Periscope vs. Meerkat: Which Is The Best Live Streaming App?

The latest trend in mobile apps is live streaming. Open your app, and you’re almost instantly broadcasting to people around the globe. You could be answering questions, doing how-to shows, or simply chatting to whoever’s around. Whatever you’re using them for, they’re certainly popular.

The two apps competing for live streamers’ attention are Meerkat and Periscope. Meerkat was the first on the scene, launching in March this year, finding popularity on Twitter and at the SXSW festival. Twitter, meanwhile, bought competitors Periscope and cut off support for Meerkat, giving the owners only two hours notice in doing so. Both apps are now competing to be the go to live streaming app.

Both apps aim to be a window on the world, showing what’s happening for users everywhere, in real time. Live streaming has struggled to find an audience in the past, but the combination of faster internet speeds and changing attitudes towards sharing personal info online have opened the door for apps like Periscope and Meerkat. There’s even been celebrity adopters, with Jimmy Fallon and Jeb Bush using Meerkat, and people like Tyra Banks and Shonda Rhimes using Periscope.

What’s different about these apps, though? People are more than willing to share their lives online these days. There’s the obvious examples of Facebook and Twitter, but in video terms, there’s Youtube and Vine. If you want to take video of yourself and share it online, there are plenty of options to do so.

The difference with live streaming though, is that it’s, well, live. You can watch events happen in real time, taking part in the conversation and seeing developments as they happen. The best example is the recent explosion in New York City’s East Village. When it happened, social media predictably lit up with commentary on the event. This time, however, Periscope and Meerkat users were able to broadcast the fire in real time, keeping their followers updated on what was happening.

So there’s certainly a market for live streaming apps, but which one should you choose? Many reporters are claiming that Periscope is coming out the winner right now, but in the world of technology things can change in a heartbeat.

Meerkat came out first, and received lots of praise in the media as the ‘hot new thing’. It had Twitter support until Twitter pulled it, following their Periscope purchase. Since the loss of that support, developers have got around this by giving their users lists of People You May Know, and a leaderboard of popular users. It automatically tweets a link to your stream once you start broadcasting, and users are given the option to save the stream once they’re done.

Periscope, meanwhile, can list people you know on Twitter under their People tab, as well as a list of Most Loved broadcasters. You have to actively opt into sharing via social media, and all broadcasts are automatically saved for 24 hours.

With the differences being so miniscule, both apps will probably rely on support from other parties, such as Twitter, and their celebrity users. They’re both very new on the market too, so their continued popularity will come from firstly an expansion onto the Google Play Store, and from future updates and tweaks.

Nintendo Announces ‘Free-To-Start’ Mobile Games

There was much excitement recently as Nintendo announced that they’re starting to make mobile games. This is a long awaited, and possibly long overdue, step for the company.

Fans are surprised at the announcement, as Nintendo are notoriously averse to change. Their games are widely revered as fantastic titles, but their hardware has always been slightly behind the times, as compared to their competitors. When Sony and Microsoft were chasing perfect graphics in cutting edge HD, Nintendo were busy experimenting with motion controls and fun new gameplay.

Fans of Nintendo have wanted to come to mobile for years, but now that it’s been announced they’re not as enthusiastic about the whole endeavour. This is possibly because Nintendo have partnered up with DeNA to bring their games to mobile, a company who’ve used the ‘free-to-play’ model to games such as Cupcake Carnival and Military Masters. Hardcore Nintendo fans have voiced concerns that their favourite characters and games are going to become subject to refueling breaks and overpriced add ons.

However, Nintendo have confirmed that they aren’t bringing any of their previous games to mobile. This is sure to be a sore disappointment to fans who were excitedly predicting which of their favourite titles would make it to their mobile devices.

These announcements have tempered the initial excitement of Nintendo fans. If the company are using this opportunity to bring out brand new titles based on the now traditional free-to-play model, then what will make them any different to anything else that’s currently on offer on the app store?

Attempting to address these issues, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata has told Time magazine that their mobile titles will be ‘free-to-start’, not free to play. The difference isn’t that clear, but Iwata says that the term free-to-play is insincere to gamers, as many of these titles require some payment from the player in order to progress. Renaming the games ‘free-to-start’ is more accurate, but doesn’t really change their nature.

