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february releases

Most Anticipated Games Of 2017 – Our Top Five Picks

The year 2016 is past us and quite honestly it wasn’t the best, be it world events or video game releases. Apart from ‘Gears of War 4’ and ‘Uncharted 4’, there weren’t many that evoked the interest to play them. Thankfully, indie titles did a solid job (Superhot, Inside, Firewatch…) but they too were few and far in between.

Then there were the big disasters. ‘The Division’ takes pole position and who can forget ‘No Man’s Sky’ – so much promise but delivered very little in terms of immersive gameplay.

That said, the year 2017 looks promising with some of the best titles coming out in as early as March. While there are too many upcoming games worth mentioning, we focussed on five and for good reasons too. Read ahead to find out why.

Horizon Zero Dawn

This PlayStation 4 exclusive title certainly has us on the edge of our seats brimming with anticipation ever since we got a taste of it’s gameplay in E3 2016. Set in our world 1,000 years from now, robotic creatures and not the humans have moved up the ladder to become the dominant species of the planet. With much of the human population wiped out, there are but a handful of surviving colonies that have to constantly fight the odds.

You get to play the role of Aloy, the female protagonist of the Horizon Zero Dawn plot, she has been outcast from her tribe and over time, has learnt to hunt these creatures making her way through an open world. Her sole weapon from the first looks, is a bow and a quiver of arrows. The arrows themselves seem to be of different grades, some explode, whereas others pierce armours and discharge electricity.

The part that’s intrigued us is what Aloy does once she runs out of ammo (read arrows). It seems she has this special ability to construct weapons through a combination of machine parts from downed robotic animals and earth-based natural minerals. Oh, and did we mention it has giant metallic dinosaurs, because it does!

Mass Effect: Andromeda

The Mass Effect series has taken single-player space hoping and exploration missions to the next level. And we are guardedly confident that Andromeda shall not disappoint us on that front when its available in March and playable on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

The Andromeda plot begins in 2185, somewhere between the events of Mass Effect 2 and 3. The Citadel has identified the galaxy Andromeda as the next best bet to find and populate new home worlds by letting each race send a group of its finest on a one way, 600-year journey to the new galaxy. Each ship appoints a leader who’s called the Pathfinder.

In the game, there is a choice between human protagonists Scott and Sarah Ryder who serve under their father Alec Ryder, who happens to be humanity’s pathfinder. Much like the other Mass Effect games, here too we expect lots of space explorations, interactions with other alien species, alliances, wars, negotiations, decisions, break-ups and make-ups and a kickass storyline to thread all of these individual gameplay aspects together.

Although there will no cross-platform feature for multiplayer, like Mass Effect 3, Andromeda will support peer-to-peer gameplay. And quite frankly, we did enjoy playing it this way on the last one.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

The eighteenth in the list of Zelda family of games released by Nintendo over the years, Breath Of The Wild is among the rare few to incorporate HD graphics that’s set to release in March 2017. What makes this game even more exciting is that it can be played on the all new Nintendo Switch console as well as the Wii U.

Set in an open world, players can finally explore the lands either on foot or by riding Epona, the protagonist’s horse. That in itself should be reason to rejoice as the earlier titles had constricted gameplay decision making by pipelining entry and exit points in the game.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption was such a hit that its 13-million players (that includes us too) were praying that the game studio releases a sequel to it. And those prayers have been answered! Red Dead Redemption 2 is officially a thing and should be released for consoles sometime in autumn 2017.

Like its predecessor, this too will be open world but whether it clings tightly to the Western action adventure genre is something that we need to wait and watch. Chatter on the forums suggests that sequel will take American history as its central point, and offer a big sprawling gameplay to match.

Also, there just might a rethink to release Red Dead Redemption 2 for PC platform following the massive online petition sent to Rockstar with more than 47,000 signatures (and counting). The other being a multiplayer game play for the title, about which Rockstar has remained characteristically tight lipped.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands

Set in Bolivia, a few years into the future, you take on the role of an elite Special Forces team, The Ghosts who are sent behind enemy lines to wreak havoc on the Santa Blanca cartel and neutralise their drug peddling operations for good.

As per Ubisoft, Ghost Recon Wildlands will be set in an open world that’s not just massive but extremely responsive. In fact, this could be the first game to offer nine varying types of topography, terrain and atmospheric combinations, from arid deserts to mountainous regions, each with their own rendition of day-night cycle.

Open world means more travelling and that means vehicles to do the job. And the rumor is that we could get to a do smash and grab ops on cars and trucks much in a GTA style. As for main gameplay, the weapons, tactical planning shall no doubt be improved, but a welcome addition are side-missions that you could do while on a mission.

Releasing in March 2017 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC , Ubisoft is offering a lucky few the chance to beta test the game between 23rd -27th February. The beta will have both single and multiplayer modes. It shall include two out of the twenty-one provinces from the actual game for players to test the open world nature and provide feedback.

february releases header

Top February Game Releases of 2017

The sheet number of titles scheduled for launch in 2017 makes this the best year yet in terms of game choices and February is just the start of a flood. Here’s a quick look at February’s top video game releases of 2017.

Please note that this is not an all-inclusive list of game title releases since some games were announced for February but no specific release date were given for them. Only games with confirmed release dates are mentioned in this list.

Fire Emblem Heroes, Feb 2nd

The game just launched for smartphone users and is available on both iOS and Android platforms. This particular edition of the franchise sees the player taking up the role of Summoner. You are required to call upon the services of various Fire Emblem Heroes throughout mankind’s history, which brings back characters from its previous installments. Using these heroes, you participate in turn based battles that occur over an 8 by 6 grid on your phone. The game relies on the same triangle weapon system and Players get to upgrade heroes plus call extra heroes to aid them in battle.

Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World, Feb 3rd

Designed exclusively for Nintendo 3DS, this game will include all levels present in the Wii U edition plus a few new levels where you can control the woolen Poochy. As Yoshi in game you can take the help of the Poochy Pups to find secrets.

Atelier Sophie, Feb 7th

Did you know that this will mark the 17th title in this franchise and while this particular edition has already made its appearance on PS4 as well as the PS VITA, it makes its way to the PC this February.

Nioh, Feb 7th

Exclusive for PlayStation 4, Nioh feels influenced from Dark Souls series though the major difference between the two is that the former occurs in feudal Japan with mythological creatures walking the lands along with ninjas and samurais. You play the role of a westerner in their society taking the shoes of William, who is suddenly thrown amidst the turmoil of this tumultuous land. The game is riveting and keeps you glued to your seat throughout thanks to the picturesque settings and the character interactions.

WWE 2k17, Feb 14th

Your usual package of wrestling available on your computer, releases on Valentine’s Day. Great for us single gamers but those in a relationship might have to wait till 15th to play their favorite smash-your-head-in title.

For Honor, Feb 14th

An original cross-platform game title from the stables of Ubisoft Montreal, this battle intensive medieval action game features total of three playable factions starting with the Vikings, Samurai and ending with the Knights. It is the multiplayer mode of this game titled, War of the Factions, that you should be interested in though it features a complete single player mode too. Good news though, the multiplayer mode too is cross-platform too.

Sniper Elite 4, Feb 14th

For those loyal Sniper Elite fans, the 4th installment releases on February 14th but those who haven’t ever played this title, be ready to be bored on purpose. Yes, the game is a lot of preparation and planning and very little action but for those who love to strategize and meticulously plan each and every move, this is a title worth having.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, Feb 21st

This game is based on a popular manga series by the name of Berserk but it gets its own spinoff world and warriors. You basically control the protagonist Guts and his merry band of fighters in a vendetta on the hordes of demons terrorizing the fictional lands.

Halo Wars 2, Feb 21st

Releasing this time around for Xbox One and PC, Halo Wars 2 is a strategy based real-time game with multiplayer put in it. The focus is more on card-based strategies and deck building rather than resource management and base building. There is a single player campaign too, complete with its own villain and mercenary band. The unique feature of this title is that a single license purchase allows you to play on Windows 10 as well as Xbox One.

Night in the Woods, Feb 21st

Proper cross-platform game that works not just on PS4 and PC but also Mac and Linux, this game follows a cat, Mae who has just returned to her rust-belt town from college. The dialogues are dense and the game presentation is enticing. There are several mini-games inside the main game plus loads of characters and upgrades.

Horizon Zero Dawn, Feb 28th

Developed by Guerilla Games, the new project titled Horizon Zero Dawn brings together a fantastical world where robots have overtaken the world and somehow made giant dinosaur copies of themselves. You are a hunter-gatherer who has to survive in this post-apocalyptic world now run over by robots.

Torment: Tides of Numenera, Feb 28th

Another cross-platform title this game will be available for Xbox One, PS4 as well as PC. It also is the only title on this list that gathered funding from Kickstarter about three years back. The game draws major inspiration from a classic RPG title called Planescape: Torment. However, that’s where the similarity ends because the game takes on a life of its own. The focus in this RPG game is more on conversations and how each sentence can affect future events.

Interested in any of the February releases scheduled or already available this year? If so, leave us a comment below and let us know which game you mostly look forward to playing and why. Also, if you feel we have missed any title out, do remember to remind us!

indian men gaming

Gaming Takes Off Big Time In India

With the size and magnitude of the gaming public in India, International publishers are beginning to see the country as an undiscovered market ripe for the taking. The size, scale and potential of this market is truly different as opposed to that of any country. Yes, there are several challenges facing publishers but the rewards are equally lucrative.

Before we get further into the article, it is worth noting that the Indian game market is ripe for AAA titles with big budgets but doesn’t really respond well to independent games developed indigenously in the country. However, this could change in the coming years as the market has seen a steady growth in India, year by year.

Earlier, a lot of game makers preferred staying out of China and India because they felt the market wasn’t ready for games that cost a lot. Today though, these two countries have a market riddled with gamers who don’t mind foregoing the piracy route. Indian gamers pay for games that they are really interested in. The problem up until the past few years was that Indian gamers really had no option to pay for the games they played and now that Origin, Steam and others are offering the gamers licenses, more and more gamers are willing to pay for their gaming experience. Previously payment methods were unsupportive of Indian services and that was probably the biggest hurdle. This no longer is a concern with indigenous payment portals and international portals opening up to the Indian Banking sector.

Yes, another limitation over the years in India has been the abysmal broadband plans. Not only are the plans archaic but also expensive. You have capped download limits that cost a lot. With today’s games averaging around 50GB, the decision to download games off the internet is a big one. Take for instance, DOOM download on Steam. 70GB is a huge amount of data and for a country like India, this means spending your entire month’s bandwidth trying to get a game from the internet. Things are changing however with better plans and higher packages available in major cities across the country. However, it is the availability of original game CDs days after their international launch that is helping convert Indian gamers into loyal customers for international big brands.

