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Snapchat launches Mario Party-style multiplayer games platform – TechCrunch

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Snap is unlocking a new revenue stream while giving you something to do between chats and Stories. Today Snapchat debuts its Snap Games platform that lets you play real-time, multiplayer games while texting and talking with your friends. The platform is based on Snap’s secret late-2017 acquisition of PrettyGreat, an Australian game studio with talent from HalfBrick (which built Fruit Ninja). That team built Bitmoji Party, a Mario Party-style mini-game fest, to show off the platform that includes five games from developers like Zynga and ZeptoLab. The games are rolling out worldwide on iOS and Android starting today.

To monetize the platform, Snapchat will let users opt in to watching six-second unskippable commercials that reward them with a power up or bonus in-game currency. Snapchat will share revenue from the ads with developers, though it refused to specify the split. It could be a little weird watching ads to more easily beat your friends. But down the line it’s easy to imagine Snapchat selling cosmetic upgrades via in-app purchases akin to Fortnite.

Snap announced the new Snap Games platform at its first-ever press event, the Snap Partner Summit in Los Angeles, where it also announced an augmented reality utility platform called Scan, an ads network and a way to put its Stories in other apps. “We wanted to build something that makes us feel like we’re playing a board game with a family of over a long holiday weekend. Something that makes us feel like we’re sitting with friends, controllers in hand, looking at the same screen,” says Snap’s head of gaming, Will Wu. The Information’s Tom Dotan and Amir Efrati first reported Snap was building a gaming platform and Cheddar’s Alex Heath reported it would end up launching today.

Snap Games could be considered a real-time spin on Facebook Messenger’s Instant Games platform, which has focused on porting to HTML5 well-known asynchronous games like Pac-Man and other arcade titles. Similarly, Snap Games don’t have to be downloaded separately, as they’re piped in from the web. Users can browse available games by tapping a new rocket ship button in the chat bar.

With Bitmoji Party, your avatar competes with up to seven friends simultaneously in a series of mini games where you have to stay balanced on a giant record as a DJ scratches it, or avoid getting knocked in the pool. You also can have another 24 friends spectate and rotate in. Winners earn coins they can use to buy dances to stunt on their competition. And with an ever-present chat bar, users can use text or voice to talk trash.

Rather than port in known IP, Snap recruited developers to build games exclusively for its vertical, real-time multiplayer format. These include:

  • Alphabear Hustle from SpryFox – a fast-paced word puzzler
  • C.A.T.S. (Crash Arena Turbo Stars) Drift Race from ZeptoLab – a cutesy racing game
  • Snake Squad from Game Closure – a reimagining of the classic Snake game set in outer space
  • Tiny Royale from Zynga – a top-down battle royale shooter game that feels like a Game Boy version of Fortnite  top-down battle royale game
  • Zombie Rescue Squad from PikPok – a zombie shooter

Snapchat’s partner games (from left): Tiny Royale, Snake Squad, C.A.T.S. Drift Race

Snap’s game platform has huge potential to boost time spent in the app and the ads views that generates because gaming is perfect for its demographic. “In the United States, Snapchat now reaches nearly 75 percent of all 13 to 34-year-olds, and we reach 90 percent of 13 to 24-year-olds. In fact, we reach more 13 to 24-year-olds than Facebook or Instagram in the United States, the U.K., France, Canada and Australia,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel revealed today. This is the age group with the free time and dense social graphs to make use of multiplayer real-time games.

The big question is whether Snap’s reward-incentivized video ad views will generate enough cash to keep developers coming to the platform. If not, a limited line of titles could get old quick. Snap has entirely avoided in-app purchases since shutting down its Lens Store in early 2016. There’s understandable concern that kids could rack up huge bills on their parents’ credit cards. But given how Fortnite has normalized paying for no-utility cosmetic upgrades for this same demographic, with the right controls Snapchat could do the same to make itself and its partners a lot more money. And given you’re always playing with your friends, not strangers, there’s an even deeper urge to buy funny costumes and dances to impress them.

