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.
Nintendo

The 'Unpatchable' Exploit That Makes Every Current Nintendo Switch Hackable (arstechnica.com) 96

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A newly published "exploit chain" for Nvidia Tegra X1-based systems seems to describe an apparently unpatchable method for running arbitrary code on all currently available Nintendo Switch consoles. Hardware hacker Katherine Temkin and the hacking team at ReSwitched released an extensive outline of what they're calling the Fusee Gelee coldboot vulnerability earlier today, alongside a proof-of-concept payload that can be used on the Switch. "Fusee Gelee isn't a perfect, 'holy grail' exploit -- though in some cases it can be pretty damned close," Temkin writes in an accompanying FAQ. The exploit, as outlined, makes use of a vulnerability inherent in the Tegra X1's USB recovery mode, circumventing the lock-out operations that would usually protect the chip's crucial bootROM. By sending a bad "length" argument to an improperly coded USB control procedure at the right point, the user can force the system to "request up to 65,535 bytes per control request." That data easily overflows a crucial direct memory access (DMA) buffer in the bootROM, in turn allowing data to be copied into the protected application stack and giving the attacker the ability to run arbitrary code. The exploit can't be fixed via a downloadable patch because the flawed bootROM can't be modified once the Tegra chip leaves the factory. As Temkin writes, "unfortunately, access to the fuses needed to configure the device's ipatches was blocked when the ODM_PRODUCTION fuse was burned, so no bootROM update is possible. It is suggested that consumers be made aware of the situation so they can move to other devices, where possible." Ars notes that Nintendo may however be able to detect "hacked" systems when they sign on to Nintendo's servers. "The company could then ban those systems from using the Switch's online functions."
Software

Dutch Study Finds Some Video Game Loot Boxes Broke the Law (vice.com) 90

The Netherlands Gaming Authority has published a study it conducted of 10 video games that reward players with loot boxes, packages players can sometimes buy with real money that contain random-in game rewards, and found that 4 of the 10 games it studied violated the Dutch Gaming Act. "It determined that loot boxes are, in general, addictive and that four of the games allowed players to trade items they'd won outside of the game, which means they've got a market value," reports Motherboard. From the report: According to the study, the authorities picked games "based on their popularity on a leading Internet platform that streams videos of games and players." Motherboard has reached out to the Gaming Authority for clarification on both the games it picked (the study doesn't name them) and the method by which it picked them, but did not receive an immediate reply. However, Twitch is the most popular way gamers watch others play and it's a good bet that Twitch is how the Gaming Authority focused its attention. Six of the ten games the Gaming Authority studied aren't in violation of Dutch law. "With these games, there is no opportunity to sell the prizes won outside of the game," the press release said. "This means that the goods have no market value and these loot boxes do not satisfy the definition of a prize in Section 1 of the Betting and Gaming Act."

The four others though offer the opportunity for players to trade items outside of the game and therefore meet the the Netherlands definition of gambling. To come into compliance, those games need to make their loot boxes less interesting to open. The Gaming Authority wants the companies to "remove the addiction-sensitive elements ('almost winning' effects, visual effects, ability to keep opening loot boxes quickly one after the other and suchlike)...and to implement measures to exclude vulnerable groups or to demonstrate that the loot boxes on offer are harmless."

Security

PUBG Ransomware Decrypts Your Files If You Play PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (bleepingcomputer.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes Bleeping Computer: In what could only be a joke, a new ransomware has been discovered called "PUBG Ransomware" that will decrypt your files if you play the game called PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds... When the PUBG Ransomware is launched it will encrypt a user's files and folders on the user's desktop and append the .PUBG extension to them. When it has finished encrypting the files, it will display a screen giving you two methods that you can use to decrypt the encrypted files.
Users can unlock it either by entering a secret unlock code displayed on the screen -- or by playing PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. The ransomware checks to see if you played PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds by monitoring the running processes for one named "TslGame"... Once a user plays the game and the process is detected, the ransomware will automatically decrypt the victim's files. This ransomware is not too advanced as it only looks for the process name and does not check for other information to confirm that the game is actually being played. That means you can simply run any executable called TslGame.exe and it will decrypt the files.
Crime

Jailed Kansas 'Swat' Perpetrator Sneaks Online, Threatens More 'Swats' (kansas.com) 285

