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title="Permanent Link to Xbox One: Three ways it could affect PC gaming">Photo by Stephen Brashear/Invision for XBOX/AP Images



Photo by Stephen Brashear/Invision for XBOX/AP Images



Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal this morning didn’t present any immediate or obvious implications for Our Dear Hobby. Conspicuously few games were shown during the debut of a new video game console, and no games were demonstrated live. Microsoft mostly spoke about the new utilities (Skype!), partnerships (NFL!), and living room takeover (Kinect!) we’ll expect from the Xbox One when it releases this year. From a technical perspective, 8 GB of RAM is the only concrete hardware spec Microsoft dropped.



Our response around the office to the presentation was an uncynical but collective shrug. The modest amount of information Microsoft let out gives us little to react to as PC gamers, as Microsoft spent so little of the precious hour that it held the attention of the internet showing us what kinds of gaming experiences we could expect to have on its new system. Those will be revealed next month at what should be a memorable E3.



Still, we’re interested in thinking about how Microsoft’s decisions could have a direct or indirect impact on PC gaming, something that has happened before. Microsoft used the talents of Age of Empires creator Ensemble Studios to produce a console-exclusive RTS (Halo Wars) and a cancelled Halo MMO. The MechWarrior license lingered in limbo until recently, in our opinion, because Microsoft wasn't sure if it could make a profitable mech game on Xbox. Microsoft’s attempt at extending Xbox to the Windows platform birthed the disastrous Games For Windows LIVE, a service so frustrating that it was newsworthy when developers told us they weren't using it.



Based on what we know and a little bit of crystal ball-gazing, here’s three possible ways PC gaming could be affected by the release of the Xbox One.



Exclusive games

 





Microsoft announced that the Xbox One will get 15 exclusive games in its first year, including eight new franchises. One of those exclusives may be a new Remedy game, Quantum Break, which appears to cross-over with a live-action show.



There’s hope, however, that some of these exclusives will sneak onto PC. Over the past console generation, marketers have made the term “exclusive” synonymous with “timed exclusive,” acknowledging the distinction only at the last possible moment. Remedy's Alan Wake, for instance, was eventually ported to PC.



A majority of Xbox 360 games announced as exclusives, however, remain firmly stuck on the platform. We’ve never seen a Forza game or a Gears of War after the first, and Microsoft Game Studios seems to have given up entirely on Halo ports.



The good news is that many of the Xbox 360 exclusives were Kinect titles best suited for the living room anyway, and others, such as Rare’s Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, weren’t games we ever expected to be developed for PC in the first place. Let’s hope it stays that way.



The best-known developers owned by Microsoft are 343 Industries (Halo), Turn 10 (Forza), Lionhead (Fable), and Rare (Banjo-Kazooie). Expect exclusives from them—we already know a new Forza is coming—and a few from its third-party developers, such as Crackdown creators Ruffian Games. Ideally, the games we expect to be multiplatform, such as the first game from Respawn, will stay that way. We'll have a much better picture come E3 next month.



Growth of streaming, new Steam features

 





A casual survey of the web pretty clearly pegs PC gamers as the leading producers of gameplay videos and livestreams, but console gamers may soon catch up. Both Sony and Microsoft now promise that their new consoles will make it easy to capture and share gameplay video, a task which formerly required capture hardware. If streaming is a part of that plan, it could be good news for services like Twitch.tv, which we'd expect to be flooded with new members as the console crowd joins the show.



If that happens, we can also assume that more players will start watching streams, possibly growing eSports awareness and viewership and acting as a catalyst for overall improvements to streaming. That's our loose, foggy prediction, but we do expect some concrete effects—Steam will likely start responding to the features of the Xbox One and PS4, especially with Steam box on its way to directly compete for living rooms. At the very least, integrated video capture and sharing seem very likely. At the most, Steam becomes the same kind of media center Microsoft showed off today, offering much more than games.



Valve has already dabbled in film by offering Indie Game: The Movie for sale on Steam, and recently added non-game software to its catalog. Its most recent major updates have been about expanding community features and giving us more to do in Steam, both in and out of our games. What's next? Our gut feeling is that it'll be significant.



More free-to-play PC games, and they won’t be MOBAs

 





Microsoft didn’t drop the phrase “free-to-play” once during its reveal of Xbox One, but we’d be baffled if free-to-play games don't become a prominent new category on the system. And we’d be more surprised if some of those hypothetical, F2P Xbox One games didn't make their way to PC.



