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Trouble in Nerdvana: how worlds largest entertainment market could be rocked on its hinges.

There has been doubt and straight out denial from other industries, but the proof is irrefutable. The games industry has over the last decades grown from an insignificant niche market to the mainstream form of entertainment it is today. “No other sector has experienced the same explosive growth as the computer and video game industry. Our creative publishers and talented workforce continue to accelerate advancement and pioneer new products that push boundaries and unlock entertainment experiences. These innovations in turn drive enhanced player connectivity, fuel demand for products, and encourage the progression of an expanding and diversified consumer base.” (M. D. Gallagher, 2013)

Now don’t dismiss this as nonsense, because according to Esa- research (2013) the average age of game players is 30. And girls, don’t place this in the category boys being silly because women 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (31%) than boys age 17 or younger (19%). Games concern us all.

Boy and Girl Gaming

It no secret that this industry is dominated by three major parties. The names of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will probably ring a bell to everyone. These major players have dominated the industry for years now, but in recent years the attempts to wrestle market share away from them have been numerous. Facebook started offering social games, and to no small success. OUYA , the GameStick and the NVIDIA® SHIELD tried it with cheap hardware.  Even phones and mobile devices are more convenient on the road. So convenient that 36% of gamers play games on their smartphone, and 25% play games on their wireless devices(ESA, 2013). And still these behemoths of gaming thrive and live on. But this might not be the case any longer.

ouyagamestickshield

Because there is a new, old player looking for ways to dethrone these giants. Valve, big time player on the PC- gaming market, has identified the target markets of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo as it’s new hunting grounds. Valve is an entertainment software and technology company founded in 1996 by Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington and based in Bellevue, Washington. The company became famous from it’s first game Half-Life.Valve currently develops and maintains several video games. In addition, Valve is a developer of leading-edge technologies including the Source game engine and Steam, a leading platform for digital content with over 10 million registered users. (Crunchbase, 2013)

Valve

Why do this? Three problems to solve!

For Valve and many other studios the decline and fall of the PC is a slowly dawning apocalypse. Sales of gaming PCs may be up while the rest of the market is down but there’s a point at which the support that comes from the wider PC ecosystem starts to dwindle. Perhaps video cards start not keeping pace. Perhaps driver software becomes less updated. Perhaps commoditized components stop being cheap and PCs become much more expensive. The knock-on effects of this decline could wipe out Valve, Blizzard and a number of others.(Techcrunch, 2013)

However Valve’s second, and largely unique, problem is that a recovery in the PC space implies tighter integration of the platform by Microsoft. With the purchase of most of Nokia and a search for new leadership underway the Wyrm may finally be starting to turn at Big-M. Windows 9 (or 8.5, or whatever) may well turn things around. If it does though it will be for a Microsoft that’s far more interested in device-and-service thinking. It will mean more prominence for the Windows Store. It doesn’t compete much with Steam today but one day it will.(Techcrunch, 2013)

Finally Valve’s third problem is its ecosystem. It has a massive following of both players and developers. Steam is perceived as art house venue of games and every indie wants to be there. That ecosystem has evolved hand-in-hand with the PC paradigm since its inception and is resistant to fundamental change. Steam’s adoption took forever and required deeply discounted sales to overcome suspicions. Nowadays it’s huge but that doesn’t mean its audience is ready for a big shift.(Techcrunch, 2013)

Valve’s three solutions.

A new Operating System

Steam (Valve’s platform) is getting its very own operating system. It’ll be a combination of Steam’s current platform and Linux.

SteamOS is a free operating system designed for living rooms that Valve says “combines the rock-solid architecture of Linux with a gaming experience built for the big screen.”

Valve says they’ve already got “hundreds of games” that will come to the new operating system next year, including AAA titles, and that you’ll be able to access the entire Steam catalog via “in-home streaming,” a process they haven’t quite explained yet. (We’ve reached out to a number of publishers, including EA, Activision, Square Enix, and Ubisoft, to see who’s planning to develop or port games for SteamOS.)

“In SteamOS, we have achieved significant performance increases in graphics processing, and we’re now targeting audio performance and reductions in input latency at the operating system level,” Valve writes. “Game developers are already taking advantage of these gains as they target SteamOS for their new releases.(Kotaku, 2013)

SteamOS

New Hardware

Valve is also partnering with various companies to release hardware that they’re calling Steam Machines. These are PCs designed to play games on your television, and they’ll compete with the next generation of gaming consoles for control of your living room. Valve says you’ll be able to play “hundreds” of games natively during the beta—the rest will be available via “in-home streaming.”

Details are still vague about the actual machines, but we know there will be multiple pieces of hardware. “Beginning in 2014, there will be multiple SteamOS machines to choose from, made by different manufacturers,” Valve writes.

That’s a pretty big deal—Valve, traditionally a software company, has earned a ton of success and acclaim with its current operations on Steam, and gamers love what the studio has to offer. Valve-branded PCs could pose strong competition for the next-gen consoles from the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. (Kotaku, 2013)

Steam Machinr: Piston

A new Controller

This leaves us with the problem of how to control these new products? For this, Valve gives us a controller. The controller differs significantly from that for the Xbox and PlayStation and includes two track pads on the places where normal thumbsticks would be placed, and has no d-pad.

The track pads are made ​​clickable and also contain a new type of haptic feedback, allowing the user to get information about the movements on the touch pads. With this it aim to be a cross between a traditional mouse and a conventional controller.

