Japan

Japanese Console Market Grows For the First Time In 11 Years (kotaku.com) 34

According to Famitsu, hardware sales in Japan experienced a huge spike in 2017 compared to the previous year. In 2016, Japanese hardware sales were 117.05 billion yen ($1.05 billion), while in 2017, they jumped to 202.37 billion yen ($1.81 billion). Kotaku reports: Software sales also increased: in 2016, they were 182.4 billion yen ($1.63 billion) and the following year, they were 189.3 billion yen ($1.69 billion). A big part of this increase is due to the Nintendo Switch's brisk hardware sales. The PS4 has also continued to churn out steady numbers. The last time the Japanese gaming market saw an uptick was in 2006, when the Nintendo DS Lite, the Nintendo Wii, the PS3 launched.
XBox (Games)

Xbox One Adds New Achievement, Do Not Disturb Features In Previous Update (gamespot.com) 38

A Preview alpha build is now available for some Xbox One users who take part in the Insiders Program, which allows players to test out new system and game features before they go live to the public. This build contains several new features, such as the Next Achievements feature and a Do Not Disturb feature. GameSpot reports: The biggest addition coming for Xbox Insiders is the Next Achievements feature in the guide. Now, those who test new features and games from Xbox One will be able sort a cross-games list of upcoming Achievements. This way, you can easily see which Achievements you're closest to and quickly launch the game to achieve them. You can also sort your Achievements by how rare they are.

There are also a few tweaks to social settings. A Do Not Disturb online status is coming, which will suppress notifications and let your friends know you're unavailable at the moment. Comments on community posts are also getting an adjustment, and soon you'll be able to peek at the most recent comment and see who has liked your comments. The Narrator is also now able to read large amounts of text.

Graphics

Nvidia's GeForce Now Windows App Transforms Your Cheap Laptop Into a Gaming PC (theverge.com) 100

The GeForce Now game streaming service that Nvidia announced for the Mac last year is finally coming to Windows PCs. According to their website, the service lets you stream high-resolution games from your PC to your Mac or Windows PC that may or may not have the power to run the games natively. Starting this week, beta users of the GeForce Now Mac client will be able to install and run the Windows app. Tom Warren reports via The Verge: I got a chance to play with an early beta of the GeForce Now service on a $400 Windows PC at CES today. My biggest concerns about game streaming services are latency and internet connections, but Nvidia had the service setup using a 50mbps connection on the Wynn hotel's Wi-Fi. I didn't notice a single issue, and it honestly felt like I was playing Player Unknown's Battlegrounds directly on the cheap laptop in front of me. If I actually tried to play the game locally, it would be impossible as the game was barely rendering at all or at 2fps. Nvidia is streaming these games from seven datacenters across the US, and some located in Europe. I was playing in a Las Vegas casino from a server located in Los Angeles, and Nvidia tells me it's aiming to keep latency under 30ms for most customers. There's obviously going to be some big exceptions here, especially if you don't live near a datacenter or your internet connectivity isn't reliable. The game streaming works by dedicating a GPU to each customer, so performance and frame rates should be pretty solid. Nvidia is also importing Steam game collections into the GeForce Now service for Windows, making it even more intriguing for PC gamers who are interested in playing their collection on the go on a laptop that wouldn't normally handle such games.
XBox (Games)

Kinect Is Really Dead Now, Basically (gamespot.com) 110

Microsoft has confirmed that it is no longer producing the Kinect adapter that is needed to connect the Kinect to an Xbox One S, Xbox One X, or other Windows device. This comes after Microsoft announced in October 2017 that it was killing off the Xbox One's Kinect camera. GameSpot reports: "After careful consideration, we decided to stop manufacturing the Xbox Kinect Adapter to focus attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming accessories across Xbox One and Windows 10," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to Polygon. The representative declined to say if Microsoft would ever bring Kinect back. However, the company confirmed that the adapter "will no longer be available" to purchase.
Crime

Call of Duty Gaming Community Points To 'Swatting' In Wichita Police Shooting (dailydot.com) 681

schwit1 shares a report from The Daily Dot: A man was killed by police Thursday night in Wichita, Kansas, when officers responded to a false report of a hostage situation. The online gaming community is saying the dead man was the victim of a swatting prank, where trolls call in a fake emergency and force SWAT teams to descend on a target's house. If that's true, this would be the first reported swatting-related death. Wichita deputy police chief Troy Livingston told the Wichita Eagle that police were responding to a report that a man fighting with his parents had accidentally shot his dad in the head and was holding his mom, brother and sister hostage. When police arrived, "A male came to the front door," Livingston told the Eagle. "As he came to the front door, one of our officers discharged his weapon." The man at the door was identified by the Eagle as 28-year-old Andrew Finch. Finch's mother told reporters "he was not a gamer," but the online Call of Duty community claims his death was the result of a gamer feud which Finch may not have even been a part of.
UPDATE: The New York Daily News reports police in Los Angeles have now arrested 25-year-old gamer Tyler Barriss, who the paper describes as "an alleged serial 'prankster'..."

