Microsoft wants Azure to be the multiplayer server solution for every platform

<em>Sea of Thieves</em> is a game already using Azure for its server hosting and scaling.

Microsoft today launched a preview of PlayFab Multiplayer Servers, a new Azure-based service giving game developers dynamic, on-demand scaling of multiplayer servers.

Microsoft bought Seattle-based PlayFab earlier this year with a view to using it to expand Azure’s reach in the gaming world. PlayFab is building all the cloud-based infrastructure needed for today’s games: matchmaking (using the same algorithms as Xbox Live to try to group players of similar skill together), leaderboards, server hosting, player identity/profile management, commerce, and so on. Broadly speaking, the intent of PlayFab is to let games developers focus on their games, taking care of the server-side work for them. PlayFab’s services are platform agnostic, and Microsoft has preserved this aspect: there are SDKs for Xbox, Windows, PlayStation, Switch, iOS, and Android.

At the time of the purchase, PlayFab ran atop Amazon’s AWS. Some parts still do, but others have moved to Microsoft’s own Azure. The Multiplayer Server feature, released in preview today, is one of the services on Azure. Microsoft has more Azure data centers in more parts of the world than Amazon or Google, which in turn means that Azure servers should generally be closer to where the players are. This should ensure lower latency and a better gaming experience for games on those servers.

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Mario Segale, namesake for Nintendo’s mascot, dies at 84

Jumpman, circa 1981, before the Segale-inspired renaming to "Mario"

Mario Segale, the Seattle-real estate and construction business owner who inspired the name for Nintendo’s famous mascot, passed away on Oct. 27 according to reports from The Seattle Times and The Auburn Reporter. He was 84 years old.

Segale owned the business park housing Nintendo’s American arcade operation in the early ’80s, when the company was busy converting thousands of disused Radarscope cabinets to play Donkey Kong. At the time, Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa and other executives were trying to come up with an Americanized name for the game’s player avatar, who was still referred to as “Jumpman” at that point (a name that appears on early Donkey Kong cabinet art).

As the story goes, when Segale came to Arakawa to demand payment for a late rent bill, inspiration struck.

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Nintendo recommits to “keep the business going” for 3DS

Can't afford a Switch? Mario has a suggestion for you...

In the age of the Nintendo Switch, the company’s older 3DS handheld tends to get the short end of the stick in terms of press and player attention. But Nintendo has maintained that it’s not going to abandon the dedicated portable, which showed surprisingly resilient sales as recently as this January.

In a recent financial briefing, Nintendo recommitted to keep selling and supporting the 3DS, and the company explained why the eight-year-old system continues to have a place next to the Switch.

Nintendo 3DS is set apart from Nintendo Switch by its characteristics as a handheld game system that is lightweight, price-friendly, and highly portable. Affordability is the strong point that positions Nintendo 3DS in a niche clearly separate from Nintendo Switch. In the grand scheme of things, Nintendo 3DS has a prominent position as the product that can be served as the first contact between Nintendo and many of its consumers, and for this reason we will keep the business going.

Keeping the 3DS around as a form of “entry-level” Nintendo hardware makes a lot of sense. The New 2DS XL now retails for just $150—half the price of a new Switch—and that’s with a copy of Mario Kart 7 bundled. And until major Nintendo franchises like Pokemon and Metroid come to the Switch, the 3DS represents the best way to enjoy them in relatively modern forms.

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Nintendo Planning Major Update for Fire Emblem Heroes and ‘Broadening the Scope’ of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Nintendo this week held its financial results briefing aimed at the second quarter for the fiscal year ending in March 2019 (via Reuters), during which it discussed its smart device business and major updates coming to two of its iOS apps: Fire Emblem Heroes and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.

Starting with Fire Emblem Heroes, Nintendo’s director and president Shuntaro Furukawa said that the company is planning a major version 3.0 update to the iOS game that will arrive around the end of 2018. The president didn’t divulge any more information on the update, but ensured that Nintendo will keep pouring effort into development and operation of Fire Emblem Heroes following its huge success on the iOS App Store.



According to Furukawa, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp will also be updated in the near future, but this one will be focused on “broadening the scope of the gameplay.” The iOS game is a pared-down version of the full games found on consoles like Nintendo 3DS, DS, Wii, and GameCube, and focuses on a small campsite that players can redecorate and customize to their liking, with a few other mini locations that can be visited through an in-game map.

