Crime

Gamers Involved In Fatal Wichita 'Swatting' Indicted On Federal Charges (kansas.com) 368

bricko shares a report from Kansas: A federal grand jury has indicted the man accused in Wichita's fatal swatting as well as the two gamers involved in the video game dispute that prompted the false emergency call. The 29-page indictment was unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. It charges 25-year-old Tyler Barriss, who is facing state court charges including involuntary manslaughter, with false information and hoaxes, cyberstalking, threatening to kill another or damage property by fire, interstate threats, conspiracy and several counts of wire fraud, according to federal court records. One of the gamers -- 18-year-old Casey S. Viner of North College Hill, Ohio -- is charged with several counts of wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The other gamer -- 19-year-old Shane M. Gaskill of Wichita -- is charged with several counts of obstruction of justice, wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
PlayStation (Games)

Next PlayStation Is Three Years Off, Sony Says (wsj.com) 87

Don't hold your breath for the fifth-generation PlayStation. From a report: Sony wants to spend three more years readying its next videogame move [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], the head of the PlayStation business said Wednesday. That would mark a slight slowdown in the six-to-seven-year update cycle for the console since the first one in 1994. The PlayStation 4 went on sale in 2013 and has sold more than 79 million units. [...] Speaking to a small group of reporters, Tsuyoshi "John" Kodera, who took over last October. said the network-services side of PlayStation is changing the way Sony thinks about product introductions. "We need to depart from the traditional way of looking at the console life cycle," he said. "We're no longer in a time when you can think just about the console or just about the network like they're two different things."
Android

With Steam Link App, Your Smartphone Can Be An Imperfect Gaming Monitor (arstechnica.com) 47

Ars Technica's Kyle Orland shares his experience with Valve's recently announced Steam Link app, which lets users play games running on a PC via a tablet, mobile phone, or Apple TV on the same network. The app launches today for Android 5.0+ devices; iOS support is "pending further review from Apple." From the report: Valve isn't kidding when it says a Wi-Fi router in the 5Ghz band is required for wireless streaming. I first tested iPad streaming on the low-end 2.4Ghz router provided with my Verizon FiOS subscription (an Actiontec MI424WR), with a wired Ethernet connection to my Windows gaming rig on the other end. The Steam Link network test warned me that "your network may not work well with Steam Link," thanks to 1- to 2-percent frame loss and about 15ms of "network variance," depending on when I tested. Even graphically simple games like The Binding of Isaac ran at an unplayably slowed-down rate on this connection, with frequent dropped inputs to boot.

Switching over to a 5GHz tri-band router (The Netgear Nighthawk X6, to be precise), the same network test reported a "fantastic" connection that "look[s] like it will work well with Steam." On this router, remotely played games ran incredibly smoothly at the iPad's full 1080p resolution, with total round-trip display latency ranging anywhere from 50 to 150ms, according to Steam Link's reports (and one-way "input lag" of less than 1ms). At that level of delay, playing felt practically indistinguishable from playing directly on the computer, with no noticeable gameplay impact even on quick-response titles like Cuphead.

XBox (Games)

Microsoft Announces Xbox Adaptive Controller For Players With Disabilities (theverge.com) 19

A new Xbox controller designed for people with disabilities has been announced by Microsoft today. The Xbox Adaptive Controller features two large programmable buttons and 19 jacks that can be connected to a range of joysticks, buttons, and switches to make it easier for a wider range of people to play games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. The Verge reports: "I can customize how I interface with the Xbox Adaptive Controller to whatever I want," says Solomon Romney, a Microsoft Store learning specialist who was born without fingers on his left hand. "If I want to play a game entirely with my feet, I can. I can make the controls fit my body, my desires, and I can change them anytime I want. You plug in whatever you want and go. It takes virtually no time to set it up and use it. It could not be simpler."

The focus is on connectivity and customizability, with players able to build a setup that works for their capabilities and needs. It won't be an all-in-one solution for many games, but through the use of peripherals and the Xbox's system-level button remapping, the possibilities could be endless. The Xbox Adaptive Controller will cost $99.99 and goes on sale later this year.

