Author Archives: Skilliard

Daybreak Games Is Shutting Down Landmark, Will Not Refund Users or Provide Offline Access

Daybreak Games has announced plans to shut down Landmark on February 21, 2017. Users will not be able to access the game after this date, and they will not receive a refund for their purchase. Daybreak has openly stated that they have no plans to release or license the software for users to create their own servers, and will not authorize the operation of private servers, implying that they may take legal action against operators of private servers.

Released into a pay-gated Alpha test in 2014, Landmark was intended to be a voxel-based sandbox MMO in a similar fashion to Minecraft(but with pretty graphics and more precision). Landmark utilizes the same technology that was being used to develop Everquest Next, a project that was ultimately canceled shortly after Sony Online Entertainment was acquired by the investment firm Columbus Nova.

When Columbus Nova acquired Sony Online Entertainment back in February 2015, the games department was renamed as “Daybreak Games Company”. Daybreak Games Company underwent a significant restructuring, laying off a significant portion of their staff, and canceling or modifying existing projects. Within the first two years of acquisition, Daybreak has shut down Planetside and Landmark, and canceled Everquest Next.

The intent of these executive decisions seem to be for the sake of short-term profitability. Creating an MMORPG, especially one as ambitious as Everquest Next, requires a massive amount of capital to create. As Everquest Next promised technologies and features never seen before in the genre, there’s a very high chance that it may not have turned out as expected.

In addition to the significant cost in creating a MMORPG, the PC MMORPG market has been declining in recent years. Returns on new western MMORPGs have been very poor, as we’ve seen with games such as Wildstar and Star Wars: The Old Republic. In the AAA western market, we’ve seen a large shift towards competitive, match based titles that carry the potential to become popular esports. Currently, most upcoming MMORPGs seem to be coming either from eastern countries such as Korea and China, or from indie developers with limited funding.

In terms of profitability, there’s often a much better ROI when investing in mobile games, as they require very little development cost in comparison to PC MMORPGs, but still carry significant earning potential. Mobile gamers are generally much more tolerant of game-changing microtransactions than PC gamers, and have much lower expectations regarding the depth and quality of games on the platform.

Overall, Columbus Nova is likely not willing to take the financial risks associated with creating a high cost title such as a MMORPG. Their goal seems to be to squeeze as much revenue as possible out of existing titles, while significantly reducing costs to improve profit margins. While this works great for short-term returns, it does raise questions about the distant future of the company. How will their revenue look when their existing titles inevitably lose popularity due to development budget cuts, and competition from other games? Daybreak Games seems very risk adverse when it comes to developing new products or maintaining failing ones. While capital investment is inherently risky, pocketing profits instead of reinvesting it in the company seems like a recipe for failure.

Currently, Daybreak Games publishes and manages the following games:

  • H1Z1: King of the Kill
  • H1Z1: Just Survive
  • Planetside 2
  • Everquest
  • Everquest 2
  • DC Universe Online

Link to the official announcement: https://www.landmarkthegame.com/news/important-news-about-landmark-2017

 

 

 

With Markets Surging, Bitcoin Network Experiencing Transaction Delays Due to Technical Limitation

Bitcoin’s price has risen from $750 to $1060 in the past month, which has created a huge surge in activity. Unfortunately, this activity has caused the network to stagnate, with many transactions taking several hours to confirm.

Unconfirmed transactions continue to pile up as the network cannot keep up with new transactions. Source: blockchain.info

The source of the stagnation stems from a technical limitation of the Bitcoin network. Bitcoin’s public transaction record, known as the “blockchain”, is made up of a series of blocks published by different entities through a process known as mining. These blocks are created at an average rate of one per 10 minutes. The size of each block is capped 1 Megabyte, a limit originally created to prevent malicious entities from creating unnecessarily large blocks, which could make the blockchain too large for most users to download and store. This limits Bitcoin to approximately 3-4 transactions per second, which is insufficient for it to fully replace credit card networks or other transaction methods.

