TIME Video Games

Sony Unveils Project Morpheus, Its PlayStation Virtual Reality Headset

Sony PlayStation VR Headset
Sony

Sony took the wraps off its PlayStation VR headset at a GDC session in San Francisco Tuesday evening

All those rumors about Sony working on a virtual reality headset to compete with Oculus Rift were correct: Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida finally revealed the product this evening—it’s officially codenamed Project Morpheus—during a GDC session titled “Driving the Future of Innovation at Sony Computer Entertainment.”

The future looks…well, like a lot of futures involving virtual reality have been looking since the notion took wing in the 1980s: you put something on your head, in most cases something that looks like a helmet or a really bulky pair of glasses, and motion sensors in the headset track your cranium’s movement to present the visual illusion (with varying degrees of fidelity) of being somewhere else.

That’s pretty much what Sony’s version looks to be doing, though I’m sure the company’s itching to tell us all the ways in which it’ll be different. Sony’s also stressing that what it’s showing at GDC is a prototype, not final hardware.

According to Yoshida, the prototype includes a 1920 x 1080 pixel display, has a 90 degree field of view along with accelerometer and gyroscopic sensors, and works with the PlayStation Camera simultaneous with the DualShock 4 or PS Move controllers. The headset also features Sony’s new 3D audio tech, apparently capable of generating omnidirectional sound that triggers based on your head’s orientation.

(I noticed another site amusingly noted the device’s codename isn’t a reference to The Matrix, but rather to the Greek god of dreams — of course Lawrence Fishburne’s character’s name in that film was also a reference to the Greek god of dreams, just by way of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.)

Yoshida says Project Morpheus has been in the offing for over three years, so props to Sony for managing to keep the lid on this one right up to disclosure. We’ll know more soon — Sony’s demoing the device at GDC, and I’m sure it’ll be a centerpiece of the company’s E3 show this summer.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Most Common Video Game Console Problems and How to Fix Them

PS4 controller
Bloomberg / Getty Images

A new report finds that errors with the Xbox One and unprovoked PlayStation 4 shutdowns top the list of the most common hardware problems currently facing video gamers.

The report, crafted by troubleshooting site Fixya, is based on over 40,000 video game problems submitted by owners of the newest consoles, the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Wii U. Here are the top 4 most commonly reported problems for each console.

Microsoft Xbox One

The biggest problem area for Microsoft’s Xbox One (aside from the $499 price tag) is the included Kinect motion sensor, which represents 30% of the trouble reports reviewed. Specifically, a number of people are having difficulty with having the device recognize voice and motion commands, which can affect menu navigation and, in many cases, gameplay. Shutdowns and audio problems occur as well, but are less common.

Kinect 30%
Console shutdowns 25%
Audio problems 15%
Disc drive 10%
Other 20%

Sony PlayStation 4

The Sony PlayStation 4 may be topping the sales charts, but it’s not due to a lack of problems. The biggest problem in terms of frequency (and likely severity) is unprompted console shutdowns, representing 35% of trouble reports. Especially unfortunate users see these shutdowns take the form of the dreaded “blue light of death” – a worrying sign that you need a new PS4. Problems with audio, freezing, and the disc drive are also issues for owners.

Console turning off 35%
No audio/video 25%
Freezing 20%
Disc drive 10%
Other 10%

Nintendo Wii U

Not many of you have purchased a Nintendo Wii U, but I predict that may soon be about to change: Nintendo is mere weeks away from releasing the long-awaited Mario Kart 8, and Super Smash Brothers 4 is on its way later in the year. Just watch out for game freezes – the annoying problem represents 35% of Wii U trouble reports and can (rarely) brick your device. Numerous people are having problems with the tablet-like Wii U controller, as well.

Freezing 35%
Gamepad 30%
Internet connection 15%
Audio/video 10%
Other 10%

Quick fixes for your console problems

For many of the above maladies, nothing short of sending your console to the manufacturer for repair or warranty replacement will get you back in the game. Otherwise, there are a few simple tips that can fix a number of the most commonly reported issues.