An anonymous reader quotes the Wichita Eagle: Tyler Barriss -- the man charged in a swatting hoax that led to the death of an innocent Wichita man -- apparently got access to the internet from jail for at least 28 minutes [last] Friday and threatened to swat again. "How am I on the Internet if I'm in jail? Oh, because I'm an eGod, that's how," a tweet posted at 9:05 a.m. said.
Other developments in the case:
  • Another tweet from the Barriss account 19 minutes later asked who was "talking shit," warning "your ass is about to get swatted." And nine minutes later his final tweet from jail bragged, "Y'all should see how much swag I got in here." The county sheriff's office blamed an outside vendor's improper software upgrade to an inmate kiosk, arguing that 14 inmates potentially had full internet access "for less than a few hours."
  • 25-year-old Barris is still in jail facing an 11-year prison sentence, noted a Twitter user who responded to the tweets. "This will play well at sentencing when you're pretending to be remorseful and asking the judge for mercy."
  • Meanwhile, the Wichita police officer who mistakenly fired the fatal shot that killed a 28-year-old father of two will not face charges. The district attorney concluded that several of the officers closest to victim Andrew Finch thought he reached down to pull up his pants, leaving his right arm hidden from the officers, the Wichita Eagle reports. "The officer who fired the shot, along with some others, thought Finch was reaching for a gun."
  • "This shooting should not have happened," said the district attorney. "But this officer's decision was made in the context of the false call." Finch was shot 10 seconds after opening his front door, and his family's civil case against the police department is still going forward.
  • Two other gamers involved in the shooting -- including one who allegedly hired Barriss over a $1.50 bet in the game Call of Duty -- have not been charged with a crime.

Classic Games (Games)

Guinness Strips Billy 'King of Kong' Mitchell's World Records (engadget.com) 58

In February, legendary arcade gamer Billy Mitchell was accused of cheating his way into the record books for high scores in Donkey Kong. As a result, he was stripped of his 1.062 million score on the Donkey Kong Forums. Today, Kotaku reports that "Guinness World Records will remove Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong scores, as well as his records for Pac-Man, from their database following Mitchell's disqualification from the Twin Galaxies leaderboards yesterday." From the report: Mitchell is one of the world's most famous arcade game players, at one time holding world records in Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, and Pac-Man. Yesterday, all of Mitchell's records were removed from the leaderboards at Twin Galaxies, an organization that tracks video game records and high scores. The decision came after a lengthy arbitration process determined that Mitchell used the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) to achieve some record scores that had been said to be performed on arcade machines, a violation of Twin Galaxies' rules. In light of this, Guinness World Records will also remove his records.

"The Guinness World Records titles relating to Mr. Mitchell's highest scores on Donkey Kong have all been disqualified due to Twin Galaxies being our source of verification for these achievements," a representative of Guinness told Kotaku via email. Mitchell did not return request for comment. Guinness continued, "We also recognize records for First perfect score on Pac-Man and Highest score on Pac-Man. Twin Galaxies was the original source of verification for these record titles and in line with their decision to remove all of Mr. Mitchell's records from their system, we have disqualified Mr. Mitchell as the holder of these two records. Guinness World Records will look to update and find the appropriate holder of these records in the next few days."

Graphics

Intel Reportedly Designing Arctic Sound Discrete GPU For Gaming, Pro Graphics (hothardware.com) 68

MojoKid shares a report from HotHardware: When AMD's former graphics boss Raja Koduri landed at Intel after taking a much-earned hiatus from the company, it was seen as a major coup for the Santa Clara chip outfit, one that seemed to signal that Intel might be targeting to compete in the discrete graphics card market. While nothing has been announced in that regard, some analysts are claiming that there will indeed be a gaming variant of Intel's upcoming discrete "Arctic Sound" GPU. According to reports, Intel originally planned to build Arctic Sound graphics chips mainly for video streaming chores and data center activities. However, claims are surfacing that the company has since decided to build out a gaming variant at the behest of Koduri, who wants to "enter the market with a bang." Certainly a gaming GPU that could compete with AMD and NVIDIA would accomplish that goal. Reportedly, Intel could pull together two different version of Arctic Sound. One would be an integrated chip package, like the Core i7-8809G (Kaby Lake-G) but with Intel's own discrete graphics, as well as a standalone chip that will end up in a traditional graphics cards. Likely both of those will have variants designed for gaming, just as AMD and NVIDIA build GPUs for professional use and gaming as well.
Privacy

Steam Spy Announces It's Shutting Down, Blames Valve's New Privacy Settings 97

Steam Spy, the world's most comprehensive game ownership and play estimator available to the public, announced that it "won't be able to operate anymore" thanks to recent changes to Valve's privacy policy. "Valve just made a change to their privacy settings, making games owned by Steam users hidden by default," the site's operators announced on its official Twitter account. "Steam Spy relied on this information being visible by default." The creator of the website, Sergey Galyonkin, suggested that the site will only remain as an "archive" from here on out. Ars Technica reports: Indeed, Steam's new private-by-default setting is the kind of proactive, data-protective move that sites like Facebook have faced repeated scrutiny about over the past decade. However, as of press time, we could not confirm exactly how these updated settings will work, thanks to the service's "edit privacy settings" page currently appearing blank. (This can be found in the Steam interface by selecting the word "profile" under the menu that appears when mousing over your username.)

