Pokémon GO is getting a big new ‘Special Research’ quest next week

Just a few months back, Niantic added its first “Special Research” to Pokémon GO. Sort of like an in-game quest, the research had players complete a series of tasks (often over a number of days) to unlock an otherwise unobtainable Pokémon.

Now they’re back with another one.

The company will be adding a second Special Research quest to the game on August 20th. Whereas the last set unlocked Mew from the first generation of Pokémon games, this one brings out Gen II’s Celebi.

This technically isn’t the first time Celebi has appeared in GO — attendees of GO Fest back in July got an early crack at a Special Research quest specifically tailored to the event, with the final reward being the opportunity to catch Celebi a solid month before anyone else.

Though a bummer to anyone who couldn’t make it to Chicago, it was a fitting way to debut Celebi. Celebi has almost always been an “event” Pokemon in the original series, meaning you had to do something special to encounter one. Depending on the game, sometimes that meant going to a physical, real-world event; sometimes it just meant having the right pre-order disc.

Those who already did the GO Fest research will also be able to do this public run of the Special Research, earning a bit more candy for the Celebi they’ve already caught.

And if you haven’t finished the first (Mew) Special Research yet? That’s okay — they can run in parallel.

These Special Research quests are a clever way for Niantic to keep things interesting. It turns the process of catching one particularly worthwhile Pokémon from something that might take 10 seconds into something that might spread into hours or days (depending on how intense you get about it). I just wish there were more of them, even if they were only for big lumps of XP. Though it’s smart for Niantic to keep them rare and special, these multi-stage tasks are a bit more rewarding than the one-off quick tasks you get anytime you spin a Pokéstop.

Black Ops 4 Battle Royale beta to go live on September 10

As summer comes to a close and the leaves begin to brown, the gaming world goes through its own sort of transition. A handful of new titles prep for launch, including Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. But unlike previous CoD titles, Black Ops 4 represents a counter-attack on the world’s biggest game, Fortnite Battle Royale.

For the first time, Call of Duty is ditching a campaign and opting to introduce a new Battle Royale mode to the first-person shooter.

It’s a risky approach, which could potentially put off long-time CoD players and likewise disappoint the Fortnite crowd who have already invested time and money in an already-dominant Battle Royale game.

Time shall surely tell, but luckily we’ll get a sneak peek at the new Black Ops 4 Battle Royale, called Blackout, in September.

Activision and Treyarch confirmed that Blackout will be available via a limited beta on September 10 for the PS4. The companies did not confirm if or when the Blackout beta will be playable on other platforms.

Thus far, we know very little about how Blackout will work. Here’s what we do know: The game can be played in solos, duos, or quads. Treyarch built its biggest CoD map ever, which is 1,500x bigger than Nuketown. There will also be vehicles within the Black Out mode.

To participate in the beta, users need to pre-order Black Ops 4.

HQ Trivia downloads spiral downward as it hits Apple TV

HQ Trivia’s app store ranking has continued to sink the past three months, but it’s hoping a new version on your television could revitalize growth. HQ today launched an Apple TV app that lets users play the twice-daily live quiz game alongside iOS Android players. “Everything about the game is still the same – same questions, same time, same rules,” says a spokesperson, except you’ll play with the Apple TV remote instead of your phone’s screen. But that might not be enough to get HQ’s player count rapidly growing again.

According to App Annie’s app store ranking history, on iOS HQ has fallen from the No. 1 U.S. trivia game to No. 10, from the No. 44 game to No. 196, and from the No. 151 overall app to No. 585. It’s exhibited a similar decline on Android. Analytics firm Sensor Tower estimates HQ has seen 12.5 million lifetime installs by unique users, with about 68 percent on iOS. “Installs have been on the decline. For last month, we estimate them with about 560K, which is down from their height of more than two million per month back in February,” Sensor Tower’s head of mobile insights Randy Nelson tells TechCrunch.

 

The question is whether this is just a summer lull as people spend time outside and students aren’t locked in the schedule of school, or if HQ is in a downward spiral beyond seasonal fluctuations. But if we zoom out, you can see that HQ has been dropping down the charts through the school year since peaking in January. At one point it climbed as high as the No. 3 game and No. 6 overall app. The app’s record high of concurrent players has also declined from a peak of 2.38 million in late March.

