Tag Archives: microsoft

Everything Announced During Today’s Inside Xbox

Photo: Microsoft

Following Sony’s “State of Play” livestream earlier today, Microsoft jumped in with an Inside Xbox presentation featuring new content and services coming to its platform.

More games are coming to Xbox Game Pass. On Xbox One, Jump Force, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and Lego Worlds are being added. On PC, Cities: Skylines, Saints Row 4, Bad North, and Dirt Rally 2.0.

The Xbox Game Pass app itself will be updated as well with improvements to the interface. More indie games will also be coming to Game Pass, including Genesis Noir, Lonely Mountains Downhill, and Demon’s Tilt. The rest of the lineup will be shown off in an ID@Xbox Game Pass video on September 26.

Additionally, Felix the Reaper, a comedy-puzzle game about death, will be available October 17, and will be available on Game Pass that day.

Project xCloud, the service that will let people play Xbox console games on phones, tablets, et cetera via streaming, will have a public preview beginning in October. If you’re in the U.S., the U.K., 0r Korea, you can apply today. Halo 5 Guardians, Gears 5, Sea of Thieves, and Killer Instinct will be the four games available in the preview. You’ll need a wireless Xbox One controller and an Android phone to try it.

xCloud is a distinct service from what Microsoft calls “console streaming,” aka using your own console to remotely stream games to your device. This, it said, is coming at a later date.

Four new characters and many other updates are coming to Gears 5. (The hosts also reminded players that if they want to unlock Batista as a character in the game, you have to do that before October 28 or the actor-wrestler will go “back in the vault.”)

Atlas, the pirate MMO that released into Early Access on Steam last year, will be arriving on Xbox One on October 8. Content will arrive simultaneously on Xbox and PC as Atlas is updated, making it the “exact same game on both platforms.”

New Xbox One X and Xbox One S hardware bundles will include Forza Horizon 4 and its Lego Speed Champions expansion.

Other trailers and footage shown during the livestream included Children of Morta (out now on PC, October 15 on Xbox One/PlayStation 4), Code Vein (September 27), The Outer Worlds (October 25), Afterparty (October 29), Tropico 6 (September 27), Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (beta this weekend, full game October 4), Hitman 2‘s Haven Island expansion (today), new DLC for Ace Combat 7 (September 25), and the new map for DayZ, called “Livonia” (coming soon).

Source: Kotaku.com

Little Kid’s Hand-Written Xbox Fan Mail From 2002 Is Very Wholesome

Seamus Blackley, one of the key people involved in the creation of the original Xbox console, was going through some old stuff the other day when he came across an adorable piece of fan mail written 17 years ago by little Mitchell Riley. Realizing he’d never replied, Blackley decided to track him down and make amends.

First though, the letter itself, which is infinitely more wholesome than any of the correspondence developers must receive in 2019:

And now for the amends! With a little bit of detective work from fans, it turns out Mitchell wasn’t just still into his Xbox games; he was still such a Halo fan that last week he was at Halo Outpost Discovery, a show in Houston where he met the voices behind master Chief and Cortana:

That must be pretty cool for original Xbox/Halo developers to see something like this and realize that their console and game series are old enough for childhood fans to have become grown-ass adults in a way we normally only associate with companies like Nintendo and Sega.

As for Mitchell, his wholesome online adventures may soon be coming to an end; he only made a Twitter account to respond to Blackley’s search, and so is sure to find things are all downhill from here.

Source: Kotaku.com

Everything Microsoft Showed On Today’s Inside Xbox

Microsoft showed off Gears of War 5‘s horde mode, NBA 2k20‘s career mode, and the new games coming to Game Pass during its latest episode of Inside Xbox.

The episode spanned over an hour and a half, and while it was mostly full of new trailers for games we already new about, there were a few interesting bits of new information sprinkled throughout.

