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The promise and challenge of Roblox’s future in China

In a much-anticipated move, California-based gaming firm Roblox filed to go public last week. One aspect driving the future growth of the children- and community-focused gaming platform is its China entry, which it fleshes out in detail for the first time in its IPO prospectus.

Like all gaming companies entering China, Roblox must work with a local publishing and operations partner. And like Riot Games, Supercell, Epic Games, Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, Nintendo and many more, Roblox chose Tencent, the world’s largest gaming firm by revenue, according to Newzoo.

The partnership, which began in 2019, revolves around a joint venture in which Roblox holds a 51% controlling stake and a Tencent affiliate called Songhua owns a 49% interest. The prospectus notes that Tencent currently intends to publish and operate a localized version of the Roblox Platform (罗布乐思), which allows people to create games and play those programmed by others.

User-generated content is in part what makes Roblox popular amongst young gamers, but that social aspect almost certainly makes its China entry trickier. It’s widely understood that the Chinese government is asserting more control over what gets published on the internet, and in recent times its scrutiny over gaming content has heightened. Industry veteran Wenfeng Yang went as far as speculating that games with user-generated content will “never made [their] path to China,” citing the example of Animal Crossing.

Roblox says it believes it’s “uniquely positioned” to grow its penetration in China but its “performance will be dependent on” Tencent’s ability to clear regulatory hurdles. It’s unclear what measures Roblox will take to prevent its user-generated content from running afoul of the Chinese authorities, whose appetite for what is permitted can be volatile. Tencent itself has been in the crosshairs of regulators over allegedly “addictive” and “harmful” gaming content. It also remains to be seen how Roblox ensures its user experience won’t be compromised by whatever censorship system that gets implemented.

Roblox chose Tencent as its Chinese partner. / Image: Roblox

At the most basic level, Roblox claims it works to ensure user safety through measures designed “to enforce real-world laws,” including text-filtering, content moderation, automated systems to identify behaviors in violation of platform policies, and a review team. The company expresses in its filing optimism about getting China’s regulatory greenlight:

While Tencent is still working to obtain the required regulatory license to publish and operate Luobulesi [Roblox’s local name] in China, we believe the regulatory requirements specific to China will be met. In the meantime, Luobu is working towards creating a robust developer community in China.”

The company is rightfully optimistic. China is the world’s largest gaming market and Tencent has a proven history of converting its social network users into gamers. Roblox’s marketing focus on encouraging “creativity” might also sit well with Beijing’s call for tech companies to “do good,” an order Tencent has answered. Roblox’s Chinese website suggests it’s touting part of its business as a learning and STEM tool and shows it’s seeking collaborations with local schools and educators.

Nonetheless, the involvement of Tencent is the elephant in the room in times of uncertain U.S.-China relations. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. or CFIUS, which is chaired by the Treasury Department, was inquiring about data practices by Tencent-backed gaming studios in the U.S. including Epic and Riot, Bloomberg reported in September.

Roblox isn’t exempt. It notes in the prospectus that CFIUS has “made inquiries to us with respect to Tencent’s equity investment in us and involvement in the China JV.” It further warns that it “cannot predict what effect any further inquiry by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. into our relationship with Tencent or changes in China-U.S. relations overall may have on our ability to effectively support the China JV or on the operations or success of the China JV.”

The other obstacle faced by all foreign companies entering China is local clones. Reworld, backed by prominent Chinese venture firms such as Northern Light Venture Capital and Joy Capital, is one. The game is unabashed about its origin. In a Reddit post responding to the accusation of it being “a ripoff of Roblox,” Reworld pays its tribute to Roblox and admits its product is “built on the shoulders of Roblox,” while claiming “it did not take any code from Roblox Studio.”

The Beijing-based startup behind Reworld has so far raised more than $50 million and had about 100 developers working on Reworld’s editing tool and 50 other operational staff, its co-founder said in a June interview. In comparison, Roblox had 38 employees in China by September, 38 of whom were in product and engineering functions. It’s actively hiring in China.

Roblox cannot comment for the story as it’s in the IPO quiet period.

Apple announces its 2019 Design Award winners

Apple doled out its 2019 Design Awards at its Worldwide Developer Conference this afternoon, highlighting a range of apps that work as beautifully as they look, the company said. This year, half the award winners were mobile games, which may speak to where much design innovation is today taking place. Other creativity focused and health care apps filled out the rest of the winners’ list.

To take home a prize, the apps’ had to excel across three areas: visual design, technology, and innovation. Specifically, Apple looks for apps that take full advantage of its latest devices and technologies.

