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    Xbox’s new “8 strikes” mod rollout judges hate speech 3x worse than cheating / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 16 August - 14:35 · 1 minute

Artist interpretation of the creatures talking about your mom on Xbox Live last night.

Artist interpretation of the creatures talking about your mom on Xbox Live last night. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock)

This week, Microsoft is rolling out a newly standardized strike-based system laying out tiered enforcement plans for violations of the existing Xbox Community Standards . The intent, Microsoft says, is to give players "clarity into how their behavior impacts their experience." But the system's time-based "eight strikes and you're out" system and the relative severity of certain sample infractions are already drawing perplexed comments from some corners.

As outlined in a Tuesday post on Xbox Wire , the new strike enforcement program will impose more stringent penalties for successive infractions, a system Microsoft says is modeled after "demerit strikes used in driver’s license systems in many countries." Successive strikes will lead to suspensions from Xbox Live for one day to a maximum of 365 days, according to the following scale:

  • 1 strike: 1-day suspension
  • 2 strikes: 1-day suspension
  • 3 strikes: 3-day suspension
  • 4 strikes: 7-day suspension
  • 5 strikes: 14-day suspension
  • 6 strikes: 21-day suspension
  • 7 strikes: 60-day suspension
  • 8 strikes: 365-day suspension

Not all potential infractions are treated equally under this rubric, though; Microsoft notes that the number of strikes per enforcement action can "range in severity based on inappropriate activity" and are "based on the severity of [the user's] actions." While Microsoft hasn't published a complete list of how many strikes are associated with each different type of infraction, a sample "User Journey" graphic in the blog post includes a list of the following "examples of strikes added for each type of action."

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    These are the last Prime Day deals on Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation games / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 12 July - 20:40 · 3 minutes

We're in the final stretch for Prime Day , and a lot of the early sales have either been sold out or discontinued. If you're a console gamer, now is the perfect time to snag a terrific deal on some popular titles, and these are available on multiple platforms, ranging from Nintendo's Switch to Sony's PlayStation 5 and Microsoft's Xbox Series X|S. Here are some of our favorite video game deals from Prime Day 2023.

Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs .

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    Developers restore “retail” Xbox emulators after Microsoft crackdown / ArsTechnica · Monday, 10 July - 16:25 · 1 minute

It's been about three months since Microsoft cracked down on a number of emulators designed for Xbox consoles and distributed via a loophole in the Xbox Store . But that crackdown hasn't stopped the Xbox emulation community, which this weekend launched a new version of those "retail mode" emulators that they're confident will be able to evade Microsoft's automatic detection and removal tools.

The newly accessible emulators come courtesy of the "UWeaPons Store," a name that references the Universal Windows Platform program that allows generic Windows apps to be distributed to Xbox consoles in the first place. Subscribing to the group's Patreon for $2 per month puts supporters on an email "whitelist" that allows access to "Le Bombe," a package that can install Dolphin (GameCube/Wii), XBSX2.0 (PlayStation 2), Xenia (Xbox 360), and RetroArch (multiple older consoles) on a standard Xbox console.

That new unified distribution package is partly designed as a way to avoid the algorithms that were automatically flagging and blocking previous attempts to distribute UWP emulators through the Xbox Store, according to emulator developer SirMangler. "We wrote a new package from scratch and stripped as many identifiable elements as possible, including all the emulators into one download," he told Ars in a Discord chat.

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    Alan Wake 2 and the death of disc-based video games / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 25 May, 2023 - 17:12 · 1 minute

Releasing <em>Alan Wake 2</em> on pre-shredded discs would probably just add insult to injury, right?

Enlarge / Releasing Alan Wake 2 on pre-shredded discs would probably just add insult to injury, right? (credit: Getty Images)

Anyone who pays attention to the game industry knows that the segment of players buying games on physical discs has been becoming less and less important as physical releases themselves become more and more niche . Still, even in recent years, you could usually count on big-budget console games from major studios to receive at least a perfunctory disc release to fill up the dwindling GameStop shelves .

So it was a bit of a surprise that yesterday's release date announcement for Alan Wake 2 came alongside news that developer Remedy Entertainment and publisher Epic Games currently have "no plans to release Alan Wake 2 on disc," as they put it in a new FAQ . When you look a little deeper, though, what might be more surprising is that there haven't been more major console publishers willing to give up on discs completely.

The rainbow of their reasons

The Alan Wake 2 FAQ does note, correctly, that "it is not uncommon to release modern games as digital-only." In fact, measured on a per-title basis, the vast majority of console games are now not available on disc at all. Still, such disc-free releases are still relatively rare when it comes to the kinds of major games that dominate the console charts.

