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steam vendors differential pricing

Differential Pricing Lands Steam Based Game Distributors In Hot Water

The European Union or the EU promotes the concept of “parallel trade” and as such hates differential pricing especially for customers of a particular product from different geographic locations in Europe or countries that are members of EU. Basically, if you sell a tomato online for €1 in Germany, you can’t then sell it for €2 in Spain.

Differential pricing in the gaming industry though has existed for a long time now. For those unaware of its negatives, it restricts gamers in a particular country from gaining access along with rest of the world by simply putting an impossible price tag during release. Basically, those who wanted to play, would pay exorbitant prices just because they belong to one particular geographic region. Another flipside to this is that gamers from countries where prices of games are higher, can then use proxies and VPNs to pay and download games at much lower rates thus bypassing the price restrictions set by the companies.

Steam is not a game maker and it is owned by Valve. Game developers use this platform for the Steam community and outreach it has. It is a budding market place and using Steam to sell their products helps garner instant sales, communicate with fans and make improvements or updates to their games. However, this does not hold Steam liable for the pricing policies of individual game makers. The EU investigation has targeted in particular five companies that are suspected of practicing differential pricing within EU.

According to the latest statement from EU Anti-trust authorities, they are concerned that certain game publishers are bypassing EU single market regulations and charging their customers variable prices based solely on the country their IP address points to. Since, the games are essentially the same regardless of the geographic difference, such variable pricing strategy is in breach of EU regulations.

European Commission has already begun investigations into the five accused companies and its sole jurisdiction is on sales through the Steam network. The companies under scrutiny include Focus Home, Capcom, Bandai Namco, ZeniMax and Koch Media. The accusation is that they are putting geographic restrictions on Steam activation keys so if a buyer purchases a game in a certain part of EU then he cannot play that in other parts of EU. Basically, the buyer must purchase another license to play the same game if he moves across specific borders.

The reason why European Commission is bothered with this practice is because it provides companies a chance to sell their activation keys at higher prices in specific countries and undercutting the customers in other countries.

It is this practice that the EU believes is breaching parallel trade rules. The question remains as to whether the issue is with pricing or because multiple licenses are required within EU. If it is the case of pricing then parallel trade comes into effect but if it is due to multiple licenses, then the EU might find the companies in breech non-liable though they may write them off with a warning not to engage in such arm twisting practices.

Another question on the minds of investigators is whether the companies are unfairly restricting retail prices or simply singling out customers because of their location or nationality.

There are several games under scrutiny on the Steam network. Project Cars, Dark Souls, Pack-man 256 are the titles selected from Bandai Namco for the investigation while Capcom features with Devil May Cry and Resident Evil series. Then there are titles from the other three brands, popular among them being Railroad X, Cities XXL, Elder Scrolls Online.

The intriguing thing about this whole episode is that there were no complaints on differential pricing. The Commission has clarified that this investigation is their own undertaking and it was started only after observing the company activities on Steam.

Simultaneously, two other similar investigations were opened but pertaining to different spheres of operation all together. Online hotel bookings, sale of domestic appliances and hi-fi equipment are the other three areas where the commission will investigate several sellers and companies.

In the recent past, the Commission had aired similar concerns with regards to hotel bookings. Tour operators such as REWE, TUI, Thomas Cook and Kuoni are all part of the online hotel booking investigations for operating with hoteliers like the Melia Hotels to show differential prices and room availabilities to customers based on their country of residence or their nationality.

This investigation is also backed by the Computer & Communications Industry Association as they hope the results of the investigation will help prevent sale of products with scrupulous intents online. Such practices undermine consumer choice and price transparency.

Couple of years back Origin practiced differential pricing for most of its titles especially with the Indian subcontinent. Games such as FIFA were priced much lower as opposed to rest of the world in an attempt to garner greater sales in the subcontinent except it resulted in exploitation. Consumers from other parts of the world would use Indian IP addresses to purchase installation codes and download games at fraction of the cost for the rest of the world. Soon after, Origin removed such pricing practices and went with a unified single price strategy.

nintendo switch game list

Switch Titles Quadruple Overnight – Now Launching With 10 Titles

Just a month ago, Nintendo announced its latest console release, the Nintendo Switch that garnered rave reviews worldwide except for one small complication – Nintendo had launched a console with a trickle of game titles to its credit.

The design, innovation and functionality of the Nintendo Switch makes it an interesting device and priced at around $299.99 on Amazon, this first generation device can reach its sales target but provided sufficient game makers sign up for the new console and extend existing titles or create brand new ones.

Back at the time of launch, the total number of confirmed titles was around 26 that were spread out across 2017. Some of the titles were totally new and innovative while others built on the previously successful Nintendo franchises. Most popular of all titles was the Zelda: Breath of the Wild but there really wasn’t much one could get excited on.

Now a month later, the extended list of game titles scheduled for launch in 2017 has grown and while folks other than the early adopters will continue to be skeptical of this brand new device, those holding back because of a dearth in game titles will be pleased to know that Switch will now have a lot more games made exclusively for it than previously believed. The total number of game titles coming out for the Switch has quadrupled in a month.

According to PressStart, a gaming website, the original number of titles at the time of Switch launch was 26, which has now gone up to an impressive 106! That is a huge increase in titles. Besides, there is yet another good news in that gamers who pre-order the Switch on launch day will receive more game titles from the beginning.

The original plan was to launch only five games with the Switch. The titles include Skylanders Imaginators, Just Dance 2017, 1-2 Switch, Super Bomberman and Zelda. For those purchasing the Switch on the day of launch, the total titles releasing with the Switch has grown to include the titles of World of Goo, Human Resource Machine, Little Inferno, I am Setsuno and The Binding of Issac. While there aren’t more than the handful of games at launch, it still is better than having just four to five titles at launch.

