation Maxwell
Texture: 16 pixels/cycle
Fill: 14.4 pixels/cycle
Memory: 4GB
Memory Bandwidth: 25.6GB/s
VRAM: Shared
Storage: 32GB, max transfer rate 400MB/s
USB: USB 2.0/3.0
Video Output: 1080p60
Display: 6.2-inch IPS LCD, 1280×720 pixels, 10-point multi-touch support

Not exactly cutting edge, I’m afraid.  This is the hardware that powered last-year’s Nvidia Shield TV console, as well as the new redesign announced at CES.  It is capable of running some older games (such at Metal Gear Rising, Doom 3 and Borderlands The Pre-Sequel) at 1080p resolution, as well as 4K video streaming, but those hoping that Nintendo had finally wised up and designed a console competitor to the PS4/PS4 Pro and Xbox One/Scorpio will be disappointed.  Already we are seeing press releases from publishers like EA and Rockstar that their triple A titles like Mass Effect Andromeda and Red Dead Redemption 2 are not coming to the Switch, while Ubisoft pledged support and even a timed exclusive (Beyond Good and Evil 2), and Gamestop leaks show Skyrim and Nintendo first-party titles will be available on Day One.

So, will this be a success with consumers?  I would never underestimate the power and allure of Nintendo’s first-party games, but the Wii U had plenty of those, and it was a dismal failure.  But that box also had a terrible name and a pretty muddled marketing message.  Nintendo has learned  from that mistake, and are emphasizing portability and playing with friends as the main attractions of the Switch, as well as affordable pricing ($250, if the rumors are true.)  However, there is one thing that Nintendo must announce on Friday, if the Switch is even to have a chance in today’s marketplace:  a unified online account system, complete with console-independent game purchases and library (ala PSN, Steam and Xbox Live), as well as easy multiplayer, friends list and chat and messaging features.  They have to, because, they are expected in today’s gaming industry, and because they cannot compete with the PS4 and Xbox One otherwise. And because I absolutely refuse to have to buy Super Mario Bros again.

We’ll see what the Nintendo Switch’s OS and online features are like this Friday.  And, no matter what it does or does not do, at the very least 2017 seems like it will be an interesting year for gaming.

PLAYSTATION VR REVIEW

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When Playstation VR was first announced at the 2014 Game Developers’ Conference I was immediately skeptical.  I had been burned by Sony on console peripherals before (Playstation Eye, Playstation Move, etc.) and I didn’t think the Playstation 4 hardware could handle VR.  Add to that a strange industry year in which all of a sudden both Sony and Microsoft announced mid-generation console refreshes/upgrades (one of which, Playstation 4 Pro, hits next month, on November 10th) and I was ready to ignore all the launch hype and skip it altogether. And then, several unexpected things happened.  First and foremost, my son told me he wanted it … several days after launch, when the PSVR bundles had started to run out online, and at my local Best Buy (local availability of gaming stuff has been tricky since Gamestop packed up and closed all its stores on the island… but I digress.)  Second, reports started coming in from gaming and tech websites that the final hardware was actually stellar, and even worked on PCs, Xbox and even Wii U on “Cinematic Mode” (more on that later.)  There was even speculation that the hardware could eventually be used for VR gaming on the PC.  My defenses crumbled at this point, but then Ben Kuchera reviewed the PSVR over at Polygon.com, and he went gaga over the thing.  That was the final straw — and let’s face it, when it comes to gaming stuff, I have the willpower of a gnat.  So I managed to secure one of he last Starter Bundles at my local Best Buy.

The first thing to know is that Playstation VR comes in a Core Bundle ($399.99) that includes just the headset, the Processor Unit, basic wired earbuds and all necessary cables.  If you get this bundle, you cannot use the unit at all with just the contents of the box, as it requires the Playstation Camera to work.  For that reason, the Starter Bundle I got ($499.99) is a much better deal, as it includes the Playstation Camera (which alone is  $60 when sold separately, as well as two Playstation Move controllers (yeah, those very same sticks back from when Sony wanted the PS3 to emulate the Nintendo Wii’s motion controls.)

