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Fortnite’s mystery ‘superstar’ virtual music tour kicks off next week

By Taylor Hatmaker

Epic Games is teasing the biggest in-game event since Travis Scott psychedelically stomped through Fortnite’s virtual meadows.

The mysterious new event, which Fortnite-maker Epic is calling the “Rift Tour,” will kick off on Friday, August 6 and run through Sunday, August 8. In the teaser announcement, Epic invites players to “take a musical journey into magical new realities where Fortnite and a record-breaking superstar collide.”

Escape into the Rift

Take a musical journey to magical new realities and drop into the Rift Tour August 6-8 https://t.co/1ljUFhYrL5 pic.twitter.com/GFIUYB5hGC

— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) July 29, 2021

In-game events building up to the mystery show series will run from July 29 through August 8, so players can hop into Fortnite to check out new Rift Tour-themed quests and rewards now. The cotton-candy-colored event will offer a custom loading screen and a fluffy cloud kitty emoticon, among other digital prizes.

The Rift Tour isn’t a one-and-done event. Like the Travis Scott event, Fortnite will host five different show times across three days to make it easier for players to catch. Epic says they’ll have more details to share on Monday, August 2, so Fortnite players will have to wait for more hints or an official announcement about who’s performing.

So … who’s performing? So far, all signs point to Ariana Grande. Leakers have been saying as much for more than a week, and the documents revealed through Epic’s court battle with Apple also detailed plans for in-game events with both Grande and Lady Gaga.

Fortnite Rift Tour

Image Credits: Epic Games

At Forbes, Paul Tassi also connected the dots on how recent leaks point to Grande, including some visual themes from her music videos and a reference to her pet pig Piggy Smalls.

Since Epic is calling its latest virtual event a tour, that suggests Grande won’t be alone, if she is indeed the mystery superstar. A Lady Gaga appearance could also be in the cards, since Epic apparently had plans for Gaga to appear in a December 2020 concert that never materialized. Kanye West is also releasing his newest album on August 6, but it seems less likely that Epic would be willing to partner with West given his myriad recent controversies. And “Donda,” West’s latest album, was originally scheduled for a different date before being delayed.

Whoever it winds up being, we’ll likely know more on Monday. Even if you’re not a Grande fan or a regular gamer, Fortnite’s in-game concerts are some of the most creative and visually exciting virtual events to date.

Everyone should fall through the metaverse with their friends while a skyscraper-sized virtual rapper shoots neon lightning bolts at least once.

Zuckerberg is turning trillion-dollar Facebook into a ‘metaverse’ company, he tells investors

By Lucas Matney

Secretlab's Titan Evo Raises the Bar for Gaming Chairs

By Simon Hill
One of the best gaming chairs just got better, but it's not for everyone.

The Activision Blizzard Harassment Suit Feels Painfully Familiar

By Cecilia D'Anastasio
A complaint filed this week alleges corrosive behavior that seems increasingly endemic to the video game industry.

Playdate, the Pocketable Game Console, Prepares for Preorders

By Julian Chokkattu
The long-awaited tiny gaming device will be available to purchase next week, with shipments beginning before the end of the year.

Preorders for Panic’s Playdate handheld open July 29

By Greg Kumparak

Playdate, the adorable whimsy-and-nostalgia-box/handheld game system built by Panic (with some help from Teenage Engineering), has taken one more big step toward reality: it has an official preorder date. And it’s soon!

The company announced this morning that preorders for the handheld will go live on July 29th at 10 a.m. Pacific.

Looking to get one from the first batch? Here’s the other stuff you need to know:

  • The handheld will cost $179, and they’ll be selling an optional case accessory for $29. They’re offering both as a bundle for $199, saving you a couple bucks if you already know you want both. No word yet on when the previously announced docking station will go on sale.
  • It sounds like the actual ship date still isn’t fully locked in, but Panic says the first batch (20,000 units or so) should start going out “towards the end of the year,” with additional units going out in 2022. The company stresses that they’re not capping preorders so they can’t really “sell out,” but ordering earlier means getting it sooner.
  • Preorders will be capped at two per person.

Panic first announced the Playdate in 2019. Games on the Playdate are released in “seasons”; in season one, two new titles will be released each week for 12 weeks. As experimental as it is charming, Panic is pretty open about what to expect of the titles. From their product page: “Some are short. Some are long. Will you love them all? Probably not. Will you have a great time trying them? Absolutely.”

