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After books and vinyl, board games make a comeback | Life and style

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Forget Candy Crush, Fifa and Call of Duty – millennials are putting down their Xbox controllers and smartphones and picking up their dice as they embrace games their parents and grandparents used to love.

More and more people are exchanging marathon gaming sessions alone in a darkened room for the social fun of board games. With bars and cafes such as Thirsty Meeples in Oxford, and Draughts in London having a library of more than 800 games catering for the “cocktails and Cluedo” set, board games – as with colouring books – are no longer just Christmas presents for children.

Early next month tens of thousands of enthusiasts will descend on Birmingham NEC for the UK Games Expo, the third-largest hobby and games convention in the world. The event, in its 12th year, caters for all aspects of tabletop gaming, from classic board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo to Warhammer and trading card games.

Tony Hyams, director of UK Games Expo, says: “The event started in 2007, right in the teeth of the financial meltdown. We assumed it would struggle and were prepared for it to just a be a little local show. The first year we had 1,200 attendees over the two days. This year we are expecting closer to 40,000 over three days.

“We knew that people didn’t have much money, and we just wanted a great weekend. We kept prices as low as we could and packed as much fun in as possible. This seems to be a winning formula for everyone.”

He adds: “We have seen a real growth of interest in board games over the past 10 years.

“While the internet is a great thing, sitting down and playing with friends and family is becoming increasingly important. Having time away from our phones and computers where we can talk, play and enjoy time together is something board games let us do.”

Purchasing a tabletop game, as Hymas notes, “makes good financial sense”. Computer gaming on games consoles or even mobile phones is no longer a “pay-once” situation. In comparison with in-app or in-game purchases, self-contained board games with no extras required seem more appealing. Makers of electronic games have faced outrage from fans over their reliance on in-game purchases for titles such as Fifa 18 or Star Wars Battlefront II, which can take the already high cost of the games to an astronomical level.

This is one of the reasons why an increasing number of games are moving from the console to the table top. The post-second world war “atompunk” role-playing game Fallout 4 generated $750m in the first 24 hours after its launch but now there has been enough appetite to make it into a board game alongside classic video games such as Doom.

They are part of a trend – from books to vinyl, there is evidence of growing interest in the “real thing” rather than the digital versions. It is also an interest that can be shared across generations.

Elsa Tarring, 17, says: “In our house, we only have two remote controls for the Wii, so you can’t play with a big group of people, whereas with a board game you can. And adults are often useless with technology, so you can play a board game with them and no one is excluded.”

The tabletop gaming industry looked to be on the wane in 2015, when companies such as Games Workshop, which makes Warhammer fantasy models, were struggling financially. However, profits have since increased as more people move away from screens and towards human interaction in gaming.

Jonathan Berkowitz, of Hasbro Gaming, says: “The gaming industry is doing very well right now. We’re continuing to see popularity grow for all types of face-to-face games. With classic favourites such as Monopoly and Game of Life and new, social games such as Chow Crown and Don’t Lose Your Cool we are confident this momentum will continue.”



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Australia newsCultureeSportsGamesGames competitionsSportSydney

Extreme eSports: the very male, billion-dollar gaming industry at a stadium near you | Sport

Extreme eSports: the very male, billion-dollar gaming industry at a stadium near you | Sport


Whenever an artist scheduled to play Qudos Bank Arena at Sydney Olympic Park doesn’t sell enough tickets, the venue tactfully drapes black cloth over the empty seats in the theatre’s uppermost section. Filling more than 18,000 seats is quite an ask, which is why only top-flight acts like Pink, Katy Perry, Shania Twain and Kendrick Lamar are attempting it in coming months.

The black cloth is not needed today. Sydney gaming enthusiasts have filled the venue almost to capacity for the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM), a three-day professional video game tournament that rivals anything Qudos has hosted in terms of scale and spectacle.

Two groups of five men are onstage, seated at computer monitors. Headphones on, hunched forward, they sit almost completely immobile save for their flickering hands and darting eyes. Their coaches pace grimly behind them, watching the screens and muttering directives into their microphones.

Behind them, two enormous television monitors broadcast their onscreen actions. On the dusty streets of a Moroccan village, a band of balaclava-clad separatists is shot to pieces by a matching squad of Special Forces soldiers. Thirty seconds later, the soldiers are the ones cut down, caught in the crosshairs of a sniper as they stumble through a veil of smoke. A bomb planted on a cache of chemical weapons ignites, presumably killing thousands.

From the VIP seats to the nosebleed section, the enraptured crowd watches on, occasionally roaring its collective approval or disappointment. It is overwhelmingly male, although not noticeably more so than your average rugby league match. The main difference to any other sporting audience is that of age: the vast majority of attendees are in their 20s and 30s.



While large-scale eSports events like IEM are relatively new in Australia, tournaments overseas routinely attract tens of thousands of attendees and millions of livestream views. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson/Helena Kristiansson, ESL

During lulls in play, they amuse themselves in the time-honoured way of bored Australian sports fans everywhere: by batting around a few beach balls and taunting security’s efforts to stop them. Chants of “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” are just as regular and inane as they are at the cricket. When events onscreen reach a climax, the immense amphitheatre thunders with the crowd’s euphoria.