Here’s the full rundown:

  • Devil May Cry 5 is coming to Xbox Game Pass today, alongside Stellaris: Console Edition, while Age of Empires: Definitive Edition will be available on the PC side. Ape Out and Kingdom Come: Deliverance will get added on August 22, while Bard’s Tale IV: Director’s Cut will join on August 27.
  • Blair Witch will get added to Game Pass on both the console and PC sides when it releases on August 30.
  • Humans Fall Flat will be getting a free new level on both PC and Xbox One on August 27 (the game is also on Game Pass).
  • Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition will release on November 14 on both Steam and the Microsoft Store. It adds better AI, 4K graphics, and a number of other improvements, including four new factions. Anyone who already owns the HD version on Steam will be able to get the new version at a discount.
  • Gears Pop! will be out August 22 on iOS, Android, and Windows 10. The Gears of War player-vs.-player strategy game was originally announced at E3 2018 as one of two new Gears spinoffs, the other being the XCOM-inspired Gears Tactics.
  • British actor Idris Elba will be in NBA2k20‘s career mode, as well Rosario Dawson and many other famous people.
  • Ghost War, the multiplayer mode for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, will feature eight players facing off in two teams of four fighting in maps that appear to have storms closing in around them similar to a battle royale game. It’ll also have dedicated servers.
  • PUBG will be getting cross-play between PS4 and Xbox One in an update due out sometime in October.
  • There are two new Xbox One controller designs, one called Night Ox that’s camouflage and one called Sport Blue that has a subtle geometric pattern on the fins.
  • Empire of Sin has a release window of Spring 2020.
  • Microsoft is holding a fan event called X019 on the weekend of November 14 in London featuring the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, and other members of the Xbox team.
  • Metro Exodus’s The Two Colonels DLC is coming out August 20 (tomorrow) and will feature a big flamethrower for all those post-apocalyptic cookouts.
  • Microsoft closed out its stream by showing off Gears of War 5‘s horde mode, which will feature player ultimates this time around. Like in Destiny or Overwatch, players will have custom special abilities like going invisible, X-ray vision, and calling in airstrikes that they’ll be able to deploy throughout the match.

Source: Kotaku.com

Long-Promised Minecraft Graphical Overhaul Is Canceled

Screenshot: Microsoft (Minecraft)

Today, Mojang announced that it has ceased development on Minecraft’s Super Duper Graphics Pack, citing technical difficulties. It’s been just over two years since the feature was announced on stage at E3 2017,

“Some of you might remember us announcing the Super Duper Graphics Pack during E3 2017,” the studio announced on its website today. “Super Duper was an ambitious initiative that brought a new look to Minecraft but, unfortunately, the pack proved too technically demanding to implement as planned.”

Mojang’s statement went on to say that the studio wasn’t happy with how the update was performing across the different platforms Minecraft on which is currently available, which range from Xbox One X to smartphones. Mojang is instead “looking into other ways for you to experience Minecraft with a new look.”

The Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add new textures and visual effects to the game, including on Xbox One X where it would run in 4K, was originally slated to release in the fall of 2017, but was ultimately delayed until 2018. It didn’t arrive that year either, however, leaving Minecraft fans to wonder what had happened to the project.

While today’s announcement is the first time Mojang has addressed the issues with the Graphics Pack in an official statement from the studio at large, individual developers at the company have previously spoken out on Reddit and elsewhere, explaining the problems the development team was facing, including needing to rewrite much of the graphics portion of the game’s Bedrock Engine from scratch to accommodate the potential improvements.

Minecraft is the only first-party Microsoft game not to have Xbox One X enhancements, and it’s unclear whether this is the end of the road when it comes to that. Microsoft and Mojang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Source: Kotaku.com

Microsoft Is Eavesdropping on Your Skype and Cortana Activity

Screenshot: David Murphy

A number of companies are starting to have reservations about using real people to “improve” their digital assistants by reviewing what you’ve said to your smart speaker or phone. I’m willing to bet that Microsoft will also soon about-face on this practice, but right now, contractors might be listening to what you tell Skype Translator and Cortana.

According to Vice’s Motherboard, an unnamed Microsoft contractor was able to provide recordings—which tend to vary in length from 5–10 seconds, but aren’t limited to that—of people using Skype’s translation feature. To help Microsoft improve the feature’s capabilities, these contractors listen to what users have said and select from a list of possible translations or, in some cases, provide their own.

When asked about this setup, Microsoft representatives told Motherboard that the company makes these recordings available through a secure online portal, and that it takes steps—not described—to remove any associated information that could be used to identify a user after the fact. However, that doesn’t stop people from revealing information about themselves (like their address) when talking to a digital assistant like Cortana, and it doesn’t appear as if there’s any setup in place to prevent Microsoft’s contractors from analyzing that kind of spoken data.