 

DraftKings shares plans for launch of NFT collectibles marketplace

By Lucas Matney

DraftKings is charging into the NFT game, announcing a marketplace aimed at curating sports and entertainment-themed digital collectibles for its audience of enthusiasts. The platform is “debuting later this summer,” and showcases another potentially lucrative expansion for the fantasy sports betting company.

DraftKings is entering a market that is both crowded and sparse — with plenty of NFT marketplace options for today’s niche group of collectors though offerings are still light when considering the billions that have flowed through the space in the first several months of the year. This week, investors gave NFT marketplace OpenSea a $1.5 billion valuation. Dapper Labs, which makes NBA Top Shot, recently raised at a reported $7.5 billion valuation.

Dapper’s existing sway in the space will leave DraftKings pursuing opportunities outside exclusive league partnerships. NBA Top Shot allows players to buy “Moments” from NBA history, clips of actual game and player footage which it has access to via league and players association partnerships. In addition to the NBA, Dapper has already partnered with other leagues.

DraftKings foothold in the space will come from an exclusive partnership with Autograph, a newly-launched NFT startup co-founded by quarterback Tom Brady. The company has inked exclusive NFT deals with some top athletes including Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter, Naomi Osaka and Tony Hawk, hoping to build out its platform as the hub for sports personality collectibles.

Aside from the partnerships, DraftKings is hoping to get a leg up in the space by further simplifying the user onboarding process, allowing users to buy NFTs without loading a wallet with cryptocurrency, instead purchasing with USD. When the platform launches users will be able to purchase NFTs from DraftKings and resell or trade them through the platform.

For DraftKings, which has raised some $720 million in funding since launch in 2012, the NFT expansion could offer an opportunity of funneling their existing audience into the new vertical. Few existing tech startups have made noteworthy expansions into the NFT world despite plenty of hype and investor interest. DraftKings co-founder Matt Kalish tells TechCrunch that the startup’s devoted community is its biggest asset to winning in the rising space.

“DraftKings has millions of people in our community who show up to out platform every day and every week,” Kalish says. “We think our biggest advantage is the strength and size of our community… [We] will bring a lot of eyeballs to the table.”

Epic Games acquires Sketchfab, a 3D-model sharing platform

By Romain Dillet

New York-based startup Sketchfab has been acquired by Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite and Unreal Engine. Sketchfab has been building a platform to upload, download, view, share, sell and buy 3D assets. Essentially, it is the leading repository for 3D files on the web.

Epic Games isn’t disclosing the terms of the deal. Sketchfab will still operate as a separate brand and offering. Epic Games also says that all integrations with third-party tools will remain available, including with Unity.

The deal makes a ton of sense as Epic Games has been developing — and acquiring — some of the most popular creation tools. Unreal Engine has been one of the most popular video game engines of the past couple of decades.

More recently, Unreal Engine has been used for different use cases beyond video games, such as special effects, 3D explorations of virtual worlds, mixed reality projects and more.

But an engine without assets is pretty useless. That’s why creators either design their own 2D and 3D assets, outsource this process or buy assets directly. It led to the creation of an entire ecosystem of assets and creators.

Epic Games has its own Unreal Engine marketplace, but Sketchfab has been working on building the definitive 3D marketplace for many years with three important pillars — technology, reach and collaboration.

On the technology front, Sketchfab lets you view 3D models on any platform. The Sketchfab viewer works with all major browsers on both desktop and mobile — you can see an example on Sketchfab. It also works with VR headsets. You can upload 3D models from your favorite 3D modeling app, such as Blender, 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D and Substance Painter.

Sketchfab can also convert any format into glTF and USDZ file formats. Those formats work particularly well on Android and iOS.

When it comes to reach, Sketchfab has grown tremendously over the years. In 2018, the company shared some metrics — 1 billion views, 2 million members and 3 million 3D models. Around the same time, the company launched a store so that creators can buy and sell assets directly on the platform.

Finally, Sketchfab launched an interesting feature for companies that work with 3D models all the time — Sketchfab for Teams. It’s a software-as-a-service play that lets you share a Sketchfab account with the rest of the team. Essentially, it works a bit like a shared Google Drive folder — but for 3D models.