Although details are still scarce, it sounds like Nintendo is planning to slightly expand the explorable area of the game with the update, and potentially add in new gameplay features. The company has consistently held new seasonal events and introduced new features — like gardening — over the past year, but its scope has largely stayed the same as when it first launched.

It’s doubtful that this means Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp will see a full village for players to navigate on iPhone, since Nintendo’s mobile business so far has used the strategy of introducing a smaller version of its franchises to entice people to check out the full games on console.

Because of this, it’s possible that Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp‘s big update could align with the next mainline entry in the franchise on Switch, which is set for release in 2019. Furukawa did not detail when exactly we’ll see the iOS update, but noted that “details will be announced closer to the time of the update,” so it might not be until next year.

Lastly, the president confirmed that Mario Kart Tour is still on track to be released during the current fiscal year ending in March 2019. After Mario Kart Tour launches, Nintendo will have released six games on the iOS App Store: Miitomo, Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and Dragalia Lost.

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Chat app Line’s games business raises $110M for growth opportunities

Messaging app firm Line has given up majority control of its Line Games business after it raised outside financing to expand its collection of titles and go after global opportunities.

The Line Games business was formed earlier this year when Line merged its existing gaming division from NextFloor, the Korea-based game publisher that it acquired in 2017. Now the business has taken on capital from Anchor Equity Partners, which has provided 125 billion KRW ($110 million) in financing via its Lungo Entertainment entity, according to a disclosure from Line.

A Line spokesperson clarified that the deal will see Anchor acquire 144,743 newly-created shares to take a 27.55 percent stake in Line Games. That increase means Line Corp’s own shareholding is diluted from 57.6 percent to a minority 41.73 percent stake.

Korea-based Anchor is best known for a number of deals in its homeland including investments in e-commerce giant Ticket Monster, Korean chat giant Kakao’s Podotree content business and fashion retail group E-Land.

Line operates its eponymous chat app which is the most popular messaging platform in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, and also significantly used in Indonesia, but gaming is a major source of income. This year to date, Line has made 28.5 billion JPY ($250 million) from its content division, which is primarily virtual goods and in-app purchases from its social games. That division accounts for 19 percent of Line’s total revenue, and it is a figure that is only better by its advertising unit, which has grossed 79.3 billion JPY, or $700 million, in 2018 to date.

The games business is currently focused on Japan, Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, but it said that the new capital will go towards finding new IP for future titles and identifying games with global potential. It is also open to more strategic deals to broaden its focus.

While Line has always been big on games, Line Games isn’t just building for its own service. The company said earlier this year that it plans to focus on non-mobile platforms, which will include the Nintendo Switch among others consoles.

That comes from the addition of NextFloor, which is best known for titles like Dragon Flight and Destiny Child. Dragon Flight has racked up 14 million users since its 2012 launch, at its peak it saw $1 million in daily revenue. Destiny Child, a newer release in 2016, topped the charts in Korea and has been popular in Japan, North America and beyond.

Line went public in 2016 via a dual U.S.-Japan IPO that raised over $1 billion.

Note: the original version of this article was updated to clarify that Lungo Entertainment is buying newly-issued shares.

Nintendo’s New Dragalia Lost Game Earned $16 Million in Two Weeks

In the two weeks following the launch of Dragalia Lost, Nintendo’s newest title, the game has earned $16 million in revenue from the iOS App Store and Google Play, according to estimates from app analytics site Sensor Tower.

$13.5 million of the $16 million in revenue has come from Japan and the United States, with the game now ranking third when it comes to revenue earned by Nintendo mobile titles.



During the first two weeks of availability, Fire Emblem Heroes earned $34 million, Super Mario Run earned $15.6 million, and Animal Crossing earned $9.8 million.

Dragalia Lost, unsurprisingly, is performing best in Japan. 69 percent of total revenue has come from Japan, while 16 percent has come from the United States. The remaining 15 percent has come from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau.

Dragalia Lost is the 19th most popular iOS app in Japan at the current time, and the number 512th most popular app in Japan. In terms of revenue, it is ranked number 10 in Japan and number 62 in the United States.

Nintendo released Dragalia Lost two weeks ago on Thursday, September 27. The game is an original swipe-based action RPG developed in partnership with Cygames.