Reset your console. If your game freezes while playing, or if you get some other miscellaneous error, your first step should be to give your console a hard reset. Power the device down normally if you can, then completely disconnect it from the power supply. Wait a minute or two, then reconnect the device.

Check the cables. It’s Tech 101, but a large number of audio/visual issues arise from simple connection errors such as wires being switched or coming disconnected. Take a moment to make sure cables are securely plugged in, and in the right places. If you’re having difficulty with one HDMI outlet on your TV, try using a different one. If you have extra cables, you can try swapping them out to make sure the problem isn’t with the cable itself.

Keep cool. Electronic devices get hot when in use, and your video game system is no different. Make sure you place your console in a well-ventilated area, and make sure any air intake area on the console is free and clear of obstruction.

Stay up to date. Unlike the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System of the Reagan era, modern video game consoles need to connect to the Internet to keep their firmware up to date. Keep on top of it – installing updates is must-do.

Wait it out. Historically, the earliest versions of a video game console have more hardware issues than later releases. It’s not a heck of a lot of fun to wait, but in a year the major problems will have been worked out and you’ll likely get a lower price as well.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Microsoft’s Xbox One Could Make Up Lost Sales Ground Big Time in September

Microsoft

Microsoft will launch its flagship games console in 26 new markets this fall.

Let’s review the numbers: Sony’s PlayStation 4 was available in 53 countries in December, and it’s added four since, most notably Japan in late February, bringing its worldwide tally to 57. Microsoft’s Xbox One, by contrast, is in just 13, and that’s where the platform remains today.

The PS4 is thus outselling the Xbox One by leaps and bounds on the world stage. Is that a revelation? It shouldn’t be. Stories of PS4 supply constraints notwithstanding, if competing products aren’t being sold in the same countries at more or less the same time, sales comparisons are going to be off (and in this instance, with so much market disparity between the two, way off).

That’s going to change come September, when Microsoft says it’ll add 26 new markets to the Xbox One’s purview, bringing the total to 39. Here’s the list of additions, hot off Xbox Wire’s press:

  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Czech Republic
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • India
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • South Africa
  • Turkey
  • UAE

Joystiq notes that eight of the above — Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland — were supposed to make the original November 2013 launch. Microsoft scrapped those plans at the eleventh hour, so while tales are rampant of Sony’s PS4 sales not representing demand because of production issues, it’s actually Microsoft that seems to be having the more egregious manufacturing troubles. I can’t imagine the company wants to be in roughly a quarter of the number of markets Sony is today. Bear that in mind (and I’ll keep making note of it) as we do these sales comparisons rolling forward.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Minecraft Is Still Generating Insane Amounts of Cash for Developer Mojang

Minecraft
Minecraft

Five years after its initial release, the video game Minecraft is still bringing in huge revenue for its developer, Mojang AB. The Swedish video game company reported that its revenue increased to 2.07 billion Swedish kronor (or $330 million) in 2013, a 38 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company pulled in 816 million kronor ($129 million) in profit.

Minecraft, a sandbox game in which people can build virtually anything they can imagine out of blocks, began as a quirky, independently developed PC game in 2009. Since then the title has blossomed into an empire, spawning a glut of merchandise, versions for mobile phones and home consoles and, appropriately, an official LEGO set. In total Minecraft has sold more than 35 million copies across various platforms. The PC version alone generated almost $250,000 in revenue in the last 24 hours. Because Mojang sells the PC version exclusively on its own website, the company gets to keep all of that money instead of splitting it with game retailers like GameStop or Valve’s Steam online marketplace.

Other gaming startups that have hit upon viral successes like Minecraft are now going public. Dublin-based King, maker of the mobile hit Candy Crush Saga (and former employer of Minecraft creator Markus Persson), is prepping an initial public offering in the U.S. that could value the company at as much as $7.6 billion. Chukong Technologies, a Chinese mobile gaming firm that developed the popular title Fishing Joy, is reportedly planning a U.S. IPO as well. Mojang has no current plans to go public, according to the Journal.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

The Reaper Finally Comes for Diablo 3’s Auction House

Blizzard

The shutdown comes just in time for the game's first expansion, Reaper of Souls, launching next Tuesday.