After receiving heavy criticism from fans for the dearth in game titles, Nintendo decided to add a few late releases into the launch day release segment. This was necessary considering the $299 price tag. Remember Wii and its launch? The concept back then was innovative and they rode the innovation wave for quite some time but due to the lack of game titles for the Wii, it began to quickly fade away. The same could be true for the Switch though, this is an entirely different concept from the Wii and the concept alone should help it garner a good fan following. Now with more launch titles, it should get better first day sales and with nearly 100 plus titles promised for 2017, looks like Nintendo might just have the next big thing in the gaming industry.

The Problems of the Switch

Speaking of the next big thing, consumers aren’t just interested in the Switch because of its looks or the way it operates. The fact, that this device can offer big screen entertainment plus mobile entertainment is what helps it garner support. The only real question remaining however is whether it does well as a multi-tasking gaming device. Any new idea requires time to settle in and baring the early adopters, the rest of the market is interested in more than just an innovation. In order to convince this lot of buyers, Switch will have to increase its titles quickly and if possible add to the number of titles scheduled along with its launch. 10 titles sound good but 20 would be outstanding.

Another hurdle in the Switch’s path is the interest shown by third party developers. Games developed or commissioned by Nintendo will help keep the Switch alive but for this platform to grow, more independent game developers and their production houses have to begin making games for the Switch or at least include cross-platform compatibility for the Switch in their already existing game titles.

How Game Titles Will Be Available

Yes, you probably have heard that the Nintendo Switch does not have a huge internal storage capacity. With just 32GB of space available inside, the need for game cartridges or storage devices is paramount. Unlike Sony that decided to make expensive proprietary memory cards, Switch has gone with the tried and tested Micro SD Cards. They will allow games to be downloaded onto microSD cards or sell them as such with titles already preloaded. And to start off their campaign they already went into a partnership with Hori to make 16GB and 32GB Switch insignia microSD cards.

With the Nintendo Switch capable of working with a 2TB micro SDXC memory card, space should not be a major concern. By the way, 2TB micro SDXC memory cards are a pipedream away at the moment, just in case you were wondering, but Switch is geared up for the eventuality when it happens. Coming back to the present, with microSD cards costing anywhere between $10 to $25, storing games for the Switch should not be a problem at all.

Only a month remains for the launch of the Nintendo Switch and things are already starting to look up. New titles added to the total 2017 Switch games list, SD Card branding, aggressive marketing and a truly innovative design are just a few positives that Nintendo will be aiming at peddling in the coming few days as they build up to the launch.

 

lenovo y series gaming laptop

Next In The Y Series – Lenovo Now Taking PC Gaming Seriously?

For long, those in the gaming industry never really looked at Lenovo seriously as a gaming intensive manufacturer. They were always known for their Ideapads and office workstations, their servers, their smartphones maybe but as a serious gamer’s tooth fairy – never! Well, that all changed with the Y510p High Performance multimedia laptop as Lenovo put it. This particular model, while not at all aimed at gamers boasted of near gamer specifications and abilities. Soon after this model gained some momentum, we saw the Y50 series launch with the Y50-70 in particular earning a lot of praise for the design, performance and above all the affordability of these machines as opposed to the rest of the competition.

Now, Lenovo has taken the next stride in PC gaming and they are here with the newest two members of the Y series. With these two new launches, Lenovo hopes to settle the debate of their gaming stance once and for all. No longer does Lenovo only want to be known as a hardware manufacturer, they now want to be taken seriously in the gaming industry.

After decades of professional catering, workstations for multinational corporations and a more general audience, Lenovo’s gaming segment is now seeing major strides forward all thanks to their current gaming boss, Will Fu. The latest Y line-up is slightly different from its previous Y series offerings. The gaming section of Lenovo is now taking Y series quite seriously, ensuring that the features will entice hardcore gamers with loyalty towards other major gaming notebook makers such as MSI, Alienware and Asus ROG. It is no longer just a question of adding more processing power and a better graphics card but more of building long lasting relationships with the target audience.

In a recent announcement, Will Fu made these new directives known and also unveiled the Y520 laptop that will feature the GTX 1050 graphics cards. It is Fu’s ideology that any Lenovo Y series gaming product should last the consumer a good two to five years. This means better hardware, more stability and a proper gaming specific service contract.

In a first, Fu said that unlike the previous business model of Lenovo where customers and the parent company were separated by a sea of distributors, retailers and brand partners, now their focus is on reducing the gap. They don’t just want their customers to do a single business transaction with the company but want them to keep coming back for more. Hence, their ideology now revolves around improving the gaming product lineup by listening to their customers. Basically Lenovo Gaming is going the consumer centric way. In order to achieve this goal, Lenovo is starting a Lenovo Gaming Community.

This community will not be country specific or selective of its members. It will attempt to bring together likeminded folks who love games and whether they play them professionally or because they love playing games, everyone will be able to chip in and share their experiences. In return, this will allow the company to capture a larger market, spread its innovations and ideas plus interact with the customers, fix or resolve issues and better their future product line.

One of the very first things in Fu’s Lenovo Gaming plan is to increase Lenovo’s presence at various gaming events across the globe. Some of the major events they plant to be an integral part of this year include Gamescom, China Joy and the likes. In the past, Lenovo never really wanted to showcase or interact with its customers at these world events because they were more interested in B2B deals. However, with the steady growth in popularity of these world gaming events and with nearly million gaming fans showing up per event, it just does not make any sense not to attend them and give a strong showing especially when you are now entering the hardcore gaming market with a product like the Y520 and Y720.

The New Releases

So, the latest two entrants are the Y70  and the Y520. The latter is a virtual reality behemoth codenamed by Lenovo as the Legion. These new Y series no longer sport the IdeaPad moniker but feature a gamer centric logo for the Legion title. The entire specifications too get an overhaul with NVidia Pascal graphics coupled to Kaby Lake processors that together make the Y720 a virtual reality ready machine. All that remains is to double down and purchase a VR headset, which by the way Lenovo is currently in the process of fine tuning. If you want to try out their headsets, be sure to visit the next gaming convention in your country.

