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.

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