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April 23, 2019
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Gaming

China’s new gaming rules to ban poker, blood and imperial schemes

in Asia/China/Delhi/Gaming/Government/India/iQiyi/netease/Netflix/online poker/Politics/Tencent/video gaming by

Lots of news has surfaced from China’s gaming industry in recent weeks as the government hastens to approve a massive backlog of titles in the world’s largest market for video games.

Last Friday, the country’s State Administration of Press and Publication, the freshly minted gaming authority born from a months-long reshuffle last year that led to an approval blackout, enshrined a new set of guidelines for publication that are set to move some to joy and others to sorrow.

On April 22, China finally resumed the approval process to license new games for monetization. Licensing got back on track in December but Reuters reported in February that the government stopped accepting new submissions due to a mounting pile of applications.

The bad news: The number of games allowed onto the market annually will be capped, and some genres of games will no longer be eligible. Mahjong and poker games are taken off the approval list following a wave of earlier government crackdown over concerns that such titles may channel illegal gambling. These digital forms of traditional leisure activities are immensely popular for studios for they are relatively cheap to make and bear lucrative fruit. According to video game researcher Niko Partners, 37 percent of the 8,561 games approved in 2017 were poker and mahjong titles.

While the new rule is set to wipe out hundreds of small developers focused on the genre, it may only have a limited impact on the entrenched players as the restriction applies only to new applicants.

“It won’t affect us much because we are early to the market and have accumulated a big collection of licenses,” a marketing manager at one of China’s biggest online poker and mahjong games publishers told TechCrunch.

China will also stop approving certain games inspired by its imperial past, including “gongdou”, which directly translates to harem scheming, as well as “guandou”, the word for palace official competition. The life inside palaces has inspired blockbuster TV series such as the Story of Yanxi Palace, an in-house production from China’s Netflix equivalent iQiyi . But these plots also touch a nerve with Chinese officials who worry about “obscene contents and the risk of political metaphors,” Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst at Nikos Partners, suggested to TechCrunch.

Screenshots of Xi Fei Zhuan, a mobile game that lets users play the role of harems to win love from the emperor. Image source: Superjoy Interactive Games

Games that contain images of corpses and blood will also be rejected. Developers previously modified blood color to green to circumvent restrictions, but the renewed guidelines have effectively ruled out any color variations of blood.

“Chinese games developers are used to arbitrary regulations. They are quick at devising methods to circumvent requirements,” a Guangzhou-based indie games developer told TechCrunch.

That may only work out for companies armed with sufficient developing capabilities and resources to counter new policies. For instance, Tencent was quick to implement an anti-addiction system for underage users before the practice became an industry-wide norm as of late.

“Many smaller publishers will have a harder time under this new set of regulations, which will require them to spend extra time and money to ensure games are up to code,” suggested Ahmad. “We’ve already seen that many smaller publishers were unable to survive the temporary game license approval freeze last year and we expect to see further consolidation of the market this year.”

China has over the past year taken aim at the gaming industry over concerns related to gaming addiction among minors and illegal content, such as those that promote violence or deviate from the government’s ideologies. To enforce the growing list of requirements, an Online Game Ethics Committee launched in December under the guidance of the Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party to help the new gaming regulator in vetting title submissions.

More than 1,000 games have been approved since China ended the gaming freeze in December, though Tencent, the dominant player in the market, has yet to receive the coveted license required for monetizing its hugely popular mobile title PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

Uncertain waters in the gaming industry have wiped billions of dollars off the giant’s market cap and prompted it to initiate a bigger push in such non-game segments as cloud computing and financial technologies. NetEase, the runner-up in China’s gaming market, reacted by trimming its staff to cut costs.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Xbox One does away with discs in new $249 All-Digital Edition

in Delhi/Gadgets/Gaming/Hardware/India/Microsoft/Politics/TC/xbox/Xbox One/Xbox One S by

Discs! What are they good for? Well, they’re nice if you don’t want to be tied to an online-only ecosystem. But if you don’t mind that, Microsoft’s latest Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” might be for you. With no slots to speak of, the console is limited to downloading games to its drive — which is how we’ve been doing it on PC for quite some time.

Announced during today’s “Inside Xbox” video presentation, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition — honestly, why not just give it a different letter? — is identical to the existing One S except for, of course, not having a disc slot in the front.