According to a statement Microsoft provided to Motherboard:

“Microsoft collects voice data to provide and improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation or translation services. We strive to be transparent about our collection and use of voice data to ensure customers can make informed choices about when and how their voice data is used. Microsoft gets customers’ permission before collecting and using their voice data.”

“We also put in place several procedures designed to prioritize users’ privacy before sharing this data with our vendors, including de-identifying data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees, and requiring that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law. We continue to review the way we handle voice data to ensure we make options as clear as possible to customers and provide strong privacy protections.”

Can you stop Skype from sending what you say to Microsoft?

In a word, no. At least, when we published this article, I didn’t see any indication on Microsoft’s privacy FAQ for Skype Translator that you can restrict the company from collecting voice data. The practice is spelled out somewhat clearly:

“When you use Skype’s translation features, Skype collects and uses your conversation to help improve Microsoft products and services. To help the translation and speech recognition technology learn and grow, sentences and automatic transcripts are analyzed and any corrections are entered into our system, to build more performant services. To help protect your privacy, the conversations that are used for product improvement are indexed with alphanumeric identifiers that do not identify participants to the conversation.”

I say somewhat, as Microsoft doesn’t indicate in its FAQ that your speech is being analyzed by real people. In fact, this description almost implies that it’s a fully mechanical process, which it is not—nor could it be, since a machine wouldn’t be able to pick the correct translation. The entire point is that a human being has to train the system to get better.

I also didn’t see any settings within the iOS Skype app that would let you opt out of this “improvement” process, but it’s possible that Microsoft will change this approach going forward. It would be great to have an opt-out switch or, even better, an opt-in switch for permitting analyses of voice data.

What about Cortana?

As Vice’s report notes, Cortana commands are also fair game for contractors to listen to. However, you can opt out of this practice. To do so:

  1. Pull up the Settings app in Windows 10
  2. Click on Privacy
  3. Click on Speech on the left-hand sidebar
  4. Disable the “Online speech recognition” feature
Screenshot: David Murphy

The problem? Disabling this feature also hamstrings Cortana. You can still use the digital assistant to access information, but you won’t be able to talk to it and have it respond to your commands.

Your better bet might be to remind yourself to regularly review the Cortana voice data Microsoft is storing. To do that, visit your Microsoft Account page and click on the Privacy tab at the top. Scroll down to “Voice Activity” and click the “View and Clear Voice Activity” button. Look for the “Clear activity” link in the upper-right corner of your data list, and click that. Delete all the things.

Screenshot: David Murphy

I couldn’t get my data to clear, of course, but I hope you have better luck.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Also note that this still might not prevent a Microsoft contractor listening to what you’ve told Cortana—it all depends on whether you delete this data before it’s used to “improve Microsoft’s feature.” We have no idea how much time you have to delete your recordings before Microsoft uses them for something else, or even if this process deletes the single and only instance of the recording. It’s certainly possible that Microsoft simply makes a copy of what you’ve said, “anonymizes” it, and uses that instead.

Ultimately, not using services that process your voice on a company’s servers is the best way to ensure nobody else can hear what you’ve said, but that’s the trade-off we make for convenience in today’s digital world. If you want a digital assistant or an app to figure out what you’re saying and act on that information, you’re going to have to give up a little privacy to benefit from it. At least, that’s the setup until more companies recognize that it’s important to give customers a choice about whether they want their speech potentially processed by another person.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Video Game Industry Can’t Go On Like This

At about this time next year, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what the next generation of video games will look like. New consoles will likely be shown off, bold new streaming initiatives will begin to launch, and we’ll see all the wonderful kinds of games they will bring us. All these new things will come, and we’ll close the book on a generation that saw the industry that makes games come under greater scrutiny than ever before, as studios shuttered, developers burned out, and toxic work culture fostered environments hostile to marginalized people.

These are not problems that have been resolved, but the wheels of the games industry keep turning, in spite of the strain. So how much bigger can video games get? Video games are only getting more costly, in more ways than one. And it doesn’t seem like they’re sustainable.

There’s the human cost, which Kotaku has chronicled extensively. Contract workers are continually undervalued and taken advantage of, as Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 developer Treyarch is reported to do. Artists who work on gory cinematics integral to games like Mortal Kombat suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Unrealistic demands and lofty investor expectations lead to disastrous development cycles for video games like Anthem, which in turn leads to developer crunch. Every week, news breaks about the toll video game development takes on the people who make them, and we carry on as if it’s all going to be fine.