This limit is beginning to limit Bitcoin’s growth as a currency. While Bitcoin provides enormous potential, such as protecting people from hyperinflation in countries such as Venezuela, and providing a secure and private transaction protocol, the 1 MB cap is preventing it from seeing widespread adaptation. Bitcoin recently adapted “dynamic fees” which adjust the fee that someone sending Bitcoins pays to have their transaction confirmed in a block. As traffic continues to rise, fees continue to rise, as users are competing for limited block space. If fees grow too high, it eliminates Bitcoin’s feasibility for day-to-day transactions.

I recently purchased a bit of steam wallet funds with Bitcoin to test the network. With a fee of 0.12 mBTC, the default fee with the wallet I used(approximately $0.13) I’ve been waiting over two hours, and lack a confirmation. The transaction can be viewed here. The transaction was sent at 2:48 AM central US time.

Currently, as of 4:53 AM US Central time, there are over 26,000 unconfirmed transactions waiting to be confirmed in a block, with a size totaling over 13 Megabytes, meaning that it will take over two hours for the system to catch up, assuming no more transactions are sent. However, at the current rate of transactions, the size of the queue only grows, meaning wait times do as well.

Solving the Block Size Limit Problem

Unfortunately, the block size limit cannot be adjusted without creating a “fork” in the network, essentially splitting the network, and hoping everyone agrees on which is the “real” Bitcoin network. Since Bitcoin is a decentralized currency, it’s very difficult to get the community to reach consensus on a network fork. There are many different proposals on how to solve the issue, and it is a very controversial issue within the Bitcoin community.

Some advocate a 2 Megabyte cap, as it is a small change, but many disagree because it’s simply kicking the can down the road, and we’ll see the same problem happen later. Some advocate increasing the cap, and creating a determined schedule at which further increases to the cap occur. Many disagree with this because it makes dangerous assumptions about growth in internet infrastructure, and the ability for large blocks to be reliably transported. Some support a dynamically scaling block size caps based on median block size, although some worry about the potential for this to be abused.

Ultimately, the only way that Bitcoin could undergo such a significant change would be for all of the industry leaders, such as exchanges, transaction processors, and mining groups, as well as a significant majority of users, to agree on a specific change and date of implementation(at a specific block number). Even once an agreement is made, such a change would likely take years, as developers of custom Bitcoin applications will need sufficient time to refine their code base to support the new changes, and test thoroughly.

One effective way to reduce risk when implementing a fork is to schedule it for a block several months or a couple years in the future, but only on the condition that a given percentage of blocks mined within the past few months of blocks contain a marker in support of it. Since blocks can contain non-transaction data, miners that support a given change to the network could contain a specific marker indicating their support.

Overall, Bitcoin has enormous potential, but the community and industry will have to find a way to address the transaction size issue in order to create a widely used transaction medium. If Bitcoin fails to improve it’s capacity, it’s possible that an alternative cryptocurrency could fill a niche for smaller transactions. This ultimately would depend on major Bitcoin payment processors such as Bitpay or Coinbase providing support for alternative currencies. While it’s unclear what the future for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies will hold. What we do know is that they carry significant potential, and that any sort of prediction is pure speculation.

The Plug In Vehicle Tax Credit- A Corporate Handout That Doesn’t Help Consumers or the Environment

The Plug In Vehicle Tax Credit was created as a part of the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008.  The tax credit was created with the intent of boosting consumer adaption of Electric Vehicles, as a way to help combat climate change. However, with the way the policy was created, it does very little to boost production of electric vehicles. Instead, it simply provides a handout to manufacturers of electric vehicles, at the expense of the taxpayer.

The electric vehicle tax credit provides a credit of up to $7,500 to individuals/households that purchase a qualifying electric vehicle, with no income limit. While the  credit is based on the capacity of the battery installed in the vehicle, most vehicles that qualify for this credit have a battery with a large enough capacity to qualify for the entire $7,500 credit.