We expect the success of free-to-play as a business model on PC and mobile (in 2011, free-to-play earned more revenue than paid games in the App Store) to create a gold rush within the industry. Plenty of developers have to be eager to become the Riot Games of the console world, to gain a foothold through early adoption rather than reacting to the potential success of the business model on Xbox One.



On the safe assumption that mouse and keyboard won’t be native to the Xbox One, the free-to-play games that propagate on Microsoft’s system will probably be multiplayer action games and low-budget, indie experiments that can be played with a controller: shooters, platformers, puzzle games, action-RPGs, and MMOs. Most of those are portable to PC. Microsoft has already dabbled with F2P a bit with Ascend: New Gods, an unreleased action-RPG, as well as with advertising-supported free games. Our pals at OXM speculated that a free-to-play Fable MMO could be in the works.



This feels like an incredibly safe prediction to us. One or more free-to-play games being part of the Xbox One launch lineup would be a feather in Microsoft’s cap—it’d be a way for early adopters to justify their (probably fairly) expensive purchase, and a novelty to console owners who’ve never played something like League of Legends or PlanetSide 2.
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title="Permanent Link to Loadout invites you to create an insane weapon and take it for a spin">Loadout







Upcoming free-to-play multiplayer shooter Loadout released a launch trailer last week to celebrate its arrival on Steam’s Early Access beta testing service. At first, to be honest, I just rolled my eyes. The heavy metal. The dick jokes. The guy dancing Gangnam style. Oy.



But then it started to win me over. Loadout actually looks like it could be a hell of a lot of fun. It’s stupid, but it’s stupid on purpose, and that frees us up to enjoy some great explosions and a very cool gun crafting system.







Loadout joins the pantheon of cartoonishly violent multiplayer shooters already populated by games like Super Monday Night Combat and Team Fortress 2. Where TF2 relies on its hats and cutting humor, though, Loadout’s gameplay hinges on its absurdly customizable weapons, with available combinations numbering in the “billions.”



The comparison to Borderlands’ randomized weapon system are inevitable, so there it is. It’s a lot like Borderlands, right down to the little damage numbers that, in the testing arena at least, fly off of your opponents while they are burning/bleeding/being electrocuted.







Unlike the Borderlands system, you don’t have to rely on the kindness of the game gods for a really great weapon. Just hop into the weapon builder and customize or roll the dice until you come up with something incredible. Here’s a high-capacity flaming shotgun shell sniper rifle with a collapsible stock. There’s a bolt-action heat-seeking rocket launcher that shoots explosions of health, so you can give your entire team first aid from across the map.



The results of the randomized arsenal look fantastic. Fireballs, lightning, and rockets fly across the map causing horrific explosions of cartoon gore. This sheer chaos needs to be experienced, at least just to try it out. It'll be free-to-play at launch, so why not?
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Team Fortress 2 Robotic Boogaloo update adds 57 new items">TF2Robot2



Image by R0B0CITRUS - http://steamcommunity.com/id/RetroCitrus/



Because sometimes you just need more rivets and scrap metal to get the job done. Team Fortress 2's latest content patch Robotic Boogaloo went live today, the first update forged entirely by the Valve shooter's own community. The update includes 57 new items, all of which we're told are totally new and completely non-derivative. The new item set includes some strange and wonderful mechanical hats, at least one of which is a delicious metal hot dog.



The new items are only available from RoboCrates, which can be accessed with the appropriately named, $2.49 tradable RoboCrate key. The RoboCrates themselves become rare drops in the free-to-play game starting June 3, according to the official TF2 website. Also, in what the website reports is a first for game's expansive economy, all content creators who contributed to Robotic Boogaloo will share in the revenue from the sale of RoboCrate keys.



Since we may be halfway to becoming robots ourselves, this new patch seems apropos. For a taste of the new content's eclectic robot style, check out the community-made trailer below or the update's included comic, DEATH OF A SALESBOT.



PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Steam Trading Cards releases in beta, introduces game badges, XP, and leveling">steam trading cards







If you don't have beta participation turned on in your Steam settings, go do that so you can start collecting trading cards, earning XP, and leveling up. Yup, Steam just got gamified.



The games participating in the Trading Cards beta are Don't Starve, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, Portal 2, and Half-Life 2, and "up to half the card set" for each can be earned by playing them. The other half of each set is "earned through your collecting prowess," which presumably means trading with Steam users who got different drops.



