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The DeanBeat: Nexon pushes back at analysts by refusing to give game launch dates

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The DeanBeat: Nexon pushes back at analysts by refusing to give game launch dates

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Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney told investors during an earnings call Wednesday that he would not give launch dates for highly anticipated releases of KartRider: Drift and the first game from Patrick Soderlund’s Embark Studios.

His remarks surfaced truths about game development seldom discussed in financial circles. The suits of the business — CEOs, chief financial officer, and other game leaders — may often plant a flag in the ground by scheduling a game. But Mahoney, a suit himself, is quite critical of those other suits, as he believes scheduling a game launch to meet a financial target almost never ends well for the players, the development team, and the investors.

Mahoney told shareholders and analysts that if they must pick a date for their financial models, they should put both games in the second half of 2022. He said the games would probably show up sooner, but he wouldn’t say when. Mahoney doesn’t want to set dates, because he believes game development is a nonlinear process that involves innovation, failure, testing, and polish. And he doesn’t want to set up the entire company for bad communications and overwork by covering his own ass.

Anti-crunch

Owen Mahoney, CEO of Nexon

Above: Owen Mahoney is the CEO of Nexon

Image Credit: Nexon

By setting dates, Mahoney said leaders put the wrong kind of pressure on game developers to ship a game no matter what. That leads to “crunch mode,” or forcing developers to work overtime, often unpaid.

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“Crunch mode is one of the most pernicious problems in our industry. The charade of launch timing serves little purpose except this dance with equity analysts,” Mahoney said.

He went on to say, “Instead, the right thing to focus and push for is a game that blows people’s minds. If we achieve that, the game will last many years, and the revenues will dwarf what we would have made by launching a quarter or two earlier.”

And he added, “I’m sorry nobody in my industry has explained this to you before. Within the industry, we all know it’s true, and yet few talk about it openly. Everyone should. So rather than giving you a date, this team is going to give to our customers and employees a commitment to make the best game we can, as soon as we can.”

It was a bit risky for Mahoney to say that. But Nexon’s stock price went up 8% the next day, and it has held up.

Mahoney has been particularly successful at communicating things that people may realize is true but don’t really want to hear. While he took on financial analysts this week, he also told game developers back in June that they also needed to communicate better. He said he didn’t want creators to tell him what he wants to hear. He acknowledges that creating games can be hard, scary, expensive, and complicated.

Creators giving pitches in the board room often make the mistake of saying what they think the board wants to hear, he said. Instead of talking about how they make a game to ride on a market trend, they should pitch a game that no one else is pitching and make the game that they have always dreamed of making, he said. He also said game companies say they love innovation, but they resist creators at every turn. Again, this is an enlightened view that you wouldn’t expect from a suit.

Mahoney’s speech this week, which you can see below, was a small victory for reason. But it’s a conversation that is playing out in the board rooms at many companies in the industry, with often mixed results.

A year of delays

Halo Infinite gameplay

Above: Halo Infinite is one of many big games that faced delays in recent years.

Image Credit: Microsoft/343 Industries

The pandemic has made game delays a familiar things. We were all disappointed last year when Microsoft pushed back the launch of Halo Infinite.

Back in April, the Game Developers Conference said its industry survey of game devs found 44% of those polled said “Yes” when asked if their game has suffered a delay due to the pandemic (up from 33% last summer), 48% answered “No,” and the remainder said they were not working on a game. And market researcher Newzoo estimated that the global game market would shrink in 2021 for the first time in many years, not because of weak demand but because so many of the much-anticipated games were going to be delayed due to the pandemic.

And it seems like reality is playing out this as Newzoo foresaw. We’ve seen recent delays for Tango Gameworks’ Ghostwire: Tokyo, Ember Labs’ Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Ready At Dawn’s Lone Echo II, Ubisoft’s Riders Republic and Rainbow Six: Extraction. Often, the need to improve product quality was the reason given for the delay, and some say that it’s simply harder to finish games on time during the pandemic with remote development.

On top of that, Intellivision delayed the launch of its Amico retro game console. In that case, the cause was the worldwide semiconductor shortage.

Quality should win

A town in New World.

Above: Amazon’s New World has also seen delays.

Image Credit: Steam

As Mahoney interpreted game development, these delays aren’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly if it results in good quality.

In the past, game developers who delay their games are often viewed in the industry as incompetent. That’s the narrative that has been applied to Amazon Games, which has delayed its New World game a few times and pushed it back a month again.

No one really wants to have their reputation tarred that way. That’s why teams set ambitious goals and hope against hope that they can achieve them. Yet we saw last year what happened when CD Projekt Red shipped the flawed but potentially brilliant Cyberpunk 2077 after many delays and gamers discovered that it was riddled with bugs. The company’s stock price fell, Sony took the game off its store, and the company had to double down on the engineering resources to fix the game as soon as it could.

Mahoney’s calculated risk of brushing back the analysts is a good one, because Nexon has generally been doing well, and more money is lined up than ever before to invest in the game industry. Research firm InvestGame said $50.2 billion was invested into games in the first half of 2021, about four times the number in the first half of 2020. Drake Star Partners said the number was actually $60 billion.

