Xbox Live is down for many (Update: It’s back up)

Xbox Live is down for many (Update: It’s back up)

5:09am, 3rd September, 2019
If you were trying to sneak in a quick game on Xbox Live during your Friday afternoon lunch break and found that you can’t get online: don’t worry, you’re not alone. While still says all things are good to go (Update: Microsoft’s status page has now caught up with the outage, and says that it’s impacting sign-ins, account creations and searches), reports are pouring in of an outage keeping many users from logging in. Microsoft acknowledged the problem on Twitter, saying that they’re “looking into it now.” Update, 2:30 PM: It’s back up! The status page shows all lights as green again, and a Microsoft spokesperson says that services have been fully restored. We're aware that some users are unable to sign in currently & our teams are looking into it now. We'll update when we have more info to share. Thanks for all the reports! — Xbox Support (@XboxSupport)
The spectacle of Gen Con, the country’s largest (and possibly friendliest) tabletop game convention

The spectacle of Gen Con, the country’s largest (and possibly friendliest) tabletop game convention

11:50am, 4th August, 2019
Your intrepid Seattle-based gaming correspondent Tim Ellis (that’s me) hit the road this weekend to visit Indianapolis, home of , the nation’s largest and oldest tabletop gaming convention. The main Expo Hall at Gen Con The convention spreads out across the entire Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts), and the ballroom space of several large nearby hotels. More than 60,000 attendees crowd the venues, seeking out classic games, tabletop role-playing, brand new releases, upcoming titles, and prototypes of games still being developed. The scene at the con is crowded, but super friendly. Even in the jam-packed hallways waiting for the main expo hall to open, the crowd is upbeat and joins together in a cheerful chant of “here we come!” Although people come from all over the country (and world) to attend Gen Con, the famous really comes through as you interact with your fellow attendees. Strangers will strike up a conversation with you in the elevators! I sat down to play a demo of one two-player game and the company rep running the demo had no problem at all getting a random passer-by to happily join me. As I played through another game demo, a stranger came up and started asking me questions about it! These are all experiences I don’t think I’ve ever had at the similar Seattle-based gaming convention West, where the Seattle freeze seems to extend into the convention center. A giant game of Catan takes place at Gen Con Speaking of PAX, the expo hall at Gen Con is focused on low-tech physical games made mostly of cardboard, wood, and plastic, and thus has a very different feel from the equivalent space at PAX (which includes tabletop gaming but is dominated by video games). The Gen Con expo hall is bright and relatively quiet. Rather than a cacophony of game demos blasting at your ears from every direction, there’s just the quiet murmur of the crows. It also lacks the giant displays, massive props, and enormous video screens that make up the bulk of the vendor booths in the PAX expo hall. There are a few traces of video gaming at Gen Con, including a classic arcade room and an appearance from the controversial arcade gaming legend Billy Mitchell, of “King of Kong” fame, the classic documentary that pitted him against Seattle-area teacher Steve Wiebe. Mitchell is here to make a live attempt at a “perfect game” on Pac-Man. Controversial arcade gaming legend Billy Mitchell, of “King of Kong” fame, attempts a “perfect game” on Pac-Man at Gen Con Many Seattle-based game companies also made the trip out to Indianapolis to show off their latest, including Funko Games, Ravensburger, , and many small indie game publishers and developers like and (run by former ). Even Penny Arcade (creators of PAX) have a small booth focused on . Here’s a look inside the show this weekend, for everyone who isn’t here in Indianapolis:
Roblox hits 100 million monthly active users

Roblox hits 100 million monthly active users

10:44am, 4th August, 2019
Roblox is big. Bigger than Minecraft big. The massively multiple online title has been around since 2006, but the game has been achieving a crazy amount of momentum of late. On Friday, it announced that it’s grown past 100 million monthly active users, pushing past Minecraft, which is currently in the (still impressive) low-90s. Here’s the service’s dizzying growth since February 2016, who it was hovering around 9 million players. That’s more than 10x growth in a three and a half year span. User-Generated content is a big part of that number, and the company notes that it has around 40 million user created experiences in the game at present. Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox “We started Roblox over a decade ago with a vision to bring people from all over the world together through play,” founder and CEO David Baszucki said of the big new round number. “Roblox began with just 100 players and a handful of creators who inspired one another, unlocking this groundswell of creativity, collaboration, and imagination that continues to grow.” The company behind the game has also been pumping some big money into development. It paid $30 million in 2017 and $60 million in 2018. Next week, it will be hosting hundreds of attendees at its fifth Roblox Developer Conference. Per the new numbers, around 40 percent Roblox users are female, with players spread out across 200 countries.
E3’s organizer apologizes after revealing information for thousands of journalists

