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How one game’s delisting pokes a hole in the Xbox Game Pass promise

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Enlarge / Another sim racer bites the dust—and this time without a new one in its place.

Microsoft has long boasted about the backward compatibility of its Xbox consoles, letting you play hundreds of past-gen games on newer systems like the Series X/S. But the game publisher and console maker is quieter about taking older games down from its digital storefronts—and this week’s latest casualty, in the form of a popular first-party game, presents problems for Xbox’s recent sales pitches.

On paper, the basic announcement may look humdrum to savvy modern-gaming fans. Starting September 15, 2021, the sim racing game Forza Motorsport 7 will no longer be available on Xbox’s digital download shops. That date marks roughly four years past the game’s 2017 launch on Xbox One consoles, and “four years” is key. Since the Xbox Live download store has been in operation, other Forza games, both in the Motorsport and Horizon camps, have been delisted at a nearly identical cadence. This suggests that the game’s car licenses factor into the cutoff dates.

Knocked out of the usual lineup

Look closely enough at major licenses in classic video games and you’ll see a similar trend. Arguably the most prominent early example came when Nintendo began reprinting copies of its 1987 sports-action classic Punch-Out!! in 1990 without re-upping its original license deal with Mike Tyson, and it’s not uncommon to see publishers either strip licenses from older games or give up on them altogether. For most of the modern gaming industry’s history, four-year-old games have usually been relegated to bargain bins—especially if they receive regular sequels—so such a licensing term doesn’t seem egregious.

FM7 is a different story, however, for a few reasons.

One is that the series’ regular sequel cadence has come to a grinding halt. Series creator Turn 10 Studios usually spends a few years between entries, a fact masked somewhat by the introduction of Forza Horizon, the series’ arcade-minded, open-world jelly to Motorsport‘s sim-focused peanut butter. Microsoft would publish a new Motorsport game, then a new Horizon, and repeat. That schedule also guaranteed that, when an older game was delisted, a newer version was usually there to take its place.

Thanks to that historic release tempo, a new Motorsport seemed right around the corner. Horizon 4 arrived in 2019, and one year later, the Xbox Series X/S debut included “real gameplay” teases of an upcoming Motorsport sequel.

But this year, during the usual June hype cycle, Forza Motorsport didn’t pull up to the starting line. Instead, an ahead-of-schedule Horizon 5 appeared with a November 2021 release date. As a result, when FM7 is delisted on September 15, there won’t be a newer Motorsport game available to purchase via Xbox Live for the first time in that storefront’s existence.

A rare content lapse in a Game Pass era

Arguably the bigger differentiator this time is an entirely new sales proposition for all things Xbox: the Game Pass subscription service. FM7‘s delisting means it will vanish from Game Pass and leave a car-sim-sized hole, proving that Microsoft won’t always have “at least one” sim racer available for people who subscribe to Game Pass for the promise of premier, first-party game access. (To be clear, that very differentiation is one reason Game Pass’s reputation has taken off compared to Sony’s similar PlayStation Now service.) No other first-party Xbox series is similarly subject to license expirations and delistings, which is why the service still offers every title from Microsoft-published series like Gears of War, Halo, and Fable.

If you’re paying attention and want to lock down future FM7 access right now, you can buy the “standard” edition for $10 (which includes every racetrack) or the “ultimate” edition for $20 (which includes most of the game’s add-on cars). Buying either now means you’ll still be able to access the game’s online and offline modes after September 15, and the same goes for existing owners of the FM7‘s disc and digital versions.

FM7‘s Game Pass version is the “standard” one, and if you had previously bought any DLC for the game as a Game Pass user, you’ll soon get a notification within Xbox’s interface of a “token” that lets you own FM7 outright once it’s delisted. That token concept suggests that perhaps Microsoft could have given away tokens to anyone who has recently played FM7 via Game Pass. Speaking of retail specifics: FM7 will go down in history as the most microtransaction-laden Motorsport entry to date. The developers rectified those issues after launch, at least, but it’s still a reminder to future Forza buyers that any games-as-a-service approach comes with potential support shutdowns (though, again, FM7 will still continue working in both offline and online modes until further notice).

What’s arguably annoying for existing, savvy Xbox users may prove all the more confusing and unclear for future, brand-new console buyers—not to mention anyone who dips their toes into Xbox Game Streaming and notices that its selection of cloud-streamed games is limited to “active” Game Pass Ultimate games. As game-purchase expectations transition from “buy the disc and own it forever” to “convenient subscriptions,” FM7-sized potholes are likely to become more common and more frustrating.

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Valve moves Dota 2 International to Romania, adds mask-and-vax rules

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Valve announced this week that its prestigious Dota 2 tournament The International will require all attendees to be fully masked and vaccinated for entry.

As noted on the Dota 2 site, anyone attending the October competition at the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania, must be at least 10 days out from their final vaccination, and attendees will need to present proof of inoculation (which must be in either English or Romanian) along with a photo ID to gain access to the event grounds and tournament arena. All attendees must also wear a mask and proof-of-vaccination wristband along with their registration badges. Additional safety protocols will be put into place throughout the tournament.