[Update: The CEO of HQ Trivia parent company Intermedia Labs and the former co-founder of Vine, Rus Yusupov, weighed in on the decline in downloads and HQ’s plans. He says, “Games are a hits business and don’t grow exponentially forever,” signalling the drop-off was expected and the team is still optimistic. But he also notes that HQ is “developing new game formats, one of which we think is really special and complements Trivia nicely”, indicating that HQ will branch out beyond its 12-question everyone vs everyone approach.]

Meanwhile, new clones keep popping up. After the initial wave of Chinese live trivia apps, now U.S. television studios are getting into the mix. This week Fox unveiled FN Genius, which looks and works almost exactly the same as HQ. One of HQ’s long-time rivals, Trivia Crack, where users play asynchronously over the course of days, also declined earlier this year, but has bucked HQ’s trend and started rising on the App Store charts again. There are also new 1-on-1 trivia games like ProveIt that let players bet real money on whether they can outsmart their opponent.

Fox’s FN Genius. Image via Deadline

With themed games, celebrity hosts, big jackpots like a recent $400,000 prize and new features like the ability to see friends’ answers, HQ has tried to keep its app novel. But it’s also encountered cheaters and people playing with multiple phones that make normal players feel like they’ll never win. While the live aspect adds urgency, it also can feel interruptive with time as users aren’t always available for its noon and 6pm Pacific games. HQ may need to launch a second game app, come up with some new viral hooks or find ways to revive lapsed players if it’s going to make good on the $15 million its parent company raised in March.

 

Gaming star Ninja sparks outrage by refusing to stream with women

At a Samsung event last week, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins explained why he doesn’t stream with female gamers.

“If I have one conversation with one female streamer where we’re playing with one another, and even if there’s a hint of flirting, that is going to be taken and going to be put on every single video and be clickbait forever,” said Ninja, who is married, in an interview with Polygon.

As you might expect, this stance was met with plenty of backlash.

Ninja then doubled down on his stance, clarifying that it comes down to an issue of online harassment.

First and foremost, everyone has the prerogative to make decisions for their own personal life. If Ninja believes that the online harassment suffered (by just about any internet celebrity) is too much for him and his family to deal with, and that playing with women will exacerbate that harassment, then that is his choice.

The problem is that it goes against his usual stance of taking responsibility for his position as a role model.

As Kotaku aptly points out, Ninja has made real moves toward being a role model for his 10 million+ Twitch followers, from cutting down on cursing on stream to giving to charity and other important causes. In fact, Ninja sees his commitment to charities and his role as an activist as one of the most amazing things he’s done in his life.

And he’s well aware of his influence. He often “raids” less popular Twitch streamers’ channels, including some women, to give them exposure.

So why be a role model who doesn’t include women?

Yes, being a celebrity comes with an inordinate amount of online harassment. And that sucks. But it also comes with a level of responsibility. Not everyone has the platform to make an actual difference in this world. And when our Vice President, and other influencers, have decided that being alone in the same room (virtual or otherwise) with women opens them up to too much vulnerability, they make it that much harder for women to achieve the same influence.

Remember, gaming is about as extreme a culture as a woman can find herself in. Not only are women excluded in this male-dominated community, but they’re often sexually and verbally harassed, which isn’t helped much by the fact that games themselves portray women as props moreso than protagonists.

Ninja is the most influential gamer of our generation, the likes of which have never been seen before. The success of female streamers and gamers surely isn’t reliant on him. But he could very well change the hearts and minds of a generation of young men who may stop thinking of women as less, and might start thinking of them as equals.

Zendesk introduces support bot for Discord gaming community

The Discord gaming community boasts 150 million members and 46 million active monthly users, who spend their days chatting about games, finding people to play with and looking for advice on how to resolve issues. Up until now, game publishers have had to monitor public discussions looking for people who need help or relied on expert users to assist them, but that’s about to change with Zendesk’s new Discord support bot.

Zendesk VP of product and platform, Luke Behnke, says they count a fair number of gaming companies as customers, and they have been looking for a way to have more direct communication with Discord users right where they play. With the Zendesk-Discord integration, users can request help by typing /support, and then the nature of the problem. This activates the Zendesk bot and triggers the creation of a help ticket, paving the way for a customer service rep to work directly with a person having an issue.