So long, Diablo 3 auction house, you won’t be missed. You were a controversial idea Blizzard finally had sense enough last September to acknowledge in a public mea culpa, before establishing March 18 as your terminal date.

That would be today, and as promised, the auction house is no more — a moment now frozen in time, the precise time being 6:00 a.m. ET.

The shutdown didn’t require a maintenance update, also as promised, and simply locked the service in place, preventing new auctions from being submitted while wrapping up existing ones. As Blizzard notes in its Auction House FAQ:

All active auctions will expire as normal following the shutdown of the gold and real-money auction houses on Tuesday, March 18. Once the shutdown is complete, items will either be delivered to the current highest bidder or returned to the seller, appearing in each player’s Completed tab. Unclaimed gold will also appear in the Completed tab. Players will be able to claim gold and items and from this tab until June 24, 2014.

Blizzard’s decision to scrap the Auction House comes in advance of Diablo 3‘s first expansion, Reaper of Souls, due next Tuesday, March 25 (the core game launched in May 2012). In its explanation for the Auction House’s takedown last September, Blizzard said “it became increasingly clear that despite the benefits of the AH system and the fact that many players around the world use it, it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot.” Former Diablo 3 director Jay Wilson said earlier last year that the Auction House “really hurt the game.”

There’s more in the shutdown FAQ if you’re wondering about hypotheticals like “What will happen to my existing Battle.net Balance?” (Blizzard: ” Your Battle.net Balance total will not be affected…”) Or “What happens to my unclaimed items and gold…?” (Blizzard: “Items and gold not claimed by [June 24, 2014] will be consumed by Treasure Goblins, never to be seen again.”)

TIME

Wal-Mart Wants to Buy Your Used Video Games

Customers enter a Wal-Mart store on Feb. 20, 2014 in San Lorenzo, Calif.
Customers enter a Wal-Mart store on Feb. 20, 2014 in San Lorenzo, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The world’s largest retailer is set to begin a program in more than 3,100 locations that allows consumers to turn in old games—for consoles like Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Wii—in exchange for Wal-Mart gift cards that can be used in stores or online

The world’s largest retailer will begin taking consumers’ old video games in exchange for gift cards on March 26. Wal-Mart said its new service will allow customers to trade in games for credit they can use to shop for other goods in stores or on the company’s website, walmart.com. The program will roll out in more than 3,100 Wal-Mart stores nationwide.

Wal-Mart executives said the service will accept an unlimited number of games for consoles such as the Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo Wii so long as they are in original packaging and undamaged. The trade-in value—which could be used to by anything from groceries to gasoline—will range from a few dollars to $35, depending on the title’s age. Customers must be 18 years or older to participate, the company said.

The retail giant is hoping to tap into the $2 billion pre-owned video game market. Duncan Mac Naughton, Wal-Mart’s chief merchandising and marketing officer, told CNNMoney, the company estimates that there are nearly 1 billion unused video games sitting in homes across the United States. “This is a new category for us. We’re doing it because our customers have asked us for it,” he said.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Microsoft

Marc Whitten, Xbox Exec for 14 Years, Is Bidding Microsoft Adieu

Whitten, head of Xbox Live, demonstrates new XBox feature XBox SmartGlass, at Microsoft XBox news briefing during E3 game expo in Los Angeles
Marc Whitten, the head of Xbox Live, demonstrates the new Xbox feature, Xbox SmartGlass, a wireless tablet controller at the Microsoft Xbox news briefing during the E3 game expo in Los Angeles, California June 4, 2012. Fred Prouser / Reuters

Whitten's leaving Microsoft for a similar position with Sonos.

In a late Monday afternoon note, the Xbox Wire blog dropped a surprise: Marc Whitten, Chief Product Officer of Xbox, is leaving the company for the same position (CPO) with wireless audio maven Sonos.