The award winners don’t just get to take home a (newly redesigned) trophy. They also get an envious Apple prize pack that includes a 512GB iPhone 10S, AirPods, a 512GB 12.9 inch iPad Pro, Apple Pencil 2, a 64GB Apple TV 4K, an Apple Watch Series 4, a top of the line MacBook Pro, and a fully loaded iMac Pro. The apps will also be featured in the iOS App Store, gaining them more exposure.

The winning apps this year included:

Ordia: a one-finger action game where you play as a new life form taking its first leaps into a strange and hazardous world. Apple said this game offered a great balance between difficulty and satisfaction. It also focused on accessibility features, with a colorblind mode, for example. The game, from Loju LTD, was developed for two years and launched only a month ago, catching Apple’s eye.

Flow by Moleskin: Creative app for sketching, writing and drawing, Flow, was chosen for its attention to detail and overall design. It also showcased Apple technologies like Apple Pencil, gestures, iOS drawing APIs, and Metal.

The Gardens Between: A a single-player adventure-puzzle game about time, memory and friendship from The Voxel Agents won for its cinematic moments and immersive experience. Apple also really liked its gameplay mechanic which lets you stop time, which allows you to play without feeling rushed.

Asphalt 9 Legends: Gameloft’s latest iteration on the car racing game features cars from Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, and W Motors. What makes it worthy of the award are its incredible effects and graphics, as well as its custom engine and Metal 2 integration. 

Pixelmator Photo: This photo editing app specifically won for its iPad version, which makes photo editing easy for everyone. But what Apple really liked was its use of Metal, CoreML and how it leveraged machine learning technologies to suggest changes to photos.

ELOH: Another game winner, this one described as a “chilled out puzzler.” The game helps you relax and decompress, said Apple, but its key component is its sound effects soundtrack, which complements its beautiful graphics and the animations. There are no time constraints on this one, so you can relax and enjoy playing.

Butterfly IQ – Ultrasound: This app was a standout from the group for focusing on a real healthcare need, not gaming or the creative arts. The app connects with a separate device to give mobile ultrasounds. The app won based largely on that innovation alone. As Apple noted, the idea with this app is that you can move ultrasound to a microchip and move the computer to an iOS device, instead of the big, expensive machines required today.

Thumper: Pocket Edition: This winning music rhythm game was unique and did a great job introducing new game mechanics involving swipes and taps. But it also has a psychedelic soundtrack to complement the action that sounds great when played loud.

Homecourt: The Basketball App:  This basketball training app uses a proprietary mobile AI technology to track, record, and provide deep analysis of all your shots and workouts using your iPhone’s camera.

 

 

Guy discovers cheeky easter egg on a PS2 disc 14 years after it was released

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We doubt anyone pays attention to what’s on a gaming disc, unless the thing is scratched.

But if you have a copy of 2004’s The Bard’s Tale, the rather funny RPG has an easter egg printed on the disc certain fans might be aware of.

For the rest of us underlings, we’ve only just discovered the joke via a tweet posted by @ajelansolo on Saturday. Here he’s posted a picture of the PlayStation 2 disc, which has the message “really disturbing image… flip disc over.” 

The disc, of course, is reflective.

This PS2 game just flat out gave me the most devastating burnpic.twitter.com/exyaOXRzDL

— A$AP BLOCK ME (@alejansolo) February 9, 2018 Read more…

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‘Paperbark,’ the game that’s a love letter to unspoilt Australian nature

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While Australia’s renowned natural beauty is often plastered on postcards and featured in the occasional film, it’s something yet to be represented in the gaming world.

Paperbark, set to release early next year initially on iOS, will change all that. The game focuses on the life of a sleepy wombat exploring Australian bushland, discovering all kinds of flora and fauna along the way.

The game was originally the final year project of RMIT game design students Ryan Boulton, Nina Bennett and Terry Burdak. All three grew up in regional Victoria, and wanted to focus on creating a game that looked like an Australia they knew. Read more…

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Conan rips on Kumail Nanjiani's unconvincing orc voice in Xbox game

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What’s better than another episode of Conan O’Brien’s “Clueless Gamer” segment? Having a hilarious guest who also happens to be in the game, as well.

This time, he had The Big Sick‘s Kumail Nanjiani as co-pilot while they explored the upcoming Xbox game Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

It’s all good fun ripping on the characters until Nanjiani reveals, cringing, that he voiced “Dugz the Agonizer,” one of the enemy orcs that they were about to face.