Calling the Zendesk bot in Discord. Screenshot: Zendesk

Prior to this, the only way that the game publishers could use Zendesk to generate help tickets was through the traditional sources like email, texts or phone calls, which required their users to leave the flow of the game. This integration allows the publishers to let the customers come to them for help without leaving the community.

Behnke says his company has been talking to Discord, whose members generate more than 530 million messages a day, about creating an integration that would work for their users. “We worked with Discord on this and they have been testing it internally and giving us feedback,” he said.

Conversation with game publisher CSR using Zendesk-Discord bot. Screenshot: Zendesk

Of course, it requires people know that you type /support to activate it, but Behnke believes that if the integration works well, word will get around that this is a useful way to get support directly from the publisher without leaving Discord. He says his company sees this as a unique approach to customer service, one that the gaming publishers, who tend to be innovative, are particularly open to.

Future updates could include the ability to push messages to the community such as information on an outage, or for the bot to answer common questions without accessing a human CSR. For now, this integration is in early release. The company is still working out the kinks with publishers, but they hope to get it into full production by the end of the year.

Here’s where to sign up to get Fortnite for Android

Fortnite’s journey to Android has been a complicated one. A few months back, Epic Games promised to bring the wildly popular survival sandbox title to the mobile OS, but only after sidestepping the traditional process for doing so. Fittingly, while it now appears to be live for Android, the process of actually getting the game is, well, complicated.

If you want to get started, you’ll need to sign up for a beta of the game. That’s right, while the title has been up and running on any number of other platforms (including its three-day head start on Samsung devices), it’s still in beta on Android. Give Epic your email address, and they’ll send you an invite…”as soon as you can play.”

How soon is that? Well, there appears to be a waiting list at the moment. How long all of this will take is anyone’s guess, though the company says it can take “a few days” for all of it to go through. Since the whole thing is bypassing the Google Play store (much to Google’s chagrin), you’ll need to install the Fortnite Installer APK to install Fortnite the game.

I went through a similar process to get the game on the Note 9. It’s weird and kind of annoying, but when it’s done, it’s done.

Oh, and you’ll want to make sure your phone is compatible. Epic’s got the full list here, which seems to include a pretty broad range, including Pixel devices and handsets from Huawei, LG, Nokia, OnePlus, Xiaomi, ZTE and Razer.

Twitch is closing its Communities

Say goodbye to Twitch’s Communities. The game-streaming service says it’s soon killing off this still relatively new addition to its site in favor of implementing a tagging system instead. With the changes, users will be able to filter streams by tags within a directory or across different games on the Browse page, in order to better find the sort of streams they want to watch.

The closure of Communities and addition of tags is being planned for mid-September, says Twitch.

Twitch launched Communities just last year, with the goal of better catering to users’ unique interests. For example, different types of gaming, like retro, or different activities, like speedrunning, could then have their own community. There are also communities centered around titles like Fortnite Battle Royale, PUBG, League of Legends and others, as well as those focused on creative endeavors like music, drawing, cooking, cosplay and more.

But the system has become less helpful as Twitch itself, the number of streamers and the number of communities grew. Today, there’s a lot of overlap between different Communities or between Communities and games, says Twitch.

This is attributable, in part, to the open nature of Communities — there are many with similar names, and no good way to tell what makes them different from one another at first glance.

“Communities were one solution for giving viewers information to help them decide what to watch, but viewers weren’t able to see that information while browsing within a directory they were interested in,” the company noted in an announcement.

It also found that Communities weren’t driving viewers to watch streams — in fact less than 3 percent of Twitch viewership was from users who found streams through the Communities feature. That points to a pretty broad failure of Communities serving as a discovery feature.

Twitch now hopes that the implementation of tags will make things better on that front.

The company says it will add tags to the site in mid-September, and these will be used to identify a stream across Twitch’s directory pages, the homepage, search, channel pages and everywhere else. The main Directory pages and the Browse page will also be able to be filtered by these tags, some of which will be auto-generated.

Twitch says it will automatically add tags like game genres, and some in-game features it can auto-detect — another project it now has in the works. But most of the tags will be selected by the streamer — not user-generated, to be clear, but selected.

Streamers will be able to suggest new tags, however.