Whitten had been with Microsoft for nearly a decade-and-a-half, joining the company in 2000 and helping usher in the Xbox platform as well as both of its successors, the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Xbox Wire calls the news “sad to share” before rolling out the plaudits for Xbox’s ex-CPO.

Here’s Whitten:

I have had the extreme pleasure over the last 14 years to work on the greatest product with the greatest team and for the greatest community. Xbox is so special because of the amazing team I’ve had the opportunity to work with and because our fans are the most incredible fans on the planet. It has been the highlight of my career to work on a product so loved. It’s incredibly tough to leave but I am confident the best days are ahead for Xbox fans, in the capable hands of a very talented team.

Xbox Wire says the Xbox leadership team will remain as-is, temporarily reporting to Terry Myserson, an executive VP responsible for “the teams building the software platform and experiences for Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox.” Myerson says he’ll work with VP of marketing and strategy Yusuf Mehdi and Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer to find a replacement for Whitten.

Whitten isn’t abandoning ship entirely: according to Xbox Wire, “You can continue to play with Marc on Xbox Live under the gamertag notwen.”

And here’s Whitten a little over an hour ago on Twitter, wishing everyone well.

TIME Rumors

Stick or No, an Amazon Streaming Games Console Would Have an Audience Conundrum

Amazon.com Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings
Andrew Harrer—Getty Images

Streaming games, at the mercy of the mercurial Internet, just don't have mainstream gamer appeal.

TechCrunch reports Amazon’s long-rumored set top box isn’t going to be a box at all, but a stick, Chromecast- and Roku-style. If that’s true — and TechCruch claims multiple sources familiar with the device are confirming it is — minimalists can rejoice, but mainstream gamers are probably going to shrug.

That’s because a device the size of a USB dongle in 2014 isn’t capable of delivering native-powered games (or all but the simplest ones, anyway), so it would almost certainly have to stream them (and indeed, TechCrunch’s source claims it’ll support streaming PC games, though whether it’ll plug into anyone else’s existing service or use an Amazon-brewed vintage is unclear at this point). I’m talking about a service similar to OnLive (an almost-failure purchased by Lauder Partners that recently reemerged with a Steam games streaming angle), or Gaikai (purchased by Sony to pipe streaming games through its PlayStation Network). The games live in the cloud and you interface with them as you would a streaming video.

The problem is that streaming games continue to be something of a novelty among mainstream gamers: a service a handful might use to test-drive a game before buying a non-streaming copy, but that — due to the intrinsic limitations of Internet network protocols in 2014 — doesn’t resonate as a stable, optimal interface for games that tend to specialize in visual embellishment and cater to extremely low-latency wonks.

I’m talking about games like Battlefield 4 or Metro: Last Light, of course, not Sudoku, someone’s ten-thousandth gambling casino riff, or Angry Birds. The sort of gamer that plays the former wants gorgeous, uncompressed, rock-solid graphics, not the sort of glitchy, mercurial, often artifact-riddled visual feed OnLive tried so hard to sell as revolutionary technology.

Local streaming is different, of course. Nvidia’s Shield and Nintendo’s Wii U offer a very different, much more dependable experience from the one cloud-based streaming services do. You can control your local network experience, which is going to function dozens of times faster and have radically lower latency.

The Internet, by comparison — from your ISP’s activities, to the number of router hops between you and the streaming provider, to the efficiency of the streaming provider’s cloud technology — is another story. Amazon may be hoping to square OnLive’s “good enough” circle by attracting a more casual demographic. but OnLive couldn’t, and it’s by no means clear Sony’s going to be able to with Gaikai. I’d be surprised, once the doublespeak marketing dust settles, if Amazon would able to if this latest rumor proves true.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

The PlayStation 4 Won February, but by a Lot Less Than It Did in January

Sony

But the Xbox One crept up on the PlayStation 4, and the reasons why may be related to December's results.

