Durango's mandatory installs a sign of DRM to come?

By Mike on 11:31 pm

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More rumours for the next Xbox have come out today. This time they give as a small peak into what the console may have to offer it. Some of it is not good, at least according to IGN. VGLeaks put out several screenshots from the Durango development kit, the software used to program games for the console. IGN analysed the images and confirmed them to be accurate through sources. Some of their findings are pretty run of the mill, namely a next generation Kinect sensor. However, two things stood out.

Firstly, the Durango requires mandatory game installs. Much like modern PC games, the discs are only used to install data and are not accessed during gameplay. On one hand this will greatly speed up load times for the console. On the other hand it could be behind something more sinister.

The Durango will be "always on, always connected" online. This could be used for DRM in the same way EA and Ubisoft have on the PC platform. The concern here is the mandatory installs and constant internet connectivity could be used to block second hand games.

At this time it's all wild speculation. However rumours of Microsoft putting their console on lockdown haven't sat well with gamers. Many commenting on IGN's article said they're more inclined to buy a PS4 if these rumours are true. If the Durango bans used games, it will be the only console this upcoming generation to do so. It would be a very stupid move. 

Microsoft's silence on the Durango has been deafening. They have yet to officially acknowledge the console even exists. This has allowed Sony to steal the spotlight from them. Delaying the unveiling, as well as their refusal to clarify gamers' concerns, may end up hurting them a lot more than they think. As we've seen before, a runaway success for one generation doesn't necessarily equal a repeat for the next. 


SimCity not an MMO, fully playable offline say hackers

By Mike on 11:28 am

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Well now this is interesting. Hackers have already been plodding away at SimCity and found out the game can indeed be played offline. It involves putting the game into some sort of "debug mode". It's fully playable though it can't save cities or interact with other regions. By the sounds of it, the process is relatively simple. To make an offline, single player version, programmers would just have to add local saves. Something that could easily be patched in. This fully dispute's EA's claim that online functionality is so deeply interwoven into SimCity that an offline version was impossible.

Furthermore, a Maxis insider told Rock, Paper, Shotgun that the servers only handle cloud saves and communication between players. All the computational business happens on the local end of things. He stated he can't understand why EA keeps claiming otherwise.

It's also been suggested that the servers don't even react to your gameplay in real time. Kotaku found out that the game could run happily offline for 20 minutes before it realized it wasn't connected to the server. This backs up the hackers claims and proves SimCity really isn't an MMO at all, nor does it need the servers to run.

So it seems EA isn't being completely honest over their always-on functionality. The servers do enhance gameplay but are not necessary for it. Yet EA continues to state otherwise. The plot keeps thickening.

-Rock, Paper, Shotgun

SimCity 5 unleashes a random disaster on itself

By Mike on 12:00 am

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Electronic Arts once again has egg on their face. The latest fiasco has to do with SimCity 5 and its always-online functionality. EA had planned to reinvent the game as a multiplayer experience. Instead gamers were met with clogged servers and dropped connections, rendering the game unplayable. It launched without enough servers to meet demand. EA says they plan to add more over the weekend to address customer concerns. This is just the latest PR disaster for the company, who Consumerist named the "worst in America".

For those less technically inclined, the always-on DRM SimCity uses requires a player to be connected to an EA server in order to play. Should the connection be lost on their end or yours, the game is rendered unplayable. This method of copy protection has been met with controversy since its introduction a few years ago. Many gamers feel it's unnecessary for single player games. Aside from that, it has been plagued with technical problems since day one. The issues with SimCity are only the latest in long line of rocky launches. Last year, Diablo III was met with harsh criticism when gamers could not log on to its servers. Prior to that, Ubisoft was met with outrage when the same thing happened to those who had bought Settlers 7.

The definition of insanity is attempting the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results. In the case of always-online copy protection, it has never worked. While Diablo III managed to keep piracy to a minimum, the problems with the system generated a lot of ill will towards Blizzard/Activision from the gaming community.

SimCity Burning - or how gamers really feel buying EA. From GotGame.com

EA has followed the classic corporate model for the entertainment industry. Buy up competition and focus on producing products at low cost in high volumes. Suits with MBAs control the creative process, and most don't even posses a creative molecule in their body. The conglomeration of studios has definitely hurt gaming. PC gaming in particular has taken it on the nose more than other platforms. Gamers are often still treated as pirates even though they legally obtained their games.