The tags will appear alongside the video thumbnail, stream title and the game or category being streamed.

The change is one that speaks to the limitations of portal-like interfaces being used to access a large amount of information — that is, browsing to a particular section to find things you like, then scrolling through those results takes too much time. It isn’t that helpful in the long run. Tagging lets users filter information, paring down, in this case, a large number of Twitch streams to find just those you like.

That being said, not all Twitch users are happy about the changes. But some are happy about it and others are cautiously optimistic about tagging.

Twitch says tagging will first launch on the web, and the company will then listen to feedback about missing tags before launching the feature on mobile.

The mid-September launch date could change, but is the target for now.

Google will lose $50 million or more in 2018 from Fortnite bypassing the Play Store

When Fortnite Battle Royale launched on Android, it made an unusual choice: it bypassed Google Play in favor of offering the game directly from Epic Games’ own website. Most apps and games don’t have the luxury of making this choice – the built-in distribution Google Play offers is critical to their business. But Epic Games believes its game is popular enough and has a strong enough draw to bring players to its website for the Android download instead. In the process, it’s costing Google around $50 million this year in platform fees, according to a new report.

As of its Android launch date, Fortnite had grossed over $180 million on iOS devices, where it had been exclusively available since launching as an invite-only beta on March 15th, before later expanding to all App Store customers.

According to data from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, the game has earned Apple more than $54 million thanks to its 30 percent cut of all the in-app spending that takes place on apps distributed in its store.

That’s money Epic Games isn’t apparently willing to give up to Google, when there’s another way.

Unlike Apple, which only allows apps to be downloaded from its own storefront, Google’s platform is more open. There’s a way to adjust an Android device’s settings to download apps and games from anywhere on the web. Of course, by doing so, users are exposed to more security risks, malware infections, and other malicious attacks.

For those reasons, security researchers are saying that Epic Games’ decision sets a dangerous precedent by encouraging people to remove the default security protections from their devices. They’re also concerned that users who look for the game on Google Play could be fooled into downloading suspicious copycat apps that may be trying to take advantage of Fortnite’s absence to scam mobile users.

Google seems to be worried about that, too.

For the first time ever, the company is informing Google Play users that a game is not available for download.

Now, when users search for things like “Fortnite” or “Fortnite Battle Royale,” Google Play will respond that the app is “not available on Google Play.” (One has to wonder if Google’s misspelling of “Royale” as “Royal” in its message was a little eff u to the gamemakers, or just a bit of incompetence.)

In any event, it’s an unusual response on Google’s part – and one it can believably claim was done to serve users as well as protect them from any potential scam apps.

However, the message could lead to some pressure on Epic Games, too. It could encourage consumer complaints from those who want to more easily (or more safely) download the game, as well as from those who don’t understand there’s an alternative method or are confused about how that method works.

In addition, Google is serving up the also hugely popular PUBG Mobile at the top of Fortnite search results followed by other games. In doing so, it’s sending users to another game that can easily eat up users’ time and attention.

For Google, the move by Epic Games is likely troubling, as it could prompt other large games to do the same. While one odd move by Epic Games won’t be a make or break situation for Google Play revenue (which always lags iOS), if it became the norm, Google’s losses could climb.

At present, Google is missing out on millions that will now go directly to the game publisher itself.

Over the rest of 2018, Sensor Tower believes Fortnite will have gained at least $50 million in revenues that would otherwise have been paid out to Google.

The firm expects that when Fortnite rolls out to all supported Android devices, its launch revenue on the platform will closely resemble the first several months of Apple App Store player spending.

It may even surpass it, given the game’s popularity continues growing and the standalone download allows it to reach players in countries where Google Play isn’t available.

Meanwhile, there have been concerns that the download makes it more difficult on users with older Android devices to access the game, because the process for sideloading apps isn’t as straightforward. But Sensor Tower says this will not have a large enough impact to affect Fortnite’s revenue potential in the long run.

Google isn’t sure how to spell ‘Fortnite Battle Royale’

The launch of Fortnite Battle Royale has left Google in a slight predicament. While Google is in no way hard up for cash, Fortnite Battle Royale for Android certainly represented the potential for a relatively big revenue stream for an app. That is, until Epic Games decided it would launch Fortnite for Android from its own website, circumventing the Play Store.