If this scene sounds made-up, you have officially missed the boat on the eSports phenomenon. Competitive gaming is a billion-dollar industry, and Sydney has become the field’s domestic epicentre.

IEM is dedicated to Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), a multiplayer first-person shoot-’em-up where teams of five compete against each other in simple, objective-based rounds. Teams either assume the role of “terrorists” trying to plant a bomb, or Special Forces-style “counter-terrorists” trying to stop them, with much carnage resulting.

From the VIP seats to the nosebleed section, the enraptured crowd watches on.



From the VIP seats to the nosebleed section, the enraptured crowd watches on. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson

Sixteen professional CS:GO teams from as far afield as the European Union, Brazil, the United States and China are competing at IEM for a share in the $310,000 prize pool. Individual games take less than two minutes, with tournament rounds decided via a best-of-30 format. Whichever team wins 16 games takes the round, like a set in a game of tennis, and the team that wins two of three rounds wins the contest and advances to the next stage.

For competitors, this is not an amateur pursuit – it is a livelihood, and a possible ticket to sponsorship and stardom. While large-scale eSports events like IEM are relatively new in Australia, tournaments overseas routinely attract tens of thousands of attendees and millions of livestream views.

For competitors, eSports is not an amateur pursuit – it is a livelihood, and a possible ticket to sponsorship and stardom.



For competitors, eSports is not an amateur pursuit – it is a livelihood, and a possible ticket to sponsorship and stardom. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson

As the scene has become increasingly professionalised, competitive eSports has begun to resemble traditional sport far more than the old cliche of nerdy kids playing in a basement. Like any other sport, it has its own doping scandals, injuries and pay and contract disputes.

Teams are increasingly joining the World eSports Association, a peak body designed to standardise pay, conditions, rights and regulations across the industry. The major brands – Fnatic, Cloud9, Legacy – attract the same loyalty and fanaticism of elite sports teams. Their uniforms are adorned with the logos of hefty sponsors like Audi, Dr Pepper and Vodafone, and they scout lower pool-stage tournaments for talented players to sign.

Australian Oliver Tierney, known by the handle DickStacy, turned 21 three weeks ago and has been playing professionally for a year. Tierney has already played at international CS:GO tournaments in London, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia and New Zealand, and is headed to Dallas in two weeks with Australian team Grayhound Gaming. His celebrity with the IEM crowd is evident by the reception he receives when he tries to use one of the venue’s bathrooms.

Ollie Tierney
(@DickStacyy)

When you go to the male bathroom at IEM, and proceed to stand in the middle of the urinal of 15 guys to take a piss then a fellow gentlemen says, “IS THAT DICKSTACYS DICK!?” All eyes then turn to your penis. Good times.


May 5, 2018

“I love the competitiveness of it, I love the group aspect,” Tierney says. “I never thought I’d be here in a million years.”

While Tierney has established himself overseas, he’s also keen to grow eSports domestically.

“The industry’s just going to keep growing and growing,” he says. “We’re completely behind in Australia at the moment; our internet’s too patchy, no one takes games seriously, the culture’s not there yet. But every kid these days knows what eSports is. The new generation coming through is where it’s going to happen.”

As the 16 male teams battle it out, the CS:GO Women’s Sydney Open plays in a side room. Around 100 people sit in the audience, making it the only space at IEM with more than a handful of women at any given time.

It’s a sober reminder of the gender disparity that permeates both sports and gaming culture. Like almost any other sport, women eSports players are woefully underpaid compared to their male counterparts. The two women’s teams in the grand final – Sydney Saints and Control ESports – are only competing for the lion’s share of $10,000 in prize money.

The Intel Extreme Masters final takes nearly five hours, but when the team finally complete the whitewash, the arena erupts.



The Intel Extreme Masters final takes nearly five hours, but when the team finally complete the whitewash, the arena erupts. Photograph: Helena Kristiansson

The fact that eSports are gender segregated at all points more to the sexism present in the wider gaming scene than any disparity in ability. The 2014 Gamergate scandal, which saw female gaming journalists and critics of gaming culture’s more boorish aspects targeted by waves of online abuse, was the first rumbling of what would become the weaponised misogyny of the Trump campaign and the violent “incel” movement.

Nicole Constantine is the Sydney Saints’ manager, handling their schedules and day-to-day logistics. She thinks that while gender equality in eSports is a way off, the “step-by-step” work of women like the Saints is wearing down the barriers.

“If you give girls the opportunity, they will perform”, Constantine says. “Constantly criticising and comparing them to the boys’ leagues is useless, because they stand on their own.”

By Sunday, the 16 male teams have been whittled down to two: FaZe Clan, the home crowd favourites, and Astralis, hyped by MC Oliver D’Anastasi as “possibly the best team in the world”.

Despite FaZe Clan eventually blitzing the best-of-five rounds contest, the final takes nearly five hours. When they finally complete the whitewash, the arena erupts.

As Sydney goes about its Sunday, unaware of the growing phenomenon unfolding in its midst, 18,000 gaming devotees stand to cheer their new champions.