Sony

Sony Ends Production Of Physical Vita Games (kotaku.com) 35

Sony is ending physical production of Vita games, news outlet Kotaku reports. Although the hardware manufacturer says digital distribution will continue, this move will mark the end of physical cards for the maligned portable game system, Kotaku added. From a report: Sony's American and European branches "plan to end all Vita GameCard production by close of fiscal year 2018," the company told developers today in a message obtained by Kotaku. The message asks that all Vita product code requests be submitted by June 28, 2018, and that final purchase orders be entered by February 15, 2019. Sony's 2018 fiscal year will end on March 31, 2019.
Chrome

In Blocking Autoplay Videos, Chrome Is Breaking Many Web-Based Games (arstechnica.com) 77

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: An update Google rolled out for its popular Chrome browser this weekend helps prevent those annoying auto-playing video ads on many websites from disturbing your day with unwanted sound as well. But that update is causing consternation for many Web-based game developers who are finding that the change completely breaks the audio in their online work. The technical details behind the problem involve the way Chrome handles WebAudio objects, which are now automatically paused when a webpage starts up, stymying auto-playing ads. To get around this, Web-based games now have to actively restart that pre-loaded audio object when the player makes an action to start the game, even if that audio wasn't autoplaying beforehand. "The standard doesn't require you to do this, so no one would have thought to do this before today," developer Andi McClure told Ars Technica. "With Chrome's new autoplay policies, developers shouldn't assume that audio can be played before a user gesture," Google told The Daily Dot in a statement. "With gaming in Chrome, this may affect Web Audio. We have shared details on what developers can do to address this, and the design for the policy was published last year."
Businesses

EA Still Believes in Loot Boxes, Will 'Push Forward' With Their Use (variety.com) 145

Electronic Arts will "push forward" with loot boxes in its future video games, despite admitting that all loot boxes are gambling. From a report: "As you might imagine, we're working with all the industry associations globally and with regulators in various jurisdictions and territories, many of whom we've been working with for some time and have evaluated and established that programs like 'FIFA Ultimate Team' are not gambling," Wilson said. "And we don't believe that 'FIFA Ultimate Team' -- all loot boxes are gambling."

The issue of loot boxes, a form of microtransaction that has players spending real money to purchase a virtual box and then open it to discover what's inside it, came to a head late last year with the release of EA's "Star Wars Battlefront II" which featured a form of the box that players felt was costly and unfair. EA later pulled the form of microtransaction and completely retooled it before reintroducing a more accepted form of loot box to the game.

While the debate continues over loot boxes and whether they are a form of illegal gambling, Wilson explained Tuesday why EA believes they're not. "Firstly, players always receive a specified number of items in each ['FIFA Ultimate Team'] box. And secondly, we don't provide or authorize any way to cash out or sell items in virtual currency for real-world money. And there's no way we can make value assign to FUT items in game currency. And while we forbid the transfer of items of in-the-game currency outside, we also actively seek to eliminate that where it's going on in an illegal environment, and we work with regulators in various jurisdictions to achieve that."

Cloud

Nintendo Switch Online Service Will Launch With 20 NES Games, Cloud Saves, More (polygon.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Polygon: Nintendo's online service for the Switch will include access to a selection of classic video games from the NES era as part of the subscription service. Today, Nintendo announced some of the games that will be included as part of the Nintendo Switch Online classic games selection. The 10 NES titles confirmed for the service, which Nintendo refers to as "Nintendo Entertainment System -- Nintendo Switch Online" in a press release, are: Soccer, Tennis, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, Dr. Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros. 3. Nintendo promises 20 NES games will be available when Nintendo Switch Online goes live in September, meaning 10 classic NES games are still to be announced. New games for the service will be added regularly, Nintendo says.

