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Comment Re:Tough sell (Score 5, Interesting) 154

Almost every word of your post is factually incorrect.

The Wii-U did not out-sell the XB1. Not even close. The most recent "units shipped" numbers for the Wii-U are at 13.36 million, as of September 2016. The most recent equivalent number on the XB1 is 19 million, from January 2016 (so the gap has likely widened significantly since then, boosted in particular by the XB1-S release over the summer). Both numbers are "shipped" rather than "sold".

And don't mistake the fact that Nintendo sell hardware at a profit (which they don't always these days anyway and haven't consistently since the first 3DS price-cut) with them being profitable. Nintendo hasn't been consistently profitable since FY2010-11, which was the last year in which it reaped Wii-led mega-profits. Since then, it has flipped between loss and (small) profits, but with the main deciding factor being currency fluctuations. When Nintendo has reported an operating profit over this period, it has generally been on the basis of the 3DS. The Wii-U may not even have recouped its development costs, particularly after its abandonment by third parties led to licensing fees all but drying up and a number of first party titles such as Starfox Zero crashed and burned.

Moreover, the gaming section of Sony has been very profitable indeed since the launch of the PS4 (and, indeed, since the company got its house in gear in the latter part of the PS3 cycle). In fact, while Sony was a bit of a basket case until a couple of years ago, the company has bounced back strongly in recent years, almost entirely on the basis of its gaming division. Remember, whether a console is sold at a profit or a loss is not actually all that relevant - licensing fees are where the real money is. How MS's Xbox division is doing is a bit harder to judge, but they seem to have turned things around a bit over the last 18 months and are likely at least no worse than Nintendo now. As of late last year, Nintendo was posting some pretty awful financial losses.

It would be good if we could start to ditch some of the 2007-era narrative now. Nintendo's position today is a lot weaker than it was then, but we still hear the same old clichés trotted out.

Comment Tough sell (Score 4, Interesting) 154

It's hard to see this being a major success, outside of the (aging, shrinking) Nintendo hardcore. The consensus on gaming sites (and their forums) seems to reinforce this. So do the markets; Nintendo's stocks have fallen around 5.75% since the reveal.

The stock price shift will almost certainly have been driven by the price. It's higher than expected by at least $50 (and realistically closer to $100). Sony and MS got away with even higher prices when they were launching the PS4 and XB1, for sure. However, those consoles were significantly more powerful than their predecessors. They also launched at the same time as each other. So in essence, there were two expensive consoles without many games in direct competition with each other, which actually negated those disadvantages a bit. Nintendo are launching a less powerful console against two cheaper and well-entrenched mid-cycle consoles with extensive games libraries. That's going to be tough.

The launch games line-up is also poor. Zelda looks pretty good, but there is a cheaper Wii-U version also available that doesn't look appreciably worse. The rest of the launch window looks pretty pants. The XB1 and the PS4 had the same problem, of course, but again, their near-simultaneous launch actually offset that as a problem.

Beyond the launch-window, the games lineup is nothing special. The same first party range that didn't do much to help the Wii-U. A couple of more interesting (but still niche) second party titles like Xenoblade 2. Third party support from a few companies with a long-standing relationship with the Nintendo DS line (like Atlus), whose games aren't yet even confirmed for release outside of Japan. And a tentative dip of a toe in the water from EA. The poor specs, eccentric hardware and unusual control configurations are going to put a lot of other third party developers off.

I think the console itself is also going to be very hard to market. It's not quite clear what the USP here is. The thing looks large and clunky by handheld standards; more awkward than a tablet or even a PS Vita. As a home console, it's badly underpowered compared to the competition. Nobody has quite explained yet why the hybrid configuration is such a good thing, and the attempts to date to do so have been toe-curling.