Instead of creating an expiry date for the tax credit, the law instead created a threshold at which the tax credit phases out.  The tax credit can only be applied if the producer of the EV sold less than 200,000 qualifying vehicles in the United States within a 1 year time period. If the 200,000 threshold is hit, the tax credit begins to phase out over the course of a 1 year period.

The intended purpose of this is to ensure that the tax credit remains in effect until electric vehicles see widespread adaption, and then phases out in order to prevent the tax credit from becoming too expensive for the federal government. Basically, it is supposed to exist to help the electric vehicle market grow, and then phase out once it becomes large.

The tax credit, with it’s 200,000 vehicle limit, encourages EV manufactuers to keep prices high, and limit production. When the government will cover $7,500 of the bill of a purchased EV, this means that producers of the vehicle can raise prices by $7,500 while effectively maintaining the same level of demand they had prior to the tax credit.

Because the tax credit only applies to companies selling less than 200,000 electric vehicles in the US per year, the companies that make these vehicles are heavily rewarded for staying within this threshold. By keeping production low to maintain eligibility for the tax credit, electric vehicle producers can keep prices high, as the tax credit makes up for any loss in demand. It’s much more profitable to sell a small amount of vehicles with massive profit margins(thanks to the government) than it is to sell a large amount of vehicles with small profit margins.

Additionally, because the Tax credit is non-refundable(meaning it can’t reduce your tax liability below $0), this means that in many cases, only upper-middle and upper income taxpayers get the full benefit of the credit. This further incentives companies to brand electric vehicles as luxury vehicles, as the consumers that are most affected by the tax credit are those that pay at least $7,500 in federal income taxes per year.

By keeping production low to maintain eligibility for government subsidies, manufacturers don’t need to invest as much capital in building new facilities or hiring more workers for mass production, likely resulting in less job creation than if the government would have stayed out of the market.

teslamodelx

With A MSRP of $74,000, the Tesla Model X can be considered a luxury purchase, and not a mainstream vehicle.

Since the creation of the credit in 2008, we still haven’t seen manufacturers come close to the 200,000 vehicle phaseout threshold. Instead of investing resources in scaling production efforts and increasing sales, revenue from sales has either been pocketed as profits, or invested in creation and production of extra luxury features in order to justify the high prices of the vehicles sold.

The tax credit has created a shift in the electric vehicle market. Instead of investing capital in the mass production of affordable electric vehicles, which would be beneficial to the environment, the increased revenue resulting from the tax bill has instead encouraged companies to limit electric vehicle production to expensive vehicles with luxury features, in order to retain eligibility for indirect government subsidies. Many manufacturers of electric vehicles also produce gasoline powered cars, which they continue to sell to meet the demands for low-mid priced vehicles. If the U.S Federal government stopped discouraging corporations from designing electric vehicles as luxury cars via conditional tax subsidies, perhaps we’d see more entry-level electric vehicles being mass produced.

source: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/plug-in-electric-vehicle-credit-irc-30-and-irc-30d

 

Why Obamacare is Making Healthcare So Expensive

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care act, often called Obamacare, has resulted in healthcare expenditures growing at a rapidly increasing rate. The average premium on a benchmark silver health insurance plan is increasing by an average of 22% in 2017, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. Some states such as Arizona are seeing even worse results, which will experience a massive average increase of 116%.

Obamacare requires that insurance companies spend at least 80% of their insurance premium costs on healthcare expenses and healthcare quality improving activities- leaving only 20% of their gross income for administrative costs, marketing, overhead costs, and profits. If they fail to meet this requirement, they have to refund their enrollees the difference. The threshold is raised to 85% for companies providing large-group plans.

At first, this clause may sound good. It attempts to reduce insurance company profits and administrative expenses through force, in an attempt to ensure that the law isn’t a handout to insurance companies due to the mandate, and that money spent on premiums actually goes towards healthcare.

However, this clause means that the only way for insurance companies to increase profits is to drive up the cost of healthcare. They can’t increase the percentage of their profit margin due to the requirement that 80% of insurance premiums are spent on healthcare expenses, but they can increase the overall size of their profits by charging more for insurance, while simultaneously paying out more to hospitals and drug companies in order to stay within their limits.