Nanjiani was right to cringe. Because once Dugz shows up on screen and speaks, it sounds exactly like Nanjiani himself — not at all like an orc.

“You didn’t change your voice at all! Did you do that over the phone? What the hell was that!” yells O’Brien, before delivering the final stinger: “He should be called Kumail the Nanjiani.” Read more…

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It Is As If You Were Doing Work is a browser game celebrating Windows 3-era cubicle drudgery

Pippin Barr (previously) created a game that presents itself as a Windows 3-ish desktop from about 25 years ago. Mash away at each task in It Is As If You Were Doing Work until you win promotions and break time, wherein Breakout may be played.

“I positioned It is as if you were doing work in the context of the apparently near future of automated work (I read Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford recently in this vein). Thus the game poses as an application that humans who have been put out of work by robots and AI can play as a way to recapture the sense they once had of doing work and being productive. It’s a kind of semi-condescending service offered by this new world to those of us who can’t deal with it.”

Via Alice O’Connor, who points out the uncanny similarities to the pointless make-work foisted on the white-collar unemployed in Europe, training for jobs that will soon be extinct.

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Monster Scouts: go camping with an imaginary cryptid scout troop from the 1910s!

The Monster Scouts are a wonderful thing: monster-obsessed makers who have created a collaborative, detailed, LARP-ish world in which monsters are real and an imaginary scouting organization called the Crow Scouts, founded in 1907, has operated for more than a century to help our monster friends.
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The Lost Arcade: documentary about Manhattan's last arcade

The Lost Arcade, a documentary about the encroachment of gentrficiation upon the last real video arcade in Manhattan, is now available to watch online.

Directed by Kurt P. Vincent, the story is as much about the Chinatown Fair’s community as the games, celebrating the final years of a pop culture phenomenon that moved into our homes so slowly we never realized what we were losing.

“I wanted to create a film that would capture the spirit that hit me the first time I walked through those doors,” writes Vincent. “There was a melting pot of a community that congregated there, where all walks of life came together and shared one common interest: video games. It was a microcosm of what New York was all about. Not the overpriced New York we’ve come to accept, but what this city originally stood for and still does when you look deep enough.”

The Lost Arcade sheds a behind-the-scenes light into the demise of arcade culture, as it coincided with the rise of home console and online gaming, and showcases the dichotomy of how gamers connected then vs. now. But more importantly, it highlights the diversity and camaraderie among the competitive gamer community that arcades like Chinatown Fair were so uniquely able to foster.

View links: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, VHX, Vimeo, and Vudu.

Previously: The Lost Arcade: doc about rebirth of legendary NYC arcade

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Why Sony PS4s get roach-infested so easily

It’s not your imagination: Sony’s Playstation 4 really is unusually vulnerable to cockroach infestation. The reasons why remind me of airline disasters: a combination of several individually-trivial mistakes that combine to form something awful. But the results are so gross Sony won’t repair PS4s with roaches in them, writes Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio, sending mystified owners into the arms of disgusted local repair shops.

Matt Zieminski, who works for console repair suite IFixit, told me that most of the time, the consoles aren’t sent in for roach cleaning—the users don’t know they’re infested. The PS4s just stop working and the owners don’t know why. Turns out, the PS4’s internal power supply fries roaches onto its components, which can stop the PS4 from turning on. When the bugs have made little homes in there, and have little roach kids, those roach kids and their feces can melt onto the hardware.

Zieminski knows a PS4 is infested because “Roaches leave traces,” he says. “Their poop color is distinct and has a certain smell to it. We kind of know right off the bat if there are poop stains on the vent of the fan—we assume it’s bug-loaded.”

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Transparent refurbished Super Nintendo consoles

Rose-Colored gaming’s producing a limited run of transparent Super Nintendo consoles, refurbished from cosmetically-damaged originals. The guts are painted and polished to be pretty behind the new acrylic enclosures. [via]

These SNES consoles have been treated to a 100% brand new, hand-built exterior, all while retaining complete original function. Each is assembled by hand with the care and attention to detail that you have come to expect from RCG. The housing consists of laser cut and etched acrylic components which have been drilled, bent, bonded, threaded, & assembled using all new anodized aluminum hardware. Many internal components have been slathered in various finishes then etched in order to accentuate items which were never meant to be seen. All hand-built, these units will only be available in VERY limited quantities upon release, with each being treated to a unique serial number.