India As Game Makers

Yes, major titles are not in the pipeline from Indian game manufacturers but the moment you move into the mobile gaming segment, you realize what kind of potential the country has. Indian companies and their gaming titles all dominate the Play Store. In fact, after voice, text, chat and email, gaming is what Indian mobile users spend their time on. In a recent report published by the Business Standard, the mobile gaming sector in India will be worth $400 million with nearly 628 million users by 2020.

Gaming As An Event

India hasn’t yet seen the likes of E3 gaming events however, the trend of annual gaming events has already begun in the country. Take the Indian Gaming Show that ran from 2nd February to 5th February in Delhi. While it wasn’t as massive as E3, it was a success on a much humbler scale. While the turnout was slim, there were a lot of encouraging signs. Take for instance big game publishers such as Square Enix participating in the event.

Held at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, Hall number 18 was the venue for The Indian Gaming Show and this hall had several smaller pavilions, each sporting a host of publications, publishers and gaming hardware makers. Among the many things that you notice as you walk into the venue is the mega setups for pro gaming matches. India’s E-Sports pros had a heavy presence in this event and it was probably the biggest crowd puller of the entire event.

The usual gimmicks from large brands were on display. Sony booth had a mash up of several weird ideas that kept the crowd engaged but what stood out was the sheer number of game titles on display. Some of the titles weren’t yet launched. Nier: Automata was one such title. Then there were complete VR zones that gave visitors a taste of the VR experience.

Specific titles have for long gathered a lot of fan following in India. Take the Tomb Raider franchise or even the Final Fantasy franchise that has several Indian gamers following the official fan pages on Facebook from the subcontinent. Delhi seems to be the hub for such fan following in India and this gaming event was an attempt to connect pro gamers, enthusiasts with game developers and hardware makers.

Two titles that have managed to capture the Indian market include FIFA from EA Sports and GTA V. The sheer number of users from the subcontinent suggests the potential of gaming in the country. Up until 2015, EA Sports would target India on a third tier basis, opting to release their games later in the country and offer game CDs at lower prices because piracy was a big thing. However, with a steady growth in fan following, they quickly went the online licensing way with 2016 and for the FIFA 17, they managed to record the highest sales ever. GTA V has had a similar experience with the Indian gaming market.

All these developments over the past few years points towards a boom in Indian gaming promises a better future for gaming enthusiasts in the country. Will the next big independent game title to take the world by storm come out of India? It truly is only a matter of time.

resident evil 7 still shot

Resident Evil 7 – Sneak Peek Into What You Are Missing

It is the environment in which Resident Evil 7 is set that gives the creeps. The game manages to bring you into a state of absolute solitude and then it brings on the horrible sequences, scares and the whole shebang. In fact, one of our fondest memories is simply navigating the house to discover stuff. Initially you only find decrepit things and abandoned stuffs but as you progress further you begin discovering animal parts, mutilated dolls and slime. That’s the moment you know you are in for a heavy session of horrifying gaming.

The game’s USP isn’t the demons, monsters and the gore. They only add to the overall effect. What truly sets this game apart is the reality of the decaying space around you. With littered items, an environment that speaks of abandonment, it compels you to imagine the life of the owner and previous occupants, what might have happened for the house to become the way it is now. That’s what really sets the tone of the game with the gore creating whatever remaining horror effect is necessary.

Instead of spoilers, let’s just briefly outline an idea of the game for you. Say you are Ethan and your wife is missing, much like the Outlander story. Except, she goes missing in some swamp somewhere. You play this character and he doesn’t like speaking much, but when he does open his mouth – it is usually to say something useful.

The starting of the game, about an hour is really non-descriptive other than the surroundings. You are left to discover things and by the time the real creeps start appearing, it is a little bit too late. No warning and definitely no inkling of idea when the horror starts. By the time, you are in the middle of the gore storm, you are left with a gut wrenching feeling of being in a wreckage.

In hindsight though, we felt that the game had a sort of low budget horror vibe to it. Through the first half of the game, things are laid out with clear ideas, there is a lot of thought that goes into the game. If you are a horror movie franchise fan, then you will begin to see similarities with various movie titles such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and more.

The game only works because of the sparse use of guts and gore. Unlike many previous horror instalments, here in Resident Evil 7, you spend much of your time moving about through nothing but filth. The limited gore appearances and gut wrenching horror moments leave you with an anticipation of things yet to happen, except you don’t have any idea when they will happen.

In our opinion, Resident Evil 7 is more of an intimate game. Yes, the world in this game is small, there aren’t that many protagonists in the game including the horror characters but together they somehow make up for an experience that is terrifying and yet addictive at the same time.

Think of a madman or in this case an entity that wants to do horrible things to you, creeping up on you as you explore a mansion. Imagine the weight of that knowledge on your shoulders and not knowing when this entity or its many minions will surface. It is the threat that Resident Evil 7 possesses in its spacious surroundings that drives the player forward. At times you are left alone in a quiet corridor with the fear of something untoward happening but then nothing happens. Then there are times when you are a well-lit environment with complete visibility that scares the crap out of you, catching you unaware.

Yes, there are cheap scares and thrills laid out bare in the game but then no horror game would be complete without those spine chilling cheap tricks. What does help with the entire effect of the game is the use of the house and its limited space. As you go on unlocking specific areas of the house and new routes, you end up back in a place you previously explored only to realize that there’s more to it than previously met the eye. Sometimes, that something more happens to be a scary part of the game and at other times, you are left wondering how you missed it in the first place. The sound effects in the game too play their part. Clacking shoes, some breathing noises, minimalistic music that appear right after a sudden change in storyline – all work well in giving that panic attack, unsafe for heart patients.