Now in its tenth year, The International gathers together the best Dota 2 teams from around the globe to compete for a multi-million dollar prize pool.  But over the past year, Valve has not had an easy time with COVID-related restrictions for its annual tournament. The company’s initial plans to hold The International 10 in Stockholm were scrapped earlier this summer after the Swedish Sports Federation decided not to include esports in its officially recognized body—a move that meant anyone traveling for the tournament would be denied an entry visa.

Valve’s subsequent requests for the Swedish government to intervene were denied, with the company announcing the move to Romania in July. (2020’s tournament, which was also planned to be held in Stockholm, was indefinitely delayed in April 2020 over safety concerns amidst the global pandemic.)

The move to make The International a fully-vaccinated, fully-masked tournament is just the latest in a growing trend of gaming events tightening up COVID restrictions. For instance, this summer’s PAX West in Seattle required attendees to present either proof-of-vaccination or a negative PCR test for entry, as well as wearing a vaccination-proof wristband along with their registration badges.

The International 10’s group stage, which doesn’t appear to be open to the public, will be held October 7-10, while the main stage tournament event (the only stage Valve is selling tickets for) will be split between two midweeks running from October 12-15. The finals are scheduled to be held on October 16 and 17. Tickets for the main stage will go on sale September 22, and those are sold in three separate two-day bundles.

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RIP Sir Clive Sinclair, creator of UK’s famed ZX Spectrum gaming computer

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Enlarge / Sir Clive Sinclair holding the world’s smallest television screen when it was created by Sinclair Radionics in 1977.

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Sir Clive Sinclair, the namesake of a British electronics manufacturer who helped pioneer Europe’s microcomputing boom, is dead at the age of 81.

His company, Sinclair Radionics, is arguably best known around the world for 1982’s ZX Spectrum, an early example of a computer capable of multi-color, real-time graphics. The device dominated the UK and other European territories in the early 1980s. This computer was a major processing step up from black-and-white Spectrum computers like ZX80 and ZX81, and it debuted in a configuration priced as low as £125. American readers probably best know this platform thanks to popular and ambitious ZX Spectrum games from the little developer Ultimate: Play The Game. That company eventually rebranded itself as Rareware and turned into a ’90s powerhouse on Nintendo consoles.

Yet before his name became interminably linked to gaming history, Sinclair’s rise to running his own electronics manufacturing company largely resembles the stories of American electronics pioneers who began as garage hobbyists. A BBC documentary, Clive Sinclair: The Pace Setters, chronicles the inventor’s rise, which began with him selling one-at-a-time radio kits via mail order in the 1960s.

As the documentary is region-locked, many readers will have to settle on this BBC text version of its highlights, which follows Sinclair’s rise as a maker of British pocket calculators and portable TVs before redirecting his efforts to personal computers. During this time, an effort to get the British government to back Sinclair as a formally supported PC maker, especially as the government began bullishly promoting computer access in homes and schools, fell apart. Instead, rival computer manufacturer Curry became a “BBC Micro” partner. Sinclair and Spectrum fired back with the more powerful ZX Spectrum, which went on to sell over 5 million units. Sadly, the rest of his career didn’t reach the same heights, and it was largely marked by botched efforts to launch electric modes of transport, including the famous failure that was the pod-like C5 “car.”

For a charming Clive-on-Clive conversation, check out this 1990 interview with longtime British TV host Clive Anderson (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), complete with the two men looking at and talking about various Spectrum inventions over the years—including, incredibly, Sinclair’s failed C5.

Sir Clive Sinclair talks about his product history in 1990.

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Battlefield 2042 joins recent game-delay frenzy, moves to November

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Enlarge / This looks fun.

Battlefield 2042 has been delayed from its initial October 22 release date, though it will still launch this year, EA announced today. The multiplayer-only shooter will now hit stores on November 19, the publisher said in a statement.

Citing the complications of developing games in a work-from-home environment during a global pandemic—by now a familiar challenge for the countless game makers that have had to delay other high-profile 2021 games—DICE assured fans that the team is working on finishing touches rather than dealing with any kind of development trouble. The developer also reiterated that there would be updates later this month regarding 2042‘s open beta. In other words, this is pandemic business as usual.

After Battlefield 2042‘s reveal during EA’s June E3 news blitz, the publisher announced that the game will feature three modes, none of which are battle royale-related. “All-Out Warfare,” the traditional BF deathmatch mode, is finally upgrading to 128 players on current-gen consoles and PC. “Battlefield Portal” is a mashup game that lets players customize matches with elements of Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3 inside 2042 maps. “Hazard Zone” is an alleged squad-based mode that EA has thus far been mum on. Today’s announcement didn’t specify whether all three modes would launch with the game.

As far as the seemingly endless train of 2021 delays is concerned, DICE’s isn’t as bad as it could be. Earlier this week, Techland confirmed its long-in-production Dying Light 2 is being pushed back to February 2, while Ubisoft announced this week that its guitar-instruction game Rocksmith+ is shifting to 2022. Sony also recently announced that Horizon Forbidden West will move to February 28 from its original “late 2021” launch.

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