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Super Mario Run hits Android, rolls out version two on iOS

 Super Mario Run hit Android a day early. Originally expected today, March 23, per Nintendo’s earlier announcement, the game arrived on the Google Play Store yesterday instead, along with an update on iOS. The iOS exclusive ran for three months, and brought the app over 78 million downloads, the gaming company said during its earnings in January. Of those players, more than five… Read More

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Snakisms: the snake game, but now with meaning

Pippin Barr’s Snakisms is a version of the classic game Snake, but with a selection of philosophical viewpoints to choose from at the outset.

SNAKISMS was begun on the strength of the idea of “Ascetic Snake”, a game of Snake in which the snake isn’t meant to eat the apple (or whatever that thing is in Snake). That basic reversal of the standard form of the game struck me as funny because those sorts of things always strike me as funny, but on turning to actually make the game it seemed pretty clear it was too much of a throw-away idea all on its own.

And so it came to pass that I decided I needed to make a whole set of Snake games based (loosely) on different philosophies, eventually settling on the idea of “isms” because SNAKISMS is really a pretty great title for a game, I think you’ll agree. The design process took a surprisingly long time in terms of coming up with a set of “reasonable” interpretations of philosophies/isms that could be translated in some way to the mechanics of the original Snake game.

The creator’s Comp Sci PhD thesis concerns the moral dimensions of gameplay.

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Snakisms: 22 philosophies expounded through the game of Snake

Artist Pippin Barr wrote his PhD video game values and got a Masters in UI metaphors, so it’s natural that he’s created Snakisms, a collection of 22 variants on the classic video game Snake (best remembered from the era of candy-bar featurephones), each of which is meant to illustrate (or at least make a joke about) philosophies from Stoicism (your snake runs into things, pauses a moment, shakes it off and presses on) to Determinism (your snake drives itself), to Holism (just try it). They’re lovely, witty fun! (via Kottke)

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“Artisanal” Nintendo console cartridge hacker creates impossible alternate history games

Josh Jacobson is a Nintendo cartridge hacker who makes homebrew cartridges for games that were never released for NES/SNES, complete with label art and colored plastic cases that makes them look like they came from an alternate universe where (for example), there was a Nintendo version of Sonic the Hedgehog.
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7 things 'Pokémon Go' badly needs in 2017

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LONDON — I feel like I should make one thing clear up front: I love Pokémon Go.

Since I first downloaded the game last July, I don’t think a day’s gone by without me opening up the app. That might sound sad to some people — probably the same people who gleefully comment “dead” every single time Niantic tweet — but that doesn’t really bother me.

I still enjoy playing the game, and anyone who’s been on thriving Reddit communities like The Silph Road (or read how much money Niantic apparently made in 2016) will know that it’s a long way from dead.  Read more…

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You can now play Bill Gates' first PC game and run over donkeys on your iPhone, Apple Watch

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Bill Gates may be best known for co-founding the world’s largest software firm Microsoft and his philanthropy work, but not a lot of people know he also programmed the first PC game.

In 1981, Gates co-wrote DONKEY.BAS, a game written in BASIC programming language which saw the protagonist run over donkeys who appeared before the car.

Since the operating systems our computers run today look nothing like anything that people in 1981 rocked, a good samaritan has released the iconic game to Apple’s iPhone and Apple Watch devices.  Read more…

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Bake: a pixel-art Mario pie for National Pie Day

Jessica Leigh Clark-Bojin (aka @ThePieous) writes, “It is National Pie Day in America tomorrow (not to be confused with “International Pi Day” – the cooler big cousin of pie holidays on March 14th…) In honour of this occasion I’ve posted a new tutorial video that is very attainable for any novice pie-geeks out there thinking about whipping something up nifty. It features our favourite 8 bit plumber hero, with a special guest appearance at the end.”

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Portal for the Apple ][+, //e and related systems

Vince Weaver is reimplementing Portal — “the cake acquisition simulator released in 2007” — to the Apple II series of computers, bit by bit — inspired by the fact that the Apple II hires mode has “the perfect Aperture Science orange and blue colors.” He’s released a disc image of the game in Apple Basic, as well as sourcecode.
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Manifold – a pad a 100 origami puzzles

I think someone on the BBS mentioned that Manifold was a fun origami puzzle challenge (thank you, whoever you are!). I ordered it on Amazon for $8. It’s a pad of 100 square sheets of paper, printed with white and black squares on one side, and nothing (except folding guides) on the other side. The object is to fold each sheet so that all the white squares are on one side, and all the black ones are on the other. I just did two of them, and it was so much fun that I’m saving the rest for a long flight I have coming up.

Here’s a PDF you can print out to try five puzzles.

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