With all parts you get when opening that box, setting everything up can be a bit intimidating at first, but Sony includes clear and step-by-step instructions on how to do it, and even idiot-proofs the whole thing by labeling all the parts with big numbered labels.  You connect the Processor Unit to the TV via HDMI cable, and then connect another HDMI cable between the Playstation 4 and the Processor Unit.  Then you connect the Playstation VR Headset to the Processor Unit via its dual HDMI connector, and the included earbuds to the headphone jack on the VR headset control breakout box.  You want to do this in order to get 3D positional audio, which ads greatly to the immersion, but the included earbuds are just adequate for the job.  You really want to use your own headphones.  The VR headset has its own microphone, so you just need headphones, not an actual headset.Finally, you connect the supplied power adapter to the Processor Unit.

One important tidbit:  you need to charge those two Playstation Move controllers first, and Sony won’t tell you this, but they need a data connection in order to charge.  That means you need to plug them into a Playstation 4 or Playstation 3 (or an official Sony or third-party charger) for them to work.  You cannot plug them into the wall with a generic USB charger or with a non-official charger brick.  Also, before you start, you need to connect those move controllers to the Playstation 4 at least once, using the supplied cables, in order to sync them with your console.After

After all that, it’s just a matter of powering your Playstation 4.  If you haven’t used it for the last couple of weeks (which I had not) it will ask to update the firmware to the latest version, which enables the Playstation VR compatibility.  After that is done, you power on the Playstation VR via the button on the headset’s breakout box.  The Playstation 4 will detect it, and ask you to update the headset’s firmware, which only takes a minute.  After that, it launches into the setup and calibration, which only takes a few minutes.  You get screens giving you step by step instructions on expanding the headsets rear band, and fitting it over your head, and putting the headphones on. headset is pretty comfy, even for people who wear glasses (like yours truly.)

And then the world disappears.

Seriously.  All of a sudden, you are in a pitch-black space, with a giant cinema screen in front of you, showing your PS4’s display.  This is the “Cinematic Mode”, in which you can watch movies or TV, play regular non-VR Playstation 4 games in complete immersion.  You can move your head, and the system’s camera tracks your movements, and you will then see the screen at different angles, depending of how you move, but it’s always at the same distance fom your eyes, and always clearly visible.  From here, you launch your games and apps just like always, using the Playstation 4’s Dualshock 4 controller.

At this point, I hadn’t installed any games, but  noticed that a new link had been added on the Playstation 4’s menu: The Playroom VR.  I selected it, and it took me to the PSN Store to download the game for free.  It’s basically a more elaborate version of the original Playroom that came with the Playstation 4 back at launch.  That one used the Playstation Camera for some fun Augmented Reality effects and basic games.  This one goes further — a lot further.  When you launch the game, your field of vision suddenly expands.  You find yourself facing a giant menu with several mini-games.  At this point, I was a little disoriented and was standing up, looking around .  The system tracked my movements seamlessly, and the effect of really being in another place was uncanny.  I selected the option in the middle of the menu, just out of curiosity, and all of a sudden I found myself in what looked like a child’s room filled with furniture, decorations, toys and whatnot.  In front of me was one of those coin-operated crane machines they have in game rooms and fairs everywhere.  As it turns out, you get coins by playing the different mini-games, and then come here to use them to get toys out of the machine.  They toys are collectibles, and they appear throughout the room as you “win” them.  I had some fun here, getting my feet wet with VR, getting the toys and examining them all around by moving my head around them.  It’s been years since I’ve had that sense of child-like wondered triggered by anything gaming related.  Off the top of my head, the last time I felt that way was when I powered on my launch Xbox 360 and marveled at the beautiful, unmatched (at the time) visuals of the games, or when I first tried Wii Sports and Link Crossbow Training on the Nintendo Wii at launch.