Mortal Kombat 11
Image: NetherRealm Studios (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)

That’s only the start of it. When you adjust for inflation, the retail cost of video games has never been cheaper, and it’s been this way for some time. The $60 price point for a standard big-budget release has held steady for nearly 15 years, unadjusted for inflation even as the cost to make big-budget video games has risen astronomically with player expectations. (Here’s some math that gives you an idea of just how absurdly expensive games are to make.)

Since changing the price point seems to be anathema, we’ve seen the industry attempt to compensate with all manner of alternatives: higher-priced collector’s editions, live service games that offer annual passes or regular expansions a la Destiny, microtransactions, and free-to-play games. Then you have loot boxes, which in many cases boil down to slot machine-style gambling inserted into retail and free-to-play games alike—something that is coming under increased legal scrutiny that might potentially cut off what has quickly become a major source of revenue in the industry.

These aren’t all necessarily responses to thinning profit margins in the face of rising inflation. Game publishers are often publicly-held companies, with investors that need to be shown endlessly increasing profits that are then used to justify ridiculously large executive paychecks. Perhaps that’s a problem that needs solving, too.

Because of all this, $60 is often just the minimum buy-in, the ante in the pot, for some of the biggest releases. If you want every character in a game’s roster, or every map in its playlists, you’ll have to pay more, and increasingly, you have to. Big-budget single-player games that deliver a single-serving experience with minimal strings attached have largely disappeared from the lineups of major third-party publishers.

Sea of Solitude.
Image: Jo-Mei Games (Electronic Arts)

Let’s run down the Big Three. We’re more than halfway through 2019, and Electronic Arts has only published one single-player game, the indie Sea of Solitude. Last year was much the same, with two indies as its only single-player releases: Fe and Unraveled 2. Activision’s portfolio of single-player games looks even thinner: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the only exclusively single-player, non-remake game that the publisher has released since 2015’s Transformers: Devastation—which itself is no longer available, thanks to an expired licensing agreement.

Ubisoft is an exception, regularly releasing entries in single-player game franchises like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. But it buttresses them aggressive microtransactions and extensive season pass plans. (And the occasional diversion like Trials Rising and South Park: The Fractured But Whole.) The big-budget single-player experience is now almost entirely the domain of first-party studios making marquee games for console manufacturers, which bankroll games like Spider-Man and God of War. The economics of first-party exclusives are totally different—they’re less about making money by themselves and more about drawing players into the console’s ecosystem.

This is worth considering, because as big publishers prioritize live, service-oriented games, the number of games on their schedules has dropped. If you look at the Wikipedia listings for EA, Ubisoft, and Activision games released by year, you’ll get a stark—if unscientific—picture of how each big publisher’s release slate has thinned out in the last five years, relying on recurring cash cows like sports games and annualized franchises and little else. In 2008, those three publishers released 98 games; in 2018 they released just 28, not including expansions.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Image: FromSoftware (Activision)

In short, the single-player game was not sustainable. So why should we think the current model is?

The smaller release slates make for a precipitous state of affairs where too much is riding on too little, a shaky foundation for big-budget game development to rest on. Granted, there are other publishers, like those in Japan, that are still very interested in single-player games. Independent games have also filled the single-player void and achieved greater visibility than ever before. But each of these alternatives face their own challenges in a volatile market, one where just five years ago conventional wisdom held the Japanese games industry was dead. Independent developers, meanwhile, continue to fight for the smallest slice of an impossibly crowded market. No matter where you sit on the games industry ladder, stability remains elusive.

That’s the present of video games. Let’s talk about the future. The intersecting trends of games-as-a-service and the increased emphasis on streaming mean an increased reliance on off-site computing with data centers and server farms distributed across the globe.

Microsoft’s Project xCloud wants to use the company’s data centers to provide high-end console and PC gaming to anyone with a good enough internet connection. Google Stadia is a service that pitches something similar if not even more wide-reaching, angling for the big-budget video game experience in a web browser. And Sony already offers a streaming service, PlayStation Now, which is likely to expand in the next generation.

A 2016 study from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory gives us an idea of the sort of things to consider in this arena. The outlook gives reasons to both be alarmed and also be hopeful.

