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Nintendo Switch might soon go on sale in China via Tencent

Posted by | Asia, Beijing, China, Entertainment, Gaming, Mario, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, shanghai, Sony, Tencent | No Comments

After months of anticipation, Nintendo Switch is ready to shed more light on its China launch. The Japanese console giant and Tencent are “working diligently” to bring the Switch to the world’s largest market for video games, the partners announced on Weibo (the Twitter equivalent in China) today.

The pair did not specify a date when the portable gaming system will officially launch, as the government approval process can take months. But there are signs that things are moving forward. For example, Tencent has been given the green light to run a trial version of the New Super Mario Mario Bros. U Deluxe and a few other blockbuster titles in China.

On August 2, the partners will jointly host a press conference for Switch — no product launch yet — in Shanghai, Tencent confirmed to TechCrunch. It appears to be a strategic move that coincides with the country’s largest gaming expo China Joy beginning on the same day in the city.

Tencent and Nintendo are hosting a media event on August 2nd 2019 in Shanghai for Nintendo Switch.

Steven Ma, Senior Vice President of Tencent and Satoru Shibata, executive at Nintendo, will attend.

Should be more details of Switch launch in China. pic.twitter.com/MULC7jMSqg

— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) July 24, 2019

Sales of Nintendo Switch in China, made possible through a distribution deal with Tencent, will likely add fuel to Nintendo’s slowing growth. It can also potentially diversify Tencent’s gaming revenues, which took a hit last year as Beijing tightened controls over online entertainment.

Switch faces an uphill battle as consoles, including Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox, have for years struggled to catch on in China. The reasons are multifaceted. China had banned consoles until 2014 to protect minors from harmful content. The devices are also much less affordable than mobile games, making it difficult as a form of social interaction in the mobile-first nation.

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Sony’s new A7R IV camera is a 61 MP full-frame mirrorless beast

Posted by | cameras, Canon, digital photography, Gadgets, hardware, image stabilization, Nikon, nikon d5100, oled, Sony, TC | No Comments

Sony unveiled the latest in its line of interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras on Tuesday, debuting the A7R IV, its top-of-the-line full-frame digital shooter aimed at pros. The new camera packs a walloping 61-megapixel sensor, and will retail for $3,500 when it goes on sale this September.

The camera’s image resolution is a “world first” for a 35mm-equivalent full-frame digital sensor, Sony notes, and that’s not where the improvements on this successor to the wildly popular A7R III end: The A7R IV also has 10fps rapid shooting with continuous autofocus and autoexposure tracking capabilities; 567 phase-detect autofocus points that cover 74% of the frame; real-time eye autofocus tracking for stills and movies, which can handle both human and animal subjects; 4K HDR movie recording without any pixel binning and with S-Log 2/3 support for editing (although without a 60p mode, as it caps out at 30p); ISO range of 100-32000 (and 50-102400 expandable); battery life of around 539 shots with the EVF, or 670 shots without; and much more.

sony alpha a7r iv

This Sony camera is clearly a shot across the bow at recent entrants into the full-frame mirrorless camera market, including Nikon and Canon, and it looks like Sony will be upping one of its biggest advantages by offering even better subject-tracking autofocus, which is a category where it already has a strong lead. The high-resolution sensor is another area where the competition will be left behind, since the Nikon Z7 captures at 45.7 MP and the Canon R maxes out at 30.3 MP.

Real-time eye autofocus in movie recording will also help a lot for video shooters, after Sony introduced it to still shooting for the A7 and A7R III via a firmware update in April. Touch tracking allows shooters to just tap the thing they want to maintain autofocus on using the back display LCD while shooting, and a new digital audio interface added to the camera’s hot shoe connector means recording with a shotgun mic that supports the feature, without any additional cable clutter.

The A7R IV also offers five-axis in-body image stabilization, a 5.76 million-to UXGA OLED EVF, boosted weather and dust resistance, wireless tethered shooting capabilities and dual UHS-II SD card slots for storage.

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Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony pen letter highlighting ‘harm’ from Trump’s tariffs

Posted by | Gaming, Microsoft, Nintendo, Policy, Sony, TC, trump | No Comments

It’s not every day the three biggest competitors in a space join forces to denounced political action. Of course, this isn’t the first time the Trump administration has had this impact on a category.

Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony (collectively known as gaming’s “big three) penned a joint letter noting the harm the industry stands to face in the age of Trump administration tariffs on China. Addressed to Office of the United States Trade Representative General Counsel Joseph Barloon, the note asks for a modification the existing tariff list.

“While we appreciate the Administration’s efforts to protect U.S. intellectual property and preserve U.S. high-tech leadership,” the letter reads, diplomatically, “the disproportionate harm caused by these tariffs to U.S. consumers and businesses will undermine—not advance—these goals.”

The three companies highlight a broad range of cascading impacts the laws could ultimately have the vast industry, including,

  • Injure consumers, video game developers, retailers and console manufacturers
  • Put thousands of high-value, rewarding U.S. jobs at risk
  • Stifle innovation in our industry and beyond.

The impacts of tariffs have already begun to take their toll on various technology sectors, with several leaders — including, notably, Apple’s Tim Cook — personally petitioning Trump for exceptions.

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China to lose top spot to US in 2019 gaming market

Posted by | Activision Blizzard, Apple, China, Entertainment, Facebook, Gaming, Microsoft, mobile game, Nintendo, Sony, Tencent, WeChat | No Comments

China is losing its global lead in games. By the end of 2019, the U.S. will replace China as the world’s largest gaming market, with an estimated revenue of $36.9 billion, says a new report from research firm Newzoo.

This will mark the first time since 2015 that the U.S. will top the global gaming market, thanks to healthy domestic growth in consoles. Globally, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo and other console games are on track to rise 13.4% in revenue this year. Driving the growth is the continued shift toward the games-as-a-service model, Newzoo points out, on top of a solid installed base across the current console generation and spending from new model releases.

China, on the other hand, suffered from a nine-month freeze on game licenses last year that significantly shrank the stream of new titles. Though applications have resumed, industry experts warn of a slower and stricter approval process that will continue to put the squeeze on new titles. Time limits imposed on underage players will also hurt earnings in the sector.

As a result of China’s slowdown, Asia-Pacific is no longer the fastest-growing region. Taking the crown is Latin America, which is enjoying a 10.4% compound annual growth.

Despite China’s licensing blackout, Tencent remained as the largest publicly listed gaming firm in 2018, pocketing $19.73 billion in revenue. Growth slowed to 9% compared to 51% from 2016 to 2017 at Tencent’s gaming division, but the Shenzhen-based company is back on track with new blockbuster Game for Peace (和平精英), a regulator-friendly version of PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, ready to monetize.

Trailing behind Tencent in the global ranking is Sony, Microsoft, Apple and Activision Blizzard.

Other key trends of the year:

Rise of instant games: Mini games played inside WeChat without installing another app are becoming mainstream in China. These games, which tend to have strong social elements and are easy to play, have attracted followers including Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese version) to create with their own offerings.

Facebook’s Instant Games have also come a long way since opening to outside developers in 2018. The platform now sees more than 30 billion game sessions played across over 7,000 titles. WeChat doesn’t use the same metrics, but for some context, the Chinese company boasted 400 million monthly players on mini games as of January.

Mobile momentum carries on: Mobile games will continue to outpace growth on PC and console in the coming years. As expected, emerging markets that are mobile-first and mobile-only will drive most of the boom in mobile gaming, which is on course to account for almost half (49%) of the entire sector by 2022. Part of the growth is driven by improved hardware and internet infrastructure, as well as a growing number of cross-platform titles.

Games in the cloud are here: It was a distant dream just a few years ago — being able to play some of the most demanding titles regardless of the hardware one owns. But the technology is closer than ever to coming true with faster internet speed and the imminent rollout of 5G networks. A few giants have already showcased their cloud gaming services over the last few months, with the likes of Google’s Stadia, Microsoft’s xCloud and Tencent’s Start slated to test the market.

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From Project Scarlett to Gooigi: The best of E3 2019

Posted by | e3 2019, Gaming, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony | No Comments

Every story about E3 has opened with a mention of Sony’s absence, and this one’s no different. The lack of one of gaming’s “big three” loomed large over the show, right down to a strange sense of space on the showroom floor.

Even Xbox chief Phil Spencer mourned the absence of the company’s biggest competitor, stating, “I wish Sony was here,” during a live stream.

