TIME Video Games

There’s a New Civilization Revolution Game on the Block

2K

The sequel to 2K's populist reimagining of its turn-based strategy Civilization franchise is out now for iOS, with an Android version to follow later this year.

Somehow this slid under my radar: Civilization Revolution 2 exists, a sequel to 2008’s Civilization Revolution, and it’s available as I’m typing this for $15 on the iOS App Store (with an Android version to follow later this year).

It’s hard to know what to make of it, since it had so little pre-release press. Who devised this stealth-sequel anyway? Firaxis?

Not this time. Firaxis designed the original, which shipped for consoles first, followed by mobile phones and Nintendo’s DS later. 2K China handled the iOS port of that original game, and it seems they’re in the driver’s seat for the sequel. That may be neither here nor there, but if you want to scan their development history for yourself, see here. They’re mostly known for doing ports of games someone else created.

2K’s standalone Civilization Revolution site makes no mention of the game (in fact, the page hasn’t been updated in years). There’s an official sub-site for it off the trunk Civilization site, indicating what it’s compatible with (iPhone 4S+, iPad 2+, iPad Mini 1+ and iPod Touch 5) and offering this description (my emphasis):

The sequel to one of the most successful strategy games on mobile is here! Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution 2 challenges players to build a glorious empire that will stand the test of time. This is the first game in the Civilization catalog to be developed and available exclusively for mobile devices. Civilization Revolution 2 offers mobile strategy fans a brand new 3D presentation and more tactical depth than ever before! Find out if you have what it takes to rule the world!

And then there’s the feature checklist: a few new units (Aircraft Carriers, Jet Fighters, SpecOps Infantry), some new tech (Lasers, Medicine, Information Tech), new buildings and wonders (Nuclear Power Plant, The Red Cross, Silicon Valley), 3D graphics (the original mobile versions were 2D) and some history-minded scenario challenges.

The good news is that it’s $15, not a buck or free plus in-game purchases. Once you’ve bought it, it’s simply free-to-play. The bad news is that the game ships without multiplayer — just as Civilization Revolution did, true, but the latter wound up getting it down the road for $2.99. If history repeats, that means Civilization Revolution 2 is really free-to-play-solo, with a pay-for multiplayer update to come.

TIME Bitcoin

Venture Capitalist Who Wants to Split California Into 6 States Just Bought $19 Million Worth of Bitcoin

Bitcoin
This picture taken on June 20, 2014, shows an entrance of La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris. Stephane De Sakutin—AFP/Getty Images

The massive pool of crypto-currency could help establish bitcoin trading platforms in emerging markets.

Tim Draper, a venture capitalist best known for his proposal to split California into six states, just bought millions of dollars worth of bitcoin that in a former life might have been used as drug money.

As Re/code reports, the U.S. Marshals Service was auctioning roughly 30,000 bitcoin that it had seized from the online drug marketplace Silk Road. Draper won the auction for the entire bitcoin pool, which is worth about $19 million now.

But he’s not using his newfound cryptocurrency purely for personal enrichment. Instead, he’s partnering with Vaurum, a firm that wants to create a bitcoin exchange for financial institutions. The goal with this new bitcoin pool, according to Vaurum CEO Avish Bhama, is to create some liquidity in emerging markets, which otherwise might struggle with their own weakening currencies.

“Of course, no one is totally secure in holding their own country’s currency,” Draper said in a statement on Bhama’s blog. “We want to enable people to hold and trade bitcoin to secure themselves against weakening currencies.”

Between that and the plan to split up California, give Draper some credit for trying shake things up, at least.

[re/code]

TIME Video Games

Android TV Could Actually Succeed as a Game Console

Jared Newman for TIME

Google's new platform for TVs and set-top boxes puts games in the spotlight, but don't write it off as another Ouya.

On some level, it’s easy to laugh off the gaming element of Android TV, Google’s new living room platform that will arrive later this year.

The notion that a small, cheap set-top box could threaten large, expensive game consoles seemed popular a year ago, when “microconsoles” like Ouya and GameStick were hitting the market. But these devices haven’t taken off, and while the traditional game console market appears to be contracting, it’s still a big business, with sales in the millions for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Still, after seeing more of Android TV at last week’s Google I/O conference, I think Google’s gaming efforts have a chance to succeed. Along with whatever Apple is reportedly working on, Android TV could be the disruptive force in living room gaming that pundits–myself included–have been predicting for years.