Now, back to the laptops. They retain the design of the Y50-70 series with a black-red color scheme but there is a slight difference in the overall finishing. The Legion now seems to be sharper at the edges, with the cuts and drops. In fact, it is slimmer than before too. Another great addition is the RGB keyboard lighting with four zones and optional lights for each. That and the central hinge are probably the reason why the new generation Y series looks much more badass than before. Consumers even get the option of taking a 17-inch version of the Legion that comes with an Xbox One wireless receiver built into it!

Coming to the actual specs that drive this beast, the Legion Y720 will be powered with the 7700HQ Core i7 processor and games will run off 6GB GDDR5 memory GTX 1060 NVidia graphics. The other specifications include maximum of 32GB DDR4 RAM capacity, PCIe SSD plus HDD, 60Whr battery and optional 4K display. Lenovo says, its top of the line mode can delivery battery backup of around 5 hours.

On paper and with the sneak peek available thus far from Lenovo, the new Y series sure does sound enticing. Question is, does Lenovo continue with its aggressive pricing policy or will it go the Asus ROG way and up its asking price because now it considers itself a gaming giant?

  • Jonas
  • February 6, 2017
  • PC
top-games-header

Best Performers Of 2k16 – 10 Games That Made It Big In The UK

As always Call of Duty and FIFA battle things out on the top of the annual UK charts, but what about the rest of the spots? Does a new IP finally make it into the top 10 list? Or is it still the same as with the year before and the year before that?

With all the excitement now shifting to the Nintendo Switch and its impending release, we totally forgot to release the annual charts on who made it big and those that went bust. No matter, we are here a month late to give you the UK top performers chart! (Better late than never, right?)

Alright so, no guesses obviously as to which two titles rule the roost. FIFA and COD come in at one and two respectively with their latest releases and this has been the case for a few years now unless a new GTA title releases. Nevertheless, GTA V still goes strong by continuing to feature in the top ten list.

Now, before we reveal this list, don’t get your hopes high because it is just as mundane as the year before. There is absolutely nothing to surprise us here. A case in point though, titles that release earlier in the year, tend to get a biased judgement when it comes to annual lists simply because their memory tends to fade away with all the titles that come after it. Nevertheless, we have tried to remain as objective as possible with our evaluations and instead of just relying on the sales figures from UK, we have factored in monthly sales figures and taken cues from global sales too.

What has astonished us in all our research though is that this year, there is one new IP in the top ten –  Overwatch from Blizzard. Some might say The Division is a new IP but it bears the Tom Clancy platform’s USP so no, according to us it isn’t a new title. This is worrying as most publishers simply want to rehash working titles into new games without working to build a brand new concept and create a niche. What’s more worrying is that in the last three years, there have only been four new franchises in the top 50, for all consoles included together!

The presence of Overwatch and to a certain extent The Division proves that new titles can do really well. They are in the top ten after all. Forget that and consider Steep. This title was called a dud by most critics and yet it managed to creep into the top 50 retail games list. What this basically says is that the gaming community is eager to lap up any new thing but in the absence of creativity and new titles, they have to stick with existing ideas and concepts. The final new IP to make the top 50 list is “No Man’s Sky” that features at number 29 but it isn’t something that everyone would remember.

Another trend we realized with 2016 top charts is that retail sales have fallen further as opposed to the penultimate year. Now down to just 15.8%, it amounts to £1.78 billion. Thankfully though the figures point to a direct increase in digital sales but finding this information or rather collecting the data is difficult because of the numerous websites that one can procure digital downloads or license keys from. From certain sources though, an estimate of 12.1% is reported as the digital sales growth in 2016.

Hardware sales too remain stagnant with PlayStation 4 leading at 45%, Xbox One at 34.1% followed at a fair distance by 3DS and Wii U at 7% and 2.5% respectively. As for publishers, EA continues to lead at 22.1% followed at far by Activision at 12.1% with Nintendo, Ubisoft and Take-Two completing the fantastic five.

Alright, enough of statistics and metrics here’s a quick recap of the top ten performers from the UK.

FIFA 17 (EA)

The year that FIFA does not make it to the top ten list and come among the top three, is the year gaming industry has revolutionized to a huge extent. We can’t remember the last time Fifa did not feature in the top three spots, at least in the UK.

Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Activision)

Same applies to Call of Duty. If a COD title comes out, it makes it into the top three spots with relative ease. UK loves its COD and FIFA yearly releases without any abatement.

Battlefield 1 (EA)

Not a regular yearly release but every time Battlefield title comes out, it ends up being a part of the top fives.

The Division (Ubisoft)

Ubisoft continues to push forward with innovative ideas and concept games. The Division was one of its hottest awaited releases of the year 2016 and in our opinion, the fact that it came out with such promise is probably why it made it into the top fives.

GTA V (Rockstar)

With multiplayer mode and periodic exclusive content releases and new additions, GTA V continues to stay relevant and grasp a larger audience.

The Last Five

Top among the last five is Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Sony) and the only reason it sits at number six is because of its exclusivity to the PlayStation 4 platform. Close on its heels is yet another COD title, Black Ops III followed by Watch Dogs 2, Overwatch and Forza Horizon 3.

Games that are worth mentioning because they just missed out on the top ten spots or because they are older titles that continue to work wonders include The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition and Doom from Bethesda, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens from WB Games, Mafia III from 2K and finally FIFA 16 from EA Sports.

nintendo switch

Nintendo Switch – What To Expect From Nintendo’s New Hybrid Home/Portable Console?

Formerly known as NX, Nintendo Switch is the latest video-game console to come out in March of this year. But, even before it’s proper release, it has garnered quite the following over social media platforms.