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Barack ObamaBeyoncéBiologyCultureFilmInsectsJohn CleeseKate WinsletLeonardo DiCaprioScienceTechnologyWildlife

Celebrity species: from the DiCaprio water beetle to Obama spiders | Technology

Celebrity species: from the DiCaprio water beetle to Obama spiders | Technology


Leonardo DiCaprio

A new species of water beetle, discovered by scientists in Borneo, has been named after the Oscar-winning star of The Revenant. With its partially retractable head and slightly protruding eyes, Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi was not named for its resemblance to the 43-year-old actor and environmentalist but because the scientists “wanted to highlight that even the smallest creature is important”.




Captia beyonceae. Photograph: Bryan Lessard/CSIRO

Beyoncé

“It was the unique dense golden hairs on the fly’s abdomen that led me to name this fly in honour of the performer,” said Australian scientist Bryan Lessard upon the naming of Scaptia beyonceae, a rare species of horse fly found in Queensland. Australia’s science agency CSIRO contacted Beyoncé but, unsurprisingly, never heard back.

John Cleese and a woolly lemur.



Mad about Madagascar: John Cleese and a woolly lemur.

John Cleese

The Monty Python actor, on the other hand, was thrilled to have a woolly lemur named after him by a team of scientists from Zurich University in 2005. “I’m absurdly fond of the little creatures,” said Cleese, who made a documentary about lemurs in Madagascar in 1998, and now lives on there in name at least in the Bemaraha woolly lemur (Avahi cleesei).

Barack Obama receives a photograph of the Tosanoides obama reef fish from ocean explorer Sylvia Earle last year.



Scales for the chief: Barack Obama receives a photograph of the Tosanoides obama reef fish from ocean explorer Sylvia Earle last year. Photograph: Brian Skerry/National Geographic

Barack Obama

A dozen species have been named after the 44th US president, including a species of lichen, two spiders, a Cuban bee, an extinct lizard and – most picturesque of all – a coral reef fish that goes by the name Tosanoides obama and can be found swimming around the Papahānaumokuākea marine national monument in Obama’s native Hawaii.

Agra katewinsletae.


Agra katewinsletae. Photograph: Karolyn Darrow/Courtesy of National Museum of Natural History

Kate Winslet

DiCaprio’s co-star in Titanic has also had a beetle named after her, though some 11,000 miles of ocean divides the two species. Agra katewinsletae was discovered in Costa Rica by entomologist Terry Erwin, who explained: “Her character did not go down with the ship, but we will not be able to say the same for this elegant canopy species if all the rainforest is converted to pastures.”



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CultureGamesHarry PotterMobile phonesSmartphonesTechnology

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery review: a shameless shake-down | Games

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery review: a shameless shake-down | Games


There’s about an hour of magic at the beginning of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, when an owl arrives from Dumbledore with a letter bearing your name and you’re whisked off to Diagon Alley to prepare for your wizarding education. Like a lot of smartphone games, Hogwarts Mystery looks a bit basic, but it’s not lazy; it’s colourful and gently humorous. Fan-pleasing touches come in the form of dialogue voiced by actors from the Harry Potter films, cameos from beloved characters and allusions to nuggets of Potter trivia.

The enchantment fades when you get to the first story interlude, where your character becomes tangled up in Devil’s Snare. After a few seconds of furious tapping to free yourself from its clutches, your energy runs out and the game asks you to pay a couple of quid to refill it – or wait an hour or for it to recharge. Sadly, this is absolutely by design.



Sardonic presence … Snape in the Potions classroom. Photograph: Jam City

From this point onwards Hogwarts Mystery does everything it can to stop you from playing it. You cannot get through even a single class without being interrupted. A typical lesson now involves 90 seconds of tapping, followed by an hour of waiting (or a purchase), then another 90 seconds of tapping. An outlay of £2 every 90 seconds is not a reasonable ask. Between story missions the wait times are even more egregious: three hours, even eight hours. Hogwarts Mystery pulls the old trick of hiding the true cost of its purchases behind an in-game “gem” currency, but I worked out that you’d have to spend about £10 a day just to play Hogwarts Mystery for 20 consecutive minutes. The interruptions prevent you from forming any kind of attachment to your fellow students, or to the mystery at the heart of the story. It is like trying to read a book that asks for money every 10 pages and slams shut on your fingers if you refuse.

Without the Harry Potter trappings the game would have nothing to recommend it. The lessons quickly become dull and the writing is disappointingly bland, though it does make an effort with character dialogue. Duelling other students and casting spells are fun, but most of the time you’re just tapping. Aside from answering the odd Potter-themed question in class, you never have to engage your brain. The waits would be more bearable if there was something to do in the meantime, like exploring the castle or talking to other students. But there is nothing to find at Hogwarts, and no activity that doesn’t require yet more energy.

Harry Potter is a powerful enough fantasy to override all that, at least for a while. The presence of Snape, Flitwick or McGonagall is just enough to keep you tapping through uneventful classes and clear effort has gone into recreating the look, sound and feel of the school and its characters. But by the time I got to the end of the first year I was motivated by tenacity rather than enjoyment: I WILL play this game, however much it tries to stop me. Then came the deflating realisation that the second year was just more of the same. I felt like the game’s prisoner, grimly returning every few hours for more thin gruel.

