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Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime on Wii U ‘stumbles’ and balancing nostalgia with reinvention – TechCrunch

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Nintendo is nearing its 130th birthday, and the company is once again in the midst of major changes as it embraces mobile platforms and online services. But Nintendo of America’s president Reggie Fils-Aime says that should come as no surprise: “We reinvent ourselves every five or 10 years. We have to. It’s in our DNA.”

In an interview at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle, Fils-Aime talked, in his immaculately Nintendo-promotional manner, about the company’s ups and downs over the last decade and what it took to get the Switch out the door.

“We focus on giving consumers experiences that they haven’t even thought of,” he explained. Anyone who has followed Nintendo for a few years certainly wouldn’t disagree — remember the vitality sensor? “By going down this path you create doubters. And we’ll be the first to admit that there will always be stumbles along the way.”

“The Wii had sold a hundred million units globally; the Wii U did not have that same level of success,” he admitted. That’s something of an understatement; the Wii U is widely considered something of a boondoggle, interesting but confusing and hugely outgunned by the competition when it came to what was valued by the rapidly growing mainstream gaming world.

“But in the words of one of our presidents — this is [Hiroshi] Yamauchi — when you’re doing well, don’t be excited by that high-flying performance, and when you’re doing poorly, don’t be sad. Always have an even keel,” he said. Not exactly catchy, but it is good business advice. The focus should be on the horizon.

And that’s where it was, despite the painfully low sales numbers and lack of third-party support. As he tells it, they just plowed ahead with new lessons under their belt.

“If we had not had the Wii U, we would not have the Switch,” he said seriously. “What we heard from customers was that the proposition of a tablet on which they could experience gameplay, coupled with the ability to play games on the TV, is really compelling. Users were telling us, ‘I want to play with this tablet, but when I get 30 feet away from the TV, it disconnects.’ The one point gamers all hate is the point where they have to put the controller down. So it was an important step for us to be able to deliver on this proposition.”

“When I first saw the embodiment of that system,” he recalled, “the hairs on the back of my neck raised up.” It was the same feeling, he said, that he had with the Wii Remote and the DS — both featuring technologies that people were highly skeptical of at first but proved versatile and compelling.

Touchscreens weren’t common when the DS came out, and motion controls weren’t common when the Wii came out, he noted. Both have since become mainstream — not entirely due to Nintendo’s success with them, of course, but it would be disingenuous to say that had nothing to do with it.

But while the company can rightly be said to be taking risks in some ways, in other ways it is uniquely stuck in the past. Its most successful franchises are well past a quarter of a century old.

As Fils-Aime sees it, however, this is exactly how it should be. Mario and Link are characters the way Mickey Mouse or even someone like Robin Hood are characters. New franchises like Splatoon can be established and cared for, but the traditional ones (though no one mentioned Metroid, predictably and unfortunately) should be recycled and brought to new platforms and generations.

Nowadays that includes mobile games, where Nintendo has been taking tentative steps in recent years.

Nintendo’s latest has been criticized for its unvarnished quest for players’ money.

“We see our mobile initiatives as a way to bring our intellectual properties and our gameplay experiences to a larger population than the tens or hundred million consumers that own a dedicated gaming system,” he said. “With Super Mario Run, we literally have hundreds of millions of consumers experiencing Mario, consumers in places where we don’t even distribute our gaming systems. Then maybe they buy that Super Mario t-shirt, they may eat that Super Mario cereal, they may buy a Nintendo Switch.” (Presumably imported.)

Here Fils-Aime’s comments rang a bit hollow, however. Nintendo’s mobile strategy has leaned hard on the “gacha” style game that massively incentivizes in-app purchases of virtual currencies and grinding levels to unlock new characters randomly in loot box style. This seems so far from Nintendo’s core mission of entertainment and so close to the current industry method of cash extraction that it’s hard to believe it’s what the company really wanted to create.

It does, as Fils-Aime said was the goal, allow them to be “effective” on platforms and marketplaces they don’t themselves own, and it does drive their “overall business agenda.” But it seems as though the company is still trying to figure out how to truly bring its games to mobile. Perhaps the upcoming Mario Kart game will be a better option, but it could very easily go the other way, as well.