The foremost takeaway is that while data centers are growing in number, their energy consumption is starting to plateau out of necessity, as the dramatic increase in cloud computing has actually forced tech companies to become more efficient. The biggest companies, according to the Berkeley Lab report, are actually remarkably efficient.

Data center efficiency is measured by power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating. PUE is found by measuring a facility’s total power delivered divided by the power used by its IT equipment. Under this rating, the platonic ideal is a PUE of 1.0: power input and output perfectly balanced. Google, then, is in pretty good shape as far as this standard goes, with the average PUE of all its data centers currently at 1.11.

Efficiency, however, can remain good as power consumption increases, and consumption is going to remain a problem.

Data center energy consumption has been a concern for some time now, particularly in the United States, where data center energy consumption dwarfs that of the rest of the world at 1.8 percent of all energy used in the countrySmaller data centers, which estimates say make up 60 percent of data center energy-use, are inefficient compared to the biggest players, and with no legal standard or universal benchmark, there’s no way to ensure that efficiency gap is closed.

A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Photo: Google

Making this problem even more dire is our current political climate, where developing sources of clean, renewable energy is an idea met with hostility by countries like the United States throwing their weight behind fossil fuels, even outside of its own borders. That doesn’t even account for the ways games contribute to the world’s electronic waste problem. E-waste is toxic, and only 40 percent of it is properly recycled.

And all that is before you even start to think about climate change, and the urgent action needed to avert a major crisis in our lifetime.

Video games cannot do this forever. If any of these things were to collapse—the people who make them, the economy they’re sold in, the ecosystem we’re all a part of—it would be catastrophic. All of them at once? That’s a disaster we need to talk about, openly. Because there are solutions to these problems.

Some of them are small, like making sure you know how to properly dispose of e-waste, should you need to throw out a busted console or peripheral, and doing what you can to live sustainably, even though climate change certainly requires the sort of large-scale action that only governments can enact To that end, you can take more involved action, like calling your local congressperson or government representative and asking if climate change and environmental concerns are on their agenda, and keeping apprised of any legislation up for voting in local elections.

Other solutions are harder to parse. How do we account for the data center sprawl of tech companies and their energy consumption? Is it ethically sound to use a service like Project xCloud or Google Stadia or Playstation Now, knowing all this? Should we push for a global green tech agreement of some kind, so companies that contribute to server sprawl and energy consumption do so in a sustainable way? A carbon tax seems like a good start, but this is a problem in need of many answers, not one.

Some solutions are thankfully, underway. Labor practices have come under scrutiny and developers are beginning to discuss organizing in earnest. Unionization is not going to solve every problem, but it can lead to meaningful progress in a lot of ways that trickle outward into other arenas. More equitable practices can mean the relentless pace of development is slowed down, which could make for fewer, better games and a course correction in supply and demand. Or it might only make things marginally better.

Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all have stated sustainability initiatives and reports, but these programs are all buried in corporate sites and paperwork—a better approach would be to make sustainability as big a talking point as load times or ray-tracing. Something we could look at and compare to the previous year, and make note of how better off we are.

These are big, insurmountable seeming problems, but like all incredibly big projects—like, say, game development—they’re things that can be done, slowly, a little bit at a time. We just have to start.

It’s unlikely that video games will ever truly go extinct. We’ll probably always have something called “video games,” but what those games will look like is still very much in flux. There’s no guarantee that the way games are currently made will remain viable for another 10 years—games aren’t even made today the same way they were 10 years ago. They will look different. They will change because they can, and because they must. Hopefully, all the ways games change will be on our terms—otherwise disaster will change them for us.

Source: Kotaku.com

Sony, Microsoft, And Nintendo Come Out Against Trump’s Tariffs On Gaming Consoles

Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have joined forces to tell the U.S. government that its newly-proposed tariffs on goods imported from China would hurt consumers, put jobs at risk, and stifle innovation, according to a joint letter sent by the companies to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

As part of its ongoing trade war with China, the Trump administration has proposed $300 billion in tariffs, or taxes on foreign goods, on most consumer goods. This would include a 25 percent tariff on video game consoles. “For those purchases that do go forward despite tariffs, consumers would pay $840 million more than they otherwise would have,” the console manufacturers argue, citing a report by the Trade Partnership Worldwide economic group.