"Barriss gave cops Finch's address, mistakenly believing it belonged to a person he had feuded with over a $1 or $2 Call of Duty wager."
Media

Kodi Media Player Arrives On the Xbox One (theverge.com) 57

The Kodi media player is now available to download on your Xbox One, making it one of the best Xbox One exclusives of the year. The Verge reports: Kodi is a very capable player that's highly expandable thanks to third-party add-ons like live TV and DVR services -- something Microsoft isn't going to provide. But Kodi is perhaps best known as the go to app for piracy due to a wide variety of plugins that let you illegally stream television shows, professional sports, and films from the comfort of your living room. This has led to a cottage industry of so-called "Kodi boxes," often built around cheap HDMI dongles like Amazon's Fire TV sticks. While the XBMC Foundation has attempted to distance itself from the illegal third-party plugins, it's also benefited from the exposure. In a blog post, Kodi warns that the Xbox One download isn't finished and may contain missing features and bugs. Fun fact: Kodi began life fifteen years ago as the XBMP (Xbox Media Player). The only way to get the open-source player running on an original Xbox was to hack the console. XBMP eventually evolved into XBMC (Xbox Media Center), which then became Kodi.
Privacy

That Game on Your Phone May Be Tracking What You're Watching on TV (nytimes.com) 98

Rick Zeman writes: The New York Times (may be paywalled) has an article describing how some apps track TV and movie viewing even when the loaded app isn't currently active. These seemingly innocuous games, geared towards both adults and children work by "using a smartphone's microphone. For instance, Alphonso's software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see. The information can then be used to target ads more precisely...." While these apps, mostly available on Google play, with some available on the Apple Store, do offer an opt opt, it's not clear when consumers see "permission for microphone access for ads," it may not be clear to a user that, "Oh, this means it's going to be listening to what I do all the time to see if I'm watching 'Monday Night Football."'
One advertising executive summarizes thusly: "It's not what's legal. It is what's not creepy."

Earth

The WHO May Recognize Excessive Video Gaming As Mental Health Disorder (cbsnews.com) 125

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: The World Health Organization is poised to classify "gaming disorder" as a mental health problem in its 2018 update of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Gaming disorder could be diagnosed if a person's video game habit "is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning," according a tentative draft of WHO's 11th update to the ICD. Licensed marriage and family therapist Paula-Jo Husack said common symptoms for children and adults include social isolation, trouble transitioning from one thought to another, reduction in empathy, loss of appetite and loss of sensory perception. The WHO said those symptoms generally need to persist for at least a year before doctors diagnose a case of gaming disorder, but added that a diagnosis could be made sooner if symptoms are severe.
Data Storage

Nintendo Delaying 64GB Game Cards For Switch Until 2019, Says Report (kotaku.com) 54

According to The Wall Street Journal, Nintendo is pushing back the introduction of larger 64GB game cards for the Switch. Nintendo had planned to make them available during the second half of 2018, but has reportedly told developers that they would have to wait. The reason is reportedly due to technical issues. Kotaku reports: As Kotaku previously reported, Nintendo's Switch games keep their size slim, with downloads for Super Mario Odyssey, Arms and Splatoon 2 ranging from 2-6GB. However, third party developers have been releasing bigger, data-heavy games, outpacing the Switch's 24GB of usable onboard memory. The Journal notes that Nintendo has already sold over 10 million Switch consoles, meaning developers could continue to flock to the platform, regardless.
DRM

DMCA Exemption Sought to Save 'Abandoned' Online Games (techspot.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes TechSpot: Every three years the US Copyright Office reviews and renews the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions at which time it considers exemptions to the law. It is currently looking at a proposal for allowing museums, libraries and archives to circumvent the DRM on abandoned online games such as FIFA World Cup, Nascar and The Sims.