E3’s organizer apologizes after revealing information for thousands of journalists

11:06am, 3rd August, 2019
The Entertainment Software Association issued an apology of sorts after making available the contact information for more than 2,000 journalists and analysts who attended this year’s E3. “ESA was made aware of a website vulnerability that led to the contact list of registered journalists attending E3 being made public,” the organization said via statement. “Once notified, we immediately took steps to protect that data and shut down the site, which is no longer available. We regret this this occurrence and have put measures in place to ensure it will not occur again.” It’s not clear whether the organization attempted to reach out to those impacted by the breach. In a kind of bungle that utterly boggles the mind in 2019, the ESA had made available on its site a full spreadsheet of contact information for thousands of attendees, including email addresses, phone numbers and physical addresses. While many or most of the addresses appear to be businesses, journalists often work remotely, and the availability of a home address online can present a real safety concern. After all, many gaming journalists are routinely targets of harassments and threats of physical violence for the simple act of writing about video games on the internet. That’s the reality of the world we currently live in. And while the information leaked could have been worse, there’s a real potential human consequence here. That, in turn, presents a pretty compelling case that the ESA is going to have a pretty big headache on its hands under GDPR. Per the rules, In the case of a personal data breach, the controller shall without undue delay and, where feasible, not later than 72 hours after having become aware of it, notify the personal data breach to the supervisory authority competent in accordance with Article 55, unless the personal data breach is unlikely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons. Where the notification to the supervisory authority is not made within 72 hours, it shall be accompanied by reasons for the delay. There is, indeed, a pretty strong argument to made that said breach could “result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons.” Failure to notify individuals in the allotted time period could, in turn, result in some hefty fines. It’s hard to say how long the ESA knew about the information, though YouTuber Sophia Narwitz, who first brought this information to light publicly, may have also been the first to alert the organization. The ESA appears to have been reasonably responsive in pulling the spreadsheet down, but the internet is always faster, and that information is still floating around online and fairy easily found. that spreadsheets like these are incredibly valuable to convention organizations, representing contact information some of the top journalists in any given industry. Many will no doubt think twice before sharing this kind of information again, of course. Notably (and, yes, ironically), the Black Hat security conference this time last year. It chalked the issue up to a “legacy system.” Natasha Lomas contributed to this report
Ninja is leaving Twitch for Microsoft’s Mixer

Ninja is leaving Twitch for Microsoft’s Mixer

2:01pm, 1st August, 2019
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the biggest streamer ever, has today announced his intention to leave the platform in favor of Microsoft’s Mixer. Twitch is far and away the biggest video game streaming platform on the internet, claiming 72 percent of all hours watched according to . Mixer, by comparison, owns 3 percent, which is approximately 112 million viewership hours this most recent quarter. is owned by following an , back when Mixer was called Beam. Interestingly enough, won the Disrupt NY Battlefield competition in 2016. Twitch offered this statement to the : We’ve loved watching Ninja on Twitch over the years and are proud of all that he’s accomplished for himself and his family, and the gaming community. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. Surprisingly quickly, Twitch took away Ninja’s ‘Partnered’ check mark, the Twitch equivalent of a verified blue tick. Damn they snagged this mans checkmark QUICK — 100T Mako (@Mako) Ninja announced the news via video: The announcement is very light on reasons why Ninja might have moved from his longtime home at Twitch over to Microsoft. It’s possible (and likely?) that Mixer offered the streaming star an enormous amount of money to make the move, which could signal the beginning of a new wave of payouts for mega streaming stars — not unlike the current NBA free agency bonanza, which has seen the migration of superstars to marquee franchises in order to form basketball equivalents of supergroups. It’s also worth wondering who reigns supreme in this equation: players or platforms? Luckily, we’ll find out quickly as the video game streaming space sees its biggest talent shakeup since the industry’s inception.
Luna Labs creates playable ads, directly from Unity

