Ubisoft will keep its same pricing strategy for its next-generation games coming this fall, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said during an earnings call Wednesday. Video games released during the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 launch windows will remain $59.99 — at least, for now.
This is in contrast to a statement made by NBA 2K21 publisher 2K Games that its next-gen basketball game would cost $69.99, while the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, and Google Stadia’s version will remain $59.99. 2K Games said that Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 players won’t get a free next-gen upgrade, like other publishers of cross-gen games are offering.
Current-gen video games have largely cost $59.99 for 15 years, since 2005 when the Xbox 360 was released. Standard prices didn’t increase when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One came out in 2013. 2K Games’ announcement of its $10 increase signaled, to many, an industry-wide price increase was coming. It’s statement was the first on next-gen pricing — and Ubisoft’s announcement means there’s clearly no consensus between publishers regarding prices — at least, not yet. Ubisoft’s wording during the call leaves room for a price increase at some point in the future — the statement specified that its “Christmas releases” would remain $59.99, with no increase planned right now.
It’s entirely possible that Ubisoft will increase prices for fully next-gen games. During the call, Guillemot was careful in his wording that the focus for this pricing was on the games released this holiday season. The publisher plans to release Watch Dogs: Legion and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla later this year on current and next-gen platforms.
Third-party game publishers typically set their own upgrades, and are free to decide whether or not they’ll include cross-generational upgrades for free. Many publishers are promising just that, though: CD Projekt Red will offer one for Cyberpunk 2077, Crystal Dynamics for Marvel’s Avengers, and Electronic Arts for two sports titles, Madden NFL 21 and FIFA 21. Microsoft, too, has a system in place for this with its Smart Delivery feature. However, neither Sony nor Microsoft have announced the pricing on their first-party games, and it’s clear there’s no standard yet.
We’ve reached out to Ubisoft for more information.
Canada's COVID Alert app is a case of tech-driven bad policy design – The Conversation Canada
The July 31 release of Canada’s COVID Alert app was greeted with almost universal praise. Privacy experts applauded its strong privacy protections, echoing the official app website’s extensive detailing of how “your privacy is protected,” including a link to an entire other page that explains “how COVID Alert protects your privacy,” which in turn links to Health Canada’s privacy assessment of the app.
The focus on privacy was so overwhelming that you could be forgiven for thinking the app’s entire purpose was to protect people’s privacy rather than to save lives.
Despite this near-universal praise, when you focus on the actual purpose of the app, rather than on its elegant design, red flags start popping up everywhere.
The design and rollout of the app all suggest that considerations of the app’s medical effectiveness have been secondary to its technical design.
The website contains no information about how effective the app might be in reducing COVID-19 transmission. It does say that “COVID Alert is just one part of the public health effort to limit the spread of COVID-19,” but provides no details about what that means.
A poorly designed policy
More troubling, the app was released without anyone having created a framework for evaluating its success. Instead, Health Canada is currently deciding how to evaluate it, meaning it was released without anyone having a clear idea about what they wanted it to do, and now anything it does can be treated as a success.
The Logic, meanwhile, reports that Liberal Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray says that the government doesn’t have “a particular threshold below which it considers the app to be ineffective.”
If COVID Alert had been presented as a regular government mitigation policy, it would have been given a much rougher ride. Consider:
Rather than targeting the groups most vulnerable to COVID transmission, it focuses on those least likely to spread the disease, namely higher-income Canadians who can afford expensive smartphones and data plans. Meanwhile, it’s low-income communities that are most at risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The program will follow best practices in its setup (privacy), but it was designed without setting any criteria for judging its success or failure in helping to flatten the curve, and without embedding it in an appropriate regulatory framework to ensure that apps like COVID Alert aren’t misused by businesses. And the government is spending $10 million to advertise it.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reports that “the effectiveness of digital proximity tracking to assist contact tracing remains unknown,” with many variables affecting its potential utility, none of which have been publicly accounted for by the government.
Would you fund an unproven policy that likely wouldn’t reach the people most at risk of getting the disease, and with no way to know if it is working?
Focusing on the tool, not the problem
Instead, COVID Alert’s presentation and reception benefited from what tech critic Evgeny Morozov calls technological solutionism. Technological solutionism describes the all too prevalent tendency to assume that technology can solve all our problems.
