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EU goes after Valve for ‘geo-blocking’ Steam activation codes – TechCrunch

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Seemingly the sole government body policing tech platforms, the ol’ European Union, is now taking aim at desktop gaming’s biggest storefront, Steam, and its creator Valve.

The commission sent a “Statements of Objections” to Valve and five other video game publishers, raising a fuss over the companies’ habits of “geo-blocking” purchases, i.e. prohibiting users from using game activation codes purchased outside their country of residence.

Furthermore, the suit takes aim at Bandai Namco, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax for coming to agreements with game distributors, including Valve, that prevented consumers in some EU member states from being able to download titles that were available in other regions.

The commission claims these companies’ actions are in breach of EU antitrust rules. The letter comes after the EU opened an investigation more than two years ago.

“In a true Digital Single Market, European consumers should have the right to buy and play video games of their choice regardless of where they live in the EU. Consumers should not be prevented from shopping around between Member States to find the best available deal. Valve and the five PC video game publishers now have the chance to respond to our concerns,” Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

As Valve’s multitude of online defenders have noted, there are some reasons why “geo-blocking” might make sense. Pushing regional sales can help game developers find audiences in new markets while keeping bread-and-butter markets paying full price to subsidize the rest. Keeping prices uniform across the globe can leave developers in a tricky position when it comes to finding the ideal price point.

It seems likely that these companies will look to make nice with the EU and keep their practice moving along elsewhere.

We have reached out to Valve for comment.

h/t: Owen Williams

 

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Blizzard absorbs acclaimed Activision studio as a dedicated “support” team

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Blizzard Entertainment

The corporate-behemoth organism that is Blizzard Entertainment, which exists in a symbiotic state next to megaton game publisher Activision, became blurrier on Friday with a surprise announcement: It has absorbed a game studio within the Activision family, effective immediately.

Vicarious Visions, a longtime game studio that was acquired by Activision in 2005, has been shuffled out of the Activision ecosystem and pumped directly into Blizzard’s veins. In a statement offered to GamesIndustry.biz, Blizzard confirmed that the 200+ staff at Vicarious Vision has been shifted to a “long-term support” team focused entirely on “existing Blizzard games and initiatives.” The news also includes a mild shuffle of leadership, sending current Vicarious studio head Jen Oneal to the Blizzard leadership board as executive vice president of development.

The statement did not clarify exactly when this arrangement began, nor which of Blizzard’s “existing” projects would receive Vicarious staff support in particular. (Blizzard representatives did not immediately respond to Ars Technica’s questions about the deal.) As of press time, neither Blizzard nor Vicarious have published details or terms about the deal on their respective blogs or social media channels. In fact, Vicarious Visions’ website is currently offline altogether.

Where will they land in the credits scroll?

Vicarious certainly has its share of publicly announced Blizzard projects to pick from, between Overwatch 2, Diablo IV, and whatever World of WarCraft expansion eventually emerges like clockwork. Or, heck, maybe Vicarious has been brought on board to finally wrest WarCraft III: Reforged from its shameful spiral as 2020’s most disappointing video game.

Whatever the project(s) may be, the staff certainly won’t continue the studio’s stellar track record as one of Activision’s brighter spots. Whether it was the studio’s stellar work getting 2020’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 into twitch-perfect shape, massaging the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy into a solid remaster, or even delivering one of the Marvel universe’s best co-op brawlers in an era well before Iron Man redeemed the comic empire’s public reputation, Vicarious will forever be remembered as an Activision bright spot. We hope the same can be said for the team’s future work, as it’s shuffled into the bottom of a credits scroll for existing Blizzard properties.

Blizzard has rarely gone to the trouble of absorbing an outside studio—with “Blizzard North” being the largest exception, when the company took on David Brevik’s existing team (then dubbed Condor) to formally join the Blizzard family in 1995. This concluded a bidding war: “3DO offered us twice as much money,” Brevik said in a 2016 GDC presentation. “We turned them down. Really, because we felt that Blizzard really got us and got [Diablo 1]. We were so close in company culture and beliefs.”

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Xbox Live price increase sets a new $10/month floor for online access

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Xbox users will soon have to pay at least $10/month for the baseline Xbox Live Gold subscription needed for online play on Xbox consoles. That’s a significant increase from the recent floor of $5/month for an annual subscription.