But the show went on, as it has through countless ebbs and flows of the gaming industry. Sony’s clearly got plenty up its sleeve with regard to next-generation content, and frankly, no one’s too worried about their health.

Microsoft, meanwhile, came out swinging on Sunday. The company had a TON of games to reveal at the show, with dozens of trailers, all told. And while Microsoft did touch upon two key pieces of news, it ultimately ended up blowing through those announcements, with very little time devoted to either its next-generation 8K console, Project Scarlett, or its streaming service, Project xCloud.

In fact, we ultimately went back to Microsoft later in the week to clarify some things about the service and discovered in the process that console streaming will be free and not a part of the broader xCloud offering.

While Microsoft ultimately seemed cautious (or pressed for time) to go into either xCloud or Game Pass in too much detail onstage, streaming was unquestionably the biggest story of the show. That’s due in no small part to the fact that Google took a little wind out of E3’s sails by shedding more light on its Stadia offering during a surprise press conference last Friday.

On Tuesday, a Nintendo executive confirmed for me that the company is exploring streaming, but wasn’t able to comment on any specifics. Regardless, the writing is clearly on the wall here, and Nintendo has certainly taken notice. In the meantime, the company showed off its latest Animal Crossing title, a sneak peek of the next Zelda and the surprise hit of the show: A gooey Luigi called, naturally, Gooigi. Honestly though, I’m most excited about that Link’s Awakening remaster.

Square’s big event was fairly lackluster, though we did get a preview of the Uncanny (Valley) Avengers. Ubisoft had some cool demos on tap, including Watch Dogs: Legion and story mode for Assassin’s Creed. The publisher is also launching its own streaming service, with help from Google Stadia. Bethesda, meanwhile, is getting in on the battle royale phenomenon with a new mode for Fallout 76. Though the Fall Guys’ version is far more adorable.

There’s a Razer energy drink, Opera gaming browser, new George R.R. Martin game, Warcraft-meets-The-Office show from the It’s Always Sunny crew and a dance game for the Nintendo Wii. Not the Switch, not the Wii U, the Wii. Happy E3 2019!

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What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

Posted by | Apple, e3 2019, events, Gadgets, Gaming, Google, Hulu, Media, Microsoft, Netflix, Nintendo, Sony, Spotify, stadia, Streaming Media, ubisoft, Uplay, xbox | No Comments

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

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Destiny 2 goes free to play and gains cross-saving on all platforms

Posted by | Bungie, destiny 2, game streaming, games as a service, Gaming, Google, google stadia, Microsoft, playstation, playstation 3, PS4, Sony, Steam, streaming, Valve, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

Bungie aims to fortify the popular but flagging Destiny 2 with an expanded free-to-play plan and universal cross-platform saving, the company announced today. It’s an interesting and player-friendly evolution of the “games as a service” model, and other companies should take note.

The base game, which is to say the original campaign and the first year of updates, will be available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Google Stadia. You can play as much as you want, and your progress will be synced to your account, so you can do some easy patrols on console and then switch to your PC’s mouse and keyboard for the more difficult raids.

The PS4 cross-save ability is a surprise, since Sony has resisted this sort of thing in the past and rumors had it before the announcement that they would be left out of the bargain. It’s heartening to see this level of cooperation, if that’s what it is, in the new gaming economy.

Confirmed! https://t.co/WKWtPZ7mtD

— PlayStation (@PlayStation) June 6, 2019

As part of Bungie’s separation from Activision, which published Destiny 2 to begin with, the game is now switching over to Steam on the PC. That’s probably a good thing for most, and you won’t lose any progress. It’s also being renamed “Destiny: New Light,” because why not?

Importantly, no platform will have any content advantage over another — no Xbox-specific guns or PC-specific levels. At a time when consoles are fighting one another on the basis of exclusives, this is a breath of fresh air.

The news was announced in a stream this morning, though players got a sneak peak when a publication I shall not name posted it slightly early. But we also learned more ahead of Bungie’s announcement when Google’s Stadia event showed the game coming to the streaming service in free form.

The developers at Bungie reveal Destiny 2: Shadowkeep.

A new chapter for Destiny 2 and the studio begins this September.