The Affordable Care Act now includes an employer mandate, requiring that employers of full time employees provide their employees with health insurance, with an exemption for small businesses. This has resulted in many companies converting full time jobs into part time jobs, in order to circumvent having to pay for expensive healthcare.

The Affordable Care Act also established that anyone below 400% of the federal poverty level has a cap as to how much they personally will have to pay for an insurance premium, if their employer doesn’t provide it. If their insurance premium costs more than a figure based on their income, the government will make up the difference in the form of a refundable tax credit. For example, a family of 4 with an income of $36,450 will not have to pay more than 4.08% of their income on their insurance premium for a silver plan. For them, if the second cheapest insurance provider in their area charges more than $1487.16 per year, the government will make up the entire difference.

In a market without subsidies or government intervention, hospitals and drug companies could only charge what people are capable of paying. When the government starts providing unlimited subsidies(they’ll cover as much as the 2nd cheapest insurance provider charges with no limits) to it’s low and medium income citizens, it creates a situation where insurance companies and healthcare providers profit immensely from the federal government’s inability to negotiate it’s expenditures.

This likely contributes to why the cost of individual plans is growing at a rate substantially faster than group plans. The government has an enormous amount of money due to it’s massive tax revenue and ability to deficit spend, whereas businesses have a much more limited ability to pay for insurance. If insurers charge businesses too much for group plans, the business will either reduce the amount of people they hire, or attempt to convert full time jobs into part time jobs.

With businesses, there’s at least some elasticity involved in business demand for insurance plans, because they can reduce the amount of full time positions at their company if their healthcare costs become too expensive to justify them. With the federal government providing unlimited subsidies to qualifying individuals, they will pay whatever they are obligated to pay based on the tax code, until the law is changed. The insurance companies then take these maximum subsidy payouts, burn 80% of it by paying drug companies and healthcare providers way more than they need to, then profit from the rest. These terrible negotiations of pricing are mutually beneficial to both the insurance provider and the drug companies, at the expense of both the taxpayer, and the poor folks that have to pay for an overpriced individual health insurance plan without eligibility for a government subsidy.

You may think that competition will force insurance providers to keep insurance premiums low. Unfortunately this is not the case, as many locations are down to just one provider within the ACA exchange. Insurance companies are a type of company that require a massive amount of capital to create, so it’s very easy for monopolies to form. The 80:20 rule on insurance company spending requires insurance companies to maintain risky profit margins, so it isn’t something where a small business can just come in and compete. The nature of insurance is that it requires a large pool of people to balance risk and create predictable results based on probability and data.

Many have proposed allowing insurers to compete across state lines. This will help create competition and make it more difficult for insurance companies to drive up the cost of healthcare in order to improve their profits, but it is only a band-aid fix that will slow down the rate that insurance companies attempt to increase healthcare costs.

The Affordable Care Act, while it carries good intentions, ultimately acts a massive handout to healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies. It is creating a giant hole in our economy, dragging up costs for businesses as health insurance premiums rise, thus resulting in reduced wage growth, a weakened economic recovery, and less money leftover in the pockets of consumers.

Sources:

https://www.healthinsurance.org/obamacare/will-you-receive-an-obamacare-premium-subsidy/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/07/24/8020-rule-saving-americans-lot-money-what-exactly-it

http://money.cnn.com/2016/10/24/news/economy/obamacare-premiums/

 

Revelation Online Announces Closed Beta Date

My.com announced today that the first closed beta event for the NA/EU Version of Revelation Online will run from October 25 until November 8th. Players that won a key via a giveaway will be able to play in this closed beta event, and players that purchased a founder’s pack also have access to the event.

Revelation in a Chinese MMORPG that is in the progress of being ported into North America and Europe. Revelation Online will feature battlegrounds, sieges, dungeons, raids, and open world bosses. Revelation combines some of the best features from successful MMOS, and does a little bit of everything.

