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Gaming Roundup – seems kinda sus ngl

Hello! Welcome to the Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!

This week, a politician among us, EA looking pretty sus, and Stadia staff ejecting themselves out of an airlock, plus all the latest releases!

US Politician Streams Among Us

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez streamed Among Us on Twitch.

If you’re unfamiliar with AOC, she is Representative for New York’s 14th District in the US House of Representatives. She’s also quite popular online for her support for progressive policies and strong level of engagement with every day people.

She also plays games and has previously advocated for laws to stop the US military from using Twitch as a recruitment platform. This week, she decided to use the platform for good, streaming a game of Among Us with a message encouraging US citizens to register to vote and make their voices heard. The use of Among Us was key, as you may have noticed that game is quite popular right now. Also, the idea of a politician streaming a game where the objective is to rat out the people looking to backstab you at the earliest opportunity (or to be the backstabber) is pretty funny.

It was quite popular, reaching a grand total of 439k viewers at its highest point, with additional viewers watching on the streams of the personalities who joined her, including big names like Pokimane, Hasanabi and Hbomberguy. This made it one of the most-watched streams the platform has ever seen, which suggests AOC’s programme of outreach worked.

It’s a great thing to see politicians engaging with people on their own level, rather than being completely out of touch with the ordinary person. It’s a stark contrast to recent hearings in the US involving Facebook and Google, which devolved into Mark Zuckerberg explaining basic tech concepts to the senators supposedly overseeing their activities.

Also, side note, the US military recruitment stream that ran simultaneously with AOC’s broadcast got roughly 47 viewers. Not thousand, just 47. And most of those viewers were spamming “WORLD OF WARCRIMES” in the chat, so clearly the recruitment drive is going well.

Stadia Developer Has Bad Take

Alex Hutchinson, previously listed as “Creative Director @ Stadia” on Twitter, has given Stadia the most attention it’s had in months, and that’s not a good thing. For Stadia, at least. For everyone else it’s been very funny.

Hutchinson, who is actually a creative developer at a development studio acquired by Google to develop for Stadia, stated that he believes streamers should be paying for a license to stream games. This has led to the entire internet dogpiling him for what is a tired old argument that’s been answered already.

While he is not entirely wrong about the idea of the streaming industry existing because of goodwill from publishers, the fact is that many of these publishers have provided explicit permission to stream their games. That is, in effect, a license. EA, Ubisoft, Square Enix Europe and others have all provided policies online that offer blanket permissions. Indie publisher Devolver Digital even made an entire website dedicated to the question.

And while it is true that all these blanket permissions could be revoked at any time, the same is true of paid licenses too. They expire, and cause headaches for archival. We only need to look at Scott Pilgrim’s seven-year absence from digital storefronts, Alan Wake’s perpetual limbo due to music licensing where it’s somehow allowed to be on Game Pass but not on Steam, and the missing songs from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 to see just how brilliant licenses are. The truth is, too many publishers see a mutually beneficial relationship with streamers for that to change any time soon, and as long as they’re still sending out codes to streamers, it’ll still be fine to stream games. And if one of the big AAA publishers decided to get money hungry and demand licensing, I can guarantee some of the scrappy indie upstarts (oh hi again Devolver) will step in to fill the void.

Should be noted that Hutchinson has a track record for saying really stupid things. He has previously claimed that liking Japanese games is racist (?) and was one of the Ubisoft staff who claimed women were too hard to implement into games. He also got into further hot water when popular streamer Jacksepticeye pointed out that Hutchinson’s Twitter banner was fanart of him from when he streamed Journey to the Savage Planet, that he’d also cropped out the artist name from. Which is not a great look.

Google have distanced themselves from his comments, including a specific comment from the head of YouTube Gaming about the “wonderful symbiotic relationship” between publishers and content creators.