Across the industry, money should be available to cover the costs of development. And so game developers who are facing a tough choice right now should follow Mahoney’s lead and do the right thing. They should delay their games, spare their staffs from crunch, and resist setting unrealistic dates to please upper management. Mahoney just gave them all some air cover, and game makers should take it.

Mahoney’s remarks

Embark Studios is using photogrammetry to create realistic environments.

Above: Embark Studios is using photogrammetry to create realistic environments.

Image Credit: Nexon

Here’s the text of what Mahoney told analysts and shareholders:

It will depend on when our developers feel they have an outstanding game that they are proud to show to their closest friends. Getting there is all about iteration, play-testing and polishing. And any game company that is experienced and who is being honest with you will tell you this is not a linear process. Iteration is about making the game fun, and that is an art challenge, not an engineering challenge.

So, we could give you a date. That would satisfy your near-term need to plug something in to your model. And it would generate near-term excitement from users.

But then it would put the wrong type of pressure on the game developers. They would have to hit a date regardless of what is right for making the game fun. In our industry that’s called crunch mode, which is industry parlance for “put a game out by a certain deadline, no matter what the costs on the employees.“ Even after crunch mode, the game is often still not ready to launch. The result of all this is frequently disappointed customers, burnt-out, demoralized developers, and damaged brands and impaired financial returns for investors.

Crunch mode is one of the most pernicious problems in our industry. The charade of launch timing serves little purpose except this dance with equity analysts.

Instead, the right thing to focus and push for is a game that blows people’s minds. If we achieve that, the game will last many years and the revenues will dwarf what we would have made by launching a quarter or two earlier.

I’m sorry nobody in my industry has explained this to you before. Within the industry, we ALL know it’s true and yet few talk about it openly. Everyone should.

So rather than giving you a date, this team is going to give to our customers and employees a commitment to make the best game we can, as soon as we can.

None of this is to imply we are pushing back the date for any of our games, or that we are experiencing delays. It is only to let you know as fully as we can how we make our decisions on product launches. If your primary job is to fill in your Excel model, you’ll hate our approach.

But if you consider your job definition to be making money by identifying mispriced assets in the entertainment industry, we think you’ll find our way a lot more lucrative.

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

Here’s what leaked retailer pricing tells us about the performance of Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake S CPUs.

6core vs 8core cpus

Intel / AMD / janniwet / Shutterstock

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Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors aren’t upon us yet, but another price leak indicates they might indeed compete with AMD’s best CPUs, unlike current top-end Core offerings.

The latest oopsie comes from retail IT vendor Provantage, which puts the top-end Core i9-12900K at $605. The IT vendor also lists the Core i7-12700K at $420, as well as a Core i5-12600K for $283.

After news reports of the part numbers and prices surfaced, Provantage removed the listings. The latest leak follows reports two weeks ago—supposedly from European retailers—that placed the Core i9-12900K at $705, the Core i7-12700K at $495, and the Core i5-12600 at $343.

Before you jump to any conclusions, we want to point out that as reliable as a leaked retail price might seem, they can very unreliable too. Often times stores prep for impending launches by using placeholder prices and specs. Those listings are then updated when the stores receive the final information.

The leaked info itself from Provantage would indicate it’s not quite baked yet. For example, we know the top-end Alder Lake S chip will feature 8 performance cores and 8 efficient cores (Intel’s Alder Lake chips feature a radical new mixture of big and little cores), yet the listing at Provantage lists the top-end chip as an 8-core design. 

alder lake provantage Provantage via Hothardware.com

Hothardware.com snapped this image of Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs at retailer Provantage. that has since been removed.

Still, both combined retail leaks reinforce what we’ve already come to conclude so far: Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake S will at least suit up with the intent to take on AMD’s 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

That’s a marked change from the $550 8-core 11th gen Rocket Lake CPU, which lost badly to AMD’s $550 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X chip. With the 11th-gen desktop chips, Intel didn’t even try to field a CPU against AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 5950X.

With its increased core efficiency, newer manufacturing process, and physically more cores than previous Intel consumer desktop CPUs, it’s entirely possible Intel’s 12th Core i9 will actually end up being somewhere between $604 and $705 when it comes out.

intel alder lake performance core benchmark Intel

Intel is touting a marked increase in core efficiency with its 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs.

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One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.

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The best Windows backup software

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The best Windows backup software

Updated

The best programs for keeping your data and Windows safely backed up.

Rob Schultz/IDG

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We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. Backup software ensures we’re covered when the day comes that our primary drive up and dies.

It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an effective, set-it-and-forget-it, total system recovery and backup solution that requires little interaction or thought on the user’s part. 

Instead, Microsoft delivers a mishmash of restore points, recovery discs, file backup, and even the un-retired System Backup (Windows 7), which was probably originally put out to pasture for its propensity to choke on dissimilar hardware. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer far more flexibility. 

