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Nintendo responds to Miitomo data harvesting claims

After a recent Kotaku article took issue with the number of probing, personal questions asked by Nintendo’s social app, Miitomo, Nintendo has spoken out to clarify exactly what happens to player information.  …

Gamasutra News

[Update] Vivendi Tightens Hold On Ubisoft With Additional Stock Purchase, Ubisoft Responds

Update: Ubisoft has commented on Vivendi's continued, incremental acquisition of outstanding shares. The Assassin's Creed publisher has taken a firm stance against the action, issuing a blunt statement regarding Vivendi's latest purchase and its statement on the intention behind it.

The full statement, provided to us via email by a company representative follows:

We are not at all surprised by this latest statement from Vivendi, nor by the intent behind it.

This is a confirmation of their habitual strategy of creeping control, in which they say they have no intention to take control of Ubisoft while steadily increasing their stake and preparing an offensive at the next Annual Shareholders Meeting.

This strategy of successively announcing conflicting intentions is contrary to good corporate practices and is not in the best interests of Ubisoft’s other shareholders.

Moreover, despite our repeated written requests since they first entered into our capital, Vivendi has never presented any details or convincing plan on how this supposed cooperation would take place.

Ubisoft's management remains committed to preserving the independence of the company, which is the condition for the long-term value creation that will benefit all of our shareholders.

Original Story:

Vivendi has been making moves in the video game world just three years after receiving a huge buyout/bailout package from Activision to the tune of $ 8 billion. The company has been buying up shares of Ubisoft hinting at a hostile takeover.

The latest purchase brings Vivendi’s control to 17.73 percent of capital and 15.66 percent of voting shares, according to a Reuters report. In the letter from the company to French market regulators, Vivendi says it has “no plans” to take over the Assassin’s Creed publisher, nor will it be making a public offer for outstanding shares.

Ubisoft has said that it deems Vivendi’s actions unwelcome and unsolicited. The publisher has made moves in Canada to secure additional private and public investment. 

In February, Vivendi made a move to take over Gameloft. That company is owned by the Guillemot family, which also founded Ubisoft.

[Source: Reuters via Gamasutra]


Our Take
In the video game world, we’ve learned to interpret “no plans” as “something that could happen, but we aren’t talking about right now.” It doesn’t mean Vivendi won’t make a move on Ubisoft.

The overtures are there, and Vivendi has been making moves on Guillemot family companies for months now. And it’s been doing it with a warchest built from Activision’s emergency buyout when Vivendi was in deep financial trouble. This is a strange but fascinating cycle to watch. – The Feed

Sony Responds To Accusations That PS4 Is Communication Tool For Terrorism

Last week, days before a horrific terrorist attack in Paris that shook the world, Belgium’s deputy prime minister Jan Jambon raised concerns about PlayStation Network. Specifically, Jambon (who also serves as the country’s minister of Security and Home Affairs) identified intense encryption on PSN inhibiting security services from monitoring for potential threats.

Speaking at a Politico-sponsored event on November 10, Jambon indicates that terrorists might be using gaming networks to coordinate. “I heard that the most difficult communication between these terrorists is PlayStation 4,” he said.

He goes on to indicate that Belgian security services have been attempting to penetrate the networks to monitor for terrorist activity. “It’s very, very difficult for our services, not only Belgian services but international services, to decrypt the communication that is done via PlayStation 4,” Jambon says.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that world governments have attempted to monitor gaming networks. In late 2013, information leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicated that the National Security Agency has monitored Xbox Live, World of Warcraft, and Second Life.

It’s important to note that there is no evidence that those that perpetrated last week’s attacks in France communicated via PlayStation Network or any other gaming service. Jambon’s statements, days ahead of those attacks are not directly related.

Sony has issues a statement to Eurogamer regarding the accusations. 