The Xbox One X (left) and S (center) are missing this valuable feature exclusive to the All-Digital Edition (right)

The impact of the news was lessened somewhat by Sony’s strategically timed tease of its next-generation console, revealing little — but enough to get gamers talking on a day Microsoft would have preferred was about its game ecosystem. But to return to the disc-free Xbox.

“We’re not looking to push customers toward digital,” explained Microsoft’s Jeff Gattis in a press release. “It’s about meeting the needs of customers that are digital natives that prefer digital-based media. Given this is the first product of its kind, it will teach us things we don’t already know about customer preferences around digital and will allow us to refine those experiences in the future. We see this as a step forward in extending our offerings beyond the core console gamer.”

The CPU and GPU are the same, RAM is the same, everything is the same. Even, unfortunately, the hard drive: a single lonely terabyte (imagine saying that a few years ago) that could fill up fast if every game has to be downloaded in full rather than loaded from disc.

It’s also the exact same shape and size as the S, which seems like a missed opportunity — they couldn’t make it a little smaller or thinner after taking out the whole Blu-ray assembly? Well, at least the original is a nice-looking little box to begin with. (“Changes that affect the form of a console can be complex and costly,” said Gattis.)

At $249 it’s $50 cheaper than the disc-using edition, and comes with copies of Sea of Thieves, Minecraft and Forza Horizon 3. That’s a pretty decent value, I’d say. If you’re looking to break into the Xbox ecosystem and don’t want to clutter your place with a bunch of discs and cases, this is a nice option. Sea of Thieves had kind of a weak start but has grown quite a bit, FH3 is supposed to be solid and Minecraft is of course Minecraft.

You may also want to spring for the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service, which combines Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass — meaning you get the usual online benefits as well as access to the growing Game Pass library. There’s enough there now that, with the games you get in the box, you shouldn’t have to buy much of anything until whatever Microsoft announces at E3 comes out. (There’s even a special offer for three months of Game Pass for a buck to get you started.)

You can pre-order the All-Digital Edition (which really should have been called the Xbox One D) now, and it should ship and be available at retailers starting May 7.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Chilly reception for marijuana tycoon game shows games industry’s backwards stance on drugs

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Intense and graphic violence is something we’ve come to simply expect from games, but sexual and other adult themes are still largely taboo — including, as publisher Devolver Digital is learning, drugs. Even if the game in question is a relatively serious tycoon-type look at the current (and legal!) business of selling weed.

Devolver is no stranger to controversy; it has published and helped develop dozens of games and many of them have featured the kind of graphic violence that sets off those who still see the medium as a corruptive, fundamentally debased one. And to be fair, the likes of Hotline Miami aren’t going to change any minds.

But for the company’s first original commissioned IP, it had the idea of assembling a game in the popular “tycoon” genre, but focused on the emerging and popular sector of growing marijuana.

Obviously this is somewhat controversial, but the plant is legal in many states and countries already and on its way in plenty of others. This isn’t the time or place for a full evaluation of the scheduling system and the war on drugs, but it suffices to say that it is a complex and interesting business ecosystem that’s teetering on the edge of widespread acceptance. That makes it a bit edgy, but also fresh and relevant — perfect, Devolver thought, to build a game around. So they made Weedcraft, Inc.

Unfortunately, the company’s co-founder Mike Wilson told me the other day, they underestimated how square the gaming industry is.

“This is definitely the hardest game I’ve had to market, and that’s saying something,” Wilson told me. “It has been a fucking nightmare. The fact that we’re still so afraid of a topic like weed instead of the murder simulators you can market any time, anywhere, it’s shocking.”

Console game stores were reluctant to even carry it, and warned Devolver that it would never be featured, which is a death sentence for a game’s discoverability. They couldn’t get ads approved on Facebook or Instagram, and the person who submitted them even had his account suspended. And just this week, streamers trying out the game on YouTube had their videos demonetized.

The only stores that didn’t buck were Steam, which is largely content-agnostic, and GOG, a popular DRM-free storefront.

Why, though? This isn’t a game about smoking blunts or cutting dime bags with oregano to sell to middle school kids.

Well, it is a little pro-legalization.