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    The lightning onset of AI—what suddenly changed? An Ars Frontiers 2023 recap / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 24 May, 2023 - 23:31 · 1 minute

Benj Edwards (L) moderated a panel featuring Paige Bailey (C), Haiyan Zhang (R) for the Ars Frontiers 2023 session titled

Enlarge / On May 22, Benj Edwards (left) moderated a panel featuring Paige Bailey (center), Haiyan Zhang (right) for the Ars Frontiers 2023 session titled, "The Lightning Onset of AI — What Suddenly Changed?" (credit: Ars Technica)

On Monday, Ars Technica hosted our Ars Frontiers virtual conference. In our fifth panel, we covered "The Lightning Onset of AI—What Suddenly Changed?" The panel featured a conversation with Paige Bailey , lead product manager for Generative Models at Google DeepMind, and Haiyan Zhang , general manager of Gaming AI at Xbox, moderated by Ars Technica's AI reporter, Benj Edwards .

The panel originally streamed live, and you can now watch a recording of the entire event on YouTube. The "Lightning AI" part introduction begins at the 2:26:05 mark in the broadcast.

Ars Frontiers 2023 livestream recording.

With "AI" being a nebulous term, meaning different things in different contexts, we began the discussion by considering the definition of AI and what it means to the panelists. Bailey said, "I like to think of AI as helping derive patterns from data and use it to predict insights ... it's not anything more than just deriving insights from data and using it to make predictions and to make even more useful information."

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    Judge refuses gamers’ attempts to immediately halt Microsoft/Activision merger / ArsTechnica · Monday, 22 May, 2023 - 18:37 · 1 minute

A group of PlayStation owners worries that an image like this is coming in their near future...

Enlarge / A group of PlayStation owners worries that an image like this is coming in their near future...

A federal judge has refused to grant a requested preliminary injunction that would have stopped Microsoft's continuing effort to buy Activision Blizzard . But as the private case moves forward, the judge in the case writes that the plaintiffs have "plausibly" argued that they might be adversely affected by the deal's anti-competitive effects.

The so-called "gamers' lawsuit" against the Microsoft/Activision deal was initially filed by a group of 10 PlayStation Call of Duty players in December, alleging that the deal could lead to increased prices and/or decreased quality or availability for the franchise on their console of choice. While the case was dismissed in March , the plaintiffs offered an amended complaint last month , laying out more precisely the harm they believe they could suffer after a merger.

Regarding those amended claims, District Court Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley said in a Friday ruling that, while it was too early to fully rule on the merits of the case, the plaintiffs "plausibly attest to their loyalty to the Call of Duty franchise and thus that each will purchase a different console or subscription service, or pay an inflated price, if needed to continue to play Call of Duty, especially if needed to play with their friends." That's a turnaround from the initial March dismissal, where Corley wrote that the plaintiffs didn't "plausibly allege" that the merger "creates a reasonable probability of anticompetitive effects in any relevant market."

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    Microsoft crackdown disables emulators downloaded to Xbox consoles / ArsTechnica · Friday, 7 April, 2023 - 15:36

It was nice while it lasted...

Enlarge / It was nice while it lasted... (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Back in 2020, we reported that emulator developers were using a hole in the Xbox Store's app distribution system to get around Microsoft's longstanding ban on emulators running on Xbox consoles . This week, though, many of the emulators that were distributed through that workaround have stopped working, the apparent victims of a new crackdown by Microsoft.

Xbox emulator makers and users can't say they weren't warned. In the "Gaming and Xbox" section of Microsoft's official Store Policies , section 10.13.10 clearly states that "products that emulate a game system or game platform are not allowed on any device family."

Microsoft's enforcement of this clause has historically focused on removing emulators published as "private" UWP apps to the Xbox Store. Those apps could be distributed to whitelisted users via direct links accessed on the system's Edge browser, getting around the usual approval process for a public store listing.

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    Microsoft says its new developer tools can reduce Xbox’s climate impact / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 22 March, 2023 - 16:00

These tools won't literally make vines grow out of your Xbox, but that's definitely the image Microsoft wants to get across...

Enlarge / These tools won't literally make vines grow out of your Xbox, but that's definitely the image Microsoft wants to get across... (credit: Xbox )

When it comes to reducing gaming's aggregate impact on climate change, previous research has shown that the energy needed to power the game-playing hardware is responsible for the bulk of the industry's greenhouse gas emissions. That's especially true for console and PC games, which can draw hundreds of watts of power between the game hardware, display, and speakers.

To help limit the environmental impact of all this gameplay, Microsoft announced Wednesday the release of new tools for Xbox developers to measure and limit the amount of power drawn by their games.

Designing games to be more energy-efficient is not a new concept in the industry, of course. Mobile developers often must be conscious of how quickly a game will drain a limited smartphone battery. On the other end of the spectrum, pushing a PC or console GPU too far could literally melt it .

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