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Snapchat will let you play as your Bitmoji in video games – TechCrunch

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Want your video game character to look just like you? Soon you’ll be able to scan an in-game code with Snapchat to play as your personalized Bitmoji avatar on PC, console and mobile games. Today Snapchat announced its new Bitmoji for Games SDK that will let hand-selected partners integrate 3D Bitmoji as a replacement for their character skins. With support for Unity, Unreal and the Play Canvas engine behind Snap’s new Bitmoji Party game inside Snapchat, the SDK should make it easy for developers to pipe in life-like avatars that give people a stronger emotional connection to the game.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer to bring Bitmoji into games. Games can be so much more engaging with you…in the game,” Bitmoji co-founder Ba Blackstock tells me. “We’re adding an identity layer to gaming that has the potential to have a transformational effect on the industry.”

Snapchat has a massive opportunity to colonize the web — and the games ecosystem — with its Bitmoji instead of waiting for developers to make half-assed clones. Bitmoji is perhaps Snapchat’s most popular and enduring feature now that Stories and ephemeral messaging have been widely copied, with 330 million estimated downloads, according to Sensor Tower. As I wrote in my feature piece on Snapchat’s new platform strategy, “To stop copycats, Snapchat shares itself,” every distributed instance of the company drives attention back to its original apps, and each partnership it establishes is one more ally in the fight against Facebook.

Snap’s new CMO

Snap’s new CMO Kenny Mitchell

As Snapchat moves into this new era of marketing itself through Bitmoji, today it also announced it has hired a new CMO, Kenny Mitchell. He was formerly the VP of marketing at McDonald’s and the head of consumer engagement at Gatorade. Mitchell oversaw the sports drink’s Serena Williams tennis game that lived inside a Snapchat ad and saw an average of over 200 seconds of play time, and its viral Super Bowl augmented reality lens that let you dump a cooler of Gatorade on yourself.

“Kenny’s consumer marketing expertise and his deep understanding of our products will be a great combination for Snap,” writes Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

The company has seen many senior execs depart over the years due to clashes with Spiegel over leadership, so we’ll see if Mitchell sticks around. He’ll be spearheading Snap’s new marketing campaign to reactivate Android users frustrated by its buggy app and bring them back to its newly reengineered version. “I look forward to helping Evan and Snap continue to tell their story to people around the world, and working with my new colleagues as we define the future of the camera and self-expression,” Mitchell writes.

Bitmoji, the visual identity layer

Snap acquired Bitmoji parent Bitstrips in 2016 for just $64 million, propelling it to become a staple top 10 app. Snap launched its Snap Kit platform in June 2018, allowing developers to integrate Bitmoji into the keyboards of their apps like Tinder for use as chat stickers or 2D profile pics. And this month, at Snap’s first Partner Summit, it launched partnerships to bring Bitmoji to the Venmo feed, Fitbit watch faces and more. But now it will let 3D Bitmoji replace your in-game character head-to-toe.

For now, the SDK will be free to top developers chosen for the program from PC, Mac, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android and other platforms. Surprisingly, most game devs just build their own avatar customization feature from scratch, but they’re typically focused on clothes and crazy hairstyles rather than fine-tuning a face that looks like your own. And while customized avatars are common in shooter games, Bitmoji could bring them to platform, racing, dancing, puzzle, fighting and role-playing games too.

Bitmoji for games won’t be an open platform, to ensure the brand isn’t misused. Blackstock explains that “You can look at what we’re doing with Bitmoji Kit where we have guidelines of best practices of how to use Bitmoji and not use Bitmoji. We’ll apply the same kinds of guidelines to gaming.” That might mean no extra graphically violent games, or anything in which players might revel in inflicting pain on a personalized avatar. But Fortnite, with its cartoony violence, might be an ideal Bitmoji partner.

Snap’s global head of gaming partnerships, John Imah, says he could imagine using his Bitmoji in titles from Star Wars, Lego, Mario Kart or Warcraft. Depending on how their models for characters, landscapes and items work, developers may have to do some work to make Bitmoji work gracefully. But Imah says when it can, “There will be some modification on our end to make sure this works within their engine so we can make this process as seamless as possible for these developers.”

Users will design their avatar in the Bitmoji or Snapchat app, though there may be in-game customization options down the line. If users ask to import their Bitmoji, the game will show a QR Snapcode on screen that users can scan with the Snapchat camera. That authentication unlocks their Bitmoji to use as an avatar skin in the game. Suddenly, every quest, battle and cutscene becomes about them, not some generic character.

Given Fortnite is earning hundreds of millions of dollars selling cosmetic upgrades, the inevitable question is whether Snap will start selling bonus outfits, items or face options for Bitmoji. “It’s really early days for Bitmoji for Games. It’s something we’ll explore later down the road,” Imah tells me. Imagine if kids could buy Supreme sweatshirts or fresh Nikes for their Bitmoji? That could be a lucrative new business for Snap that’s strengthened by each Bitmoji partnership, and at a time when it’s eager to boost revenue and cut losses as it aims for profitability.