When we make this leap, as the government and all too many others did here, we begin to focus on the technology’s design — on how effectively it protects privacy — rather than its effect on the problem it was supposedly designed to address.
Instead of starting from the more open question, “What is the best way to fight the pandemic?” technological solutionism asks the leading question, “How can we use apps to do this?”
Technological solutionism is a terrible way to set policy. It leads policy-makers to ignore other, potentially more effective alternatives. It downplays problems caused by the app’s design. In this case, the fact that people most at risk likely won’t be able to access the tool is treated as a minor bug, rather than as a policy-impairing flaw: if it can’t actually reach the people spreading the disease, it’s practically useless.
Technology is policy
Make no mistake: apps like COVID Alert are government programs, not neutral tools. They deliver services and benefits in ways that can create winners and losers. Their creation involved the allocation of scarce resources and the choice of policy pathways that necessarily involved discarding or delaying other options.
In this case, it shifts yet more responsibility onto individuals to battle the pandemic, rather than onto a dedicated bureaucracy. Rather than, say, closing potential COVID-19 hot spots like bars and providing income support to owners and workers, it relies on an incomplete technological fix to deal with failures to socially distance.
Because they are government programs, apps and technology generally should not be exempt from well-established policy-evaluation frameworks. All the privacy guarantees in the world are meaningless if the app doesn’t actually help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
As digital technologies become increasingly pervasive and private-sector tech firms attempt to insinuate themselves ever deeper into government policy-making (as Apple and Google, the progenitors of this app, are trying to do here), it’s essential that governments avoid technological solutionism.
Otherwise, they will end up outsourcing basic policy-making responsibilities to private tech companies, just as was narrowly avoided when Sidewalk Labs abandoned Waterfront Toronto’s Quayside project in May.
And all of us need to stop thinking about social problems in terms of how tech can help address them. Because when all you have is an app, everything looks like data.
Misconceptions persist about effectiveness and privacy of Canada's COVID Alert app – CBC.ca
After closing his Barrie, Ont., café for the day recently, René Segura checked his smartphone and saw a reassuring message.
“No exposure detected,” the screen read.
Like 1.9 million other Canadians, Segura downloaded the COVID Alert app on the understanding it would notify him if he spent time in close contact with a known coronavirus carrier.
Launched by the federal government on July 31 — and so far only operational in Ontario — the app is designed to warn users if they’ve spent at least 15 minutes in the past two weeks within two metres of another user who later tested positive for the coronavirus.
Having survived a near-death encounter with COVID-19, Segura has extra incentive to use the app.
“I still have my guard up,” Segura said. “I don’t want to go through the same episode again.”
The app, which works on later-model Apple and Android devices, has received positive reviews from privacy advocates, but myths persist about the data it collects — and doesn’t collect.
Experts in both technology and public health stress that the more people who use it, the better it will be. However, they say it doesn’t need to be adopted by a majority of the population for it to have a positive impact.
Segura installed COVID Alert as a means of extra protection, knowing he would constantly be in close contact with customers at the café he co-owns with his wife. In March, at age 41, he was placed in intensive care with a severe case of COVID-19. He’s fully recovered now but had lingering symptoms for weeks.
With businesses like his recently reopening and students soon going back to school, Segura said the app is “a great tool.” He just hopes it will function as advertised.
Using the app does not lessen requirements for public health measures like physical distancing, handwashing and wearing a mask. It’s also not meant to replace manual contact tracing — where teams reach out to anyone who’s been put at risk of exposure.
So far, there are few ways to measure whether it has been effective, but that appears to be the price for the software’s built-in privacy measures.
WATCH | COVID-19 exposure notification app rolling out in Ontario:
Does it work?
At this point, it’s virtually unknowable whether the app has prevented anyone from contracting COVID-19.
In a nutshell, “you’re trying to measure something that didn’t happen,” said Lucie Abeler-Dörner, a scientific manager at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine in Britain. She said it’s a recurring challenge when reviewing preventative public health interventions.
When a user of the app is diagnosed in Ontario, they’re given a one-time code to input, which then alerts others with whom the patient has been in close contact recently. The feature is built on a framework jointly developed by Apple and Google.
To ensure better privacy, the data is stored on individual devices, not on a central server. The drawback is there’s no way of knowing how many users have received an exposure notification.