Valve pointed out that Steam will also receive a long, long, long-awaited "invisible" function for Steam's online-status toggle, which will allow players to actively communicate with Steam friends while hiding from the general public, and that it will also specifically let players hide both game ownership and gameplay time counts from friends. The company explained that Tuesday's changes came "directly from user feedback," which Steam Spy founder Sergey Galyonkin questioned via his site's Twitter feed: "They said it was by users feedback which makes me as a person born in the Soviet Union very suspicious :)" After Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney applauded Valve's privacy-minded policy change, Galyonkin responded with his own opinion on why so much data was open on Steam in the first place: "This was always a compromise between being able to play with other people and privacy," he wrote in response. "It seems they moved towards privacy now."
Sony

Sony PlayStation 5 Unlikely To Arrive Until 2020: Gizmodo (kotaku.com) 46

A recent online rumor got people buzzing about a possible 2018 release of PlayStation 5, but that's probably not going to happen, Gizmodo reports. Citing a source, the outlet says it believes the next PlayStation may not arrive until 2020. From the report: It's been nearly five years since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched, which has triggered bouts of nervousness and excitement among video game fans who want to know when they'll have to start hoarding pennies for a new generation of consoles. The PS4 launched seven years after the PS3, the Xbox One eight years after the Xbox 360. It's not unreasonable to be thinking about the next generation. We don't have a concrete answer just yet, but we have been asking around, and what we've heard is a whole lot of uncertainty.
Classic Games (Games)

Original 'System Shock' Code Open Sourced, More Updates Promised (kickstarter.com) 39

"The folks at Nightdive Studios this week released the source code for a Mac version of Looking Glass Studios' 1994 classic System Shock," reports Gamasutra. Friday the game's new owners unveiled on GitHub "the original, unaltered source code that was discovered by OtherSide Entertainment and graciously shared with us a few months ago... We have been hard at work updating this code and plan to release a new version of System Shock: Enhanced Edition as well as the code in the near future." We've gone back to the original vision we shared with you at the start of our Kickstarter campaign -- this time with more reliable performance and higher fidelity visuals thanks to the Unreal Engine... We have been able to re-use the majority of work we've done over the past year and we're making significant progress in a very short amount of time. With that said we'll be inviting our highest tier backers to privately test the game beginning in September at which point we estimate that the game will be fully playable, from start to finish. The majority of the art won't be finished, but we'll be ready to start high-level testing.
Going forward there's even a Twitch component. "In an effort to remain transparent throughout development we're going to begin streaming on a regular basis and inviting the backers to join us." And the audio department has also revealed some of the music from the medical deck.

After their Kickstarter was funded, Nightdive had explored making a "bigger, better game" after receiving a verbal commitment from a game publisher, but then "were left high and dry after making crucial, consequential changes in staff and scope... We still have the funds necessary to complete the game, but the timeline will inevitably move back with our shift in direction..."

"This will be closer to a 1:1 remake with updates to the weapon/character designs but without altering the core gameplay of the original."
Security

McAfee Finds That Gamers Are Strong Candidates for Cybersecurity Jobs (venturebeat.com) 62

To beat cybercriminals, McAfee suggests in a new report that gamers may be the key candidates for cybersecurity jobs. From a report: The Santa Clara, California-based cybersecurity company said it did a survey of 300 senior security managers and 650 security professionals at major corporations. And 78 percent of respondents said that the current generation entering the work force -- those that grew up playing video games -- are stronger candidates for cybersecurity roles. The report suggests that gamers, those engaged and immersed in online competitions, may be the logical next step to plugging the skills gap.

92 percent of respondents believe that gaming affords players experience and skills critical to cybersecurity threat hunting: logic, perseverance, an understanding of how to approach adversaries and a fresh outlook compared to traditional cybersecurity hires. Three-quarters of senior managers say they would consider hiring a gamer even if that person had no specific cybersecurity training or experience. 72 percent of respondents say hiring experienced video gamers into the IT department seems like a good way to plug the cybersecurity skills gap.

Software

Valve Removes Steam Machines From Its Home Page (extremetech.com) 164

Steam Machines were supposed to take PC gaming mainstream by simplifying setup and moving the games in your living room, but they never took off. Today, ExtremeTech reports that Valve has removed Steam Machine listings from the Steam front page due to poor sales. From the report: You can still access what remains of the Steam Machine landing site via a direct link -- not that you'll see much when you get there. It lists only five devices, one of which is no longer available on the manufacturer's site. Several of the remaining systems are arguably not even Steam Machines as Valve envisioned -- they run Windows 10 instead of SteamOS. The final nail in the coffin for Steam Machines may have come from Valve itself. In late 2015, it released the Steam Link. It's a small box that you plug into a TV, allowing you to stream a game from your PC in real time. The original price was just $50, and Valve is basically giving them away right now. Valve is still developing SteamOS, but I don't expect that to go on much longer.
Microsoft

Microsoft To Ban 'Offensive Language' From Skype, Xbox, Office and Other Services (csoonline.com) 317

