EA Announces Kernel-Level Anti-Cheat System For PC Games

Electronics Arts (EA) is launching a new kernel-level anti-cheat system that’s been developed in-house to protect its games from tampering and cheaters. It’ll debut first in FIFA 23 but not all of its games will implement the system. The Verge reports: Kernel-level anti-cheat systems have drawn criticism from privacy and security advocates, as the drivers these systems use are complex and run at such a high level that if there are security issues, then developers have to be very quick to address them. EA says kernel-level protection is “absolutely vital” for competitive games like FIFA 23, as existing cheats operate in the kernel space, so games running in regular user mode can’t detect that tampering or cheating is occurring. “Unfortunately, the last few years have seen a large increase in cheats and cheat techniques operating in kernel-mode, so the only reliable way to detect and block these is to have our anti-cheat operate there as well,” explains [Elise Murphy, senior director of game security and anti-cheat at EA].

EA’s anti-cheat system will run at the kernel level and only runs when a game with EAAC protection is running. EA says its anti-cheat processes shut down once a game does and that the anti-cheat will be limited to what data it collects on a system. “EAAC does not gather any information about your browsing history, applications that are not connected to EA games, or anything that is not directly related to anti-cheat protection,” says Murphy.

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Twitch Founder Justin Kan: Web3 Games Don’t Need To Lure Players With Profit

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Top crypto VCs are constantly touting the potential of video games as one of the most compelling use cases for blockchain technology. […] TechCrunch talked to Justin Kan, co-founder of Twitch and more recently, Solana-based gaming NFT marketplace Fractal, to get his thoughts on what it will take for this subsector of web3 to live up to the hype. Kan said that web3 gaming has a long way to go — while there are about 3 billion gamers in the world, including those who play mobile games, he noted, far fewer have bought or interacted with any sort of blockchain-based gaming asset. Kan sees this gap as an opportunity for blockchain technology to fundamentally change how video game studios operate. “I think the idea of creating digital assets, and then taxing everyone for all the transactions around them is a good model,” Kan said.

In some ways, web3 gaming was been built in response to the success of games such as Fortnite that were able to unlock a lucrative monetization path for gaming studios through micro-transactions from users buying custom items such as outfits and weapons. Web3 game developers hope to take that vision a step further by enabling players to take those custom digital assets between different games, turning gaming into an interoperable, immersive ecosystem, Kan explained. Kan has made around 10 angel investments in web3 gaming startups, including in the studio behind NFT-based shooter game BR1: Infinite Royale, he said. Still, he admitted that building this interoperable ecosystem, which he sees as the future of video games overall, doesn’t technically require blockchain technology at all. “Blockchain is just the way that it’s going to happen, I think, because there’s a lot of cultural momentum around people equating blockchain with openness and trusting things that are decentralized on the blockchain.”

[T]he appeal of an open gaming ecosystem is more about the principle of the matter than it is about making a living. “I actually think that people equate NFTs and games with this play-to-earn model where people are making money and doing their job [by gaming], and I think that’s completely unnecessary,” Kan said. “Having digital assets in your game can work and be valuable, even if nobody is making money and there’s no speculative appreciation or price appreciation on your assets,” he added. It’s common for popular games to attract new development on top of their existing intellectual property. Kan shared the example of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO), a video game in which custom “skins” have sold for as much as $150,000 each. “I funded a company that builds on top of the CSGO skins,” he said. “CSGO changed the rules about what was allowed and actually confiscated over a million dollars just from this company — so yeah, I don’t want to build on top of these non-open platforms anymore.” “Kan sees blockchain-based games as just a ‘more economically immersive’ version of the marketplaces that already exist in video games,” adds TechCrunch. “He doesn’t think users will flock to blockchain gaming just to make money, though.”

“I think that web3 games are just being more open and saying, instead of this being a black market, we’re going to make this a real market and people’s economic participation is going to vary to different levels. There’s gonna be people who only play the game and never buy things with money. There’s gonna be some people who are making some side money because they’re really good at the game, and they’re getting some things in the game they’re selling [or trading].”

He added: “In order for this market to actually be big, it’s going to require normal people who want to play games for fun to play these games. That doesn’t exist yet. I think most of the market today is people who are crypto-native.”