After completing just a few hours on Resident Evil 7, it was evident that this game hasn’t received the right kind of reception and that’s why we decided to provide an idea of the horror a player is in store for. If you still aren’t convinced, then we suggest you check out the crazy new video for the game that was recently released. This particular release has managed to drive the sales of the title further.

At the end of a brief overview of Resident Evil 7, here are a few reasons why we feel everyone should attempt playing the game at least once.

  • Loads of puzzles, exploration and an ever present tense atmosphere that just seems like it squeezes on you. This experience is reminiscent from its previous installments.
  • Totally revamped gameplay that brings survival horror into the next generation.
  • For VR adopters, this is a one scary game as the entire game engine was designed keeping VR compatibility in mind.
  • Addictive immersion where you are in control of your actions and the consequences but not aware of when the two will eventually tie together.
esports scholarships

eSports And Athletic Scholarships

Electronic Sports, a concept that started in the last decade and some attribute it to the rise in sponsorship for gaming competitions and the fact that regardless of country, language, religion or ethnicity, everyone loves to game. Unfortunately, colleges for long haven’t taken eSports seriously enough. Those engaging in this kind of activity were looked down upon but that’s all changed thanks to few pioneering universities, high schools and colleges.

Yet another university adds competitive video gaming to their athletics programs. This time it is the turn of a private liberal arts university from Ohio that is offering scholarships and a place at their prestigious college for select individuals who engage in eSports.

Mary Ann Gawelek, the President of Lourdes University assumed office last July and has ever since pushed her agenda to include eSports program. Her basis for including eSports in the University’s athletics program is that eSports requires critical thinking, mental ability and team building exercises. Basically, you have to be competitive and willing to learn in order to achieve success and this goes well with liberal arts education.

With this latest development, Lourdes will not participate in eSports competitions held by the National Association of Collegiate eSports, which was formed recently in 2016. To do so they plan on recruiting a total of 60 eSports athletes in the next couple of years but have clarified that they will refrain from first-person shooter genres.

eSports Scholarships And Growth of eSports in Universities

Playing video games will get you nowhere! Haven’t we all heard it at one point in our lives? How about, would it not be better studying in your free time? Things have changed and today, those who spent their free time gaming, honing their eSporting skills have a lot more opportunities. Educational institutions from all over the world have begun eSports programs where they accept students on scholarships for their expertise in specific gaming titles or genres. Here’s the complete list of top 7 global Universities that accept eSport athletes in their academic programs.

UCI – University of California

It was March 2016 when UCI announced its League of Legends eSports scholarship program. This made UCI the first public university to do so and the new scholarship program began its intake in the fall of 2016. This specific program is currently being supported by Riot Games along with a brand new PC gaming café in the premises. The café mimics the setup of Korean PC joints, thus offering a plus League of Legends experience. There will obviously be other games available and together, UCI and Riot Games aims at improving student interest in eSports on the campus.

Robert Morris University

Robert Morris University is in fact the first college in the US to start its own eSports program. This university is a private non-profit entity nestled in Chicago and it currently provides a huge scholarship fund for professional gamers who wish to pursue their education too. They engage mostly in League of Legends gaming and under their scholarship program, half of their boarding costs, room and tuition costs are covered but as add-ons they get professional coaching and access to the in-house facilities for gaming.

UPIKE – University of Pikeville

A private liberal arts university out of Kentucky, this University provides eSports students with good GPA scores and a gaming background scholarships. They need to continue their GPA scores, attend mandatory practice session and train for competitions, much like actual athletes. In order to attract the best students from across the country, representatives of the university make regular trips to high schools, arranging practice matches with potential students and even browsing game ratings and rankings online.

Columbia College – USA

Columbia College came late to the eSports party but towards the end of 2016, they finally launched their scholarship program for the same. They offer money for eSports athletes and are in the process of converting their old soccer locker room into a fully functional gaming hub.

GVS – Norway

The Garnes Vidaregaande Skule in Norway will actually include eSports in their curriculum. Basically, students in high school will have to study eSports nearly five hours per week and the program is intended to work on focus predominantly through the use of games. All students who enroll for this course will have access to the gaming rigs of the college that are packed with GTX 980Ti graphics card among other things, just so they have the best possible gaming experience.

AGS – Sweden

Arlanda Gymnasiet School from Sweden started the eSports trend way back in 2015 when they took in total of 7 students just so they could enter such competitions. It is their vision to enable students through education and yet provide them support to continue eSports. This ways, if the latter does not span out as a viable career choice, they still have their education to fall back on. It is also the hope of the school that with their educational programs and experience in eSports, students who don’t break into the professional gaming circuit will be able to find employment in some other respect in the gaming community.

Such stories of universities and colleges beginning eSports ventures plus establishing scholarships are truly encouraging for us gamers. Imagine a future where eSports athletes are not just accepted but also revered for their accomplishments. College football, basketball and other such physical sports already receive a lot of eyeballs and attention providing, athletes a chance to shine while pursuing their education. Now eSports athletes too have the same chance.

Keyboard & Mouse On Gaming Consoles – Where Do You Stand?

For a PC gamer, no game is ever complete without a keyboard and mouse. It is second nature for us PC gamers and we simply can’t think of using a gamepad, especially for FPS games. With gaming consoles though this debate has largely stayed muted simply because of the incompatibility of the conventional keyboard/mouse combination. Thanks to third-party accessory makers though the debate is once more back on in full swing.

It really does not matter which side of the spectrum you fall on. Whether you love analog stick controls or keyboard/mouse dual combination. The fact remains that almost everyone on a particular platform sticks to the same control schemes. It is only because of the third party adapters that gaming consoles now are starting to take keyboards as dedicated controllers. But then why is this is an issue?