Luna Labs creates playable ads, directly from Unity

12:14pm, 31st July, 2019
It seems obvious that the best way to advertise a game is to let people play the game itself — and we’ve covered other startups tackling this problem, such as and . But co-founder and CEO Steven Chard said that for most developers, the creation of these ads involves outsourcing: “It might take weeks to make an ad, and the quality of the content at the end could be limited.” The problem, Chard said, is that most games are built on the Unity engine, while the ads need to be in HTML5, which means that developers often have to build playable ads from scratch — hence the outsourcing. “There’s this huge demand for playables, but the tech hasn’t caught up with it,” he said. “Our view — and I think why it’s really resonating with developers — we’re saying to developers: Use that same [Unity] editor to create a playable ad. You’re going to give the user a playable ad which genuinely feels like the game.” In fact, while Luna is officially launching its service to developers this week, it’s already been working with a few partners like Kwalee and Voodoo. Luna says that in Kwalee’s case, the results were good enough that the company spent 60% more than they did on other playable ads, and the Luna playables drove more than 250,000 installs per day. “Luna is solving a real pain point for our studio, and the initial results have been tremendous,” said Kwalee COO Jason Falcus in a statement. “Integrating the Luna service has allowed us to significantly scale our campaigns by a comfortable margin, to the best results so far.” Luna’s investors include Ben Holmes (formerly of Index Ventures, backer of King and Playfish) and Chris Lee (who also invested in Space Ape and Hello Games). Chard said the startup is currently focused on providing tools to developers, rather than getting involved in the ad-buying process. More generally, he said the company has been focused on the technology rather than the business model. “We’re an early company with a very, very complex piece of technology — it’s taken a lot of time to get where we are,” he said. “We’re not doing it for free, but the focus isn’t on short-term profitability. It is, in the longer term, on creating a scalable product which can be used by developers.” Chard added that eventually, he’s hoping Luna can become more involved in “at the content creation level.” For example, he suggested that developers could use the technology to test out playable concepts and see what resonates, before building a full game. You can test it out for yourself on .
Nintendo Switch sales are up, even with new models on the way

Nintendo Switch sales are up, even with new models on the way

3:39am, 31st July, 2019
Quarterly sales for the remained brisk for most recent quarterly earnings. The number made a jump from 1.88 to 2.13 million units year over year. Modest, sure, but still solid for a console that’s getting slightly long in the tooth — especially given the fact that we’ve been aware new versions are on the way. Two were confirmed earlier this month, addressing concerns with the product. There’s , a $200 version of the console ($100 less than the standard price) that swaps convertibility for portability, and a . The arrival of both will almost certainly boost sales as the company heads into the holiday season. With the new quarter factored in, Switch sales are now at 36.9 million for the life of the product. Nintendo, meanwhile, expects total unit sales to hit 18 million for the full year. In spite of positive numbers on the console front, operating profit dropped ~10% year over year for the quarter. The 3DS, meanwhile, while still alive, has unsurprisingly begun a death rattle, slowing to 200,000 for the quarter. Still, it was a respectable life, with more than 75 million sold over the life of Nintendo’s previous portable. Farewell, 3DS, it was a good run. Mobile numbers saw a nice 10% bump for the quarter, and Nintendo’s got plenty of solid titles lined up for the back half of the year, so likely most aren’t too concerned by some lackluster financials this time out.
Nintendo Switch growth continues as aging rivals Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One stagnate

Nintendo Switch growth continues as aging rivals Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One stagnate

3:39am, 31st July, 2019
Nintendo’s Switch console has now reached nearly 37 million units sold over its lifetime. (Nintendo Photo) Nintendo, the youngster of the video game console market — well, at least the youngster the current console generation — continues to grow steadily as its primary competitors struggle with the inevitable effects of old age. Sales of Nintendo’s hybrid Switch console rose to 2.13 million units in the June quarter, up more than 13 percent from the same period a year ago, Nintendo said in its . The company’s profits fell overall, but that was largely due to the effects of exchange rates rather than any fundamental issues in Nintendo’s business. With the latest results, nearly 37 million Switch consoles have been sold since the March 2017 release. That compares to 13.5 million units over the life of the company’s prior console, the Wii U; and more than 100 million units of the blockbuster Wii console. Sony’s PlayStation 4, originally released in 2013, sold another 3.2 million units in the June quarter, according to Sony’s earnings release. That pushed the PS4’s cumulative total to more than 100 million units, , according to Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst at Niko Partners, . This makes PlayStation 4 the fastest home console to reach 100 million unit sell in. Faster than both the PS2 and Wii which were just behind. It took PS2 a total of five years and 9 months. PS4 was just 5 years and 7 months. — Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) However, overall sales of the PS4 were flat compared to the same quarter a year ago. Sony blamed the result on the buzz surrounding This type of lull is a classic sales-and-marketing challenge for consumer electronics makers, as some of those who would otherwise buy an existing console decide to wait to buy the new one, or to buy the existing one at a cheaper price when the new one comes out. “PS4 hardware unit sales in the first quarter were slightly below our expectations primarily due to the news regarding our next generation console,” Sony said . “Taking this into account, we have decided to prioritize profitability going forward, and have revised downward our forecast for hardware unit sales by 1 million units to 15 million units.” The black line in this Sony graphic shows the declining trend in PS4 unit sales in recent years, but the console still reached 100 million units in record time. At the same time, Sony said, “The fact that we plan to sell 15 million units this fiscal year, which is the 7th year since launch, demonstrates that the PS4 platform is still garnering support from many users.” Nintendo , the Switch Lite, but that announcement was after the end of the June quarter. The company has , with numerous users reporting problems with the Switch controller. reported Tuesday that the Switch can now run Android apps, thanks to an unofficial port. Nintendo, based in Japan, has its North American headquarters in Redmond, Wash. Across town, Microsoft’s gaming segment was . This unit, including Xbox hardware, Xbox Live subscriptions and gaming revenue, declined 10 percent year-over-year to $2.05 billion in the quarter, due largely to a 48 percent decrease in Xbox hardware sales. The Xbox One also dates to 2013. Last month, , code-named Project Scarlett, to be released for the 2020 holidays. Across the industry, game console spending in the U.S. is down 20 percent so far this year, according to the NPD research firm. Hardware spending in June dipped 33 percent year-over-year to $235 million, NPD reported.
VR’s most popular game is getting more features (and more expensive)