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Goodbye Zachtronics, Developers of Very Cool Video Games

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Kotaku: On July 5, Zachtronics will be releasing Last Call BBS, a collection of stylish little puzzle games wrapped up in a retro PC gaming vibe. After 11 years in business (and even longer outside of commercial releases), a time which has seen the studio develop a cult following almost unrivaled in indie gaming, it will be the last new game Zachtronics will ever release. We spoke to founder Zach Barth to find out why.

Named for founder Zach Barth, Zachtronics has spent most of those 11 years specializing in puzzle games (or variations on the theme). And pretty much every single one of them has been great (or at least interesting). […] The result has been a succession of games that may not have been to everyone’s tastes, but for those with whom they resonated, it was their shit. It’s not hard seeing why: most of Zachtronics’ games involved challenging puzzles, but also a deeply cool and interesting presentation surrounding them, such as the grimy hacker aesthetic of Exapunks, or the Advance Wars-like Mobius Front 83. Given those initial and superficial differences, it can sometimes be hard pinpointing exactly what makes a game so clearly a Zachtronics joint, but like love and art, when you see it you just know it.

So it’s sad, but also awesome in its own way, that 2022 will see the end of Zachtronics. Not because their publisher shuttered them, or because their venture capital funding ran out, or because Activision made them work on Call of Duty, or any other number of reasons (bankruptcy! scandal!) game developers usually close their doors. No, Zachtronics is closing because…they want to. “We’re wrapping things up!” Barth tells Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett. “Zachtronics will release Last Call BBS next month. We’re also working on a long-awaited solitaire collection that we’re hoping to have out by the end of the year. After that, the team will disband. We all have different ideas, interests, tolerances for risk, and so on, so we’re still figuring out what we want to do next.”

“We felt it was time for a change. This might sound weird, but while we got very good at making ‘Zachtronics games’ over the last twelve years, it was hard for us to make anything else. We were fortunate enough to carve out a special niche, and I’m thankful that we’ve been able to occupy it and survive in it, but it also kept us locked into doing something we didn’t feel like doing forever.”

Last Call BBS will be released on July 5 on Steam. You can view the trailer here.

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Valve’s Steam Deck Makes a Brilliant Case Against Walled Gardens

“Unlike practically every major game console that’s come before it, the Steam Deck, from PC gaming giant Valve, doesn’t lock users into one ecosystem,” writes Fast Company’s Jared Newman. “While Valve’s own Steam store is the default way to buy and play games, the Steam Deck also lets users install whatever software they want on the device’s Linux-based operating system. The experience has been liberating…” From the report: In recent weeks, I’ve gorged on weird indie creations from itch.io, classic games from GOG.com, and free games from the Epic Games Store. I’ve used Plexamp to stream my personal music collection in place of in-game soundtracks, and I’ve used Vivaldi to browse the web in the Steam Deck’s desktop mode. You don’t have to use your Steam Deck this way, but just being knowing that it’s an option makes the device more capable and personal. The tech industry is filled with companies that seem deathly afraid of this model, either because they don’t trust their users or don’t want to risk weakening their own ecosystems. By taking the opposite approach, Valve is proving that open platforms aren’t so catastrophic, and it elevates the Steam Deck from yet another gadget into the most exciting consumer electronics device in years. […]

Valve could have easily used the Steam Deck to lock players into its own ecosystem. It could have opted not to include a desktop mode and withheld instructions on how to lift its read-only restrictions. It could have discouraged users from installing different operating systems and made its recovery tools unavailable to the public. Console makers have long insisted that such restrictions are necessary for the good of their platforms. In 2020, for instance, Microsoft argued that because console makers sell their hardware at or below cost to create a market for their software, they shouldn’t have to accommodate third-party app stores or sideloading.

Similar arguments have spilled out into the broader mobile app business as well. In response to a lawsuit from Epic Games, Apple has claimed that its investments in the App Store wouldn’t be feasible if it couldn’t force developers to use its in-app purchase mechanisms. Some defenders of Apple’s viewpoint, such as Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, have argued that iOS is more like a game console than a PC platform. So, it’s all the more remarkable that Valve ignored all this hand-wringing and made the Steam Deck a haven for tinkerers. Instead of trying to shut out competitors, the company is betting that its own store will prevail on quality. If the Steam Deck successful — as it appears to be so far — it could upend years of conventional wisdom around walled gardens and become a threat to other consoles in more ways than one.