In the joint letter dated June 17, the companies say that 96 percent of video game consoles imported by the U.S. are manufactured in China and that due to the custom hardware inside of them, they can’t easily be made elsewhere. “The video game console supply chain has developed in China over many years of investment by our companies and our partners,” the companies say. “It would cause significant supply chain disruption to shift sourcing entirely to the United States or a third country, and it would increase costs—even beyond the cost of the proposed tariffs—on products that are already manufactured under tight margin conditions.”

They go on:

“Each video game console comprises dozens of complex components sourced from multiple countries. A change in even a single supplier must be vetted carefully to mitigate risks of product quality, unreliability and consumer safety issues. Tariffs would significantly disrupt our companies’ businesses and add significant costs that would depress sales of video game consoles and the games and services that drive the profitability of this market segment.”

The companies don’t speculate what the 25 percent tariff would do the the prices that consumers will pay at the cash register, but they do argue that the effects of the increased costs would be felt throughout the industry, including by companies both big and small who make games.

“Because of the deep interdependence of video game consoles and game software, and due to the price sensitivity of video game console purchasers, tariffs on video game consoles would not only harm our companies, consumers, and retailers, but will also disproportionately harm the thousands of small and medium-sized software and accessory developers in the United States,” the companies say. “Thus, these tariffs would have a ripple effect of harm that extends throughout the video game ecosystem.”

It’s still not completely clear if and when the new round of tariffs will go into effect. Trade talks between the U.S. and China are currently ongoing, and yesterday Bloomberg reported that the new tariffs could be suspended from going into effect if progress is made at the Group of 20 summit taking place in Osaka, Japan this weekend.

Source: Kotaku.com

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate goes on sale for $1, upgrades existing memberships

What you need to know

  • Xbox Game Pass Ultimate was previously only available to Xbox Insiders.
  • You can purchase it now for $1 for first month.
  • After that you’ll be charged $15 a month.
  • You can purchase Xbox Game Pass Ultimate through the Microsoft Store.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate combines Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold into one complete package. There are rumors that it will also include certain Windows 10 games and access to Project xCloud game streaming when it’s available later this year, but that hasn’t been confirmed as of yet. While it’s been available to select Xbox Insiders for a few weeks, anyone can subscribe to the service for $1 a month right now.

Keep in mind that the $1 price is just for the first month. After your trial expires, you’ll be charged $15 a month. In a few months when retailers like Amazon offer discounts on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you should stock up so you don’t have to pay $15 a month. We’re noticing similar discounts on Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold right now. A special introductory offer of $20 for three months should also be revealed at E3 2019.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also seems like it gives better perks. For example, some leaked promotional images say that Gears 5: Ultimate Edition will be included with the service. The regular Xbox Game Pass gives you just the standard edition it seems. If this trend continues in the future, with the top-of-the-line editions being available through Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, that’s by far the best deal.

The biggest question on peoples’ mind is what happens to your prepaid months of Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass when you join Xbox Game Pass Ultimate? When you join Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft will apply any prepaid time you have on Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass towards Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. You can only get up to 36 months so don’t go crazy trying to buy a decade-long subscription. For example, if you have three months of Xbox Live Gold and three months of Xbox Game Pass already on your account, you’ll have a total of seven months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate before you need to renew.

Best of the best

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold in one

Xbox Game Pass gives you access to over a hundred games for one monthly fee. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also adds Xbox Live Gold to the package so you can play online with your friends. You can either get a one-month trial for $1 from the Microsoft Store.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: Everything you need to know

Announced initially on the April edition of Inside Xbox, the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate program is Microsoft’s next stage of its popular service. One of the big requests from subscribers has been a single program to combine subscriptions for Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold, and now, Microsoft is delivering.

That’s exactly what Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is. With a little sprinkling of something new for PC gamers bundled in for good measure.

What exactly is Xbox Game Pass Ultimate?

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is the combination of two current programs: Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold. Subscribers to Ultimate will have access to both for one monthly subscription cost instead of two separate ones. Additionally, the new Xbox Game Pass for PC subscription will also be included with Game Pass Ultimate.

Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft’s subscription service that offers complete access to over 100 games. You can download these to your console to play in full for as long as you’re a paying subscriber or the titles in question remain in the Game Pass library. Better yet, if a Game Pass title also supports Xbox Play Anywhere, you get access to play those on your PC, as well, as part of your subscription.

The new PC-specific Game Pass subscription has its own list of games, some of which are a crossover with the console program on account of Xbox Play Anywhere. But many are exclusive to PC, such as launch titles Football Manager 2019 and Metro Exodus.