“This isn’t a pro-legalization game. This is a tycoon game. You don’t do drugs in the game!” said Wilson. “You can play as a totally legal, scrupulous businessperson. We did all this research with like, dispensaries, geneticists, lawyers, we were worried about cultural sensitivity with the subject matter, things like how much more black people get jailed for it. We wanted it to be representative of all the social issues involved. It’s kind of like doing a game about booze in the prohibition era — like, what an interesting industry to study, right?”

It’s not that the companies involved here — Microsoft, Sony, YouTube and so on — are applying some invisible rules. The rules are there; when I contacted YouTube for comment, they pointed me to the list of guidelines for “advertiser-friendly content.” And plain as day there’s the one about drugs: “Video content that promotes or features the sale, use, or abuse of illegal drugs, regulated drugs or substances, or other dangerous products is not suitable for advertising.”

It’s just a bit weird to me still that we have this backwards, puritan approach to this stuff. Think of how much vile garbage is on YouTube and how the most popular games in the world glorify guns and death. But a recreational drug legal in many places and generally well thought of, not to mention a massive and growing business — that’s beyond the pale.

I understand YouTube doesn’t want people doing bong-clearing competitions, and console makers want to appear family-friendly so they don’t lose that teen and tween market. But surely we can be adults about this.

Gaming is maturing to be an interactive storytelling medium that encompasses serious issues, but the industry is holding itself back by its squeamishness about adult themes. And that feeds into the puritanical objections from misguided commentators, who go nuts over romancing an alien in Mass Effect or the ridiculous “Hot Coffee” thing in GTA, but don’t acknowledge the sophisticated storytelling of Return of the Obra Dinn, or subversive commentary of Papers, Please, or the impressive period recreation of an Assassin’s Creed.

Drugs are a complex and controversial topic. I get that some people want to stay hands-off. But when that hands-off stance doesn’t apply to graphic violence, sexism, and other sore spots, it comes off as prudish and hypocritical.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Twitch’s first game, the karaoke-style ‘Twitch Sings,’ launches to public

in Delhi/Gaming/India/Politics/TC/Twitch by

Amazon-owned game-streaming site Twitch is today publicly launching its first game. But it’s not a traditional video game — like those the site’s creators stream for their fans. Instead, the new game is called “Twitch Sings” and is a free karaoke-style experience designed for live streaming.

The game, which was launched into beta last year, includes thousands of karaoke classics that players can sing either alone or in a duet with another person. In addition, streamers can choose to sing as themselves in a live camera feed, or they can create a personalized avatar that will appear in their place. (The songs are licensed from karaoke content providers, not the major labels.)

But unlike other karaoke-style apps — like TikTok or its clones — Twitch Sings is designed to be both live-streamed and interactive. That is, viewers are also a part of the experience as they can request songs, cheer with emotes to activate light shows and virtual ovations and send in “singing challenges” to the streamer during the performance. For example, they could challenge them to sing without the lyrics or “sing like a cat,” and other goofy stuff.

“Twitch Sings unites the fun and energy of being at a live show with the boundless creativity of streamers to make an amazing shared interactive performance,” said Joel Wade, executive producer of Twitch Sings, in a statement. “Many games are made better on Twitch, but we believe there is a huge opportunity for those that are designed with streaming and audience participation at their core.”

The game is designed to not only capitalize on Twitch’s live-streaming capabilities, but to also engage Twitch viewers who tune in to watch, but don’t stream themselves.

More notably, it’s a means of expanding Twitch beyond gaming. This is something Twitch has attempted to do for years — starting with the launch of a section on its site for creative content back in 2015. It has also in the past tried to cater to vloggers, and has partnered with various media companies in order to stream marathons of fan favorites — like Bob Ross’s painting series or Julia Child’s cooking show, for example. Its own studio has produced non-gaming shows like the one about sneakers. Last year, Twitch partnered with Disney Digital Network to bring some of its larger personalities over to Twitch, as well.

Those efforts haven’t really helped Twitch break out with the non-gamer crowd.

Karaoke may not do the trick either. In reality, this “game” is more of a test to see if Twitch can turn some of its platform features — like its chat system and custom interactive video overlays — into tools to help increase engagement among existing users and attract new ones. It still remains to be seen if and how the game actually takes off.