PlayStation 4 allows for communication amongst friends and fellow gamers and, in common with all modern connected devices, this has the potential to be abused. However, we take our responsibilities to protect our users extremely seriously and we urge our users and partners to report activities that may be offensive, suspicious or illegal. When we identify or are notified of such conduct, we are committed to taking appropriate actions in conjunction with the appropriate authorities and will continue to do so.

[Source: Eurogamer, Politico] 


Our Take
Assuming that there is a direct link between the Paris attacks and gaming networks would be a mistake. However, as more reports emerge about government interest in monitoring these communications, gamers should be aware that – as with all online interactions – nothing should be considered entirely private. – The Feed

Overkill Responds To Payday 2 Microtransaction Outcry

Developer Overkill recently implemented a form of microtransaction into Payday 2, despite previously stating it wouldn't. This upset fans, and Overkill's Almir Listo recently appeared on Reddit to answer some questions.

The microstransaction is a drill, costing $ 2.49, necessary for opening certain types of chests received at the end of matches. Initially, it did not appear that these drills would be available outside of the microtransaction purchase, but Overkill later confirmed they would periodically be available as a reward at the end of matches. For more on the microtransaction implementation, head here and here.

We reached out to Overkill and Almir Listo as part of our initial coverage, and did not receive a response. On Listo's Reddit AMA, he wrote in his introduction to fans on Reddit, "Please also note, that during Crimefest, we decided not to do any interviews with any press or media before talking to you; we feel it's important to make this point to you before we start, as you are all that matter." You can find the full AMA here, but here are some highlights:

Regarding previous comments about no microstransactions in Payday 2:

There were games that were released with in-game microtransaction systems at launch; players were asked to pay for the full game, and then continue to spend money directly after the initial purchase. At the time, PAYDAY 2 featured a relatively advanced weapon modifications system where players for in-game money could buy, sell and modify weapons, masks and modifications. When we discussed this with people, we'd receive a ton of questions regarding whether or not it was microtransactions or not in our game too. To make sure there was no confusion, we said what we did to make things absolutely clear. If you asked me then, there would be no way we would've added a system like we just did.

Regarding the coverage of the added microtransactions:

I think the problem here really is people in positions of power in media and elsewhere making uninformed, clickbait articles about things that matter a lot to a lot of people, instead of doing some serious legwork to get their facts straight.

Regarding fan reaction and Overkill's decision to stay quiet:

The reason why we didn't want to discuss this was that it wasn't fully
launched until after Crimefest. Not in our wildest dreams could we
anticipate the type of reaction that the update received during the
first few days. Day by day people calmed down and started to discuss the
changes – and here we are, discussing this now.

Regarding the main reason Overkill decided to implement new ways to generate sales from Payday 2:

Two years ago people would have us instantly start work on PAYDAY 3, right after we released PAYDAY 2, like developers usually do. Instead, we decided to continue work on PAYDAY 2, because we wanted to make it an incredible co-op experience. 88 updates later, we have to ensure the future survival of the game. We do sales when we can where we reduce the price point up to 75% in order to pay people's wages and create a buffer for a rainy day. Six months ago, we also made a bold move to permanently reduce the price point of 16 PAYDAY 2 products by 33-43% in the hopes of drawing additional sales. ( Needless to say, we didn't see the result we anticipated, and have had to think of other ways to make sure we can continue creating content in the pace we want in order to keep PAYDAY 2 fresh and exciting.

Other specific details from the AMA include why Overkill believes stat boost items are okay for a game like Payday 2, as well as response to specific questions about the game's mechanics and updates. Listo ended one of his responses (specifically the one referenced above) writing, "We understand that there is a lot of fury, anger and disappointment with us adding this. From an economical standpoint however, completely based on statistics, we can already see that the Black Market update is working as we intended. Going forward, we hope we can convince the parts of the community that resist this change that this was the right decision to do to ensure the stability of OVERKILL as an independent developer and the future growth of PAYDAY 2."

