Posts with «author_name|jon fingas» label

FIFA isn't thrilled with EA's dominance of soccer games

Do you lament EA's dominance of soccer (aka football) games due to its licensing advantages? So does FIFA, apparently. Eurogamernotes that FIFA has issued a statement insisting that soccer gaming and eSports should have more than one party "controlling and exploiting all rights" — a not-so-subtle reference to EA. Accordingly, FIFA is talking to developers, investors and other groups to "widen" its gaming and eSports options.

The organization added this would help "maximize all future opportunities." It also reiterated its commitment to running eSports tournaments under its FIFAe brand.

The statement comes at a crucial moment for both EA and FIFA. EA's current licensing deal expires after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and New York Timessources claim talks have stalled between the two sides. FIFA reportedly wants more than double its current cut from EA (more than $1 billion over four years) while also limiting EA's rights to keep it to video games. EA, meanwhile, is considering new names for its soccer games while supposedly exploring new concepts like arena-based tournaments, NFTs and even highlights for real-world games.

A decision is expected by the end of 2021, according to The Times, but EA is hedging its bets by registering an "EA Sports FC" trademark. EA and FIFA have declined to comment on the talks.

In that context, FIFA's statement may serve as a warning shot — see things our way or miss out on a valuable licensing agreement. While EA's existing clout might help a non-licensed game sell, there's little doubt a generic game would lose players hoping to control Mbappé or Messi in real clubs. EA won't necessarily bow to FIFA as a result. It might, however, be more aware of what's at stake if deal negotiations fall apart.

There's now an official 'Minecraft' gaming chair

Themed gaming chairs aren't completely new, but this example is rather unusual. According to Windows Central, Microsoft and Mojang have collaborated with Secretlab on a Minecraft chair. The Minecraft Edition Titan Evo 2022 includes the obligatory game logos, but it's also made to look like you're sitting on one of the game's infamous Creepers. That sounds more than a little... creepy, but it might be just what you're looking for if you livestream Minecraft or otherwise want to advertise your fondness for the classic creative title.

And unlike the in-game Creepers, this chair shouldn't explode. This is Secretlab's first special-run chair to use the company's SoftWeave Plus fabric, which promises to blend durability with comfort. You might not have to worry quite so much about spills or tears ruining your gaming throne.

You can pre-order the Minecraft gaming chair today starting at $549 for small and regular versions, and $599 for XL. That's a lot to spend on any chair, especially a special edition — you might want to be sure your love of the game is more than just a short-term fling. If it is, though, the expense might be worthwhile to improve your comfort (and hopefully posture) for those lengthy world-building sessions.

Analogue Pocket's OS is meant as the 'definitive' platform for retro games

Analogue's Pocket handheld won't arrive until late this year, but the company is betting that its software will be worth the wait. TechCrunchnotes the company has detailed AnalogueOS, the platform the Pocket and future Analogue devices will run — and it's pitched as nothing less than the "definitive" OS for retro games, a way to showcase classics that haven't always received the kindest treatment.

Rather than simply play cartridge games, the Pocket and future hardware will tap into a library that provides all the useful data surrounding a game, ranging from box art and publisher data to guides. Pop in a cartridge and you'll learn about that particular version of a game. You might know if you scored a Nintendo World Championship cart or a bootleg, for instance. That database, in turn, will help you browse your library and even create "playlists" to share with fellow nostalgic gamers (who can buy the same cartridges, that is).

AnalogueOS will also track your play time and let you remap controls or enable Bluetooth gamepads. The Pocket will enable save states for cartridge games, which can be helpful if you're trying to recreate a thandheld's original experience.

This approach is meant for a particular variety of retro gamer focused on physical copies and authenticity. It's not as convenient as the digital downloads of, say, the Switch Online Expansion Pack. If it succeeds, though, it could shake up the category. Much of the information for vintage games is scattered across websites, code and even books. Analogue could put all that knowledge in a central location, albeit one limited to the most devoted players.

Introducing Analogue OS.

Analogue OS is the start of something big. At its heart, Analogue OS is purpose built for exploring and celebrating all of video game history. Designed to be the definitive, scholarly operating system for playing and experiencing the entire medium.

— Analogue (@analogue) October 16, 2021

Dbrand stops selling PS5 faceplates after Sony issues legal threats

It's not just small companies facing Sony's wrath over aftermarket PlayStation 5 faceplates. Dbrand told The Verge it stopped selling its PS5 "Darkplates" after Sony issued a cease-and-desist letter earlier in the year threatening legal action over alleged design and trademark violations. Visit Dbrand's product page now and you'll only see links to news stories and testimonials.