With today’s acquisition, Epic Games is making some immediate changes. Starting today, store fees have been reduced from 30% to 12% — just like on the Epic Games Store. The company lowered commissions on ArtStation immediately after acquiring ArtStation, as well.

As for Sketchfab users paying a monthly subscription fee, everything is a bit cheaper now. All features in the Plus plan are now available for free, all features in the Pro plan are available to Plus subscribers, etc.

“We built Sketchfab with a mission to empower a new era of creativity and provide a service for creators to showcase their work online and make 3D content accessible,” Sketchfab co-founder and CEO Alban Denoyel said in the announcement. “Joining Epic will enable us to accelerate the development of Sketchfab and our powerful online toolset, all while providing an even greater experience for creators. We are proud to work alongside Epic to build the Metaverse and enable creators to take their work even further.”

With the acquisitions of ArtStation and Capturing Reality, Epic Games has been on an acquisition spree. It’s clear that the company wants to build an end-to-end developer suite for the gaming industry.

Netflix says its gaming push will begin with mobile

By Darrell Etherington
Billy Steele Contributor
Billy Steele is a Senior News Editor at Engadget.

A report last week hinted at some of Netflix’s gaming ambitions. In its Q2 2021 earnings report, the company confirmed some things. First, Netflix says it “will be primarily focused” on mobile at first, looking to expand on its interactivity projects like Black Mirror Bandersnatch and its Stranger Things games. The upcoming titles will be available at no additional cost as part of your subscription and the company was clear it will keep up the pace on movies and television.

“We view gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation and unscripted TV,” the company said in a letter to its shareholders.

2020 was a big year for Netflix. With everyone stuck at home and movie theaters closed, the streaming service attracted 16 million new customers in three months. As expected, in 2021 that pace has dramatically slowed and the new customer numbers continue to be a struggle. In its earnings report, the company says it added 1.5 million subscribers in Q2, which was actually a bit better than its forecast mark of one million. However, that’s lower than Q1 2021, which saw the company tack on 3.98 new customers globally.

Netflix says it forecasts new customer additions to hit 3.5 million in Q3 2021, up from 2.2 million during the same three-month a year ago. If it does so, the company explains that would bring the total new subscriber tally to 54 million over the last two years. The pace may have slowed for Netflix, but overall it’s doing just fine. Revenue was still up 19 percent year-over-year at $7.3 billion for the quarter.

According to Netflix’s own numbers, Shadow and Bone was a popular series this quarter, streaming to over 55 million “member households” in less than a month. The show has already been renewed for a second season based on those numbers. Sweet Tooth, a series based on a DC comic, was streamed by 60 million households the first month it was available. Unscripted series like Too Hot to Handle and The Circle were popular selections as well, as was true crime docuseries The Sons of Sam. In terms of movies, Zac Snyder’s Army of the Dead hit 75 million households in the first month. Netflix also explained that The Mitchells vs. The Machines is now its biggest animated film to date, streaming to 53 million households.

Netflix says COVID-related production delays led to a “lighter” first half of 2021 in terms of content, but the pace will pick up throughout the rest of the year. The company’s Q3 lineup includes new seasons of La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), Sex Education, Virgin River and Never Have I Ever in addition to live action films like Sweet Girl (Jason Momoa), Kissing Booth 3 and Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Plus, there’s the animated film Vivo, which will feature new music from Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

Valve’s Steam Deck Will Take PC Games on the Go This December

By Cecilia D'Anastasio
The $400 handheld will let you bring your Steam library anywhere. But before you reserve one, here’s what you need to know.

Nigeria leads mobile app market growth in Africa as use of gaming apps surge 44% from Q1 2020

By Tage Kene-Okafor

The pandemic’s effect on the global app market has not been hard to miss. In the first quarter and first half of this year, consumer spending in mobile apps hit new records at $32 billion and $64.9 billion, respectively.

In Africa, it can be tough to call out exact numbers on consumer spending because the continent gets hardly a mention in global app market reports. Yet, other metrics are worth looking at, and a new report from AppsFlyer in collaboration with Google has some important insights into how the African app market has fared since the pandemic broke out last year.

The report tracked mobile app activities across three of Africa’s largest app markets (Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa) between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.