So, what is the Switch? Well, it’s a cross between a home and hand-held console. At first glimpse, the Switch looks like a mini-tablet with its 6.2” screen straddled by two detachable controllers, on either side.

The controllers that go by the nickname ‘Joy-Cons’ can be used in a variety of configurations, thus allowing for a smooth transition between solo gameplay and double player mode as and when required.

Contents And Cost:

The contents of Nintendo Switch upon unboxing shall include the console (tablet); a docking station for the console; two Joy-Con controllers (left and right); controller straps; a Joy-Con grip to play while charging; AC adapter and an HDMI cable.

Customers in the United States will get to choose between two different stylized editions for the Switch; a dark-grey pair of Joy-Cons that match the overall system’s color combination, and the other being a contrast edition, featuring blue and red controllers.

Other than the aesthetics, both SKUs are identical in their hardware and specs. The suggested markup price for the Switch is on the higher side at $299, given that Nintendo has historically seen success by undercutting the competition.

Its also interesting to note that back in 2102 Nintendo’s Wii U too had an expensive launch price, which it had to slash by $50 in the following summer to stay relevant in the console market.

Hardware And Specs:

At the heart of Nintendo’s Switch is the 6.2-inch tablet a.k.a. console with a nascent resolution of 720p. When docked, it can be projected to the TV screen using an HDMI cable, with a support for up to 1080p.

Under the hood, the Switch packs a customized NVidia Tegra graphics processor. The storage capacity is rather low – only 32GB of space, but thankfully there is a microSD card slot provided to expand storage as per needs.

The Joy-Cons are the hybrid console’s versatile limbs, employable in a variety of ways to play games. The default setup has the Joy-Con pairs slid on to either side of the console for a portable solo-playing feel. Additionally, the Joy-Cons can be detached and used separately much like Wii controllers to play two-player games.

In terms of on-battery game-time the Switch gives anywhere between 2.5 to 6 hours when fully charged. For example, break-free playing of Zelda, a relatively graphic intensive game will drain the battery completely in roughly three hours.

The controllers however last for much longer – 20 hours, if one were to rely on usage data from Nintendo sources. The console can be charged in one of two ways – either by docking it or via its USB-C port when on the move.

Games Available At Launch:

At the time of launch, only two in-house games, both developed by Nintendo shall be available in the Switch. One of them is the long-awaited title from ‘The Legend of Zelda’ franchise – Battle of the Wild, and the other being, 1-2 Switch.

1-2 Switch is a collection of mini-games designed specifically by Nintendo to showcase the creative control scheme of the Switch. Take for example a game from 1-2 Switch, where two players, each holding one Joy-Con have to face each other to play as opposed to facing the screen. Interestingly, this mini-game pack was originally intended to be released for the Wii U.

Future Switch owners can purchase two third-party games separately. This includes Activision’s Skylanders Imaginators featuring a gameplay revolving around the concept of toys coming to life. The other title, Just Dance 2017 from Ubisoft is all about simulating and replicating dance moves using full-body controls.

Games To Be Expected In Future:

According to Nintendo of America’s President, the company is closely collaborating with 50 different game developers and plans to bring out 80 titles for the Switch console in the time to come.

Expect games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe; Lego City Undercover; Super Bomberman R; Has Been Heroes; Sonic Mania; I Am Setsuna, and Arms to be released for Nintendo Switch in the spring time-frame. There’s also Snipperclips: Cut It Out Together, a title that will be available as downloadable content.

More graphically engaging games like NBA2K18, Splatoons-2 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are slated for fall/summer release, whereas the iconic Super Mario Odyssey should hit store shelves around the holidays. Price per game is set at $60.

Online Gameplay:

The Switch also features out-of-the-box multiplayer option allowing up to eight such devices to connect over a Wi-Fi network. Also, much like Xbox1 and PS4, Nintendo too shall launch an online subscription service sometime around the console launch.

Based on reliable sources, the downloads for the first few months shall be free of cost. Thereafter, customers shall have to fork out a monthly subscription fee (undecided) to continue downloading content from Nintendo servers.

Initially, the company plans to offer Super Nintendo games as well as NES titles as downloadable content. With time, more specialized Switch features and in-game additions will be made available for customers.

Final Thoughts:

The Switch looks like a well-made kit, with the hardware that is, quite frankly, the best to have come out of Nintendo’s stables. But then, the video-game console giant has always been great at imagining new ways to play video-games.

Sadly, the problem area has been with convincing developers to make meaningful yet engaging games that can fully exploit it’s creations.

Switch seems no different. Here is an incredible piece of hardware, but with very little games to play on it. Then there is the issue of its introductory price being on the higher side. However, Nintendo says that it has learnt some valuable lessons from its Wii U experiences.

And we sure hope they have, and that by the end of this year, there are enough numbers and variety in game titles that will push the immense creative potential of this latest hybrid console offering of Nintendo.

nvidia graphics card

NVIDIA’s Latest Graphics Cards – What Makes Them So Good?

The Titan X and GeForce GTX 10x series of graphics cards are the latest from NVidia, all of which are based on the new Pascal architecture. GTX 1080 is the standard for the series, with Titan X featuring at the premium range, whereas the likes of 1070 and 1060 offer systematic scaled-down versions without suffering on performance parameters. For this article, we shall focus on the marquee players i.e. 1080 and Titan X, but not before delving into some much-needed Pascal literature.

Pascal Architecture – The DNA Of NVidia GeForce GTX 10x And Titan X Graphics Cards

The GPU architecture for the 10x series graphics card is named Pascal whereas it was called Maxwell for the preceding 9x series. So, what’s in the name you ask? Well not much more than a collection of new feature(s) and/or improvements across baseline attributes that make the Pascal 10 times better if one were to go by NVidia’s claims.