Bitmoji for Games could cement Snapchat as the best way to visually represent yourself online without a photograph. As the darker sides of the internet and human nature come into focus for the tech industry, we need more ways to be ourselves while retaining privacy. Bitmoji could deliver the emotional connection of seeing yourself as the hero without the risks of exposing your true face.

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Nintendoes what Valve don’t: Game barred from Steam will launch on Switch

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Enlarge / Nothing weird going on here. No siree.

Japanese publisher Spike Chunsoft announced that the first official English translation of visual novel Chaos;Head Noah won’t be coming to Steam as planned “due to Steam’s guideline-required changes to the game’s content.” But while the game is apparently too risqué for Steam, the family-friendly folks at Nintendo apparently have no problem with a Switch version that Spike Chunsoft says will still launch in the US on October 7 as scheduled.

“Spike Chunsoft, Inc. believes these [Steam guideline-required] changes would not allow the game to be released to its standards,” the publisher said in its announcement. “The company is looking into delivering the title through alternative storefronts, and when details are decided will make another formal announcement. Until then your patience and understanding is appreciated.”

Nintendo says this scene is appropriate for its store page, so we figure you readers can handle it.
Enlarge / Nintendo says this scene is appropriate for its store page, so we figure you readers can handle it.

Chaos;Head Noah was initially listed for Steam pre-sale in April, but that page was taken down in August, according to tracking site SteamDB. At the time, that led to some concerns about the eventual fate of the Steam version, which Spike Chunsoft finally confirmed today.

Valve’s apparent push for content restrictions comes even though the extremely similar thematic sequel Chaos;Child has been available in English on Steam since 2019 (following its initial 2014 release in Japan on the Xbox One). The English PS4 version of Chaos;Child received an M for Mature rating from the ESRB, which described game scenes of strangling, torture, and “exposed brains” alongside sexual content like “two female characters moaning off screen while discussing each other’s breasts.”

How bad is it?

Chaos;Head Noah is an enhanced port of Chaos;Head, the game that launched the cult-classic Science Adventure series of visual novels (which also includes Steins;Gate and its sequels). The game follows a series of murders and suicides in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood and allows players to change the story progression by indulging in various positive or negative “delusions.” Some of those delusions can reportedly get extremely gory and/or suggest (but not directly show) imminent sexual violence.

“I don’t think it gets much worse than anything already in Steam’s library,” PQube Games Head of Localization Andrew Hodgson (who worked on the English translation of Steins;Gate) told Ars Technica of the “titillating and violent content” in the game. “It’s far from adult, even if it can be quite gruesome in certain scenes.”

Just your average, everyday game on a Nintendo console.
Enlarge / Just your average, everyday game on a Nintendo console.

The original Chaos;Head was originally released for Japanese PCs in 2008 before the enhanced Noah hit the Xbox 360 in 2009. That console port (and a later Vita re-release) received CERO Z content ratings in Japan, which “assumes that the game should not be sold or distributed to those younger than 18 years old” and is roughly equivalent to an ESRB “AO for Adults Only” rating in the US. CERO’s “content icon” system for that game only included a warning about “crime,” however, and not violence or sexual content.

Subsequent Japanese ports of Chaos;Head Noah for the PS3, PSP, Android, and iOS were heavily edited to remove some of the more extreme images and descriptions of violence. In turn, those ports received a lower CERO D rating (roughly equivalent to the ESRB’s “M for Mature” rating) in Japan. A source in the visual novel translation community (who asked to remain anonymous) confirmed that both the Switch and proposed Steam English-language versions of the game were based on this edited-down script.

A Japanese Chaos;Head port for the Nintendo Switch, released earlier this year, received the higher CERO Z rating (and “crime” content icon) despite using the edited version of the game that previously received a CERO D rating. The English translation will launch on Switch in the US next month, with an “M for Mature” rating and content descriptors that warn of “Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Language, [and] Intense Violence.”

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YouTube age-restriction quagmire exposed by 78-minute Mega Man documentary

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Aurich Lawson / Capcom

A YouTube creator has gone on the offensive after facing an increasingly common problem on the platform: moderation and enforcement that leaves creators confused by the logic and short on their videos’ revenue potential.

The trouble centers on a longtime YouTube video host whose content is popular among the retro-gaming devotees at Ars Technica’s staff. The creator, who goes by the online handle “Summoning Salt,” chronicles the history of various classic games’ speedrunning world records. His hour-plus analyses demonstrate how different players approach older games and exploit various bugs. The games in question are typically cartoony 2D fare instead of violent or M-rated titles.

Summoning Salt asks why his YouTube video was age-restricted.

On Friday, Summoning Salt took to social media to claim that his latest 78-minute documentary about 1989’s Mega Man 2, which went live in mid-September, has been “age-restricted” by YouTube’s moderation system. Bizarrely, the video had been age-restricted roughly one week ago, only for YouTube to relent to the creator’s appeal and claim that the restriction had been placed in error.