Those NES games will include some sort of online play as part of Nintendo Switch Online. That includes online competitive or cooperative multiplayer, or simply taking turns controlling the game. "Friends can even watch each other play single-player games online, and 'pass the controller' at any time," Nintendo said in a release. "Every classic NES game will support voice chat via the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app. It will also be possible to play these games offline."
Some other details of the service, as reported by Nintendo Life, include the option for cloud save data backups and a four tiered pricing plan. In the U.S., the pricing is as follows: one month is $3.99; three months is $7.99; twelve months is $19.99; twelve month family membership is $34.99 (with up to eight Nintendo accounts on different systems that will be able to use the service).
The Internet

If Fortnite Were a Website, It Would Rival Reddit and Amazon (tomsguide.com) 112

Tom's Guide gives us some perspective on just how big of a cultural phenomenon the game Fortnite is: "if Fortnite were a website, it would be one of the top five in the United States." From the report: Take a quick look at Alexa's list of top U.S. websites, and you'll see Google, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit and Amazon in the top five. No surprises there. But as a quick Google Trends search reveals, Fortnite has become a hotter search term than Reddit. What some might see as a flash-in-the-pan gaming fad is actually outpacing one of the web's hottest destinations.

"More people in the U.S. are searching for 'Fortnite' on Google than they are for 'Reddit' and these searches have risen sharply over the last two months," said John DeFeo, VP of Internet Marketing at Purch, Tom's Guide's parent company. "When you consider that Fortnite had more than 3 million concurrent players in February, I believe that if Fortnite were a website, it would be among the top five in the U.S., duking it out with Reddit and Amazon."

Graphics

Nvidia Shuts Down Its GeForce Partner Program, Citing Misinformation (theregister.co.uk) 82

In a blog post on Friday, Nvidia announced it is "pulling the plug" on the GeForce Partner Program (GPP) due to the company's unwillingness to combat "rumors" and "mistruths" about the platform. The GPP has only been active for a couple of months. It was launched as a way for gamers to know exactly what they're buying when shopping for a new gaming PC. "With this program, partners would provide full transparency regarding the installed hardware and software in their products," reports Digital Trends. From the report: Shortly after the launch, unnamed sources from add-in card and desktop/laptop manufacturers came forward to reveal that the program will likely hurt consumer choice. Even more, they worried that some of the agreement language may actually be illegal while the program itself could disrupt the current business they have with AMD and Intel. They also revealed one major requirement: The resulting product sports the label "[gaming brand] Aligned Exclusively with GeForce." As an example, if Asus wanted to add its Republic of Gamers (RoG) line to Nvidia's program, it wouldn't be allowed to sell RoG products with AMD-based graphics. Of course, manufacturers can choose whether or not to join Nvidia's program, but membership supposedly had its "perks" including access to early technology, sales rebate programs, game bundling, and more.

According to Nvidia, all it asked of its partners was to "brand their products in a way that would be crystal clear." The company says it didn't want "substitute GPUs hidden behind a pile of techno-jargon." Specifications for desktops and laptops tend to list their graphics components and PC gamers are generally intelligent shoppers that don't need any clarification. Regardless, Nvidia is pulling the controversial program because the "rumors, conjecture, and mistruths go far beyond" the program's intent.

Games

Free To Play, Expensive To Love: 'Fortnite' Changes Video Game Business (reuters.com) 191

An anonymous reader shares a report: To see the storm that online video game "Fortnite" has unleashed on the world, just visit Jett Sacher in Brooklyn. The 13-year-old spends an hour or two every day on the game with his friends and is not afraid to spend his pocket money on it - bit by bit. "So I bought one dance, two skins and the battle pass," Sacher told Reuters TV about recent gaming sessions. "So that's, I spent $20 on both skins so $40 ... and the dance was another $10 so $50, 60 bucks, something like that."

Sacher's pay-as-you-go expenditure on dressing up his online avatar in the 'free-to-play' game helped "Fortnite" take in an estimated $223 million from in-game purchases in March, according to Joost Van Dreunen at research firm SuperData. "Fortnite," a sort of hybrid of "The Hunger Games" and "Minecraft," drops 100 people onto an island to fight each other for survival. It is a game-changer in the industry, analysts have said, because of the huge revenue it is making from "tween" and teenage boys purchasing outfits and other add-ons. Its publisher, Epic Games, is now worth $4.5 billion, according to an estimate.
Further reading: Gamers are the new stars. Esports arenas are the new movie theaters (The New York Times).
Games

