Nick Diamon

Steam China is missing one big feature. There are no chat scammers.

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Steam is finally officially available in China. Technically, Steam hasn’t really been approved for use in China, although you’d never know it from looking at the player counts and sales numbers. It’s existed in a murky limbo where the Chinese government has turned a bit of a blind eye to all the citizens using a VPN and the international version of the Valve store to play PC games. At least until now. Valve, in a government-approved partnership with Perfect World, has launched Steam China. It’s just like Steam if you squint really hard.

It’s got the right look and it sells game like Steam, but Steam China has only 50 or so games on it at launch. (Thankfully, all vetted and licensed by the government approval boards.) The biggest difference is all the community features have been swept away in a gloriously cleansing wave of patriotic duty. No pesky chat or forums to negatively impact your view of the games (or the government) and no community guides to cheat your way past content. User reviews for games are available, but I’d wager there’s some monitoring going on there.

Steam community features have never been usable in China despite the widespread use of VPN to access it. Now, there won’t even be the temptation!

There’s a reason why Call of Duty is a 27 billion pound gorilla in the games industry

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Activision Blizzard revealed that Call of Duty has generated an eye-watering 27 billion dollars across the franchise since its start in 2003. There were over 100 million monthly active users on average throughout 2020, and the latest chapter, Black Ops Cold War, which launched in November, effectively doubled the average user’s time spent in-game when compared to Modern Warfare. CEO Bobby Kotick also announced in the 2020 results investor call that you all seem to love the Call of Duty in-game microtransactions and season pass malarkey. In-game sales grew 50% year over year in the fourth quarter of 2020.

While no specifics dollar amount was attached to Call of Duty’s in-game purchases, the whole of Activision Blizzard made 4.85 billion dollars from microtransactions in 2020. Overall, it was the best year for the company in its 30-year history.

Google and Amazon have discovered that making games is hard

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Google has shut down its internal Stadia game studios. According to Stadia VP, Phil Harrison, the company will shift all resources away from developing games and concentrate on providing a streaming platform where others can publish their games. Harrison cited the expense and time needed to create first-party games as a barrier.

“Creating best-in-class games from the ground up takes many years and significant investment, and the cost is going up exponentially.”

The business shake-up also means Jade Raymond, originally hired on to oversee Stadia’s game studios, is leaving to “pursue other opportunities” outside of Google. Raymond came from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise and EA’s Motive Studios and had originally been hired in 2019 to head Stadia Games and Entertainment, but Google’s studio produced no games during its short run.

At the same time, Amazon’s foray into creating games doesn’t seem to be going much better. Bloomberg dove into the recent failures at Amazon Game Studios and came away with some insights of the bungled effort. $500 million a year has given Amazon a catastrophic misfire in Crucible, a copycat free-to-play hero shooter game that almost immediately shut down after launching.

“One of the things that we hear most often from people who try Crucible is that it feels unique.”

Its MMO, New World, changed from a survival and crafting focus with a colonizers-versus-natives theme to something a lot less racially charged, but its issues continued. After feedback from playtesting last year, the launch was pushed from August 2020 to Spring 2021.

Game development is hard. When a company like Google cites Cyberpunk 2077 as the highwater mark of its platform, you know you’ve hit trouble.

2021 is the year to experience Battle Royale in Pinball FX

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Zen Studios has announced Pinball FX, the 2021 platform for bumping and scoring after Pinball FX3. A career, new challenge modes, tables based on new intellectual properties, and even “Pinball Royale” (the silver ball version of Battle Royale) is coming to the updated game. I expect another way to have my high score humiliated by true pinball wizards.

No details yet are available for pricing, launch date, or if your old tables will carry forward.

There’s foul seasonal weather ahead for Sea of Thieves

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Sea of Thieves is getting “seasonal” battle passes. Just like in Fortnite, Apex, Call of Duty, and every other multiplayer game on the market. If there’s anything pirates love, it’s climbing a timed progression ladder to unlock rewards. Scallywags were all about engagement and monthly user metrics.

Each season will last about 90 days in Sea of Thieves and progression will be based on a new Renown mechanic that is based on actions other than just turning in treasures. The first season kicks off on January 28 and will include a new Merchant Alliance Voyage that will be added to the game permanently.

There will, of course, be a premium pass available called the Plunder Pass that will give players greater rewards than the ones the hobo freeloaders get. It will cost 999 in-game coins which comes out to around a bajillion real world dollars according to pirate math.