🌑 Watch the full ViDoc: https://t.co/A1dBgdxgMQ pic.twitter.com/nHbAW9CuYA

— Bungie (@Bungie) June 6, 2019

Destiny 2 came out two years ago and has had a number of expansions — and has also been free for limited times or platforms a handful of times. The base game was really a bit threadbare and honestly may not convince new players that it’s worth it to pay. But the price is right and if you like the basic gameplay the expansions, which improved considerably on the game and added a lot of contents, can be bought year by year.

The move is obviously meant to help Destiny 2 compete with other games-as-services, such as the constantly improving Warframe and youth-devouring Fortnite. And it’s a good test bed for the new cross-platform economy that gamers are beginning to demand. You’ll be able to test it out for yourself on September 17, when the switchover is set to take effect — more details should be available well ahead of the relaunch.

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What to expect from E3 2019

Posted by | e3 2019, events, Gaming, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony | No Comments

E3 2019 is shaping up to be a bit of an in-between year. Nintendo Switch sales have finally started slowing, but the company’s a ways off from its next-generation console. Microsoft and Sony will be offering info on theirs soon, but we likely won’t be seeing much — especially from the latter, which has opted to sit out this show altogether.

Still, there will be plenty to see next week in Los Angeles. Here’s what we expect so far.

Microsoft: Google, of all companies, made the biggest splash at GDC back in March, announcing Stadia, its live-streaming gaming service. Look for Microsoft to hit back this week, with a lot more information surrounding its competitor, Project xCloud. We have even fewer details about Microsoft’s offering, though the company has compared it to music streaming services like Spotify.

We could get a glimpse of some next-generation hardware at the event, as well, though that’s likely to amount to little more than a brief sneak peek. We will, however, be getting a good look at Gears 5, the latest entry in one of the console’s most beloved franchises. The new title, which debuted onstage this time last year, is expected to be a major departure for the series.

Speaking of beloved franchises, look for some gameplay time with Halo: Infinite. So far, we’ve got little info on the Xbox/Windows 10 title beyond a mysterious trailer. Look for more than a dozen titles in all, including Age of Empires and a new Fable.

Nintendo: With a June 28 release date, there won’t be many surprises left for Super Mario Maker 2 by the time E3 rolls around. Pokémon Sword / Shield, too, will also be pretty well-highlighted ahead of the show. The upcoming Animal Crossing Switch title seems like a pretty good bet. Also be on the lookout for Luigi’s Mansion 3, Fire Emblem Three Houses and the Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Sony: Nothing.

Seriously, nothing.

We know the PlayStation 5 is just around the corner. E3 would be a great time to offer some insight into the company’s next-generation console, but Sony has opted to sit this one out instead. The gaming giant’s absence will loom large over the event, leaving Microsoft as the only member of the big three with an actual in-person press conference, after years of Nintendo Treehouses.

E3 has traditionally been a show that’s ebbed and flowed more than most, but the gaming giant’s decision will no doubt leave many wondering whether the event has lost some of its relevance in the age of doing everything online.

Publishers: Marvel’s Avengers is going to be a huge one from RPG stalwarts Square Enix. We’ve heard very little about the eagerly awaited title. A since-removed event synopsis described the Marvel game as, “an epic action-adventure that combines cinematic storytelling with continuous single-player and co-operative gameplay.” The game will be sharing a stage with the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake.

As for Ubisoft, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Rainbow Six Siege and Tom Clancy’s The Division are all on tap. Doom Eternal and Wolfenstein: Youngblood are the big titles for Bethesda this year, plus Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76 updates.

The show kicks off Sunday with Microsoft’s press conference. TechCrunch will be there all week.

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Rivals in gaming, Microsoft and Sony team up on cloud services

Posted by | Gadgets, game streaming, Gaming, Google, google stadia, Microsoft, playstation, Sony, streaming, streaming games, xbox | No Comments

For the last two decades, Sony and Microsoft’s gaming divisions have been locked in all-out war against one another: on price, on hardware, on franchises, on exclusives… you name it. But it seems they’ve set their enmity aside temporarily that they might better prevent that filthy casual, Google, from joining the fray.

The official team-up, documented in a memorandum of understanding, was announced today, though details are few. But this is clear enough:

The two companies will explore joint development of future cloud solutions in Microsoft Azure to support their respective game and content-streaming services. In addition, the two companies will explore the use of current Microsoft Azure datacenter-based solutions for Sony’s game and content-streaming services.

