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by Dave Thier via Forbes

The console generation, in loose, constantly shifting terms, has dominated the world of video games for my entire life. The early era of home consoles is various and crazy, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll put the codification of the idea on one company alone: Nintendo. The NES, for all intents and purposes, standardized what we come to think of as a game console today, even if plenty other companies did something like it before. So that would make the transition from the NES to the SNES the first real console generation, something that all other manufacturers would begin to adopt as time went on. Eventually the field winnowed down, and generations became much more rigidly defined, eventually coming to a kind of apex with the release of the Xbox One and PS4, released as generational updates to their predecessors within a week of each other. And it’s well that the console generation reached it’s platonic form back in 2013, because that’s all done now.

Microsoft’s recent discussion of its plans with the Xbox Series X wasn’t really news, but it’s striking nonetheless. When the Xbox Series X releases, it won’t have exclusive games. Every Microsoft game that works on the Series X will also work on the Xbox One, and vice versa. Third-party publishers won’t have to abide by that at the beginning, but the economics of install bases dictate that they almost certainly will. While the PS4 and PS5 won’t necessarily abide by the same rules, we’re all assuming that Sony will at least pursue backwards compatibility, and I have to also assume that it’s going to have to have some kind of strong cross-gen compatibility plans. So while we’re still waiting to hear exactly what’s happening here, Microsoft’s rejection of the old ideas seems to confirm to me that the console generation, as we know it, is over.

This has been a long time coming. Console transitions are hellish on developers, which have to both work extra hard figuring out how to develop for new hardware and then turn around and sell those new games to an install base the fraction of the size of the previous generation. And they’re limiting for manufacturers, too: Apple gets to sell people a new iPhone like every other month, while console manufacturers find themselves waiting years to sell new hardware.

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The first sign that Microsoft and Sony were done with generations came with the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro: mid-generation refreshes that functioned like a mini-generation, selling new machines and capabilities without any of the restrictions of previous generations. But with the next machines I expect this idea to be eliminated entirely. That’s what Microsoft’s naming convention is all about: it will release the Xbox Series X, followed by the Xbox Series (something else) and so on and so forth. PlayStation reserves its numbers for traditional generations, but I fully expect Sony to follow suit with the PS5 Lite, the PS5 Pro, or something like that.

The PS5 and Xbox Series X are much bigger deals than those refreshes. But when they launch, it will look a lot more like those refreshes than a traditional generation.

In this new scenario, games work backwards and forwards, playing on older machines with graphical compromises and upgrades on newer machines. Much like in the world of cell phones, older machines will still get phased out, it just won’t happen with the notion of generational sweep that it does now. So 3 years into the lifespan of the Xbox Series X—at which point we expect to have another Microsoft console in the mix—games will start getting released that won’t run on the Xbox One S. A year later, we might see games that don’t work on the Xbox One X. And so on.

Developers are ready for this. As Microsoft has noted, they’ve been doing it for years with PC development: most new games can be souped up to 4K, 60FPS with raytracing or be turned way down to what Gamespot calls “potato mode”. And while most developers don’t really want their games to look quite that bad on any hardware, they should be able to get games to run on a much wider variety of devices than they did in the past. One of the benefits of modern lighting-based graphical improvements like ray-tracing is that they can be turned off.

It’ll be interesting to see how it all works. Console Gamers are still very much invested in the idea of a console generation, which you can see from the degree to which we’re going to hype these new machines. But while the launch of the Xbox Series X and PS5 is going to look a whole lot like the launch of the Xbox One and PS4, in practice it’s going to be nothing like it. I’m mostly curious to see what things look like when the dust settles in 2021.

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by Ben Gilbert via Business Insider

This holiday season, both Sony and Microsoft plan to launch new, so-called next-generation versions of the PlayStation and the Xbox.

Goodbye, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One! Hello, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X!

It marks the fourth game console “generation” that Microsoft and Sony consoles have gone head-to-head, starting with the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox around the turn of the century. Nintendo exited direct competition on hardware with both companies years ago, starting with the wildly successful launch of the Nintendo Wii in 2006.

These days, the “console wars” are a head-to-head between Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox. But in 2020, it looks as if Microsoft is shifting its business strategy in a way that might end them for good.

Here’s how Microsoft plans to do it:

1. Microsoft doesn’t mind if you don’t buy its new Xbox console, as long as you buy the game.

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Do you want to play games on an Xbox? A PC? Your phone? Microsoft wants to reach you there — ideally across all three.