The proposal was initiated by The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (The MADE). The Made is a 501c3 non-profit organization with a physical museum located in Oakland, California. The gallery "is the only all-playable video game museum in the world, [and] houses over 5,300 playable games." The Made is concerned that certain multiplayer and single-player games that require a server to run will be lost if exemptions are not made to the DMCA. It is not looking to circumvent current games but instead is looking to preserve titles that have already been shut down by the producer -- City of Heroes (and Villains) would be a good example.

"Although the Current Exemption does not cover it, preservation of online video games is now critical," a Made representative wrote to the Copyright Office. "Online games have become ubiquitous and are only growing in popularity. For example, an estimated fifty-three percent of gamers play multiplayer games at least once a week, and spend, on average, six hours a week playing with others online." The number of abandoned games is not insignificant, either. According to the Electronic Arts "Online Services Shutdown" list, more than 300 titles and servers dropped out of service just in the last four years. These games are not played anymore because they require an active server.

Christmas Cheer

36,744 People Are Watching Overwatch's Jeff Kaplan Sit Motionless With A Yule Log (kotaku.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes Kotaku: He's been this way for over an hour, and as word's gotten out the audience has swelled to over 30,000... The Twitch stream opened a couple hours ago on an empty chair. A few minutes later Kaplan walked in and sat down. He's been there ever since, sometimes crossing his legs, sometimes uncrossing them, and always looking, watching, waiting. And lest anyone think the stream is somehow a small segment of footage on loop, there have been a few weird moments sprinkled throughout, including one where Jeff gets booped by an off camera boom mic. In the other, less action filled parts, you can feel time passing as the rate of Jeff blinking changes. Three different blinking speeds, we'll call them long stare, short stare, and turbo eye lash flicking, have taken shape in the stream like the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future...

It's boring to the point of being impossible to look away. It's actually the opposite of what this time of year's supposed to be about. You should be having human interactions with other people. Catching up with family and friends. Not sitting with your phone or laptop transfixed by a motionless Jeff Kaplan...so far he's just continued to sit and stare, perhaps pondering the future of the game or that email he forgot to respond to from a few days ago or maybe just the fact the how many Christmas Eves ago he never imagined where he'd be on December 24, 2017.

Software

Apple Says Apps Must Now Disclose Odds For Loot Boxes (kotaku.com) 88

Apple has revised the guidelines for its App Store, including a provision that loot boxes must be transparent about their odds. "Apps offering 'loot boxes' or other mechanisms that provide randomized virtual items for purchase must disclose the odds of receiving each type of item to customers prior to purchase," reads the new rule, which will affect the most popular games on iOS, including Hearthstone, The Simpsons Tapped Out, and Clash Royale. Kotaku reports: Loot boxes, which have always been common in the world of iOS gaming, are virtual grab bags that can give players a host of items ranging from common to rare. Most of the time, you can buy these loot boxes not just for in-game currency but for real money, which has led some players to classify them as gambling -- a label that the Entertainment Software Rating Board doesn't acknowledge. As rage over these practices gets louder and louder, Apple's move is the first of what may be many steps that game publishers and distributors voluntarily take in an attempt to avoid regulation from outside bodies.
Hardware

NVIDIA Titan V Benchmarks Show Volta GPU Compute, Mining and Gaming Strength (hothardware.com) 51

MojoKid shares a report from Hot Hardware: Although NVIDIA officially unveiled its Volta-based GV100 GPU a few months ago, the NVIDIA TITAN V featuring the GV100 began shipping just this past week. The card targets a very specific audience and is designed for professional and academic deep learning applications, which partly explains its lofty $3,000 price tag. Unlike NVIDIA's previous-gen consumer flagship, the TITAN Xp, the TITAN V is not designed for gamers. However, since it features NVIDIA's latest GPU architecture, it potentially foreshadows next-year's consumer-targeted GeForce cards that could possibly be based on Volta. The massive 21.1 billion transistor GV100 GPU powering the TITAN V has a base clock of 1,200MHz and a boost clock of 1,455MHz. The card has 12GB of HBM2 memory on-board that is linked to the GPU via a 3072-bit interface, offering up 652.8 GB/s of peak bandwidth, which is about 100GB/s more than a TITAN Xp. Other features of the GV100 include 5,120 single-precision CUDA cores, 2,560 double-precision FP64 cores, and 630 Tensor cores. Although the card is not designed for gamers, the fact remains that the TITAN V significantly outpaces every other graphics card in a variety of games with the highest image quality settings. In GPU compute workloads, the TITAN V is much more dominant and can offer many times the performance of a high-end NVIDIA TITAN Xp or AMD Radeon RX Vega 64. Finally, when it comes to Ethereum mining, NVIDIA's Titan V is far and away the fastest GPU on the planet currently.
Nintendo