Ouya’s main problem was that it occupied an awkward middle ground between high-end game consoles and cheaper all-purpose entertainment boxes. It was marketed as a gaming product, but its catalog wasn’t meaty enough to attract core gamers. Meanwhile, as a media streamer, Ouya didn’t have a lot of essential apps, further limiting its appeal to people who were considering an Apple TV or Roku.

But Ouya’s approach did have some flashes of brilliance. It has some great small-scale games that you can pick up quickly and play in short bursts, and the experience of rifling through Ouya’s digital store and sampling a dozen free-to-try indie titles is something you can’t get from the big consoles. While Ouya’s gaming experience is hard to justify on its own, it could work as a supplement to a low-cost streaming media device or a smart TV.

That’s the approach Android TV is taking, and while it’s not the first set-top box with gaming–both Amazon Fire TV and Roku offer some games as well–it puts a greater emphasis on games than any other device I’ve seen. Instead of being relegated to a sub-menu, games appear on the same main screen as Android TV’s apps and recommendations. When you scroll down to the apps list, the games list pops into view, getting an equal amount of space, so it’s impossible to ignore.

Google has even built in some hooks for people who play games on Android phones and tablets. Because everything’s coming from the Google Play Store, you’ll likely be able to buy a game once and play it across all devices. Google is also supporting achievements, friends lists and cloud saves through its Google Play Games service, so you can switch between a phone, tablet and TV without losing any progress. The only console maker that could offer something similar is Microsoft, and it has bungled every opportunity to do so.

Will Android TV appeal to core gamers? I’m skeptical, but the involvement of gaming hardware maker Razer suggests that Google at least wants to try. Meanwhile, Nvidia’s K1 processor is the first chip to support Android TV, appearing in the reference device that Google is giving to app developers. If Nvidia brings GameStream and Grid to Android TV, it could allow for high-end gaming on cheaper set-top boxes and smart TVs.

Regardless, I suspect that the bigger prize is the demographic of users who enjoy games, but won’t take the plunge on a pricier console–the people who say “I like games, but if I bought a PlayStation 4 I’d never leave the house.” I’m 31 years old, and I can’t tell you how many people my age have said that to me when I tell them about my gaming habits. If Google and Apple can lure those people in with streaming video and music, and then show them a world of games that are easy to pick up and put down, the microconsole might not be such a joke.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

 

TIME privacy

Europe Isn’t Happy About Facebook’s News Feed Experiment

The social media giant is in trouble with European privacy regulators over its controversial data research experiment

Facebook may be subject to investigations by European data protection groups following revelations that it manipulated the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users.

The social media giant admitted altering the news feeds of 689,000 users to show specific emotional expressions, as part of a data research experiment conducted over a week in January 2012. The revelations have generated outrage as Facebook did not inform users it was altering their feeds. The company says users give permission for research when they create a Facebook account.

But despite this claim, European privacy watchdogs are now attempting to determine whether Facebook has broken any privacy laws.

Ireland’s Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, which regulates Facebook’s operations outside of North America, said in a statement: “This office has been in contact with Facebook in relation to the privacy issues, including consent, of this research. We are awaiting a comprehensive response on issues raised.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office of Britain stated: “We’re aware of this issue and will be speaking to Facebook, as well as liaising with the Irish data protection authority, to learn more about the circumstances.”

The Federal Trade Commission, which regulates Facebook in the United States, has not said if it will pursue similar avenues of enquiry.

Facebook told TIME that none of its activities should concern regulators in Europe. “None of the data used was associated with a specific person’s Facebook account. We do research to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible,” a spokeperson said.

“It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it. We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback. The study was done with appropriate protections for people’s information and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have.”

It is not yet known where the targeted users lived. However, approximately one in every 2,500 users at the time of the experiment would have had their news feeds altered.

TIME Video Games

Go Ahead, Wirelessly Connect Your PS4 Controller to Your PS3

Sony

The DualShock 4, which ships with Sony's next-gen PlayStation 4, now works wirelessly with Sony's last-gen PlayStation 3.

It’s finally happened: Sony just made it possible for players with PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 controllers to connect them to their PS3s without tethers.

You could previously mate a DualShock 4 to a PS3 by plugging the former into the latter directly, using the USB cable, but the PS3 wouldn’t recognize the DualShock 4 absent that cable. Now that’s possible using good ol’ Bluetooth, to the extent that tapping the DualShock 4’s PlayStation button will even wake up the PS3 properly.

The “fix” arrived unceremoniously with a low-key PS3 firmware update (version 4.60, which dropped on June 24), or at least that’s the presumption some are making at Reddit, though there was also a PS4 firmware update to version 1.72 released around the same time, which for all we know did something to the DualShock 4 controller itself.