This is such a tired argument at this point. The industry sees a benefit to streamers, both from a marketing and an optics angle, and this is unlikely to change any time soon. I mean, Among Us, mentioned in the previous section, went from 600 cocurrent players to 400,000 off the back of streamers, so I doubt they’re complaining. If Nintendo could back down from their years-long entrenchment that it was bad, anyone can. And in future, perhaps people working for Stadia should think twice about giving business advice.

Loot Boxes Are Back in Court (This Time in Canada!)

EA are facing legal issues in Canada for their use of lootboxes and other gambling mechanics in their games.

The class action lawsuit, brought forward by two individuals represented by a legitimate law firm, argues that EA are violating various Canadian laws around gambling and consumer protection. A big part of the lawsuit revolves around EA operating an unlicensed gambling business through its use of lootboxes, and by not publishing odds and tying certain rewards to gameplay they’re violating consumer rights statutes.

Being a class action lawsuit, this is done on behalf of everyone in Canada who may have ever bought a lootbox in an EA game since 2008. The plaintiffs are seeking damages based on the money EA have made in the last twelve years through gambling mechanics, and could potentially see EA paying out a lot of money. It could also put pressure on the Canadian government to regulate lootboxes to a greater degree.

It’ll be interesting to see how this case goes, as the result would have huge implications for the AAA companies across the board who use these mechanics.

Nintendo Removes Steve’s Meat

In possibly the funniest story of the week, Smash Bros got a fresh update only a week after the release of Minecraft’s Steve as a playable character. That’s not the funny part, it’s what the update did.

Much of the update fixes bugs that were introduced with the Minecraft content, which largely stem from Masahiro Sakurai importing the entire gameplay system of Minecraft into a party fighting game, but one particular change, not mentioned in the patch notes, has been picked up by more observant players.

One of Steve’s victory animations shows him eating a steak in the same manner he would in an actual Minecraft game, before putting it down when he’s finished. The problem is, due to his limited modelling and animation, when he held the meat down, the camera angle placed it in an…unfortunate position. Nintendo noticed, and now the meat gets put away when Steve puts his arm down.

Clearly, Smash Bros being for all the good boys and girls means suggestive meat has to be removed.

And now, Mat is back again with more esports news! Good to have you back, Mat!

Introducing Adaplay

Thanks Leigh!

I’ve got three big stories this week in the wonderful world of esports from new technology, big money and something exciting for schools.

Yep, a new London-based tournament organiser is helping schools around the country take part in esports competitions. Named Adaplay, schools interested pay £5.99 per student to take part in online tournaments, currently consisting of Fortnite and Rocket League. Each tournament has a £500 prize pool.

On its website, Adaplay states its purpose is to create an inclusive, safe and secure environment in which young people can play competitively.

According to their Twitter, they have been overwhelmed with requests from teachers and students wanting to sign up. This is great news as it’s showing there really is an appetite for esports with young people. Similarly, targeting a young audience helps eliminate intrinsic inequalities concurrent within the industry like race, gender and sexuality (similar to what is happening with STEM education in schools). They’re not the only ones to do this. Other providers that allow students to take part in esports tournaments in the UK include Ukie (Digital Schoolhouse) and the British Esports Association (British Esports Championships).

Overall, it’s an interesting one to watch. I would have imagined this would have been a harder sell to teachers and schools, who are largely underfunded anyway, to be able to enter students. Saying that though, generations of gamers are now teachers, many of whom play these types of games so maybe not!

Any secondary schools can sign up via the Adaplay website here.

Esports Contribute to UK GDP

A new report suggests that UK esports contributed some £111.5m to UK GDP in 2019. Called ‘The Value of Esports in the UK’ and commissioned by UK games industry body Ukie, the report assesses the economic impact of UK esports and provides an overview of the sector and its impact on regional economies.

It also states that the UK esports sector has grown at an annual average rate of 8.5% between 2016 and 2019; and that a major global esports event could generate 238 full-time equivalents of employment and £12m GVA for the UK economy.