To that end, Xbox has major initiatives across all three platforms: a new game console (Xbox Series X), a cloud gaming service (Project xCloud), and a Netflix-like gaming service (Game Pass).

“That remains core to what we’re trying to do,” the Xbox leader Phil Spencer told Business Insider in an interview last June. “To allow creators to reach the customers that they want, allow players to play the games that they want with the people they want to play with, anywhere they want. And it fits right into the opportunity ahead.”

It’s part of a broader effort at Microsoft to bring Xbox games to as many people as possible — even if those people don’t buy a new Xbox console. To that end, all first-party Xbox games across the next two years will also head to Xbox One.

“As our content comes out over the next year, two years, all of our games, sort of like PC, will play up and down that family of devices,” the Xbox Game Studios director Matt Booty told MCV in a recent interview.

When the big new “Halo” game arrives alongside the Xbox Series X this holiday, it’ll also arrive on Xbox One and PC.

2. The new Xbox is just the latest box, not a whole new ecosystem.

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The next Xbox console will play Xbox One games. It will also play all the original Xbox and Xbox 360 games that already work on the Xbox One. It will also work with all the current Xbox One accessories, from gamepads to fight sticks.

“The original Xbox games and Xbox 360 games that are backward-compatible now on your Xbox One, those will play. Your Xbox One games will play, your accessories will play,” Spencer said last June.

This is an important precedent that was set with the Xbox One, and it’s continuing with the next generation of Xbox consoles: Your digital game library carries forward, like app purchases on smartphones or movie purchases on Amazon Prime. It establishes your Xbox library as a continuing digital platform, something no game console maker has done thus far.

The compatibility actually stretches further — games with large existing communities will continue to grow those communities on the next Xbox.

“I don’t want to announce anything about what another game team is doing,” Spencer said, “But I think what we would say at the highest level is if you talk about these games that have such massive communities today, a lot of those developers and studios are going to want to think about how they grow their community — not how they take it to zero and try to rebuild it.”

It doesn’t take a lot of hard thinking to imagine the games Spencer is talking about; games like “Fortnite” and “Minecraft” stand out, among many others with large, multiplatform audiences.

3. Going forward, it’s just “Xbox.”

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The Xbox Series X is part of the fourth generation of Xbox consoles from Microsoft, following the original Xbox, the Xbox 360, and the Xbox One generations. It’s a real murderer’s row of bizarre names.

The Series X, however, isn’t a whole new line of Xbox consoles — it’s just the name of the latest in the Xbox console brand.

“The name we’re carrying forward to the next generation is simply Xbox,” a Microsoft representative told Business Insider in December.

It’s a small branding change, but it clarifies Microsoft’s position with its console line: You can expect your Xbox digital library to work on Xbox devices, similar to Apple’s approach with the iPhone.

You might get an iPhone 11 Pro, or you might get an iPhone 8 — they all run the same stuff, albeit in varying degrees of fidelity. Such is the case with the Xbox brand going forward.

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You can put that “Shut up and take my money” meme away (for now).

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by Peter Brown via GameSpot

Microsoft has announced the official name for Project Scarlett is Xbox Series X, or just simply ‘Xbox‘. The new Xbox is scheduled to release during the holiday season in 2020 alongside Sony’s PlayStation 5. However, despite revealing the console at The Game Awards, Microsoft isn’t ready to open pre-orders just yet–if you want to buy it, you’ll have to keep waiting. And that’s an intentional choice on the part of Microsoft.

“We think, in the end, what people want from us is … to put a controller [in their] hand,” Xbox partner director of program management Jason Ronald told GameSpot. “People tell me, ‘Hey, I want to pre-order right now,’ and we definitely love that–like it’s great to have those fans–but I also know that these investments aren’t trivial for families. I want to be transparent about what our design goals are.”

To ensure customers know what they’re paying for, Microsoft is going to hold off on pre-orders for a little longer. Though we now know a lot more about Xbox Series X–like its name (i.e. Xbox), its PC desktop-looking design, the new share button on its controllers, how it will work with Project xCloud, and a host of other details–we’re still in the dark about quite a few things. The big one is, of course, its price tag.

More than anything though, Microsoft doesn’t want to start selling the new Xbox yet because customers haven’t had a chance to try the console. The Game Awards presents a wonderful platform for announcements, but, as Ronald puts it, the show doesn’t present “an opportunity for people to play–it’s a stage.”