Resident Evil Re:Verse looks like the inverse of what fans want

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Some great stuff came out of Capcom’s showcase stream for Resident Evil fans. Folks looking forward to getting dominated by a giant busty vampire woman in Resident Evil Village had their hearts set on fire by the newest trailer. (Lady Dimitrescu can step on me anytime!) And just like that, a million memes and fanart creations launched. If being manhandled by undead Gwendoline Christie isn’t your thing, the first-person exploration and shooting look good too, as long as you’re into the signature Resident Evil clumsy, frantic, backpedal gunplay. PlayStation 5 owners can download and play the standalone Maiden demo right now.

The above trailer for the multiplayer mode, called Re:Verse because Capcom is determined to ruin the good feelings some of us have for 2021, is not looking as polished. It’s free with Resident Evil Village, so it’s tough to really get too mad about it, but right from the first few seconds its easy to see that this is not the A team. The six person deathmatch looks dreadful, but at least the matches are limited to five minutes. Your agony won’t last long. Brave souls can sign up for the beta here.

The apology for Cyberpunk 2077 is the most un-cyberpunk thing you’ll see this week

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Apologies from publicly held companies are weird things. The person making the mea culpa has to straddle the line between transparency to the aggrieved party (in this case, the customers) and not disclosing anything that puts liability on the company. They have to navigate the treacherous waters of addressing their mistakes while not admitting fault for specific issues.

Here, CD Projekt Red’s co-founder Marcin Iwinski explains why the game shipped in the sorry state it did. According to him, issues that many players have experienced just weren’t seen in testing due to the size of the project. An odd excuse that doesn’t hold much water if you’ve spent a few minutes in Night City and watched cars sink into the ground or enemies lock into T-poses during battles.

As for the review situation, Iwinski maintains that reviewers not being given access to older-gen console versions of the game was not intentional. It’s another bit that may be true, but does seem odd to anyone that noticed the lack of PS4 and Xbox One reviews while they turned out to be the most troubled versions of the game.

The good news is that the company pledges to fix the game and have released a roadmap for updates. Chip in choomba!

Ahoy! It’s the VR version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage was a ride at the Walt Disney World theme park from 1971 through 1994. It was replaced with a Little Mermaid themed ride until 2004. The spot hosted a Winnie the Pooh area later, and now houses the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. If you want a ride based on the old Disney movie from Jules Verne’s book, you’ll have to look elsewhere. During its operation it was criticized by ride aficionados for having a queue that took far too long due to its 20-minute ride time, and it was loved for the same long ride that offered guests a 20-minute reprieve from the baking Florida sun. It replicated an undersea adventure with mermaids, a giant squid attack, and plenty of faux life aquatic.

Now, thanks to Kevin Perjurer and Defunctland, a site dedicated to the history of long-dead amusement park rides and the history behind them, we have a VR recreation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. There’s even a 360 degree YouTube version available here if you can’t go the full VR route. The VR experience comes complete with the audio track from the ride so you can marvel at the scratchy, tinny, mono speaker saga from the safety and comfort of your home. Take a ride on your Oculus or Steam VR before the mouse hunts this down.

This Dota 2 champion club will no longer be allowed to play

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Valve and Perfect World have permanently banned former champion Dota 2 players Lipeng Wen, Han Xu, Rui Yin, Chao Yan and Hongda Zeng. All five banned players make up the membership of gaming clan Newbee which won Valve’s The International in 2014. Additionally, Hongda Zeng was a member of the Invictus team that won The International in 2012. The decision to ban these players from all official Dota 2 events came from their participation in a match-fixing scheme in May 2020. The match can be viewed in its entirety here.

When the allegations of Newbee throwing the match first surfaced, the club denied all wrongdoing and vowed to appeal. Valve and Perfect World’s decision would indicate that whatever defense Newbee submitted wasn’t convincing enough to sway the judges.

The newest GTA Online heist is kind of like the single player DLC you’ve been waiting for

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We’ve already covered the fact that you’re never getting a full-blown single player story expansion for Grand Theft Auto V. The continued popularity and revenue stream in GTA Online is just too lucrative for Rockstar to shift resources away from. The Cayo Perico Heist that launched on December 15th is the closest you’re going to get to a dedicated single player expansion. Unlike most of the content in GTA Online, (including all the other story-heavy heists) the Cayo Perico job can be done by a solo player from start to finish.