From the first half of 2020 to the first half of 2021, the African mobile app industry (which is predominantly Android) increased by 41% in overall installs. This was analyzed from 6,000 apps and 2 billion installs in the three markets. Nigeria registered the highest growth, with a 43% rise; South Africa’s market increased by 37% and Kenya increased 29%.

Lockdown numbers

On March 22, 2020, Rwanda imposed Africa’s first lockdown. Subsequently, other countries followed; (those in the report) Kenya (March 25), South Africa (March 27), and Nigeria (March 30).

As more people spent time at home from Q2 2020, app installs increased by 20% across the three countries. South Africans were the quickest to take to their phones as the lockdowns hit with installs increasing by 17% from the previous quarter.

On the other hand, Nigerians and Kenyans recorded a 2% and 9% increase, respectively. The report attributes the disparity to the varying levels of restrictions each country faced; South Africa experienced the strictest and most frequent.

Per the report, gaming apps showed strong performance between Q1 and Q2 2020. The segment experienced a 50% growth compared to an 8% increase in nongaming apps pulled. It followed a global trend where gaming apps surged to a record high in Q2 2020, at 14 billion downloads globally.

In-app purchasing revenue and almost year-on-year growth

According to AppsFlyer, the biggest trend it noticed was in in-app purchasing revenue. In Q3 2020, in-app purchasing revenue numbers grew with a staggering 136% increase compared to Q2 2020, and accounted for 33% of 2020’s total revenue, “highlighting just how much African consumers were spending within apps, from retail purchases to gaming upgrades.”

In-app purchasing revenue among South African consumers increased by 213%, while Nigeria and Kenyan consumers recorded 141% and 74% increases, respectively.

On the advertising front and on an almost year-on-year basis, in-app advertising revenue also increased significantly as Africans were glued to their smartphones more than ever. Per the report, in-app advertising revenue increased 167% between Q2 2020 to Q1 2021.

For gaming and non-gaming apps, which was highlighted between the first two quarters, they both increased by 44% and 40% respectively in Q1 2021 compared to Q2 2020.

Fintech and super apps

In the last five years, fintech has dominated VC investments in African startups. It’s a no brainer why there is so much affinity for the sector. Fintechs create so much value for Africa’s mobile-first population, with large sections of unbanked, underbanked and banked people. This value is why all but one of the continent’s billion-dollar startups are fintech.

African fintechs have grown by 89.4% between 2017 and 2021, according to a Disrupt Africa report. Now, there are more than 570 startups on the continent. Many fintechs are mobile-based, therefore reflecting the number of fintech apps Africans use each day. Consumers in South Africa and Nigeria saw year-on-year growth in finance app installs by 116% and 60%, respectively.

AppsFlyer says that like fintech apps, super apps are on the rise as well. These “all-in-one” apps offer users a range of functions such as banking, messaging, shopping and ride-hailing. The report says their rise, partly due to device limitations on the continent, owes much to the same conditions that have led to a surge in fintech apps: systemic underbanking.

“Super apps remove some of the barriers that these users face, as well as providing a level of customer insight and experience that traditional banks cannot,” the report said.

Daniel Junowicz, RVP EMEA & Strategic Projects for AppsFlyer, commenting on the trends highlighted in the report said, “…The mobile app space in Africa is thriving despite the turmoil of last year. Installs are growing, and consumers are spending more money than ever before, highlighting just how important mobile can be for businesses when it comes to driving revenue.”

This limited-edition Super Mario smartwatch will run you $2,150

By Brian Heater

Those who’ve followed Nintendo with any sort of frequency over the years know the gaming giant has a tendency to be extremely protective with its IP. Ultimately, it’s probably for the best that the market wasn’t flooded with cheap Mario knickknacks the way it easily could have been.

In recent years, however, the company has seemingly loosened its approach, more readily embracing brand partnerships in ways it has shunned in the past. Heck, we’ve even gotten a bunch of mobile games and a theme park out of the deal.

Today, it takes the wraps off of one of the more surprising brand partnerships in recent memory, in a deal with Swiss watch company TAG Heuer, which makes very nice — and extremely expensive — timepieces. The “long-term collaboration” is kicking off with a limited-edition (2,000 units) Mario smartwatch that will set you back $2,150.