According to Microsoft's new Terms of Services agreement, you could get banned for "offensive language," resulting in the termination of your Gold Membership and/or any Microsoft account balances. The changes go into effect on May 1. CSO Online reports: [I]f you and a significant other are getting hot and heavy via Skype, you better watch your language and any nudity because that, too, can get you banned. The ban hammer could also fall if Cortana is listening at the wrong moment or if documents and files hosted on Microsoft services violate Microsoft's amended terms. But how would Microsoft even know if you had truly been "offensive?" Well, that part falls under Code of Conduct Enforcement, which states, "When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue." Microsoft did add, "However, we cannot monitor the entire Services and make no attempt to do so." I'm not sure that will make you feel better, as another portion states that Microsoft "may also block delivery of a communication (like email, file sharing or instant message) to or from the Services in an effort to enforce these Terms or we may remove or refuse to publish Your Content for any reason."
Graphics

Ask Slashdot: How Did Real-Time Ray Tracing Become Possible With Today's Technology? 145

dryriver writes: There are occasions where multiple big tech manufacturers all announce the exact same innovation at the same time -- e.g. 4K UHD TVs. Everybody in broadcasting and audiovisual content creation knew that 4K/8K UHD and high dynamic range (HDR) were coming years in advance, and that all the big TV and screen manufacturers were preparing 4K UHD HDR product lines because FHD was beginning to bore consumers. It came as no surprise when everybody had a 4K UHD product announcement and demo ready at the same time. Something very unusual happened this year at GDC 2018 however. Multiple graphics and GPU companies, like Microsoft, Nvidia, and AMD, as well as other game developers and game engine makers, all announced that real-time ray tracing is coming to their mass-market products, and by extension, to computer games, VR content and other realtime 3D applications.

Why is this odd? Because for many years any mention of 30+ FPS real-time ray tracing was thought to be utterly impossible with today's hardware technology. It was deemed far too computationally intensive for today's GPU technology and far too expensive for anything mass market. Gamers weren't screaming for the technology. Technologists didn't think it was doable at this point in time. Raster 3D graphics -- what we have in DirectX, OpenGL and game consoles today -- was very, very profitable and could easily have evolved further the way it has for another 7 to 8 years. And suddenly there it was: everybody announced at the same time that real-time ray tracing is not only technically possible, but also coming to your home gaming PC much sooner than anybody thought. Working tech demos were shown. What happened? How did real-time ray tracing, which only a few 3D graphics nerds and researchers in the field talked about until recently, suddenly become so technically possible, economically feasible, and so guaranteed-to-be-profitable that everybody announced this year that they are doing it?
AI

EA Created An AI That Taught Itself To Play Battlefield (kotaku.com) 59

Electronic Arts' Search for Extraordinary Experiences (SEED) Division has created a "self-learning AI-agent" that has managed to teach itself how to play Battlefield 1 multiplayer. From a report: In this blog post, Magnus Nordin from SEED details how his team, inspired by Google's work with old Atari games, wondered "how much effort it would take to have a self-learning agent learn to play a modern and more complex first person AAA game like Battlefield." So they tried to find out. The results are an "agent" that, while inferior to human players, "is pretty proficient at the basic Battlefield gameplay." The agent changes behaviour if it's low on health or ammo, and while more complex behaviours like knowing the details of each map are beyond it (at the moment), EA has found that "while the human players outperformed the agents, it wasn't a complete blowout by any stretch."
Graphics

NVIDIA RTX Technology To Usher In Real-Time Ray Tracing Holy Grail of Gaming Graphics (hothardware.com) 159

HotHardware writes: NVIDIA has been dabbling in real-time ray tracing for over a decade. However, the company just introduced NVIDIA RTX, which is its latest effort to deliver real-time ray tracing to game developers and content creators for implementation in actual game engines. Historically, the computational horsepower to perform real-time ray tracing has been too great to be practical in actual games, but NVIDIA hopes to change that with its new Volta GPU architecture and the help of Microsoft's new DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API enhancements. Ray tracing is a method by which images are enhanced by tracing rays or paths of light as they bounce in and around an object (or objects) in a scene. Under optimum conditions, ray tracing delivers photorealistic imagery with shadows that are correctly cast; water effects that show proper reflections and coloring; and scenes that are cast with realistic lighting effects. NVIDIA RTX is a combination of software (the company's Gameworks SDK, now with ray tracing support), and next generation GPU hardware. NVIDIA notes its Volta architecture has specific hardware support for real-time ray tracing, including offload via its Tensor core engines. To show what's possible with the technology, developers including Epic, 4A Games and Remedy Entertainment will be showcasing their own game engine demonstrations this week at the Game Developers Conference. NVIDIA expects the ramp to be slow at first, but believes eventually most game developers will adopt real-time ray tracing in the future.
Games

New Study Which Made 90 Adults Play 'GTA' or 'The Sims 3' For At least 30 Mins Every Day For 2 Months Finds 'No Significant Changes' in Their Behavior (arstechnica.com) 193

