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XBox (Games)

Xbox Chief: We Need To Create a Netflix of Video Games (theguardian.com) 137

Phil Spencer, the man who heads up Microsoft's Xbox division, says that if the video game sector is to grow both creatively and economically it needs to start thinking along the lines of a video-games-as-a-service subscription model. From a report: Over the last five years we've seen the emergence of a new concept: the video game as a service. What this means is the developer's support for a new title doesn't stop when it's launched. They run multiplayer servers so that people can compete online; and they release extra downloadable content (DLC) in the form of new items, maps and storylines -- sometimes free, but very often paid for. [...] So being able to build and sustain a community around a single title takes the risk out of development. However, the costs of renting and running server networks and maintaining the matchmaking and lobby infrastructures make the model inaccessible for smaller teams. Should it be? "This is directly in line with what I think the next wave of innovation needs to be for us as a development platform," says Spencer. His solution, it seems, is to make Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform more open to smaller studios, so they get access to a large global network of servers. "They don't have to go buy a bunch of servers on their own and stick them under their desks and hope they get enough players to pay for them," he says. [...] Spencer feels that, from a creative standpoint, we need new types of narrative experience -- but from a business standpoint, it's getting harder and riskier to commit to those games. Is there an answer? Spencer thinks there is -- and it comes from watching the success of original content made and distributed on modern TV services. "I've looked at things like Netflix and HBO, where great content has been created because there's this subscription model. Shannon Loftis and I are thinking a lot about, well, could we put story-based games into the Xbox Game Pass business model because you have a subscription going? It would mean you wouldn't have to deliver the whole game in one month; you could develop and deliver the game as it goes."
Microsoft

Microsoft To Offer Digital Refunds in Xbox and Windows Stores (polygon.com) 15

Microsoft is finally planning to introduce refunds for digital content purchased from the Xbox Games Store and Windows Store, bringing those storefronts in line with popular digital retailers for PC games. From a report: The refund feature is included in the latest alpha release for the Xbox One Insider program. Refunds apply only for full games and paid apps, not downloadable content or season passes. These "self-service refunds" are designed to "provide a quick, simple way of returning a digital product," according to Microsoft. Microsoft says it has begun testing the feature with select users.
Microsoft

Microsoft Formally Bans Emulators On Xbox, Windows 10 Download Shops (arstechnica.com) 116

Microsoft is officially banning emulators from Windows Store. The company has updated the Windows Store policy to announce the changes. The new rules bar any applications that emulate pre-existing game systems, resulting in the removal of a popular program that supported games from Nintendo and Sega and other consoles. From a report on ArsTechnica: An affected developer was notified of the change on Tuesday when its product, Universal Emulator, was delisted from the Windows Store. While no proof of a letter or notice from Microsoft was published, the developers at NESBox linked to relevant changes in the Windows Store application rules, dated March 29, which now include this line: "Apps that emulate a game system are not allowed on any device family." This list of general Windows Store rules, written for developers, received a massive update to its "Gaming and Xbox" requirements; these used to contain only one sentence, and it referred hopeful Windows Store game developers to the ID@Xbox program. That existing program requires pre-approval by Microsoft, but developers will soon be able to publish their games directly to both Xbox and Windows 10 marketplaces by paying a one-time fee of $100 or less as part of the Xbox Live Creators Program.
Microsoft

Xbox Project Scorpio's Full Specs Revealed (eurogamer.net) 135

Microsoft unveiled last year that it will be launching a super-specced Xbox One variant -- codenamed Project Scorpio -- soon. Now the company has shared what those hardware modules look like. According to a report on Eurogamer, which visited Microsoft campus at the company's invitation, the specs of Project Scorpio are:

1. Project Scorpio has 12GB of DDR5 RAM, clocked at 6.8GHz with 326 GB/s bandwidth.
2. Scorpio will be powered by eight CPU cores. It's a custom design sporting 2.3GHz, with a 4MB L2 cache.
3. Project Scorpio will feature an internal PSU (245W) and a compact design, leveraging the advanced cooling techniques pioneered by Microsoft's leading industrial design team.
4. Project Scorpio will achieve six-teraflops of GPU power using a customized design, with 1.172 GHz, 40 compute units, leveraging features from AMD's Polaris architecture.
5. Scorpio will retain the Xbox One S 4K UHD Blu-ray drive.
6. Scorpio will have both HDMI-in and out, 3x USB 3.0, a SPDIF digital audio port, an IR receiver/blaster, and will support Kinect with a USB adapter.