Revelation brings back the excitement in leveling. Instead of being a boring, short process that acts as a gateway to endgame, leveling in Revelation is the endgame. After level 50, players need to complete high difficulty dungeons to gear up their character in order to stand a chance at higher level brackets. Players can’t simply just rush to the level cap, as it’s important to progress adequately and actually play the game as you progress. Revelation also includes limitations that help close the gap between players with differing amount of time available to play.

In the closed beta, players can play the story up until level 49, have access to 4 different dungeons with multiple difficulty levels, and participate in 10v10 battlegrounds. The publisher plans to gradually increase the amount of content available in each beta test.

Like most beta tests of online games, it’s important to remember that progress will be wiped before the game officially launches into early access.

 

 

Dolby Axon, A Surround Sound VOIP Program, Is Shutting Down This Year

 

dolby_axon_software

Dolby announced today that Axon, their surround sound voice chat software, is shutting down on December 5, 2016. All user data will be erased one week after the shut down. Users will not be able to use the software after the shut down, as it relies on their servers to operate.

Dolby Axon is a gimmicky surround sound voice chat program in which users select a physical location within a virtual room, and hear other users based on their location in the virtual room relative to their own. This provides some level of tactical advantage in certain types of games, where you might need a lot of people in the same chat room, but want certain users to hear each other more than others.(For example, a large raid in an MMORPG where players are split up into smaller groups)

The application did not find much widespread use among gamers, and as a result, it is being shut down. The program was confusing and difficult for new users to figure out. While there are some cases in which hardcore gamers could benefit from the program, the low rate of market adaption, as well as difficulty in setting it up deterred most gaming guilds/groups from choosing it as their VOIP solution.

Dolby Axon allowed users to form permanent communities for free, much like what Discord now provides. With Discord being very easy to use, not requiring a download, having a mobile app, and being completely free, Dolby Axon lost the appeal it had as a voice chat solution that allows users to create channels for free.

The Dolby team recommends using Curse or Discord as an alternative for existing users/communities.

Other Potential Uses?

While Dolby Axon is shutting down, it’s quite possible that Dolby may find other uses for it’s client-server, surround sound VOIP technology. Online games, especially those in Virtual Reality, could benefit immensely from a surround-sound voice chat system, if it includes API to allow the game to provide in game player locations to the software. Surround sound voice chat could add another layer of realism to VR games. Many small development studios might not want to spend the time and money creating a surround-sound, client-server based voice chat system, and could theoretically opt to license it from another company to save on costs involved with reinventing the wheel.

This is all speculation, but it does seem like a smart way to make use of what they’re scrapping. Dolby Axon failed due to its confusing interface and high level of setup required of users. If they can find a way to create an API in which they can integrate the software directly with online games, it could solve every single issue the software faced, and create a lot of value for small-medium sized development studios creating online games.

 

Oculus Reduces Minimum System Requirements

Thanks to a new technology called “asynchronous spacewarp”, Oculus has managed to reduce it’s minimum system requirements. Asynchronous spacewarp is a form of interpolation that enables a game rendered at 45 FPS to be smoothed out to a display rate of 90 fps on the headset. The device technology takes the 2 most recent frames, analyzes differences, and uses them along with head movement to calculate an additional frame to create a smoother experience.

A true 90 fps will still provide a more smooth and accurate gaming experience, but this technology will substantially improve the experience for those playing on a system that cannot achieve this framerate. It also will help users keep their current hardware for longer, as users that aren’t able to maintain 90 fps in newer games will be able to maintain a satisfactory experience through this new interpolation technique.

 

Old System Requirements

Intel i5 4690

NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290

8 GB RAM

Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer

HDMI 1.3 video output

3 USB 3.0 ports and a 1 USB 2.0 port.

New System Requirements

Intel i3 6100 or AMD FX 4350

NVIDIA GTX 960

8 GB RAM

Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer

HDMI 1.3 video output

3 USB 3.0 ports and a 1 USB 2.0 port.

What’s actually needed for VR?

