Amazon Game Studios suffering- Lays off many employees, cancels projects

Amazon Game Studios suffering- Lays off many employees, cancels projects 1

Amazon Game Studios has fired off many employees and has shelved many games that were unannounced. For those unaware, Amazon does have their own video game studio that focuses on mobile games. They’ve fired dozens of employees, as reported by Kotaku. Amazon told these employees to look for new positions within the company in 60 … Read more Amazon Game Studios suffering- Lays off many employees, cancels projects

New Fallout placeholder spotted on Amazon – Remake or Fallout 5?

Fallout next game.

Bethesda was found to have a placeholder on Amazon for an upcoming game. The listing had a Fallout-style countdown timer. Uh oh- have they done it again? Probably not. Bethesda seems to be getting their act together after the disaster that was Fallout 76. They’ve released a Fallout 76 roadmap with the Wild Appalachia update. … Read more New Fallout placeholder spotted on Amazon – Remake or Fallout 5?

Best-selling games of 2018 on Amazon; SSBU takes first place

Best-selling games of 2018 on Amazon; SSBU takes first place 2

Amazon has released a list of the top 10 best-selling games of 2018. With 2019 now upon us, we can take a look back at 2018’s sales since they’re completely finalized. Sales reports and figures that have been released to the public are now available on Amazon so we can get official sales data from the … Read more Best-selling games of 2018 on Amazon; SSBU takes first place

Kingdom Hearts III gets exclusive Amazon Keyblade for pre-orders

Kingdom Hearts III gets exclusive Amazon Keyblade for pre-orders 3

Amazon announced a new Keyblade DLC for Kingdom Hearts III yesterday on Cyber Monday during an announcement stream called the Dawn Till Tusk Keyblade.

The Keyblade is a variation of the classic Kingdom key design. There’s a green overlay on the usual gold-tinted handguards and sun/crescent moon design on the top side. This may be a simpler version of the Kingdom key and may have special stats in-game. This is yet to be revealed.

Players who want this Keyblade will have to pre-order or buy Kingdom Hearts III before its release or on its release on PS4 and Xbox One on January 29, 2019. People who buy it after won’t be eligible for getting this exclusive Keyblade, and it’s only available for Amazon purchasers.

Amazon Prime members will also get a $10 credit for pre-ordering KH3. This can’t be used to take $10 off the game, but rather can be used to buy anything else on Amazon (what do they not have?). The game has already been confirmed and this really happening. After many years of waiting, we’ll get to see the next Kingdom Hearts game to create the KH trilogy!

Some new trailers have been released showing off characters from Tangled and Winnie the Pooh.

For players who want the exclusive Amazon Keyblade, they can order the game on Amazon. This is pretty awesome, but then again, some players have had KH3 on pre-order for many years now on Amazon and all they’ll get to show for it is a rusty DLC Keyblade. But it’s better than nothing! Seriously!

Kingdom Hearts 3 has gone gold, so the game will be coming out no matter what. Unless there’s some terrible delay, fans will finally be able to experience the next entry into the legendary series that they’ve waited so long for.

Xbox One October 2018 update; New Avatars, Dolby Vision, Alexa support

Xbox One October 2018 update; New Avatars, Dolby Vision, Alexa support 4

The latest update for Xbox One is a huge one. Microsoft’s latest October 2018 update for the Xbox One is headlined by the return of Xbox Avatars with a new look and style.

The update went live today and introduces the “new Xbox Avatars.” This update was supposed to be launched last year since it’s been in development ever since the reveal at last year’s E3 conference. Microsoft has delayed the release and started a beta program with Xbox Insiders this June. Now, the update is live and ready to deploy.

So, let’s get to the details.

Players can now easily customize themselves with an expanded take on personalization. Your new Avatar will show up on your profile pages, feed, community posts, and pretty much anywhere you can make yourself show up. You can also switch back to the original Avatars if you don’t like the new ones- AKA Xbox 360 Avatars.