From the report: We saw a Forza Motorsport demo running on the machine at native 4K and Xbox One equivalent settings, and it hit 60 frames per second with a substantial performance overhead -- suggesting Scorpio will hit its native 4K target across a range of content, with power to spare to spend on other visual improvements. And while 4K is the target, Microsoft is paying attention to 1080p users, promising that all modes will be available to them.
Microsoft

Xbox One's Faster, Simpler Interface is Now Available To Everyone (engadget.com) 15

Microsoft today announced it is releasing a major update to the Xbox One gaming console. The much-awaited update comes with a few new features and improvements such as Beam, the company's livestreaming client that does similar things as Twitch; and a faster and simpler interface. From a report on Engadget: The March update centers around a redesigned interface that's designed for speed above all else. It's quicker to perform more than a few tasks, such as finding a group to join. The revamped Guide should be much quicker, too -- it promises faster access to recent apps, background music controls and game recording. A few tweaks are designed with multitasking in mind, such as a brand new achievement tracker and a Cortana rework that puts the voice assistant into an overlay that won't disrupt what you're doing.
XBox (Games)

Four Years Later, Xbox Exec Admits How Microsoft Screwed Up Disc Resale Plan (arstechnica.com) 115

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: We're now approaching the four-year anniversary of Microsoft's rollout (and subsequent reversal) of a controversial plan to let game publishers limit resale of used, disc-based games. Looking back on that time recently, Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Windows and Devices Yusuf Mehdi acknowledged how that rollout fell flat and discussed how hard it was for the firm to change course even in light of fan complaints at the time. In a blog post on LinkedIn posted last weekend, Mehdi writes: "With our initial announcement of Xbox One and our desire to deliver breakthroughs in gaming and entertainment, the team made a few key decisions regarding connectivity requirements and how games would be purchased that didn't land well with fans. While the intent was good -- we imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing and new ways to try and buy games, we didn't deliver what our fans wanted. We heard their feedback, and while it required great technical work, we changed Xbox One to work the same way as Xbox 360 for how our customers could play, share, lend, and resell games. This experience was such a powerful reminder that we must always do the right thing for our customers, and since we've made that commitment to our Xbox fans, we've never looked back." It's an interesting reflection in light of an interview Mehdi gave to Ars Technica at E3 2013, when the executive defended Microsoft's announced plans for Xbox One game licensing. Mehdi, then serving as Xbox chief marketing and strategy officer, stressed at the time that "this is a big change, consumers don't always love change, and there's a lot of education we have to provide to make sure that people understand... We're trying to do something pretty big in terms of moving the industry forward for console gaming into the digital world. We believe the digital world is the future, and we believe digital is better."
Microsoft

Microsoft Outlook, Skype, OneDrive Hit By Another Authentication Issue (zdnet.com) 48

Two weeks after a widespread authentication issue hit Outlook, Skype, OneDrive, Xbox and other Microsoft services, it's happening again. From a report: On March 21, users across the world began reporting via Twitter that they couldn't sign into Outlook.com, OneDrive and Skype, (and possibly more). I, myself, am unable to sign into Outlook.com, OneDrive or Skype at 2:30 pm ET today, but my Office 365 Mail account is working fine. (Knock wood.) I believe the issue started about an hour ago, or 1:30 p.m. ET or so. MSA is Microsoft's single sign-on service which authenticates users so they can log into their various Microsoft services. As happened two weeks ago, Skype Heartbeat site, has posted a message noting that users may be experiencing problems sending messages and signing in.
XBox (Games)

Microsoft's Project Scorpio Will Pack Internal PSU, 4K Game DVR Capture (windowscentral.com) 44

According to an exclusive report from Windows Central, Microsoft's upcoming "Project Scorpio" gaming console will feature an internal power supply unit (PSU), similar to the Xbox One S, and 4K game DVR and streaming at 60 frames-per-second (FPS). From the report: In Microsoft's efforts to make Project Scorpio a true 4K system, it will also feature HEVC and VP9 codecs for decoding 4K streams for things such Netflix, just like the Xbox One S. It will also leverage HEVC for encoding 2160p, 60 frame-per-second (FPS) video for Game DVR and streaming. Microsoft's Beam streaming service has been running public 4K stream tests for some time, and it's now fair to assume it will not only be PC streamers who will benefit. Project Scorpio's Game DVR will allow you to stream and record clips in 4K resolution with 60FPS, according to our sources, which is a massive, massive step up from the 720p, 30FPS you get on the current Xbox One. With every bit of information we receive about Project Scorpio, the theme of native 4K keeps appearing -- not only for games, but also console features. We now believe Scorpio will sport 4K Game DVR, 4K Blu-ray playback, and 4K streaming apps, but the real showstopper will be the 4K games Microsoft will likely flaunt at E3 2017.
Microsoft

