“Sea of Thieves” Upcoming Stress Test

After the great reception of its closed beta from two weeks ago, “Sea of Thieves” is set for another weekend of early access. From Feb. 16 to 18, the game will be playable to those who pre-ordered, are part of the game’s founders club or have Xbox Insider. Rare is using this weekend as a much-needed stress test for their server capacity. The closed beta was much buggier than expected.

Though not officially released until March 20th, Rare’s pirate-themed adventure game is making a big splash in the gaming community. Many of the game’s eventual features were leaked in press conferences earlier this week. With plans for supporting the game for at least five years after launch, it seems that “Sea of Thieves” will offer no shortage of fun pirate activities for groups of up to four players. Some of the announced features encourage several groups to work together towards a common objective.

On the other hand, the developers have caught some flack for opening the gates for microtransactions. Game developers have been exploiting this feature for years, and Rare looks excited to jump into the mix. Rare has made great efforts, however, to point out that only cosmetic gear can be purchased with microtransactions. The last thing gamers want is for “Sea of Thieves” to become a pay-to-win affair.

Despite all the new content on the horizon, this weekend’s playable build figures to be a lot like the closed beta from two weeks ago. Rare has made efforts to publicize this weekend as a stress test and not a sample of new content. Unless there’s full beta between now and launch, we’ll have to wait until March 20th to fend off the newly-announced Kraken.

Microsoft Buys PlayFab

Microsoft announced that it has acquired PlayFab. They also said that they intend on integrating the firm into the company’s Azure gaming group.

PlayFab is a startup company based in Seattle that provides backend services to game developers, which help these developers get their games online more quickly. The company had previously raised around $13 million in venture capital.

Kareem Choudhry, who is the corporate vice president of gaming for Microsoft, said that with PlayFab onboard, Azure will continue to be on the forefront of building intelligent cloud services for the gaming industry. Services that he says that will not only benefit game developers but also game players.

James Gwertzman, who is the chief executive officer of PlayFab, noted that he and his co-founder started the company 4 years ago to help lead the transition in the gaming industry from packaged games to online services, which require sophisticated backend systems to find and keep players, and to monetize games.

The services PlayFab offers game developers include a hosting platform that incorporates powerful analytics. This has helped game developers get their titles to market much faster than they would have been able to do otherwise.

PlayFab’s has been popular with small independent game developers, but its services have also attracted big names in the gaming industry, such as NBCUniversal, Disney, Capcom and Rovio. About 1,200 games are now running on the company’s platform, and they say that they process in excess of 1.5 billion transactions every day.

Microsoft has recently been very active in purchasing gaming companies. Last year, it bought Beam, which offers an interactive streaming service. It also bought a virtual reality app called AltspaceVR a few months back.

The terms of Microsoft’s deal with PlayFab were not disclosed.

Microsoft Acquires New Game Development Platform

Microsoft announced on Monday that they have finalized a deal to buy Playfab Inc., a Seattle startup that owns the online game development platform Playfab. The move has been seen as Microsoft’s effort to compete with Amazon’s popular Amazon Web Services game development suite. Playfab’s software will be incorporated into Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service.

The company’s Playfab software allows game developers to build and manage their online games without having to worry about creating back-end services from the ground up. Developers can also monitor their users and more easily monetize their games.

Playfab was founded in 2014 by James Gwertzman, the former Vice President of Asia at Popcap Games, and Matt Augustine, a former engineer at Microsoft. By 2016, the startup had raised $13 million in funding from venture capital firms like Benchmark and TEEC Angel Fund. The software proved popular with both independent developers and larger companies. Playfab quickly attracted big-name clients like Atari, Disney, Nickelodeon and NBC Universal. The platform currently boasts 1,200 active games and processes more than 1.5 billion transactions each day. Popular games like Idle Miner Tycoon, Angry Birds: Seasons and Roller Coaster Tycoon Touch have been developed using Playfab.

Kareem Choudhry, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Gaming, announced the acquisition via the official Microsoft blog on Monday. He stated that the deal is in line with Microsoft’s current plan to expand their online gaming profile to include game development as well as gameplay. By expanding their online game offerings, Microsoft hopes to increase their share of the estimated 1.2 billion PC gamers in the world.

The purchase is the first acquisition of the year for the multinational tech company. Microsoft acquired virtual reality startup AltspaceVR in October 2017 and photo app Swng in November of the same year.

Microsoft Leak Suggests Xbox One May Get PC Gaming Controller

While the games often play almost the same, PC gamers and gamers using a console are very separate groups of consumers. A major reason for that the controllers fro the two platforms are very different. But one major difference may be going away, if a report by the PC gaming web site VG24/7 is accurate.

The site noticed a press release put out by Microsoft Poland, which claimed the company was set to release a keyboard and mouse for the Xbox. The press release was quickly deleted, but just the mention of a new Xbox peripheral has been enough to spark the imagination of both PC and console gamers. If it is released, the new keyboard and mouse would blur the lines between the gaming platforms and open up new possibilities for player interaction in the booming eGamer sports leagues.

While some Xbox gamers are excited about the possibility of using a PC gamer control set-up, not everyone is eager to give up the current iconic Xbox controller. In fact, the Xbox controller is beginning to be used in a number of non-gaming situations. For instance, the United States Navy is planning to add Xbox controllers to some controls, because they work much better and are more functional than the ones developed by the military.

Despite the leaked press release, it’s not clear if Microsoft has really decided to release a commercially sold keyboard and mouse for the Xbox. The company has declined to comment on the release and no further information has surfaced publicly about the product. But just the hint of a release has energized the Xbox gaming community and an online petition requesting the release of the product has already gathered 35,000 signatures.