Image Credits: TAG Heuer/Nintendo

Clearly there’s a bit of a disconnect between the pricing on the TAG Heuer Connected and the sort of accessibility the company offers with hardware like the Switch. In fact, you can buy six of the high-end new OLED Switches for the price of a single Mario-branded smartwatch — or, for that matter, five Apple Watch Series 6s.

I will give it this — it’s a pretty sweet-looking watch. And, given the barrier of entry, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be the only person you know who owns one (forget for a moment that, unlike expensive analog watches, smartwatches aren’t designed to last forever). The hook here are little Mario animations that pop up throughout the day as you hit your step count and meet other goals. It’s fun and something that would play really well on a fitness watch for kids (for, one imagines, a fraction of the price).

Image Credits: TAG Heuer/Nintendo

The watch is, effectively, a redesigned version of the TAG Heuer Connected, a $2,000 Wear OS device that launched last April. The timepiece got high marks for design quality — as one would expect from the company. This version adds touches like a Mario “M” on the dial, red accents throughout and a matching red rubber strap (along with a black leather version).

Image Credits: TAG Heuer/Nintendo

The case measures 45mm in diameter and the watch sports a 430 mAh battery the company says should get you between six and 20 hours of life, depending on usage. That’s due in part to the inclusion of GPS and a heart rate monitor.

It’s available starting July 15.

Android 12 will let you play games before they finish downloading

By Frederic Lardinois

At its Game Developer Summit, Google today announced a new feature for Android game developers today that will speed up the time from starting a download in the Google Play store to the game launching by almost 2x — at least on Android 12 devices. The name of the new feature, ‘play as you download,’ pretty much gives away what this is all about. Even before all the game’s assets have been downloaded, players will be able to get going.

On average, modern games are likely the largest apps you’ll ever download and when that download takes a couple of minutes, you may have long moved on to the next TikTok session before the game is ever ready to play. With this new feature, Google promises that it’ll take only half the time to jump into a game that weighs in at 400MB or so. If you’re a console gamer, this whole concept will also feel familiar, given that Sony pretty much does the same thing for PlayStation games.

Now, this isn’t Google’s first attempt at making games load faster. With ‘Google Play Instant,’ the company already offers a related feature that allows gamers to immediately start a game from the Play Store. The idea there, though, is to completely do away with the install process and give potential players an opportunity to try out a new game right away.

Like Play Instant, the new ‘play as you download’ feature is powered by Google’s Android App Bundle format, which is, for the most part, replacing the old APK standard

Image Credits: Google

Can advertising scale in VR?

By Annie Siebert
Michael Boland Contributor
Mike Boland is chief analyst of ARtillery Intelligence, an AR/VR research firm.
More posts by this contributor

One of VR’s prospective revenue streams is ad placement. The thought is that its levels of immersion can engender high engagement with various flavors of display ads. Think billboards in a virtual streetscape or sporting venue. Art imitates life, and all that.

This topic reemerged recently in the wake of Facebook’s experimental ads in Blaston VR. As TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney observed, it didn’t go too well. The move triggered a resounding backlash, followed by the game publisher, Resolution Games, backing out of the trial.

This chain of events underscored Facebook’s headwinds in VR ad monetization, which stem from its broader ad issues. In fairness, this was an experimental move to test the VR advertising waters … which Facebook accomplished, though it didn’t get the result it wanted.

VR advertising is a bit of a double-edged sword. It could take several years for VR usage to reach requisite levels for meaningful ad monetization.

Regardless, we’ve taken this opportunity to revisit our ongoing analysis and market sizing of VR advertising in general. The short version: There are pros and cons on both qualitative and quantitative levels.

The pros of VR advertising

VR advertising’s opportunity goes back to factors noted above: potentially high ad engagement given inherent levels of immersion. On that measure, VR exceeds all other media, which can mean higher-quality impressions, brand recall and other common display-ad metrics.

Historical evidence also suggests that VR could follow a path toward ad monetization. VR shows similar patterns to media that were increasingly ad supported as they matured. These include video, social media, mobile apps and games (just ask Unity).

To put some numbers behind that, 75% of apps in the Apple App Store’s first year were paid apps — similar to VR today. That figure declined to 15% in 2014 and hovers around 10% today. Over time, developers learned they could reach scale through free downloads.