It was getting late and I wanted to try one more game before ending my session for the night, so I quit Playroom VR and decided to install Batman: Arkham VR ($20).  Though it was the disc version, the game downloaded an update during installation – I think all the VR games do, as the included VR Demo Disc and Playstation Worlds also downloaded updates.  I took the opportunity to remove the VR headset and rest my eyes a bit while the update downloaded and installed (about ten minutes.)  I should note that the VR headset is comfortable, and playing the games gave me no ill effects — no nausea, headaches, or what have you.  Keep in mind that I’m the type of gamer who gets nausea from the majority of first-person shooters.  Still, like with all things, moderation is key, and I intend to rest my eyes after every hour of gameplay.  I should also note that the headset doesn’t cause your face to get all sweaty or greasy, which some people have described as issues with the Occulus Rift or HTC Vive.  In any case, Sony includes a fiber cloth to clean the headset, if you need to.

After the update completed, I put on the headset again, and started the game.  After the usual Rocksteady and Warnerl ogo screens, the game asks you to turn on the Playstation Move controllers (you use both of them with this game) and then asks you whether you want to play the game standing or sitting down.  Standing is the recommendedoption for this particular title.  The game then asks you to stand on the Bat symbol on the floor.  I looked down, and was dumbfounded to find that, yeah, a Bat Symbol was there, so I stepped on it, and pressed X….

… And all of a sudden I was a child, on a dark rainy night, in Gotham City’s Crime Alley… The experience was visceral, creepy and in-your-face-scary. No spoilers, but the game is a must-play VR experience. 😉

In conclusion:  the Playstation VR is a must-buy for Playstation 4 owners.  I was totally, absolutely wrong about it.  You only have to try it once o realize that this is the future.  Last night, I happily went off to sleep, with visions of the potential of the Playstation VR and what devs are going to do with it… full-immersion MMORPGs like the one in Sword Art Online.  Flight and space combat simulators that make you feel like you’re really there.  VR and Bioware… the possibilities are limitless.  I can’t wait to play the other games and demos tonight. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Playstation 4.5/4K – Debunking the Rumors

A lot has been written in recent weeks about the “Playstation 4.5” or “Playstation 4K”, an alleged hardware refresh of the PS4 that Sony will supposedly announce at E3 2016.  Numerous gaming blogs and news outlets have reported rumors that the updated PS4 SKU will be capable of gaming at 4K resolutions, and that it’s being released because the standard PS4’s graphical capabilities cannot handle more realistic VR titles.  Because of this, the same rumors have pegged the machine’s release date to around the same November 2016 time frame as the Playstation VR’s release.  Since it seems Sony’s not about to provide any information on the new PS4 SKU until it’s E3 2016 Press briefing, I think it’s time to debunk some of the most ridiculous ones, and to take a look at what Sony can realistically deliver for at the PS4’s price point.

 

The PS4 basically runs on an APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) manufactured by AMD using a 28nm chip manufacturing process.  The APU contains two (2) AMD Jaguar x86-64 quad-core modules running at 1.6MHZ, and an AMD GCN GPU with 18 of AMD’s so-called “Compute Units”.  These come to 1152 shaders, 72 texture mapping units, 32 raster operators, for a total theoretical performance of 1.84 Teraflops.  Basically, the APU is the equivalent of a Radeon 7870 with two compute units disabled.

 

While the PS4’s hardware is the “sweet spot” to run games at 1080p, our “True HD” resolution, to run current-generation games at 4K resolution would require computing power well beyond Sony’s ability to price any refreshed PS4 SKU.  To give you an idea of the computing horsepower needed, consider that a Radeon R9 295×2, AMD’s dual-GPU monster of a card, whose component GPU’s are vastly superior to the PS4’s GPU, can run Crysis at just 22FPS, and Battlefield 4 at 37 FPS.  Dual Nvidia 780TIs in SLI just runn out of video memory outright, meaning Crysis runs at just 3FPS.  Newer Nvidia GPUs like the 980Ti or Titan X do playable frame rates, but then you are in $700-$2000 territory, just for a GPU.

 

Console manufacturers update their console SKUs all the time.  They do it in order to cut production costs, and increase profits.  Sony has already done this with the PS4 (newer models include physical buttons on the console instead of touch sensors, and streamlined cooling).  Any new PS4 SKU’s purpose would be to further reduce the manufacturing costs of the console and increase Sony’s profits.  But the main reason for the Playstation 4.5/4K is probably this:  4K Television is finally beginning to take off, with many affordable models available at retail, and with more content arriving daily from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and other dedicated providers, including Sony, who’s about to launch the new BluRay 4K disc format.  Sony also wants to shore up its struggling flat-screen TV business, and what better way of surreptitiously getting a BluRay 4K video player into your home that with the Playstation 4 brand?