Project Scorpio Next-Generation Xbox Gaming Console Debuts In Microsoft Store (betanews.com) 65

BrianFagioli quotes a report from BetaNews: Microsoft's next generation of video game console is currently called "Project Scorpio." This will be a truly new console, although it will be backwards compatible with all Xbox One games -- nice. In fact, you will even be able to use your Xbox One controllers and other accessories. While we do not have a definitive date of when it will go on sale, today the next Xbox console makes its debut in the Microsoft Store. We even get a slightly better idea of when it will be in stores. Microsoft reaffirms its prior stance that the console will launch in time for the 2017 Holiday season, giving us more confidence that it will launch then. Beyond that, we are none the wiser regarding a date. Heck, we don't even know definitively if it will use the "Xbox" branding (although it probably will). One thing is for sure, though -- simply putting the game system in the Microsoft Store is an important step leading up to the ability to pre-order. You can view Project Scorpio's Microsoft Store page here.
Microsoft

Microsoft Says It Is Working On Fix After Users Report Skype, Outlook, Xbox Live Outages (foxnews.com) 23

An anonymous reader shares a report: A huge outage hit Microsoft services Tuesday morning, with users across the globe experiencing problems accessing Outlook, Xbox and Skype. Users were unable to log onto the Outlook email client via mobile devices and received an error message when trying to access the desktop version of the service. Users also reportedly experienced problems with Microsoft's Xbox and Skype services. Microsoft acknowledged the Xbox issues in a statement posted to its Xbox Live status page. "Another issue has been identified that is causing problems for some members signing in to Xbox Live. The team is working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Thanks for your patience," it said.
XBox (Games)

GameStop Stock Price Tanks After Microsoft Announces New Digital-Gaming Service (venturebeat.com) 90

After Microsoft announced Xbox Game Pass earlier this week -- a monthly service coming this spring that will give you a selection of games you can download and play on your Xbox One for $9.99 a month, GameStop's stock price dropped nearly 8 percent. The news likely worries investors who view Xbox's instant game library a potential threat to GameStop's sales. VentureBeat reports: The brick-and-mortar retailer makes quite a lot of its money from secondhand sales where it resells products that consumers have traded in. If more people are playing digital games, that takes product out of the supply chain that could end up on GameStop store shelves. Additionally, Game Pass looks like it will primarily traffic in older games that people would typically would purchase used. Older releases like Mad Max, Saints Row IV, and Halo 5 are some of the big options that Microsoft is highlighting. Of course, GameStop isn't completely removed from the digital-gaming ecosystem. The retailer sells a lot of currency cards for the Xbox Store, the PlayStation Store, the Steam PC-gaming portal, and it's possible that people who don't like using a credit card will purchase cards to buy their subscription to Game Pass through GameStop. But that will likely not make up for a dearth of used-game sales or trade-ins if a lot of people adopt a Game Pass subscription.
Microsoft

Microsoft Announces Xbox Game Pass, Netflix-Style Gaming For the Xbox One (polygon.com) 33

Microsoft today announced it is moving into the world of Netflix-style game subscriptions with Xbox Game Pass, a monthly service coming this spring that will give you a selection of games you can download and play on your Xbox One for $9.99 a month. From a report on Polygon: The service will include "over 100 games," including Halo 5: Guardians, Payday 2, NBA 2K16 and SoulCalibur II. "One of the best things about Xbox Game Pass is that you can discover and download the full titles directly on your Xbox One," the official post states. Any game you buy through the service will be sold to you at a 20 percent discount. An alpha preview of the program begins today with "a very limited" number of games, and Xbox Live Gold subscribers will get first crack at the program this spring. It also sounds as if the service may be available, at least in part, on the PC.
XBox (Games)

Microsoft's 'Forza' Video Game Francise Tops $1 Billion in Sales (xbox.com) 35

Here's another area where Microsoft, whose cloud services are doing very well, continues to make a lot of money: video games. Microsoft has minted its fifth billion-dollar video-game franchise. The "Forza" racing series in December topped $1 billion in lifetime sales since the first game's release 12 years ago, Microsoft said. From company's blogpost: As of December, more than 14 million unique players were involved in the Forza community on Xbox One and Windows 10, the award-winning Forza Horizon 3 sold through 2.5 million units, and Forza continued its run as the best-selling racing franchise of this console generation. Additionally, our online racing community expanded significantly: over three million players joined us online each month and we launched the Forza Racing Championship, an eSports league for players of all skill levels to compete for glory and real-world prizes. "Since the beginning, Forza has combined stunning graphics, racing's leading simulation engine, and an emphasis on fun and accessibility," said Phil Spencer, head of Xbox. "With the Forza series, Turn 10 Studios has built the world's largest racing community. We couldn't be more proud of their success." Other game franchises in Microsoft's billion-dollar club are "Halo," "Minecraft," "Gears of War", and "Age of Empires".
Microsoft

