Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ton O' News

Lots of stuff happening in the last few days, so I'm going to have one commentary instead of breaking it out into pieces.

First, Microsoft wants to buy Massive. You know Massive--the guys who want to jam ads up our ass in every game.
Excerpt from Yahoo News (thanks Frank Regan):
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT - news) plans to pay $200 million to $400 million for Massive Inc., a privately held company that places ads in video games, the Wall Street Journal said on Wednesday.

I think there's one overwhelming likelihood here: Microsoft uses advertising to create a fully-functioning tier of Xbox Live that's free or almost free. You'll still be able to pay the regular subscription price to be ad free, but if you don't want to pay, you can still have access to all the things you couldn't do right now with the Silver (free) subscription.

That's a big win for Microsoft on all fronts. It makes more of Xbox Live available to more people, and it allows them to generate huge ad revenue from the Live service.

Maybe this will shake out some other way, but I can't see anything else that's even remotely logical.

Julian Bell sent me a link to the latest EA class-action lawsuit settlement, which was announced yesterday. The full article is over at Gamasutra, but here's an excerpt:
Software engineers have won a $14.9 million settlement from Electronic Arts, in a settlement of a California class-action lawsuit over unpaid overtime, following a similar $15.6 million settlement reached in October with graphic artists.

According to the new settlement, some of the entry level programmers will be reclassified as hourly workers, making them eligible for overtime pay. In return, they will be allowed a one time grant of restricted company stock, but will no longer receive stock options or bonuses.

... In the wake of the first settlement last year, Electronic Arts reclassified around 440 employees, including 200 entry level artists, so that they could claim overtime. Major deadlines were also moved to Fridays instead of Mondays in order to encourage a normal five day working week.

What I think is most revealing here is what it says EA did after the first settlement--they moved major deadlines to Fridays instead of Mondays. Now this is a company with seemingly endemic problems with their labor practices. It's architectural.

And their big solution is to move major deadlines to Fridays.

Phew, glad that's fixed. Way to go, executives. Light another cigar with a fifty and cash in another ten thousand stock options.

Darren Love sent me some interesting information about next generation DVD players and how much they'll cost. Future Shop (Canada) has a Toshiba HD-DVD player listed for $699 (again, in Canadian dollars, I believe), and a Samsung Blu-Ray player listed for $1299.

That's not going to be absolutely representative of the delta between formats, but a 50% difference is a reasonable guess. So here's the question: can a demonstrably superior format (Blu-Ray) be adopted as the market standard when it's 50% more expensive to buy a Blu-Ray player?

Sony obviously thinks that the answer to this question is "yes." I think they're wrong.

We'll know more when Blu-Ray optical drives for computers start shipping. But the differences in the capabilities of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD may well be lost on the consumer market unless they can see the difference. And they won't be able to, because Blu-Ray's primary advantage to the consumer is storage capacity, not image quality.

This is looking like an utter disaster for both formats, though. Think about it: the 360 was released with more games than HD-DVD or Blu-Ray will be released with films. Man, that's stupid, and it should give you an idea of how badly thought-out the rollouts of these products are. Very expensive, compared to regular DVD players, and almost no content. Why in the world wouldn't you ship these with 50-100 titles available, and premium titles at that?

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