What’s more, a user isn’t told when, where or with whom any potential exposure occurred, so it’s impossible to determine whether it’s a real threat or the result of a glitch. The alert would direct the user to seek advice from provincial public health officials.
The app uses Bluetooth to determine the proximity of other smartphones, but the technology’s level of precision is unclear.
Andrew Urbaczewski, an associate professor in business information and analytics at the University of Denver, who examined the effectiveness of similar apps in various countries, said testing such technology in a lab doesn’t guarantee results in the real world.
“We’ve got no reason to believe that it doesn’t work,” he said in an interview, “but we certainly don’t have five years or five months or even five weeks of history as to whether or not this works in the wild as intended.”
Urbaczewski pointed to three indicators of success: the app’s download rate among the population, its capacity to accurately provide exposure notifications and its users’ willingness to follow public health advice in the event of contact with the virus.
An Ontario government spokesperson confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that COVID Alert has been downloaded almost 1.9 million times “with it being expected that the overwhelming majority of these downloads have come from Ontario.”
Although the app is available across Canada, it has so far only been integrated into Ontario’s health-care system, rendering it virtually useless in the rest of the country for now.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested the Atlantic provinces will join next.
“We hope to see the number of downloads continue to increase across Canada as other provinces and territories connect their health-care authorities to the system,” said Alain Belle-Isle, a spokesperson for the federal Treasury Board, the department that is tracking the download rate.
Once anecdotes emerge of exposure notifications leading users to get tested, that’s “what’s going to be compelling for people to download it more,” said Emily Seto, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation.
“I’ve downloaded it,” she said. “Everybody should — if they can — download it,” because of the potential public health benefits.
How many users are needed?
It’s often been reported that a majority of people in a given country would need to install a coronavirus app for it to be effective. Experts now say that’s not entirely true. Much smaller uptake can help, too.
In April, a team of Oxford University scientists, including Abeler-Dörner, published research suggesting if 60 per cent of the British population installed a contact-tracing app, it would be effective in stopping the epidemic. The number has since been cited around the world to illustrate that high uptake is needed for the app to work.
“It’s the figure from early simulations, and it’s the figure you need to control the epidemic in the absence of all other measures,” Abeler-Dörner said in an interview this week.
“Our latest simulations show that actually you start seeing an impact of the app from about 15 per cent uptake.”
But Abeler-Dörner, who is part of a team of scientists advising the British government and the country’s National Health Service, said she suspects even smaller uptake provides benefits.
She pointed to anecdotal evidence from Germany that young, urban populations living in denser neighbourhoods and prone to take part in group activities — more likely to spread the virus — are also more likely to install a coronavirus app.
In Canada, 1.9 million downloads represents five per cent of the country’s population of 38 million. It’s unclear how many of the downloads have come from provinces where the app is not yet active.
Once downloaded, the app also requires a short installation process before it can monitor for COVID-19 exposure. Data from Switzerland indicates not everyone who downloads a coronavirus app actually uses it. The country’s app has seen more than two million downloads, but as of Monday, it had fewer than 1.25 million active users.
When COVID Alert launched, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said officials would need “an ongoing way of evaluating its effectiveness.” She declined to provide an uptake target but said the more people who use it, “the more useful it would be.”
In July, Australia topped a list compiled by app analytics firm Sensor Tower ranking national coronavirus apps by download rate (21.6 per cent). Ireland is reported to have reached 1.3 million downloads — representing more than 26 per cent of the population — for its COVID Tracker app within eight days of its release.
The Canadian app has only been in use for two weeks. “I think you’re on the right track,” said Abeler-Dörner.
Is it actually secure?
The federal government, digital privacy advocates and software experts have provided assurances that COVID Alert is safe.
“Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections,” federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said when the app was released. “I will use it.”
The app only exchanges random codes, not identifying data, with nearby devices. It checks daily for codes belonging to a user who’s said they’ve tested positive.
The app doesn’t provide the government — or anyone else — with a user’s name, whereabouts or health information. It also doesn’t use a smartphone’s GPS function, which could have allowed the app to geolocate a user.
But some Canadians appear to still have deep-seated doubts.
Leger survey results released this week found that 52 per cent don’t believe the government when it says the app does not collect personal information and does not geolocate users. Another 39 per cent did not believe the app “will work.”