 

Finally, and most importantly:  Sony has done everything right this console generation.  They are the current leader in sales and industry mindshare.  The PS4 and their game business is their one success story that is keeping the Sony conglomerate financially afloat as their consumer electronics and movie and music businesses struggle.  Sony is not about to shoot themselves in the foot by releasing a more expensive, massively upgraded console SKU that will effectively split their user base.  Sony remembers what happened to Sega with the 32X for the Genesis, and will not make that mistake.  Therefore, for all of these reasons, I predict the PS4.4/4K will be nothing more than a hardware refresh of the PS4 tweaked for 4K video playback.  After all, the PS4’s GPU is more than capable of handling 4K video playback, so the console just needs teh ability to output at this resolution.  In other words:  if you want a more powerful Playstation, you are going to have to wait for Playstation 5.

 

One final note:  Sony’s marketing team gets an F for not addressing all the ridiculous rumors, since they undoubtedly will impact their console sales until they officially debunk them.

 

Irata

SO HOW IS THE XBOX ONE DOING?

Microsoft’s Xbox One launched on November 22nd, 2013, eight years to the day after the launch of its predecessor, the Xbox 360.  It only had one SKU priced at $499.99, one hundred dollars more than its competitor, Sony’s Playstation 4.  From the beginning, the PS4 managed to outsell the Xbox One by a wide margin, mostly because of this price difference, but also because early buzz by online gaming and technical blogs saying Microsoft had skimped on the hardware this time around, and that the PS4 was far more powerful than the Xbox One in that regard.  Microsoft’s bungled original reveal of the system, which was set to feature draconian DRM measures that prevented traditional resale or even loaning of game discs, also gave the system a bad reputation, even though Microsoft backpedaled on all of those after an unprecedented gamer backlash.

It’s now nine months later, and Microsoft’s direction with the Xbox One has changed even more since launch.  Titanfall, the system’s main exclusive, failed to live up to expectations in either gameplay or sales, hurt by the lack of a single player campaign.  The console’s launch exclusives Dead Rising 3 and Ryse:  Son of Rome also failed to meet sales target, and have since been released or announced for the PC.

Microsoft’s console continues to be outsold by the PS4 on a month-by-month basis, especially after it has become increasingly apparent that the early analysis by the tech blogs was correct, and that the PS4 has a graphical edge over the Xbox One, whose games typically run at a lower resolution and lower framerates.  Assassin’s Creed IV, Battlefield 4, Metal Gear Solid V and Watch Dogs all run at a lower resolution oin the Xbox One.

In May, Microsoft announced a new SKU without Kinect 2.0.  This version of the Xbox One would sell for $399.99.  Previously, Microsoft had stated that a Kinect-less SKU would never be sold.  Reversing this position paid off, causing an increase in sales, with numbers for June doubling those of the previous month.  Microsoft also modified its Xbox Live policies to allow for the use of video apps without an Xbox Live subscription.  It also started giving away free Xbox One games to Xbox Live Gold subscribers, as well as game discounts.  Industry observers noted that these changes were designed to mimic Sony’s Playstation Plus program, which has been a big success for the company.  Microsoft has also stepped up its System Software update releases, improving functionality of the console.  The October relese adds booting straight to TV or Xbox Live Home, as well as threaded messaging and improved Snap.  Better interface control for owners of the Kinect-less SKU has also been added (remember, the Xbox One was originally designed to be controlled by voice commands.)

All of this has led to Worldwide sales of 5 million Xbox One, about half of the sales numbers for the PS4.  The system recently launched in Japan (with a resounding thud, but that’s a topic for another time) and excitement for the system in China seems to be surprisingly high, with customers lining up for the system, iPhone-launch-style.