Dbrand isn't going down quietly. In a Reddit thread, the company claimed it was submitting to the "terrorists' demands... for now." It believed customers had the right to modify hardware with third-party components, and speculated that Sony might be clamping down so that it can either sell its own covers or charge licensing fees. The company didn't definitively say it planned to resume sales, but did say it would "talk soon."

Whatever Dbrand's intentions, this takes away a major option (though not your only option) for customizing the PS5. The question is whether or not Sony can completely halt third-party faceplate sales. After all, the faceplates are designed to be easily removable and aren't much more than plastic sheets. Dbrand likened this to replacing a broken F-150 truck bumper with an aftermarket part — you have the right to choose the parts you use for fixes or cosmetic upgrades, and Ford can't sue simply because you're using an unofficial bumper. It won't be surprising if there's an eventual court battle over Sony's policy.

NASA launches mission to explore Solar System 'fossils'

One of the more important missions to study the early Solar System is now underway. NASA has launched Lucy, a robotic spacecraft that will be the agency's first to explore the Trojan asteroids trapped near Jupiter's Lagrange points. They're considered "fossils" of planetary formation that will help understand the Solar System's evolution, much as Lucy the australopithecus helped humans understand their ancestors.

The spacecraft detached from a ULA Atlas V rocket about an hour after liftoff, successfully deploying its two 24-foot solar arrays. The vehicle is currently charging its batteries as it begins the first leg of its journey, an orbit around the Sun as it prepares for its first gravity assist around Earth in October 2022.

To call this a long mission would be an understatement. Lucy will return to Earth for another gravity assist in 2024, and won't see any asteroids until it swings by the Donaldjohanson asteroid (near the main asteroid belt) in 2025. The probe first visits its first swarm of Trojan asteroids, ahead of Jupiter, in 2027. It will then make four flybys before visiting Earth for a third gravity assist in 2031. It will finally visit the second swarm of asteroids in 2033.

You won't have to be quite so patient for every asteroid mission, at least. NASA will launch another explorer, Psyche, in 2022. The vehicle will arrive at the metallic asteroid (16) Psyche in 2026 and spend 21 months determining whether it represents the exposed core of an early planet or 'just' unmelted material. Lucy is the more ambitious of the two projects, though, and it may pay extra dividends if it sheds light on how the Solar System came to be.

What to expect at Google's Pixel 6 launch event

Google has shared quite a few details of the Pixel 6 series, but it hasn't revealed everything ahead of its October 19th event. Just how powerful will these phones be? Will they represent a good value? And does Google have any surprises up its sleeve? Here's what you can expect from the presentation, including a few last-minute leaks.

The specs: A return to flagship phones

Unlike with past phone launches, Google has been happy to share basic details of the Pixel 6 family months in advance. Both the base Pixel 6 and the larger, brawnier Pixel 6 Pro will mark Google's return to high-end phones after the Pixel 5 'break,' with premium glass designs. They'll offer upgraded cameras with improved low-light performance (150 percent more light than in the past), and they should tout "all day" battery life despite support for battery-hungry 5G.

The centerpiece, however, will be the Tensor chip inside both Pixel 6 models. Google hasn't officially divulged full specs for Tensor as of this writing, but it's the company's first custom system-on-chip. The design uses its namesake AI processing to achieve things that were "previously impossible" on typical SoCs, such as juggling multiple AI tasks or processing live video.


However, Google hasn't said much about the exact specs of the Pixel 6 line or the range of Tensor-assisted features. Expect the company to share many more gritty technical details for the Pixel 6 at the event, although we wouldn’t count on enough info to make easy comparisons between Tensor and rival mobile chips.

You might not have to wait long to get the full scoop. Well-known leaker Evan Blass spotted Carphone Warehouse promo pages that appear to spoil much of what Google intends to announce. The standard Pixel 6 will likely compete against 'entry' flagships like the Galaxy S21 and iPhone 13 with a 6.4-inch flat 90Hz screen, a 50-megapixel main camera and a 12MP ultra-wide shooter. The Pixel 6 Pro, meanwhile, should be the definitive top-of-the-range model with a 6.7-inch curved 120Hz display and a third 48MP telephoto lens. You may also see 30W wired charging, 23W wireless charging and reverse charging to top up your earbuds or other phones.

As for Tensor? That retail listing claimed up to 80 percent better performance than the Pixel 5 (not difficult given the 5's middling Snapdragon 765G chip), but the real star may be Tensor's photographic prowess. Google reportedly plans multiple AI-driven camera tricks that include a Magic Eraser to get rid of photobombers, Face Unblur to keep people in focus and a Motion Mode for action photography. These aren't completely novel concepts (anti-photobombing has been present in Huawei and Samsung phones for a while), but they're new to Pixels and might perform better with Tensor involved.