Avatars’ avarice … A hundred Gems cost around £2



Avatars’ avarice … A hundred gems cost around £2 Photograph: Jam City

What is sad is that it’s so unnecessary: Harry Potter fans would need little encouragement to spend a few quid here and there on clothes or wands to customise their characters, and there are countless examples of free-to-play games that offer players the option to spend money without ruining the experience (Fortnite, Pokémon Go and Dandy Dungeon, to name three). Hogwarts Mystery’s best chance for redemption would be if developer Jam City pulled back on the absurd timers in an update – but you get the dispiriting sense that the game was designed around them.

But even if the time restrictions were removed, it wouldn’t fix the paucity of things to do in virtual Hogwarts. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is a dull game with a great concept, made borderline unplayable by its hyper-aggressive monetisation.



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AppsCultureGamesLive streamingPeter ThielQuiz and trivia gamesTechnologyUK newsUS newsVineWorld news

No Googling! Name the gameshow app that’s an online smash | Technology

No Googling! Name the gameshow app that’s an online smash | Technology


Imagine the intellectual and social pressure of a pub quiz, then multiply it by more than 2 million people.

Every day, at 3pm and 9pm sharp, an army of teenagers, students, pensioners and office workers stop what they are doing, whip out their smartphones and fire up an app to take part in a new online craze called HQ Trivia, the pub quiz brought kicking and screaming into the smartphone era.

As many as 2 million people in the US and about 200,000 playing the UK version at the same appointed hours watch a live quizmaster broadcasting from a New York studio surrounded by colourful graphics bursting from the screen.

The host asks players a series of increasingly difficult questions in a15-minute version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire crossed with the Hunger Games.

There’s no forgetting the game times. Players, called HQties, are reminded by a phone notification. Anyone and everyone can play for free all at the same time, eliminated with one wrong answer.

The prize pot ranges from £500 to £200,000 or more, to be shared among the winners. Answer 12 heart-pounding multiple-choice questions right and the money is yours.

Few are going to get rich playing. In Thursday night’s UK game more than 160,000 people started playing, and 51 answered all of the questions correctly. With a prize pot of just £550, they banked £11 each.

The catch is that players have to answer each question within 10 seconds, which is barely enough time to figure out what’s being asked, let alone answer with any real thought.



Sharon Carpenter presents a recent round of HQ Trivia quiz in the UK. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The 10 second slot means the answers can’t be Googled, because by the time contestants brains have assessed the three possible responses the time has run out. There are also distractions – a constant stream of inane chat from the app’s hundreds of thousands of viewers which streams across the bottom of the screen and “shout-outs” – birthday wishes and other mentions blurted out by the host between questions.

The game, which is available for Android and the iPhone, is the brainchild of Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll , the co-founders of Vine, the six-second video-sharing app bought by Twitter for $30m (£22m) and since closed down.

It is currently burning through $15m of capital venture money provided by Lightspeed Venture Partners, an early investor in Snapchat, and an investment fund set up by PayPal’s founder, Peter Thiel. .

The app launched in the US in August 2017 and is hosted by the New York standup Scott Rogowsky, who has quickly gained cult status as the “quiz daddy”..

The UK version is hosted by British-born, New York-based Sharon Carpenter. It was launched in January and is following a similar trajectory to its US sibling. Carpenter answers in her couldn’t-be-more-British daytime TV manner and delivers snippets of extra trivia between questions.

HQ Trivia questions



HQ Trivia questions. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Thousands are eliminated as the rounds go by. In particularly gruelling “savage” questions tens of thousands can be ruled out. Once a week there’s even a special edition of the game in which remaining players continue to answer questions until only one is left holding the whole cash prize. It can be quite riveting.

The popularity of the app has not gone unnoticed. Celebrities and brands have queued up to appear as guest hosts in the US or to sponsor the games. Sting, Shaggy, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Robert De Niro and Ryan Seacrest have all made appearances. Nike gave away Air Max trainers on one $100,000 game and the movie Ready Player One pumped the prize up to $250,000 for another.

The hope for the investors ploughing their money into the game and financing the prize pots is that at some point down the line HQ Trivia will be able to take advertising, offer more sponsored games and product giveaways or pivot users away from the quizzes into more direct-to-smartphone live interactive entertainment.

The app has faced its fair share of controversies already, primarily about its founders and investors, and apps such as The Q and QuizBiz are lining up with similar combinations of cash prizes and celebrity hosts.

Right now though the live-stream quiz crown is HQ’s to lose.

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12 questions

Here are the dozen questions, in order, played at Thursday 3 May at 3pm (BST). Correct answers in bold:

1 What did the “N” stand for in the SNES gaming console?

Non-denominational

Nothing

Nintendo

2 In computing, the abbreviation “WWW” stands for which of the following?

Weird wired wellies

Wonderful Welsh weather

World wide web

3 What does the Queen listen to every day at 9am when she is at Balmoral?

Bagpipes

Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw

Changing the Guard

4 In science, which of these is regarded as the opposite of the Big Bang?

Big Crunch

Big Contraction

Big Squeeze

5 Which of these characters was NOT a member of staff in “Downton Abbey”?

Mr Carson

Mr Hudson

Mrs Patmore

6 Which of these US states has the longest coastline?

Florida

Texas

California

7 In the latest Times overall “World University Rankings” list, which is the only Asian country to make the top 25?

South Korea

Singapore

India

8 Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window inspired which of these horror movies from the noughties?