Overwatch director, Jeff Kaplan believes there is a major problem with this development. Before getting to the specific issue that Kaplan speaks on, let’s first investigate the pros and cons of keyboard/mouse controls with console gaming.

The pros are numerous especially for those who game on PCs. One major reason why so many PC gamers are anti-console is because of the lack of keyboard and mouse usage. Let’s be honest, first person shooter games are way more enjoyable when you use a mouse. There is no way an analog stick can be as accurate as a mouse pointer that you move in a split second to target someone or something. Then there’s the advantage of multiple keys of a keyboard to configure specific skill moves, which you simply cannot do with a gaming console.

The cons however are all restricted to gaming consoles. Firstly, gaming consoles historically were more interested in peddling their own brand and design of controller that cannot be used with anything else. Thankfully, Xbox controllers are plug and play with a PC but a PlayStation controller isn’t. However, PlayStation does allow USB and Bluetooth connectivity of the keyboard and mouse but unless game developers explicitly provide support for these input devices, you are out of luck. Games that migrate from a PC environment over to PlayStation tend to retain keyboard/mouse functionality but games exclusively developed for the Playstation tends to miss out on such features.

Okay so, now that we have highlighted the pros and cons of keyboard/mouse combination as opposed to a game controller, let’s get back to why Overwatch director Kaplan has an issue with it.

Kaplan left a comment on Battle.net forums stating that the Overwatch team officially objects to the combination of keyboard and mouse for its games. They have even gone ahead and contacted console makers, expressing their concerns over the input conversion devices and the duo of keyboard and mouse.

The Overwatch team isn’t explicitly against keyboard and mouse. What they have an issue with is that these devices are not inherently compatible with the gaming consoles and players need to purchase expensive third-party adapters in order to use them. This means that only some of the users can use a keyboard and mouse and because of the inherent advantages of this kind of input, it puts the rest of the conventional console gamers with analogue sticks at a severe disadvantage.

Their request is to either outright ban any such conversion device or to provide complete and open support for mouse and keyboard. This ways, the entire community is benefited. With open and free support, the issue of cheating no longer arises as anyone can use a keyboard and mouse. And with complete ban on this kind of input adapter, gamers have to revert back to the conventional controllers.

The products questioned by Kaplan and his team include the XIM4 or the IoGear Keymander. The former costs about $125 but it lets you use specific keyboard and mice combinations intuitively with a few PS4 and Xbox One games. They even work on older Xbox 360 and PS3 titles too. The Keymander costs about $100 and does a similar thing though it is cross-platform for all console games.

What these devices to is to emulate a general controller using software settings and hardware. The mouse and keyboard input are then disguised as controller input thus developers really can’t detect their presence. This is a huge issue in competitive games such as Overwatch where a mouse is too quick and precise for anyone left on an Analogue stick. Controllers will always be bulky, leggy and clunky but a mouse is too precise and it shows in the game. Those terrible at such games will end up having a better chance of registering more points over seasoned pros who use controllers.

In fact, Overwatch forums are filled with complaints of “blatant cheating” in the console edition as players are starting to use the mouse and keyboard instead of the controller. It is this particular issue that Kaplan and his team are sympathetic to.

In fact, the question isn’t about allowing or disallowing control options. Remember Gears of War 4. They actually held a competition between PC gamers and console gamers to find out whether the debate of keyboard/mouse versus controller does hold up to be true. At the end of this trial run in December, it was observed that while certain figures were slightly higher, average score, kills, KD and a lot more all were relatively the same depending on skill ratings. Or in other words, the competitive advantage is limited between controller and a mouse aiming mechanism.

Nevertheless, Kaplan simply wants the option to use mouse and keyboard on consoles available to all his customers and not just those who invest into expensive third-party adapters. This would definitely help even things out. As it stands, Microsoft is currently working on an official support but it is still “months away” as reported by their own technical team. In fact, there is no official release date for the support.

As for PS4, they already provide support for Bluetooth and USB devices but developers do not usually utilize this support for their proprietary PS titles. Only games that have come from the PC platform have this kind of support and that too mostly MMO titles. Nevertheless, the idea of having cross-platform keyboard and mouse support is enticing, at least for us PC gamers who simply cannot imagine playing a first person shooter on a gamepad! Oh, yes we exist!

steam vendors differential pricing

Differential Pricing Lands Steam Based Game Distributors In Hot Water

The European Union or the EU promotes the concept of “parallel trade” and as such hates differential pricing especially for customers of a particular product from different geographic locations in Europe or countries that are members of EU. Basically, if you sell a tomato online for €1 in Germany, you can’t then sell it for €2 in Spain.

Differential pricing in the gaming industry though has existed for a long time now. For those unaware of its negatives, it restricts gamers in a particular country from gaining access along with rest of the world by simply putting an impossible price tag during release. Basically, those who wanted to play, would pay exorbitant prices just because they belong to one particular geographic region. Another flipside to this is that gamers from countries where prices of games are higher, can then use proxies and VPNs to pay and download games at much lower rates thus bypassing the price restrictions set by the companies.

Steam is not a game maker and it is owned by Valve. Game developers use this platform for the Steam community and outreach it has. It is a budding market place and using Steam to sell their products helps garner instant sales, communicate with fans and make improvements or updates to their games. However, this does not hold Steam liable for the pricing policies of individual game makers. The EU investigation has targeted in particular five companies that are suspected of practicing differential pricing within EU.