On the plus side, it's region-free. That's actually pretty huge news and is a sign that even the most authoritarian of the platform owners is now being forced to open up a little. I might actually buy one just to reward that, because the fear is that if the Switch fails horribly (as I fear it might), then Nintendo will swing back to region locking in future. But it is really hard right now to see a pathway to this thing being a success.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Games of the Year 2016

So, another year gone, and another opportunity to talk to myself about my favorite (and otherwise) games of the year. It's not been a particularly bad year, all told, with plenty of perfectly solid games and just enough surprises (pleasant and otherwise) to keep things interesting. I've missed a few of the year's big releases: Civilization VI (I've learned not to touch this series until the first few expansions are out) and Dishonoured 2 (the original is still on my backlog-of-shame) in particul

Comment Re:Why so many studios? (Score 5, Informative) 54

The current CryEngine is not the one that powered Crysis back in 2007. Like "idTech", "CryEngine" is sometimes used as a generic term for a family of engines that has evolved over time. Crytek's "core" business model has involved quite a lot of licensing of its CryEngine technologies to third parties for them to build games on; much like the id model. There's a handy list of which games have run on which generations of CryEngine technology over at Wikipedia.

Crytek's challenge has, to some extent, been that while their engine (across successive generation) can be used to produce visually stunning results, it can be notoriously difficult to optimise for performance, particularly on console hardware. This year's Homefront: The Revolution (partly developed by Crytek before the IP was sold to Deep Silver) was an absolute dog in performance terms on consoles (and only moderately better on a high-end PC) and received a critical slating at least partly as a result. Everybody's Gone To The Rapture also had some eye-wateringly poor performance on PS4, though for genre-reasons, this mattered less than it would with an action game.

The Dunia engine used by Ubisoft (who acquired a lot of Crytek assets after they published the original Far Cry) to power the Far Cry sequels is a distant fork of the first-generation Crytek engine, though it has diverged so far over time that the two have only a very loose relationship indeed these days.

Comment Re:Well just wait until they see how StarFox Zero (Score 1) 221

StarFox Zero was, by all accounts, a pretty bad game and was a horrible commercial flop. But it wasn't actually "news" that it flopped. Investors had already basically written off the Wii-U by the time StarFox Zero released, so all it did was continue the current narrative.

If Super Mario Run doesn't pan out properly, then that is "news". Nintendo's stocks have been buoyed a bit in recent months by their planned entry into the mobile market. Their home-console sales have been moribund since around 2011. The handheld market has been a lot healthier for them - and Pokémon remains the jewel in their crown (Mario lost that accolade years ago) - but nobody seriously thinks there's a long-term future for dedicated gaming handhelds. Investors who were hoping for a serious return from Nintendo on a par with the early days of the Wii have been putting a lot of weight on their entry into the mobile market.

If that entry turns into a belly-flop, then said investors will take fright. If it turns out that putting Nintendo franchises on a phone isn't an instant profit factory, then they will be distinctly unhappy. Don't forget that other major developers and publishers have struggled to turn established gaming franchises into successful mobile titles. Indeed, many of the biggest mobile hits to date have come from left-field from developers nobody had previously heard of.

I suspect that in the eyes of investors, mobile is seen as more important to Nintendo's future even than the Switch (which some, at least, seem to have written off before it even launches). It's too early to know for sure whether they'll pull off the mobile thing or not; early signals are mixed.

Comment Re:Only Fixed by Resigning (Score 4, Insightful) 410

When I started my first "proper" job fresh out of university, my first boss told me:

"Your reputation can recover from even spectacular incompetence if you look apologetic and keep your head down for a year or two at most. The moment you lose your integrity, it's gone for life."

Would be a better story if he hadn't been fired and referred to the police a few years later for fiddling money from consultancy contracts.

Comment Re: More like "most bitched about" (Score 1) 88

Yes, one of the big stories of the US 2016 election does seem to be that states and counties which were not considered to be in play suddenly switched camps. What I'm less sure about is how much pollsters could have done to predict this.

Based on what little data I've seen so far, I think one of the tactical errors Clinton's campaign made was to focus too heavy on "attacking" (hitting not only swing-states, but also states traditionally in the Republican column) and not enough on defending states that looked like they were in the bank.