The game was unveiled today at TwitchCon Berlin, where the company announced it had added more than 127,000 Affiliates and 3,600 new Partners in Europe since the beginning of 2018.

The company also detailed a few other updates for Twitch creators, including those across payments, streaming and discovery tools.

Starting Monday, April 15, Twitch will pay out in just 15 days after the close of the month, instead of 45, eligible creators that reached the $100 threshold. In May, it will make the Bounty Board (paid sponsorship opps) available to Partners and Affiliates in Germany, France and the U.K., and will partner Borderlands 3, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 and Unilever, in Europe.

In June, Twitch is also rolling out faster search, automated highlight reels (recaps) and the ability to sort through channels in a directory by a range of new options — including lowest to highest viewers, most recently started or suggested channels based on their viewing history.

TwitchCon Europe 2019 is streaming live this weekend at twitch.tv/twitch.

News Source = techcrunch.com

HQ Trivia replaces Quiz Daddy Scott Rogowsky

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Quiz Khalifa aka Host Malone aka Trap Trebek aka HQ Trivia’s Scott Rogowsky has been pushed out of the live mobile gaming startup. The two split due to disagreements about Rogowsky attempting to take a second full-time job hosting sports streaming service DAZN’s baseball show ChangeUp while moving to only hosting HQ on weekends, TMZ first reported. HQ wanted someone committed to their show.

Now HQ co-founder and CEO Rus Yusupov confirms to TechCrunch that Rogowsky will no longer host HQ Trivia. He tells me that the company ran a SurveyMonkey survey of its top players and they voted that former guest host Matt Richards rated higher than Rogowsky. Yusupov says HQ is excited to have Richards as its new prime time host. It’s also putting out offers to more celebrity guests to host for a few shows, a few weeks, or even a whole season of one of its time slots.

The departure could still shake HQ’s brand since Rogowsky had become the defacto face of the company. But he was also prone to talking a lot on the air and promoting himself, sometimes in ways that felt distracting from the game. Rogowsky has also been using HQ’s brand to further his standup comedy career, splashing its logo on advertising for his shows like this one below at a casino where “The centerpiece is a live trivia competition”, he told WPTV5.

TechCrunch had predicted that Rogowsky might depart if he wasn’t properly compensated with equity in HQ Trivia that would only vest and earn him money if he stuck around. The damage to HQ could worsen if he’s scooped up by Facebook, Snapchat, or another tech company to build out their own live video gaming shows.

HQ Trivia provided this statement on Rogowsky’s exit:

“We continue to build an incredible company at HQ Trivia, from drawing hundreds of thousands of players to the platform daily, to increasing the size of the prize, to attracting strong talent. We’ve come a long way since Scott Rogowsky’s first trivia game and we’re grateful for everything he’s done for the platform. This is a team that creates products for talent to really shine—we’re just getting started at HQ Trivia, and as he makes his next move, wanted to take a minute to thank him for being part of our journey.”

Yusupov tells me he’s excited about exploring new hosts, noting that Richards in a person of color who brings more diversity to HQ’s lineup. Richards is a standup comic who has appeared on CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, Nickelodeon’s School of Rock and was a voice-over host for game show Trivial Takedown on FUSE. Yusupov says the team feels jazzed about the new creative opportunities beyond Rogowsky, though the CEO says he appreciates all that its former host contributed.

Richards will have the tall task of trying to revive HQ’s popularity. It climbed the app store charts to become the #3 top game and #6 overall app in January 2018, and peaked at 2.38 million concurrent players in March 2018. But it’s been on a steady decline since, falling to the #585 overall app in August, and it dropped out of the top #1500 last month according to App Annie.

Exhaustion with the game format, so many winners splitting jackpots to just a few dollars per victor, and laggy streams have all driven away players. The introduction of a new Wheel Of Fortune-style HQ Words game in August hasn’t stopped the decline. And the tragic death of HQ co-founder and former CEO Colin Kroll may have impeded efforts to turn things around. There’s a ton of pressure on the company after it raised $23 million, including a $15 million round at a $100 million valuation.

Even if HQ Trivia fades from the zeitgeist, it and Rogowsky will have inspired a new wave of innovation in what it means to play with our phones.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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