Prevalent revenue models today include in-app purchases — especially in mobile gaming — and advertising. The question is whether VR will follow a similar path as developers learn that they can reach scale faster through free apps that employ “back-end monetization” like ad support.

This trend also follows audience dynamics: Early adopters are more likely to pay for content and experiences. But as a given technology or media matures, its transition to mainstream audiences requires different business models with less upfront commitment and friction.

“Today, there are only about 18% of applications in VR stores such as Steam and Oculus that are free,” Admix CEO Samuel Huber said. “This is fine for now because we are still very early in the market and most of these users are early adopters. They are willing to pay for content, just like they were willing to pay for prototype unproven hardware and generally, they have higher purchasing power than the average person.”

Drawbacks of VR advertising

Considering the above advantages, VR advertising is a bit of a double-edged sword (or beat saber). Those advantages are counterbalanced by a few practical disadvantages in the medium’s early stage. Much of this comes down to the requirement for scale.

Our 10 Favorite PlayStation 4 Accessories

By Jess Grey, Jeffrey Van Camp
Stretching a few more years out of your PS4 console? Try some of these lovely extras.

The New Nintendo OLED Switch Is a Small but Punchy Upgrade

By Cecilia D'Anastasio
The display is a little bigger, and the storage is double, but the console still lacks the 4K output players have clamored for.

Electronic Arts buys mobile game studio Playdemic for $1.4 billion

By Lucas Matney

Video game giant Electronic Arts is continuing to make M&A moves as it looks to bulk up its presence in the mobile gaming world.

Fresh off the $2.4 billion acquisition of Glu Mobile this past April, their biggest purchase to date, Electronic Arts announced Wednesday that they are buying Warner Bros. Games’ mobile gaming studio Playdemic for $1.4 billion in an all-cash deal. The Manchester studio is best known for its release “Golf Clash” which the studio boasts has more than 80 million downloads globally.

The rather ominously-named startup is being jettisoned to its new home ahead of the $43 billion WarnerMedia-Discovery deal where the rest of the Warner Bros. Games division will live post-merger.

Electronic Arts is the second-largest Western video games company with a market cap around $40 billion. Their success has largely come from desktop and console titles including titles in their most popular franchises like Battlefield, Star Wars and Titanfall. Mobile dominance hasn’t come easy to the company which has spent much of the past decade or so trying to keep pace with competitors like Activision Blizzard which struck gold with its 2016 King acquisition. 

Electronic Arts has been on a studio buying spree as of late — in 2021 they’ve announced three major acquisitions worth some $5 billion combined.

Hit game PUBG Mobile returns to India with scores of questions

By Manish Singh

Krafton, which filed for an IPO earlier this week, has built a gigantic gaming empire. If the firm is able to raise the target $5 billion from the IPO it will be the largest public offering in its home country, South Korea. The firm has something to celebrate elsewhere in the world, too.

On Thursday, it pulled off another feat that no other firm has been able to achieve: Its sleeper hit title, PUBG Mobile, has made a return to India, which banned the title more than nine months ago.

The world’s second-largest internet market banned over 200 apps last year citing national security concerns. All the apps New Delhi blocked in the nation had links to China. The move was seen by many as retaliation as tension between the two nuclear-armed neighboring nations escalated last year.

Every other app that has been banned by India — and pulled by Google and Apple from their respective app stores in the country in compliance with local government orders — remains in that state. ByteDance, whose TikTok app identified India as its largest market, has significantly downsized its team in the country. (ByteDance runs several businesses in India and many remain operational. Employees have been instructed to stay off the radar.)

Which is what makes PUBG Mobile’s return to India all the more interesting. The game, which has been rebranded to Battlegrounds Mobile India in the South Asia market, is available to download from the Play Store for any user in the country — provided they sign up for an early access before the imminent launch.

Even as PUBG Mobile is now using a different moniker, the game follows the same plot, and the identical home screen greets users with the familiar ecstatic background score.

Moreover, users are offered a quick and straightforward option to migrate their PUBG Mobile accounts to the new app.

Rishi Alwani, the quintessential gaming reporter in India who edits IGN India, told TechCrunch that the new game is “essentially PUBG Mobile with data compliance, green blood, and a constant reminder that you’re in a ‘virtual world’ with such messaging present as you start a game and when you’re in menus.”

