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NetEase is the latest Chinese tech giant to lay off a big chunk of its staff – TechCrunch

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NetEase, China’s second-biggest online games publisher with a growing ecommerce segment, is laying off a significant number of its employees, adding to a list of Chinese tech giants that have shed staff following the Lunar New Year.

A NetEase employee who was recently let go confirmed with TechCrunch that the company had fired a large number of people spanning multiple departments, including ecommerce, education, agriculture (yes, founder and executive officer Ding Lei has a thing for organic farming) and public relations, although downsizing at Yanxuan, its ecommerce brand that sells private-label goods online and offline, had started before the Lunar New Year holiday.

Multiple Chinese media outlets covered the layoff on Wednesday. According to a report from Caijing Magazine, Yanxuan fired 30-40 percent of its staff; the agricultural brand Weiyang got a 50 percent cut; the education unit downsized from 300 to 200 employees; and 40 percent of NetEase’s public relations staff was gone.

A spokesperson from NetEase evaded TechCrunch’s questions about the layoff but said the company is “indeed undergoing a structural optimization to narrow its focus.” The goal, according to the person, is to “boost innovation and organizational efficiency so NetEase can fully play to its own strengths and adapt to market competition in the longer term.”

NetEase CEO Ding Lei pictured picking Longjing tea leaves in Hangzhou. Photo: NetEase Yanxuan via Weibo

Oddly, ecommerce and education appear to be some of NetEase’s brighter spots. The company singled them out alongside music streaming during its latest earnings call as the three sectors that saw “strong profit growth potential” and “will be the focus of [the company’s] next phase of strategic growth.” The staff cuts, then, may represent an urgency to tighten the purse strings for even NetEase’s rosiest businesses.

The shakeup fits into market speculation about company staff cuts to save costs as China copes with a weakening domestic economy. JD.com, a rival to Alibaba, is firing 10 percent of its senior management to cut costs, Caixin reported last week. Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing plans to let go 15 percent of its staff this year as part of a reorganization to boost internal efficiency, though it’s adding new members to focus on more promising segments.

Alibaba took an unexpected turn, announcing last week that it will continue to hire new talent in 2019. “We are poised to provide more resources to our platforms to help businesses navigate current environment and create more job opportunities overall,” the firm said in a statement.

2018 was a tough year for China’s games companies of all sorts. The industry took a hit after regulators froze all licensing approvals to go through a reshuffle, dragging down stock prices of big players like Tencent and NetEase. These companies continue to feel the chill even after approvals resumed, as the newly minted regulatory body imposes stricter checks on games, slowing down the application process altogether and delaying companies’ plans to monetize lucrative new titles.

That bleak domestic outlook compelled NetEase to take what Ding dubs a “two-legged” approach to game publishing, with one foot set in China and the other extending abroad. Tencent, too, has been finding new channels for its games through regional partners like Sea’s Garena in Southeast Asia.

NetEase started in 1997 and earned its name by making PC games and providing email services in the early years of the Chinese internet. More recently the company has intended to diversify its business by incubating projects across the board. It has so far enjoyed growth in segments like music streaming and ecommerce (which is reportedly swallowing up Amazon China’s import-led service) while stepping back from others such as comics publishing, an asset it is selling to youth-focused video streaming site Bilibili.

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Finch trailer is carefully tailored to push all the right warm, fuzzy buttons

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Apple TV+ has dropped the official trailer for Finch, its forthcoming sci-fi film starring Tom Hanks as a robotics engineer who survives an apocalyptic solar flare, then goes on a trek to mountain safety with his trusty dog and robot sidekick. That is so Tom Hanks, amirite? Yes, this is a real movie, not a gag. Based on the trailer—carefully tailored to push all the requisite emotional buttons—the film looks like a strange mix of Castaway, Wall-E, and Chappie. In the right hands, that unlikely mix just might work.

The title was BIOS when the film was originally announced in 2017. The global pandemic put the planned 2020 theatrical release on hold indefinitely, and Universal Pictures eventually sold the rights to Apple TV, which changed the title to Finch. There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. The film is directed by Miguel Sapochnik, the mastermind behind several big, battle-centric episodes of Game of Thrones, including “Hardhome,” “The Battle of the Bastards,” “The Long Night,” and the hugely controversial (because of a favorite character’s heel turn) “The Bells.” The spec script by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell made 2017’s “Black List” of favorite unproduced screenplays. And you’ve got the world’s most likable everyman (Hanks) in the lead role.

Per the official synopsis:

Tom Hanks stars as Finch, a robotics engineer and one of the few survivors of a cataclysmic solar event that has left the world a wasteland. But Finch, who has been living in an underground bunker for a decade, has built a world of his own that he shares with his dog, Goodyear. He creates a robot, played by Caleb Landry Jones, to watch over Goodyear when he no longer can. As the trio embarks on a perilous journey into a desolate American West, Finch strives to show his creation, who names himself Jeff, the joy and wonder of what it means to be alive. Their road trip is paved with both challenges and humor, as it’s as difficult for Finch to goad Jeff and Goodyear to get along as it is for him to manage the dangers of the new world.

We hear Finch in a voiceover ruminating on just how quickly the world turned into an inhospitable hellscape: “Goodbye crops and food, goodbye everything.” We see him retreat to his underground bunker and befriend Goodyear, who is clearly a Very Good Boi (and a much livelier companion than Wilson the volleyball in Castaway). Finch is delighted when he succeeds in building a robot that clearly states its mission: “Robot must protect dog.” But when an approaching storm threatens to wipe out their enclave, the trio embarks on the aforementioned road trip, hoping to reach the mountains, where apparently they will be safe—or as safe as one can be under the circumstances. Count on at least a couple of gut-wrenching moments to play on our heart-strings before it’s over.

The trailer also hints at other human survivors, possibly hostile, “hiding in the shadows.” The limited cast list appears to confirm this: Samira Wiley plays a survivor named Weaver, while Laura Harrier and Skeet Ulrich play characters named Linda and Sam, respectively.

Finch debuts November 5, 2021, on Apple TV+.

Official trailer for Apple TV+’s Finch.

Listing image by Apple TV+

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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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