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WASHINGTON — It is billed as an easy and secure way to chat by video or text message with friends and family, even in a country that has restricted popular messaging services like WhatsApp and Skype.

But the service, ToTok, is actually a spying tool, according to U.S. officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.

ToTok, introduced only months ago, was downloaded millions of times from the Apple and Google app stores by users throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. While the majority of its users are in the Emirates, ToTok surged to become one of the most downloaded social apps in the U.S. last week, according to app rankings and App Annie, a research firm.

ToTok amounts to the latest escalation in a digital arms race among wealthy authoritarian governments, interviews with current and former U.S. foreign officials and a forensic investigation showed. The governments are pursuing more effective and convenient methods to spy on foreign adversaries, criminal and terrorist networks, journalists and critics — efforts that have ensnared people all over the world in their surveillance nets.

Persian Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Qatar previously turned to private firms — including Israeli and U.S. contractors — to hack rivals and, increasingly, their own citizens. The development of ToTok, experts said, showed that the governments can cut out the intermediary to spy directly on their targets, who voluntarily, if unwittingly, hand over their information.

A technical analysis and interviews with computer security experts showed that the firm behind ToTok, Breej Holding, is most likely a front company affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyberintelligence and hacking firm where Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency employees and former Israeli military intelligence operatives work. DarkMatter is under FBI investigation, according to former employees and law enforcement officials, for possible cybercrimes. The U.S. intelligence assessment and the technical analysis also linked ToTok to Pax AI, an Abu Dhabi-based data mining firm that appears to be tied to DarkMatter.

Pax AI’s headquarters operate from the same Abu Dhabi building as the Emirates’ signals intelligence agency, which until recently was where DarkMatter was based.

The UAE is one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East, seen by the Trump administration as a bulwark against Iran and a close counterterrorism partner. Its ruling family promotes the country as an example of a modern, moderate Arab nation, but it has also been at the forefront of using surveillance technology to crack down on internal dissent — including hacking Western journalists, emptying the banking accounts of critics, and holding human rights activists in prolonged solitary confinement over Facebook posts.

The government blocks specific functions of apps like WhatsApp and Skype, a reality that has made ToTok particularly appealing in the country. Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, recently promoted ToTok in advertisements.

Spokesmen for the CIA and the Emirati government declined to comment. Calls to a phone number for Breej Holding rang unanswered, and Pax employees did not respond to emails and messages. An FBI spokeswoman said that “while the FBI does not comment on specific apps, we always want to make sure to make users aware of the potential risks and vulnerabilities that these mechanisms can pose.”

When The Times initially contacted Apple and Google representatives with questions about ToTok’s connection to the Emirati government, they said they would investigate. On Thursday, Google removed the app from its Play store after determining ToTok violated unspecified policies. Apple removed ToTok from its App Store on Friday and was still researching the app, a spokesman said. ToTok users who already downloaded the app will still be able to use it until they remove it from their phones.

It was unclear when U.S. intelligence services first determined that ToTok was a tool of Emirati intelligence, but one person familiar with the assessment said that U.S. officials have warned some allies about its dangers. It is not clear whether U.S. officials have confronted their counterparts in the Emirati government about the app. One digital security expert in the Middle East, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss powerful hacking tools, said that senior Emirati officials told him that ToTok was indeed an app developed to track its users in the Emirates and beyond.

ToTok appears to have been relatively easy to develop, according to a forensic analysis performed for The Times by Patrick Wardle, a former NSA hacker who works as a private security researcher. It appears to be a copy of a Chinese messaging app offering free video calls, YeeCall, slightly customized for English and Arabic audiences.

ToTok is a cleverly designed tool for mass surveillance, according to the technical analysis and interviews, in that it functions much like the myriad other Apple and Android apps that track users’ location and contacts.

On the surface, ToTok tracks users’ location by offering an accurate weather forecast. It hunts for new contacts any time a user opens the app, under the pretense that it is helping connect with their friends, much like how Instagram flags Facebook friends. It has access to users’ microphones, cameras, calendar and other phone data. Even its name is an apparent play on the popular Chinese app TikTok.

Though billed as “fast and secure,” ToTok makes no claim of end-to-end encryption, like WhatsApp, Signal or Skype. The only hint that the app discloses user data is buried in the privacy policy: “We may share your personal data with group companies.”