Paranormal Activity

Let the Right One In

Disturbia

9 Which of these seas creatures does NOT eat lobster?

Eel

Swordfish

Flounder

10 Which of these celebrities has starred in a Duran Duran video?

Davina McCall

Claudia Winkleman

Tess Daly

11 After Marita Koch, who was the next female athlete to win three gold medals at the same World Athletics Championships?

Merlene Ottey

Allyson Felix

Marion Jones

12 What codename did Jason Bourne use when he was originally deployed in south-east Asia?

Alpha One

Delta One

Bravo One



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CultureGamesGames consolesPlayStation 4TechnologyXboxXbox One

Red Dead Redemption 2: new trailer released for 2018’s most anticipated game | Games

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Rockstar Games has released a new trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the most anticipated video games of the year.

The game, which will be out on October 26, is a prequel to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, a western set in 1911 that followed the ill-fated outlaw John Marston in his attempts to redeem himself in the eyes of the law. Red Dead Redemption 2 stars Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van der Linde gang that played a pivotal role in the first game’s storyline. It is set in 1899, and the new trailer shows the gang on the run as the West becomes less wild.

Rockstar Games most recently released Grand Theft Auto V in 2013, which has just become the single most profitable entertainment product of all time according to analysts at MarketWatch. Originally made for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, it was remastered for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2014, and released on PC in 2015. It still regularly places in the top 10 in the UK video game sales charts and has sold a cumulative total of over 90m.

Rockstar was awarded Bafta Fellowship in 2014. The company’s co-founders, Sam Houser and Dan Houser, made a rare public appearance to collect the award.



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CultureGamblingGamesSociety

Belgium is right to class video game loot boxes as child gambling | Keza MacDonald | Games

Belgium is right to class video game loot boxes as child gambling | Keza MacDonald | Games


Yesterday, the Belgian minister of justice, Koen Geens, announced the result of an investigation that the country’s Gaming Commission conducted into video game “loot boxes”, a mechanic that lets players pay real money for a chance at winning virtual items. It found that three popular games – Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Fifa 18 – were in violation of gambling legislation. This is a significant finding, because controversy over loot boxes has been raging for at least six months: are they actually a form of gambling? Worse, are they a form of gambling that is particularly appealing to children?

Belgium’s Gaming Commission has decided that, yes, they are, and the publishers in question should remove loot boxes from their games or face fines. (EA and Blizzard, publishers of two of the games in question, did not respond to requests for comment on how they plan to comply; a Valve spokesperson said that the company is “happy to engage with the Belgian Gambling Commission and answer any questions they may have.”) There might be no financial incentive to buying loot boxes – you never win any money – but they are still a game of chance. “A dialogue with the sector is necessary,” said Geens: “It is often children who come into contact with such systems and we can not allow that.”



EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II, subject of a loot box controversy last year.
The company has said it will no longer offer them. Photograph: Electronic Arts

Often when governments get involved with trying to legislate over video games – as President Trump threatened to do after the Florida school shooting in February – it comes from a place of moral panic, and a lack of understanding of games themselves. A spurious causal link is drawn between video games and violence, or truancy, or mental health problems in young people. Despite decades of research showing no correlation between violent games and violent behaviour, and despite the fact games are played and enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people without social collapse.

In the case of loot boxes, though, the Belgian government is spot on. There are better ways to make money than applying gambling principles to video games that ought to be harmless fun.

Loot boxes exist because video-game development on a large scale is an increasingly expensive business. The development costs of blockbuster-style games have increased tenfold in 10 years, according to data compiled by industry veteran Raph Koster, with budgets now running into hundreds of millions of dollars. Players, however, are reluctant to accept price increases; a newly released game still costs £50-£60, pretty much the same as it did 15 years ago. Pricing hasn’t even kept up with inflation.

To address the shortfall, video game publishers have devised various ways of enabling players to spend extra money. For instance, DLC (downloadable content) offers virtual cosmetic items to customise a character, new story chapters to play through, or extra maps to battle upon – all optional. It has also become customary to offer a “season pass” to players – pay an extra £10 to £30 or so, and you’ll have access to all the extra content that’s released for a game over time. Online modes keep people playing for months or years rather than weeks, and players can pay to customise a character or buy a new car or in-game apartment – usually with either real money, or in-game money that takes time to earn.

Loot boxes, however, are a fairly new invention – one that crossed over from free-to-play smartphone games, which have traditionally been less scrupulous about wheedling money out of players (and, perhaps consequently, been more successful at doing so). With a loot box, you pay for a chance to obtain a virtual item – usually with real money. It’s a slot-machine style system where, although you’re guaranteed to get something on every spin, the chance of getting what you actually want is vastly reduced.

This works on the same part of the brain as any game of chance; the dopamine hit is enjoyable, but potentially addictive, and hard to resist. Players quite regularly spend hundreds on loot boxes – just ask players of Fifa Ultimate Team, who can buy Team Packs in the hope of unlocking a coveted player.