I’m a little late getting to these figures because I was out last Friday, but the NPD data for February is in, and continuing an unsurprising trend in month-to-month hardware sales, Sony’s PlayStation 4 beat Microsoft’s Xbox One.

I say unsurprising because the PS4 remains 100 simoleons less than Microsoft’s $500 Xbox One. Kinect or no, if the PS4 wasn’t in the lead, given the historical relationship of dominant game consoles to their prices, then I’d be surprised.

But Sony thumped Microsoft in January by a ratio of 2-to-1 (according to Sony), whereas in February, it appears Sony only beat its rival by tens of thousands of units. This is all transpiring a month before the arrival of Titanfall, mind you, which presents something of a conundrum if your predictive theory of success hinges on economics alone.

Recall that in December, the Xbox One outsold the PS4 in this country by hundreds of thousands of units. Sony reacted to the news by claiming the PS4 had been sold out everywhere much of the month, and that it was still outselling the Xbox One worldwide. In short: Sony was implying it hadn’t been able to meet demand in this country given that the PS4 was available in many more markets than the Xbox One (53 countries at the time, compared to the Xbox One’s 13).

That may partly or wholly explain what happened in February, though it also may not, because it’s speculation extracted from a marketing claim. The New York Times notes that PlayStation marketing executive Guy Longworth said the PS4 was experiencing “severe inventory constraints,” but that’s an unverifiable claim, and it’s worth bearing in mind how important it is to control the narrative when courting buyers who view these systems — not incorrectly — as risk-related investments. A sense of momentum is critical, especially early on, before the Halos and Uncharteds start showing up. When you’re shelling out $400 to $500 on a platform, it’s in hopes of being able to play all the non-exclusive stuff you’d want to down the road, and we need only look at Nintendo’s beleaguered Wii U to get a taste of what third-party abandonment looks like.

What’s missing from this picture? Worldwide sales. If Sony’s producing as many or more PS4s as Microsoft is Xbox Ones, the question is who’s selling the most, all told, and to what extent that’s impacting allocation. Sony just launched in Japan in February 22, which probably impacted its U.S. allocation (Microsoft hasn’t yet announced a Japan launch date for the Xbox One). At last count, Sony said it had sold 5.3 million units worldwide, and that was as of mid-February [Update: Sony announced PS4 sales recently surpassed 6 million worldwide]. The last we heard from Microsoft in early January, the Xbox One had sold in the vicinity of three million units worldwide.

March should be interesting because it’ll test both systems in unique ways: New IP Titanfall is going to give the Xbox One a major boost, if only because Microsoft marketed the bejesus out of it, so count on that. But Sony has inFamous: Second Son shipping late this week (March 21), exclusive to PS4, and both of Sucker Punch’s prior inFamous games were as critically lauded as Titanfall‘s been (that, and however anticipated Respawn’s online-only first-person shooter was, inFamous has the incumbent advantage).

Then again, if Sony really is experiencing inventory issues and it hasn’t sorted them by week’s end, it could be in for a stateside drubbing when NPD’s next report drops a month from now.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

This Is the Hottest Online Video Service You’ve Never Heard Of

It's already bigger than Hulu, Amazon, and Facebook video

How many gamers does it take to catch a Pokemon? 1.1 million, apparently. That’s how many people played the Game Boy classic Pokemon Red—together—on the video game streaming website Twitch.tv in February. As the game streamed online, people used a chat client to submit 122 million button inputs, often simultaneously, to control the movements of the main character as he pursued his quest of becoming a Pokemon master. It was an impractical but oddly hypnotic way to try to beat a video game. After two and a half weeks of wildly scrolling through menus, running in erratic circles, and occasionally defeating enemies, the gamers collectively toppled the Elite Four and saw the end credits roll. But the true victor of the endeavor was Twitch itself, which is quickly becoming one of the hottest entertainment properties on the Web.

Begun in 2011 as an offshoot of the live-streaming website Justin.tv, Twitch allows users to broadcast virtually any video game live online. Players can offer live color commentary or, as with Pokemon, let viewers help control the game through a chat window that runs next to the gameplay. The site now attracts 45 million unique viewers and 1 million broadcasters each month. In February it comprised 1.8 percent of total Internet traffic during peak hours, beating Hulu, Amazon and Facebook.