The UK's 2015 General Election again offers a direct parallel here. Labour's "ground game" focused on 100 Conservative and Lib-Dem held "target seats". The Conservatives, on the other hand, went for a "40/40" strategy. They attacked 40 of the seats they thought they were most likely to take and threw resources at defending their own 40 most vulnerable seats.

The 40/40 strategy proved far superior to the 100-targets one.

Comment Re: More like "most bitched about" (Score 3, Interesting) 88

Beware simple explanations for polling failures, particularly explanations which align comfortably with your existing beliefs.

It hasn't been a fantastic couple of years for the polling industry. After a period around the turn of the decade where people thought that polling had become a pretty precise art, we've had some major polling controversies in recent years. I actually get horribly nerdy about some of this stuff; I'm not a pollster, but I find polling fascinating.

Before I go any further; I'm in the UK and most of my knowledge is based on the UK polling scene. That said, the US and UK scenes have aligned quite a lot over the last two decades and, while polling a relatively small country like the UK will always be different to polling a very large one like the US, there are a lot of commonalities as well.

It's worth noting that most political polling is not a big earner for the companies that carry it out. It's a competitive market and margins for pollsters are not huge. Most polling companies are primarily market research firms who do most of their work for commercial clients. Political polling is often a loss-leader for them. It gets their name in the press and, if they can claim "we were the most accurate pollster for the election", that's a good way of winning more lucrative commercial business. The commercial incentive on most pollsters, therefore, is to be accurate. Contrary to popular belief/conspiracy theory, very few deliberately set out to mislead and those who do are easy to identify (generally by the wording of the questions they ask, or a refusal to disclose data) and mostly ignored by the mainstream media.

But back to some of our problems with polling in the UK in the last couple of years...

Our own 2015 General Election had a fairly major polling failure. The polling pointed to Labour and the Conservatives (our two main parties) being more or less neck or neck, to the extent that it looked almost impossible that either of them would be able to form a majority government. The final weeks of the campaign were dominated by speculation over the likely distribution of seats and the possible combinations of parties that might be able to form governing coalitions (which probably influenced how people voted).

When election day came, it became clear almost as soon as the polls closed that the pre-election polls had been very badly wrong. The Conservatives had performed somewhat above expectations and Labour had performed somewhat below them. Moreover, the pollsters had also failed to map vote totals into Parliamentary seats correctly (in the UK, each of our 650 constituencies elects a Member of Parliament and, as with US States/Districts, those constituencies do not all behave alike). The result was that, contrary to all expectations, the Conservative Party formed a majority government.

This triggered a bit of a crisis for our polling industry, not least since, following a highly accurate polling record from the 2010 election as well as various local, European and London Mayoral elections, a lot of weight and credibility had been attached the polling. The British Polling Council, which is a self-regulatory body for our polling industry, commissioned a post-mortem on what had happened.

The initial public narrative on what had happened was pretty stark. The newspapers (and various online forums) were filled with cries of "shy Tories" or "lazy Labour". These are two politically-comfortable labels that have been used to explain polling failures in the past. The first is the idea that Conservative voters might be embarrassed to admit their real voting intention to a pollster. Labour supporters like this one. The latter is that Labour supporters are too lazy to turn out and vote on election day. Conservative supporters like this one.

The actual post-mortem comprehensively rubbished both theories. The problem was one of sampling. Pollsters use a range of sampling and weighting techniques to turn a sample size of less than 2,000 people (a sample of around 5,000 is more normal in the US) into a national vote projection. In the 2015 General Election, their sampling went wrong in two specific demographics; the 18-24 age range and the 65+ age range.

The 18-24 age range is notoriously difficult to poll. Getting young 'uns to take 20 minutes to talk to a pollster over the phone is not easy. In the 2015 election, the under-25s who agreed to be polled tended to be both highly politically engaged and highly left-wing compared to their peers. This meant that the vote projections for this demographic showed them as both more likely to vote and more left-wing than turned out to be the case on polling day.

