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Tencent replaces hit mobile game PUBG with a Chinese government-friendly alternative – TechCrunch

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China’s new rules on video games, introduced last month, are having an effect on the country’s gamers. Today, Tencent replaced hugely popular battle royale shooter game PUBG with a more government-friendly alternative that seems primed to pull in significant revenue.

The company introduced “Game for Peace” in a Weibo post at the same time as PUBG — which stands for Player Unknown Battlegrounds — was delisted from China. The title had been in wide testing but without revenue, and now it seems Tencent gave up on securing a license to monetize the title.

In its place, Game for Peace is very much the type of game that will pass the demands of China’s game censorship body. Last month, the country’s State Administration of Press and Publication released a series of demands for new titles, including bans on corpses and blood, references of imperial history and gambling. The new Tencent title bears a striking resemblance to PUBG, but there are no dead bodies, while it plays up to a nationalist theme with a focus on China’s air force — or, per the Weibo message, “the blue sky warriors that guard our country’s airspace” — and their battle against terrorists.

Game for Peace was developed by Krafton, the Korea-based publisher formerly known as BlueHole which made PUBG. Beyond visual similarities, Reuters reported that the games are twinned since some player found that their progress and achievements on PUBG had transferred over to the new game.

Tencent representatives declined to comment on the new game or the end of PUBG’s “beta testing” period in China when contacted by TechCrunch. But a company rep apparently told Reuters that “they are very different genres of games.”

Tencent’s new “Game for Peace” title is almost exactly the same as its popular PUBG game, which it is replacing [Image via Weibo]

Fortnite may have grabbed the attention for its explosive growth — we previously reported that the game helped publisher Epic Games bank a profit of $3 billion last year — but PUBG has more quietly become a fixture among mobile gamers, particularly in Asia.

At the end of last year, Krafton told The Verge that it was past 200 million registered gamers, with 30 million players each day. According to app analytics company Sensor Tower, PUBG grossed more than $65 million from mobile players in March thanks to 83 percent growth, which saw it even beat Fortnite. There is also a desktop version.

PUBG made more money than Fortnite on mobile in March 2019, according to data from Sensor Tower

That is really the point of Tencent’s switcheroo: to make money.

The company suffered at the hands of China’s gaming license freeze last year, and a regulatory-compliant title like Game for Peace has a good shot at getting the green light for monetization — through the sale of virtual items and seasonal memberships.

Indeed, analysts at China Renaissance believe the new title could rake in as much as $1.5 billion in annual revenue, according to the Reuters report. That’s a lot to get excited about and resuscitating gaming will be an important part of Tencent’s strategy this year — which has already seen it restructure its business to focus emerging units like cloud computing, and pledge to use its technology to “do good.”

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Eldritch terrors come forth in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina S4 trailer

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Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina Spellman faces the Eldritch Terrors in the final installment of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Sabrina Spellman and the good people of Greendale face their most terrifying adversary yet as otherworldly beings seek to bring about the end of all things in the official trailer for the fourth and final season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The Netflix series is based on the comic book series of the same name, a part of the Archie Horror imprint.

(Some spoilers for prior seasons below, most notably the S3 finale.)

As we’ve reported previously, the show was originally intended as a companion series to the CW’s Riverdale—a gleefully Gothic take on the original Archie comic books—but Sabrina ended up on Netflix instead. The show retains some of the primetime soap opera elements of Riverdale but it incorporates more full-blown horror without bowing to the niceties imposed by network television. As I wrote earlier this year, “Ultimately, the best thing about The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is how gleefully and unapologetically the show leans into its melting pot of the macabre. It’s quite the high-wire act, exploring serious themes while never, ever taking itself too seriously—and never descending into outright camp.”

In the S3 finale, Sabrina transforms a trio of unholy artifacts into a medieval spiked ball and chain known, appropriately enough, as a morning star. She uses this to create a time loop, enabling her to go back and correct the grievous errors she made over the course of the season. Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has already said Sabrina’s time meddling will have “huge repercussions” in this final season, one of which is the fact that there are now two Sabrinas. The original Sabrina Spellman returned to her life in Greendale while her alternate self, Sabrina Morningstar, took up her rightful throne as Queen of Hell. They’re supposed to always stay within their respective realms, but, well, what are the odds of that happening with such a headstrong heroine?

Aguirra-Sacasa has also hinted that S4 will go full-blown Lovecraft. The title of S4’s first episode is “The Eldritch Dark,” an allusion to sci-fi/horror writer and Lovecraft contemporary Clark Ashton Smith, who wrote a 1912 poem with that title. S3 concluded with a now-mad Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) performing a summoning ritual to call forth the “Eldritch terrors” and telling his loyal acolyte Agatha (Adeline Rudolph) that they will bring about “the end of all things.”

The S4 trailer opens with Spellman family and friends singing “Happy Birthday” to Sabrina, who senses the arrival of something foreboding as she is about to blow out the candles. “They’re here,” Zelda (Miranda Otto) declares, meaning (one assumes) the Eldritch terrors. Meanwhile, cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) helpfully describes “ancient entities. They are world-destroying, and there are more terrors yet to come, culminating with the arrival of The Void.”

It’s up to Sabrina and her friends and family (as always) to stop the boogey-men. And it’s clear from the trailer that Sabrina’s trusty doppelgänger, Sabrina Morningstar, Queen of Hell, will prove to be a handy ally. One assumes that Hell, after all, will also be subject to the end of all things: “A threat to one of us is a threat to us both.”