While Oculus specifies a minimum hardware specification, to some extent it is based around future proofing. Most of the current VR games on the market have very simple graphics, and in theory should run well on systems below the minimum requirements if graphics are turned down. With that said, they have to provide a baseline minimum specification that developers are expected to target, in order to ensure that games are accessible to most owners of the device. Oculus doesn’t want their customers to be upset if a VR game they buy doesn’t run smoothly, as it reflects poorly on the device(even if they aren’t actually at fault). For this reason, they set the bar high to ensure performance.

With that said, if you’re in a position to spend $600 or more on a VR headset, it’s probably best to invest in a system that will be able to run games 2-3 years down the line. When new VR headsets come out and developers try to create VR games that push the limits of graphics, it would be best to have a system that can keep up with these advancements. While you might be able to run some VR games just fine on a system below minimum specifications, you’ll be locking yourself out of a lot of really fun games, therefore getting limited use out of the expensive $600 headset.

Currently, a 6 GB GTX 1060 provides roughly equivalent performance to a GTX 980, setting it well above even the minimum requirements. The AMD RX 480 also meets the minimum requirements, at a lower price than the r9 290.

Amazon Announces 3 New Online Games

Today at Twitchcon Amazon announced 3 new online games, all of which will integrate with twitch to enable players to directly live stream their gameplay, and possibly even allow streamers and viewers to influence the game itself through the Twitch platform. These games are built on the Lumberyard engine, an engine Amazon has developed that enables developers to create online games and easily connect them with Amazon’s hosting services and Twitch platform.

 

Breakaway

breakawaygame

Breakaway is a 4 vs 4 esports title/battleground, in which players choose between a variety of heroes with different abilities.

Breakaway revolves around a glowing ball called a relic, that players can grab and pass around while fighting the enemy. The goal is to get the ball into the enemy’s goal(called a relay or portal). In order to achieve this objective, players will fight each other, place structures, and use a variety of abilities to win the game. The ball has different effects based on how long you hold the ball, encouraging players to constantly pass the ball.

Breakaway has 3 ways to win a round:

  • By putting the ‘artificact’ into the enemy’s goal/portal/relay(it isn’t clear what they will call it yet)
  • By eliminating all enemy players at once(which sounds very difficult, as players respawn after a few seconds of dying)
  • When the time runs out, the side that the relic/ball is on loses the game(so at the end you want to get the ball on the enemy side near their goal)

After each round or when you die, players can use gold they earn throughout the match to purchase or upgrade items that influence gameplay. In addition, players can place various structures throughout the battleground that influence the game.

In many ways, Breakaway is much like soccer or football, in that the main objective is to get the ball to the enemy’s goal. Breakaway does away with all of the strict rules and downtime associated with these sports, and instead utilizes moba-style combat and buildable structures to create nonstop, fast-paced action that leaves players and viewers enjoying every second of the match.

You can sign up for the alpha at https://playbreakaway.com/

Gameplay footage is available here

New World

new-world-key-art

New world is a sandbox MMO based in the 17th century, with supernatural themes. Players can build civilizations, fight through monster filled wilderness, or fight other players. The game world adapts based on time of day, in game weather, and in game seasons. The game will even include events that Twitch broadcasters can lead, and achievements/rewards to go along with it.

Crucible

crucible-key-art

Crucible is a survival game based in an alien world. Players can choose and customize various heroes, form alliances, and betray others. The game will contain dynamic events. Based on Amazon’s description on their site, it sounds like it might even be a game hosted by twitch livestreamers, in which viewers participate in the game while the streamer triggers events and watches the battles unfold.

More info on all the games: https://games.amazon.com/games

Wildstar to Allow Players to Indirectly Purchase Best in Slot Raid Gear With Real Money

In a move to make up for poor sales, Wildstar is adding a new type of item called raid lockboxes. These drop from raids and can be traded on the auction house. These boxes contain a random assortment of items, including best in slot raid gear.  Like most crates in free to play games, they require a key to open.  Players with an active signature status subscription receive one free key a week- in addition, keys can be purchased in the cash shop with real money or with omnibits, a currency earned in game.