[Source: Reddit]


Our Take
Overkill and Listo makes it pretty clear that these new microtransactions will not be leaving the game, despite fan outcry. Comments above coupled with Listo writing, "Thanks to the PAYDAY community for being vocal, loyal and straight-to-the-point. We might not always agree, but we at OVERKILL respect your opinions and do what we can to meet you half-way when we disagree," point to Payday 2 moving forward in its current state for the foreseeable future. I can certainly sympathize with Overkill's need to make money from its game – it is a business after all – but its communication on the matter feels poorly handled. We'll have to wait and see if Listo's discussion here will alleviate matters, but as Listo points out, the Black Market is already working as intended, so I wouldn't expect any changes. – The Feed

[Update] The Ball Is Back In Cloud Imperium’s Court As The Escapist Responds To Demands

Update: The Escapist has publicly responded to CIG's demands of an apology, retraction, and independent investigation. In a statement published on its website, the outlet says it stands by its reporting.

The Escapist, notwithstanding Cloud Imperium Games' notice and posting, stands by its coverage of Star Citizen and intends to continue to investigate the developing story. Since publishing our original stories, we have been contacted by, and are currently interviewing, additional sources corroborating a variety of the reported allegations. Additionally, if Mr. Roberts' offer for The Escapist to "meet the developers making the game and see how we're building one of the most ambitious PC games first hand" remains open, we take the opportunity to accept such invitation so as to hopefully provide the public with sufficient information and opportunity to vet such sources' allegations and claims for themselves. We have also communicated the foregoing directly to Cloud Imperium Games. 

We've reached out to Cloud Imperium Games about this latest development. We'll update should we receive a response.

Original Story (October 4, 2015, at 2:26 p.m. Central):

Cloud Imperium Games, the studio behind the $ 90 million Star Citizen project, is threatening to litigate over an inflammatory article published by The Escapist this week. The article accuses Cloud Imperium founder and CEO Chris Roberts of embezzlement and the company of illegal hiring practices.

Shortly after the story went live on October 1 at 11 a.m. Central, Roberts published a public response refuting the claims in the story. According to a Cloud Imperium representative, the published response was first delivered to managing editor John Keefer hours before publication.

“The original request for comments came from Managing Editor John Keefer. EiC [Josh Vanderwall] and reporter were copied,” the representative told us earlier this week. “Early last night I copied them all (off the same thread) to let them know that something from Chris was on the way. I received a direct e-mail message from John after that encouraging me to get Chris’ responses back to them and thanking me for my help. I responded then directly from that email to John to let him know that the response was taking longer (Chris was in the UK and it was early in the morning there) and that the response should be in my Inbox when I woke up this morning. Chris sent his response directly to John Keefer at 8:11 AM CT this morning.” 

This morning, the company published a five page letter signed by CIG vice chairman and general counsel Ortwin Freyermuth that further rebuts allegations regarding the hiring practices and statements made by Roberts’ wife Sandi Gardiner, who serves as the company’s vice president of marketing. The attorney accuses the publication of violating “the most basic rules of and ethics in journalism,” specifically not giving Gardiner the opportunity to respond to alleged racist and agist comments. 

The letter, which was sent on Friday, October 2, appears to have been spurred by a follow-up Escapist podcast. “You have also allowed the Author and his colleagues, including the magazine’s editor-in-chief to repeat these defamatory statements today on a podcast hosted on your magazine’s website (the “Podcast”) without making any reference whatsoever at least to the responses which CIG provided to you timely before the publication of the Article,” Freyermuth writes.

This includes statements that Roberts and Gardiner are embezzling funds from CIG, including using company resources to pay the couples' residential living expenses and for extravagant vacations. Vanderwall also repeated accusations that the company had closed down the Austin studio, which CIG firmly denied on the record.

Following Roberts’ rebuttal published on the Cloud Imperium Games’ website, The Escapist provided a detailed account of how it vetted its sources. One of these was anonymous even to the publication’s staff and was allegedly confirmed via company documentation.

