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Netflix Acquires Night School Studio That Created Oxenfree, Rolls Out New Mobile Games

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By Reuters | Updated: 29 September 2021

Netflix has bought video game creator Night School Studio and rolled out five mobile gaming titles in select European markets, the company said on Tuesday, as it looks to diversify revenue sources amid intensifying competition in the streaming space.

Night School Studio, the company’s first gaming studio purchase, is best known for its debut game, Oxenfree, a supernatural teen thriller with an eerie soundtrack.

“Netflix gives film, TV, and now game makers an unprecedented canvas to create and deliver excellent entertainment to millions of people,” Night School Studio said in a statement. “Our explorations in narrative gameplay and Netflix’s track record of supporting diverse storytellers was such a natural pairing.”

The studio’s games, which are available on Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PCs, will be the first non-mobile titles in the streaming giant’s newly created video game portfolio.

“Like our shows and films, these games will all be included as part of your Netflix membership — all with no advertisements and no in-app purchases,” Netflix said while announcing the aquisition.

Netflix had mentioned its plans to enter gaming during its last quarterly earnings, as newer players including Disney+ and HBO Max have been rapidly gaining subscribers, intensifying competition in the streaming landscape.

The company earlier in the day said it had introduced Stranger Things: 1984, Stranger Things 3: The Game, Card Blast, Teeter Up, and Shooting Hoops titles on Android to Netflix members in Spain and Italy.

Poland, where the Stranger Things titles are already available, will get the other three titles.

“We view gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation and unscripted TV,” the company said in its shareholder letter.

“We think the time is right to learn more about how our members value games.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple Bars Epic’s Fortnite barred From App Store Until All Court Appeals End

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 September 2021

Apple has blacklisted Fortnite from the iPhone maker’s popular App Store for several years until all the court appeals are done, Epic Games Chief Executive Officer Tim Sweeney said on Wednesday. Epic Games’ opening brief in its appeal to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is due December 12, according to a court filing and Apple’s reply is due by Jan. 20, 2022. The full appeal process could take years.

Sweeney took to Twitter on Wednesday, calling out Apple’s move and said the company will continue to fight the tech giant.

“This is another extraordinary anticompetitive move by Apple, demonstrating their power to reshape markets and choose winners and losers,” Sweeney said on Twitter.

The two companies have been locked in a legal dispute since August last year when the game maker tried to get around Apple’s 30 percent fee on some in-app purchases on the App Store by launching its own in-app payment system.

The US tech giant is facing a raft of other legal and regulatory challenges to rules it forces game makers to follow, including the closely watched antitrust lawsuit brought by Epic Games.

Apple confirmed the authenticity of the letter that Sweeney shared, but declined to comment further. Apple has not yet said whether it will ask for the injunction to be paused pending the appeal process.

“Epic committed an intentional breach of contract, and breach of trust, by concealing code from Apple and making related misrepresentations and omissions,” the iPhone maker told Epic Games, according to the letter shared by Sweeney.

Developers have long criticised Apple’s commissions of between 15 percent and 30 percent on many App Store purchases, what some developers see as an opaque and unpredictable app-vetting process.

Earlier this month, a US federal judge struck down some of Apple’s App Store rules, forcing the company to allow developers to send their users to other payment systems in a partial win for Epic Games and other app makers.

Apple’s shares were up 1.3 percent at $145.26 (roughly Rs. 10,710 crores) on Wednesday.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple Asked by Epic Games to Allow Fortnite’s Re-Release in South Korea Following Passage of New Law

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 September 2021

Fortnite creator Epic Games has asked iPhone maker Apple to restore its Fortnite developer account and intends to re-release the popular game on iOS in South Korea, offering both Epic and Apple payment side-by-side, it said in a tweet.

“Epic intends to re-release Fortnite on iOS in Korea offering both Epic payment and Apple payment side-by-side in compliance with the new Korean law,” it said.

Legal experts and developers around the world are awaiting a decision in an antitrust case Epic has filed against Apple in a US court.

Epic filed the case last year after it implemented its own in-app payment system in Fortnite to avoid Apple’s commissions. Apple told Epic that the move had violated its rules and kicked the game off the App Store.

Last week, South Korea’s parliament approved a bill that bans major app store operators, including Apple, from forcing software developers to use their payment systems, effectively stopping them from charging commissions on in-app purchases.

Two days later, Apple said it would let some apps like Netflix provide links to their websites for user payments.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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China Cuts Down Playing Time for Under-18 Gamers to 3 Hours a Week

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By Reuters | Updated: 31 August 2021

China has forbidden under-18s from playing video games for more than three hours a week, a stringent social intervention that it said was needed to pull the plug on a growing addiction to what it once described as “spiritual opium”.