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

  • Under “Accessory Settings” on your PS3, locate and select “Manage Bluetooth Devices.”
  • Select “Register New Device.” The PS3 will begin Bluetooth scanning.
  • Simultaneously press and hold the DualShock 4’s “Share” and “PS” buttons until the controller’s light bar starts blinking. The controller should appear in the PS3’s list as a “Wireless Controller.”

Trouble is, that designation — “Wireless Controller” — means the PS3 still sees the DualShock 4 as a generic controller, thus neither SIXAXIS nor haptic feedback nor its DualShock 4-specific features (like the touchpad) are going to work properly, meaning you’re liable to run into compatibility problems with certain games.

The other piece to bear in mind is that the DualShock 4 can only sync with one device at a time, so if you pair with your PS3, you’ll have to re-pair with your PS4 and vice versa if you frequent both. All told, wonderful as the DualShock 4 gamepad is (it’s my personal favorite on any platform at the moment), I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble. But if you want to fiddle anyway, no strings attached, now you can.

TIME Companies

Google Buys Music Streaming Service Songza

The music streaming service says its product will remain unchanged, for now

The music streaming service Songza announced Tuesday that it’s being purchased by Google, adding to the tech giant’s already sizable presence in the online music sector.

“We can’t think of a better company to join in our quest to provide the perfect soundtrack for everything you do,” Songza said in a statement. “No immediate changes to Songza are planned, other than making it faster, smarter, and even more fun to use.”

Songza didn’t reveal a purchase price. The New York Post, citing unnamed sources, reported last month that Google was offering about $15 million, far less than the billion-dollar-plus valuations of online music behemoths Spotify and Pandora. Songza streams music in “smart playlists” curated by experts and tailored to an individual users habits.

The acquisition adds to Google’s subscription music service launched in 2013 as well as its ownership of YouTube, already a heavyweight in the online music sector, which the company says will be launching a paid streaming service.

The news comes after Apple’s announcement in May that it would buy Beats Electronics, which sells high-end audio equipment in addition to a music streaming service.

TIME Companies

Feds: T-Mobile Charged Customers for Spam Text Frauds

T-Mobile
A T-Mobile store is seen at 7th Avenue and 49th Street on March 23, 2012 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

The consumer watchdog says T-Mobile should have spotted text message scams hitting its customers

Update: July 1, 5:02 p.m. ET

The Federal Trade Commission accused wireless carrier T-Mobile on Tuesday of placing unauthorized charges on customers’ bills for unwanted premium SMS services such as flirting tips, horoscopes and celebrity gossip. T-Mobile generated hundreds of millions of dollars by taking a portion of the typical $9.99-a-month subscription fee charged for such services, according to the FTC.

Wireless carriers often agree to include third-party charges in customers’ monthly phone bills (AT&T customers, for instance, can pay for Beats Music as part of their cell phone plan). However, sometimes these charges are not authorized by customers and are hidden deep within their bills, a practice known as “cramming.” Several cramming companies targeted T-Mobile subscribers, but the wireless carrier continued to let them charge its customers even after there were indications of fraud, according to the FTC, which says up to 40 percent of the customers who were charged for these services asked for a refund. The FTC argues that figure should have indicated fraudulent activity.

Jessica Rich, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said credit card companies typically investigate instances of potential fraud if at least one percent of customers claim they have been wrongly charged from a specific vendor.

“It’s wrong for a company like T-Mobile to profit from scams against its customers when there were clear warning signs the charges it was imposing were fraudulent,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in a statement. “The FTC’s goal is to ensure that T-Mobile repays all its customers for these crammed charges.”

Beyond allowing the charges to occur, the FTC also claims that T-Mobile made it difficult for customers to discover the charges on their own phone bills. The carrier also refused refunds to some customers or told them to try to get their money back from the scammers, according to the FTC.

The FTC will seek refunds for customers who were the victims of fraudulent charges, an amount that Rich says could be hundreds of millions of dollars. The commission will also seek a court order to ban T-Mobile from allowing cramming in the future.

The accusation of subscriber-duping undercuts T-Mobile’s customer-friendly “Un-carrier” marketing campaign the carrier has pursued in the last year. As part of that strategy, the company has gotten rid of cellphone plan mainstays, like two-year contracts and overage charges, while constantly vilifying its competitors as overly greedy.

In a statement, T-Mobile CEO John Legere said the FTC complaint was without merit. “T-Mobile is fighting harder than any of the carriers to change the way the wireless industry operates and we are disappointed that the FTC has chosen to file this action against the most pro-consumer company in the industry rather than the real bad actors,” he said.