So if they really are just making free-to-play games, why have Nintendo bothered to get involved in the market? It’s hard to ignore that the mobile apps market is growing daily, and pulling in millions of people who normally would never touch a video game. Even with their aversion to the cutting edge, they can’t ignore such a huge potential audience.

Also, with the rampant ‘game cloning’ that’s going on on the app stores (despite efforts to rein it in), it may make sense to get involved and offer the official product instead, combating the problem. With such blatant copies as Ultra Dario and Super Jump World occupying the store, it’s clear that there’s an audience for Nintendo games waiting to get the authentic article.

What does entering the mobile market hold for Nintendo? They’re adept at creating addictive, fun platformers and rpgs, many of which could easily be transferred to mobile app play. We can’t really know how well this move will work for them until they release some new titles onto the app store. With the WiiU still not garnering as much attention as the PS4 and the Xbox One, however, this may be a successful sideways move for the company.

The Future of Gaming on the Apple Watch

At their Spring Forward event, Apple revealed their latest product, the Apple Watch. Slated for release on the 24th April this year, Apple promise the Watch will be their ‘most personal device yet’. Connected to your iPhone, it will give you a ‘gentle tap’ whenever you have a new notification. Plus, it can function as a more advanced fitness tracker, helping the user ‘sit less, move more and get more exercise’.

At the announcement, eagle eyed viewers noticed that no games were shown for the Apple Watch. There are some in development, most notably Letterpad from NimbleBit, the people behind Tiny Tower, and existing game Trivia Crack, which will receive an Apple Watch version.  Some commentators, though, have wondered whether games will even really work on such a device.

The Apple Watch isn’t the only smartwatch on the market, however. What’s available on other watches, such as the Pebble? So far, there are only a few developers taking advantage of the medium. There’s Hatchi, a Tamagotchi style virtual pet, and basic versions of perennial favourites such as Tetris. Not really an awfully large selection to choose from. Are the commentators right?

So how would games even work on an Apple Watch? It has been pointed out that developers could take advantage of the watch’s unique features, such as the heart rate monitor. Pocket Gamer asks: ‘How about a survival horror game that delivers more scares when your heart rate goes up? Or an endless runner where your character slows down when it seems you’re getting tired or slacking?’

Other suggestions, as put forward by the Guardian, include using a 3DS style Street Pass system to connect with other Apple Watch users, or as a second screen for existing games or apps. They also point out that the watch will require developers to create more minimalistic games. As currently games like Tetris are popular for smartwatches, this could mean the next big development in areas such as puzzle gaming.

The benefit of gaming on an Apple Watch is that the player doesn’t even have to take their phone out of their pocket to play, meaning it’s easier to check in on games on the move. To take full advantage of this, developers will have to create games that allow for this ‘micro gaming’ to happen. Done right though, it could be a lot of fun.

Of course, there are some potential pitfalls. Will the people who buy the Apple Watch even want to game on it? At the moment, Apple is aiming their marketing towards people who want it for other reasons, especially for fitness (and with so many smart fitness gadgets on the market, who can blame them?). Even if they did want games, will they want the games available? Pocket Gamer had some optimistic ideas, but virtual pets and retro games may not be to everyone’s tastes.

Either way, smartwatches a very much in their infancy, so we’ll have to wait and see how gaming pans out on them.

Missingno, Minus Worlds and the Loot Cave: Gaming’s Most Famous Glitches

Fans of Destiny will know all about the ‘Loot Cave’, a respawn point that churned out easily defeatable enemies, dropping valuable items. Players quickly took advantage of the glitch, standing and mowing down enemies in their hundreds to get their hands on that sweet, sweet loot. Sadly for many players, Bungie recently fixed the bug that caused this, as they said ‘Shooting at a black hole for hours isn’t our dream for Destiny is played.’ Tell that to the players who found Loot Cave 2.0 mere hours after the update.

Gamers have been taking advantage of glitches since the dawn of videogaming, so we decided to take a look back at some of the most beneficial and fascinating bugs of gaming.

Space Invaders speed glitch

Possibly one of the very first ‘intentional’ glitches, programmer Tomohiro Nishikado found that his hardware wasn’t quite up to the challenge of rendering all the alien spaceships on screen. However, he found that once a few were defeated in game, the rest began to speed up. Deciding that it would represent a fun challenge to the player, he left it in, arguably creating the first difficulty curve in gaming.