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Like pixels to my ears: Asus headset uses mini LEDs to animate earcups

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Asus

Because a gaming headset sits on your head (where you can’t see it), its looks aren’t all that important. But that hasn’t stopped headset makers from blinging out their products. Besides, if you’re on camera livestreaming or talking to your teammates, you might be looking to spice things up with pink cat ears or RGB-infused earcups. The Asus ROG Delta S Animate offers a new, pixel-powered twist to gamers who want to put on a show.

Asus has put its AniMe Matrix custom lighting design system on both of the Delta S Animate’s earcups. Mini LEDs fill the space and light up to depict preset or customized effects selected via Asus’ free Armoury Crate software. An Asus spokesperson told Ars Technica that the ROG Delta S Animate has over 100 mini LEDs per earcup. Until this week, the AniMe Matrix was only available on select Asus Zephyrus gaming laptops. Asus’ decision to continue offering the feature in new PCs—and now in a new category—shows the company is seeing some interest in the concept.

Want ghosts flying across the earcup pixel by pixel before turning into a pumpkin? Why not?

From the patch to your headset.

From the patch to your headset.

Asus

Feeling flirty? A dot matrix heart will convey your feelings to anyone in sight of your side profile.

How romantic.

How romantic.

Asus

You can also program the mini LEDs to react to your voice, with the effect becoming more intense the louder you speak.

The mini LEDs can react to how loud you're speaking.
Enlarge / The mini LEDs can react to how loud you’re speaking.

Asus

This Soundwave feature is one I’ve tried on the Asus ROG Delta S headset, which has RGB LEDs around the earcups’ perimeters. It worked seemlessly there, even if the colors looked a bit faded on my webcam. Hopefully, the tiny LEDs in the Asus’ new headset are bright enough to be visible in various lighting environments (Asus didn’t share a brightness spec).

You can even make your own animation by uploading an image to the software (Asus recommends a white one) and then playing with specifics, like brightness, contrast, and delay times. You can also program the mini LEDs to scroll through words.

Get your message across.
Enlarge / Get your message across.

Asus

A dedicated knob on one of the earcups lets you turn the animations on and off, and you can also control volume and toggle the microphone with on-ear controls.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.
Enlarge / Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.

The headset weighs 0.68 lbs, and the D-shaped earcups are lined with your choice: leather or a combination of leather and mesh fabric.

Asus seems to have paid attention to audio quality as well, carrying over the specs of its impressive Delta S headphones. The new headset’s 50 mm neodymium drivers are standard among modern gaming headsets, but the cans’ frequency response is higher than the typical 20 – 20,000 Hz, peaking at 40,000 Hz. An impedance of 32 ohms is also a smidgen higher than the 30 ohms we often see in gaming headsets.

The upcoming peripheral embraces USB-C for future-proofing and USB-A for versatility. It also supports Hi-Res music with a Hi-Fi ESS 9821 Quad-DAC and integrated Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) renderer.

If you want to add some flair to your cranium, this headset could be a unique way to do it. Asus said the ROG Delta S Animate will be available in mid-to-late December for $250.

Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Australia also wants Google to unbundle search from Android

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Enlarge / Let’s see, you landed on my “Google Ads” space, and with three houses… that will be $1,400.

Ron Amadeo / Hasbro

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is the latest government regulatory body to take issue with how Google does business. As Reuters reports, the ACCC wants Google to show a “choice screen” to Android users, allowing them to pick a default search engine other than Google Search. It also wants to limit Google’s ability to pay Apple and other vendors to be the default search engine on other platforms.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims explained the commission’s reasoning in a statement:

We are concerned that Google’s dominance and its ability to use its financial resources to fund arrangements to be the default search engine on many devices and other means through which consumers access search, such as browsers, is harming competition and consumers. Google pays billions of dollars each year for these placements, which illustrates how being the default search engine is extremely valuable to Google’s business model.