The company is hardly the only wireless carrier that has allowed cramming. Last fall Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all agreed to stop billing customers for unwanted charges from third-party services in most states. Legere also pointed out that T-Mobile already has a program in place to provide refunds to customers who felt they were fraudulently charged via cramming.

TIME space

NASA Delays Climate Change Satellite Launch

The launch gantry is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite onboard, at the Space Launch Complex Two, of the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on June 30, 2014.
The launch gantry is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite onboard, at the Space Launch Complex Two, of the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on June 30, 2014. NASA/Bill Ingalls—EPA

The satellite's equipment failure will push back launch until tomorrow tentatively

NASA’s aborted its launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite on Tuesday due to equipment failure, delaying the takeoff until Wednesday, pending a review of the incident.

The carbon dioxide monitoring project was scrubbed at T-46 seconds when engineers noticed that the water suppression system, used to dampen the launch pad’s acoustic energy during the rocket’s launch, had failed, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. If troubleshooting permits a second attempt, the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carrying OCO-2 will re-launch on Wednesday at 2:56 a.m. PDT at the Space Launch Complex-2 of Vandenberg Air Force Station, Calif.

The original OCO mission had crashed in 2009, when the rocket carrying the first satellite failed after takeoff to eject the payload fairing, a heavy cover that prevented the launch vehicle from achieving a high enough velocity to enter orbit.

In addition to monitoring the rocket’s mechanical functions, the OCO-2’s launch process must be finely calibrated to allow the satellite to achieve a perfect orbiting position in sync with five other Earth observing satellites. Thus, OCO-2 has only a 30 second window to launch. If missed — as was the case — NASA permits re-launches on succeeding nights.

OCO-2 will be NASA’s first mission to study the global carbon cycle.

 

TIME Startups

Now There Are Instant Coffee Pods for Beer

Getty Images

Coffee machines, move over. A different kind of buzz is coming to town

It sounds like a beer lover’s fantasy: all around the country, everyone could have beer dispensers on their kitchen counters next to their coffee machines, spouting cold bitter brews into eager glasses throughout the day.

But this is for real. SYNEK—a St. Louis startup that just launched its Kickstarter campaign last month—is creating a draft system that serves beer fresh from the tap even if you’re miles from the nearest bar.

The startup is signing on local breweries who put their beer in SYNEK bags, which have a long shelf life and can be transported relatively easily. The bags are then put into a dispenser that looks a little like a toaster-oven-sized coffee machine and plugs into the wall. Consumers can then serve beer wherever there is a dispenser.

Steve Young, SYNEK’s 28-year-old founder, says that his company will make it cheaper to ship beer to consumers without worrying about the headaches of bottling, and increase profit margins for craft breweries.

The machine pressurizes using carbon dioxide, and allows users to adjust SYNEK’s temperature. Beers by brewers including Harpoon Brewery, Schmaltz Beer Company and dozens of others are available through SYNEK already.

Young seeking $250,000 through Kickstarter by the end of July. Backers who pledge $299 get the dispenser along with 5 to 10 bags.

TIME Mobile

Here’s More Proof That Apps Are Dominating Smartphones

Apple iPhone
A customer inspects the new iPhone inside Apple's store in Causeway Bay district on September 20, 2013 in Hong Kong, China. Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images

We're all using apps way more than we ever have before

Here’s a shocker: we’re all using mobile apps more than ever before. A new study from Nielsen shows that app usage among iPhone and Android users in the U.S. rose 65 percent from Q4 2012 to Q4 2013. Smartphone users spent a total of 30 hours and 15 minutes per month using apps in the last quarter of 2013, up from 23 hours and two minutes the year prior.

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Nielsen

Despite the increased time spent using apps, users aren’t downloading too many more programs. The number of apps used per month inched up only slightly, from 26.5 in Q4 2012 to 26.8 in Q4 2013, indicating that people are getting more mileage out of the apps already crowding their home screens — or people are swapping older apps for new ones that perform similar tasks.

People spend about third of their time in apps using search engines, web portals or social networks, per Nielsen. Entertainment apps are nearly as popular, with communications apps being the third most-used.

The growing popularity of apps indicates these dedicated programs have begun gaining the upper hand over the mobile web. Huge Internet companies like Facebook initially resisted focusing on apps, instead hoping to create dynamic websites designed with HTML5 that could adapt to a wide variety of operating systems and web browsers. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg later admitted this was a huge strategic mistake. The company has since spun off different Facebook functions into independent apps such as Messenger and Paper on top of the primary Facebook app.

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