Super Mario Bros Minus World

The Minus World is one of the most famous video game glitches around. When the player manages to access a hidden warp zone, they can explore a whole new level labelled as ‘World -1’ by the game. The level can’t be beaten, and the player can’t escape unless they either run out of lives or quit out of the game entirely, but the glitch is fascinating. It’s become so famous that Nintendo regularly reference it in their other games.

Missingno from Pokemon Blue

Missingno is essentially the Bigfoot of video game glitches. If the player follows a certain set of steps, they can reach an area where random pokemon spawn, including the famous Missingno. Missingno is a Pokemon that shows up as a strange barcode looking scramble. It’s actually a remnant of a cut Pokemon that sometimes shows up when exploring a certain area of the game. Players often go looking for it as as a side effect, Missingno multiplies the sixth thing in your inventory. Handy if you need more Masterballs or Rare Candies.

Devil May Cry born from an Ominusha glitch

Devil May Cry has a strange origin story, as it was originally developed as Resident Evil 4. It’s combat system was inspired by a glitch in Ominusha, where the player could juggle enemies in the air when fighting them. It was cut from the game for being out of character, but the combat style proved to be wildly popular in the Devil May Cry series.

World of Warcraft Corrupted Blood Plague

The Corrupted Blood Plague was one of the most talked about glitches in video game history. In 2005, a boss in the game could cast a spell called ‘Corrupted Blood’ upon the player. It was meant to only last a few seconds, but it was soon found that if pets or minions were brought into the battle, they could carry the spell into other areas of the game. Players began to use their pets almost as bioweapons, bringing them into other battles to take out enemies, or even just into populated areas to watch how it took out everybody in it’s vicinity. It became so widespread, it was studied by scientists to see how people would react to a real life epidemic. In the end, the plague was ended by a series of patches by the developers.

Fable Legends Goes Free To Play

The eagerly awaited Fable Legends was last week confirmed to be a free-to-play title for the Xbox One and PC. The announcement came as another surprise for fans of the Fable series, with this installment of the action RPG franchise coming out as a multiplayer only title.

Gamers who traditionally play on consoles and PC may be bemused by the free-to-play model being used for what is essentially a triple A title, but Lionhead studios aren’t the the first developers to try the model, which is more often used on mobile app titles. Established beat ‘em up titles Tekken and Dead or Alive have free-to-play installments, and DC Comics have got involved with DC Universe Online, a MMPORG game. In fact, the payment model seems to work well with MMPORGs and FPSs, with Defiance, Killer Instinct, and Dust 514 all using it, just to name a few. Even the big guns of MMPORGs, World of Warcraft, have introduced a free-to-play system for players up to Level 20.

So how will Fable Legends work? Those wary of the ‘pay to win’ model employed by less scrupulous developers will be glad to hear there’s none of that here. The game revolves around a rotating cast of heroes, four of which will be available to play at any one time. Every two weeks, the cast will be rotated out with a new one. If you like a particular character, you can wait another two weeks for them to be rotated back in, with all the XP and equipment you earned intact. Alternatively, you can pay to have that character unlocked permanently.

Sounds fair so far, but will the system work for such a high profile title? Kotaku argues that free-to-play may actually be a boon to the series, as it has such a low barrier to entry. After all, people are much more likely to try out a game if they’re not asked to shell out their hard earned cash before they’ve even seen it. They also argue that as Lionhead aren’t employing any shady tactics, such as the pay to win model, players will be more amenable to the concept.

Others aren’t so sure, though. Metro points out that multiplayer only games live and die on their player base, and very few, such as Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike, have ever been able to survive long term. On mobile, we’ve seen that a free-to-play game can spike in popularity very quickly, and just as quickly lose it’s players as they move onto the next thing. If the same thing happens to Fable Legends, the whole project could sink without a trace. Also, to make money, the game will need an enormous player base. As Fable is an established franchise, hopefully the game will attract enough players to make it financially viable, but a lesser known or new title would struggle to use the same model.

These arguments are somewhat moot, though, as console and PC titles are a whole different beast to mobile games, even if they use the same payment model. Fable Legends has been designed as a co operative fighter, rather than a pick up and play game like any popular mobile app. Free-to-play on non mobile platforms is still in it’s infancy, as there will most likely be teething problems. However, it will be interesting to see whether Lionhead can support such a huge franchise on the model.