Complete list of Xbox Game Pass PC games

If you choose to buy any game you play in Game Pass Ultimate, you’ll get a 10 percent discount on it while you’re a member.

Xbox Live Gold provides you with a number of perks. The first is access to online multiplayer in any Xbox One game, so if you want to play with friends you need Gold. More than that, though, Gold gives you four free games every month, two Xbox One titles and two Xbox 360 titles that are backward compatible and are yours to keep.

Gold subscribers also get exclusive discounts every single week on games from the Microsoft Store, as well as additional discounts during special promotional periods such as the Easter sale.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate provides access to all of this under one subscription.

How much does Xbox Game Pass Ultimate cost?

Confirmed pricing for the U.S. is $14.99 a month, but regional pricing may vary. As a special bonus, sign ups at launch are being offered for $1 for the first month.

When does Xbox Game Pass Ultimate launch?

It’s available right now! After an early access program for Xbox Insiders, Microsoft officially started letting anyone sign up from June 9, 2019, the same day as it’s E3 press conference.

Where is Xbox Game Pass Ultimate available?

When Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will be available in all current Xbox Game Pass markets.

So how do you get Xbox Game Pass Ultimate?

Really easy. Simply visit the Microsoft Store from the account you wish to link to Game Pass Ultimate and buy a subscription.

Do you need to cancel Xbox Game Pass or Live Gold to get Ultimate?

When you sign up to Ultimate, any other current subscriptions are migrated across and automatically canceled for you.

What happens if you have prepaid subscriptions on your account already?

During the testing period, Microsoft honored prepaid months of Xbox Game Pass and Live Gold with free months of Ultimate. Currently, the same seems to apply to people signing up outside the Insider program, too, as we’ve seen first hand on multiple accounts.

The following is from the Insider FAQ which gives a good explanation:

As an Insider benefit, when you join Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to give feedback, we will apply any prepaid time you have on Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Game Pass or both toward Xbox Game Pass Ultimate up to a maximum of 36-months … For example, if you have 3-months of Xbox Live Gold and 3-months of Xbox Game Pass already in your account and join Ultimate as an Insider, you will be charged $1 for your first month. For subsequent months we will apply 6-months toward your Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (up to a maximum of 36-months).

Even if you’re not totally convinced, for $1 it’s definitely worth signing up and giving it a try to help make your decision.

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Telltale’s Minecraft Currently Costs $700 On Xbox 360 (But You’re Not Supposed To Buy It)

If you really think about it, all video games—dazzling feats of technical mastery assembled over the course of countless man hours—are priceless. But if you think about it even harder, you probably still won’t want to pay $100 for a single episode of the soon-to-be-delisted Minecraft: Story Mode.

Currently, each episode of the eight-part narrative-driven Minecraft series from Telltale (R.I.P.) costs $100 on the Xbox 360. That means the total cost of the whole thing is $700 (one episode is free). If that strikes you as prohibitively expensive, well, it’s supposed to be. A post on the Minecraft: Story Mode Facebook page Friday explained that in the process of removing the series from sale ahead of total de-listing on June 25, the game’s current stewards accidentally disabled previous owners’ ability to re-download it. The sudden price change is a workaround because, as you’re likely aware, the Xbox 360 is very old. It is tired and just wants to sleep. Also, its store backend wasn’t constructed with the sometimes-unfortunate economic realities of modern video games in mind.

“From working with the Xbox 360 platform, the only solution to this situation is to re-list the downloadable content for purchase,” reads the post on Minecraft: Story Mode’s Facebook page. “So, to assist existing customers, all the downloadable Episodes for the two Minecraft: Story Mode titles are temporarily re-listed but, to deter new purchases, they will be re-listed at a very high price!”

The post then goes on to explicitly state that people should not purchase the episodes: “The price shown is a real list price, please do not buy the content, if you do, you will be charged the amount shown. This is simply the only mechanism available to facilitate players being able to download their remaining episodes prior to servers shutting down.”

It’s a pretty absurd situation, all things considered—a funny footnote in the otherwise sad saga of Telltale games vanishing from platforms in the wake of the company’s ugly demise. As for Story Mode, hopefully we’ll be able to buy it again someday for less than $100 a piece. Or for anything at all, for that matter.

Source: Kotaku.com