Compared to Maxwell’s 28 nanometres (nm), Pascal GPUs have managed to cram up billions of transistors over a 16 nm FinFET manufacturing process. In layperson’s language, you got way more computational power on a given piece of silicon board than ever before. Plus, smaller architecture means efficient energy consumption, leading to less heating issues.

Pascal architecture variants churn out more than 5-teraFLOPS; up to 12 times more neural network training and seven times higher deep learning throughput. Without delving deeper into each aspect, its suffice to say, that the processing capability of Pascal GPUs is way higher than existing benchmarks.

But modern Graphics cards are a marriage between processing power and memory capabilities. And the simple thing with pairing memory with GPU until Pascal was that you could either increase capacity or you could increase bandwidth of the memory unit.

Increasing both capacity and bandwidth was a challenge, but it was a necessary challenge to overcome. Enter 3D memory on Pascal GPUs which offer 2.7 times the capacity and 3 times the speed, thereby leading to a holistic jump in overall performance attributes of the GPU.

Titan X Pascal – Simply Irresponsible Amounts Of Performance

In terms of performance parameters, Titan X’s Pascal version shreds its Maxwell counterpart to bits. Just to give you a perspective of the gulf in class, made from a 12 nm FinFET lithography on a die size of 471mm2, the GP-102 chip in the Pascal Titan X sports 12-billion transistors compared to 8-billion transistors on GM-200 chip of the Maxwell Titan X card.

The new Titan X with its 3584 CUDA cores and 1,417MHz of base clock speeds compared against its Maxwell counterpart (3,072 CUDA cores and 1,000MHz) is simply a phenomenal jump in graphic processing power. And even though the older version had similar memory capacity and bus i.e. 12GB and 384-bit respectively, the Pascal Titan X with its 48GB/s bandwidth accounts for 40% increase in that department.

As if past Titan X owners weren’t feeling miserable enough about their pricey card being trumped by the new GTX 1080 (on a price to performance scale obviously), the new Pascal Titan X has taken that gulf in class to a whole new level. The parameter numbers and benchmarks are all good, but the real test for the new Titan X was always going to be its performance on 4K resolutions. And here too, its proven more than capable.

For starters, this is the only single-GPU card that has been able to constantly pump out 60fps at 4K resolution for most games, a feat that was previously possible only through SLI. As for the games that it can’t, the bottleneck lies at the CPU level. So, if you really need to see what this card can do, then shift to a X99 platform with an eight-core CPU.

GeForce GTX 1080– The Gold Standard For 4K And VR

The GTX 1080 is the flagship of NVidia’s 10x GFX cards featuring the famed Pascal architecture. It is also the first card from the NVidia stables to take on the dual pronged challenge of 4K resolution display units and Virtual Reality gears.

The GTX 1080 uses the GP-104 GPU with 7.2 billion transistors, but for us gamers what counts is the CUDA cores and there’s 2,560 of them on this card. Compare that to GTX 980’s 2048, that’s a 25% more cores!

The clock speed is also higher – 1,607MHz to GTX 980’s 1,126MHz translating to 40% higher speeds. These two parameters alone offer ample evidence of the superior performance of the GTX 1080 against it’s previous generation counterpart and that too at a marginal increase in peak power draw.

There’s massive improvement on the RAM front too. Compared to GTX 980’s 4GB GDDR5 at memory clock of 7,000MHz, the GTX 1080 sports 6GB of GDDR5X RAM clocking at 10,000MHz. That means all that extended holding capacity for graphical data can be transferred at higher speed.

Ports wise, the Founder’s edition card offers connections for DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort (DP), where using the latter, 4K content can be pushed on to equally able display units at 120Hz and 5K at 60Hz. The 2.0b HDMI interface too can push 4K content but at 60Hz. So, all in all the GTX 1080 can be considered future proof in terms of the GFX hardware on offer.

On the software side, NVidia looks to have finally cracked the code to multi-monitor displays (4K), not to forget support for VR modules likes those on offer by Oculus and HTC. Apart from the basic software packages, one significant software feature is the asynchronous compute, which allows the GPU to work simultaneously with games and other GPU-intensive applications.

Now, you can play a game with a video compression software running in the background, without being bugged by those irksome frame freezes that were a constant pain with the GTX 980.

Verdict

The future of 4K gaming definitely looks a lot brighter with the Pascal based Titan X and GeForce GTX 1080 cards. At this point, there really aren’t that many games that can push the GTX 1080, and we doubt the Titan X will break a sweat with upcoming games.    

  • Jonas
  • January 30, 2017
  • PC
nvidia shield tv

A Comprehensive Look At NVidia Shield TV 2017

“Streamer for Gamers” is how NVidia wants us to look at its Shield TV’s 2017 avatar. Making a splash at CES 2017, Jen-Hsun Huang, NVidia’s CEO introduced the device as a compact TV hub/console, that’s powered by NVidia’s Tegra X1 chip and runs on the latest Android-based UI.

Theoretically speaking, you get the best of both worlds with this $200 streaming device in that you can choose from its vast library of games (requires monthly subscription) and stream HDR and 4K movies and shows on your TV via the multitude of Android apps.

After having played around (read research) with the 2017 Shield TV, here’s our comprehensive take on the nifty ‘stream-box’.

Hardware

NVidia this time around, went for a more compact footprint accentuated by a sleek, sharp and angular design. However, the full plastic build seems like a cost-saving measure especially when compared to hefty, metallic finishes that the previous version of the Shield box featured.

Under the hood exist NVidia’s Tegra X1 graphic chip with 3-GB of RAM and a 12-GB SSD storage; an aspect that’s remained unchanged from its 2015 model. However, there is the choice of larger storage with the Pro version that features a 500GB HDD. There’s a stand on offer that lets you orient the Android box vertically.  

Turn to the back of the box, and you got two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI out and an Ethernet jack. They have dropped the SD card and micro-USB slot. Instead, there is an option to utilize one of the USB ports as an input port to connect your PC if the need arises. Also worth mentioning is the non-inclusion of an HDMI cable in the package.