The results come from a web survey of 1,513 Canadians carried out Aug. 7-9. The comparable margin of error for a study this size would be plus or minus 2.52 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
A promotional campaign has followed the release of the app, with ads appearing on websites, social media platforms and elsewhere. The U of T’s Emily Seto said targeted campaigns might help clear up misconceptions.
As employees return to workplaces, she said, managers “may want to promote it — maybe not make it mandatory — but to have a campaign to [help] understand the benefits, as well as the privacy measures.”
Could it be better?
The concession for enhanced privacy and security measures appears to be a limited set of public health functions.
“That’s always the tradeoff,” said Urbaczewski. He compared it with Apple’s Siri vocal assistant, which he said sends less data to a central server compared with Amazon’s Alexa, but it can be less responsive as a result.
Coronavirus apps with fewer privacy protections in use elsewhere can provide public health officials with more data to get a better handle on outbreaks. Ireland’s COVID Tracker also uses the Apple-Google framework, but it counts the number of positive test results recorded in the app and how many users get exposure notifications.
Experts say publishing such data can help build trust among the population that the app is working. As it stands in Canada, officials have provided little tangible evidence of its efficacy.
It’s unknown how many users have uploaded a COVID-19 diagnosis through the app since its launch. A federal government representative directed such inquiries to Ontario’s Ministry of Health, which instructed a reporter to ask Ontario’s Treasury Board Secretariat, which in turn declined to provide an exact figure.
Swiss officials regularly post online the number of active users and downloads. In Germany, the federal disease control agency reported Tuesday that 1,320 people had so far been issued codes for uploading their positive tests to the app.
In Canada, the government is considering how to track — and potentially make available — data related to the app once other provinces and territories adopt it.
“Anything that the government can do to continue to promote these types of things and talk about the successes they’ve had will just encourage individuals to participate in the overall effort,” Urbaczewski said.
So far, the only measure made available in Canada is the download rate: 1.9 million in about 12 days.
Abeler-Dörner said she recommends that public health authorities collect additional app data manually, such as by asking people who are reached through traditional contact tracing if they were previously alerted of an exposure through the app. That way, officials could get a sense of whether the app is notifying users quickly, as it’s meant to.
The other persistent criticism of the initiative surrounds the app’s accessibility. COVID Alert can only run on an Apple or Android device released in the past five years, making it unavailable to vulnerable populations without access to recent technology.
Research has consistently shown that lower-income and marginalized communities are at a higher risk of contracting the virus — meaning those who could most benefit from an exposure notification app can’t access it.
Singapore addressed the issue by providing contact-tracing tokens — small devices carried in someone’s pocket or purse — that play a role similar to an app.
In Canada, the flaw arises from the Apple-Google framework, which only works on later-model phones. But according to Sebastian Skamski, a spokesperson for Ontario Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, that covers “the vast majority of smartphones owned by Ontarians.”
Apple just kicked Fortnite off the App Store – The Verge
Apple has removed Epic Games’ battle royale game Fortnite from the App Store after the developer on Thursday implemented its own in-app payment system that bypassed Apple’s standard 30 percent fee.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the feud between Epic and one of the world’s most dominant mobile software marketplaces. It also comes at an especially fraught time for Apple as the iPhone maker navigates antitrust concerns over its operation of the App Store and the rules it imposes on certain developers. Epic implemented its own payment system in the Android version of Fortnite as well, but Google has yet to take any form of action and the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Apple said in a statement to The Verge that it plans to work with Epic to “resolve these violations” but that it has no intention to create a “special arrangement” for the company. Here’s the company’s statement in full:
Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users. As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store. Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.
Epic has had apps on the App Store for a decade, and have benefited from the App Store ecosystem – including its tools, testing, and distribution that Apple provides to all developers. Epic agreed to the App Store terms and guidelines freely and we’re glad they’ve built such a successful business on the App Store. The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users. We will make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations so they can return Fortnite to the App Store.
Epic’s approach seems designed to provoke Apple into a response, as the Fortnite studio explicitly laid out in its new iOS update how using Epic’s in-app payment system would result in cheaper prices. For instance, 1,000 V-bucks, which is roughly equivalent to $10 in-game Fortnite currency, now costs just $7.99 if you use Epic direct payment instead of the standard Apple payment processing. Normally, that amount of currency costs $9.99. Epic says, in this case, customers keep the extra savings, not the company. That cast the new arrangement as a pro-consumer move instead of a greedy power play.