Plenty of vendors have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are quite as slick or transparent as Time Machine, some come darn close—and many are free. Read on for our top picks. 

Updated on 9/15/21 to include our review of the newest version of Aomei Backupper 6. It remains our favorite free backup software for Windows because it provides a near-total backup solution, with a generous number of features. As a paid program, however, there are better options. Read more about it below. And scroll to the bottom of this article to see links to all our backup software reviews.

Best overall backup software

There’s a reason True Image is renowned in the world of backup software. It’s capable, flexible, and rock-solid reliable. Indeed, it’s easily the most comprehensive data safety package on the planet.

Besides offering unparalleled backup functionality that’s both robust and easy to navigate, True Image integrates security apps as well, which protect against malware, malicious websites, and other threats using real-time monitoring. Read our full review.

Best free backup software

Among the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and plain file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version has only added more options, making it a surprisingly well-rounded free offering. We hit a few performance snags with less-conventional system setups, but for the average user, it should perform as expected.

What to look for in backup software

As with most things—don’t over-buy. Features you don’t need add complexity and may slow down your system. Additionally, if you intend to back up to a newly purchased external hard drive, check out the software that ships with it. Seagate, WD, and others provide backup utilities that are adequate for the average user.

File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, though it’s mildly time- and effort-consuming), a program that backs up just the files you select is a major time-saver. Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use the Windows library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).

Image backup/Imaging: Images are byte-for-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without the empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in case of a system crash, and also ensures you don’t miss anything important.

Boot media:  Should your system crash completely, you need an alternate way to boot and run the recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB thumb drive. Some will also create a restore partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.

Scheduling: If you’re going to back up effectively, you need to do it on a regular basis. Any backup program worth its salt allows you to schedule backups.

Versioning: If you’re overwriting previous files, that’s not backup, it’s one-way syncing or mirroring. Any backup program you use should allow you to retain several previous backups, or with file backup, previous versions of the file. The better software will retain and cull older backups according to criteria you establish.

Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as obsolescent as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are great archive media. If you’re worried about optical media’s reliability, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims that are backed up by Department of Defense testing.

Online support: An offsite copy of your data is a hedge against physical disasters such as flood, fire, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to maintain an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.

FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS boxes on your network or in remote locations (say, your parent’s house) is another way of physically safeguarding your data with an offsite, or at least physically discrete copy. FTP can be used for offsite, while SMB (Windows and most OS’s) and AFP (Apple) are good for other PCs or NAS on your local network.

Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually upon creation or save. It’s also called mirroring and is handy for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile data sets, the payoff doesn’t compensate for the drain on system resources. Instead, scheduling should be used.

Continuous backup: In this case, ‘continuous’ simply means backing up on a tight schedule, generally every 5 to 15 minutes, instead of every day or weekly. Use continuous backup for rapidly changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow, or computing power is too precious for real-time backup.

Performance: Most backups proceed in the background or during dead time, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the consumer space. However, if you’re backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or dealing with very large data sets, speed is a consideration.

How we test

We run each program through the various types of backups it’s capable of. This is largely to test reliability and hardware compatibility, but we time two: an approximately 115GB system image (two partitions), and a roughly 50GB image created from a set of smaller files and folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity via the program’s restore functions. We also test the USB boot drives created by the programs.

All of our reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all of our backup software reviews. We’ll keep evaluating new programs and re-evaluating existing software on a regular basis, so be sure to check back for our current impressions.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco bay area. [email protected]

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

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Razer has never been afraid to take a shot on products that seem unusual at first glance. Witness its RGB-infused N95 mask, the now-defunct Razer Game Store with its own zVault currency, or the first-gen Firefly mousepad, which has evolved into something special but originally prompted us to review it against a ripped-up piece of cardboard. The company’s latest offering might just take the cake though. This week, Razer introduced gamer thimbles.

Yes, thimbles. You know, like the Monopoly piece (or the sewing accessory for more worldly folks out there). Seriously.

Well, not quite. If you simply can’t abide sweaty palms and greasy fingerprints interfering with your marathon mobile Fortnite sessions, the new Razer gaming finger sleeve may be up your alley. “Slip on and never slip up with Razer Gaming Finger Sleeve that will seal your mobile victory,” Razer’s site breathlessly boasts.  “Woven with high-sensitivity silver fiber for enhanced aim and control, our breathable sleeves keep your fingers deadly cool in the heat of battle, so you’ll always have a grip on the game.”

Razer says the 0.8mm-thick sleeves are sweat absorbent, and that they’re made from nylon and spandex. So maybe they’re more like gamer yoga pants? But you know, for your fingers?

Either way it’s ludicrous. And unlike most of Razer’s gear, the gamer thimbles understandably (yet sadly) lack RGB lighting. But if you want to wear your dedication to the Cult of Razer on your slee…thumb, or maybe just look snazzier when you’re passing Go and collecting $200, you can pick up a pair of Razer gaming finger sleeves on the company’s website for $10. The truly dedicated can double down to look especially gamer:

razer gamer thimbles 2 Razer

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