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‘A Billion-Dollar Crypto Gaming Startup Promised Riches and Delivered Disaster’

“Even many Axie regulars say it’s not much fun, but that hasn’t stopped people from dedicating hours to researching strategies, haunting Axie-themed Discord channels and Reddit forums, and paying for specialized software that helps them build stronger teams…”

Bloomberg pays a visit to the NFT-based game Axie Infinity with a 39-year-old player who’s spent $40,000 there since last August — back when you could actually triple your money in a week. (“I was actually hoping that it could become my full-time job,” he says.)

The reason this is possible — or at least it seemed possible for a few weird months last year — is that Axie is tied to crypto markets. Players get a few Smooth Love Potion (SLP) tokens for each game they win and can earn another cryptocurrency, Axie Infinity Shards (AXS), in larger tournaments. The characters, themselves known as Axies, are nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, whose ownership is tracked on a blockchain, allowing them to be traded like a cryptocurrency as well….

Axie’s creator, a startup called Sky Mavis Inc., heralded all this as a new kind of economic phenomenon: the “play-to-earn” video game. “We believe in a world future where work and play become one,” it said in a mission statement on its website. “We believe in empowering our players and giving them economic opportunities. Welcome to our revolution.” By last October the company, founded in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, four years ago by a group of Asian, European, and American entrepreneurs, had raised more than $160 million from investors including the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and the crypto-focused firm Paradigm, at a peak valuation of about $3 billion. That same month, Axie Infinity crossed 2 million daily users, according to Sky Mavis.

If you think the entire internet should be rebuilt around the blockchain — the vision now referred to as web3 — Axie provided a useful example of what this looked like in practice. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and an Axie investor, predicted that 90% of the gaming market would be play-to-earn within five years. Gabby Dizon, head of crypto gaming startup Yield Guild Games, describes Axie as a way to create an “investor mindset” among new populations, who would go on to participate in the crypto economy in other ways. In a livestreamed discussion about play-to-earn gaming and crypto on March 2, former Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang called web3 “an extraordinary opportunity to improve the human condition” and “the biggest weapon against poverty that we have.”

By the time Yang made his proclamations the Axie economy was deep in crisis. It had lost about 40% of its daily users, and SLP, which had traded as high as 40 cents, was at 1.8 cents, while AXS, which had once been worth $165, was at $56. To make matters worse, on March 23 hackers robbed Sky Mavis of what at the time was roughly $620 million in cryptocurrencies. Then in May the bottom fell out of the entire crypto market. AXS dropped below $20, and SLP settled in at just over half a penny. Instead of illustrating web3’s utopian potential, Axie looked like validation for crypto skeptics who believe web3 is a vision that investors and early adopters sell people to get them to pour money into sketchy financial instruments while hackers prey on everyone involved.

The article does credit the company for building its own blockchain (Ronin) to provide cheaper and faster NFT transactions. “Purists might have taken issue with the decision to abandon the core blockchain precept of decentralization, but on the other hand, the game actually worked.”

But the article also chronicles a fast succession of highs and lows:

“In Axie’s biggest market, the Philippines, the average daily earnings from May to October 2021 for all but the lowest-ranked players were above minimum wage, according to the gaming research and consulting firm Naavik.”

Axie raised $150 million to reimburse victims of the breach and repair its infrastructure. “But nearly two months later the systems compromised during the hack still weren’t up and running, and the executives were vague about when everything would be repaired. (A company spokesperson said on June 3 that this could happen by midmonth, pending the results of an external audit….): Days after the breach it launched Axie: Origin, a new alternate version with better graphics/gameplay — and without a cryptocurrency element. About 75% of the 39-year-old gamer’s co-players have “largely” stopped playing the game. “But at least one was sufficiently seduced by Axie’s potential to take a significant loan to buy AXS tokens, which he saw as a way to hedge against inflation of the Argentine peso. The local currency has indeed lost value since he took out the loan, but not nearly as much as AXS.”

Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader Parker Lewis for sharing the article

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GTA V is Back for a New Generation

Rockstar’s anarchic masterpiece has been freshened up for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X nine years after it was originally released. From a report: And so the boys are back in town. Michael, Trevor and Franklin, the sociopathic trio that lit up the gaming scene nine years ago, have been made over for the 2020s with this crisp new reworking of Grand Theft Auto V for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. The game’s violent narrative of shifting loyalties and doomed machismo felt wild and edgy back in 2013, so how does it fare in the modern era? The good news is, the overhauled visuals definitely give the game new zest and freshness. You can play in either 4K at 30 frames-per-second or in a performance mode that lowers the resolution but bumps up the frame rate to 60, giving wonderful fluidity to car chases, swooping helicopter rides and mass shootouts. The DualSense controller features on PlayStation 5 are very good too: improved driving feedback via the analogue triggers makes the game’s cumbersome handling a little easier to, well, handle. It’s been quite a joy to rediscover this alternate-reality California; to see the sun drop behind the downtown skyscrapers, or to hit Senora as dawn splashes orange-yellow light across the burning desert.