This change eliminates the need for players to actually complete raids to gear up their character with best in slot gear. Now players can simply purchase a lockbox from the auction house, as well as a key from the cash shop. In fact, players don’t even need to play the game to get the gear, as they can simply buy in game currency through the CREDD system, which they can use to buy the lockbox.

This feature is likely to upset a lot of players, but with how low Wildstar’s revenue has been, it might be necessary to cover operating expenses. Wildstar generated less than $2 Million in revenue during Q2 2016, which is not nearly enough to pay a dedicated team of developers,  QA, customer support, and other necessary employees. This change is likely to improve sales through creating an incentive for the sale of CREDD, as players need in game currency to buy the lockboxes, and through sales of signature status to receive the keys.

In addition to raid lockboxes, there are also standard lockboxes that will drop from other forms of gameplay, which contain a random assortment of cosmetic items.

 

The official announcement can be read here

California Energy Commission’s Proposed Regulations on Personal Computers Poses Threat to Prebuilt Gaming Desktops and Gaming Monitors

In a move to reduce power consumption and protect the environment, the California Energy Commission has proposed a series of regulations intended to reduce the idle power consumption of personal computers, as well as the overall power consumption of monitors.

The CEC met with stakeholders in the computing industry to discuss how to develop regulations that reduce power consumption in ways that don’t prevent certain types of devices from being sold. While this does help prevent the CEC from passing regulations that cannot realistically be met, it does raise the concern of special interests proposing regulations that provide them an advantage over new competition as a result of proprietary technology or trade secrets they posess the rights to.

The series of rules and regulations are planned to take effect between 2017 and 2021.

Potential Threat to Prebuilt Gaming Computers

To determine appropriate levels of idle power consumption, systems will be classified based on an ‘expandability’ score.

Most desktops will have limitations imposed on power consumption that gaming computers cannot realistically meet- however, “high expandability” systems won’t be subject to these power limitations. Instead, they’ll be subject to a different set of limitations designed for workstations, such as requiring a power supply that meets the 80 PLUS GOLD standard.

To be classified as “high-expandability” without meeting the minimum score of 690, a system must attain a minimum level of frame-buffer bandwidth(memory bandwidth on the graphics adapter). The proposed level is 400 GB/s by 2018, and 600 GB/s by 2020. In addition, the system must use a power supply of 600 watts or greater.

The level of frame-buffer bandwidth required is significantly higher than what is offered in high end graphics adapters today. For example the NVIDIA GTX 1080, which has a MSRP of $600, has a memory bandwidth of just 320 GB/S. This falls 20% short of the requirement slated to go into effect by 2018.

This is an extremely ineffective metric, because memory bandwidth is generally not the main factor that contributes to GPU idle power consumption. In many cases, the necessary memory bandwidth in modern GPUs has gone down due to improvements in memory compression technology.

The size of the die has generally been the contributing factor to the most realistically achievable short-idle power consumption in most modern graphics adapters- the number of transistors is likely not used in the classification of graphics adapters due to the difficulty in testing or verifying such an element(as well as improvements to transistor density as lithography tech improves), but die size is not difficult. Using TFLOPs as a measure of performance is also a poor idea, because performance will continue to improve, and eventually result in low-end devices being categorized as high performance if the specification is not updated.

HBM(High Bandwidth Memory) is an upcoming standard that will provide substantially increased memory bandwidth while consuming significantly less power, with the drawback of currently being very expensive. Obviously, the way in which the system’s drivers interact with the hardware to determine clock speed, power saving states, as well as the architecture of the GPU itself are the most important aspects of idle power consumption, but these are the types of factors that the CEC is seeking to improve through regulation.