Snapchat’s overarching strategy right now is to build an orbit of time-wasters surrounding chat. What began with Stories now includes Discover publications, premium Shows, augmented reality toys and now games. It may never become a favorite with the 35+ age group. But since messaging is the top mobile behavior, Snap can use it to keep people coming back and then distract them while they’re waiting for a reply or need a social alternative to small talk.

 

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Cuphead expansion pack review: As good as DLC gets

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Enlarge / In the new expansion pack The Delicious Last Course, Miss Chalice makes three.

Studio MDHR

Some people will look at an expansion pack like Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course and make up their minds after a single glance. This $8 add-on’s beautiful brutality follows the same path as the original 2017 game Cuphead, a notoriously tough descendant of the Mega Man school of game design. Maybe you love playing games that are as beautiful as they are difficult. Maybe you don’t.

I’m here to talk about Last Course because I might be a lot like you. I’m not Last Course‘s target audience. I never beat the original Cuphead. I have contended that a tough game like this is easier for me to watch than it is to play. But when I saw the expansion’s hands-on demo at this month’s Summer Game Fest Play Days, I shrugged my shoulders, grabbed a gamepad, and gave it a shot. Might as well occupy myself between other scheduled game demos, I thought.

And then I fell in love. For whatever reason, the demo I played, and my subsequent completion of Last Course‘s “normal” difficulty content, grabbed me and wouldn’t let go—which is why I’m compelled to recommend picking it up.

Another island getaway—with useful new abilities

Miss Chalice can only join the battle when she tricks one of the original main characters to chomp on a magical cookie. This temporarily sends someone else to a ghost realm so that she can join in. The trio goes on a quest to bring her back to life for good, no tricky cookies required.
Enlarge / Miss Chalice can only join the battle when she tricks one of the original main characters to chomp on a magical cookie. This temporarily sends someone else to a ghost realm so that she can join in. The trio goes on a quest to bring her back to life for good, no tricky cookies required.

Studio MDHR

Like many other classic “expansion packs,” Last Course requires owning the original game (which is conveniently on sale at most digital download storefronts between this article’s publication date and July 7) and bolts new content onto Cuphead‘s 2D action foundation. The original game divided its 18 boss battles across three “islands” of content, and Last Course adds, among other things, six bosses on a brand-new island.

Miss Chalice's double-jump ability will be useful to get away from those pesky gnomes gathering at her feet.
Enlarge / Miss Chalice’s double-jump ability will be useful to get away from those pesky gnomes gathering at her feet.

Studio MDHR

It also introduces a third playable character, named Miss Chalice, and she appears when you equip a Chalice-specific “charm” on either existing character (Cuphead or Mugman). She comes with four points of health by default (compared to three points for the other characters) and three unique abilities: an invincible dodge-roll, a double-jump, and a parry dash. (The latter gives players a larger “hitbox” when attempting the game’s crucial parry maneuver, making it easier to counter enemies’ specially colored attacks.) Since she must be activated as a charm, Miss Chalice can’t equip other charms in the game, and in two-player co-op sessions, only one person can turn their character into Miss Chalice.

As I made clear earlier, I’m not a Cuphead pro, so I was delighted by the new, novice-friendly character when I first tested the game at Summer Game Fest. All of her special abilities are tuned for higher maneuverability to help you contend with the chaos that is an average Cuphead boss battle, and in addition to her extra point of health, she also has a custom “super attack” option that doesn’t do any damage. Instead, it gives her an additional, temporary point of health, and this can be regenerated during long, brutal boss fights. Once she’s unlocked, she’s available in the original campaign’s levels as well, which makes her a nifty entry point for anyone like me who never beat the original campaign.