Microsoft Teases Windows 10's Upcoming 'Project Neon' Design Language (windowscentral.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Windows Central: Microsoft just gave developers a sneak peek at Project Neon, Microsoft's upcoming design language for Windows 10 that aims to add fluidity, animation and blur to apps and the operating system. We exclusively revealed that this was in the works in late 2016, and today Microsoft has given us a first peak at what Project Neon will look like. During the Windows Developer Day livestream, an image of Project Neon was seen the background of one of the PowerPoint slides being shown off on stage. Although not much, it's further confirmation that this is the end goal for Windows 10's UI, and Project Neon will be bringing a fresh coat of paint to apps. Project Neon should benefit all types of Windows 10 devices, including Windows 10 Mobile, HoloLens and even Xbox. We're still several months away from Project Neon being everywhere in Windows 10, and we're expecting to see more at BUILD this coming May. In fact, a lot of the Project Neon APIs are available in the latest Insider Preview builds of Windows 10, meaning developers can already begin taking advantage of these new user interfaces and design language! Animations and transitions are a big deal with Project Neon, with the goal of making the operating system and apps feel like they work together. Peter Bright does a good job summarizing the looks of the screenshot via Ars Technica: "The picture shows a refreshed version of the Groove music app on a Windows desktop. The fundamentals of the app and its layout aren't changed, underscoring that Neon is very much an iteration of the current Metro/Microsoft Design Language (MDL). The window has shed its discrete title bar and one pixel border, with the application content now extending to the very edge of the window. The search text field no longer has a box around it, and the left hand pane has a hint of translucency to it." You can view the screenshot here and judge it for yourself.
Software

Overwatch Director Speaks Out Against Console Mouse/keyboard Adapters (arstechnica.com) 262

Striek quotes a report from Ars Technica: Regardless of where you fall in the long-running debate between keyboard/mouse and analog stick controls, you could historically be relatively sure that everyone on a single platform would be playing with the same control scheme. Recently, though, third-party adapters have started allowing console players to use a mouse and keyboard effectively on dedicated consoles, throwing off the competitive balance in a way that Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan doesn't appreciate. "The Overwatch team objects to the use of mouse and keyboard on console," Kaplan wrote on the Battle.net forums. "We have contacted both first-party console manufacturers and expressed our concern about the use of mouse and keyboard and input conversion devices. We have lobbied and will continue to lobby for first-party console manufacturers to either disallow mouse and keyboard and input conversion devices or openly and easily support mouse and keyboard for all players," he continued. "I encourage you to reach out to the hardware manufacturers and express your concerns (but please do so in a productive and respectful way)." Kaplan is talking about products like the XIM4, a $125 hub that lets certain USB keyboards and mice work natively with some Xbox One and PS4 games (as well as PS3 and Xbox 360 titles). IoGear's $100 Keymander does much the same thing, claiming to be "compatible with all console games." These devices essentially emulate a standard controller through a combination of hardware and software settings, disguising the keyboard and mouse inputs in a way that makes them hard for a developer to detect. This is a problem in competitive online games like Overwatch, where the quickness and precision of mouse aiming can give a decisive advantage over players using a slower and clunkier analog stick.
Piracy

2.5 Million Xbox and PlayStation Gamers' Details Have Been Leaked From Piracy Forums (thenextweb.com) 36

Xbox360ISO.com and PSPISO.com have been hacked by an unknown attacker in late 2015 and the details of the 2.5 million users affected have been leaked online. The leaked information contains email addresses, IP addresses, usernames and passwords. The Next Web reports: It seems that the operator of these sites did nothing to protect the latter, as all passwords were "protected" using the MD5 hashing system, which is trivially easy to overcome. For reference, that's the same hashing system used by LinkedIn. As the names of these sites imply, they were used to share pirated copies of games for Microsoft and Sony's gaming platforms. They also both have a thriving community where people discussed a variety of tech-related topics, including gaming news and software development. If you think you might have had an account on these sites at one point, and want to check if you were affected, you can visit Troy Hunt's Have I Been Pwned. If you have, it's worth emphasizing that anyone who gained access to that site, and anyone who has since downloaded the data dump, will be able to discern your password. If you've used it on another website or platform, you should change it.
PlayStation (Games)