A new, longer-term study of video game play from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Germany's University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf recently published in Molecular Psychiatry found that adults showed "no significant changes" on a wide variety of behavioral measures after two straight months of daily violent game play. From a report: To correct for the "priming" effects inherent in these other studies, researchers had 90 adult participants play either Grand Theft Auto V or The Sims 3 for at least 30 minutes every day over eight weeks (a control group played no games during the testing period). The adults chosen, who ranged from 18 to 45 years old, reported little to no video game play in the previous six months and were screened for pre-existing psychological problems before the tests. The participants were subjected to a wide battery of 52 established questionnaires intended to measure "aggression, sexist attitudes, empathy, and interpersonal competencies, impulsivity-related constructs (such as sensation seeking, boredom proneness, risk taking, delay discounting), mental health (depressivity, anxiety) as well as executive control functions." The tests were administered immediately before and immediately after the two-month gameplay period and also two months afterward, in order to measure potential continuing effects. Over 208 separate comparisons (52 tests; violent vs. non-violent and control groups; pre- vs. post- and two-months-later tests), only three subjects showed a statistically significant effect of the violent gameplay at a 95 percent confidence level.
Emulation (Games)

How Hardware Artisans Are Keeping Classic Video Gaming Alive (fastcompany.com) 75

Slashdot reader harrymcc writes, "If you want to play classic Nintendo games, you could buy a vintage Super NES. Or you could use an emulator. Or -- if you're really serious -- you could use floating point gate arrays to design a new console that makes them look great on modern TVs." He shares Fast Company's article about "some of the other folks using new hardware to preserve the masterworks of the past." Analogue created its system with HDTVs in mind, so every game looks as good or maybe even better than I remember from childhood. Playing the same cartridges on my actual Super Nintendo is more like looking through a dirty window... Another company called RetroUSB has also used Field Programmable Gate Arrays to create its own version of the original Nintendo. And if you already own any classic systems like I do, there's a miniature industry of aftermarket hardware that will make those consoles look better on modern televisions.
The article also notes "throwback consoles" from AtGames and Hyperkin, as well as the Open Source Scan Converter, "a crude-looking device that converts SCART input to HDMI output with no distinguishable lag from the game controller." Analogue's CEO Christopher Taber "argues that software emulation is inherently less accurate than re-creating systems at the hardware level," and describes Analogue engineer Kevin Horton as "someone who's obscenely talented at what he's doing... He's applying it to making perfect, faithful, aftermarket video game systems to preserve playing these systems in an unadulterated way."

And in the end the article's author feels that Analogue's Super NT -- a reverse-engineered Super Nintendo -- "just feels more like the real thing. Unlike an emulator, the Super Nt doesn't let you save games from any point or switch to slow motion, and the only modern gameplay concession it offers is the ability to reset the game through a controller shortcut. Switching to a different game still requires you to get off the couch, retrieve another cartridge, and put it into the system, which feels kind of like listening to a vinyl album instead of a Spotify playlist."
Games

Daily Dose of Violent Video Games Causes 'No Significant Changes' In Behavior, Study Finds (arstechnica.com) 192

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A new, longer-term study of video game play from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Germany's University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf recently published in Molecular Psychiatry found that adults showed "no significant changes" on a wide variety of behavioral measures after two straight months of daily violent game play. Most scientific studies on the effects of video game violence measure participants right after the completion of a gameplay session, when the adrenaline prompted by the on-screen action is likely still pumping. Researcher Simone Kuhn and her co-authors argue that "effects observed only for a few minutes after short sessions of video gaming are not representative of what society at large is actually interested in, namely how habitual violent video game play affects behavior on a more long-term basis." To correct for the "priming" effects inherent in these other studies, researchers had 90 adult participants play either Grand Theft Auto V or The Sims 3 for at least 30 minutes every day over eight weeks (a control group played no games during the testing period). The adults chosen, who ranged from 18 to 45 years old, reported little to no video game play in the previous six months and were screened for pre-existing psychological problems before the tests. Over 208 separate comparisons (52 tests; violent vs. non-violent and control groups; pre- vs. post- and two-months-later tests), only three subjects showed a statistically significant effect of the violent gameplay at a 95 percent confidence level. Pure chance would predict more than 10 of the 208 comparisons would be significant at that level, leading the researchers to conclude "that there were no detrimental effects of violent video game play."
Google

Google Opens Maps To Bring the Real World Into Games (engadget.com) 49

Video games may soon look a lot more like the real world. If you've enjoyed the thrill of driving through GTA V and spying out Los Angeles landmarks, then that's a sentiment you're probably going to start feeling a lot more often while you play video games. From a report: The search firm is both opening its Maps platform's real-time data and offering new software toolkits that will help developers build games based on that data. The software includes both a kit to translate map info to the Unity game engine as well as another to help make games using that location data. The combination turns buildings and other landmarks into customizable 3D objects, and lets you manipulate those objects to fit your game world. It can replace every real hotel into an adventurer's inn, for instance, or add arbitrary points of interest for the sake of checkpoints.
Games

Google and Ubisoft Are Teaming Up To Improve Online Multi-Player Video Games (fortune.com) 52

Google and Ubisoft announced on Tuesday they have a new project intended to improve the performance of fast-paced, online multi-player video games. From a report: The search giant said it teamed with Ubisoft -- the publisher of popular video games like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry -- to create a gaming developer framework intended for coders that work on online video games. The project is called Agones, which is Greek for "contest" or "gathering," and it will be available in open-source, meaning developers can use it for free and also contribute to the underlying technology. Google pitches Agones as a more cutting-edge way for developers to build multi-player games that don't crash or stutter when thousands of video gamers play at the same time.