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Thanks to fans, the weirdest official Doom game is now playable on Windows

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Enlarge / A seemingly lost turn-based version of Doom RPG is now fully playable on modern Windows PCs, thanks to efforts from the Doom reverse-engineering community.

id Software

The creators of the Doom series have presented plenty of official and unofficial historical retrospectives, but these often leave out the weirdest official Doom game ever made: Doom RPG.

Even id Software’s official “Year of Doom” museum at E3 2019 left this 2005 game unchronicled. That’s a shame, because it was a phenomenal example of id once again proving itself a master of technically impressive gaming on a power-limited platform. And platforms don’t get more limited on a power or compatibility basis than the pre-iPhone wave of candy bar handsets, which Doom RPG has been locked to since its original mid-’00s launch. You may think that “turn-based Doom” sounds weird, but Doom RPG stood out as a clever and fun series twist to the first-person shooter formula.

Its abandonment to ancient phones changes today thanks to the reverse-engineering efforts of GEC.inc, a Costa Rica-based collective of at least three developers. On Wednesday, the group released a Windows port of the game based on their work on the original game’s BREW version (a Qualcomm-developed API meant for its wave of mobile phones from 2001 and beyond).

Time for T9

Forget the clunky world of ancient mobile phone platform emulation. <em>Doom RPG</em> feels way better in this week's new native port.
Enlarge / Forget the clunky world of ancient mobile phone platform emulation. Doom RPG feels way better in this week’s new native port.

id Software

GEC.inc’s freely downloadable Windows port has no copyrighted assets and won’t work without the game’s original files. (The same typically goes for other major community efforts that revolve around the reverse-engineering of classic games.) That’s where this whole thing gets tricky, as legitimate access to the game in 2022 is incredibly unlikely. Access requires owning a compatible mid-’00s phone on which the game was purchased, likely via an ancient game-sales marketplace that no longer exists, then extracting the game’s original files from that phone—and that’s assuming its original hardware is functioning and hasn’t been damaged by, say, a slowly expanding lithium-ion battery. id Software has never re-released the game outside of its original platforms (BREW, J2ME), arguably because EA Mobile got a stake in the game after acquiring original publisher Jamdat Mobile.

Whether you’re among the very few to have a preserved, working phone with a purchased copy of the game’s BREW port or you figure out another way to somehow access Doom RPG, you can dump the original game’s data into GEC.inc’s custom asset-translation executable. Ars Technica can confirm that this process is painless and leads to near-instant gameplay on Windows.

The port’s interface is admittedly barebones, made up of menus that require a keyboard to pick through, and its incompatibility with mice and touchpads is startling at first. It’s a hard crash back to the early ’00s to remember that, yes, this game was designed for T9 button arrays by default. Thankfully, the port plays nicely enough with Windows to make it easy to bind an Xinput gamepad via its default menus if you prefer a gamepad (or something like Steam Deck) over the usual WASD options.

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Meta sparks anger by charging for VR apps

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Enlarge / BURLINGAME, CALIFORNIA – MAY 04: Meta employee Ryan Carter (L) helps a member of the media with an Oculus virtual reality headset demonstration during a media preview of the new Meta Store on May 04, 2022 in Burlingame, California. Meta is set to open its first physical retail store on May 9. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Meta is facing a growing backlash for the charges imposed on apps created for its virtual reality headsets, as developers complain about the commercial terms set around futuristic devices that the company hopes will help create a multibillion-dollar consumer market.

Facebook’s parent has pledged to spend $10 billion a year over the next decade on the “metaverse,” a much-hyped concept denoting an immersive virtual world filled with avatars.

The investment is spurred by a desire to own the next computing platform and avoid being trapped by rules set by Big Tech rivals, as it has been by Apple and Google with their respective mobile app stores.

Apple is expected to enter the market by releasing a set of augmented reality glasses as early as this year, while Microsoft is developing services using its HoloLens virtual reality headset.