Having completed the heist by myself, I can say that it’s an entirely enjoyable escapade that feels like a throwback to the best missions in the base game. There’s a daring infiltration of a private island fortress, a defunct Soviet submarine dive, lots of shooting, and escaping with your loot is an open affair that leaves you to navigate the island’s defenses however you see fit. The only downer might be the stealth bit which is really unforgiving, but every heist in the regular game had a part that wasn’t aces. It’s a neat mission overall. It just needs Trevor messing up your plans to nail the original game’s standard.

Take a beach holiday in Stardew Valley

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It’s near Christmas, but you’d never know it in Stardew Valley’s newest additions. Eric Barone has updated the charming farming, relationship, and time management sim with what he says is the biggest content drop in the game’s history. The 1.5 update includes a new Ginger Island territory, a cornucopia of new people to meet and things to unlock, and local split-screen co-op multiplayer.

Outside of the multiplayer feature most of this stuff is for advanced players. For example, the new Beach Farm starting option is mostly sand so it’s going to be a rough beginning for anyone not already used to coaxing crops. Hey, maybe you can get your co-op partner to do all the hard work while you get the accolades in the village?

If you can put down Cyberpunk 2077 for a bit, check out the other games coming

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We know you’re probably busy in Night City, choosing between penis options and cataloging all the glitches, but every game company that isn’t CD Projekt RED went to The Game Awards 2020 show to watch The Last of Us II win a bunch of categories . Okay, Hades and Among Us nabbed a few awards, but Naughty Dog will probably need to get a new trophy case in their lobby.

Along with the pomp and advertising for Doritos, a lot of upcoming games were previewed. There was a CG teaser to let everyone know that someone is still working on the next Mass Effect game. Perfect Dark is coming back to Xbox in some form or another. Vin Diesel’s digital likeness will star in Ark II. There are robots and monsters in The Callisto Protocol. Crimson Desert, first announced last year, is still in the works. Streaming hit Among Us is getting a new airship map. You will need to shut the Gates of Oblivion in The Elder Scrolls Online. Finally, it wouldn’t be a new year without another Warhammer game, so Warhammer 40K Darktide is coming from Fatshark.

Batman gets new duds in Arkham Knight

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Rocksteady Games has released two in-game costume skins for Batman: Arkham Knight. Yes, the 2015 game has just been updated for free. The update adds Zur-En-Arrh Batman and Anime Batman for all players. The latter is self-explanatory, but the garish Zur-En-Arrh skin is a deep cut from a 1958 issue of DC Comics’ Batman #113 in which Bruce Wayne is transported to an alien planet and given actual superpowers because that’s the kind of thing that happened in the Silver Age of funny books.

Both Batman skins were previously available only to players that linked their WB Games forum accounts to the game, but the latest version of these costumes come with no such restrictions. They’re just in Batman’s Bat-wardrobe for the Bat-wearing. The free update also removes Denuvo from the Steam version of the game. The Batmobile remains unchanged for better or worse.

Science may figure out why weirdos play with inverted controls

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Scientists are studying gamers that play with inverted controls. Back in February, The Guardian published an article about the phenomenon and the debate was hot enough to attract the attention of Dr. Jennifer Corbett and Dr. Jaap Munneke of Brunel University’s Visual Perception and Attention Lab. In the follow-up article, the researchers say that their study will measure the speed and accuracy of gamers with inverted and normal controls to better understand how the two kinds of people work differently and how best to cater to the wrong and right folks with their controller needs.

“In a broader context, understanding these sorts of individual differences can help us better predict where to place important information and where to double-check for easily missed information in everything from VR gaming to safety-critical tasks like detecting weapons in baggage scans or tumours in X-rays.”

If you’re between the ages of 18 and 35, (sorry old-timers) and play videogames, the researchers could use you to help with their study. Nothing will help you dirty claw-grippers though.

Join the Fortnite Crew to give Epic recurring revenue

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Epic Games has announced a subscription service for Fortnite. For $12 a month, the Fortnite Crew offer will give players access to each new battle pass for as long as they keep their subscription going. Along with that pass, members will net 1,000 units of in-game funny money and an exclusive outfit so everyone knows you’re one of the cool (rich) kids.

Epic had previously surveyed players a few weeks ago about whether or not they wanted such an offer, and it seems the responses were positive. At the very least, the survey results must not have put Epic off their track. Although the battle pass model is sometimes seen as a “soft” version of a subscription, an actual recurring credit charge is more coveted by most businesses.

The Fortnite Crew begins on December 2nd.