Each time people want to play their favorite first-person shooter or other computer resource-heavy online video game with others, the underlying infrastructure that powers the online video game must create a special gaming server that hosts the players. The Agones framework was designed to more efficiently distribute the computing resources necessary to support each online gaming match, thus reducing the complexity of creating each special server while helping coders better track how the computing resources are being used.

Crime

Kansas 'Swat' Perpetrator Is Now Also Wanted in Florida (kansas.com) 87

An anonymous reader writes: Florida police recount how close they were to aresting 25-year-old Tyler Barriss before his fake call to Kansas police led to a fatal shooting. "Panama City Beach police Lt. J.R. Talamantez told the Panama City News Herald that police had tied Barriss to about 30 other bomb threats," reports the Wichita Eagle -- a full month before another call led to the fatal shooting of a father of two in Kansas. But attempts to secure an arrest warrant may have been slowed by the lack of an address, since apparently Barriss "lived in a shelter in South Los Angeles. Police there found him in a local library."

A Florida newspaper reports that their local police department is now doing what they can to right the situation. "Lt. J.R. Talamantez, cyber crimes investigator with the Panama City Beach police, said the department currently has two felony warrants issued for Barris' arrest and is providing the U.S. Attorney's Office with information... Talamantez said the end goal is to identify all victims of Barriss' calls and bring him to justice on all those incidents... "We just want to send a message that this isn't going to end with a slap on the wrist. The victims will see an appropriate punishment."

Nintendo

Google Maps Apps Add 'Mario Kart' Feature (wlwt.com) 35

An anonymous reader quotes WLWT News: Starting Saturday, "Mario Time" will be available on the Google Maps app for iOS and Android, letting you drive around town with Mario as your guide, cruising the app in a go-kart similar to the iconic "Mario Kart" video game. When users launch the latest version of the app, the feature is activated by tapping a "?" beside the start button normally used to start navigation.
It includes sound effects -- "Woo-hoo! Let's-a go!" says Mario -- and will be available for the next week. It's to commemorate "Mario Day" -- Mar.10 -- that magical time of year one Portland newspaper has described as "the most manufactured of corporate holidays," on which Nintendo lowers the price on their Super Mario Run app and offers other discounts.
AI

Why Humans Learn Faster Than AI (technologyreview.com) 98

What is it about human learning that allows us to perform so well with relatively little experience? MIT Technology Review: Today we get an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Rachit Dubey and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley. They have studied the way humans interact with video games to find out what kind of prior knowledge we rely on to make sense of them. It turns out that humans use a wealth of background knowledge whenever we take on a new game. And this makes the games significantly easier to play. But faced with games that make no use of this knowledge, humans flounder, whereas machines plod along in exactly the same way. Take a look at the computer game shown here. This game is based on a classic called Montezuma's Revenge, originally released for the Atari 8-bit computer in 1984. There is no manual and no instructions; you aren't even told which "sprite" you control. And you get feedback only if you successfully finish the game.

Would you be able to do so? How long would it take? You can try it at this website. In all likelihood, the game will take you about a minute, and in the process you'll probably make about 3,000 keyboard actions. That's what Dubey and co found when they gave the game to 40 workers from Amazon's crowdsourcing site Mechanical Turk, who were offered $1 to finish it. "This is not overly surprising as one could easily guess that the game's goal is to move the robot sprite towards the princess by stepping on the brick-like objects and using ladders to reach the higher platforms while avoiding the angry pink and the fire objects," the researchers say. By contrast, the game is hard for machines: many standard deep-learning algorithms couldn't solve it at all, because there is no way for an algorithm to evaluate progress inside the game when feedback comes only from finishing.

Hardware

Oculus Rift Is Now the Most Popular VR Headset On Steam (venturebeat.com) 60

The Oculus Rift has overtaken the HTC Vive on the monthly Steam hardware survey for the first time since the launch of both headsets in early 2016. VentureBeat reports: The survey is entirely optional and scans a user's PC for various hardware components, including any VR headsets that may be connected. After a few months of catching up to Vive, the Rift was neck-and-neck with its rival in January's survey with 0.9 percent between the two. However, February saw Oculus step past HTC; Rift took 47.31 percent of the total hardware use, and Vive fell to 45.38 percent, leaving just under 2 percent between them. It's still a tight race, then, but this is the first time Rift has managed to surpass Vive. Again, this is in no way confirmation that the Oculus Rift has sold more units than the HTC Vive, as neither headset has had official sales figures released, but it's the best shot we've got at gauging the market share right now. Rift also took the "Most Popular Headset" space in Steam's individual listings for the second time ever.
AI