Dragalia Lost tasks players with conquering their enemies using powerful attacks and special skills, with players able to control characters who can transform into dragons to unleash their power on enemies.



In addition to battling monsters, players will also need to develop a holy citadel for dragon training. Limited time multiplayer raid battles are available for up to three players online, and an internet connection is required to play.

Like most of Nintendo’s recent titles, Dragalia Lost is free to play and supported through in-app purchases.

Dragalia Lost can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]

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Nintendo’s ‘souped-up’ NES Zelda loads you with gear for an easier adventure

Nintendo has set a strange new precedent with the release of Legend of Zelda SP on the Switch: it’s essentially the original NES game but Link starts loaded up with good gear and cash. In a way it’s no different from a cheat code, but the way it’s executed feels like a missed opportunity.

The game itself (SP stands for “special”) is described by Nintendo in the menu as a “souped up version” of the original: “Living the life of luxury!” It’s a separate entry in the menu with all the other NES games you get as part of the company’s subscription service.

You’re given the white sword, big shield, blue ring, and power bracelet, plus 255 rupees to replace that shield when a Like-like eats it. Basically they’ve given you all the stuff you can find on the overworld (including max bombs and keys), but no items you’d get from inside a dungeon. You also have six hearts, and traveling around a little bit I determined these were awarded by raiding nearby hidden areas, not simply assigned. Secret passages are already revealed, and so on.

Because it skips the title screen and save game selection it seems like someone must have essentially played through the game to this point (or more likely edited the values in game RAM) and then walked to the classic starting point and made a save state that automatically loads when you start or reset the game. This means the only way to save is to use the Switch’s built-in save states, not the rather inconvenient save method the game used.

It’s plain enough that this will be a less frustrating way to explore this famously difficult game, but it seems untrue to Zelda’s roots. I understand perhaps gifting the player some of the impossible to find things like a heart hidden inside a random block here or there. Getting some bombs to start is great too, and maybe even the rings (warping is helpful, and the game is pretty punishing so damage reduction is nice). But the white sword?

For one thing, a player experiencing the game this way misses out on one of the most iconic moments in all gaming — “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this!” Then the ritual lifting of the wooden sword. And then setting out into the world to die again and again.

And for me, the white sword was always sort of a rite of passage in the game — your first big step towards becoming powerful. You earned it by finding those extra heart containers, perhaps after asking in vain after it before you were ready. Once you have it, you’re cutting through enemies like butter.

To make it the default sword and to skip these steps seems like it causes the player to miss out on what makes Zelda Zelda.

To be fair, it’s not the only version of the game you can play — the original is available too. But it seems like a missed opportunity. Why not just have a save game you can load with this stuff, so you can continue playing as normal? Why not have the option baked into the launch of the original Zelda — have a couple secret save states ready with differing levels of items?

Nintendo has the opportunity to introduce a new generation to classic NES games here, having provided a rather barebones experience with the NES Classic Edition. Why not enhance them? Include the manual, god mode, developer commentary? This is the legacy the company has been stewarding for decades, and what better than to give it the respect it deserves?

I’m probably overthinking it. But this Zelda SP just seems like a rushed job when players would appreciate something like it, just not so heavy-handed. It’s not that these games are inviolable, but that if they’re going to be fiddled with, we’d like to see it done properly.

A new Nintendo Switch is reportedly arriving next year

Nintendo’s been known to upgrade consoles with some regularity. It’s an easy way to keep audiences engaged over the long life of a system. Released in March 2017, the Switch certainly seems due for an update.

Sure, the hybrid console has been a runaway success for Nintendo, but after a year and a half, sales plateau, and some revamped hardware could be exactly the shot in the arm the device needs. According to a new report for The Wall Street Journal citing suppliers and other anonymous sources, Nintendo has a new version of the console in the works for later next year.

Details are still pretty thin — apparently Nintendo itself hasn’t figured out precisely what such an update would entail. A new screen is understandably pretty high up on the wish of upgrades to the console. After all, the current display was something of an afterthought for a console primarily designed to be plugged into a home entertainment system.

Price is still an important factor here, however. As such, a high-end OLED is probably out of the question. That said, there are still plenty of affordable options that can be pilfered from the smartphone space.

Timing-wise, the new Switch is expected to arrive “as soon as summer.” Nintendo, naturally, isn’t commenting.