So far SimCity's problems have been met with strong backlash from the gaming community. Video game publications are recommending people not buy it, at least not until EA gets their act together. Most companies would freak at this level of negative press. Yet EA seems to blow it off as a lot of whining over spilled milk.

What has happened is inexcusable and rather amateurish  A company that large should anticipate large server demand at launch and prepare accordingly. They didn't and in my opinion, they don't deserve your $60 because of this.

Though I will take the time to take a knock at my fellow gamers. We knew this was coming. EA never hid the fact that SimCity would require a constant server connection to play. We also know that these systems have never worked properly in the past. Why would this time be any different? Yet people still bought the game. People are probably still buying it. That's the fatal flaw. As Forbes columnist Paul Tassi put it, the only way to force EA to change is to vote with your wallet.

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Keep little children from making unwanted iTunes pruchases

By Mike on 12:04 pm

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Meet the Kitchen family, and their five year old son Danny. Like many families, they have a communal iPad they let their child play with. Dad was kind enough to even download some free games for Danny. He put his password in, grabbed the games, and let his kid go to town. Over the next 15 minutes, the precious little scamp went on a mind boggling shopping spree. To the family's horror, Danny had racked up £1,700  ($2500) on dad's credit card.

Fortunately this story has a happy ending. Apple realized it was a mistake and decided to refund the Kitchens. However, there's a lot of lingering questions. How could this happen, and more importantly, how can you prevent it from happening to you?

The blame obviously lies with the parents themselves. Apple had emailed them an itemized invoice for 70 pounds the next day. They ignored it assuming it was sent in error. In fact it's likely the spree would have continued had the Kitchens' credit card company not called. That's mistake number one. Any charge that you did not make on your credit card should always be cause for alarm. ALWAYS check your receipts. I can't stress this enough.

The second mistake was allowing a five year old unsupervised access to the family computer. Kids are a lot smarter than we adults tend to give them credit for. It's truly amazing how much trouble they can make in such a short time. Especially when you give them the means to buy things when the child has no concept of money.

"Free" games targeted at young children frequently use micro-transactions for in-game items. These items range for $1 all the way up to $100 or more for something as stupid as a "Trunk of Diamonds" in one particular farming simulator. The kid is smart enough to know that more resources make the game easier. What they don't know is these items cost mommy and daddy real, finite money.

Lucky for you, it's very easy to protect yourself from what's happened to the Kitchens and countless others.

1. Never let kids use the computer unsupervised. 
Don't treat it as a babysitting tool. If your child wants to play a game, play it with them. As any parent knows, kids that young can start a world of trouble if you take your eyes off them. For the love of god never share your passwords with your children either. Heck I can remember hacking my dad's user account when I was eight because his password was too obvious.

2. Familiarize yourself with your computer's security and parental controls. 
It's amazing how many people rely on technology to run their lives, but are still technologically illiterate.

In iOS, under the settings tab, go into General and click restrictions  These are your parental controls.  The list labelled "Allowed Content" is what you're interested in. Particularly the two at the bottom. By default, iOS allows in-app purchases and waits 15 minutes before requiring a password to buy and download new content from the App Store. You'll want to set these to OFF and IMMEDIATELY respectively. This will prevent kids from accidentally buying things without your permission.

Turn off "In-App Purchases" and set Require Password to "Immediate" to prevent accidental charges
3. Set up a separate iTunes account for your kids
The biggest problem with iOS is you can't set up separate accounts for different users. HOWEVER, what you can do is set  up multiple iTunes Store accounts which can be used on a single device.

It's very easy and requires about five minutes of your time. Sign out of iTunes on your computer, then hit sign in and select "Create Apple ID". Don't tie a credit card to this account. Just select "none" as your payment method. Now that your kid has their own account, which you will monitor, they cannot download any apps or in-game content that aren't free.

4. Teach your kids the value of money
It's never too early to start teaching your kids the value of a dollar. Get them to do some chores to earn money, or if they like playing games on your iPad, some iTunes gift cards. Let them know that once they spend the value of the card, that money is gone and they'll have to earn another. Not only will this prevent you from financial heartache, it will set them up for a responsible future.

5. When all else fails, don't count on a bailout
The Kitchens got extremely lucky here, in that Apple refunded them. However, they are a business not a charity. Once these incidents start happening too many times, they won't be as forgiving. If you take the above steps to protect yourself, you shouldn't encounter problems. That is unless your kid is Bart Simpson and is smart enough to steal your credit card. But that's a whole different kettle of fish.

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