Once you collect a complete set, you'll be able to craft a game badge which will appear on your profile and unlock "marketable items like emoticons, profile backgrounds, and coupons." Badges can be leveled up by collecting the required trading cards again, and all badges—including any you already have—now give you XP which contributes to your "Steam Level." Leveling up has its own benefits, awarding you "non-tradable items like profile showcases, extra friends list slots, and more."



Now that playing games on Steam is a game, are you bothered that someone out there is already beating you? If so, the PC Gamer Steam group may be a good place to start looking for trades.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Steam Trading Cards releases in beta, introduces game badges, XP, and leveling">steam trading cards







Join the Steam Trading Cards group on Steam to score a beta invite so you can start collecting trading cards, earning XP, and leveling up—yup, Steam just got gamified.



The games participating in the Trading Cards beta are Don't Starve, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, Portal 2, and Half-Life 2, and up to half of the new virtual trading cards for each can be earned by playing them. The other half of each set is earned "through your collecting prowess," which presumably means trading with Steam users who got different drops.



Once you collect a complete set, you'll be able to craft a game badge which will appear on your profile and unlock "marketable items like emoticons, profile backgrounds, and coupons." Badges can be leveled up by collecting the required trading cards again, and all badges—including any you already have—now give you XP which contributes to your "Steam Level." Leveling up has its own benefits, awarding you "non-tradable items like profile showcases, extra friends list slots, and more."



Now that playing games on Steam is a game, are you bothered that someone out there is already beating you? If so, the PC Gamer Steam group may be a good place to start looking for trades.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Don’t be nervous, but Valve still wants to measure your sweat">rsz_tf2_medic







There may come a day when preparing for the next chapter of a Left 4 Dead game will include wiping down your sweaty palms and taking a deep, deep breath. If you don’t, the zombies will get faster.



In remarks during the 2013 NeuroGaming Conference and Expo (via VentureBeat), Valve’s in-house experimental psychologist—Wait, hold on. Did you know that Valve employs an experimental psychologist? I wonder if he has lunch sometimes with the economist.



Anyway, Valve’s in-house mad scientist, Mike Ambinder, discussed experiments where players’ overall nervousness and agitation were measured, in part by recording sweatiness. If players began to show signs of nervousness or fear, the game would speed up. This new control scheme—mouse, keyboard, sweat-measuring skin pads—added another way for the player to interact with the game. Shoot zombie, reload pistols, keep calm. Signal for rescue, throw molotov, keep calm.



Ambinder also described other experiments in game design and biofeedback—which Valve has been talking about for a few years—including a version of Portal 2 that was played via eye tracking. Exploring the next generation of possible gaming inputs shows once again that Valve continues to operate, and plan, on a whole different level.



So good for you, Mike Ambinder. Just stay away from the mega-baboon hearts and everything will work out just fine.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Don’t be nervous, but Valve still wants to measure your sweat">rsz_tf2_medic







There may come a day when preparing for the next chapter of a Left 4 Dead game will include wiping down your sweaty palms and taking a deep, deep breath. If you don’t, the zombies will get faster.



In remarks during the 2013 NeuroGaming Conference and Expo (via VentureBeat), Valve’s in-house experimental psychologist—Wait, hold on. Did you know that Valve employs an experimental psychologist? I wonder if he has lunch sometimes with the economist.



Anyway, Valve’s in-house mad scientist, Mike Ambinder, discussed experiments where players’ overall nervousness and agitation were measured, in part by recording sweatiness. If players began to show signs of nervousness or fear, the game would speed up. This new control scheme—mouse, keyboard, sweat-measuring skin pads—added another way for the player to interact with the game. Shoot zombie, reload pistols, keep calm. Signal for rescue, throw molotov, keep calm.



Ambinder also described other experiments in game design and biofeedback—which Valve has been talking about for a few years—including a version of Portal 2 that was played via eye tracking. Exploring the next generation of possible gaming inputs shows once again that Valve continues to operate, and plan, on a whole different level.



So good for you, Mike Ambinder. Just stay away from the mega-baboon hearts and everything will work out just fine.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to ESEA release malware into public client, forcing users to farm Bitcoins [Updated]">ESEA







Update: ESEA co-founder Craig "Torbull" Levine has responded with a more official statement, posted to the ESEA news page. He admits they were testing Bitcoin integration, to "determine whether it was a feature that we might want to add in the future." Ultimately, Torbull says, they decided against it.