The new rules, published on Monday, are part of a major shift by Beijing to strengthen control over its society and key sectors of its economy, including tech, education, and property, after years of runaway growth.

The restrictions, which apply to any devices including phones, are a body blow to a global gaming industry that caters to tens of millions of young players in the world’s most lucrative market.

They limit under-18s to playing for one hour a day – 8pm to 9pm – on only Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, according to the Xinhua state news agency. They can also play for an hour, at the same time, on public holidays.

The rules from the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) regulator coincide with a broader clampdown by Beijing against China’s tech giants, such as Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings.

The campaign to prevent what state media has described as the “savage growth” of some companies has wiped tens of billions of dollars off shares traded at home and abroad.

“Teenagers are the future of our motherland,” Xinhua quoted an unnamed NPPA spokesperson as saying. “Protecting the physical and mental health of minors is related to the people’s vital interests, and relates to the cultivation of the younger generation in the era of national rejuvenation.”

Gaming companies will be barred from providing services to minors in any form outside the stipulated hours and must ensure they have put real-name verification systems in place, said the regulator, which oversees the country’s video games market.

Previously, China had limited the length of time under-18s could play video games to 1.5 hours on any day and three hours on holidays under 2019 rules.

The new rules swiftly became one of the most discussed topics on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. Some users expressed support for the measures while others said they were surprised at how drastic the rules were.

“This is so fierce that I’m utterly speechless,” said one comment that received over 700 likes.

Others expressed doubt that the restrictions could be enforced. “They will just use their parents’ logins, how can they control it?” asked one.

Gaming shares zapped

The Chinese games market will generate an estimated $45.6 billion (roughly Rs. 3,34,020 crores) of revenue in 2021, ahead of the United States, according to analytics firm Newzoo.

The crackdown reverberated around the world.

Shares in Amsterdam-listed tech investment company Prosus, which holds a 29 percent stake in Chinese social media and video games group Tencent, were down 1.45 percent, while European online video gaming stocks Ubisoft and Embracer Group each fell over 2 percent.

Shares of Chinese gaming stocks slid in pre-market trading in the United States with NetEase falling over 6 percent and mobile game publisher Bilibili dropping 3 percent.

About 62.5 percent of Chinese minors often play games online, and 13.2 percent of underage mobile game users play mobile games for more than two hours a day on working days, according to state media.

Gaming companies have been on edge in recent weeks as state media criticised gaming addiction among young people, signalling a regulatory crackdown.

A state media outlet described online games as “spiritual opium” this month and cited Tencent’s Honor of Kings in an article that called for more curbs on the industry, battering shares in the world’s largest gaming firm by revenue.

Tencent later announced new measures to reduce the time and money children spend on games, starting with Honor of Kings. Its president also said it was working with regulators to explore ways in which the total amount of time minors spent on gaming could be capped across all titles in the industry.

The NPPA regulator told Xinhua it would increase the frequency and intensity of inspections for online gaming companies to ensure they were putting in place time limits and anti-addiction systems.

It also said that parents and teachers played key roles in curbing gaming addiction.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Gaming Curbs in China: Youth React to Restrictions on Titles Such as Honor of Kings With Anguish and Cunning

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 16 August 2021

It is Zhang Yuchen’s last summer break before high school, but events have taken an unwelcome turn – the 14-year-old’s game time has been decimated as China’s tech firms try to dispel accusations that they are selling “spiritual opium” to the country’s youth.

An edict by gaming giant Tencent means players under 12 can no longer make in-game purchases in multiplayer battle smash-hit Honor of Kings, while under-18s are locked out after two hours during holidays and one hour on school nights.

“I wanted to cry,” an anguished Zhang said as the news ricocheted across the world’s largest gaming market, which soaked up $20 billion (roughly Rs. 1,48,500 crores) in the first half of this year alone.

“Limiting game time over the holidays means I can’t play (Honor of Kings) to my heart’s content,” he told AFP.

The changes – incontestable and imposed far too quickly for the liking of Zhang and his peer group – have come as a censorious state scours the tech scene for signs of any firm growing too big, owning too much data or having too great a hold over China’s people.

Gaming appears to be the latest target for regulators who have already strafed mega-apps providing ride-hailing, personal finance and online learning, as the Communist Party refines the type of capitalism it wants for society.

State media reports have singled out gaming, with one article calling it “spiritual opium” and another advocating an end to tax breaks for the sector.

‘I have nothing to do’

Investors rushed to sell shares in Tencent and rivals NetEase, XD, and Bilibili, despite China’s place as the world’s biggest gaming market.

In reaction, Tencent this month dropped the bombshell curbs on play time, an early sign of broader industry changes to come.

Minors complain that the measures are too sweeping, affecting even teens who have finished their university entrance exams and just want to relax.