If these regulations pass, there will likely be an increase in the cost of prebuilt gaming computers in markets/areas effected by these regulations. High-end graphics cards with HBM will likely meet the memory bandwidth requirements; however, mid range GPUs that will likely still use GDDR5 or GDDR5X are at risk. These GPUs may cause a system to draw too much power to meet the desktop power consumption requirements, but not posess enough memory bandwidth to meet the “high-expandability” metric.

A likely effect would be for system manufacturers to include unnecessary pieces of hardware in order to boost the expandability score of their system into higher ranges. This will increase costs while providing little benefit and less choices to the consumer. If the systems do meet the high-expandability metric, there’s still the costs associated with requiring a 80 PLUS GOLD power supply as well as the cost of testing and meeting regulations.

 

Regulations on Computer Monitors

monitorenergytable

In addition to regulations on personal computers/workstations, the CEC also proposed establishing limitations on the power consumption of computer monitors. These limitations will be dynamic based on the resolution and physical size of the screen, as well as a 1 watt increase for touch screens.

The CEC is also considering providing additional allowance for curved monitors, OLED monitors, and gaming monitors with high refresh rates. The formulas/methods used to determine increased power allowances for high refresh rate monitors, curved displays, and OLED displays have not yet been decided.

The CEC states that their proposed power requirements can be met by:

  • using more efficient LEDs
  • establishing and maintaining a standard for the default brightness(since most consumers never change their brightness)
  • including an ambient light sensor for automatic brightness control based on brightness of the room
  • setting standards for the efficiency of the monitor’s power supply.

There is a proposal to create an exemption for monitors with a resolution of 8.2 megapixels or higher. In comparison, the 4K UHD standard(3840×2160) meets this standard at just under 8.3 megapixels. The proposed exemptions also includes KVMs, KMMs, and medical devices.

Small Business Exemption

 

Small businesses are proposed to be exempt from most of the regulations that involve expensive testing fees. The exemption is planned to apply to organizations that meet all of these criteria:

  • Have a gross annual revenue of less than $2 Million
  • Produce 40 or less units of a similar system
  • Assembles and sells the computers at the same location

This exemption only applies to computers manufactured through said business, it does not apply to systems that are purchased directly from another manufacturer or wholesaler for resale.

The “Produce 40 or less units of a similar system” rule does not yet specify a methodology for what is considered a “similar system”. For example, it’s unclear if a manufacturer could simply use a variety of parts in order to avoid selling more than 40 of the same type of computer. In this case, it sounds like an unnecessary regulation that will only drive prices up by punishing small businesses that order parts in large volumes(by making them pay testing fees), and therefore forcing them to source a larger variety of parts in order to circumvent the 40 or less units clause.

This exemption will protect small businesses that sell custom built computers as well as people that build computers as a hobby.

 

Cost Savings or Increased Costs?

The CEC claims that these regulations will save consumers money through reduced energy bills, but these savings do not account for the inevitable increase in prices on computers and monitors that results from the costs associated with meeting this extensive set of regulations. It also doesn’t account for when users inevitably change their settings in the operating system, such as increasing the time before the computer goes to sleep, increasing brightness levels, or increasing the time before the display dims or turns off.

In addition to the costs of using more expensive materials or parts to meet regulations, there’s also the possibility of business finding cheaper alternatives to circumvent efficiency requirements. In this case, a business might spend more on certain types of hardware in order to qualify for particular exemptions or categories that reduce their efficiency requirements, while providing little benefit to the consumer as a result of them exploiting a loophole.

It’s unclear if these regulations will save or cost consumers money, however it is important to consider that the benefits do go beyond cost- reduced power consumption can benefit the environment, especially depending on the type of energy used.

Sources:

http://www.energy.ca.gov/releases/2016_releases/2016-09-09_computer_standards_nr.html

http://docketpublic.energy.ca.gov/PublicDocuments/16-AAER-02/TN213548_20160909T092318__2016_Appliance_Efficiency_Rulemaking_Docket_Number_16AAER02Sta.pdf

https://www.engadget.com/2016/09/11/california-pc-energy-standard/