What the vast upshift in resolution can’t hide is the fact that GTA V is a game originally designed for consoles that are now two generations out of date. The character models and facial details look positively archaic compared with, say, Horizon Forbidden West, and the building architecture too seems almost quaint in its stylised blockiness. Compare it with 2018’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and you can see just how far Rockstar has come in its building of intricate next-gen worlds. In many ways, however, the design of the world itself has not been been bettered in the decade since it arrived. The size of San Andreas, the sheer variety of landscapes and the diversity of actions and activities is still incredible — Cyberpunk 2077 may look better, but it doesn’t let you play golf or tennis, or go on day trips on a bike, or set up incredibly complex car or helicopter stunts. Los Santos is a vast playground, a gangster Fortnite — a factor underlined by the massive community that still gathers in GTA Online (which is where we find this new version’s only totally new content — Hao’s Special Works, which lets you unlock faster cars and new tasks).

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After Just 24 Hours ‘Lost Ark’ Becomes the Second Most Played Game in Steam History

“Lost Ark has comfortably passed 1 million concurrent players after just 24 hours, becoming the second most played game in Steam history by concurrent counts,” reports the Verge:

The Diablo-like MMO launched Friday in the West, after Amazon Games collaborated with Smilegate RPG to localize and translate Lost Ark and make it available in English. It has now passed concurrent records for both Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, which regularly dominate the top of Steam’s most-played games.

Lost Ark is so popular right now that it has experienced server issues and there’s a queue just to start playing. SteamDB lists concurrent players of Lost Ark at 1,311,842, passing CS:GO’s record of 1,308,963 players and Dota 2’s of 1,295,114. It’s not clear exactly how many of those players are actually actively playing the game and not sitting in a server queue, though.

Either way, it’s now second place on the top concurrent list behind only PUGB…

The article notes it’s Amazon’s second big hit after its game New World “set a concurrent record of 913,634 players four months ago.”

GameSpot also spotted a playful clause in the game’s terms of service. It specifies that while players must be human (and not AI), that doesn’t apply if Earth is taken over by robots, simians, or aliens. “In that event, Amazon said these beings will be allowed to play Lost Ark and other games. ‘We welcome our alien, robots, ape, or other overlords, as applicable,’ Amazon said.”

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Virtual Guns in Videogames Could Soon Be Worth Real Money

Game makers are increasingly selling virtual weapons and gear as NFTs, extending the trendy digital deeds’ reach but rankling some players. From a report: More videogame makers are selling virtual guns, helmets and other gear in the form of NFTs, a move that is increasingly pushing the trendy digital deeds into the average household. Players have been paying for virtual goods in games like “Grand Theft Auto Online” and “World of Warcraft” for years, but turning those items into nonfungible tokens would let gamers trade and resell them, making them into potentially valuable assets. The change also could mean that players who buy an NFT in one game could use it later in other games, on social media and in other corners of the internet — an important step in developing an economy for the so-called metaverse. “FarmVille” maker Zynga and “Assassin’s Creed” creator Ubisoft Entertainment are among the first big, publicly traded gaming companies to say they are experimenting with the strategy. Electronic Arts, Playtika and others are also looking into NFTs’ potential use for engaging players.

“We’re doing this because this may be part of the future of gaming,” said Matt Wolf, Zynga’s new vice president of blockchain gaming. “This is all about community building.” Nonfungible tokens are essentially digital deeds that verify the authenticity of the items they represent as unique. They are the latest internet-based collecting craze, and so far they have come in forms ranging from digital artwork and trading cards to virtual real estate and sneakers, as well as concert tickets and even sports highlights. The tokens are stored on a blockchain, a digital ledger that shows when they were purchased and for how much, and ensures NFTs can’t be duplicated or changed. Amid all that activity, NFTs’ advent in videogames holds particular significance because gamers spend so much time in virtual worlds. That makes them potential early adopters in the metaverse — a virtual realm where proponents say people will work, play and shop and where technology experts say the ability to buy and sell NFTs will be key.

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