The changes are likely Krafton’s attempt to assuage previous concerns from the local authorities, some of whom had expressed concerns about the game’s affect on youngsters.

Image Credits: TechCrunch / screen capture

But these on-the-surface changes raise a set of bigger questions that have been a topic of discussion among several startup founders and policy executives in India in recent months:

  • Did the government of India approve the new game?
  • If not, why has Google permitted the app on the Play Store?
  • Assuming the Indian government has approved the new game, what steps did Krafton take that adequately addressed the Indian government’s concerns?
  • Why has no other app been able to make a return to India so far?

Neither the Indian government nor Krafton have publicly said anything on this subject. Krafton, on its part, has taken steps to assuage India’s concerns. For instance, last year the South Korean firm cut ties with its publishing partner Tencent, the only visible Chinese affiliation — if the Indian government was indeed banning just Chinese apps. Krafton also publicly announced that it will be investing $100 million in India’s gaming ecosystem.

The Indian government’s order and the communication and compliance mechanism for concerned entities have been so opaque on this subject that it is unclear on what grounds Krafton has been able to bring the game back.

One explanation — albeit admittedly full of speculation — is that it’s a new app in the sense that it has a new app ID. In this instance, it happens to have a new developer account, too. Remember, India banned apps, and not the firms themselves. Several Tencent and Alibaba apps, for instance, remain available in India.

This would also explain how BIGO has been able to launch a new app — Tiki Video — under a new developer account and plenty of effort to conceal its connection. That app, which was launched in late February, has amassed over 16 million monthly active users, according to mobile insight firm App Annie. The app’s existence and affiliation with BIGO have not been previously reported.

But the question remains, are these simple workarounds enough to escape the ban? To be sure, some apps, including Battlegrounds Mobile India, are also hosting their data in the country now, and have agreed for periodic audits. So is that enough? And if it is, why aren’t most — if not all — apps making a return to India?

Regardless, the return of PUBG Mobile India is a welcome move for tens of millions of users in the country, many of whom — about 38 million last month, according to App Annie — were using workarounds themselves to continue to play the game.

E3 2021 wrap-up

By Brian Heater

E3 2021 kicked off with news about E3 2022. Kind of a funny way to start a show, as Mayor Eric Garcetti told the crowd, “we look forward to seeing you in-person, here in the City of Angels, in 2022.” Also a bit funny when the mayor’s video game show announcement has less confetti and Minions than his state-reopening speech, but that’s something for another post.

It’s understandable, of course, that E3’s organizers led with that news. The 2021 show was, like so many other things over the past year-and-a-half, a historic anomaly. After opting to skip the 2020 show altogether (understandably), it went ahead with the first — and for the time being, last — all virtual event.

The virtual event always seems like a good idea, in theory. In practice, results vary wildly depending on a number of factors, not the least of which is content. Many shows have an uphill battle when it comes to moving all online. CES, I think, was a struggle, due in part to the size of the show, but also the content. As ubiquitous as consumer electronics are, I don’t see wide swaths of the internet champing at the bit to watch a presentation from anyone but, say, Apple and maybe Samsung.

E3 doesn’t have that problem. The show already had a leg up, having moved away from industry-only to something more hybrid years ago. Unlike other shows I attend regularly, people in downtown LA actually get a bit of a buzz when E3 comes to town. Everyone’s a gamer and most are excited about some piece of upcoming news. Uber and Lyft drivers love to tell you about it that week.

It follows that the show’s online presence is immense. The days leading up to the event, E3-related content was trending all over the place — people watch trailers, argue about the trailers, stream about the trailers and argue about other people’s streams about the trailers on their own streams. It’s a recipe for success around a virtual event — especially coming after a year when, even before the latest Xbox and PlayStation were released, the industry was already setting records amid the pandemic.

Of the big three, Microsoft won, hands down. Sorry, Sony, you can’t win if you don’t play. Nintendo was solid, but not spectacular. But more on that in a moment.

I talked a fair bit about the Xbox press conference in the last one of these. But the long and short of it is Microsoft won on two flanks: sheer volume and Game Pass titles. That last bit feels about as close to a silver bullet as we’re going to see in this generation of consoles. Likely Sony is going to have its own virtual event in the near future — but it’s going to be a tough act to follow.