The 65+ age-range, meanwhile, is known to be both highly likely to vote and generally conservative. However, within this band, poll samples included too many 65-74s and not enough 75+s. The 75+s are both extremely likely to vote and extremely conservative.

The combined impact of these two sampling errors was enough that the polling position under-stated the Conservative position by 2-3% and over-stated Labour's by a similar margin. This appears broadly in-line with the scope of the error in the US 2016 election. Moreover, the General Election 2015 polling also struggled to cope with shifts in votes for "other" parties; in particular, the collapse of the vote for the Liberal Democrats (the UK's traditional third party) and the spread of votes for UKIP (which had been expected to hurt the Conservatives more than Labour, but ended up doing the opposite).

Our other polling controversy was, of course, the Brexit vote. However, it's debatable whether there was ever an actual polling failure here. There were 34 polls carried out by BPC-affiliated firms during the formal campaign period. Of these, 17 showed a lead for Leave and 14 for Remain, with 3 showing a dead-heat. It's true that polls in the final few days generally favoured Remain, but a high level of postal-voting meant that a good portion of the electorate had voted a fortnight or so earlier, when Leave's campaign was peaking. You could, therefore, argue that the polling industry collectively and correctly predicted a very tight race, with a probability of a small victory for Leave.

However, this isn't how the Brexit vote polling was reported. There was a stark divide in the polls between those conducted via phone, which showed, a lead for Remain, and those conducted online via pre-selected panels, which showed a leave for Leave. Inexplicably, the media chose to attach much more weight to the phone polls and reported a narrative throughout the campaign which put a Remain victory as by far the most likely outcome.

There hasn't been quite such a detailed post-mortem of the Brexit polling, but what we have seen suggests that yet again, sampling and weighting problems were to blame. Pollsters traditionally weight down low-income and low-education voters in their samples, as these demographics have historically been less likely to turn out on polling day. This long-established trend did not, however, hold true for the Brexit vote. Those voters turned out in roughly the same proportion as the rest of the electorate and tended to vote Leave. The impact of this was probably worth a 2-3% swing between the polling and the actual result.

I haven't yet seen any really substantial data-driven analysis of why the US 2016 election polling was wrong. And it was wrong; this wasn't like the Brexit vote where the media just ran with the wrong narrative from the polling. However, before claiming widescale lying to pollsters (which has never been found in statistically significant levels before), it would be better to look at polling methodology; to look at how the pollsters were selecting and weighting their samples and whether there were any historically unprecedented trends in turnout.

It might not act as such a fuzzy political comfort blanket, but it is a more useful way to understand what really happened.

Comment Re:Congratulations Sony! (Score 1) 73

Most of the consoles on that list reached end-of-life some time ago. The PS4 is still in the middle of its lifespan and, with the PS4 Pro just launched, is likely to remain live for quite some time.

In terms of sales trajectory, which makes for better comparisons, the PS4 was tracking broadly equal with the Wii (the previous record holder at the 3-year point, though it also flatlined not long after that) until Sony announced the PS4 Pro earlier in the year. That dropped their trajectory a bit, as people who had been planning to buy a PS4 over the summer deferred their purchase until the Pro was available.

There's still every chance that the PS4 will eventually hold the number 1 spot. Cheaper hardware and a larger (and cheaper) games library means that console sales traditionally hold strong through the mid and late parts of the cycle. At the 3 year point, the PS2 was still at 70 million sales and, as recorded by your own link, it would eventually go on to sell around 155 million.

Comment Bit of fact checking needed here (Score 4, Insightful) 114

The quotation in the CNBC report here is just a little bit disingenuous. "The Xbox and PS2 were two of the most popular consoles ever" is 50% true; with an estimated 155m units sold, the PS2 does indeed sit at the top of the pile for home-consoles (though the Nintendo DS handheld roughly level-pegs it). The Xbox, however, with sales in around the 24 million range, is very much in "also ran" territory.