Between the touchpads is a touchscreen which can display virtual buttons and is also clickable. To press a button, the user must press the screen, like BlackBerry did with his Storm smartphone. When a user sits above the touch screen, the interface put it on the screen of the TV or monitor, allowing users to keep looking at the screen. (Tweakers, 2013)

SteamController

Overall, it certainly appears that Valve is looking for consumer support and interest to drive SteamOS development, considering that concrete incentives for large developers to make the switch to Linux are nonexistent. Is there a level of consumer commitment that you think could get these developers on board? If so, perhaps Valve does have to kick off the SteamOS and Steam Machine release with a handful of at the very least temporarily exclusive titles to hit that critical mass. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what Valve has in store. (Techcrunch, 2013)

Sources

Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO, Entertainment Software association(2013). Sourced from: http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2013.pdf

Electronic Software Association, (2013)

Sourced from: http://www.theesa.com/facts/

Crunchbase,2013

Sourced from: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/valve-software

Techcrunch, 2013

Sourced from: http://techcrunch.com/2013/09/29/what-games-are-steams-big-bet/

Kotaku, 2013

Sourced from: http://kotaku.com/valve-announces-steam-os-1371869324

Sourced from: http://kotaku.com/valve-announces-steam-machines-1386046176

Tweakers, 2013

Sourced from: https://tweakers.net/nieuws/91571/valve-laat-controller-steambox-zien.html

Is your online data still safe?

A quick look inside the world of the National Security Agency

6 June 2013, the day the web stopped being a safe place, and became a repository of data for National Security Agencies. Of course we kid ourselves if we really think that the internet was ever a safe place. From its inception the web has been a safe haven for all kinds of data collection with an ill intend. Governments, corporations and criminal organizations have been gathering our personal information and behavior for years, and reports about this go back to the turn of the century and beyond.

It is of course true that since it was suspected that stuxnet [1] and flame[2] are creations of the U.S. government, heads all over the world were turned. However, it was not until 2013 that these suspicions were confirmed. The Washington Post [3] revealed, following documents of whistleblower Edward Snowden[4], that the NSA collected information with the secret program PRISM for years, through computer servers including Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

But this is not all, according to Snowden the United States is bugging EU diplomats, can store 1 billion cellphone calls daily, is targeting nearly 120,000 internet users actively and receives live notifications when surveillance targets use email and chat [5].

If one thing is clear from the current reports, it is this: nothing is safe. Vulnerabilities in VPNs, HTTPS, and smartphones[6] are known and are obviously exploited. Geolocation data of iPhones was regularly used until Apple put a stop to it in 2011[7]. Full hard drives can be decoded by super cooling the RAM of a machine. Also SSL / TLS is basically not safe, as the huge computing power available to the NSA is supposed to have, is released. And then there are the simpler methods: read along before encryption has occurred, backdoors in encryption software, ask or steal keys from providers and company computers. [8]

Can the NSA see it all?

Is there anything we can do to prevent this?

So, now we wonder if our files are still safe? Can the NSA see my private pictures and my love letters? The answer is probably:  Yes, they can!  But are we completely helpless? We certainly are not. As Snowden himself says: “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on” Though he cautioned that the N.S.A. often bypasses the encryption altogether by targeting the computers at one end or the other and grabbing text before it is encrypted or after it is decrypted. [9]

One bright spot: 1024-bit RSA (Crackable) will by next year no longer be used by the U.S. government, and 2048 bit encryption (Apparently, not yet crackable) has been approved until 2030. A simple upgrade will make the likeliness of having co-readers again a lot smaller.[8]

But what to do when you really don’t want any snooping in your data? According to security expert Bruce Schneier, ” if she really wants, the espionage service can enter any computer”. Assuming that the NSA can get to your documents before they are encrypted, he formulates [10] amongst others the following recommendations for those who want to stay out of sight of the NSA:

  • Hide in the network, use Tor;
  • Whenever possible, use encryption software in the public domain;
  • Avoid commercial encryption software, especially those of major suppliers;

He reasons that using services such as TOR [11] does not guarantee that you stay out of sight of the NSA, but it takes more effort. The less you stand out, the safer you are.

Furthermore, it is quite possible that the NSA can crack the encryption. But again,  it takes more effort reading encrypted messages than reading unencrypted messages. Also, it is a good idea to choose symmetric cryptography solutions [12] – in which the transmitter and receiver agree on the key in advance. To top this off, using open source is more secure than proprietary software: the chance that a loophole stands out in open source software is many times greater than in closed source applications.[10]

As with all, it is also  true here: use your brain and immerse yourself in the subject before you blunder in and make a mistake. The best security to keep your secrets is not to entrust them to a visible medium, electronically or otherwise.

Undoubtedly, the revelations of Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers will continue to shake the world and bring other issues to light. But what I’m wondering is how you think about your online identity, the security of your data and the influence that the access of third parties to this information might have on your future?

Let me know in the comments below!

Sources

[1] http://antivirus.about.com/od/virusdescriptions/p/Stuxnet-Worm.htm

[2] http://watchguardsecuritycenter.com/2012/05/31/what-is-the-flame-worm-and-should-i-worry-about-it/

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/12/heres-everything-we-know-about-prism-to-date/

[4] http://www.biography.com/people/edward-snowden-21262897

[5] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/06/5-new-revelations-nsa-spying-snowden

[6] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/privacy-scandal-nsa-can-spy-on-smart-phone-data-a-920971.html

[7] http://www.examiner.com/article/latest-snowden-leak-reveals-the-nsa-s-love-of-the-iphone

[8] http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/09/of-course-nsa-can-crack-crypto-anyone-can-the-question-is-how-much/

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/us/nsa-foils-much-internet-encryption.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[10] http://www.automatiseringgids.nl/nieuws/2013/36/5-manieren-om-je-te-onttrekken-aan-afluisteren-door-de-nsa

[11] https://www.torproject.org/docs/faq.html.en#WhatIsTor

[12] http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/s-crypt02/index.html