10% Of 'Resident Evil 7' Players Are Wearing VR Headsets (digitaltrends.com) 77

Released five days ago, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard already has over 800,000 players -- and 84,036 of them are using a PlayStation VR headset. An anonymous reader quotes Digital Trends: These numbers show that VR might have some real legs if compelling software is made... The numbers are also being updated live, so expect them to go up in the coming weeks. Earlier this week, numbers were in the 60-thousand range, meaning that positive buzz is driving gamers to pick up the game along with a VR headset. Unfortunately for many gamers, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a PSVR exclusive, meaning PC gamers that own an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift are unable to experience the game in VR... Luckily, patient PC gamers will be able to experience the game in VR next year, when Sony and Capcom's PSVR exclusivity deal expires.
It's the first Resident Evil game using the first-person point-of-view. Are there any Slashdot readers who have already tried gaming with a VR headset?
PlayStation (Games)

Report: PS4 Is Selling Twice As Well As Xbox One (arstechnica.com) 136

The latest numbers released by analysts suggest that the Sony PlayStation 4 is selling twice as many units worldwide as the Xbox One since both systems launched in late 2013. The data comes from a new SuperData report on the Nintendo Switch, which is backed up by Niko Partners analyst Daniel Ahmad. SuperData mentions an installed base of 26 million Xbox One units and 55 million PS4 units. Ars Technica reports: Ahmad's chart suggests that Microsoft may have sold slightly more than half of the 53.4 million PS4 units that Sony recently announced it had sold through January 1. Specific numbers aside, though, it's clear Microsoft has done little to close its console sales gap with Sony over the past year -- and may have actually lost ground in that time. The last time we did our own estimate of worldwide console sales, through the end of 2015, we showed the Xbox One with about 57 percent as many systems sold as the PS4 (21.49 million vs. 37.7 million). That lines up broadly with numbers leaked by EA at the time, which suggest the Xbox One had sold about 52.9 percent as well as the PS4 (19 million vs. 35.9 million). One year later, that ratio has dipped to just above or even a bit below 50 percent, according to these reports. The relative sales performance of the Xbox One and PS4 doesn't say anything direct about the health or quality of those platforms, of course. Microsoft doesn't seem to be in any danger of abandoning the Xbox One platform any time soon and has, in fact, recently committed to upgrading it via Project Scorpio later this year. The gap between PS4 and Xbox One sales becomes important only if it becomes so big that publishers start to consider the Xbox One market as a minor afterthought that can be safely ignored for everything but niche games.
Microsoft

Microsoft's New Windows 10 Game Mode Will Maximize Gaming Performance (mspoweruser.com) 129

Microsoft has started officially testing a new Game Mode feature in Windows 10. From a report: Traces of the new option were found back in December, but the most recent test build of Windows 10 (15007) includes Game Mode in the Xbox app. MSPoweruser has supplied some screenshots of how you can enable the option, but Microsoft has not yet officially unveiled Game Mode for everyone to test. Microsoft's description lists the feature as a mode to let a PC make gaming the "top priority to improve your game's quality." It's still not clear exactly how Game Mode will improve gaming performance, but it's likely that Windows 10 will simply suppress system processes and other apps from taking too many CPU, GPU, and RAM resources away from the primary game being played.
First Person Shooters (Games)

Valve Reveals Steam's 2016 Top Earners -- Including 'No Man's Sky' (pcgamer.com) 99

An anonymous reader quotes PC Gamer: In a surprise announcement today to kick off 2017, Valve has revealed the 100 best-selling Steam games of 2016... Although the "Top Sellers" section of Steam gives a constant sense of what's selling now, Valve hasn't previously compiled an annual list of which Steam games earned the most money... Rather than ranked in order from 1-100, the list is separated into tiers, from Platinum to Bronze, based on revenue (as opposed to copies sold)... Doom didn't crack the top 12, but it may have gotten close: it's ranked somewhere between 13th and 24th
That second-place Gold tier included more modern throwbacks to classic games, including Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20-Year Celebration. Meanwhile, No Man's Sky, which got off to a rocky start this summer before its massive November update, still turned up in the top "Platinum" tier for revenue earned in 2016. (And it's now discounted 40%.)

In fact, "As an extension of the Winter Sale, all but six of these games are on sale," reports PC Gamer. The other top-earning Steam games were Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Grand Theft Auto V, Civilization VI, and DOTA 2 (which is free to play), as well as Rocket League, XCOM 2, Dark Souls III, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Fallout 4, Total War: Warhammer, and Tom Clancy's The Division.

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