Nintendo Switch Sales Hit 10 Million Units, Could Outdo the Wii (fastcompany.com) 80

Nintendo's big bet on a hybrid portable and home game system is paying off, with 10 million Nintendo Switch units sold in nine months. From a report: Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told Variety that the Switch could even top first-year sales of the Wii, the company's best-selling console yet -- if momentum holds up through the holidays. Strong sales will be important for Nintendo as it tries to convince game publishers to invest in the platform, whose less powerful hardware can't always handle the same games as Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation consoles.
AI

Google's DeepMind AI Becomes a Superhuman Chess Player In a Few Hours (theverge.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: In a new paper published this week, DeepMind describes how a descendant of the AI program that first conquered the board game Go has taught itself to play a number of other games at a superhuman level. After eight hours of self-play, the program bested the AI that first beat the human world Go champion; and after four hours of training, it beat the current world champion chess-playing program, Stockfish. Then for a victory lap, it trained for just two hours and polished off one of the world's best shogi-playing programs named Elmo (shogi being a Japanese version of chess that's played on a bigger board). One of the key advances here is that the new AI program, named AlphaZero, wasn't specifically designed to play any of these games. In each case, it was given some basic rules (like how knights move in chess, and so on) but was programmed with no other strategies or tactics. It simply got better by playing itself over and over again at an accelerated pace -- a method of training AI known as "reinforcement learning."
Piracy

Gamer Streams Pay-Per-View UFC Fight By Pretending To Play It (theverge.com) 75

WheezyJoe writes: A pay-per-view UFC Match was streamed in its entirety on Twitch and other platforms by a gamer pretending he was "playing" the fight as a game. The gamer, AJ Lester, appearing in the corner of the image holding his game controller, made off like he was controlling the action of the "game" when in fact he was re-broadcasting the fight for free. A tweet showing Lester's antics went viral with over 63,000 retweets and 140,000 likes at the time of publication. Another clip shows him reacting wildly yelling "oooooooooooooooh!!!" and "damnnnnnn!" in response to the match.
The Courts

Free Game Company Sues 14-Year-Old Over 'Cheats' Video -- Claiming DMCA Violation (bbc.co.uk) 239

Bizzeh shared this report from the BBC: A mother has written a letter in defense of her 14-year-old son who is facing a lawsuit over video game cheats in the US. Caleb Rogers is one of two people facing legal action from gaming studio Epic Games for using cheat software to play the free game Fortnite. The studio says it has taken the step because the boy declined to remove a YouTube video he published which promoted how to use the software... "This company is in the process of attempting to sue a 14-year-old child," she wrote in the letter which has been shared online by the news site Torrentfreak.

Ms. Rogers added that she had not given her son parental consent to play the game as stated in its terms and conditions, and that as the game was free to play the studio could not claim loss of profit as a result of the cheats... In a statement given to the website Kotaku, Epic Games said the lawsuit was a result of Mr. Rogers "filing a DMCA counterclaim to a takedown notice on a YouTube video that exposed and promoted Fortnite Battle Royale cheats and exploits... Epic is not OK with ongoing cheating or copyright infringement from anyone at any age," it said.

Cory Doctorow counters that the 14-year-old "correctly asserted that there was no copyright infringement here. Videos that capture small snippets of a videogame do not violate that game creator's copyrights, because they are fair use..."
Sci-Fi

Destiny 2 Misrepresented XP Gains To Its Players Until the Developers Got Caught (arstechnica.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Destiny 2, like its predecessor, depends largely on an open-ended "end game" system. Once you beat the game's primary "quest" content, you can return to previously covered ground to find remixed and upgraded battles, meant to be played ad nauseam alone or with friends. To encourage such replay, Bungie dangles a carrot of XP gain, which works more slowly than during the campaign stages. Players are awarded a "bright engram" every time they "level up" past the level cap; the engrams are essentially loot boxes that contain a random assortment of cosmetics and weapon mods. Everything you do in the game, from killing a weak bad guy to completing a major raid-related milestone, is supposed to reward you a fixed XP amount. As series fans gear up for the game's first expansion, slated to launch December 5 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, its eagle-eyed fans at r/DestinyTheGame began questioning whether those rewards were really as fixed as claimed. Some players began to suspect that they were actually getting less XP than advertised each time they repeated certain in-game missions and tasks, such as the game's "Public Events."