A focus on services and support


Google might also break new ground in how it sells the Pixel 6. This is Tech Today's M. Brandon Lee obtained what he says is evidence Google will make the Pixel 6 available as a part of a "Pixel Pass" that combines monthly phone payments with an extended warranty, Google One cloud storage, Play Pass, optional Google Fi service and either YouTube Music or YouTube Premium. Effectively, Google would counter Apple One by including virtually everything you need in a single subscription, not just internet services.

You could also enjoy better software support regardless of what you pay. Those Carphone Warehouse pages echoed longstanding rumors that Google would offer "at least" five years of security updates to Pixel 6 owners. That's more than the three to four years you often find in the Android world, and roughly on par with Apple. It's not clear if you'll get full operating system updates for those five years, but you might not have to worry about patchable vulnerabilities for the practical life of your Pixel.

Price and release date

There's little doubt the Pixel 6 will cost more than its predecessor. Where the Pixel 5 was an upper-mid-range phone, its sequel is an upscale device. Google has even made clear the Pixel 6 Pro will be a "premium-priced product." But how much more will you have to pay?


That's a difficult call. One Reddit user spotted a German listing that mentioned a €649 (about $750) price for the base Pixel 6. A source for This is Tech Today, meanwhile, quoted a price of €899 (roughly $1,050) for the 6 Pro. We'd be cautious about these prices, as they could change and might not convert neatly even if they're accurate. Still, Google is apparently returning to top-tier pricing.

Like it or not, Google will also borrow a cost- and waste-cutting measure from its rivals: it's leaving the charger out of the box. That's not too dire an omission when there's a real chance you'll have a USB-C charger hanging around, but it could be frustrating if you're either new to USB-C devices or saddled with a slow power brick. Factor that into the price before you rush to check out.

The German listing and other leaks have pointed to a Pixel 6 release sometime the week of October 25th. We'd expect a broad international launch, for that matter. Where the Pixel 5a was limited to the US and Japan due to supply constraints, the leaks so far already hint that Google wants to make the Pixel 6 as ubiquitous as possible.

Don't expect many surprises


We wouldn't bet on Google announcing much else besides the Pixel 6 and its accompanying software. Google's marketing for the event has revolved exclusively around its new phones. It's unlikely that you'll see any other gadgets, and they'll definitely be secondary if they do appear.

That's not to completely rule out new hardware. It has been more than a year since Google debuted its higher-end Pixel Buds, and other devices like Nest WiFi haven't been updated in a while. There's just not much need for Google to revamp products beyond the Pixel line — what's there is still relevant and functional.

There's also the possibility of new or upgraded services. If Google really does introduce a Pixel Pass, it might want to sweeten the deal by offering more for the money, whether it's a brand new service or perks like more cloud storage. We haven't seen rumors to this effect so far, but Google also kept unlimited photo uploads for Pixel owners when it capped everyone else in June. The company knows that services sell hardware, and that may be crucial for the Pixel 6.

Senate bill would prevent tech companies from favoring their products over rivals

You're not the only one frustrated with tech companies that appear to favor their own products. The Washington Postreports that Senators Amy Klobuchar and Chuck Grassley will introduce a bill, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICO), to bar tech firms from prioritizing their products and services on their own platforms. Amazon couldn't misuse seller data to compete against those sellers, for example, while Apple wouldn't be allowed to unfairly rank its apps above others in the App Store. 

The senators characterized AICO as a modernization of antitrust law. It tackles the "exclusionary conduct" you see in leading platforms, Klobuchar said. Penalties would be steep, including fines of up to 15 percent of a company's revenue during the period when it broke the law.

The necessary House equivalent to the bill recently cleared that wing's Judiciary Committee and is waiting for a vote. Both bills stand a better-than-usual chance of passing thanks to both bipartisan support and a Biden administration focused on improving competition in technology. The Senators have kept Biden's camp "informed" about work on the bill, Klobuchar added.

Industry lobbying groups like the Chamber of Progress (which counts tech firms like Amazon and Google in its ranks) have unsurprisingly balked at the bill. They contend the measure wouldn't be effective, and might even hurt favorite products. Not that this opposition will necessarily carry much weight. Senators have characterized this period as Big Tech's "big tobacco moment" — that is, it's finally being held accountable for harmful behavior. Politicians across the spectrum appear eager to keep tech companies in check, and AICO may be one of their best near-term opportunities to rein in those corporate giants.