Wifi Enabled Dolls: The Future of Playtime?

Talking toys are nothing new, as any parent who’s desperately pulled the batteries out of a Teddy Ruxpin will tell you. Mattel, though, think they’ve got the next big thing in chatting playmates. At this year’s New York Toy Fair, they unveiled the Hello Barbie, their first wifi connected Barbie doll. When a button is pressed on a belt, a child can have a conversation with her.

She doesn’t just spout pre recorded phrases, though. Hello Barbie has been developed by ToyTalk, who have fitted the doll with its microphone, speaker, and computer. When you talk to her, the information is sent to ToyTalk’s servers, where the information is stored. Hello Barbie can remember a child’s interests for future conversations. In a promotional video from the fair, the doll is shown recommending Mattel’s rep becomes a dancer or a politician when she grows up, since she mentioned she enjoyed being on stage.

Hello Barbie’s not the only interactive doll on the market, though. In November, the My Friend Cayla doll was released. Hailed as the ‘world’s first interactive doll’, she uses similar technology to Hello Barbie, but any conversations with her are conducted through Google Translate. When asked a question, Cayla will trawl through Google using the required companion app on a smartphone or tablet, and come back with an answer. This means that often she’ll quote chunks of sites like Wikipedia, but the technology is still impressive.

Also in the works is the CogniToy, currently being Kickstarted by Elemental Path. The dinosaur shaped toy will work in a similar way to Barbie and Cayla, by communicating with IBM’s Watson cloud APIs. The Kickstarter claims that the CogniToy will learn and evolve with the child, creating a unique experience. Demand has been high, with the original goal being met in just a day.

The move towards internet connected toys may be a response to falling traditional toy sales. Companies such as Mattel and Hasbro have seen children move from toys towards a preference for high tech gadgets, such as tablets and smartphones. Mattel reported a 22% drop in sales in October last year, which probably explains the advent of Hello Barbie. Many toys are also promoting companion apps, such as the My Friend Kayla and the latest iteration of the Furby, probably to snare tablet users.

With such new leaps being made in toy technology, however, there were bound to be some controversy. With My Friend Cayla, it was discovered that her app could easily be hacked to remove the child safe filters that are in place. With that removed, Cayla can be made to say some highly inappropriate things for little ears. A spokesperson for the company said the security has since been improved on the app.

With the Hello Barbie, concerns have been raised over how the toy uses and stores information. When a child has a conversation with the doll, the information will be stored on ToyTalk’s servers, presumably so the doll can use information from it in future chats. However, there’s been no word on how long the information will be stored, and what else it could be used for. After all, a server full of their target audience’s likes and interests must be marketing gold to Mattel…

Despite these concerns though, with children showing a preference towards technological toys, toy companies will be doing everything in their power to tempt them away from their iPads. If worries over security and data protection can be addressed properly, though, this could be an exciting new development for the toy industry.

Is Uber the Future of Taxis?

Uber, the app controlled taxi service, has recently launched in our hometown of Birmingham. We join the ranks of cities such as London, Paris, and Los Angeles that now have access to the service.

The revolutionary new taxi service allows customers to order a taxi from the Uber app on their phone, rather than hailing one on the street or calling a taxi firm. Then, the customer receives their driver’s details, and watch where they are in real time as they wait for them. They also receive an estimate of their fare, which is based on time and distance travelled, and can pay directly with their credit card. Uber say their service is often cheaper than traditional taxi services, and with the tracking features can be safer.

A representative from the Birmingham Black Cab Driver’s Association has said that they welcome the competition, adding that ‘other apps have been and gone’. This is a remarkably calm response to Uber’s launch, as many other taxi drivers around the world have been outspoken on their distaste for the new service. In June 2014, London cab drivers gathered in Trafalgar Square to protest, on the grounds that Uber cabs should be licensed in a similar manner to traditional cabs. The fact they aren’t, protesters said, is why Uber can charge cheaper prices and undercut them.