According to the latest statement from EU Anti-trust authorities, they are concerned that certain game publishers are bypassing EU single market regulations and charging their customers variable prices based solely on the country their IP address points to. Since, the games are essentially the same regardless of the geographic difference, such variable pricing strategy is in breach of EU regulations.

European Commission has already begun investigations into the five accused companies and its sole jurisdiction is on sales through the Steam network. The companies under scrutiny include Focus Home, Capcom, Bandai Namco, ZeniMax and Koch Media. The accusation is that they are putting geographic restrictions on Steam activation keys so if a buyer purchases a game in a certain part of EU then he cannot play that in other parts of EU. Basically, the buyer must purchase another license to play the same game if he moves across specific borders.

The reason why European Commission is bothered with this practice is because it provides companies a chance to sell their activation keys at higher prices in specific countries and undercutting the customers in other countries.

It is this practice that the EU believes is breaching parallel trade rules. The question remains as to whether the issue is with pricing or because multiple licenses are required within EU. If it is the case of pricing then parallel trade comes into effect but if it is due to multiple licenses, then the EU might find the companies in breech non-liable though they may write them off with a warning not to engage in such arm twisting practices.

Another question on the minds of investigators is whether the companies are unfairly restricting retail prices or simply singling out customers because of their location or nationality.

There are several games under scrutiny on the Steam network. Project Cars, Dark Souls, Pack-man 256 are the titles selected from Bandai Namco for the investigation while Capcom features with Devil May Cry and Resident Evil series. Then there are titles from the other three brands, popular among them being Railroad X, Cities XXL, Elder Scrolls Online.

The intriguing thing about this whole episode is that there were no complaints on differential pricing. The Commission has clarified that this investigation is their own undertaking and it was started only after observing the company activities on Steam.

Simultaneously, two other similar investigations were opened but pertaining to different spheres of operation all together. Online hotel bookings, sale of domestic appliances and hi-fi equipment are the other three areas where the commission will investigate several sellers and companies.

In the recent past, the Commission had aired similar concerns with regards to hotel bookings. Tour operators such as REWE, TUI, Thomas Cook and Kuoni are all part of the online hotel booking investigations for operating with hoteliers like the Melia Hotels to show differential prices and room availabilities to customers based on their country of residence or their nationality.

This investigation is also backed by the Computer & Communications Industry Association as they hope the results of the investigation will help prevent sale of products with scrupulous intents online. Such practices undermine consumer choice and price transparency.

Couple of years back Origin practiced differential pricing for most of its titles especially with the Indian subcontinent. Games such as FIFA were priced much lower as opposed to rest of the world in an attempt to garner greater sales in the subcontinent except it resulted in exploitation. Consumers from other parts of the world would use Indian IP addresses to purchase installation codes and download games at fraction of the cost for the rest of the world. Soon after, Origin removed such pricing practices and went with a unified single price strategy.

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Best Performers Of 2k16 – 10 Games That Made It Big In The UK

As always Call of Duty and FIFA battle things out on the top of the annual UK charts, but what about the rest of the spots? Does a new IP finally make it into the top 10 list? Or is it still the same as with the year before and the year before that?

With all the excitement now shifting to the Nintendo Switch and its impending release, we totally forgot to release the annual charts on who made it big and those that went bust. No matter, we are here a month late to give you the UK top performers chart! (Better late than never, right?)

Alright so, no guesses obviously as to which two titles rule the roost. FIFA and COD come in at one and two respectively with their latest releases and this has been the case for a few years now unless a new GTA title releases. Nevertheless, GTA V still goes strong by continuing to feature in the top ten list.

Now, before we reveal this list, don’t get your hopes high because it is just as mundane as the year before. There is absolutely nothing to surprise us here. A case in point though, titles that release earlier in the year, tend to get a biased judgement when it comes to annual lists simply because their memory tends to fade away with all the titles that come after it. Nevertheless, we have tried to remain as objective as possible with our evaluations and instead of just relying on the sales figures from UK, we have factored in monthly sales figures and taken cues from global sales too.

What has astonished us in all our research though is that this year, there is one new IP in the top ten –  Overwatch from Blizzard. Some might say The Division is a new IP but it bears the Tom Clancy platform’s USP so no, according to us it isn’t a new title. This is worrying as most publishers simply want to rehash working titles into new games without working to build a brand new concept and create a niche. What’s more worrying is that in the last three years, there have only been four new franchises in the top 50, for all consoles included together!

The presence of Overwatch and to a certain extent The Division proves that new titles can do really well. They are in the top ten after all. Forget that and consider Steep. This title was called a dud by most critics and yet it managed to creep into the top 50 retail games list. What this basically says is that the gaming community is eager to lap up any new thing but in the absence of creativity and new titles, they have to stick with existing ideas and concepts. The final new IP to make the top 50 list is “No Man’s Sky” that features at number 29 but it isn’t something that everyone would remember.

Another trend we realized with 2016 top charts is that retail sales have fallen further as opposed to the penultimate year. Now down to just 15.8%, it amounts to £1.78 billion. Thankfully though the figures point to a direct increase in digital sales but finding this information or rather collecting the data is difficult because of the numerous websites that one can procure digital downloads or license keys from. From certain sources though, an estimate of 12.1% is reported as the digital sales growth in 2016.

Hardware sales too remain stagnant with PlayStation 4 leading at 45%, Xbox One at 34.1% followed at a fair distance by 3DS and Wii U at 7% and 2.5% respectively. As for publishers, EA continues to lead at 22.1% followed at far by Activision at 12.1% with Nintendo, Ubisoft and Take-Two completing the fantastic five.