Thus, Summoning Salt was surprised to learn on Friday that the video had been re-age-restricted—which he claims severely limits a creator’s ability to monetize content on YouTube. An age restriction flag works against content creators in two ways: it limits the advertisement pool that might run in pre-roll and mid-view breaks, and it essentially slams the door on YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which might otherwise tease Summoning Salt’s content to new viewers.

Remember, this is Mega Man 2 we’re talking about

Summoning Salt’s (age-restricted) analysis of Mega Man 2 world records.

YouTube’s initial notice did not clarify what moderation flag Summoning Salt’s latest video—a video that documents the 18-year history of people playing and exploiting the NES game Mega Man 2, embedded above—had triggered. His appeal eventually teased an answer from YouTube’s moderation team: “explicit language in certain parts.” As Summoning Salt explained, the video includes a three-second outburst of six F-words, taken directly from a Twitch streamer’s microphone during a passionate gameplay moment.

Summoning Salt, a speedrunning-fluent creator, took his analysis tools to the microsecond level and looked for other unrestricted YouTube content in the gaming category to see whether his video’s curses-per-capita percentage (0.16 percent) had been exceeded. He immediately found an unrestricted example from another popular retro-minded channel, Angry Video Game Nerd, which had nearly double the swears in a video one-twelfth as dense in the script. (It’s unclear how many of AVGN’s videos, famously full of curse words, are flagged with age restrictions.)

Ultimately, Summoning Salt points to YouTube’s unclear recommendations to content creators for content like curse words. According to YouTube’s own rules, the line between “moderate profanity” (allowed in YouTube’s unrestricted videos) and “strong profanity” comes down to not only specific word choice but also frequency, and YouTube merely suggests that the line is crossed when reaching a threshold of “used in every sentence,” or having certain swear words appear in prominent moments like the first 30 seconds of a video or as text in a thumbnail.

Summoning Salt noted that the moderation team initially responded with a “full review” in roughly 40 minutes, less than the length of the whole video. Such a swift review process implied that an auto-moderation system used voice analysis to chronicle the number of swear words, and Summoning Salt told Ars via email that YouTube has tools in place to auto-mute what it detects as offending content—but that YouTube doesn’t apply them in the case of age-restriction disputes. This leaves creators out of the revenue circuit once YouTube raises such a flag. He also told Ars that his videos have only been restricted in the past by YouTube due to copyright flags over included music, which he has zero issue with.

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Savor the sinister delights of del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities trailer

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Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is a new anthology series coming this month to Netflix.

So-called cabinets of curiosities—aka wunderkammers (“wonder-rooms”)—were hugely popular in the 17th century. They were largely random collections of strange-yet-fascinating stuff, including natural history specimens, archaeological artifacts, religious or historical relics, the odd work of art, and any other quirky item that caught the cabinet creator’s fancy.  The concept also inspired auteur director Guillermo del Toro when putting together a new anthology horror series for Netflix: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The streaming platform just dropped the official trailer for the series, and it looks like just the right kind of fright fare to bring some stylishly spooky frissons to the Halloween season.

As we’ve reported previously, the series was first announced in 2018 and features eight episodes written and directed by filmmakers handpicked by del Toro. The list of directors includes Jennifer Kent, who directed 2014’s phenomenal The Babadook; her episode, “The Murmuring,” is based on an original story by del Toro and features Babadook star Essie Davis (aka Miss Fisher). “Dreams in the Witch House,” based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, is directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown, Twilight).

“Graveyard Rats” is directed by Vincenzo Natali (In the Tall Grass, Splice), while Guillermo Navarro (Narcos) directed “Lot 36,” also based on an original story by del Toro. Keith Thomas (Firestarter) directed “Pickman’s Model,” another episode based on a Lovecraft short story; David Prior (The Empty Man) directed “The Autopsy”; Panos Cosmatos (Mandy) directed “The Viewing”; and Ana Lily Amirpour—who directed the exquisite A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night—directed “The Outside.”

The star-studded cast includes Rupert Grint, Ben Barnes, Crispin Glover, Peter Weller, Kate Micucci, Nia Vardalos, David Hewlett, Demetrius Grosse, Sebastian Roche, F. Murray Abraham, Hannah Galway, Steve Agee, and Michael Therriault, among others.

Along with several simultaneously gorgeous and horrific images, we got a “first look” teaser in August, featuring del Toro talking about the project, especially its striking visual effects. “With Cabinet of Curiosities, what I’m trying to say is, ‘Look, the world is beautiful and horrible at exactly the same time,'” he said. That’s certainly the vibe we’re getting from the full trailer.

“Picture your mind as a cabinet where you lock up your darkest thoughts and deepest fears,” del Toro says in the opening voiceover. “What would happen if you opened that cabinet for the world to see? We are about to find out.” What follows is a cornucopia of scenes from each of the eight stories, all of which have their own distinctive look that nonetheless fits the overall “beautiful and horrible” aesthetic del Toro is aiming for.

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities will be released on Netflix across a four-day event. Two episodes will be released on October 25, with two more episodes coming out each day through October 28.

Netflix

Listing image by Netflix

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