Final Fantasy 7, Tomb Raider Headline Inductees To World Video Game Hall of Fame (polygon.com) 43

Dave Knott writes: The 2018 World Video Game Hall of Fame inductees have been announced. The Hall Of Fame "recognizes individual electronic games of all types — arcade, console, computer, handheld, and mobile -- that have enjoyed popularity over a sustained period and have exerted influence on the video game industry or on popular culture and society in general." The 2018 inductees are: Final Fantasy 7, John Madden Football, Spacewar!, and the first Tomb Raider.
Open Source

Facebook's Open-Source Go Bot Can Now Beat Professional Players (techcrunch.com) 44

Google's DeepMind isn't the only team working to defeat professional Go players with artificial intelligence. At Facebook's F8 developer conference today, the company announced a Go bot of its own that has now achieved professional status after winning all 14 games it played against a group of top 30 human Go players. TechCrunch reports: "We salute our friends at DeepMind for doing awesome work," Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer said in today's keynote. "But we wondered: Are there some unanswered questions? What else can you apply these tools to." As Facebook notes in a blog post today, the DeepMind model itself also remains under wraps. In contrast, Facebook has open-sourced its bot. "To make this work both reproducible and available to AI researchers around the world, we created an open source Go bot, called ELF OpenGo, that performs well enough to answer some of the key questions unanswered by AlphaGo," the team writes today. Facebook's AI Research group is also developing a StarCraft bot that it too plans to open source.
Google

Google Is Building a Secret Social-Gaming Startup Called Arcade (bloomberg.com) 41

Google is secretly building a social-gaming startup in an effort to create fledgling companies within the internet-search giant. Bloomberg reports: The founder and co-owner of the new firm, called Arcade, is Michael Sayman, according to people familiar with the matter. Sayman is the 21-year-old wunderkind who started as a Facebook intern at age 17 and left that company for Alphabet Inc.'s Google last year. Arcade's first app, slated to debut this summer, will have some elements of a trivia game. A Google spokesperson confirmed the existence of Arcade, saying it was "focused on mobile gaming with friends," without elaborating on specific products. "It's a very early experiment so there aren't many details to share right now." The effort is part of Area 120, a division where select employees can work on small startups that live inside Google. Arcade's games have no tie-in with existing social networks. Users create accounts with their phone numbers, one of the people said. Google is considering it a social-media investment because once a game gets to a certain size, it's something of a social network by itself, this person said.
China

Mobile Gaming Cements Its Dominance, Takes Majority of Worldwide Sales (arstechnica.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Newzoo's 2018 Global Games Market Forecast now predicts that mobile games will make up a slim majority (51 percent) of all worldwide gaming revenue this year (including smartphones and tablets, but not dedicated gaming handhelds). That's up from 34 percent in 2015 and just 18 percent in 2012. Console and PC games will split the remainder of the pie relatively evenly in 2018, at 25 percent and 24 percent of worldwide spending, respectively. The growth of the mobile market doesn't show any signs of stopping, either: by 2021, Newzoo estimates that 59 percent of all gaming spending will go to mobile platforms, with console and PC games dividing up the scraps. The report finds that China is responsible for 28 percent of all gaming spending in the world, up from 24 percent in 2015. "Mobile gaming is overrepresented in the world's biggest gaming market, responsible for 61 percent of all Chinese gaming revenue and poised to grow to 70 percent by 2021," reports Ars. Japan's overall spending on mobile games is nearly on par with the United States, despite the country having one-third as many gamers overall.
Nintendo

Nintendo Faces Switch Patent Infringement Investigation In the US (engadget.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Nintendo is under investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission, and the fate of the Switch hangs in the balance. Gamevice, the company behind the Wikipad and a line of snap-on controllers for mobile devices, says the Nintendo Switch violates its patents on attachable handheld gamepads and their related accessories. Alleging violations of the Tariff Act of 1930, Gamevice is requesting a cease and desist order against Nintendo, a move that would halt imports of the Switch into the U.S. The USITC notes that while its investigation has begun, it hasn't ruled on the validity of the complaint. The commission will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Nintendo is in violation of the Tariff Act, with a final decision "at the earliest practicable time." The USITC will announce a target date for the end of the investigation within 45 days.
Cellphones