Market research firm Kantar says Android has a 60 percent share of the smartphone market, while on iOS and macOS, Google pays Apple an estimated $15 billion per year to be the default search on Safari. Google also pays Mozilla $400 million per year to remain the default on Firefox. Google has a 94 percent share of the Australian search engine market.

Google’s closest search competitor is Microsoft’s Bing, which has something like 2.5 percent market share worldwide. That’s despite being the default search engine on Windows, the world’s second most popular operating system. Google recently told an EU court that “Google” is the #1 search query on Bing, claiming that stat as evidence that users are choosing Google rather than being forced into using it.

Google has already gone through a similar Android unbundling change in the EU, which saw the company add ballot screens for the default search engine and default browser. The EU also shut down some provisions of Google’s standard “Mobile Application Distribution Agreement” (MADA) that OEMs needed to sign in order to license the Google apps. One change means that Google can’t force an “all-or-nothing” bundling of Google’s apps, so if an OEM wants a single app (like, say, the Play Store), it does not have to include every default Google app on its devices.

Android's EU search ballot.
Enlarge / Android’s EU search ballot.

Google

The EU also said that Google can’t restrict OEMs from forking Android. Previously, using the Android codebase in ways Google didn’t approve of would get an OEM kicked out of the Google Play ecosystem. South Korea also took issue with Google’s Android fork restrictions and fined the company $177 million, one of South Korea’s biggest fines ever.

Android’s business model doesn’t charge OEMs directly; instead, it generates revenue for Google through end-user Play Store purchases, Google Search queries, and Google ad impressions. These three areas are such moneymakers that not only can they completely fund Android development, but Google also offers a revenue-share program for Android OEMs, offering incentives like a kickback for each user’s search revenue.

Google’s response to all these changes was to start charging OEMs for Android if they went along with it. In the EU, OEMs can stick with Google’s preferred terms and the old revenue deals, or they can change things up by paying as much as $40 per device and potentially missing out on revenue-sharing deals.

The ACCC’s move isn’t a requirement yet—for now, it’s a potential measure that the regulator will put out for industry consultation in 2022.

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Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W: 5x faster than the original for $5 more

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Enlarge / The Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W.

The diminutive Raspberry Pi Zero is getting its first upgrade in nearly five years. Today, Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton announced the Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W, a new $15 product that puts the processor from the Raspberry Pi 3 into a board the exact same size as the original Zero.

The new board swaps the old Zero’s 1 GHz single-core ARM11 processor for a quad-core Cortex A53-based Broadcom BCM2710A1 processor, also clocked at 1 GHz—the same processor used in the original Raspberry Pi 3 released back in 2016, albeit clocked slightly lower. This is a substantial increase in power and capability for the Pi Zero, going from one core to four and from 32 bits to 64.

Upton said that the performance increase over the original Zero “varies across workloads” but that for multithreaded tasks like those simulated by sysbench, “it is almost exactly five times faster.” Heat dissipation is provided by “thick internal copper layers” in the board, which should help prevent thermal throttling without the use of additional fans or heatsinks.

The Pi Zero 2 W should fit most cases and other accessories designed for the original model.
Enlarge / The Pi Zero 2 W should fit most cases and other accessories designed for the original model.

But the Pi Zero 2 W is still a low-powered, miniature version of the Pi, which means there’s just not a lot of physical space for other upgrades. The Zero 2 W still uses 512MB of RAM, 2.4 GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi with Bluetooth 4.2, and a single HDMI port along with two micro-USB ports (one for power, one for data) and a microSD card slot. Because it still uses the same Zero form factor, it should fit all existing cases and accessories made for the original Pi Zero.

Upton said that the company hopes to ship about 200,000 Pi Zero 2 W boards in the remainder of 2021 and an additional 250,000 in the first half of 2022. These numbers are being limited somewhat by ongoing chip shortages, which prompted a rare price increase for the flagship Raspberry Pi 4 model earlier this month.

The original Pi Zero W and the Wi-Fi-less Pi Zero will continue to be manufactured and sold for their original prices of $10 and $5, respectively.

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