With upcoming games like “Halo:  the Master Chief Collection” and a timed exclusive for “Rise of the Tomb Raider”, Microsoft is trying to make the console attractive to gamers, though at present the system suffers from a marked lack of games when compared to the PS4.  Though a lot of mayor titles on both platforms have been delayed to 2015, Sony has managed to fill the gap with many Indie game releases and the occasional Japanese import.  In that sense, Microsoft is reaping the bad karma from  former Xbox boss (and Douchebag Supreme) Don Mattrick’s systematic firing and dismantling of its first-party developers.

Microsoft has its work cut out for it in the current console generation.  Its attempts to salvage the Xbox One, while commendable, may be a little too late, given the unprecedented Worldwide success of the PS4.

THE NEW PS VITA SLIM

Sony has just introduced its second hardware iteration of the PS Vita to the North American market last week. It had previously introduced the revised handheld in it home market of Japan in 2013 and in Britain in February 2014. With E3 2014 just around the corner, Sony took the opportunity to introduce the new Vita to North American gamers as part of a new premium bundle that includes an 8GB memory card and the just-completed PS Vita version of Borderlands 2, a proven hit on every platform it’s been released in. The PS Vita version of the game is the same as the others, including two of the DLC campaigns of the Game of the Year Edition, as well as the Mechromancer character and some other DLC goodies, but it also limits multiplayer groups to two members, probably because of hardware limitations. The gameplay and graphics are just as awesome as you remember.

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And what about the PS Vita “Slim” itself? The main differences between the new hardware iteration and the original PS Vita is that the gorgeous, bright AMOLED screen has been replaced by an LCD panel. The difference is readily apparent: the colors just don’t pop out as you as in the original PS Vita’s screen, despite still looking very good. On the upside, LCD screens have a longer life than AMOLED screens, and they consume a lot less power. So yes, that’s another difference: the new PS Vita as a much longer battery life than the priginal, 1.5-2 times as much. The device is also slimmer, muvh lighter, and doesn’t have the silver trim the original PS Vita had. The shape of the Playstation, Start and Option buttons has been changed as well. Sony also included 1GB of internal storage memory on the PS Vita Slim, so that buyers could upgrade the firmware and install at least one game from the PSN without the need of a separate memory card. And upgrade the firmware you’ll need to, right out of the box.

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Everything about the new PS Vita screams “cost-reduction”, from the packaging to the device itself. Sony Corporation is really struggling financially these days, and releasing this cost-reduced SKU was a necessary measure, in order to stem losses. This is not really an upgrade from the original PS Vita, and owners of that device own the clearly superior version, so there is no reason for them to rush out to buy this one. They should, however, pick up Borderlands 2. It’s a moral imperative. 😉 The Vita is also seeing a lot of success lately, especially in Japan, where it’s outselling the PS4 two to one, and it’s become the gaming darling of the masses, with new JRPG, visual novels, and Monster Hunter type games released weekly for it. So if you don’t own a PS Vitta, this is the perfect bundle for you.

 

 

THE NEW AMAZON FIRE TV – IT DOES WHAT APPLE TV AND ROKU DON’T

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 Back in the heyday of the early 90s videogame console wars Sega was seeking to establish its new Sega Megadrive 16-bit console in the North American market. At the time, the videogame industry was dominated by Nintendo, with its 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Sega has attempted to compete with the NES in the past with an 8-bit games console of its own, the Sega Master System, which they released in North America in partnership with Tonka. That attempt ended in failure, despite the fact that the Master System was technically superior to the NES. However, Sega/Tonka spent next to nothing in marketing and advertising the system, hoping that the system’s superior graphics would do the selling for them. That clearly did not work, and it didn’t help that Nintendo had most third-party game developers locked in exclusivity contracts (meaning that in order to be a licensed NES developer they had to agree not to release their games on competing consoles.)

Sega was determined not to repeat the same mistakes of the past. It rebranded the Megadrive as the Sega Genesis for the North American market, and they created an aggressive advertising campaign, promoting the incredible visuals (for the time) of the system, under the slogan “Genesis Does! … What Ninten-don’t!”. The strategy worked, and millions of kids asked their parents to get them the new Sega console for Christmas.