But revenue aside, there’s also the matter of Google probably not liking the idea of huge titles circumventing the Play Store as a precedent. Plus, the lack of Fortnite Battle Royale within the Play Store poses a slight security risk to users, as there are quite a few V-bucks scams and malicious clones looking to capitalize on the popularity of Fortnite.

That’s why the Google Play store now displays a message to users in response to searches for “Fortnite,” “Fortnite Battle Royale” and other similar search queries.

“Fortnite Battle Royal by Epic Games, Inc is not available on Google Play,” reads the message.

That’s right. Google misspelled the “Royale” in Battle Royale. It was likely an honest mistake, but given the fact that Epic Games is making upwards of $300 million in revenue a month, which Google is not getting a cut of, it makes for some fun back-and-forth for us spectators.

Google lists PUBG Mobile, Fortnite’s biggest competitor, at the top of all Fortnite Battle Royale queries, but doesn’t include anything in its message around how to actually find the real Fortnite Battle Royale for Android .

While Google Play’s app review process should catch the vast majority of malicious clones, the message is at least moderately helpful for folks hearing about the Android version of Battle Royale without knowing the details around Epic’s launcher.

For what it’s worth, Fortnite for Android isn’t yet available to everyone. The game launched yesterday as a Samsung exclusive for folks with a Galaxy S 7 or higher, and will become available to all Android phone owners on August 12.

[via 9to5Google]

Red Dead Redemption 2 sees Rockstar raising the bar for realism in open-world games

Open worlds have been a staple of gaming for a long time, but recent titles like Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn have significantly pushed the boundaries of what players expect from their environments. Rockstar, of Grand Theft Auto fame, is looking to make them all look like toys with Red Dead Redemption 2 and its wild west frontier that looks to be not just huge, but refreshingly real.

Rockstar is certainly best known for the immensely popular GTA series; but it’s arguable its most beloved game is actually 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, which, though a sequel, so spectacularly transplanted the run-and-gun outlaw freedom of GTA to the American West that gamers have been clamoring for a sequel for years.

RDR2 was teased back in late 2016, but only recently have we seen hints of what it will actually look like. And today brings the first of a series of videos from the developer detailing the world, character and gameplay systems.

The natural beauty of the frontier is, of course, simply amazing to see rendered in such fidelity, and Rockstar’s artists are to be commended. And it is realism that seems to be defining the project as a whole — which makes it a departure from other games whose creators bruit a living, breathing open world to explore.

Take Far Cry 5, which came out last year to mixed reviews: The natural landscape of fictional Hope County in Montana was roundly agreed to be breathtaking, but the gameplay and story were criticized as artificially and (strange juxtaposition) monotonously intense. It’s clear that Far Cry 5, like other Ubisoft games, was a sandbox in which interesting but unrealistic situations were bred by the developers — a helicopter crashing on the person you’re rescuing from bandits, and then a cougar mauling the pilot.

Horizon: Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild were both praised for the depth and extent of their worlds and gameplay, but they both had the significant advantage of being fantasies. A mechanical dinosaur or ancient killing machine (same thing?) arrests the eye and imagination, but because one can’t really compare them to reality, they can stay definitively unrealistic. Creating a compelling sci-fi or fantasy world has its own significant challenges, but on the whole it’s considerably easier than creating a convincing replica of the real world.

RDR2 seems to be attempting real realism in its game, to the extent that it’s possible. Take for example the fact that your items and cargo actually take up space on your horse. Your horse isn’t 20 more grid spaces of inventory — you can tie a deer you hunted on top, but then it can’t run. There are loops for two long guns but not three, and you can’t carry an arsenal yourself.

The flora and fauna are real frontier flora and fauna; they’ll react realistically. Encounters can be approached in multiple ways, peaceful or violent. Your fabulous hide coat gets dirty when you fall in the mud. You get new things to do by getting to know people in your gang.

Many of these have been seen before in various games, but what Rockstar is going for appears — and for now only appears — to be taking them to a new level. It will of course have the expected cartoonish violence and occasionally eye-roll-worthy dialogue of any game, but the attempt to realistically, and at this level of fidelity, represent such a major and well-known portion of history is an undertaking of gargantuan proportions.

Will the game be as good as the amount of work that has clearly been put into it? We’ll find out later this year when it comes out.