SciTechBlog
March 24, 2010

Will EA charge for game demos?

Posted: 10:02 AM ET

In an effort to expand its video-gaming business, Electronic Arts may start charging for certain pre-game content – a possible move that is already drawing fire from gamers.

In an interview with Wedbush Morgan Securities' industry analyst Michael Pachter, EA Group GM Nick Earl said the company plans to start charging for “premium downloadable content” before releasing the entire game at full price. Earl said the strategy would "serve as a low-cost marketing tool” and limit the risk of promoting a full game that may not do well.

Reaction from gamers was swift. Some denounced the move as a blatant attempt at money-grabbing while other urged patience to see what the final plan would be.

A user named Fimmel wrote on GameSpot’s message board, “Do they really think we'll pay to DL the beginning of the game before we've even gathered enough information to decide if we want to buy the game at all?”

Another commenter, Lord Thayer, wrote on Kotaku, “So, is it safe to assume that, if you buy the demo, then upgrade to the full game digitally, that they would take the price of the demo out? If so, I actually think that would be rad. “

Facing a possible backlash, Electronic Arts has tried to clarify its position on demos. A statement from the company said there were no set pricing strategies for the entire EA portfolio and included a curious line:
“None of the proposals call for charging consumers for traditionally free game demos."

The statement also said EA was working on delivering “premium content” to gamers before, during and after the launch of a final game package. It said each division of EA was experimenting with downloadables in an effort to provide “fresh game content in formats players want to experience.”

We’ve asked EA officials for further clarification about what they mean by “traditionally free game demos” and what impact this will have on future game releases. We’ll let you know if they get back to us and what they say.

UPDATE (10:37 a.m.): An EA spokesman responded to our request for additional information. He said, "EA will continue to release demos and we have no plans to charge for them."

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • video games


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March 23, 2010

Geek Out!: 'Human Torch' to play Captain America

Posted: 01:44 PM ET
Captain America?
Captain America?

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

"Fantastic Four" star Chris Evans will play Captain America in not just one, but multiple movies, according toThe Hollywood Reporter. Evans played the Human Torch in the two recent "Four" movies.

As my fellow comic book geeks will know, Cap and Human Torch are two very different characters. Of all of the things wrong with the "Fantastic Four" movies (and oh, there were many), Evans' portrayal of Johnny Storm was aggressively annoying. On the other hand, the Torch is quite literally a self-involved "hot head," so I'm not sure if that performance was necessarily so far off the mark.

Captain America, on the other hand, is the very model of a stoic, noble super-soldier. Supporters of Evans taking the role point to his good work in other films and Cap doesn't appear to be a major acting challenge, per se. Of course, the script will likely be more of a determining factor in whether the movie is any good or not.

Something I would more take issue with is that Evans and some of the others who were rumored to be considered for the role -  like Mike Vogel, John Krasinski, and Channing Tatum (who was all wrong for "G.I. Joe's" Duke, but that's another story) - seem to lack the gravitas needed.

Captain America will next appear in "The Avengers" movie(s) and should be a leader/elder statesman (I mean, he did fight in World War II, frozen in ice or not). The folks behind this online movement to cast Jon Hamm seemed to have the right idea, but it appears that he was never given serious consideration.

What do you think of the decision to cast Evans? Do you think he can do Captain America justice? Share your reaction on video, or in the comments below.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Movies • pop culture


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Geek Out!: Trailer for Weird Al 'biopic' up on Funny or Die

Posted: 11:59 AM ET
 
 
Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.
 
Remember when "Weird Al" Yankovic hooked up with Madonna?

Or the booze-fueled meltdown that nearly ended his career?

Yeah ... neither do we. But that didn't keep all of those titillating moments out of a movie trailer for "Weird:  The Al Yankovic Story."

The spoof video was posted early Tuesday on the comedy site Funny or Die.

Watch the video.

"Finally, my life story is being made into a major motion picture!" Yankovic wrote early Tuesday morning on his Twitter feed - @alyankovic.

The trailer spans Yankovic's fictional life, from being busted as a child for hiding copies of "Accordion Player" magazine under his mattress to the drunken tirade aimed at his bandmates - a staple of any rock star's life story.