But several developers told the Financial Times of their frustration that Meta, which is seen as having an early lead in a nascent market, has insisted on a charging model for its VR app store similar to what exists today on smartphones. This is despite Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg being strongly critical in the past of charging policies on existing mobile app stores.

“Don’t confuse marketing with reality—it’s good marketing to pick on Apple. But it doesn’t mean Meta won’t do the exact same thing,” said Seth Siegel, global head of AI and cyber security at Infosys Consulting. “There is no impetus for them to be better.”

The “Quest Store” for Meta’s Quest 2, by far the most popular VR headset on the market, takes a 30 percent cut from digital purchases and charges 15-30 percent on subscriptions, similar to the fees charged by Apple and Android.

“Undoubtedly there are services provided—they build amazing hardware and provide store services,” said Daniel Sproll, chief executive of Realities.io, an immersive realities start-up behind the VR game Puzzling Places.

“But the problem is that it feels like everybody agreed on this 30 percent and that’s what we’re stuck with. It doesn’t feel like there’s any competition. The Chinese companies coming out with headsets are the same. Why would they change it?”

Meta defended its policies, pointing out that unlike iPhone owners, Quest users can install apps outside its official store through SideQuest, a third-party app store, or make use of App Lab, its less restricted, more experimental app store.

“We want to foster choice and competition in the VR ecosystem,” Meta said. “And it’s working—our efforts have produced a material financial return for developers: as we announced earlier this year, over $1 billion has been spent on games and apps in the Meta Quest Store.”

Developers welcome these alternatives but say their impact is limited. SideQuest has been downloaded just 396,000 times, versus 19 million for the Oculus app, according to Sensor Tower. App Lab, meanwhile, still takes a 30 percent cut of purchases.

Zuckerberg has previously complained of Apple’s “monopoly rents” and called out its “unique stranglehold as a gatekeeper on what gets on phones,” in reference to the App Store’s approval and curation processes.

That led Apple to accuse Meta of “hypocrisy” when the Oculus headset maker announced in April that Horizon Worlds, its “social VR experience,” would charge a 17.5 percent “platform fee” on top of its 30 percent tax on digital purchases.

Apple added: “It goes to show that while they seek to use Apple’s platform for free, they happily take from the creators and small businesses that use their own.”

Until Apple and others enter the VR market in a more concerted manner, developers also say Meta has the ability to play kingmaker with apps by fast-tracking some and delaying others.

Some titles are relegated to its experimental App Lab store, while a few of the best titles—the fitness games BeatSaber and Supernatural, for instance—have been acquired by Meta.

Another point of friction with developers is Meta’s shift on how “open” its VR app store will be.

Chris Pruett, Meta’s content ecosystem director, has said the VR team engaged in “a knockdown, drag-out debate, for years” over whether the app store should allow developers to upload their content with relatively few restrictions, or whether apps should be “curated” by the company with far more checks—similar to Apple’s approach to its mobile app store.

Pruett said Meta found that lax standards resulted in too many users being frustrated by low-quality content, so the company has opted to play more of a gatekeeper role. But developers said the resulting barriers could lack transparency.

“Getting something on the Quest store is painful,” said Lyron Bentovim, chief executive of the Glimpse Group, an immersive experiences group. “It’s significantly worse than getting on Apple or Android stores.”

Rooom, a Metaverse platform for 3D events, made it to the Quest store after nine months of back and forth, whereas the same process with Apple took less than two weeks, said chief information officer Sebastian Gottschlich.

Devon Copley, chief executive of Avatour, a virtual meeting company, said he had posted questions to the indie developer message board for support that “just go completely unanswered.”

Developer relations at Meta was “completely AWOL,” Copley said. “It’s really frustrating because the hardware development is amazing, the hardware platform is fantastic, and they’re doing great things. But their developer engagement is a travesty.”

© 2022 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved Not to be redistributed, copied, or modified in any way.

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