“After our original story on Star Citizen by Lizzy Finnegan, she was contacted by seven ex-employees and two current employees about their experiences at Cloud Imperium Games,” The Escapist writes. “She exchanged emails with all of them, but then spoke with all of them via phone and Skype. Six gave their real names, while the seventh did not use his real name, but did show pay stubs and a Cloud Imperium Games ID with the name blacked out.” In the podcast published on Friday, October 2, Finnegan says that three or four of her nine sources were anonymous to her.

Freyermuth claims that one of the entirely anonymous source’s bona fides could not have been accurate. “You might be interested to know that CIG does not issue any company ID cards at any of its studios!” he writes.

The attorney also claims throughout the letter that The Escapist piece was instigated by developer Derek Smart. Smart has been on a campaign against CIG and Star Citizen that ramped up after his pledge was refunded and forum access was revoked. Freyermuth accuses The Escapist of being duped by a collection of sources that were shopped to a number of websites, pointing to Glass Door reviews that emerged in the wake of the site’s first in-depth story about Star Citizen. 

“Whole passages of the Article, which the Author also repeated in the Podcast, were lifted from anonymous 'reviews' posted on, which the Author could not have verified since the site does not offer any messaging options,” Freyermuth writes. “Conspicuously, those 'reviews' were posted very recently, i.e. after the Author had posted a previous article about Star Citizen and the self-appointed agitator Derek Smart, and just shortly before the [October 1] Article went online.”

CIG is demanding a number of steps to be taken by The Escapist and its parent company Defy Media. 

We hereby demand that you, as the responsible person in charge,

  • Personally apologize to Ms. Gardiner and our HR Manager for the tremendous emotional distress and potential repetitional harm that you have caused to them by violating the most basic journalist duties of fair and balanced reporting.
  • Publish said apology on your magazine’s website, together with a retraction of the Article until such time as the murky backgrounds of its creation have been investigated.
  • Engage and empower an independent party to fully investigate the events and circumstances that led to the creation and publication of this Article, including any bias of your staff and their involvement with other interested parties and any conspiring arrangements between them.

Freyermuth says that the company will begin the process of legal action in both the United States and United Kingdom (which has stricter anti-defamation laws) if demands are not met by end of business on Monday, October 5. We have reached out to The Escapist for comment on this development. As of publication, the company has not provided a statement. We’ll update should we receive one.

Update (October 4, 2015 at 9:39 p.m. Central): The Escapist has informed us that it does not have a comment to make at this time.

[Source: Cloud Imperium Games]


Our Take
Earlier this week, I didn’t expect that CIG would go to the lengths of threatening legal action over this article. Now that it has published the letter, the wheels are in motion. If The Escapist does not comply, CIG needs to push forward with litigation or face a serious blow to its credibility. – The Feed

Rockstar Responds To BBC’s Grand Theft Auto Dramatization With A Pair Of Tweets

The BBC dramatization of the history of Rockstar Games and Grand Theft Auto with Daniel Radcliffe and Bill Paxton aired tonight, and Rockstar offered up a pair of sarcastic tweets in response.

The documentary stars Radcliffe and Paxton as Rockstar co-founder Sam Houser and outspoken anti-video game attorney Jack Thompson, respectively. Rockstar has been mostly quiet about the film, though it did sue BBC back in May over misuse of the Grand Theft Auto trademark. The suit did not seek to shut down production or otherwise prevent the film from being made.

In its tweets, Rockstar jokingly compares the film to BBC children's shows of the past. Basil Brush is a fox puppet that appeared on children's programming in the early '60s and Rentaghost is a BBC show from the late '70s about a firm that rented out ghosts for various tasks.

For more details on the TV movie, head here. You can also check out a trailer below. It's unclear if the film will see official release in North America.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

[Source: @RockstarGames] – The Feed

APA Responds To Aggression Study Criticisms From More Than 200 Psychology Academics


Last week, the American Psychological Association published a report affirming that video games are linked to aggression. Following that, we also reported that in 2013, more than 200 psychology academics wrote an open letter to the APA expressing concern about the aggression task force, its methodology, and its make-up.