US Army delays Microsoft's $22 billion HoloLens deal

American soldiers won't be training with HoloLens headsets for a while. Reuters and Windows Central report the US Army has delayed the deployment of the HoloLens-based Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) by a year, to September 2022. Janesunderstood the delay was prompted by the need to bump operational testing from July this year to May 2022 to "further mature" the mixed reality technology.

The Defense Department's Inspector General launched an audit earlier in October to determine whether or not Microsoft's system would meet requirements. It's not clear if the audit is linked to the delay.

This didn't mean the military-oriented HoloLens was in trouble. The Army maintained it was "fully committed" to the nearly $22 billion IVAS contract, and had conducted tests as recently as September. The branch planned to "regularly" conduct tests through its fiscal 2022, which ends September of next year.

IVAS is meant to serve as both a combat assistant and training tool. Infantry will see squad positions and other vital data in the field, complete with night vision — they'll ideally have the kind of situational awareness previously reserved for video games. In training, the headsets can supply data to help instructors improve specific techniques.

The delay won't do much to allay criticism of the HoloLens deal from inside Microsoft. Employees have long objected to Microsoft directly supporting the military and 'gamifying' war, especially as workers didn't have input on the decision. Microsoft isn't likely to change its tune, though. The company sees IVAS a way to aid and protect the troops rather than an offensive weapon — and losing the contract would clearly hurt both Microsoft's bottom line and momentum for HoloLens at large.

Missouri governor threatens to prosecute journalist for sharing web security flaw

Missouri Governor Mike Parson might want to read up on the differences between disclosing and exploiting security flaws. According to The Missouri Independent, Parson accused a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter of being a "hacker" for having the audacity to... report security holes. The journalist disclosed a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education web app flaw that let anyone see over 100,000 teachers' Social Security numbers in site source code, and Parson interpreted this as a "political game" meant to "embarrass the state" — that is, a malicious hack.

The governor has already referred the case to the Cole County Prosecutor, and even has the Missouri Highway State Patrol investigating. An attorney for The Post-Dispatch maintained that the reporter "did the responsible thing" by sharing the flaw with the government to get it fixed. The lawyer also helpfully refreshed Parson on his internet lingo. A hacker is someone who "subverts" security with sinister intent, not a reporter trying to bolster security by sharing publicly available information.

This flaw wasn't recent, either. University of Missouri-St. Louis professor Shaji Khan told The Post-Dispatch that this kind of vulnerability had been known for "at least" 10 years, and that it was "mind boggling" the Department would let these problems linger. Audits in 2015 and 2016 had highlighted data collection issues at both the Department and school districts.

No, prosecutors probably won't file charges. It's a bit difficult to convict someone whose 'hack' effectively amounted to clicking "view page source" in their browser. However, this highlights an all-too-familiar problem with politicians that don't understand tech. It doesn't just lead to embarrassments, such as letters to long-gone CEOs — it can discourage responsible security disclosures and put thousands of people at risk.

House bill would limit Section 230 protections for 'malicious' algorithms

Congress is once again hoping to limit Section 230 safeguards under certain circumstances. Rep. Frank Pallone and other House Democrats are introducing a bill, the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act (JAMA), that would make internet platforms liable when they "knowingly or recklessly" use algorithms to recommend content that leads to physical or "severe emotional" harm. They're concerned online giants like Facebook are knowingly amplifying harmful material, and that companies should be held responsible for this damage.

The key sponsors, including Reps. Mike Doyle, Jan Schakowsky and Anna Eshoo, pointed to whistleblower Frances Haugen's Senate testimony as supposed evidence of Facebook's algorithm abuse. Her statements were proof Facebook was abusing the Communications Decency Act's Section 230 "well beyond congressional intent," according to Eshoo. Haugen alleged that Facebook knew its social networks were harmful to children and spread "divisive and extreme" content.

The bill only applies to services with over 5 million monthly users, and won't cover basic online infrastructure (such as web hosting) or user-specified searches. JAMA will go before the House on October 15th.

As with past proposed reforms, there are no guarantees JAMA will become law. Provided it passes the House, an equivalent measure still has to clear a Senate that has been hostile to some Democrat bills. The parties have historically disagreed on how to change Section 230 — Democrats believe it doesn't require enough moderation for hate and misinformation, while Republicans have claimed it enables censorship of conservative viewpoints. The bill's vaguer concepts, such as 'reckless' algorithm use and emotional damage, might raise fears of over-broad interpretations.

The bill could still send a message even if it dies, though. Pallone and the other JAMA backers argue the "time for self-regulation is over" — they're no longer convinced social media heavyweights like Facebook can apologize, implement a few changes and carry on. This won't necessarily lead to a more strictly regulated social media space, but it could put more pressure on social networks to implement far-reaching policy changes.