Will Sabrina and her plucky crew succeed? Will Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) finally take revenge on Blackwood (her biological father)? And are things heating up again with Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) after his time imprisoned in Hell? Whatever the outcome of this final showdown, our heroes will finish it the way they always do: “together.”

The final installment of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina drops on Netflix on December 31, 2021, so you can usher in the new year with a suitably Lovecraftian binge.

Listing image by YouTube/Netflix

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BioWare studio GM and Dragon Age lead are both leaving company

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Casey Hudson, BioWare’s general manager, and Mark Darrah, the executive producer of the Dragon Age franchise, are both leaving the company before the end of the year, BioWare announced today.

EA executive Laura Miele announced the departures in a corporate blog post. “I want to personally thank Casey and Mark for everything they have done for the BioWare community, and particularly for our players,” Miele wrote. “They will always be an essential part of the studio’s history, we appreciate their many contributions, and we look forward to seeing what they’ll each do next.”

Leaving is “not an easy decision to make,” Hudson said. Hudson served as project director on the Mass Effect trilogy before departing BioWare in 2014. He returned in 2017 to take on the role of general manager.

“When I became Studio GM a little over three years ago, our goal as a leadership team was to position our people and projects for long-term success,” Hudson said. “Now, as BioWare celebrates its 25th anniversary, the studio is poised for an exciting new era of amazing games. It’s an exciting time, both in terms of projects you’ve heard about and some things not yet announced.”

Darrah similarly expressed confidence in the studio where he has worked for more than 20 years. “This has been a very difficult decision for me,” he said. “The team of amazing developers on Dragon Age, make my life fuller and better. They have taught me so much. But the strength of the team is also what makes this possible. I know that Dragon Age won’t just survive without me, it will thrive.”

BioWare has been working hard this year to assure its ardent fans that new installments in both its banner franchises, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, are on their way… eventually. In August, the studio dropped a sizzle reel featuring concept art for the eventual, as-yet-untitled Dragon Age 4 at GamesCom. Although the tease gave no glimpse of gameplay or potential release window, it did feature designers and voice actors at work against a dazzling array of concept art.

Last month, not only did Hudson himself confirm that a full remaster of the much-loved original Mass Effect trilogy is in the works for spring 2021, he also dropped the surprise announcement that another game in the Mass Effect franchise is under development at BioWare.

All of those projects will be continuing, Hudson and Darrah assured fans. Going forward, Christian Dailey—currently studio head of BioWare Austin—will be helming Dragon Age. The Mass Effect side of things will be led by Mike Gamble, who was a producer on Mass Effect: Andromeda and lead producer of Anthem.

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Warner Bros. will release entire 2021 film slate in theaters and on HBO Max

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Enlarge / WarnerMedia dealt another blow to struggling movie theater owners by announcing it will release its entire 2021 slate of films simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

Just a few weeks ago, we learned that Wonder Woman 1984—whose release has been delayed multiple times in the face of continued theater closures due to the pandemic—will keep to its new December 25 theater release date. The catch: it will also debut on HBO Max that same day. Now WarnerMedia has announced that it will follow a similar concurrent digital/theater launch plan for all the movies slated for release in 2021, Variety reports. It’s yet another staggering blow to movie theaters still struggling amidst a raging pandemic that shows no sign of slowing down, particularly in the United States.

“After considering all available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this was the best way for WarnerMedia’s motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months,” said CEO Jason Kilar in a statement. “Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.”

Warner Bros.’ 2021 slate of films will be available to HBO Max subscribers for 31 days, after which they will only be playing in theaters. Once the traditional time has elapsed between theater and home release, the films will be available to rent via the usual online platforms (Amazon, iTunes, or Fandango). The current slate includes The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah, Tom & Jerry, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, In the Heights, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Reminiscence, Malignant, Dune, The Many Saints of Newark, King Richard, Cry Macho, and Matrix 4.

In a statement, WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff referred to the model as a “unique one-year plan,” given the unprecedented challenges inflicted on the industry by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This is not expected to continue into 2022. Per Sarnoff’s statement:

We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group. No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.

With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films. We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.

Just how many movie theaters can survive another year like 2020 remains an open question. So far, only one chain has responded to the news. An unnamed Cinemark rep told Deadline Hollywood: “In light of the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a film-by-film basis. At this time, Warner Bros. has not provided any details for the hybrid distribution model of their 2021 films.”

At least HBO Max subscribers won’t have to pay extra to watch these films, unlike the Disney+ strategy for Mulan. The streaming platform charged a $30 premium purchase to Disney+ subscribers, although it was released theatrically in territories where the streaming platform is not available. (FYI, Mulan will become available free of charge to all Disney+ subscribers this Friday, December 4, 2020.)

Wonder Woman 1984 will face off against Disney-Pixar’s animated film Soul, which is launching on Disney+ the same day. (It, too, is included as part of the standard Disney+ subscriptions.) And for those (like Ars’ own Samuel Axon) who had been put off by the prospect of watching Wonder Woman 1984 at a measly 1080p with no HDR and sluggish bit rate, Director Patty Jenkins tweeted that Wonder Woman 1984 will be the first film to stream in 4K HDR (UltraHD) on HBO Max when it premieres. It will also stream with Dolby Atmos audio. Hopefully that bodes well for the digital future of the 2021 releases, too.

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