The study, which was a meta-analysis of other works conducted on aggression as a result of gaming, reaffirmed that a link exists between the two. The study does say that there is no apparent link to violent action, however.

Following our report on the APA's task force study on aggression, I was approached by one of more than 230 psychologists that raised concerns with the task force's methodology. Stetson University psychology professor Chris Ferguson told me that he felt the process wasn't transparent and that the APA was purposely favoring studies that supported a 2005 policy statement that definitively linked video gaming with aggression.

After I spoke with Ferguson, I reached out to the APA to give the group an opportunity to respond to the concerns he and his peers raised. The open letter pointed out concerns with the meta-analysis approach used in the APA study.

“We are skeptical of a 'the average effect size wins' approach to meta-analysis, which could be used to smooth over inconsistencies and failed replications,” the letter says. I asked the APA about its process and the concerns raised by members of the psychology community.

“We found no evidence of a growing trend,” says Mark Appelbaum, PhD, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego and chair of the APA task force that produced the report. “Our analysis, covering the period from 2009 to 2013, produced an effect size that was very similar to the ones obtained in previous meta-analyses of earlier research. The purpose of a meta-analysis is to look at patterns cross a body of research. This reduces the chance of focusing on one or two studies that do not represent the findings as a whole. The link between gaming and aggression has actually been remarkably consistent over time. We stand by the task force report.”

“The reason they didn't find a trend is simply because they decided to exclude most null studies from their analyses,” Ferguson told me. “There absolutely is a growing trend toward more null studies. The APA simply excluded the studies that would show the trend. This is a serious bias issue with their analysis.” 

I also asked the APA about the open letter and its communication with the group of 238 scholars. Specifically, I inquired as to whether any of them had been solicited for participation. 

“The task force had already been formed and had completed the work of identifying the literature to be reviewed and were in the process of that review before it received the letter in question,” Appelbaum told me. My second question about whether any of those individuals had been approached to participate in the first place went unanswered.

When I approached Ferguson to address the timing, he expressed his beliefs that the APA wasn’t interested in a comprehensive or objective study. “They had two years to incorporate [the open letter] or even talk to us, but they chose to do nothing,” he says. “I think had they been serious about an objective review they should have reached out to such a large group of scholars. That they didn't fits a larger pattern of the APA excluding other scholars from conclusions made that appear to benefit them. This was evidenced in the Hoffman report on their involvement in torture and the same pattern is evident here.”

Should there be any further developments in this story, we’ll update.


Our Take
While the APA’s responses help put clearer definition around its methodology, Ferguson and his peers have questioned the very foundation of the study. Ferguson claims exclusion of certain segments of the psychology community (many of whom are members of the APA). I’m not trained in psychology, and I can’t speak to the merits of either side. What I can suggest is that when reviewing evidence of this nature, it’s important to remember that academic communities are not monolithic. – The Feed

Microsoft Responds To Xbox One ‘Kill Switch’ Reports Related To NDA Violations

Earlier today, we reported that footage had emerged of the rumored Gears of War Ultimate Edition. Throughout the day, more information became available, including a report from the contracted testing company that punitive action had been taken.

Kotaku published a memo reportedly sent from testing company VMC to employees. One item of note is that VMC claims that certain consoles belonging to those found in violation of an NDA were entirely disabled. The company suggests this is part of the Xbox Live End User License Agreement (EULA).

When reached for comment, Microsoft declined to share whether a mechanism that can completely suspend all usability exists. The company provided us with a statement on the situation, however.

“To be clear, if a console is suspended from Xbox Live for a violation of the Terms of Use, it can still be used offline,” a representative told us. “Microsoft enforcement action does not result in a console becoming unusable. Suspensions for both consoles and accounts are determined by looking at a number of factors.  To avoid enforcement action including suspension from the service, users should follow the Xbox Live Terms of Use and Code of Conduct.”