The Belgian report found several issues with loot boxes: the rewards are uncertain, causing an emotional reaction; players can be misled into believing they are buying an advantage; popular YouTubers and other celebrities promote them; the actual chance of receiving particular items is often hidden from the player. The exposure of these chance mechanics to children was a particular concern.

“Mixing games and gambling, especially at a young age, is dangerous for mental health,” said Geens. “We must ensure that children and adults are not presented with games of chance when they are looking for fun in a video game.”

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a game deemed in contravention of Belgian gambling laws. (Photo from 2016’s championship in Moscow.)



Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a game deemed in contravention of Belgian gambling laws. (Photo from 2016’s championship in Moscow.) Photograph: Kommersant via Getty Images

Gamers everywhere would welcome the removal of these insidious inventions. There is nothing worse than feeling forced to spend money to keep up in a video game, especially when spending money doesn’t even guarantee you the item that you want. Adults might find it easy to resist the appeal of new gun skins in Counter-Strike, or outfits for Overwatch characters, but for the teens who predominantly play these games, that perspective may be lacking.

One need only look to Fortnite, one of the most popular games in the world right now, to see things done right: in Fortnite you can pay about £8 for a Battle Pass every few months, which unlocks fun new challenges and lets you earn all the new stuff you could want, just by playing.

Games are getting more and more expensive to make, but the video games industry should not need to employ the tricks of the gambling industry to plug the gap. If the Belgian government’s decision leads to a Europe-wide ruling on loot boxes, hopefully publishers will be forced to come up with better ways to monetise their games – and players might have to get comfortable with the idea of paying more for them in the first place.

This article was amended on 26 and 27 April 2018 to include a statement from Valve and to correct the spelling of Koen Geens’ last name.



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ComputingCultureGamesGames consolesTechnologyUK newsUS newsWorld news

Rick Dickinson, designer of Sinclair home computers, dies | Technology

Rick Dickinson, designer of Sinclair home computers, dies | Technology


The designer of the Sinclair Spectrum home computer, Rick Dickinson, has died of cancer in the US.

Dickinson joined Sinclair Research, a British consumer electronics company founded by the inventor Sir Clive Sinclair, in 1979 after graduating from Newcastle Polytechnic’s industrial design programme.

He worked at the company during the period in which the ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum computers were released. The ZX80 was marketed as the first home computer in the UK to cost less than £100.


Rick Dickinson, designer of the ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum. Photograph: Twitter

Dickinson designed home computers with touch-sensitive and rubber keys, giving them a unique aesthetic. In 1981 he won a Design Council award for his work on the ZX81.

The award-winning design of the Sinclair ZX81, which was launched in March 1981.



The award-winning design of the Sinclair ZX81, which was launched in March 1981. Photograph: Andy Drysdale / Rex Features

The ZX80 and ZX81 were forerunners to the popular ZX Spectrum. Initially available in 16k and 48k models, the computers cost up to £175. Including later models, it is estimated that more than 5m ZX Spectrums were sold.

In a 2012 interview with the BBC, Dickinson spoke about the risk involved in launching the ZX Spectrum. “No matter how much history one might have with successful products like the ZX80 and 81, there is always a niggling doubt in one’s mind that to come out with something new and significantly different is a risk,” he said.

“We were all overwhelmed by the demand and the number of products that were sold.”

The rubber ZX Spectrum keyboard was the result of the company’s mission to drive down production costs.

“With the Spectrum keyboard, We minimised it from several hundred components in a conventional moving keyboard, to maybe four or five moving parts using a new technology,” Dickinson told the BBC.

The popularity of the games developed for the computers has endured and many have been repackaged in newer products such as the ZX Spectrum Vega.

A Sinclair ZX80 home computer.



A Sinclair ZX80 home computer. Photograph: Alamy

In a 2014 interview published online by Gareth Halfacree, Dickinson said he was alerted to the continued popularity of his designs when a younger colleague wore a ZX SpectrumT-shirt. His co-worker’s fashion statement inspired Dickinson to upload archive photos of the original ZX Spectrum design process to Flickr.

In later years, Dickinson published reimaginings of early Sinclair designs, producing a series of images of the ZX Spectrum Next.

Rick Dickinson
(@rickdickinson12)

Is it time to crowd fund a real #ZXSpectrum ? pic.twitter.com/er2ZDBqExY


January 15, 2015

Dickinson became interested in design as a child after playing with Lego and Airfix kits, eventually moving on to making radio-controlled aircraft and boats. His longtime ambition was to be a civil engineer.

The Alpia drawing board on which Dickinson designed computers in the 1980s is on display at the Science Museum in London.

In 2016, he was interviewed by the BBC as part of a programme celebrating The Brits Who Designed the Modern World.

After leaving Sinclair, Dickinson founded a Cambridgeshire industrial design company, Dickinson Associates. The company specialises in in products for the scientific, life-science, telecoms and medical industries – including a wireless patch system that allows expectant mothers to monitor foetal health.





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Online streaming services face ‘30% made in Europe’ law | Media

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Netflix, Amazon and other online streaming services will have to dedicate 30% of their output to TV shows and films made in Europe, which they must subsidise, under the terms of a new EU law agreed in Brussels on Thursday.