Alright, enough of statistics and metrics here’s a quick recap of the top ten performers from the UK.

FIFA 17 (EA)

The year that FIFA does not make it to the top ten list and come among the top three, is the year gaming industry has revolutionized to a huge extent. We can’t remember the last time Fifa did not feature in the top three spots, at least in the UK.

Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Activision)

Same applies to Call of Duty. If a COD title comes out, it makes it into the top three spots with relative ease. UK loves its COD and FIFA yearly releases without any abatement.

Battlefield 1 (EA)

Not a regular yearly release but every time Battlefield title comes out, it ends up being a part of the top fives.

The Division (Ubisoft)

Ubisoft continues to push forward with innovative ideas and concept games. The Division was one of its hottest awaited releases of the year 2016 and in our opinion, the fact that it came out with such promise is probably why it made it into the top fives.

GTA V (Rockstar)

With multiplayer mode and periodic exclusive content releases and new additions, GTA V continues to stay relevant and grasp a larger audience.

The Last Five

Top among the last five is Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Sony) and the only reason it sits at number six is because of its exclusivity to the PlayStation 4 platform. Close on its heels is yet another COD title, Black Ops III followed by Watch Dogs 2, Overwatch and Forza Horizon 3.

Games that are worth mentioning because they just missed out on the top ten spots or because they are older titles that continue to work wonders include The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition and Doom from Bethesda, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens from WB Games, Mafia III from 2K and finally FIFA 16 from EA Sports.

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A Comprehensive Look At NVidia Shield TV 2017

“Streamer for Gamers” is how NVidia wants us to look at its Shield TV’s 2017 avatar. Making a splash at CES 2017, Jen-Hsun Huang, NVidia’s CEO introduced the device as a compact TV hub/console, that’s powered by NVidia’s Tegra X1 chip and runs on the latest Android-based UI.

Theoretically speaking, you get the best of both worlds with this $200 streaming device in that you can choose from its vast library of games (requires monthly subscription) and stream HDR and 4K movies and shows on your TV via the multitude of Android apps.

After having played around (read research) with the 2017 Shield TV, here’s our comprehensive take on the nifty ‘stream-box’.

Hardware

NVidia this time around, went for a more compact footprint accentuated by a sleek, sharp and angular design. However, the full plastic build seems like a cost-saving measure especially when compared to hefty, metallic finishes that the previous version of the Shield box featured.

Under the hood exist NVidia’s Tegra X1 graphic chip with 3-GB of RAM and a 12-GB SSD storage; an aspect that’s remained unchanged from its 2015 model. However, there is the choice of larger storage with the Pro version that features a 500GB HDD. There’s a stand on offer that lets you orient the Android box vertically.  

Turn to the back of the box, and you got two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI out and an Ethernet jack. They have dropped the SD card and micro-USB slot. Instead, there is an option to utilize one of the USB ports as an input port to connect your PC if the need arises. Also worth mentioning is the non-inclusion of an HDMI cable in the package.

The included Shield controller has gone through some structural overhauls: its much smaller; sports a geodescent pattern and overall feels like a better version of the Xbox One S controller. The controller still charges via micro-USB and NVidia claims that it can withstand 60-hours of game-time.

One thing we did notice is that the navigation buttons aren’t capacitive but proper physical buttons. This is a welcome change given the finicky aspect of the last NVidia controller which would inadvertently pause in between games only to realise that you had accidently flicked on the pause button.

With the previous model, the remote controller was sold separately for $50. Thankfully, this time around, they have included the nifty controller with the package. Its got a simple design that lets you work with the non-gaming menu, thereby making the Shield TV a true hybrid between a console and set-top box.   

Software

The 2017 Shield runs on the new Android 7.0 “Nougat” thus giving us a look at how well Google has planned the UX for the big screen. One useful tip we learnt straight off the bat was the double-pressing of the home button to drop back into the home screen.

Also, the picture-in-picture support of Nougat means that developers can include this as a feature in their apps thus letting a user browse the Android TV interface while having the media content play on a mini-screen.

NVidia has announced an ambitious strategy for the Shield in terms of making it a true smart-home appliance by integrating it with Google Assistant. However, we couldn’t test that feature since the update for that isn’t going to be out until later in the year.

Theoretically though, it should make for an intriguing and perhaps inspiring partnership with NVidia’s in-house voice-command feature ‘Spot’ which lets you bark commands at Google Assistant from anywhere in the house.

Sadly, all that we could achieve at this point in time was ask simple questions by tapping the microphone button about sports update, which would show up on the TV screen in a very Google Now type card.

Streaming Capability

We noticed a pretty solid collection of media-centric apps on Shield’s Android TV and while some did display performance glitches from time to time, the overall experience wasn’t so bad. There’s also the Cast support from Google using which we could cast apps from our android phones.  

Media streaming performance is perhaps where the Shield makes a giant killing. Be it Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, we were able to stream 4K video content seamlessly. The fact that we could access 4K HDR from Amazon’s video platform was quite amazing since Amazon’s own Fire TV box struggles with it!

Gaming Capability

A big change from the previous model is the revamped game streaming service otherwise known as GeForce Now. With the new servers powered by GeForce 10-series GPUs, that opens up a whole new dimension for enjoying high-end, graphic intensive games, especially when they are being rendered remotely and then streamed to the Shield device over the internet.

For instance, our gaming rig featuring a twin GeForce GPU takes around 5-7 seconds to load The Witcher 3 and that’s about the same time it took for the streamed version to load on our TV screen. We could play the game at the highest available resolution (1080p @ 60 FPS) and ‘ultra’ graphic setting and were hard-pressed to find any noticeable lag or compression artefacts.