He goes to claim that "an employee who was involved in the test has been using the test code for his own personal gain since April 13, 2013."



"The owners and management at ESEA all apologize to each of you that were impacted by the recent events and intend to make things right," Torbull continues. "ESEA has issued a free month of ESEA Premium to all of our community members who were enrolled in Premium for the month of April. We also ask anyone who has experienced any physical damage to their computers to open an ESEA support ticket.



"In an effort to maintain complete transparency, we have released all of the Bitcoin wallet addresses as well as data dumps of the wallets themselves. The value of the mined Bitcoins was $3,713.55 and ESEA will be donating 100% of the $3,713.55 to the American Cancer Society. ESEA will also match 100% of this amount for a total of $7,427.10 donated. ESEA is also increasing the Season 14 League prize pot by $3,713.55."



Original Story: Multiplayer eSports network ESEA was found to have malware in its anti-cheat client, which used users' graphics cards to mine for Bitcoins. Information about the exploit was posted to the ESEA's forums by user "ENJOY ESEA SHEEP", who found he had been unwittingly farming Bitcoins for someone in the community after noticing excessively high idle GPU usage.



Mining is the legitimate, and deliberately system-intensive process of adding transaction records to Bitcoin's public ledger - generating Bitcoins for the miner in the process. The ESEA client had been pooling the GPUs of users in order to generate more money for wallets held by ESEA staff.



ESEA co-founder Eric ‘lpkane’ Thunberg responded to the accusation, initially claiming it was a mistakenly released April Fool's joke. His first statement is kind of amazing:



"Lol that got aggressive quickly.



"Back towards the end of march, as BTC was skyrocketing, Jaguar and I were talking about how cool it would be if we could use massive amounts of GPUs logged into the client to mine.



"We went back and forth about it, considered doing something for April fools, didn't get it done in time, and eventually elected to put some test code in the client and try it on a few admin accounts, ours included.



"We ran the test for a few days on our accounts, decided it wasn't worth the potential drama, and pulled the plug, or so we thought.



"Fast forward to 48 hours ago, a fuck up in the client server results in a restart which results in a setting getting changed which enables it for all idle users, and here we are."



Thunberg claimed the combined efforts of ESEA users' unaware mining netted them roughly 2BTC, or $280, which he promised would be put towards the Season 14 prize pot.



He returned with a second statement a few hours later, after users pointed out that anti-viruses had been flagging the client for longer than the claimed 48 hours. He admits the mining had been part of the client since 14th April, and that the overall money mined totaled $3,602.21, before going to say:



"So first the bad news, this is way more shady than I originally thought, and as the person who is ultimately responsible for everything it's 100% my fault.



"Now the good news, as of the client update released in the last hour, all the BTC stuff is out which should solve the GPU and AV warnings."



Thunberg once again promised to use the now substantially higher total as part of the Season 14 prize pot, and that - as recompense for the additional strain that's been placed on user's GPUs - would gift a free one month Premium code for Premium account holders. He finished by saying, "once again, our bad, thanks for keeping us honest."



Thanks, Cadred and PCGamesN.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Poker Night 2 brings a new set of wisecrackers to the table">Poker Night 2







Who told you that Adult Swim cartoon characters, ditzy cyberpunk robots, and a cuddly rabbit-and-dog detective team couldn't live together in harmony? Because if today's Poker Night 2 release is anything to go by, they totally can. Well, as harmoniously as a bunch of wisecracking jerks can get on while competing ruthlessly for assorted unlockable items, anyway. Check out the new cast of players in the trailer - and we've got a list of the prizes up for grabs, too.







Brock Samson from the Venture Bros squares off against Borderlands' plucky Claptrap, while Ash Williams from Army of Darkness and the notorious Sam and Max are all plotting your defeat. Oh, and just to make your "Omaha Hold 'em" losses against these fictional smartasses all the more devastating, your dealer is the soul-crushing GLaDOS.



The prizes are based on your platform of choice, so us PC gamers will be aiming to outfit ourselves in these stylish Borderlands 2 and Team Fortress 2 items. Because look: you're nowhere near striking fear in your foes' chests unless your Mechromancer is wearing a perpetually grinning Max Mask. There are also numerous in-game unlocks to be had, such as themed poker tables and chips. I hope Max's face is slapped on everything.



For just a fiver, Telltale's Poker Night 2 is available today on Steam.
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