Facebook's Phone-Free, Wireless 'Oculus Go' VR Headset Is Released Today 34

UnknownSoldier writes: The Oculus Go is finally available for purchase. Amazon is selling the 32GB model for $199, while the 64GB model is selling for $249. As a standalone virtual reality unit, it doesn't require a computer or phone to use. Ironically, you must use a phone for the initial setup. Reviews are out on The Verge and Ars Technica. The TL;DR -- Pros: Inexpensive; Cons: LCD, fixed 72 Hz rate, limited motion tracking. Will 2018 finally will be the year of cheap VR?
Microsoft

FTC Gives Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo 30 Days To Get Rid of Illegal Warranty-Void-if-Removed Stickers (vice.com) 133

Matthew Gault, reporting for Motherboard: The Federal Trade Commission put six companies on notice in early April for illegally telling customers that getting third-party repairs voids the warranty on their electronics. You've seen the stickers before and read the messages buried in end user license agreements. Plastered on the back of my PlayStation 4 is a little sticker that says "warranty void if removed." That's illegal. Motherboard has obtained copies of the letters via a Freedom of Information Act request and has learned the names of the six companies that were warned. They are Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Hyundai, HTC, and computer hardware manufacturer ASUS. The letters were sent by Lois Greisman, the FTC's associate director of marketing practices, on April 9; the FTC has given each company 30 days to change its official warranty policies and says that it may take legal action against the companies.
Crime

Belgium Declares Video Game Loot Boxes Gambling and Therefore Illegal (arstechnica.com) 176

The Belgian Gaming Commission has reviewed several big video games and found that randomized loot boxes in at least three of the titles count as "games of chance," and publishers could therefore be subject to fines and prison sentences under the country's gaming legislation. Ars Technica reports: A statement by Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens (machine translation) identifies loot boxes in Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive as meeting the criteria for that "game of chance" definition: i.e., "there is a game element [where] a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game." The Commission also looked at Star Wars: Battlefront II and determined that the recent changes EA made to the game means it "no longer technically forms a game of chance." Beyond that simple definition, the Gaming Commission expressed concern over games that draw in players with an "emotional profit forecast" of randomized goods, where players "buy an advantage with real money without knowing what benefit it would be." The fact that these games don't disclose the odds of receiving specific in-game items is also worrisome, the Commission said. The three games noted above must remove their loot boxes or be in criminal violation of the country's gaming legislation, Geens writes. That law carries penalties of up to 800,000EU (~$973,680) and five years in prison, which can be doubled if "minors are involved." But Geens says he wants to start a "dialogue" with loot box providers to "see who should take responsibility where."
XBox (Games)

Xbox One April Update Rolling Out With Low-Latency Mode, FreeSync, and 1440p Support; 120Hz Support Coming In May Update (theverge.com) 48

Microsoft is rolling out a new Xbox One update that brings 1440p support for the Xbox One S and X, as well as support for AMD's FreeSync technology to allow compatible displays to sync refresh rates with Microsoft's consoles. A subsequent update in May will bring 120Hz-display refresh-rate support to the Xbox One. The Verge reports: FreeSync, like Nvidia's G-Sync, helps remove tearing or stuttering usually associated with gaming on monitors, as the feature syncs refresh rates to ensure games run smoothly. Alongside this stutter-free tech, Microsoft is also supporting automatic switching to a TV's game mode. Auto Low-Latency Mode, as Microsoft calls it, will be supported on new TVs, and will automatically switch a TV into game mode to take advantage of the latency reductions. The Xbox One will also support disabling game mode when you switch to another app like Netflix. Microsoft is also making some audio tweaks with the April update for the Xbox One. New system sounds take advantage of spatial sound to fully support surround sound systems when you navigate around. Gamers who listen to music while playing can also now balance game audio against background music right inside the Xbox Guide. Other features in this update include sharing game clips direct to Twitter, dark to light mode transitions based on sunrise / sunset, and improvements to Microsoft Edge to let you download or upload pictures, music, and videos.

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