The new Avatars offer plenty of customizations such as a variety of body types, clothing, and gender-neutral selections. People with disabilities can also represent themselves with the use of prosthetics and such. Naturally, skin hair, clothing, and accessories can all be customized indivually to the player’s choice- all the way down to the color of the object. Players can also buy themed merchandise from popular games like Halo in the Avatar Store.

Besides Avatars, the new update also adds support for both Cortana and Alexa for voice control. This means you can ask Amazon’s Alexa to launch a game or shut down the Xbox. Players who use Amazon devices can now integrate it with their Xbox if they’d rather use Alexa over Microsoft’s Cortana.

Another feature is the awesome support for Dolby Vision. The update can be used for Xbox One X and S, but only for streaming apps, not 4K Blu-Rays. Right now, you can test out Dolby Vision in video apps like Netflix (if you have the right 4K HD plan). However, other apps will soon support the same update.

Lastly, there will be a special offer for players interested in Xbox- Microsoft will give a free Amazon Echo for players who buy select Xbox One S or X bundles at Amazon. This offer is limited to US residents only.

This is a huge update and adds a lot of improvement to the overall capabilities of Xbox’s online service and gives it the boot over Sony’s limited feature set. PS4 can only support HDR to HDR10 standards. Though, Sony has been making headlines recently with the ability to finally change PSN usernames and backward compatibility for the PS5.

Source: Polygon

Twitch Prime users now have to watch ads; Amazon rids 20% discount for pre-orders

Twitch Prime users now have to watch ads; Amazon rids 20% discount for pre-orders 5

Twitch Prime users now have to watch ads like the rest of the internet now. And they won’t get the 20% discount off pre-order titles on Amazon anymore. Subscribers aren’t happy.

Twitch announced the new changes coming to the world’s most popular live streaming service, noting that they’ve “continued to add value to Twitch Prime,” yet they’ve also” re-evaluated some of the existing Twitch Prime benefits.” Twitch announced ad-free viewing for subscribers back in 2016, but now they’ve reverted back to the original plan of having all viewers watch ads.

Amazon announced that instead of the 20% discount off new titles, subscribers get a $10 promo credit for pre-ordering select titles starting on April 28, 2019.

It’s a pretty bleak time to be a subscriber to Amazon/Twitch. Twitch’s explanation for the purpose of reinstallation ads:

“Advertising is an important source of support for the creators who make Twitch possible. This change will strengthen and expand that advertising opportunity for creators so they can get more support from their viewers for doing what they love. We want Twitch to remain a place where anyone can enjoy one-of-a-kind interactive entertainment, and ads allow us to continue making Twitch the best place for creators to build communities around the things they love and make money doing it.”

Former Twitch VP, Justin Wong, explained that the reasoning behind it is “BS” in a tweet:

“Partners don’t see any direct benefit from the Twitch Prime ad-free removal. There are possibly indirect benefits depending on whether viewers will subscribe to avoid ads. In other words, the ‘benefiting creators’ shtick is BS.”

In retaliation, some streamers on twitch have been asking their viewers to block the ads, such as Rober Moran:

“Please install an ad blocker if you watch my content on Twitch/YouTube because ads are a waste of your time, and I have no interest building a business off ad dollars.”

This has led to increased usage of ad blockers on Twitch. These are some dark days for the streaming giant. What do you think will happen? Will Twitch revert? Or will the community just “deal with it?”

Alexa and Cortana integration slightly different than planned

Alexa and Cortana integration slightly different than planned 6

Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa can now communicate and interact with one another. The collaboration between the two virtual assistants was announced in 2017 and was originally planned to be released in the same year. After some delay, it’s now possible to have them talk to each other.

Microsoft showed off how the integration would work at its Build conference earlier in 2018. The feature rolled out on the 15th of August and it seems to be a little different from what was demoed at the conference. Cortana devices (PC, Xbox, the exclusive Harman Kardon speaker) can launch Alexa by saying “Hey Cortana, open Alexa” to switch the user over to Alexa, which allows the user to shop, ask for the weather, and so on.