VR’s most popular game is getting more features (and more expensive)

6:17pm, 14th May, 2019
VR’s most hyped game is getting a price bump later this month as it expands the amount of headsets that it’s playable on. We did a big deep-dive last week on Beat Saber, the best seller from a tiny Prague VR studio that’s pulling in big revenues. The game is part Guitar Hero, part Fruit Ninja, and you’ve got some light sabers to guide you through EDM tunes. It’s sold over 1 million copies. This week, the company Beat Games shared some updates that are likely to increase those revenues further as the company grows more confident that they’ve ironed out most of the game’s bugs. On May 21, Beat Games is bumping the price from $20 to $30 on Valve’s Steam store and the Oculus Home platform, bringing the price in line with the PS VR version. This price bump comes as the company abandons the “Early Access” title, a classifier that has long signified that a game is in beta and hasn’t had all of the kinks ironed out. With this, the studio detailed in a , they feel the game has reached a “stable version,” and that it is now a “full game.” When the game exits early access, it will be picking up a long-promised level editor so that gamers can create custom levels for their own audio tracks. The price change on May 21 isn’t an arbitrary date, that’s when Oculus will be releasing both of its new headsets, the Rift S and Quest. Speaking of the Quest, Oculus had introduced a feature called cross-buy that would enable users who already owned a copy of a game on Rift to let users download that game for free on Quest. On , Beat Games noted today that they won’t be supporting this for the base game, so Quest users will still have to pay up, though the studio said they will enable the feature for add-ons like additional music packs. Beat Saber is going to be unified across all platforms moving forward, meaning you won’t see certain versions getting updates that the others won’t get for a while. This opens up the potential for cross-platform multiplayer as the studio continues to work on a mode for multiple concurrent users. The price jump comes next week, you’ll still be able to score the game at the Early Access price before May 21.
HP’s new gaming laptop has more screens for more content

HP’s new gaming laptop has more screens for more content

9:41am, 14th May, 2019
There’s something about gaming laptops that make manufacturers do weird things. It’s kind of wonderful, in a way. Companies tend to give their teams a much wider berth for strange and novel designs, and HP’s Omen line is certainly no stranger. Designs that tend to be relegated to the concept shelf of history actually hit the market, and indeed, the Omen X 2S is currently on target for a May/June release. The defining characteristic of the $2,700 notebook is almost certainly the inclusion of a second screen that lives just above the keyboard. HP’s not the first to attempt such a thing — in fact, we might actually be approaching a trend here. The six-inch secondary display is considerably smaller than the 15-inch mean dealie. It’s designed to provide supplementary information at a glance. While the idea of a secondary screen has been around for some time, I do think HP’s at least being fairly realistic about how it will primarily be used. Rather than assuming that game developers are going to create content specifically for the 1080p touchscreen, HP suggests that gamers will almost certainly use it for other apps entirely. It suggests chatting in WeChat and WhatsApp, using Spotify and watching Twitch and YouTube videos. In other words, it will essentially serve the same function as just sticking your phone on your laptop — but this one is built in. Oh, and HP sells now, so you can coordinate with your new dual-screen laptop.