“I’m on vacation now and have nothing to do, but I can only play for a short while,” said a 17-year-old student surnamed Li.

“It’s quite upsetting,” she added, noting that older teens have more self-control and should not be forcibly stopped from playing.

She gets automatically locked out after hitting the two-hour holiday limit.

But there are loopholes even with broader curbs, Li added, as playing an hour on different games could still lead to teens gaming for the same hours as before.

Others have circumvented the policy altogether, by borrowing an adult’s account or using their parents’ mobile phones.

“By borrowing an account now, I can play two to three hours a day and of course, game after 10 pm,” said another 17-year-old student on condition of anonymity.

Some analysts say the reaction to state media reports about gaming may be excessive.

“Investors made it a big story by overreacting,” Ether Yin, partner at consultancy Trivium China, told AFP.

“Keeping kids from getting addicted to games has been the policy of the land since 2018.”

‘Why do they have to do this?’

To get ahead of public criticism, however, Yin believes other gaming companies will likely roll out their own plans to restrict minors from playing and spending money inside games.

The impact on Tencent for now will be “minimal”, given that children under 16 contribute around three percent of gross billings, said Michael Norris, research and strategy manager at consulting firm AgencyChina.

But with the gaming sector already highly scrutinised, Norris called it “unusual” to single out online gaming, which is regulated, if the concern was addiction.

For now, Tencent’s gaming curbs have claimed unlikely victims – with some parents who game with their children also locked out.

Programmer Peng Jianfei said his 12-year-old son was using his account to play Honor of Kings while on summer break when an authentication prompt appeared and the boy entered his own ID number, triggering a block.

“I think such measures can, to an extent, reduce minors’ gaming time,” the 45-year-old said.

“But for now… if I can’t play Tencent’s games, I could always go to NetEase, don’t you think?”

But other parents welcomed the restrictions.

“If children spend too much time on games, it’s bad for their eyesight,” said a 34-year-old mother in Beijing surnamed Wang.

Tugging on her arm was her 10-year-old son, an Honor of Kings fan who was less enthusiastic about the changes.

“Mum, say it’s a bad decision!” he said. “Why do they have to do this?”

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Microsoft Xbox ‘Night Mode’ Will Let Users Dim Power Button, Controller’s LED

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By ANI | Updated: 9 August 2021

Tech giant Microsoft will be soon bringing a new night mode for Xbox consoles which will let its users dim a controller’s LED brightness.

According to The Verge, the American software company has already started testing this night mode with Xbox Insiders in the Alpha Skip-Ahead ring on Friday, and “it allows Xbox owners to dim their screens, controller LED brightness and even the Xbox power button.”

The Xbox night mode allows for a lot of customisation, including different dimming levels and an optional blue light filter.

The testing is currently undergoing by the company with Xbox Insiders, so as per The Verge users can expect to see it filter through the various testing channels in the coming weeks before arriving on all Xbox consoles soon.

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Nintendo Switch Sales Slump, 4.45 Million Units Sold Last Quarter

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By Reuters | Updated: 5 August 2021

Japan’s Nintendo said on Thursday sales of its Switch console fell 22 percent in the first quarter as demand for the hit device fades in its fifth year on the market.Investors are watching gaming firms closely for signals that the COVID-19 pandemic sales boom may be running out of steam. Nintendo is highly dependent on the cyclical console business, with sales of its devices traditionally peaking around the fifth year.

Nintendo saw sales of Switch Lite units more than halve to 1.14 million during the April-June quarter but maintained its full-year forecast for Switch hardware at 25.5 million units. It sold 4.45 million Switch consoles, including the Lite, during the quarter.

The creator of Super Mario and Animal Crossing said first-quarter operating profit fell 17 percent to JPY 119.8 billion (roughly Rs. 8,110 crores), falling short of a Refinitiv consensus estimate of JPY 129.3 billion (roughly Rs. 8,760 crores).

In contrast, Sony said on Wednesday sales of its new PlayStation 5 were robust, helping it post a record profit during the quarter.

Both companies have warned that shortages of semiconductors could hurt game console output beyond current targets.

Kyoto-based Nintendo is hoping to revive Switch sales momentum with a new $349.99 (roughly Rs. 25,940) Switch OLED model launching on Oct. 8. It is also relying on a pipeline of popular games including WarioWare: Get It Together and remakes of Pokemon titles to boost earnings.

It stuck with its full-year profit forecast of JPY 500 billion (roughly Rs. 33,870), lower than an average prediction of JPY 623.5 billion (roughly Rs. 42,230 crores). The company is known for releasing conservative profit outlooks that it revises up through the business year.

In a shareholder pleasing move, Nintendo on Thursday also announced a plan to buy back up to 1.51 percent of its shares worth up JPY 100 billion (roughly Rs. 6,770 crores).

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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