The opposite interaction on an Alexa to Cortana can be activated by saying “Alexa, open Cortana” which will launch Microsoft’s VA to launch your to-do list, check your calendar, or even check your emails.

Over time, we can expect that improvements will shorten the incantation users must say before interacting with the other device. If an Echo device would simply let you speak directly to Cortana and a Windows PC directly to Alexa without the switch, it’d be a lot more convenient for users without needing to affix the VA’s name.

After all, users need to say the name of the device they want t interacts with anyway- so why bother going through more hoops just to switch.

There have also been rumors that Windows PCs may ship with Alexa support in the near future.

Souce: ArsTechnica

Image: Amazon

Hackers turn Amazon Echo into a spy device

Hackers turn Amazon Echo into a spy device 7

With the push of companies launching their virtual assistants (VAs), security should always be a concern since these things are mass-produced on a large scale. A small security loophole could put thousands or even millions at risk, whether it be Google Home or Amazon’s line of Alexa-equipped devices. Since they’re all connected to the internet at all times, it enables hackers to potential siphon information about the data it collects and can be exploited.

A hack was demonstrated at Def Con 26, where hackers used multiple vulnerabilities to demo how the Echo could be used as an eavesdropping device:

“In this talk, we will present how to use multiple vulnerabilities to … remote attack some of the most popular smart speakers. Our final attack effects include silent listening, control speaker speaking content and other demonstrations. And we’re also going to talk about how to extract firmware from BGA packages Flash chips such as EMMC, EMCP, NAND Flash, etc. In addition, it contains how to turn on debug interfaces and get root privileges by modifying firmware content and Re-soldering Flash chips, which can be of great help for subsequent vulnerability analysis and debugging. Finally, we will play several demo videos to demonstrate how we can remotely access some Smart Speaker Root permissions and use smart speakers for eavesdropping and playing voice.”

For the plain-English person, this roughly translates to tweaking Alexa’s onboard firmware content in order to use it to spy on its surroundings. it can listen silently, be controlled to speak, and have the speech module overwritten from a remote location. this means a hacker could potentially hack into an Echo device and force it to speak or listen to its environment and relay the sounds back to the hacker’s computer.

As companies jump onboard the VA bandwagon, security is an issue that needs to be addressed. Simply having it in the household doesn’t mean it’s safe from hacking and vulnerabilities. Companies that are new to the scene like Facebook, who plans to launch their own version of a smart speaker very soon, will only create more demand for these types of products, which means a larger audience to safeguard from hacks and a more appealing target for hackers to bypass the security.

Although Amazon’s Alexa already listens to what its users say, it follows and purges in a timed interval (trailing five seconds after its name), unlike this hack which actually relays the information without a purge.

Amazon has fixed and patched the security issue that was demonstrated with a patch and quickly resolved.

Image via Amazon.

Only 2% Amazon Alexa users actually buy something

Only 2% Amazon Alexa users actually buy something 8

A new report claims that only a very small percentage of their customers that own Alexa devices shop with voice commands. Analysts have been optimistic in their predictions about consumer shopping via virtual assistants.

Most customers who do actually place an order only do it once or stick to a very limited scope of products. Two people who were briefed on Amazon’s figures said that only around 2% of people who own Alexa-equipped devices have ever bought something with said device. And of that 2%, 90% tried it only once. That’s a very small percentage of people who buy using Alexa and isn’t really “optimistic” at all.

An Amazon spokesperson told ArsTechnica that they “do not agree with the numbers represented in the article” that was published. The full statement reads:

We do not agree with the numbers represented in the article. Millions of customers use Alexa to shop because it is the most convenient way to capture needs in the moment. It’s as simple as saying, “Alexa, order dish detergent” while you are doing the dishes or “Alexa, order copier paper” as you reach for the last one. We want to enable customers to shop in whatever way is easiest for them.