Jumping forward to the present, and the current state of the television industry, we can see that it’s in a state of transition. The onset of faster broadband Internet speeds, coupled with the appearance of online video streaming options like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and iTunes are leading more and more people to “cut the cord” each day, meaning cancelling their Cable or Satellite TV service in favor of one, some, or all of the aforementioned streaming options. The software needed to access these services has spread, and can be found in most modern “smart” HDTVs and videogame consoles, as well as specialized video streaming devices from Apple, Roku and Google. Now Amazon has jumped into the fray with its new Fire TV.

For the past year, technology blogs have been discussing speculation and rumors that Apple would come out with an improved Apple TV, with better hardware that would support apps and games. Those rumors still persist, and now include an alleged deal with Comcast that would make the upcoming new Apple TV box an all-in-one solution, supporting digital cable service as well as Internet streaming audio and video, as well as apps and games. However, there has been no formal announcement from Apple regarding this device, and, in the meantime, Amazon has one-upped its rival with its new streaming box. While all current streaming devices run on ARM microprocessors, they are really low-powered in terms of hardware, running on single-core Cortex A9 processor (Apple TV) or dual-core Cortex A9 (Roku 3). In order to keep the costs and prices for these devices below the $100 mark. The Fire TV runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core system-on-a-chip, with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 225 GPU. This is the same hardware inside the Samsung Galaxy S4, the original HTC One and the Nexus 7 (2013) tablet, and, compared to the hardware in those other streaming boxes, it’s a monster. Amazon did this, because, unlike those other streaming boxes, the Fire TV runs apps and games that you can download from the Amazon App Store. However, Amazon wants people to know that they’re serious about the Fire TV as a gaming device. To this end, they had been quietly putting together its own first-party game developer for the past year, Amazon Game Studios. Their first game, Sev Zero, was released along with the Fire TV, and is free if you pick up the Fire TV Game Controller ($40). The game is very, polished, a combination first-person shooter and tower defense affair, with beautiful, smooth graphics that are just as good as anything on the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. Amazon Game Studios has released a trailer full of games its working on for release in the next few months. In the meantime, Fire TV users can access and play Android-compatible games available on the Amazon App Store, the same games Kindle Fire tablet owners can get. As with other Amazon Android-powered devices, the Fire TV has no access to the Google Play Store, or Google’s own apps.

But the Fire TV’s main role is as a video streaming device to complete with Apple TV and Roku. So how does it perform in that regard? Awesomely, I’m happy to say. Thanks to its quad-core processor and ample memory, the Fire TV trounces the other streaming solutions where it counts. It responds instantly to the remote control or the game controller, scrolling smoothly to show you your content, and when you do select what you want to watch, playback is instantaneous, much faster than on the Apple TV or Roku 3. The powerful hardware also allows for a voice search feature, which currently only works with Amazon’s content library, but is being expanded to work with Netflix and Hulu as well. Amazon has also made a deal with HBO to bring HBO content to the Fire TV, including older HBO series from the 80s and 90s (“First and Ten”, here I go. 😉

Is the Fire TV the TV streaming box to rule them all, at $99. From a hardware standpoint, it is. As a gaming device, it’s full of promise, providing excellent graphics and gameplay for a fraction of the price of specialized game consoles. The Fire TV gaming controller feels excellent in use, though you can use other Bluetooth game controllers if you want. Amazon will no doubt refresh the hardware every year, as it does with its Kindle Fire tablets. However, Fire TV right now lacks the access to content that the Roku, and to a lesser extent, Apple TV, offer, though that is changing fast. I definitely recommend it, especially if you are subscribed to Amazon Prime, and it’s the premiere device for Amazon video services included in the subscription, and if you like to play games – in that regard, it certainly “does what Apple TV and Roku don’t”. 😉