Of course there is no doubt that Sony could have gone with a number of other cloud services for its gaming-on-demand services. It already runs one, PlayStation Now, but the market is expected to expand over the next few years much like cord cutters have driven traditional TV and movie watchers to Netflix and other streaming services. Expansion would surely prove expensive and complicated.

The most salient challenger is likely Google and its new Stadia game streaming service, which of course has a huge advantage in its global presence, brand recognition and unique entry points: search and YouTube. The possibility of searching for a game and being able to play it literally five seconds later is an amazing one, and really only something Google can pull off right now.

That makes Google a threat. And Microsoft and Sony have enough threats already, what with the two of them making every exclusive and chip partnership count, the resurgence of Nintendo with the immensely popular Switch and the complex new PC-and-mobile-focused gaming market making consoles look outdated. Apple Arcade exists, too, but I don’t know that anyone is worried about it, exactly.

Perhaps there was a call made on the special direct line each has to the other, where they just said “truce… until we reduce Google Stadia to rubble and salt the earth. Also Nvidia maybe.”

We don’t actually have to imagine, though. As Sony President and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida noted in the announcement: “For many years, Microsoft has been a key business partner for us, though of course the two companies have also been competing in some areas. I believe that our joint development of future cloud solutions will contribute greatly to the advancement of interactive content.”

Sony doesn’t lack technical chops, or the software necessary to pull off a streaming service — but it may simply make more sense to deploy via Microsoft’s Azure than bring its own distribution systems up to par. No doubt Microsoft is happy to welcome a customer as large as Sony to its stable, and any awkwardness from the two competing elsewhere is secondary to that. Google is a more existential competitor in many ways, so it makes sense that Microsoft would favor partnering with a partial rival against it.

Sony has long been in this boat itself. Its image sensors and camera technology can be found in phones and DSLRs that compete with its own products — but the revenue and feedback it has built up as a result have let it maintain its dominance.

Speaking of which, the two companies also plan to collaborate on imaging, combining Sony’s sensor tech with Microsoft’s AI work. This is bound to find its way to applications in robotics and autonomous vehicles, though competition is fierce there, and neither company has a real branded presence. Perhaps they aim to change that… together.

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Nintendo and Sony temper console expectations ahead of E3

Posted by | e3, Gaming, hardware, Microsoft, Nintendo, nvidia, PlayStation 5, Sony, xbox | No Comments

E3’s just over a month away, and per usual, the news in the lead up has offered more insight into what we won’t be hearing about at the big gaming show. Late last year, Sony announced that it would be skipping its big annual press conference at the event. The move marks a key absence for the gaming giant for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, as the company will instead be “exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019.”

The sentiment should ring familiar for those who follow the gaming industry. Several years ago Nintendo made a similar move, eschewing the in-person press conference for the online Nintendo Direct “Treehouse” it uses to showcase new trailers. It’s a method Nintendo has held to ever since.

Game publisher Square Enix this week happily slid into Sony’s prime-time slot, leaving Microsoft the last of the remaining three major console makers with a press conference at the Los Angeles event. The death of shows like E3 has been overstated throughout the years, of course. These things tend to move in cycles, with much of the hype tied specifically to new system reveals.

Microsoft took the wraps off its disc-free Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” this month, leaving many wondering what the company could still have up its sleeve for the June event. Earlier this week, meanwhile, Sony batted away suggestions that the PlayStation 5 was coming soon. Details are, not surprisingly, still vague, but the company says the next-gen console won’t be arriving in the next six months.

On its earnings call, Nintendo similarly dismissed recent rumors that it would launch a low-cost version of the Switch. The console has been a wild success for the company on the heels of the disappointing Wii U, but slowing sales have pointed to Nintendo’s longstanding tradition of offering modified hardware. Rumors have largely pointed to a lower-cost version of the system that can only be played in portable mode.

None of this is to say we got some kind of preview. Companies love to tease these sorts of things out, but it does appear that the big three are tempering expectations for the show. That leaves some opening for other players — of course, E3 has long been dominated by the big three. Among the other rumors currently circulating ahead of the show is a 2-in-1 gaming tablet from Nvidia.

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