So instead of paying hackers to gain access to a target’s phone — the going rate is up to $2.5 million for a hacking tool that can remotely access Android phones, according to recent price lists — ToTok gave the Emirati government a way to persuade millions of users to hand over their most personal information for free.

“There is a beauty in this approach,” said Wardle, now a security researcher at Jamf, a software company. “You don’t need to hack people to spy on them if you can get people to willingly download this app to their phone. By uploading contacts, video chats, location, what more intelligence do you need?”

In an intelligence-gathering operation, Wardle said, ToTok would be Phase 1. Much like the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program — which was quietly shut down this year — ToTok allows intelligence analysts to analyze users’ calls and contacts in search of patterns, though its collection is far more invasive. It is unclear whether ToTok allows the Emiratis to record video or audio calls of its users.

Each day, billions of people freely forgo privacy for the convenience of using apps on their phones. The Privacy Project by the Times’ Opinion section published an investigation last week revealing how app makers and third parties track the minute-by-minute movements of mobile phone users.

Private companies collected that data for targeted marketing. In ToTok’s case — according to current and former officials and digital crumbs the developers left behind — much of the information is funneled to intelligence analysts working on behalf of the Emirati state.

In recent months, semiofficial state publications began promoting ToTok as the free app long sought by Emiratis. This month, users of a messaging service in the Emirates requiring paid subscriptions, Botim, received an alert telling users to switch to ToTok — which it called a “free, fast and secure” messaging app. Accompanying the message was a link to install it.

The marketing seems to have paid off.

In reviews, Emiratis expressed gratitude to ToTok’s developers for finally bringing them a free messaging app. “Blessings! Your app is the best App so far that has enable me and my family to stay connected!!!” one wrote. “Kudos,” another wrote. “Finally, an app that works in the UAE!”

ToTok’s popularity extended beyond the Emirates. According to recent Google Play rankings, it was among the top 50 free apps in Saudi Arabia, Britain, India, Sweden and other countries. Some analysts said it was particularly popular in the Middle East because — at least on the surface — it was unaffiliated with a large, powerful nation.

Though the app is a tool for the Emirati government, the exact relationship between the firms behind it is murky. Pax employees are made up of European, Asian and Emirati data scientists, and the company is run by Andrew Jackson, an Irish data scientist who previously worked at Palantir, a Silicon Valley firm that works with the Pentagon and U.S. spy agencies.

Its affiliate company, DarkMatter, is in effect an arm of the Emirati government. Its operations have included hacking government ministries in Iran, Qatar and Turkey; executives of FIFA, the world soccer organization; journalists and dissidents.

Last month, the Emirati government announced that DarkMatter would combine with two dozen other companies to create a defense conglomerate focused on repelling cyberattacks.

The FBI is investigating American employees of DarkMatter for possible cybercrimes, according to people familiar with the investigation. The inquiry intensified after former NSA hackers working for the company grew concerned about its activities and contacted the bureau. Reuters first reported the program they worked on, Project Raven.

At Pax, data scientists openly brag about their work on LinkedIn. One who listed his title as “data science team lead” said he had created a “message intelligence platform” that reads billions of messages to answer four questions: “who you are, what you do, how do you think, and what is your relationship with others.”

“With the answers to these four questions, we know everything about one person,” wrote the data scientist, Jingyan Wang.

Other Pax employees describe their experience creating tools that can search government data sets for faces from billions of video feeds and pinpoint Arabic dialects from transcribed video messages.

None mention an affiliation with ToTok.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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by L.W. ‘Sarge’ Barker, President

We lost one of our own this week. Reuben James Karnagerulz was an outstanding Executive Officer and loyal friend who dedicated the past 6 years of his life to the betterment of Gamer’s Outpost LLC.

Reuben was also a fighter whom I deeply admired for his zest for life. Whether it be a  Zombie Run, Comic Book, Cosplay and or Gaming Convention, Charitable event, or even Storm Chasing, Reuben was always at its core, never allowing health issues to prevent him from enjoying life while always placing others above himself.

For example, Reuben would often game on behalf of the sick kids of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital via the Extra Life Charity for hours on end. And he would not stop until his set monetary goal was accomplished.

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And it was his love of gaming and our overall community which brought Reuben to us in 2013 where he quickly worked his way from the rank of Editor to becoming our Executive Officer of Public Affairs and Marketing. He held this position honorably, even writing our official Mission Statement.