Ubisoft is Using AI To Catch Bugs in Games Before Devs Make Them (wired.co.uk) 126

AI has a new task: helping to keep the bugs out of video games. From a report: At the recent Ubisoft Developer Conference in Montreal, the French gaming company unveiled a new AI assistant for its developers. Dubbed Commit Assistant, the goal of the AI system is to catch bugs before they're ever committed into code, saving developers time and reducing the number of flaws that make it into a game before release. "I think like many good ideas, it's like 'how come we didn't think about that before?'," says Yves Jacquier, who heads up La Forge, Ubisoft's R&D division in Montreal. His department partners with local universities including McGill and Concordia to collaborate on research intended to advance the field of artificial intelligence as a whole, not just within the industry.

La Forge fed Commit Assistant with roughly ten years' worth of code from across Ubisoft's software library, allowing it to learn where mistakes have historically been made, reference any corrections that were applied, and predict when a coder may be about to write a similar bug. "It's all about comparing the lines of code we've created in the past, the bugs that were created in them, and the bugs that were corrected, and finding a way to make links [between them] to provide us with a super-AI for programmers," explains Jacquier.

Medicine

Videogame Lobbyists Join Scientists To Fight 'Gaming Disorder' Classification (vice.com) 72

Remember when the World Health Organization moved to define a new disease called "gaming disorder"? An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: Multiple video game lobbying groups from around the world have banded together to push back against the classification, and 36 academics, scientists, doctors, and researchers have drafted a paper that called the WHO's methodology and motives into question. The professionals will publish the paper, titled "Weak Basis for Gaming Disorder," in an upcoming issue of Journal of Behavioral Addictions. The article is a collection of well reasoned arguments against classifying "gaming disorder" as a disease, complete with references to extant research...

"We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems," said the article's abstract. "However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have"... To be clear, the article doesn't argue that something isn't going on and that gaming addiction isn't real and isn't a problem. It just thinks that rushing to define it and put it in the the ICD is a bad idea.

AI

AI Cheats at Old Atari Games By Finding Unknown Bugs in the Code (theverge.com) 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: AI research and video games are a match made in heaven. Researchers get a ready-made virtual environment with predefined goals they can control completely, and the AI agent gets to romp around without doing any damage. Sometimes, though, they do break things. Case in point is a paper published this week by a trio of machine learning researchers from the University of Freiburg in Germany. They were exploring a particular method of teaching AI agents to navigate video games (in this case, desktop ports of old Atari titles from the 1980s) when they discovered something odd. The software they were testing discovered a bug in the port of the retro video game Q*bert that allowed it to rack up near infinite points. As the trio describe in the paper, published on pre-print server arXiv, the agent was learning how to play Q*bert when it discovered an "interesting solution." Normally, in Q*bert, players jump from cube to cube, with this action changing the platforms' colors. Change all the colors (and dispatch some enemies), and you're rewarded with points and sent to the next level. The AI found a better way, though: "First, it completes the first level and then starts to jump from platform to platform in what seems to be a random manner. For a reason unknown to us, the game does not advance to the second round but the platforms start to blink and the agent quickly gains a huge amount of points (close to 1 million for our episode time limit)."
Games

Sega Cancels Yakuza 6 Song of Life Free Demo After Gamers Unlocked Full Game (businessinsider.com) 43

Sega pulled the highly anticipated "Yakuza 6: The Song of Life" demo this week from the PlayStation Store after discovering some players had inadvertently gained access to the full game using the demo. From a report: This discovery came only hours after the demo was initially released for PlayStation 4. The Japanese video game company tweeted, "We are as upset as you are, and had hoped to have this demo available for everyone today. We discovered that some were able to use the demo to unlock the full game." [...] When the demo was initially released it required more than 36 GB of storage, to the surprise of many video game critics. Kotaku, an online entertainment publication, suggests that the demo was so large because it actually contained the entire game, but was supposed to restrict everything beyond the first few stages of the game.
Businesses

ESRB Introducing 'In-Game Purchases' Label in Response To Loot Box Controversy (polygon.com) 97

The Entertainment Software Rating Board will begin labeling video games that contain in-game purchases, a response to lawmakers who have noticed the outcry over so-called loot crate systems and have signaled a willingness to legislate them. From a report: The labeling will "be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency," the ESRB said in a news release this morning, "including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads)." The label will appear separate from the familiar ESRB rating label (T-for-Teen, M-for-Mature, etc.) and not inside it. Additionally, the ESRB has begun an awareness campaign meant to highlight the controls available to parents whose households have a video game console.
Government

President Trump: 'We Have To Do Something' About Violent Video Games, Movies (arstechnica.com) 866