That’s a lot of stats and figures, but the bottom line is the report shows growth of impact of esports on the UK. If all the findings are to be believed, then it reflects the shifting culture of organisations and audiences adopting esports or incorporating it into the mainstream. It’s an interesting read for anyone interested.

An Esports Watch?

Garmin has revealed a new esports smart watch which allows gamers to track and livestream their biometric data. Named the ‘Instinct Esports Edition’, it combines Garmin’s health and fitness tracking technology with custom features designed for gamers. Equipped with a built in esports activity function, the smartwatch can track and analyse heat rate and stress levels during matches, as well as spotting long-term trends. In esports mode, the watch displays heart rate, stress levels, time of day, and a game timer.

The purpose of tracking this data would be for players to understand more about their body while in competitive matches and adjust diet, exercise and sleep patterns to maximise cognitive and mental performance.

Users can also livestream their biometric data to audiences using Garmin’s “STR3AMUP” PC streaming tool.

This one is a little bit interesting to me. Having all the features of a standard Garmin smart sports watch, the addition of dedicated esports functions is cool. While not an esports athlete, I do play competitive games online so it would be interesting to see how much I freak out during a pretty intense fight. Whether it would appeal to pro athletes is another question we will just have to wait and see.

The weird bit for me is the streaming feature. While, again, part of me would be interested to see how some of my favourite pro players are really feeling during a critical team fight, the whole idea of streaming your biometric data feels a bit like Black Mirror – maybe that’s just me?
The Garmin Instinct Esports Edition is available for £269.99 on the Garmin website here.

That’s it from me – over to you Leigh!

New Releases

Lots of small indie releases this week. This includes stealth strategy game Beyond the Wire, set during WW2, releasing in Early Access. Fallen Angel also released this week, and is a tough-as-nails action RPG in the vein of Hyper Light Drifter set in a civil war for control of Paradise.

You wait for so long for brutal dystopian arena games and then two come along at once. Hyper Brawl Tournament is a cross between American football and a big old fight, while Disc Room is about surviving rooms full of deadly metal discs (it’s fairly self-explanatory).

Do you like medieval fantasy? We have a lot of that this week too. Tenderfoot Tactics is a tactical RPG with minimalist visuals, as you play as ragtag band of animals and monsters taking back the land. Solasta: Crown of the Magister (in Early Access) is a tale of four heroes based on the officially licensed DnD ruleset (in case Baldur’s Gate wasn’t enough for you). And finally, Dwarfheim is an RTS about battling dwarf factions, also in Early Access.

Transformers Battlegrounds is the latest licensed game in Hasbro’s disguised robots franchise, and the first since 2015’s Devastation. Unlike that game, which was basically a reskinned Bayonetta with significantly fewer curves on its main character, Battlegrounds is…a tactical RPG. Not quite what I expected from this franchise, but here we are.

And because it’s October, there are still plenty of spookenings going on. There is no escape. Amnesia: Rebirth is the direct sequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, ten full years later. From what I’ve seen, it seems like a worthy follow-up, which is great for fans, but also a great reason for me to not play it in case it induces panic attacks in me like the original did. You do good work, Frictional, perhaps a little too good if I’m honest.

Game of the Week

Game of the Week is Pumpkin Jack, a perfect game for Halloween, as this looks like the developer got sick of Sony not making a MediEvil sequel and decided to make one themselves.

And yes, that’s a single developer, as this entire game was made by one guy, and yet is full of the same energy as Sony Cambridge’s cult classic spook-em-up adventure. It’s got the Tim Burton inspired visuals and Danny Elfman style soundtrack you’d expect, plus lots of weird and wacky landscapes to navigate through, with a whole arsenal of cartoony weapons.

I mean, with Halloween a week away, how can I not give this Game of the Week?

And that’s it for this week! See you again soon with more from the world of gaming!