The included Shield controller has gone through some structural overhauls: its much smaller; sports a geodescent pattern and overall feels like a better version of the Xbox One S controller. The controller still charges via micro-USB and NVidia claims that it can withstand 60-hours of game-time.

One thing we did notice is that the navigation buttons aren’t capacitive but proper physical buttons. This is a welcome change given the finicky aspect of the last NVidia controller which would inadvertently pause in between games only to realise that you had accidently flicked on the pause button.

With the previous model, the remote controller was sold separately for $50. Thankfully, this time around, they have included the nifty controller with the package. Its got a simple design that lets you work with the non-gaming menu, thereby making the Shield TV a true hybrid between a console and set-top box.   

Software

The 2017 Shield runs on the new Android 7.0 “Nougat” thus giving us a look at how well Google has planned the UX for the big screen. One useful tip we learnt straight off the bat was the double-pressing of the home button to drop back into the home screen.

Also, the picture-in-picture support of Nougat means that developers can include this as a feature in their apps thus letting a user browse the Android TV interface while having the media content play on a mini-screen.

NVidia has announced an ambitious strategy for the Shield in terms of making it a true smart-home appliance by integrating it with Google Assistant. However, we couldn’t test that feature since the update for that isn’t going to be out until later in the year.

Theoretically though, it should make for an intriguing and perhaps inspiring partnership with NVidia’s in-house voice-command feature ‘Spot’ which lets you bark commands at Google Assistant from anywhere in the house.

Sadly, all that we could achieve at this point in time was ask simple questions by tapping the microphone button about sports update, which would show up on the TV screen in a very Google Now type card.

Streaming Capability

We noticed a pretty solid collection of media-centric apps on Shield’s Android TV and while some did display performance glitches from time to time, the overall experience wasn’t so bad. There’s also the Cast support from Google using which we could cast apps from our android phones.  

Media streaming performance is perhaps where the Shield makes a giant killing. Be it Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, we were able to stream 4K video content seamlessly. The fact that we could access 4K HDR from Amazon’s video platform was quite amazing since Amazon’s own Fire TV box struggles with it!

Gaming Capability

A big change from the previous model is the revamped game streaming service otherwise known as GeForce Now. With the new servers powered by GeForce 10-series GPUs, that opens up a whole new dimension for enjoying high-end, graphic intensive games, especially when they are being rendered remotely and then streamed to the Shield device over the internet.

For instance, our gaming rig featuring a twin GeForce GPU takes around 5-7 seconds to load The Witcher 3 and that’s about the same time it took for the streamed version to load on our TV screen. We could play the game at the highest available resolution (1080p @ 60 FPS) and ‘ultra’ graphic setting and were hard-pressed to find any noticeable lag or compression artefacts.

We feel its important to mention about the quality of GeForce Now experience which will vary depending on the speed and bandwidth of your internet setup. So, a flaky internet connection would naturally encourage more issues with the overall rendering, lag and compression artefacts in streamed games.      

Potential Competition

In terms of game streaming, the NVidia faces stiff competition from the likes of Steam who have released their own version of a remote game streamer. And when it comes to media streaming, there’s just too many players to name.

Where NVidia’s Shield TV takes the gallop is that it is a single-point device for both game and media streaming, and this it does quite admirably.

Our Verdict

If you already own a Shield TV box then the NVidia’s 2017 Shield TV will feel like the same offering with a few new tricks. However, for the many who don’t, it is the perfect media streamer/micro-console hybrid out there in the market right now.

 

Windows 10 Game Mode – Gaming Revolution Or Storm In A Teacup?

Sometime towards the final week of December 2016, a few users who were testing out the latest Windows 10 developer build noticed a ‘gamemode.dll’ in the operating system’s DLL list. Once the word came out, the PC gaming community was abuzz about Windows finally doing more than paying lip service to hardcore gamers.

Microsoft too officially announced that it would reveal more details of Windows 10 Game Mode’s prowess over the coming weeks in the form of previews. The first bit of information that did come straight from Microsoft was that the new Game Mode was designed to finetune your PC and therefore push the performance parameters of the games being run on your system.

Furthermore, the feature would help both legacy Windows (Win32) games as well as the modern titles so that you can play them all without having to choose one over the other. And…end of transmission. Oh and this improvement won’t be immediately visible but instead will be pushed through when future releases of the OS come out.  

Sounds great, right? But then, we PC-gamers have already found turnarounds to these problems. So, is there any genuine reason to be celebrating this not-yet-released update? To answer that question, we need to take a more incisive look at Windows 10’s game-related attributes thus far.       

Windows 10 Game Mode vs GeForce Experience And Radeon Software

Any gaming rig features one or more graphics card(s) from either GeForce (NVidia) or Radeon (ATI). That means you automatically get the option to download GeForce Experience or Radeon Software depending on the GPU to maximize your gaming experience.

The question then arises that if GPUs already came with their own game performance optimizers then what is it that Windows 10’s Game Mode wants to add to the existing setup?

The answer lies in the long-drawn tales of Windows 10’s incompatibility issues with the aforementioned game-tuners. In fact, one common gripe with gamers who owned NVidia cards and had upgraded to Windows 10 was that the GPU drivers kept crashing frequently, to which NVidia responded by releasing a slew of driver updates (for older cards) and how-to hacks.

To be fair, Windows too did its part with the reconciliation bit but not before throwing another curveball. The OS would clash with either GPU’s customization software. So, while you could tweak the settings in-game, you weren’t able to optimize your games from the desktop screen.

Perhaps the ‘Game Mode’ could be the solution from Windows to customize game settings beforehand, just the way most of us gamers like it. Fingers crossed.