Reuben was the proud winner of our Annual Editor Award in 2016 and 2017 respectively. This program meant a lot to him, so to honor his memory, it has been renamed The Reuben James Karnagerulz Juarez Editor of the Year Awards.

Reuben will never be forgotten by our organization. He holds a special place with us, his “adopted gaming family”. I will miss his “night owl” wisdom when we bantered about the business from late at night into the early hours of the morning.

“Thank you” Reuben. Rest in peace my friend.

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The next generation Xbox got a big reveal last week, with a first look at the box itself and a name: Xbox Series X.

The Xbox Series X is part of the fourth generation of Xbox from Microsoft, following the original Xbox, the Xbox 360, and the Xbox One generations.

It’s quite a list of names, especially compared to the dead simplicity of Sony’s PlayStation line which starts with the PlayStation 1 in 1995 and runs through to the upcoming PlayStation 5 that’s scheduled for 2020.

But there was something particular about the way that Microsoft revealed the name of the Series X:

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Microsoft / The Game Awards

Do you see it?

“THE NEW” is tiny, followed by “XBOX” in huge letters, and then “SERIES X” in medium-sized letters below that.

Like this:

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Upon closer inspection, it appears that “Xbox” is the make and “Series X” is the model — as if the name going forward for Xbox consoles is simply “Xbox.”

It turns out there’s a good reason for that.

“The name we’re carrying forward to the next generation is simply Xbox,” a Microsoft representative told Business Insider, “And at The Game Awards you saw that name come to life through the Xbox Series X.”

Like the first Xbox generation, the next one is simply named “Xbox.”

It’s a basic rebranding, but a meaningful one that could help to simplify the Xbox line for interested consumers. It also clarifies Microsoft’s intention with its console line.

“Similar to what fans have seen with previous generations, the name ‘Xbox Series X’ allows room for additional consoles in the future,” the Microsoft rep told us.

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Currently, there are two models of Xbox One: The Xbox One X and the Xbox One S. Both came out after the original Xbox One, which launched in November 2013.

For several years, Microsoft also offered that Xbox One, which looked different from both of the consoles seen above. All three of these consoles are part of the “Xbox One” generation, which tracks with 2013 to present day. They all play the same Xbox One games, though the Xbox One X is technically far more powerful than the other two boxes.

Confused yet?

That’s exactly why Microsoft is simplifying its naming convention going forward. At the same time, of course, the statement indicates that Microsoft is already working on other versions of the next-generation Xbox — something that lines up with repeated rumors of a disc-less, streaming-focused Xbox. Microsoft isn’t saying just yet, though. “We’re excited to offer fans a glimpse at the next generation of gaming with Xbox Series X,” the rep said, “But beyond that, we have nothing further to share.”

One thing is clear: That “Series X” bit isn’t so important — it’s just Xbox from now on.

Check out the intro video for the new Xbox right here:

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(Bloomberg) — GameStop Corp., the ailing video-game retailer, plunged as much as 19% after posting a third-quarter loss that was larger than even the most dire Wall Street estimate.

The adjusted quarterly loss came to 49 cents a share, the merchant said Tuesday. The most pessimistic analyst had expected a deficit of 16 cents. Sales plummeted 26% from a year earlier to $1.44 billion, and GameStop also reduced its forecast for the year.

The shares tumbled to as low as $5.25 in their worst decline in three months. The stock had lost 48% this year as of Tuesday’s close.

The dismal results came at the start of the industry’s biggest season, with top-sellers including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Luigi’s Mansion 3 being released in the period.

The chain has struggled to sustain its revenue as more video-game players gravitate to free online titles that generate money by selling fans online merchandise while they play. The Grapevine, Texas-based retailer, which once boasted annual sales of more than $9 billion, is forecast to finish the current fiscal year with revenue of $7.17 billion, based on analysts’ estimates.

Another headwind: The current generation of game consoles is aging, leaving consumers without a reason to upgrade.

Chief Executive Officer George Sherman blamed “the unprecedented decline in new hardware sales” for hurting sales last quarter, “as the current generation of gaming consoles reach the end of their life cycle.”

Mike Hickey, an analyst at Benchmark Co., described the latest results as “awful.”

The company’s “voyage seems doomed as the digital storm intensifies.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Rob Golum in Los Angeles at rgolum@bloomberg.net;Olga Kharif in Portland at okharif@bloomberg.net;Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at cpalmeri1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net, John J. Edwards III, Molly Schuetz

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