WHY FACEBOOK BUYING OCCULUS RIFT IS A BAD THING FOR GAMERS, AND ULTIMATELY, FOR VR TECHNOLOGY

Yesterday afternoon the Internet was rocked by the announcement that Facebook has acquired Occulus, the gamer’s VR darling startup, for $2 billion. At first, I, like many others, thought it was a joke, one of those bogus posts that people put on Google+ during a slow workday, or some clickbait article from some douchey gaming blog. I even thought for a millisecond that it might be an April Fools’ gag, though April Fool’s Day was still several days away. However, as I quickly double-checked and triple-checked, and finally confirmed the news as true, several emotions rushed right through my mind: anger, betrayal, and finally sadness. Many gamers felt those very emotions, from the comments on gaming blogs and social media sites, and the Occulus/Facebook damage control PR machine went into full overdrive, with a statement from Mark Zuckenberg, Mr. Facebook himself, with assurances from Occulus founders Palmer Luickey Brendan Iribe that this would be good for the company and for gaming, and with comments posted by “professional PR operatives” attempting to counteract the upsurge of negative reaction to the news. The gist of the damage control “message” was that gamers were paranoid and overreacting, that Occulus would remain independent, and that this would be good for gaming.

Don’t believe it for a second. It’s all bad.

First, there’s the issue with Facebook and Zuckenberg’s track record. After the news of the deal became public, Minecraft creator Notch made a public statement to the effect that he was canceling all Minecraft development for the Occulus Rift. Apparently he had been working with the Occulus people, and had been to his offices as recently as last week, and he was never told of any impending acquisition. He further stated that he did not contribute $10,000 of his own money as early seed capital for Occulus, only for the founders to turn around and quickly sell the company to Facebook for a windfall. I’m guessing Notch is echoing the feelings of many of Occulus’ early backers there. He also stated that Facebook’s intentions are unclear, and that they “give him the creeps.” He’s also echoing the feelings of most gamers with that one as well. After all, isn’t Zuckenberg that screwed everybody over, including his partner and best friend, in order to make Facebook a success? Did you read/watch “The Social Network”? Do we really think he’ll let Occulus operate independently for very long?

There is only one thing Zuckenberg/Facebook are interested in with the Occulus purchase: public perception and shoring up the Facebook share price. It’s no secret that Facebook has had trouble monetizing the site, despite its giant popularity. Facebook was late to mobile, and all its initiatives there have crashed and burned. (Does anyone remember the HTC or Motorola Facebook smartphones?) In the past year, Facebook has launched into an acquisition spree (from Instagram to WhatsApp) , in order to give the investors and the public at large that Facebook is a growing, thriving business that’s keeping with the latest technological developments/trends. Now that mobile is stagnant (and mobile companies are betting on those silly wearables as the next big thing… but that’sa topic for another day), the next big things in tech are AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality.) AR belongs to Google, with its Glass technology (which will be huge, mark my words.) But VR is still a nascent technology, with the most publicized efforts being those of Kickstarter statup Occulus and Sony’s Project Morpheus. By buying Occulus, Facebook gets to say that it’s at the forefront of VR technology, which will be parroted by know-nothing financial analysts and reporters. Facebook is cool and edgy again.

So Occulus gets much needed capita out of the deal. How can that be bad? Well, like I said before, the money has strings attached. Facebook’s corporate tendrils will begin to probe insinuate into Occulus, and will destroy the young company. Maybe it will begin with an ambitious suit, initially sent as a liaison. Then more suits will follow. Pretty soon they’ll have those hapless occulus employess filing TPS Reports in triplicate, and the talent will head out the door (beginning with John Carmack.)

And those $2 billion will attract hucksters and con-men to VR, just like what happened with Kickstarter when it first went big.  Expect a lot of VR startups with big promises scamming investors out of their cash, with little to show for it.  The technology will get a bad rep before it’s even ready.

Then there’s the company culture… remember Star Trek’s Prime Directive, about non-interference with less developed cultures? Occulus was a startup, and it needed to remain a startup for a few more years. Startups achieve great things – look at HP, Apple, Google. Would they have achieved what they did without the pressure to succeed? This deal erases all that. Occulus is now Facebooks kept, well-fed pet. The pressure to succeed and achieve is off, gone. Nothing to see here, folks, these are not the droids we’re looking for, moving on to Sony and Project Occulus, move along.

This is all that went through my mind yesterday when I read the news. Today? I just feel sadness… for what could have been.