Windows 10 and Gaming

In terms of running games, Windows 10 isn’t that much different from its predecessor, Windows 8.1 apart from the introduction of DirectX 12. As for performance, Windows 10 provides as good if not better a performance as Windows 7 did.

But the great thing about Windows 7 was that you could run really old PC games over administrator mode. Similarly, in Windows 8.1, you had the compatibility mode that you could enable by right-clicking on the game icon and choosing the said option. The same is on offer in Windows 10 too.

So what’s the difference? Nothing and that’s exactly our point. While Windows 10 promised to be this lightweight, resource-intelligent OS, and it did too but mainly for main-stream applications. That bonhomie was absent when it came to games. To make matters worse, there was a dip in frame-rates when dual-GPU (Crossfire and SLI) setups came into the picture. Talk about spending a fortune to build a beast only to be hamstrung by the OS!

Thankfully, third-party candidates like GOG, who have in the past battled hard for DRM-free game environment. They have taken the pain to ensure that all those classic titles in their library run on Windows 10 without a glitch.

From its side, Windows 10 too has went ahead and asked testers to seek out incompatibility issues with games, both new and old. A list was compiled for each game and their respective compatibility verdict. It can be found here. But that has really been the extent of Microsft’s support for games.

Quite frankly, we don’t expect much from Windows 10 or its ‘Game Mode’ in this department, because lets face it, Microsoft was never historically interested in taking that responsibility. But then it never limited game and graphics hardware developers from running their own micro-environment within the OS ecosystem, the way Windows 10 has done and that too so vigorously.

Beam Live-Streaming: Is It Worth It

Beam was this start-up streaming service that allowed viewers to engage actively instead of just viewing a broadcasted game passively. That meant viewers could choose a feature like the next weapon that the player would use.

Microsoft having purchased Beam earlier this year, is showing it off as its central streaming platform for Windows. Looks like Window Game Mode is following on the footprints of its more successful Xbox One UX. And that’s excellent news for someone who’s new to the whole PC gaming scene.

However, these features were already available from both NVidia (ShadowPlay) and ATI (Radeon ReLive). What’s even better is that they directly interface with the hardware to optimize and prioritize resources. So, from an experienced gamer’s perspective, its really nothing new that Windows 10 is trying to offer in this department.

Final Verdict

So, there already existed this live capture feature called Game DVR on Windows 10 which by default remained on. Now if you wanted better frame rates, then you simply had to disable this feature. With the upcoming Game Mode, what we feel is that Microsoft aims to cut down on that resource loss when Game DVR is turned on.

In simple terms, this ‘feature’ isn’t exactly improving gaming performance but rather looks to stop another Windows feature from fiddling with your game-intensive resources. And it begs the question as to why Microsoft is so hell-bent on doing everything from the scratch. It could as easily team up with NVidia and AMD to make their existing ‘in-game optimizers’ compatible with its OS. We guess that’s something only Microsoft can answer!                     

  • Jonas
  • January 26, 2017
  • PC

Rovio, Makers Of Angry Birds Game Look Towards London For New Beginnings

Rovio Entertainment Limited, the makers of the Angry Bird franchise, is all set to open up its studio in London. Despite experts discouraging companies in Europe from shifting to the UK due to Brexit, Rovio however, seems pretty determined on going ahead, because they see this move as the next logical step in their road map to progress.

The Nordic studio already employs more than 10% of the elite gaming workforce in Finland and setting up the London studio is a great way of exploring and hiring new local talent who come with a fresh perspective into the company.

This was a much-needed revival given how the ‘Angry Birds’ firm almost hit rock-bottom in the past few years. But ask Rovio, and they seem to be singing from a different hymn-sheet. Their take – this is the right time to migrate.

The Rovio Report Card At A Glance

Angry Birds, the game, the company and the controversies – These have been the talk of the town for a while now. The Finnish studio, which shot to fame in 2009 with the unmatchable success of the Angry Birds game, had a dream run for a certain time period.

However, with the failure of games like Amazing Alex in 2012, Angry Birds Epic and Go! in 2013, combined with the dip in the growth of the Angry Bird licensed merchandise, Rovio had to lay off more than 300 employees between 2014 and 2015. It also saw the stepping down of two CEOs Mikael Hed and Pekka Rantala during this phase.

It suffered financially with net profits falling by 50% in 2013; a further decrease in profits by 73% and total revenue drop by 43% ensued in 2014. By 2015, estimated losses stood at more than 13 million Euros.

Yet, the Nordic studio did everything they could to dig their roots deeper and trudged on unfrazzled. Their recent success with games like Blast and Angry Birds 2, along with the massive success of the 3D animated comic adventure Angry Birds Movie by Sony Pictures, shows that they are here to stay.

According to Mark Sorrell, the head of Rovio studio, the company has to go beyond Angry Birds and create more new games that can become successful, if they wish to stay in the running for more than 100 years, which they intend to.

The Successes

Angry Birds, the 52nd game of Rovio was designed for the iPhone platform in which the gamer had to solve a puzzle, save eggs by throwing birds and defeat pigs using slingshots. The game took the mobile gaming industry by storm and reached the top-most spot of paid applications within six months of being on Apple’s App Store.

Rovio raised 42 million dollars in March of 2011 through Felicis Ventures, Atomico and Accel Partners, and Angry Birds reached its one-billionth download in 2012; its two-billionth download in January 2014. Its YouTube channel had amassed two billion views by June 2015.

The Financial Struggle

The strategy then was about churning out as many games as possible all the while juicing the popularity of the Angry Bird franchise. However, this was neither sustainable and nor could it fuel the growth of Rovio Entertainment. The result – the company had to endure a dark phase where revenue and profits took a nose-dive.

In response, Rovio went into major course-correction mode. It put an end to games that were not doing well, taking a step back to analyze what went wrong and how. The 400-member strong Finnish studio understands the value of keeping the gamers interested and accepts that they do not make products, rather provide services. Hence, a strategy to reflect those thought-processes had to be put in place.