Purchasing with Alexa usually involves low-cost products out of impulse or minor repurchase decisions. Things like toilet paper or toothpaste are purchased because of consumer familiarity. This is what composes regular shoppers with Alexa. You can simply tell it to “order some more toothpaste” and that’s it. you don’t have to consider your decision because you already know what you want. And you don’t really care because you’re familiar with it and it’s cheap. Alexa will likely buy “Amazon’s Choice” products to fulfill your order.

But in the case of expensive items like electronics or appliances, consumers don’t really opt for virtual assistant purchases. Making decisions like this requires reading reviews, specs, and even finding cheaper retailers before buying.

However, Amazon is well-aware of this and has tried to incentivize Alexa buy offering special discounts for using it. Some third-party analysis reports confirm that Alexa usage is actually much higher than what the report from earlier states. Alexa sales continue to do well in sales numbers and has a growing user base. Even with just 2% of people making purchases, that 2% will continue to encompass a growing number of users as Amazon continues to develop the user base of Alexa-powered devices.

Source: ArsTechnica

Image via Amazon.

Microsoft is developing technology to automate retail stores

Microsoft is developing technology to automate retail stores 9

A recent report from Reuters states that Microsoft is looking to fight Amazon and compete in the retail space. The computer giant is working on a new technology that removes casheres and checkout lines in stores that’s very similar to Amazon’s tech used in its Amazon Go brick-and-mortar retail space.

Microsoft’s technology allows customers to place items in their carts and tracks it. It’s unknown how it works exactly, but the company has already shown it off to some retail giants like Walmart. It’s rumored to be linked to the Kinect for Azure project, which was detained at Microsoft Build in May which adds to Kinect’s capabilities and also includes a computer power and sensor device with a camera that can detect depth and spatial presence, such as tracking movement of customers’ hands when they grab an item.

Selling this tenchoology in order for stores to compete with each other is like shelling shovels to the gold diggers. While Microsoft and Amazon don’t compete directly in the retail store world, they’re definitely direct competitors in the cloud computing space, with Amazon taking the lead.

This technology is designed to help other retailers compete with Amazon as they expand into the physical world. Retailers who want to use this tech and adopt it have a better chance to compete with Amazon Go, which is currently run automatically without cashiers and lines. It’s expected to launch new stores in San Francisco and Chicago.

 

Amazon buys WiFi doorbell maker Ring for 1B

Ring was acquired by Amazon for about 1B.

Amazon has purchased WiFi doorbell maker Ring.

Ring is a startup that makes WiFi doorbells in terms of security. It lets owners view whoever is at the door on your phone. It can also be connected to other lighting systems to turn them on when a stranger is knocking and walking. Currently, Ring is valued at over 1B according to Reuters.

Ring first made headlines when it was featured on Shark Tank back in 2013. The CEO, Jamie Siminoff, had no bites other than Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O’ Leary), but of course, he didn’t take the (often greedy) offer. Siminoff has then expanded the business into a huge success- enough for Amazon to purchase it.

Siminoff got the idea for WiFi because he would work in his garage being the inventor that he is and couldn’t get the door. So he made Ring, which would send a notification to his phone when someone rang the doorbell. Soon, it was developed into a whole security system where it could detect whoever was on the premises.

Ring could work well with Amazon Key (their in-home dropoff delivery). Both could work together to create a safer delivery ecosystem and perhaps help ease consumers into trying this new way of deveining packages. Amazon getting into security devices that synch with their existing products is only a way forward in the world of fast-moving tech.

Check out Ring’s homepage.

Image via Ring.

Amazon’s Alexa will become more “humanlike” with voice recognition

Amazon's Alexa will recognize your voice.

Amazon’s Alexa gained the ability to recognize different voices in the household last month. With this feature, Amazon will be able to use its voice assistant to even further customize its weather reports, traffic, jokes, and of course, ordering process. Developers have been testing this ability out and it should be rolling out to more … Read more Amazon’s Alexa will become more “humanlike” with voice recognition