"Nobody wants to hear a parody song, when they can hear the real thing for the same price," Yankovic says, playing a smarmy record-company executive.

"Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul plays Al himself in a star-studded cast that includes Academy Award winner Mary Steenburgen, Olivia Wilde and comedian Patton Oswalt as Dr. Demento, the host of the syndicated novelty-song show on which Weird Al got his start.

Founded by actor Will Ferrell and others, Funny or Die has emerged as a platform for famous actors to cut loose - filming one-off projects they probably couldn't get approved anywhere else.

Sadly, there are no plans for an actual movie on the life of the man who brought us classics like "Eat It," "Dare to Be Stupid" and "White & Nerdy."

But if he can spoof the songs of famous pop stars, why not follow them into the biopic world too?

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Internet • Movies • Music • online video • pop culture


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March 22, 2010

Geek Out!: What will we get from iPhone 4.0?

Posted: 02:15 PM ET
 
 
Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's Marquee and SciTech blogs.
 
 
The launch of the iPad is looming, but some of us are still more concerned about what's going to be new for its smaller-statured brother - the iPhone.

There will likely be an update to the phone’s operating system in conjunction with the release of the iPad.  The question is – what will we get?

There have been plenty of rumors that this update will be BIG.  Of course, "big" is a relative term and could really mean anything.

The hottest rumor is that the phone may actually be able to finally run more than one application at a time.

For Apple geeks, that would be bigger than big  - that would be huge -  and would bring our beloved iPhone in line with Palm’s Pre.

There are some other smaller features I would love to see come to my favorite technological addiction.  Some of these include:

_ Tethering/Hotspot creation:  The Palm Pre can do this – time for AT&T to allow the iPhone to do the same – i.e. create a wireless hotspot or allow the phone to be tethered to a laptop so you can surf anywhere.  I don’t even care if I have to pay for this feature – just don’t expect me to pay much. (An additional $15 -25 would be in line with what I'd expect).

_ Bluetooth remote profile:  The last update gave us Bluetooth streaming for wireless headphones and other audio devices.  But for some unknown reason Mr. Jobs neglected to include the profile that lets you change tracks.  Please enable this!

_ Custom sound sets: Friends with jailbroken phones (who will remain nameless) lord this over me all the time.  Why can’t I make my e-mail, SMS or other alerts sound like whatever I want?  Also, why can’t I choose just one email address (my work account for example) to beep/buzz when I get a new email?  Right now it’s all or nothing. 

Those are just a few of the things that bug me on this phone.  And as always, it’s not that the phone isn’t great - it’s that it could be so much better! 

What features do you want to see?  What isn’t there that drives you crazy?  And let's leave new hardware features for another post!

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Filed under: Geek Out! • iPad • iPhone • Palm Pre • smartphones • technology


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Students to face cyberbullying charges

Posted: 10:24 AM ET

A California appeals court has ruled that several Los Angeles high school students who made derogatory and threatening comments on a fellow student's Web site can be charged with hate crimes and defamation.

According to court documents (pdf), a 15-year-old Harvard-Westlake High School Student created a Web site in 2005 to promote his singing and acting career. When fellow students discovered the site, they were reportedly "offended and put off by its ‘I am better than you’ attitude and its blatant bragging and self promotion."

Several of the students began posting threatening remarks such as “Faggot, I’m going to kill you,” and "If I ever see you I‘m . . . going to pound your head in with an ice pick."

In response to the comments, the site was taken down and the victim's father contacted the police. However, a police investigation determined that the remarks did not warrant criminal prosecution. The father then sued six of the posters and their parents, accusing them of hate crimes and defamation.

The appellate court determined that the cyberbullying was not free speech and the students were not protected by First Amendment rights.

Mike Masnick of Techdirt disagrees with the suit:

Now, there's no doubt at all that the comments were over the line and incredibly mean. However, it looks like there was a perfectly reasonable process outside of the courts to handle this. Apparently, the father of one kid who made some of the worst comments made his son apologize, grounded him and took away his internet access.

According to Wired, an attorney for the defendants has said he will appeal the decision to California's supreme court.

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Filed under: online news


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March 19, 2010

A bad week for Google?

Posted: 03:22 PM ET

By some accounts, this week hasn't been so great for Google.