With stopwatch in hand, a user named EnergiserX tracked the modes he played, keeping an eye on any shifts in XP gain over time. He put enough data together to confirm those suspicions: the XP gained in certain modes would shrink with each repetition. Worse, the game gave no indication of these diminishing returns. The XP-gain numbers that popped up above the game's XP bar didn't reflect the game's hidden scaling system. Thus, there was no way for a player to accurately calculate how their XP gain had been affected or scaled without going through EnergiserX's exhaustive process. With findings in hand, the tester posted on Reddit with calls to the developers for a response, which the community received on Saturday. Bungie confirmed its use of an "XP scaler" and added that it was "not performing the way we'd like it to," which meant the developer would remove that XP-scaling system upon the game's next patch. However, Bungie didn't clarify how the developers actually would have liked for this XP-scaling system to work, nor what factored into it announcing any changes beyond the system simply being discovered.
Bungie issued a patch on Sunday that removed the XP-scaling systems, but it introduced another unannounced change to the XP system. "Bungie decided to tune the speed of XP gain by doubling the required XP needed to 'level up,' from 80,000 points to 160,000," reports Ars Technica. "Patch notes didn't mention this change; Bungie, once again, had to be questioned by its fanbase before confirming the exact amount of this XP-related change."
Cellphones

Pokemon Go Led To Increase In Traffic Deaths and Accidents, Says Study (arstechnica.com) 80

A new study from Purdue University uses detailed local traffic accident reports to suggest that Pokemon Go caused a marked increase in vehicle damages, injuries, and even deaths due to people playing the game while driving. Ars Technica reports: In the provocatively titled "Death by Pokemon Go" (which has been shared online but has yet to be peer-reviewed), Purdue professors Mara Faccio and John J. McConnell studied nearly 12,000 accident reports in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, in the months before and after Pokemon Go's July 6, 2016 launch. The authors then cross-referenced those reports with the locations of Pokestops in the county (where players visit frequently to obtain necessary in-game items) to determine whether the introduction of a Pokestop correlated with an increase in accident frequency, relative to intersections that didn't have them. While the incidence of traffic accidents increased across the county after Pokemon Go's introduction, that increase was a statistically significant 26.5 percent greater at intersections within 100 meters of a Pokestop, compared to those farther away. All told, across the county, the authors estimate 134 extra accidents occurred near Pokestops in the 148-day period immediately after the game came out, compared to the baseline where those Pokestops didn't exist. That adds up to nearly $500,000 in vehicle damage, 31 additional injuries, and two additional deaths across the county, based on extrapolation from the accident reports.

The study uses a regression model to account for potential confounding variables like school breaks and inclement weather, which could cause variation separate from Pokemon Go. The model also compares Pokestops to Pokegyms (where it was nearly impossible to play while driving) to account for the possibility that generally increased traffic to Pokemon Go locations was leading to more accidents, even among drivers who stopped and parked before playing. In all cases, though, being able to compare to intersections without a Pokestop and to the same dates the year before, helped provide natural control variables for the study.

Star Wars Prequels

Legislators Take Aim At Star Wars Battlefront II, EA Over 'Gambling In Games' (polygon.com) 72

dryriver writes: A number of pay-to-win microtransaction FPS games, including Dirty Bomb and the $60 Star Wars Battlefront II, have drawn the ire of legislators in countries like Belgium and the United States. Not only are advanced characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and various weapons and abilities in these games "locked" -- you pay for them in hard cash, or play for them for dozens and dozens of tedious hours -- the games also feature so called "Loot Boxes," which are boxes that contain a random item, weapon, character or ability. So like playing slot machines in Vegas, each time you can get something good, something mediocre or something totally crap. You cannot determine with any certainty what you will get for your real-world dollars or in-game achievements. Angry Reddit users recently downvoted a blundering statement by EA on the topic with a whopping 249,000 downvotes -- an all time downvote record on Reddit, shocking EA into retreating from its pay-to-win model and announcing unspecified "changes" now being made to Star Wars Battlefront II. Legislators in a number of countries have also sharply criticized "Loot Boxes" and "microtransactions" in games, with one legislator in Belgium vowing to have the sale of such games banned completely in the EU, because children are essentially being forced to "gamble with real money" in these games. Forbes has written a great piece about how EA is now essentially stuck with a $60 Star Wars game that cost a lot to make but probably cannot be monetized any further, because there is considerable risk of all games with loot boxes, microtransactions and "pay to win" monetization models being completely banned from sale in a number of different countries now. The morale of the story? Maybe people should not pay a game developer any more than the $40-60 they paid when they thought they "bought" the game in the first place.

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