As well as the “Netflix quota”, the streaming services will have to fund European TV series and films, either by directly commissioning the content or contributing to national film funds, under the terms of an outline deal on EU broadcasting rules reached by legislators.

MEPs and the Council of Ministers, who are responsible for agreeing the law, struck a deal on a final version of the EU’s audio-visual services directive – a breakthrough in the legislative process.

The law falls into a longstanding tradition of EU lawmakers protecting European film and drama against the encroachments of Hollywood and US TV and online shows.

Industry groups have criticised cultural quotas as “outdated” and “counterproductive”, but lost the argument to European politicians who see them as vital to protect local languages and culture.

The European commission’s original proposal was for a 20% “Netflix quota” but MEPs said that was not enough.

The European parliament says the law means companies such as Netflix will face the same rules as traditional TV channels, not only on European content but also limits on advertising and product placement.

Video-sharing websites, such as Google and Facebook, will also have to intensify work to clamp down on content “inciting violence, hatred and terrorism”. Under the law, platforms need to create a “transparent, easy-to-use and effective mechanism” to allow users to report hateful content.

The EU is also banning product placement from children’s programmes, although member states can decide whether they want to outlaw corporate sponsorship of under-18’s TV shows.

Advertisers will only be allowed 20% of screen time during the prime-time hours of 6pm to midnight.

“We have now made European media regulation fit for the digital era by applying similar rules to similar services, whether online or offline,” said Sabine Verheyen, a German centre-right MEP who was one of the parliament’s lead negotiators.

The rules on product placement and sponsorship were “a great achievement for the protection of consumers, especially children and minors”, she added.

The law has to jump over several procedural hurdles before it is passed, a process not expected to be completed until September.

Also on Thursday a draft EU regulation was published that would force Amazon, Google, eBay and other tech firms to be more transparent in their dealings with third-party businesses that sell goods on their sites.

Thousands of companies use the platforms to sell goods online, allowing a sole trader working from home to reach millions of potential customers. But many complain that the big firms are opaque about their rankings, which mean some get top billing, while others struggle to be seen. App designers report similar problems when listing on Google’s and Apple’s stores.

Under the draft regulation, large platforms would have to rewrite their terms and conditions to ensure third-party sellers knew how to influence their online ranking, for example, if payment is required for a top spot.

Platforms would also have to explain any decision to suspend a third-party business from their site, and set up a system to handle complaints.

Legislators hope for agreement between European ministers and MEPs on the law by early next year, which would see the law come into effect from autumn 2019.

The draft regulation follows a pan-European survey by the commission, which found that 46% of businesses using online platforms encounter problems, rising to 75% for those that generated more than half of their turnover via the platform. One-third of heavy users complained about lack of transparency, while 22% thought terms and conditions were unfair. The most frequently cited problems were technical ones and lack of support from the platform.

“You see things like user conditions being changed from day to day,” said Mariya Gabriel, the European commissioner for digital economy and society. “We are saying to the platforms you need to have transparency with regard to your conditions for use, data access and so on, to provide businesses with the opportunity to know what their criteria are and to create an environment based on rules that everyone is familiar with.”



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Games console: the indie designer pouring his grief into interactive art | Games

Games console: the indie designer pouring his grief into interactive art | Games


Scrolling through Twitter on his phone before going to sleep on 22 May 2017, Dan Hett saw a few vague mentions of an accident of some sort in Manchester: “no details, no actual news, just busybodies speculating.” He rubbed his eyes, removed his glasses and lay down without thinking about it any further. It wasn’t until he picked up his phone the following morning and saw hundreds of notifications that he realised something real had happened, that there had been an explosion, and that his brother Martyn was missing. “The messages, the ones you read … they were right, and you went to sleep,” said a voice in his head. “You went to fucking sleep.”

Hett describes this and his other experiences in the days following the Manchester Arena bombing in harrowing detail in his autobiographical hypertext game c ya laterrrr, which was released in December 2017. Written in the second-person, the game puts you in Hett’s shoes, combining detailed descriptions of what was going on in his head as escalating panic gave way to fear and anger, with small decisions for the player to make about how to behave. Do you call your mum or your dad? Do you press the police for more information or sit in numb silence? Do you wait for news at the emergency zone, packed with other exhausted, terrified families, or go home and wait there?



‘Like a punch in the gut’ … a screenshot from c ya laterrrr by Dan Hett.

C ya laterrrr is the first in a series of experimental games that explore Hett’s grief – named after the last message that he ever received from Martyn. For Hett, a digital artist and programmer whose previous work making children’s games at the BBC won a Bafta, games were a “natural and obvious” way to talk about what happened to his brother and his family.

“Ultimately, everyone has different ways of dealing with grief and trauma, and this is mine. If I were a painter or poet or something, then it would be wholly reasonable for my painting or poetry to take on a different tone based on this kind of massive life experience. Unfortunately I’m neither a painter or a poet, but I certainly do design video games, and here I am.”

Hett feels that video games are particularly suited to narratives of grief. “Although my work spans all sorts of media, games in particular grant the ability to create a particular sort of abstracted narrative,” he explains. He values games for their ability “to examine the what-ifs and the unseen parts of an experience”.