We feel its important to mention about the quality of GeForce Now experience which will vary depending on the speed and bandwidth of your internet setup. So, a flaky internet connection would naturally encourage more issues with the overall rendering, lag and compression artefacts in streamed games.      

Potential Competition

In terms of game streaming, the NVidia faces stiff competition from the likes of Steam who have released their own version of a remote game streamer. And when it comes to media streaming, there’s just too many players to name.

Where NVidia’s Shield TV takes the gallop is that it is a single-point device for both game and media streaming, and this it does quite admirably.

Our Verdict

If you already own a Shield TV box then the NVidia’s 2017 Shield TV will feel like the same offering with a few new tricks. However, for the many who don’t, it is the perfect media streamer/micro-console hybrid out there in the market right now.

 

Rovio, Makers Of Angry Birds Game Look Towards London For New Beginnings

Rovio Entertainment Limited, the makers of the Angry Bird franchise, is all set to open up its studio in London. Despite experts discouraging companies in Europe from shifting to the UK due to Brexit, Rovio however, seems pretty determined on going ahead, because they see this move as the next logical step in their road map to progress.

The Nordic studio already employs more than 10% of the elite gaming workforce in Finland and setting up the London studio is a great way of exploring and hiring new local talent who come with a fresh perspective into the company.

This was a much-needed revival given how the ‘Angry Birds’ firm almost hit rock-bottom in the past few years. But ask Rovio, and they seem to be singing from a different hymn-sheet. Their take – this is the right time to migrate.

The Rovio Report Card At A Glance

Angry Birds, the game, the company and the controversies – These have been the talk of the town for a while now. The Finnish studio, which shot to fame in 2009 with the unmatchable success of the Angry Birds game, had a dream run for a certain time period.

However, with the failure of games like Amazing Alex in 2012, Angry Birds Epic and Go! in 2013, combined with the dip in the growth of the Angry Bird licensed merchandise, Rovio had to lay off more than 300 employees between 2014 and 2015. It also saw the stepping down of two CEOs Mikael Hed and Pekka Rantala during this phase.

It suffered financially with net profits falling by 50% in 2013; a further decrease in profits by 73% and total revenue drop by 43% ensued in 2014. By 2015, estimated losses stood at more than 13 million Euros.

Yet, the Nordic studio did everything they could to dig their roots deeper and trudged on unfrazzled. Their recent success with games like Blast and Angry Birds 2, along with the massive success of the 3D animated comic adventure Angry Birds Movie by Sony Pictures, shows that they are here to stay.

According to Mark Sorrell, the head of Rovio studio, the company has to go beyond Angry Birds and create more new games that can become successful, if they wish to stay in the running for more than 100 years, which they intend to.

The Successes

Angry Birds, the 52nd game of Rovio was designed for the iPhone platform in which the gamer had to solve a puzzle, save eggs by throwing birds and defeat pigs using slingshots. The game took the mobile gaming industry by storm and reached the top-most spot of paid applications within six months of being on Apple’s App Store.

Rovio raised 42 million dollars in March of 2011 through Felicis Ventures, Atomico and Accel Partners, and Angry Birds reached its one-billionth download in 2012; its two-billionth download in January 2014. Its YouTube channel had amassed two billion views by June 2015.

The Financial Struggle

The strategy then was about churning out as many games as possible all the while juicing the popularity of the Angry Bird franchise. However, this was neither sustainable and nor could it fuel the growth of Rovio Entertainment. The result – the company had to endure a dark phase where revenue and profits took a nose-dive.

In response, Rovio went into major course-correction mode. It put an end to games that were not doing well, taking a step back to analyze what went wrong and how. The 400-member strong Finnish studio understands the value of keeping the gamers interested and accepts that they do not make products, rather provide services. Hence, a strategy to reflect those thought-processes had to be put in place.

The Revival

With the new thinking and giving importance to quality over quantity, Rovio has seen an encouraging operating profit in 2016, which means good things are in store for the studio. The box-office success of the Hollywood movie Angry Birds 3D has got them new licensing deals and added to the revenue bringing Rovio to a stable stage, where they can look at growing their numbers.

Thus, already having a premise for setting up an office at London because of their existent consumer products department, Rovio studio head Mark Sorrell, told that this was a natural step of succession during his announcement about the London office in the Pocket Gamer Connects London earlier in this week.

The London studio is open now and aims at recruiting high quality talent to stand up to the high level expectations that the industry has with their brand. Mark made a point by telling that they are not a startup and they are not pressurizing themselves to produce quick games at the moment.

Rovio is willing to take it slow and steady and hire not more than eight people in 2017. They are not looking for mavericks, rockstars or ninjas, rather mature minds and a diverse team that can settle and flourish in a Finnish work environment.

The Future Planning

The year 2019 is when Rovio London plans to launch its first title as they want to take these two years in developing, testing and ensuring that the new game is just the touch of perfect. Although, most new studios are under tremendous pressure to prove a point by rolling out their first game within six months of setting up shop, Rovio is not in that rat race.

This London studio is going to concentrate on developing multiplayer mobile games and they understand that this genre takes time to develop, irrespective of how amazing and experienced the team handling the project might be. Rovio also believes that the entire team has to put in their heart and soul into coming up with the new game, and they are willing to invest that much time into the mobile MMO.

The strategy Rovio London studio will follow is to ensure not to repeat old mistakes. They want to focus on making fantastic games, might be less in number, but great enough to match, if not surpass, the success of their all-time popular franchise of the Angry Birds.