This isn’t the only problem the company has faced. There are plenty of lawsuits that have been brought against Uber since their inception in 2008, including one from a woman from Delhi who claims she was raped in one of their cars, and one from The National Federation of the Blind, who found that several blind people had been grossly mistreated by Uber drivers. With most Uber vehicles not being wheelchair friendly, this and the lawsuit may be enough to convince customers with disabilities to look for a taxi elsewhere.

There have also been concerns about how customers’ data is managed. ‘God View’ on the app allows Uber employees to track customer’s whereabouts, critics claim, violating their privacy. The story came to light after journalist Johana Bhuiyan got an Uber car to an interview with Uber New York manager Josh Mohrer, and he mentioned he had tracked her journey there, without her permission. There’s even been reports that interviewees for the company had access to this information, even after the interview had ended.

A lot of these accusations are seriously troubling, and appear to have come about due to the fact that Uber is such a new idea in the taxi business. With their drivers being independent contractors, it appears that in some cities they don’t keep as close an eye on them as they should. Also, with Uber being an app-driven business, they have easier access to customer data than traditional companies have. The company is still technically in it’s infancy, so if it can iron out these issues with the service, they will probably continue to be a valid competitor to the other taxi services available. However, with other companies up and coming (such as the GetTaxi service, which has also launched in Birmingham), Uber will have to stay on their toes.

What The Death of Joystiq Means For Gaming Journalism

This month we’ve seen the closure of one of one of the most popular online gaming magazines, Joystiq. As one of the best sources in gaming news, it’s departure is already being felt by the gaming community, and many have taken up their pens themselves to bemoan their loss.

The closure has come as Joystiq’s parent company, AOL, have been massively restructuring over the last few weeks. They aren’t the only casualties either. Recently The Escapist let go of a large amount of their staff, and gaming magazine giant CVS has also been shut down for good by Future publishing.

After the death of many physical gaming magazines, including the much beloved Nintendo Power in December 2012, it seemed that the gaming community had moved onto getting their news from online, non biased sources. Reading articles from journalists that weren’t affiliated with one company or another meant the conversation could truly be opened up for the first time, for better or for worse. Gaming really benefited from the democratic nature of the internet, where everyone could have their say.

However, Rik Henderson from Pocket-Lint points out that ‘everyone is fighting for a very small pot of advertising’. With such a proliferation of gaming sites spread across the web, it’s not surprising that they’re unable to support themselves. Future Publishing, who have a whole portfolio of gaming sites including CVS and Gizmodo, reported a £30.6 million loss for the first half of 2014, and announced 170 job losses. That’s a tough blow for any company.

With official sites feeling the strain, is there still a place for gaming journalism as a whole? Arguably, most gaming commentary has moved over to places like Youtube, where ordinary gamers are having their say. ‘Let’s Play’ style videos have been popular for a few years but their viewing figures have exploded as of late, with groups such as the Yogscast and Rooster Teeth drawing in huge audiences with their work.

This demonstrates a shift in what gamers want from gaming media as a whole. Gone are the slightly detached and aloof commenters, now in are the unabashed gaming fans, who get invested in the games they’re playing and share that enthusiasm with their fans. It’s essentially a grassroots approach to gaming commentary, with an emphasis on reaching people rather than making money first and foremost. The industry as a whole has begun to embrace these newcomers, finding that a Let’s Play-er playing through one of their titles on Youtube is actually excellent advertising for them.

With the the Youtube phenomenon being so new, though, there are concerns about how long the bubble will last until gamers find something else that will inform and entertain them more. This is though an occupational hazard. With gaming necessarily living on the cutting edge of tech, the methods commentators use will have to be ready to change along with it. This probably isn’t much comfort to those who are now looking for new jobs, but we hope they find new challenges soon.

Fingerprints, Goggles and GPS Apps: The World of Police Technology

When we think of police technology, we usually think of fingerprinting and DNA evidence, things that unfailingly manage to nail the bad guys in police procedurals on TV. In real life, though, what are the police using in their fight against crime?

The police have a history of using technology in their everyday work. Fingerprinting technology came about in the 1800’s, after Juan Vucetich, an Argentine police official, began keeping the first fingerprint files. With every person having an individual fingerprint, it became a tried and trusted method of identifying criminals. The use of DNA testing came much later, when in 1986 the fledgling technology was used to debunk the false confession of a teenage boy in the Midlands.