The idea that people would enjoy sitting back and watching video games, the most interactive of media formats, might seem counterintuitive. But Twitch CEO Emmett Shear says the halcyon days of gaming in the ‘80s and ‘90s were as much about watching as playing. “When you think about what it was like to play video games in the arcade, you put your quarter on the arcade machine and you waited your turn,” he says. “What did you do while you were waiting your turn? You watched the people who were up there playing.”

The popularity of arcades collapsed in the late ‘90s as people began playing competitively online instead of face-to-face. Communal gaming experiences became more rare. But as live streaming via the Interent became more common in the late 2000’s, gamers began using video sites to stream gameplay of PC titles. Shear, a cofounder of Justin.tv, watched an increasing number of StarCraft II streams popping up on the site saw the opportunity to spinoff this emerging usage into its own business. The company debuted Twitch.tv at the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the huge annual video game conference in Los Angeles.

In the ensuing two and a half years, Twitch has become the go-to source for live-streaming games. Players use it to watch and broadcast speedruns, a popular competitive format in which people complete games as quickly as possible. Matchups among professional gamers in competitive titles like League of Legends are regularly streamed on the service. And now, thanks to the Pokemon experiment, the emergent field of crowd-sourced gaming is becoming popular with other titles like Super Mario Bros. and Tetris.

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 2.26.41 PM
In Twitch Plays Pokemon, users can input commands through a chat window to control the game’s main character

Twitch may have finally figured out how to translate video games into lean-back entertainment, a goal that has eluded the television industry for years. Comcast launched the gaming-focused cable channel G4 in 2002, but it consistently suffered low ratings and cancelled the last of its programs related to video games in 2012. Shear says Twitch’s focus on actual gameplay instead of news and reviews gives it an edge over TV’s offerings. “G4 never actually had video games on it,” he says. “[Twitch] is the best players in the entire world showing off their skills at this game.”

The company won’t say whether its rapid growth has led to profits. Twitch sells both display ads and pre-roll video ads, as well as $4.99-per-month subscriptions for the most popular channels. The company splits the revenue from the ads and subscriptions evenly with broadcasters. Matthew DiPietro, vice president of marketing, says Twitch appeals to advertisers because it attracts millions of tech-savvy young males, a sought-after group that is sometimes hard to reach through traditional channels. “Gamers are a particularly savvy and particularly fickle bunch,” he says. “They tend to be cord cutters. They’re a very valuable demographic for brands but they’re also very hard to reach.” Brands such as Samsung, Unilever and Mountain Dew have advertised on Twitch, in addition to many video game companies.

Twitch is poised to grow even more in 2014 as it expands beyond its PC roots. The PlayStation 4 came equipped with the ability to live stream to Twitch’s website when it launched in November. Twenty percent of Twitch’s broadcasters now stream from the device. The Xbox One added the same functionality this week, just in time for the console’s first big exclusive, the Electronic Arts shooter Titanfall. With hardcore gamers in its pocket, the company is aiming for casual gamers next—last week the company released developer tools which could potentially let people live stream mobile games like Candy Crush Saga and Flappy Bird.

Now that Twitch has proven there’s a large appetite for live games, competitors are starting to swarm the sector. Ustream, a larger competitor that live-streams all kinds of content, can also broadcast from the PS4. YouTube, a hugely popular website for gaming footage, released developer tools last year to make live streaming games easier and recently broadened the number of people who can live stream content.

For now, though, Twitch is available on the most platforms to the widest audience. And it has a passionate user base—Twitch Plays Pokemon, the oddball experiment turned Internet phenomenon, wasn’t developed by Twitch staff but instead by a regular user of the site. “That’s actaully the most exciting thing to me about it,” Shear says. “We built a platform where it’s flexible enough and powerful enough that other people can come up with really cool new things that have never been seen before.”

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

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