The new pricing, as Microsoft unveiled this morning is as follows (or a “local market equivalent” outside the US):

  • One month: $11/month (previously $10/month)
  • Three months: $30, $10/month (Previously $25, $8.33/month)
  • Six months: $60, $10/month (Previously $40, $6.67/month)

A 12-month, $60 subscription plan was officially removed from Microsoft’s online store last July, but annual digital subscriptions at that $5/month rate are still currently available from a variety of retail partners. It’s unclear if those offerings will continue, but a new annual subscription option was not mentioned in Microsoft’s announcement this morning. Microsoft does note that current 6-month and 12-month subscribers will be able to “renew at the current price” for the time being, though (current members will receive email notices about the new prices, and the new rates won’t apply to them for at least 45 days).

For those who can’t renew at the old rates, the new minimum of $120/year might seem rather steep in exchange for access to online play and a handful of selected monthly “Games With Gold” freebies. A comparable 12-month PlayStation Plus subscription still costs $60, while an annual Nintendo Switch Online subscription runs just $20 (with a bevy of classic emulated NES and SNES games included).

Xbox Live Gold’s new minimum price is also just $5/month less than the $15/month base price for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. That subscription includes all the benefits of Xbox Live Gold and access to hundreds of downloadable PC and Xbox ecosystem games, as well as streaming mobile access through xCloud (regular “Game Pass for console” or “Game Pass for PC” without the Xbox Live benefits currently runs $10/month).

The Xbox Live price increase seems designed to drive more users to that expanded Game Pass Ultimate offering, which passed 15 million subscribers last September. In fact, users who upgrade a current Xbox Live Gold subscription to Game Pass Ultimate will automatically have up to 36 months of pre-paid Xbox Live subscription time converted to Game Pass Ultimate for free (echoing similar conversion deals offered in the past).

Microsoft last raised the price of Xbox Live back in 2010, when a one-month subscription increased from $8 to $10 and an annual subscription went from $50 to $60.

Listing image by Getty Images / Aurich Lawson

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Resident Evil VIII gets May release date, massive preview, playable demo

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After receiving vague teases through last year, Resident Evil VIII: Village has finally emerged looking like a real game, thanks to a sweeping new gameplay reveal video that went live on Thursday. Its immediate resemblance to Resident Evil VII, which we granted a rare Ars Approved award to in 2017, has us quite excited—though things have clearly advanced for the series in four years.

First off, we now have confirmation that this sequel once again puts RE players into a first-person perspective and that it follows the direct chronology of RE7. The footage we’ve seen puts players in the shoes of Ethan Winters, RE7‘s protagonist, who is forced, once again, to find and explore a creepy mansion—though this one is far more palatial than the bayou-adjacent dump he previously explored. While searching for a missing family member, Ethan must contend with a new “family” of sorts: a mysterious, tall, and gorgeously attired matriarch, and her shapeshifting accomplices who seem to turn into waves of locusts and bleed through walls.

Though RE8‘s YouTube reveal is capped at 30 fps as of press time, Capcom sent us footage of the game running at 60 fps—presumably on PlayStation 5, the console that was shouted most loudly through the gameplay reveal presentation. RE8 will launch on May 7 on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC. All platforms will eventually receive a free-download version of its playable demo, named “Maiden,” but only PlayStation 5 owners have gotten a release date for said demo: Today.

The above gallery offers the clearest hints yet that RE8 will play much like RE7, with a combination of creeping dread, conversational sequences, puzzle-solving, and first-person gunplay and combat. New this time is an emphasis on “blocking” attacks (though, if you ask me, I’ll stick to my usual zombie-survival strategy of running the hell away) and accessing an in-game shop. The gallery also includes a few hints to next-gen graphical flourishes, particularly a reflective pool that may very well see the series employ its first-ever ray-tracing effects. We’ve yet to see the game’s 60 fps reveal appear on YouTube just yet, so in the meantime, we’re embedding the 30 fps footage below:

Resident Evil VIII gameplay reveal.

This reveal also includes footage of a new multiplayer mode coming with RE8 in May, dubbed Resident Evil Re:Verse—which appears to offer deathmatch gameplay with characters spanning multiple series entries, along with transformations from humans to zombies after characters die in a match. How exactly that gameplay will work remains to be seen, though Re:Verse will receive a closed beta test in the very near future.

Listing image by Capcom

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