The first bit of bad news concerns sales of Google's Nexus One phone.

On Tuesday, the market analytics firm Flurry released a report saying initial sales of Google's Nexus One phone have been slim compared to the Droid and the iPhone. The firm compared sales of those those phones over the first 74 days they were on the market. In a blog post, Flurry says it chose that time period because that's how long it took the original iPhone to sell 1 million handsets when it was released in 2007.

By comparison, only 135,000 Nexus One phones were sold in that phone's first 74 days. More from Flurry's post:

As Google and Apple continue to battle for the mobile marketplace, Google Nexus One may go down as a grand, failed experiment or one that ultimately helped Google learn something that will prove important in years to come.

Google responded to that news by playing up the Android Market, the online store where people with Android phones - like the Nexus One and Droid - buy applications, according to Engadget

Google issued a statement to CNN, saying:

We’re pleased with our sales volumes and with how well the Nexus One has been received by our customers. The Nexus One is one of a fast growing number of Android handsets which have been brought to market through the open Android ecosystem. Our partners are shipping more than 60,000 Android handsets each day compared with 30,000 just three months ago.

Not everyone says this news is so bad, though. Concern about the Nexus One's slow start is "more than a little ridiculous," writes Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

Google is still a software company dabbling in hardware. And its mobile smart phone software is very, very good.

The other potentially troublesome story concerns Google's search traffic.

Microsoft's Bing search engine appears to be making slight inroads on Google, which still dominates that territory. A Nielsen report, issued Monday, found Microsoft searches in February made up 12.5 percent of the search market, compared to 10.9 percent in January. Meanwhile, Google still accounts for 65.2 percent of all U.S. searches.

The Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital blog notes that the shift in the search market is "slow going":

... Bing is clearly whittling away at both Google and Yahoo’s search market share. Of course, the flip side is that with Yahoo in decline, the search side of the Microsoft-Yahoo partnership isn’t showing all that much growth.

What do you think? Is Google, clearly one of the world's dominant tech companies, in any trouble here?

Was its jump into the mobile phone hardware market misguided, or do you think Nexus One sales may still take off? We welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Filed under: Android • Google • iPhone • Microsoft Corp.


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Facebook responds to massive phishing scheme

Posted: 01:30 PM ET

Facebook has responded to a an apparently massive attempt to steal passwords from its users.

"There's another spoofed email going around that claims to be from Facebook and asks you to open an attachment to receive a new password," read a post on the Facebook Security page. "This email is fake. Delete it from your inbox, and warn your friends."

Facebook will never send users a new password in an attachment, the post says.

The messages claim to be from Facebook, with a return address that looks legitimate. A message sent twice to a CNN.com staffer reads:

Hey [user's name],

Because of the measures taken to provide safety to our clients, your password has been changed. You can find your new password in attached document.

Thanks,
The Facebook Team.

McAfee security warned users in a blog post Wednesday that the link is a password stealer that becomes active when the user clicks on it. Once installed, malicious software, or malware, could potentially access all username and password information used on a computer, not just on Facebook, the post said.

Reports suggest the scheme continued to spread on Friday.

McAfee and Facebook urged users to not open the attachment and immediately delete the message, if up-to-date security software programs don't catch the message first.

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Filed under: Facebook • Security


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Geek Out!: Still got game

Posted: 12:52 PM ET
Older gamers still got game
Older gamers still got game

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's Marquee and SciTech blogs.

It’s been an epic week for gamers. First God of War III and then Starcraft beta news. As I trudge in to work today, a little worn out from last night’s Dol Guldur run, I can spot a few others who share the hallmarks of my gaming hobby.

As gamers in our 30s, we’re a little more otherworld-weary than the high school and college-aged kids who were waiting in line to buy God of War III Monday night. But as older gamers we keep coming back to the table. Why is that?

Here’s a conversation I bet a lot of us have had at one point in the last 10 years. Chat log:

ScaryGrrl: This game reminds me of Castle Wolfenstein!
Solereaper: What is that?
ScaryGrrl: Umm, a game, from the 80s.
Solereaper: Dude, how old are you?

Has gaming evolved to a point where it’s a surprise that someone my age would be as into a game as someone (clearly) 15 – 20 years younger than me?