What this statement doesn’t address is whether there were additional strictures in place due to the NDA likely agreed upon by VMC and its employees. It also doesn’t directly address whether Microsoft has the ability to disable other functions, like disc playback and offline gaming. We’ve followed up with Microsoft in hopes of receiving some clarity.


Our Take
While it seems the average user is safe from anything worse than an account or console ban (consequences that have existed for years), I am still curious if VMC misspoke or if a “kill switch” exists. Microsoft may very well be incorporating all punitive action in its statement above, though. 

NDA violations are serious, and have the potential (especially with regard to an E3 announcement) to cost significant money. Penalties are severe, and Microsoft may have such a means (and cause) to ensure that its proprietary, unreleased content can’t be extracted from an Xbox One console. I’m not afraid of a potential kill switch being used improperly under normal use, but if one does exist, it is fair to question how it works and if it can be exploited. – The Feed

[Update] Google Play Takes Threes! Off Store Because 2048 Was A Search Word, Creator Responds

Update: Threes! creator Asher Vollmer has offered a statement regarding Google's move to remove his game from its store, and is understandably frustrated.

In response to our inquiry, Vollmer wrote the following in an e-mail:

The decision to pull our app was clearly made by a robot and not by a human. I want Google Play to AT LEAST issue warnings before they take these kinds of actions. Hundreds of people will be directed to our clones for the next few days instead of THE ACTUAL GAME. This was a completely tone deaf move.

We reached out to Google for a comment on the error, and will update this story if we receive a response.

Original story:

Threes! has been one of the more addictive puzzle games for mobile devices in the last year or so, but if you didn't get a chance to download it to an Android device before, you won't be able to now. Google has removed the game from its store.

In a recent tweet, Threes! creator Asher Vollmer remarked about how Google pulled the game from its mobile store because it contains the word 2048 in the search keywords. Ironically, 2048 is a clone of Threes! that overshot the original's popularity, and it seems like Vollmer was just trying to capitalize on that success to bring recognition to his own title.

Nintendo Responds To Amiibogeddon With Encouraging Statement On Re-Releases

If you were involved in (or watching) the rush for the next wave of Amiibo figures, you probably saw pieces of the Internet crumble (along with the emotional wellbeing of some collectors). Retailer websites went down and others simply broke as people attempted to add figures to their shopping carts. Nintendo watched in silence, but now the company offers hope.

We just received an updated statement on the situation.

We appreciate the enthusiasm that our fans continue to show toward amiibo. Sales for the product have exceeded our expectations. We understand how frustrating it can be at times if consumers are unable to find certain figures, and we apologize for that.

We’re trying to meet the demands of our fans and consumers by increasing the amount of amiibo we manufacture and ship to retail. We may continue to see consumer demand outpace supply levels for certain characters at times, but we will do our best to prevent that from happening.

As our library of amiibo continues to grow, some figures will be easier to find than others. We are constantly looking for the opportunity to reissue amiibo and are already making plans to bring back some currently out-of-stock amiibo figures. Stay tuned for details.

Nintendo plans to make it easier for consumers to know when new amiibo are on the way, through Nintendo press announcements, timely updates on our social media channels and working closely with retailers.

We remain committed to keeping amiibo affordable and easy to access as a platform to enhance game-play experiences. These plans include Animal Crossing amiibo cards that will become available by the end of 2015, and a free-to-download app for Wii U called amiibo tap: Nintendo’s Greatest Bits that launched on April 30, 2015, that lets consumers enjoy playable scenes from certain NES and Super NES games with amiibo.

This is the most definitive hope we’ve received for re-issuing of hard to find figures. It’s also the first time that Nintendo has addressed the scalping situation, which is driving up prices on the grey market.


Our Take
Increased supply and communication will hopefully help bridge the gap between collectors and the latest figures. Especially since some of the compatible titles rely on characters that are impossible to find anywhere, this is a necessary step. 

I’m also pleased to hear that Nintendo is very focused on reissuing figures and not cards for already released characters. That plan wouldn’t have had the same hook for collectors, even if it would have solved the content problem. – The Feed