Technology is always evolving, and in the justice system it’s no different. New technology often helps crack older cases, such as recently when the 1981 murder of Carolyn Lee Andrew was solved by new DNA matching techniques.

Police technology has to keep up with the modern world, and in a recent demonstration given to the BBC, several new ideas were shown. Demonstrators used digital methods of collecting evidence, such as devices that could be plugged into laptops and recover important information. That information can then be used to build up a map of what had happened and who was involved.

The demonstration also showed off goggles, similar to Google Glass, that could capture and transmit images in real time. The idea is similar to that of body mounted cameras, which have been tentatively rolled out in several US states. With these recording devices, backers say, incidents such as the Ferguson riots could be avoided as the devices would record definitive proof of such events.

Others, however, are concerned that such advances give the police more surveillance but not necessarily more power in preventing crime. Privacy protection groups, such as Big Brother Watch, have said that cameras introduce ‘privacy intrusion’ into normal people’s lives. In an unusual twist, US police have voiced their own concerns about privacy with the Waze app. The Google GPS app allows users to tag the whereabouts of law enforcers on the roads, which, police argue, creates a ‘stalking app’ for those who wish to do the police harm.

These arguments have been challenged elsewhere online. The Atlantic points out that if somebody was intent on causing a police officer harm, it wouldn’t be difficult to find one, seeing as they congregate in clearly marked areas and are highly visible when working. As for body mounted cameras, developers have promised that the public will always be informed when they are in use, and will have red lights to notify others that they are in use.

As with most technology in recent years, the concerns around them centre around the intrusion into people’s daily lives. Arguably though, the police force are the one group of people who should be allowed to do so. How and to what degree, though, are a matter of debate.

Gaming Addiction: Fact or Fiction?

We’ve barely seen the first month of 2015 out, and already we’ve seen a case of gaming related death. Based in Taiwan, a man died in an internet cafe after taking part in a gaming marathon. The 32 year old man died some time into his three day session. Rather gruesomely, CNN noted that police couldn’t tell when he’d died, as the body was already stiffening when they found him. Apparently, he’d died of cardiac arrest.

Family of the deceased mentioned that it wasn’t unusual for them to go off and game for days in a row, without speaking to or seeing anybody. Staff at the internet cafes were so immune to seeing patrons nod off at their stations, that they thought nothing of the dead man ‘sprawled across the table’. His death wasn’t a random occurrence, either. We’ve been hearing of dedicated gamers dropping dead since 1981, when Jeff Dailey died of a heart attack at the age of 19, following about 15 minutes on a Bezerk machine. Tragically, sometimes it’s innocent parties who die due to marathon gaming sessions, such as a baby girl who died in South Korea due to her parents’ addiction to an online game.

What causes these deaths to happen? Arguably, the Taiwanese man was suffering from a gaming addiction that led to him ignoring signs that he was becoming seriously ill. Gaming addiction isn’t recognised as an ‘official’ illness in the DSM-V, the holy bible of all mental disorders, but there is evidence to suggest it exists.

The Week investigated gaming addiction, and reported that the symptoms were very similar to more familiar addictions, such as to alcohol or drugs. They provide people with an escape from the real world, where they may be an outsider, struggling, or feeling like failures. In the gaming world, the player is a hero and is constantly told how wonderful and brave they are. Much like any case of substance abuse, the player needs more and more of the same reward in order to get the same satisfaction from it. Given long enough, an addict could easily meet a fate similar to the ones above.

The mechanics that can addict some people to games are openly exploited by developers, especially mobile game developers. Some have compared gaming addictions to gambling addictions, and it’s easy to see why. Playing any mobile game will give you the option to spend real money on virtual items at every turn. Some will assist you in the game, some won’t, but when you’re stuck on a certain level of Candy Crush Saga it’s sorely tempting to spend the money to get past it. For those who are addicted, such as the woman who stole £1000 of her mother’s money to do just that, it’s no longer a choice but a compulsion.

Despite protests otherwise, gaming addiction isn’t the fault of gaming developers or the games themselves, although they could play a part in reducing the addictive aspects of their titles. Vulnerable people will always find coping strategies, and some are much less healthy for them for others. It’s a pity the man in Taiwan wasn’t noticed sooner, or he could have found help. The same goes for the couple in South Korea, or for Jeff Dailey. Sadly, for them as most addicted people, the help comes too late.