As of right now, those who have already downloaded Fortnite on iOS are still able to access the game; only new downloads are disabled as a result of Apple pulling the game from the App Store. You can even still use Epic’s in-app payment system, according to The Washington Post’s Gene Park, who used both Apple and Epic payment systems to purchase v-bucks. It is unclear how updates to Fortnite will function — some users who have the game downloaded but have not opened it a while are reporting that update files are still; downloading normally — but it seems plausible Epic would have to get the game reinstated in the App Store to push substantial future changes to the iOS version.
Ok I just bought 2,000 v bucks using the epic discount and the regular Apple price. Both still worked. Apple can still collect fortnite money. pic.twitter.com/CgK6AYBbnm
— Gene Park (@GenePark) August 13, 2020
Epic CEO Tim Sweeney has long complained that mobile app stores no longer justify the 30 percent cut they take from all developers, and he’s called for substantial changes to how companies like Apple and Google conduct business with third-party developers. “It’s time for change,” Sweeney told The Verge in 2018. “Apple, Google, and Android manufacturers make vast, vast profits from the sale of their devices and do not in any way justify the 30 percent cut.” Epic launched a game store on PC in which it takes only 12 percent of revenue as a way to try to encourage a similar change in competitor Valve’s Steam marketplace.
The debate is larger than just the 30 percent cut. Apple is facing heightened criticism these days over how it not only manages the App Store and its mandatory fees, but also for how it applies its guidelines in ways some developers and critics feel is unfair and may in fact be designed to benefit Apple over its competitors.
For instance, Apple recently gave Amazon an exemption to the 30 percent fee when selling TV show and movie rentals through its Prime Video app, something the company says is only allowed for certain streaming video platforms. Additionally, court documents released during the Big Tech antitrust hearing last month revealed Apple cut a special deal with Amazon in 2016 to lower the fees it takes on Prime Video subscriptions from 30 percent down to 15 percent to get Amazon’s app on the App Store.
Meanwhile, four years later, Apple just laid out why it will never approve cloud gaming apps and game subscription services like Microsoft’s xCloud and Xbox Game Pass as well as Google Stadia. Apple’s justification for doing so — that it cannot individually review all of the games offered by cloud gaming platforms as it would standard iOS apps — provoked Sweeney to issue another harsh condemnation. “Apple has outlawed the metaverse,” he wrote on Twitter. “The principle they state, taken literally, would rule out all cross-platform ecosystems and games with user created modes: not just XCloud, Stadia, and GeForce NOW, but also Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox.”
Apple has outlawed the metaverse.
The principle they state, taken literally, would rule out all cross-platform ecosystems and games with user created modes: not just XCloud, Stadia, and GeForce NOW, but also Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox. https://t.co/OAGC7cXfSl
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) August 6, 2020
Since Fortnite first arrived on mobile in 2018, the game has existed as a standard iOS app; Sweeney has openly said his company only did so because there is no other way to enter Apple’s closed ecosystem. That means Apple has taken 30 percent of all in-app purchases of Fortnite currency used to purchase its battle pass subscription service and the cosmetic skins, emotes, and other digital goods that make the battle royale one of the most lucrative entertainment properties on the planet. Fortnite earned Epic $2.4 billion in 2018 and $1.8 billion in 2019, helped in large part by its popularity across platforms, as players can use the same account across iOS, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Epic previously bypassed Google’s Play Store on Android by releasing Fortnite as a direct download through its own software launcher. But the studio eventually relented earlier this year after failing to appeal Google for an exemption of its similar 30 percent cut of all in-app purchases. “After 18 months of operating Fortnite on Android outside of the Google Play Store, we’ve come to a basic realization,” reads Epic’s statement. “Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage.”
Epic’s statement at the time was transparent in its displeasure at how Google, and by extension Apple, treat third-party software that doesn’t abide by its rules. Epic also later joined Match Group, the parent company of Tinder and other dating apps, in issuing statements of support for two ongoing antitrust investigations into Apple conducted by the European Union, launched only after Spotify and other app makers protested App Store policies they say unfairly punish Apple competitors.
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