It wasn't a failure by any means. It was a toe in the door for Microsoft and it did eventually beat out the Gamecube in the battle for second-place on units sold among the 6th generation consoles. But attempting to lend credibility to an argument by claiming that views are from one of the creators of "one of the most successful consoles ever" when said console was the original Xbox is simply misleading.

And as for the content of TFA... the case for VR in gaming is not yet proven. Sales of consumer VR units are ok but not spectacular and are showing some signs of diminishing now the launch-hype is over. Perhaps more importantly, there has yet to be a game that really makes the case for VR as anything other than a tech demo. A range of factors, including problems with using the headsets for an extended period and, most importantly, control problems mean that nobody has yet produced a really great VR game (Elite: Dangerous is almost certainly the most successful, but that's a fairly niche product). For the most part, VR experiences to date have fallen into one of three categories:

a) the pretty but shallow glorified tech-demo
b) the cut-down version of an existing game (e.g. Driveclub VR)
c) The existing pre-VR game which has had VR support added

Last generation's fad, motion controls, eventually faltered after people realised that they just weren't as good as regular controls for actually playing games. Nobody was ever going to be chosing to play through a Dragon Age or a Call of Duty using motion controls and, after the novelty wore off, people went back to their controllers or mouse/keyboard combos. If VR is to avoid the same trap, its best hope comes from my category c) above; but so far, that's only been made to even remotely work in the driving and space-combat genres, both of which are niche.

Privacy

Britain Has Passed the 'Most Extreme Surveillance Law Ever Passed in a Democracy' (zdnet.com) 359

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet: The UK has just passed a massive expansion in surveillance powers, which critics have called "terrifying" and "dangerous." The new law, dubbed the "snoopers' charter," was introduced by then-home secretary Theresa May in 2012, and took two attempts to get passed into law following breakdowns in the previous coalition government. Four years and a general election later -- May is now prime minister -- the bill was finalized and passed on Wednesday by both parliamentary houses. Civil liberties groups have long criticized the bill, with some arguing that the law will let the UK government "document everything we do online." It's no wonder, because it basically does. The law will force internet providers to record every internet customer's top-level web history in real-time for up to a year, which can be accessed by numerous government departments; force companies to decrypt data on demand -- though the government has never been that clear on exactly how it forces foreign firms to do that that; and even disclose any new security features in products before they launch. Not only that, the law also gives the intelligence agencies the power to hack into computers and devices of citizens (known as equipment interference), although some protected professions -- such as journalists and medical staff -- are layered with marginally better protections. In other words, it's the "most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy," according to Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group.

Comment Twitter's format is a big part of the problem (Score 5, Interesting) 427

Twitter itself is a huge part of the problem in the coarsening of political debate. The emphasis on short, snappy "soundbite" statements and the e-peen benefits of being retweeted serve as powerful incentives for people to forgo civility and mean that the most extreme voices, whatever their persuasion, get the most prominence.

When you are trying to fit your thoughts into a character limit, what kind of clauses are you going to cut? How about:

"I see your point, but have you considered..."
"I understand why some people are attracted to that argument, but..."
"I know there are exceptions to this rule..."
"I might be oversimplifying here..."
"This is purely anecdotal, but..."

Twitter is a remarkably effective tool for stripping conversations of all of the little niceties, qualifications and acknowledgements that keep things civil. It's a platform for thumping certainties, hysterical over-reactions and wanton attention-seeking. I've known rational, well-spoken people, often well-regarded in their professional fields, who turn into flaming morons on Twitter.

It's not a problem of Twitter's moderation policies or editorial stances, but rather a fundamental problem with the medium. Being mischievous, maybe 140 characters should be the minimum rather than the limit.

Comment Re:Ita about time! (Score 1) 230

For those not familiar with the UK context, I'd point out that an Employment Tribunal is a first-line body. I would eat my hat if this decision isn't appealed and the higher courts do have a long track record of overturning Employment Tribunal decisions.

Don't assume this one is settled.

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