No way! Older gamers still have plenty of game.

Back in the 70s when Atari introduced the 2600 console, we could nestle in the safety of our homes and play to our heart’s content without having to face the questions of “why do you play those things?” from our classmates and teachers.

The kids LARPing and playing D & D back then have become the adults who now embrace new technology in all its forms whether it be FPS games, MMO’s or console games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

The draw for gamers today is the same as it was back then: Escape. For a brief period of time you can be anyone, do anything. Back then it was a roll of the dice and you won the fight, got the loot and praise from your party. Today, all it takes is a few well-timed keyboard clicks and you can become the hero, get the best gear and have the adoration of your guild.

The best part about being an older gamer is the choice. Today there’s a buffet of nerdly delights. Games like WoW, Eve Online and Lord of The Rings Online offer the chance to become one of the characters we read about in grade school. I chose the chance to follow Frodo and his fellowship to Mount Doom. I started playing LoTRO in beta three years ago and I’m still hooked. We’ve made it to Mirkwood Forest and are marshalling the rangers to aid us in our fight.

Do you still have game? Do you notice a difference between younger and older gamers?

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Filed under: Geek Out!


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Geek Out!: Starcraft II : Wings of Liberty

Posted: 11:20 AM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting nerd culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

[Correction: I mistakenly say in the video that Sarcraft 2 is published by
Activision/Blizzard, but in fact it is being published by Blizzard
Entertainment
. Sorry, Blizzard!]

I got a chance to check out “Starcraft II,” along with colleague Larry Frum.

Subtitled “Wings of Liberty,” the sequel – currently in closed beta - is a long-awaited follow-up to Blizzard’s much-loved real-time strategy game.

The attached video is our full review. But here are a few high points:

Pros:
Beautiful to look at
Smooth game play
Smooth controls

Cons:

Unbalanced game play, based on which race you play
Hard to see whole map
No single-player mode

We both like what we’ve played so far, and patch updates from Blizzard have done a lot to help with the unbalanced game play.

The game will have three releases. We’re expecting the first will allow single-player play as a Terran [i.e. human] and the future ones will expand to the other two - Zerg, Protoss. And with just the first full release, players will be able to go online, at battle.net, and play the other two races in multi-player mode.

What was our final verdict? Watch the video to find out.

Are you in the closed beta? Have you had a chance to play? Let us know what you thought in the comments below.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • video games


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What does your phone home screen say about you?

Posted: 11:15 AM ET

After noticing that he had exactly 911 unread e-mails on his phone, a colleague of mine, Victor Hernandez, decided to share this moment of emergency info overload with his Twitter posse.

He posted a photo of his iPhone home screen online, and that photo was met with reactions he didn't expect.

People didn't care about how many unread e-mails he had.

They just wanted to see which apps he had on his home screen.

"Love seeing what is on the front screen of people's iPhones," one of his followers wrote, noting that she found it funny that Hernandez had prioritized the iSamJackson app. "Says so much about you."

Hernandez stumbled into a possible cultural trend: Phone home screens have become yet another marker of a person's identity. iPhone and Android phone users download an average of nine apps (mobile phone programs) per month, according to a February report by AdMob (PDF). But only 20 apps will fit on the iPhone's rigidly organized home screen, and people tend to put the apps they use most often, or think are the most important, on that starter screen. Maybe the way people arrange these home screens says something about their daily lives and preferences.

Apple, always quick to draw links between its gadgets and its users' personalities, has an entire Web page devoted the iPhone home screen and how to make use of it. So does Google's Android platform.

Hernandez and CNN iReport asked our readers to send in photos of their phone home screens. They were excited to find that no two submissions were alike. Many are quite similar, however, since the iPhone does come with a number of apps preset to run on the home screen, and most of the submissions iReport received were from iPhone owners.

Some home screen submissions highlighted games; others put news apps out front. Some "jailbroken" phones featured customized backgrounds.

Take a look at these photos and let us know what you think. Does a phone home screen really say something about who a person is, or is that corporate and contrived? If it is significant, what types of apps are most essential to you, and why? Does it matter that phone home screens are usually hidden to everyone except the phone's user?

Maybe that secrecy is part of the allure.

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Filed under: Android • Apps • iPhone • smartphones


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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