In all, Microsoft showed off 30 games (and a fridge), a whopping 27 of which will be available on Game Pass, if there were any doubt as to how all-in the company is on its subscription service. And, of course, there’s the fact that this was billed as a Microsoft/Bethesda event, which shows you how important that massive acquisition is to the future of Xbox.

As for Nintendo, let’s be honest. Anything that didn’t include the long-rumored Switch Pro was going to be a disappointment. The original Switch is four years old and due for a big upgrade, beyond the Switch Lite and a refresh with added battery. It’s time for that HD screen — the thing would sell like hotcakes next holiday.

Thing is, the Switch had a spectacular 2020. Even with an initial supply chain shortage (something all three current consoles are guilty of), it did gangbusters during the pandemic, due in no small part to the arrival of a long-awaited new Animal Crossing game. A low-pressure, social title between fuzzy animals was precisely what the world needed last year, and Nintendo was happy to deliver.

There’s also a good chance that Nintendo is dealing with continued supply chain issues around the new components. So while it seems likely the Pro is on the way (see: the new Guardians of the Galaxy game), we’ll likely have to wait until next year.

We’ll also have to wait until next year for Breath of the Wild 2, but at least the sequel to the much-loved Zelda game had the decency to show up this year. And, of course, we’ve got a bunch of great-looking titles coming for the system. Some highlights.

Some old-school 2D side-scrolling hotness for Metroid Dread.

Hey, neat, a Game and Watch with some classic Zelda titles.

Talk about long-awaited, Shin Megami Tensai V has been teased since 2017.

Mario Party Superstars is coming October 29, with 100 mini-games.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania arrives October 5, doing what Super Monkey Ball does best.

In addition to all of the Square-Enix and Ubisoft stuff we discussed last time, Capcom gave us updates to Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin and Resident Evil Village.

That about does it. See you next year in LA. But maybe leave the Minion costumes at home (sorry Mr. Mayor).

Google updates its kids online safety curriculum with lessons on gaming, video and more

By Sarah Perez

Google announced today it’s updating and expanding its digital safety and citizenship curriculum called Be Internet Awesome, which is aimed at helping school-aged children learn to navigate the internet responsibly. First introduced four years ago, the curriculum now reaches 30 countries and millions of kids, says Google. In the update rolling out today, Google has added nearly a dozen more lessons for parents and educators that tackle areas like online gaming, search engines, video consumption, online empathy, cyberbullying and more.

The company says it had commissioned the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center to evaluate its existing program, which had last received a significant update back in 2019, when it added lessons that focused on teaching kids to spot disinformation and fake news.

The review found that program did help children in areas like dealing with cyberbullying, online civility and website safety, but recommended improvements in other areas.

Google then partnered with online safety experts like Committee for Children and The Net Safety Collaborative to revise its teaching materials. As a result, it now has lessons tailored to specific age groups and grade levels, and has expanded its array of subjects and set of family resources.

The new lessons include guidance around online gaming, search engines and video consumption, as well as social-emotional learning lessons aimed at helping students address cyberbullying and online harassment.

For example, some of the new lessons discuss search media literacy — meaning, learning how to use search engines like Google’s and evaluating the links and results it returns, as a part of an update to the program’s existing media literacy materials.

Other lessons address issues like practicing empathy online, showing kindness, as well as what to do when you see something upsetting or inappropriate, including cyberbullying.

Concepts related to online gaming are weaved into the new lessons, too, as, today, kids have a lot of their social interactions in online games which often feature ways to interact with other players in real time and chat.

Here, kids are presented with ideas related to being able to verify an online gamer’s identity — are they really another kid, for example? The materials also explain what sort of private information should not be shared with people online.

Image Credits: Google

Among the new family resources, the updated curriculum now points parents to the recently launched online hub, families.google, which offers a number of tips and information about tools to help families manage their tech usage.

For example, Google updated its Family Link app that lets parents set controls around which apps can be used and when, and view activity reports on screen-time usage. It also rolled out parental control features on YouTube earlier this year, aimed at families with tweens and teens who are too old for a YouTube Kids account, but still too young for an entirely unsupervised experience.

Google says the updated curriculum is available today to parents, families, teachers and educators, via the Be Internet Awesome website.

 

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