The Revival

With the new thinking and giving importance to quality over quantity, Rovio has seen an encouraging operating profit in 2016, which means good things are in store for the studio. The box-office success of the Hollywood movie Angry Birds 3D has got them new licensing deals and added to the revenue bringing Rovio to a stable stage, where they can look at growing their numbers.

Thus, already having a premise for setting up an office at London because of their existent consumer products department, Rovio studio head Mark Sorrell, told that this was a natural step of succession during his announcement about the London office in the Pocket Gamer Connects London earlier in this week.

The London studio is open now and aims at recruiting high quality talent to stand up to the high level expectations that the industry has with their brand. Mark made a point by telling that they are not a startup and they are not pressurizing themselves to produce quick games at the moment.

Rovio is willing to take it slow and steady and hire not more than eight people in 2017. They are not looking for mavericks, rockstars or ninjas, rather mature minds and a diverse team that can settle and flourish in a Finnish work environment.

The Future Planning

The year 2019 is when Rovio London plans to launch its first title as they want to take these two years in developing, testing and ensuring that the new game is just the touch of perfect. Although, most new studios are under tremendous pressure to prove a point by rolling out their first game within six months of setting up shop, Rovio is not in that rat race.

This London studio is going to concentrate on developing multiplayer mobile games and they understand that this genre takes time to develop, irrespective of how amazing and experienced the team handling the project might be. Rovio also believes that the entire team has to put in their heart and soul into coming up with the new game, and they are willing to invest that much time into the mobile MMO.

The strategy Rovio London studio will follow is to ensure not to repeat old mistakes. They want to focus on making fantastic games, might be less in number, but great enough to match, if not surpass, the success of their all-time popular franchise of the Angry Birds.

GTA V Releases Its First Major Update For 2017

Grand Theft Auto is the real reason why people even know of Rockstar Games. These bad asses have given us titles that are gory, catchy and packed to the brim with hours of endless fun and mayhem. With GTA V, Rockstar managed to build on its reputation for endless gaming and RPG action when it announced that this would have an online multiplayer universe above and beyond its story mode. Nice move Rockstar, no wonder you guys currently top the charts worldwide for the most played RPG game at present.

In fact, if current reports are true then Rockstar Games has managed to sell over 70 million copies of GTA V. Instead of sitting on their laurels and working on future game title releases, the production house continues to toil away the hours building upgrades, new vehicles, expansion packs and what not. Latest in its series of rollouts is the new vehicles that just hit the GTA universe. This has already created a buzz around the GTA community with many even saving up virtual mullah just so they can get their shiny new dream machine.

The newest content available for download in the GTA 5 universe is the final piece of the 2016 packs and it is available on all platforms. The Dewbauchee Spectre sports car is now open for sale at Benny’s Original Motor Works shop with a price tag of $599,000. This is a two-door coupe that boasts of exclusivity and Benny will strip it down to the core and reassemble it into a super beast as per the player’s liking – as Rockstar describes the Dewbauchee Spectre on its official website.

Along with the release of this sports car, Rockstar has also added another game mode in the Adversary Mode, which they are calling Collection Time. The objective of this brand new mode is to pick through opponents in a defined sequence within a given time frame. This particular mode was long awaited but it was called “Pointless” at the time, or so the gossip columns suggest. Benny’s shop will now offer till 30th January a discount of 25 percent on any upgrade done to a new or old car. Finally, the Executive Upgrade will dole out more discounts on upgrades that players make in their personal garage.

Seems that the holiday spirit is lingering at the Rockstar studios. The developers aren’t happy with all the shiny new things they just gave us so they have decided to double the GTA$ and RP for Special Vehicle Works and Online Biker Clubhouse Contracts. This too will last till January 30th. A few other items too received a markdown such as Biker Business Properties, any import/export tattoo, Executive Garage renovations and also the Custom Auto Shop renovations.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Rockstar ended its tirade of upgrades and discounts by announcing yet another premium race that it dubbed, “Chiliad”. This being a stunt race, allows players to generate a whole lot of GTA$ by simply finishing in the top three. Outside the top spots though players don’t get any GTA$ but have to make do with RP.

Why Is Rockstar Actively Supporting GTA V

It truly is astonishing how hard the developers are working at keeping GTA V relevant. No wonder then that the fan base just keeps on growing. As per current estimates, the growth does not seem likely to stop for at least a couple more years even with the new titles, “Red Dead Redemption 2” and “GTA 6” scheduled for launch in the near future. If the folks at Rockstar had their way, they would continue keeping GTA 5 alive for another decade. All this is possible thanks to the online multiplayer mode. In fact, 95% of the updates rolled out periodically are aimed towards the multiplayer arena, some debugs while most giving level updates, add-ons, new vehicle packs and much more.

It makes a lot of sense too as to why Rockstar Games continues to invest in the upkeep of a released title. First, GTA V is still its major money spinner. Second, if it can keep the profits up from this title, the risks of its future title’s uncertain income are mitigated in the long run. In fact, current fan following for “Red Dead Redemption 2” isn’t all that great if you compare it to GTA V though there is a lot of hype surrounding this particular title. According to GTA 5 Cheats, the gaming community doesn’t seem that excited with the upcoming title and the chances of it ever overtaking GTA V in terms of popularity is slim.

Just recently GTA V Online was scheduled for a crucial update across all platforms. While this wasn’t particularly advertised, some players who witnessed a few glitches reported the servers showing them an “update is coming” screen. If it refers only to the vehicle pack that just came out, or if it is for a major overhaul/addition – only time will tell.

One thing is for certain though. Cross-platform popularity is priority for the developers as they have promised a final DLC content release this year. Take for instance the background scripts which are being tweaked by Rockstar Games. This has caused many players a lot of pain as they get booted out from the system and notified of a critical update which would be taking care of the issue.