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In a White House meeting held with lawmakers on the theme of school safety, President Donald Trump offered both a direct and vague call to action against violence in media by calling out video games and movies. "We have to do something about what [kids are] seeing and how they're seeing it," Trump said during the meeting. "And also video games. I'm hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is shaping more and more people's thoughts." Trump followed this statement by referencing "movies [that] come out that are so violent with the killing and everything else." He made a suggestion for keeping children from watching violent films: "Maybe they have to put a rating system for that." The MPAA's ratings board began adding specific disclaimers about sexual, drug, and violent content in all rated films in the year 2000, which can be found in small text in every MPAA rating box.
Network

Game Industry Pushes Back Against Efforts To Restore Gameplay Servers (arstechnica.com) 246

Kyle Orland reports via Ars Technica: A group of video game preservationists wants the legal right to replicate "abandoned" servers in order to re-enable defunct online multiplayer gameplay for study. The game industry says those efforts would hurt their business, allow the theft of their copyrighted content, and essentially let researchers "blur the line between preservation and play." Both sides are arguing their case to the U.S. Copyright Office right now, submitting lengthy comments on the subject as part of the Copyright Register's triennial review of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Analyzing the arguments on both sides shows how passionate both industry and academia are about the issue, and how mistrust and misunderstanding seem to have infected the debate.
Communications

Researchers Develop Online Game That Teaches Players How To Spread Misinformation 148

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Cambridge researchers have built an online game, simply titled Bad News, in which players compete to become "a disinformation and fake news tycoon." By shedding light on the shady practices, they hope the game will "vaccinate" the public, and make people immune to the spread of untruths. Players of the fake news game must amass virtual Twitter followers by distorting the truth, planting falsehoods, dividing the united, and deflecting attention when rumbled. All the while, they must maintain credibility in the eyes of their audience. The game distills the art of undermining the truth into six key strategies. Once a player has demonstrated a knack for each, they are rewarded with a badge. In one round, players can opt to impersonate the president of the United States and fire off a tweet from a fake account. It declares war on North Korea complete with a #KimJongDone hashtag. At every step, players are asked if they are happy with their actions or feel, perhaps, the twinge of shame, an emotion that leads to the swift reminder that "if you want to become a master of disinformation, you've got to lose the goody two-shoes attitude." The work is due to be published in the Journal of Risk Research.
Nintendo

Enthusiasts have Turned the Nintendo Switch into a Functional Linux Tablet (theverge.com) 96

An anonymous reader shares a report: A couple of weeks ago, the fail0verflow hacking collective showed a still image on Twitter of a Nintendo Switch booting Linux. They're one of a small handful of hacker teams who are teasing exploits of the Nvidia Tegra hardware inside the Switch. But now fail0verflow has video of a full-on Linux distro running on the hacked Switch, complete with touchscreen support, a fully operational web browser, and even a GPU-powered demo application. On Twitter, fail0verflow claims the bug they're exploiting to sidestep the Switch's security can't be patched on currently released hardware, and doesn't require a modchip. But as for now there aren't any details on how to do this yourself at home.
Businesses

Valve Bans Developer After Employees Leave Fake User Reviews (arstechnica.com) 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Insel Games, a Maltese developer of online multiplayer titles, has been banned from Steam and had all its titles removed from Valve's storefront after evidence surfaced that it was encouraging employees to manipulate user review scores on the service. Yesterday, redditor nuttinbutruth posted a purported leaked email from Insel Games' CEO encouraging employees to buy reimbursed copies of the game in order to leave a Steam review. "Of course I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) -- but I should not have to," the email reads. "Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If [Wild Busters] fails, Insel fails... and then we will all have no jobs next year."

In a message later in the day, Valve said it had investigated the claims in the Reddit post and "identified unacceptable behavior involving multiple Steam accounts controlled by the publisher of this game. The publisher appears to have used multiple Steam accounts to post positive reviews for their own games. This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously." While Valve has ended its business relationship with Insel Games, users who previously purchased the company's games on Steam will still be able to use them.

Software

German Authorities Are Considering a Ban On Loot Boxes (heise.de) 106

Slashdot reader Qbertino writes: Heise reports that German authorities are examining loot boxes in video games and considering banning them in the country. Loot boxes might actually even violate laws against calls-to-purchase aimed directly towards minors that are already in effect. German authorities are also checking that. Loot boxes are randomized in-game item purchases that many people consider a form of gambling. The decision to take action against loot boxes in Germany is expected in March. Germany's Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body has since clarified that Germany authorities are not considering a general ban on loot boxes, but are actually examining regulations of online advertising and purchasing as a whole.

"A closer look at the discussion is taking place, ie., if there are any specific risks and where to locate them legally. As part of that analysis the KJM (governmental institution responsible for youth protection regarding to online content/services) is taking a closer look at permitted and prohibited advertising in shop offerings. However these rules apply to online purchases in general, thus also to loot boxes," the rep said. "In the German debate this term [loot box] refers to a broad variety of different in-game or even just game-related purchase systems with more or less randomized items. Hence one cannot say that 'loot boxes' violate German laws, as each integration has to be evaluated as separate case."

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