Much of c ya laterrrr’s intimacy comes from its interactivity. Composing the tweet that was seen by hundreds of thousands of people in the hours before Martyn was identified as one of the 23 fatalities at the arena (“my brother @martynhett was at the #manchester arena last night and hasn’t checked in. if anyone has seen him in any way *please* contact me”), you are given a choice: do you choose the most recent picture of Martyn or the happiest? Each path gives a different glimpse into Hett’s relationship with his brother. Pick the most recent: “The photo is blurry and framed weirdly, taken on a train. They’re drinking wine and grinning. Just another day in the life.” Pick the happiest: “He probably photoshopped it himself, the vain wanker. You smile thinking about it. Absolutely ridiculous.”

The Loss Levels by Dan Hett



Half-remembered and uncomfortable … The Loss Levels

Later, at the emergency zone, Hett’s inner monologue marvels at the sheer Englishness of his responses to his family: “Never mind me, how are you?” Mundane conversations and duties are rendered farcical by the weight of what has happened. The dreadful moment when an officer explains that the scene is now “one of recovery”, and the moment shortly afterwards when another officer informs Martyn’s family they found his ID in the pocket of one of the bodies pulled from the scene, are rendered more potent by the player’s foreknowledge of what happened.

C ya laterrr incorporates not only Hett’s lived experience but also the what-ifs and regrets that have run through his mind ever since. “It was this narrative flexibility that drew me to the medium for this project,” he says. “All the identifying information is stripped out (names, locations), and I don’t denote which of the pathways are based on reality and which aren’t. Ultimately the game always takes you to the same end point, and although there is one path through it that completely reflects my actual experience, other players will all take different routes based on their own decisions. It’s been played something like 12,000-plus times, and I do wonder how many of those plays took my path.”

Hett chose interactive fiction as a form because of its immediacy: “it felt natural to just write, without having to interrupt myself to make artwork or write code or any of the things you need to do to make a normal video game,” he says. “Some of the most meaningful games experiences I’ve had over the last few years have been hypertext games or similar. I’m hugely influenced by creators like [radical game designer] Anna Anthropy. There’s a directness to interactive fiction, a laser-focus on the words and no distractions: I wanted anyone to be able to sit down and experience this piece of work, without having to learn how to work it.”

His second game about Martyn’s death, The Loss Levels, was exhibited this month at the Now Play This festival at Somerset House in London. It takes just three or four minutes to play, and the heaviness of the subject matter is juxtaposed with its cheerful colours and 8-bit simplicity. Here, events written about in great detail in c ya laterrrr are condensed into 10-second play vignettes and stark commands: driving to the emergency zone in the back of a police car; tapping furiously on a keyboard to keep up with the search on social media; walking through the arena, weeks after the attack, to find the red rose and small candle placed there to mark the spot where Martyn was recovered. (“This is where it happened. Roses mark the dead. Find his.”) It looks and plays like a normal arcade game – quick, colourful, simplistic, frictionless – but, of course, it is anything but. Its bewildering speed and fuzzy visual effects give it the quality of something half-remembered and uncomfortable.

Video games were not a passion that Hett shared with his brother. But he vividly recalls them playing together when they were young. “As adults, we could not have been more different – as far as I know he didn’t play any video games. As kids it was different though. We played for hours on the Snes – I have a really vivid memory of the first time we got to the end of Super Metroid together, screaming and shouting as we escaped after slaying Mother Brain. We were big Zelda fans too, we used to copy my stepdad’s save file on Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy once he’d solved the dungeons. Martyn used to sound confused about my work, and I suppose that’s not much different to my confusion over most aspects of his usually insane life. The thing that bound us as adults is that he definitely forged his own path through things, and in that regard we’re more similar than not.”

Dan Hett
(@danhett)

Sorry To Bother You will be done and released soonish, hopefully. it’s only a small game but I’ve been so busy. Keen to keep the momentum up. @Patreon backers are getting peeks at the next games already… https://t.co/l0Ip1sIUjU pic.twitter.com/ctQloghyky


February 20, 2018

Hett hopes to release the third game in the series in the next few months. Entitled Sorry to Bother You, it focuses on press intrusion, and how the Manchester bombing was viewed through the prism of technology. (He and his family have spoken at length about press intrusion, and the media’s behaviour in the wake of the bombing is now the subject of an inquiry.) A graphical game focused on Hett’s hands and a phone, it will inundate players with social media messages, some of which are thinly veiled requests from journalists that must be filtered out. All the journalists’ messages in the game are real, and Hett hopes it will expose some of what families of victims are forced to deal with.

These three small autobiographical games, c ya laterrr, The Loss Levels and Sorry to Bother You, will be followed by a more technically ambitious one, Closed Hands – a fiction game that “examines the dozens of human stories that are suddenly entwined during a major attack”. It will be part-funded by the Arts Council, and Hett hopes to make up the rest with crowdfunding.

“Using games to start exploring this experience has been really valuable to me,” he says. “Particularly in the case of c ya laterrrr, where I was writing lots and lots of notes and thoughts down within a few days of everything happening. I just felt this insane desire to capture all these details right away before they were pushed out of my brain by something else. I found writing to be really centering and in some ways quite cathartic. Turning these masses of notes into an interactive was only a small step after that really.”





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