PUBG Mobile returns to India after ban with green blood and a new name

Massively popular battle royale game PUBG Mobile is returning to India after being banned in September 2020, TechCrunch writes. The app is available in early access on Google’s Play Store under a new name, Battlegrounds Mobile India, and with some changes to the game itself, like green blood and a new account system.

PUBG Mobile was initially banned alongside hundreds of other apps because of connections to Chinese companies — in this game’s case, it was major video game investor Tencent. At the time of the ban, PUBG Studio (owned by the larger South Korean company Krafton) announced that it would relaunch in the region with new features customized for Indian gamers, including the color change to blood, and framing the game explicitly as a “virtual simulation training ground.”

TechCrunch writes that beyond modified bodily fluids — part of a long tradition of censoring depictions of violence in games — and reminders that the game isn’t real, Battlegrounds seems to be the same as PUBG Mobile. There’s apparently even a way to easily transfer your account from the older game to the new one.

The really consequential changes may be less visible. The Indian government’s major justification for the ban was that it had concerns about where users’ data was transmitted, with the idea that it was not comfortable having that data sent to places outside of India (read: China).

Ahead of its planned relaunch, PUBG Studio announced it was severing ties with Tencent in India and moving the game’s hosting to Microsoft Azure data centers in the country, which may have solved the matter well before any green blood did.


Facebook will start putting ads in Oculus Quest apps

Facebook will soon begin testing ads inside its Oculus Quest virtual reality system. In the coming weeks, ads will start appearing inside the Resolution Games title Blaston as well as two other unnamed apps. Facebook will later expand the system based on user feedback, saying it aims to create a “self-sustaining platform” for VR development.

Facebook introduced ads on the Oculus mobile app last month, and it’s used limited Oculus data to target Facebook advertising since 2019, but this is its first major foray into putting ads inside the Oculus VR platform itself. “Once we see how this test goes and incorporate feedback from developers and the community, we’ll provide more details on when ads may become more broadly available across the Oculus platform and in the Oculus mobile app,” the company said in a blog post.

As on Facebook’s non-VR apps, you can block specific posts or companies from appearing in ad slots. And Facebook says it’s not changing how it collects or analyzes user information. It says that some of the most sensitive data — like raw images from Oculus headset cameras and weight or height information from Oculus Move fitness tracking — remains solely on users’ devices. Also, Facebook says it has “no plans” to target ads based on movement data or recordings from its voice assistant.

A Facebook spokesperson says the system will use information from your Facebook profile, as well as “whether you’ve viewed content, installed, activated, or subscribed to a Oculus app, added an app to your cart or wishlist, if you’ve initiated checkout or purchased an app on the Oculus platform, and lastly, whether you’ve viewed, hovered, saved, or clicked on an ad within a third-party app.”

As shown above, users can click an ad and either open it or save the link for later. The former option will launch a landing page in the Oculus Quest’s web browser, and the latter will save the ad in the Quest in-VR experience and Oculus mobile app’s Explore sections. Developers will get a share of the revenue from ads in their apps, but Facebook isn’t publicly revealing the percentage.

Facebook is leaving its future roadmap open-ended. The spokesperson says Facebook hasn’t determined, for instance, whether ads could eventually appear inside your Oculus Home experience. Facebook also isn’t yet identifying the other apps using advertisements, although it will list additional names in the coming weeks. The first ads look like standard boxes inside game interfaces, but Facebook’s blog post says it’s exploring other options as well. “We’re currently investing in unobtrusive ads as a new way for developers to build businesses — and though we’re not quite ready to test them yet, we’re also exploring new ad formats that are unique to VR,” it says.

VR has arguably been an advertising medium for years, with countless film and TV promotional tie-ins as well as novelty experiences from companies like McDonald’s and Ikea. But ad-supported VR apps are using a different model that more closely resembles that of the mobile and web ecosystem. Letting developers integrate advertising could create a greater incentive to work within Facebook’s official ecosystem rather than distributing through sideloading options like SideQuest.

Facebook says ads are part of an attempt to figure out profitable business options in the growing but often difficult field of VR app development. “This is a key part of ensuring we’re creating a self-sustaining platform that can support a variety of business models that unlock new types of content and audiences. It also helps us continue to make innovative AR/VR hardware more accessible to more people,” says the blog post.

Facebook currently dominates consumer VR with its Oculus Quest 2 headset — which, at $299, is one of the cheapest options on the market. It’s also acquired the studios behind several major VR games, including rhythm game Beat Saber and the battle royale title Population: One. While it may face renewed competition from a second-generation Sony PlayStation VR headset next year, at least one VR company has retreated from consumer hardware in part because of Facebook’s influence: Vive creator HTC, which has called Facebook’s low-cost consumer headsets “artificially subsidized” by the company’s advertising-focused business model.

Meanwhile, Facebook has slowly strengthened ties between its central business and Oculus, which it acquired in 2014. It began requiring Facebook logins for Quest headsets last year, although users can maintain separate profiles and use pseudonyms in VR. Adding advertising isn’t a surprising move for the company — and it’s another signal that Oculus hardware is becoming ever more closely integrated with Facebook.


Podcasts start coming to Facebook next week

Facebook is planning to start rolling out its podcast product next week, on June 22nd, and, eventually, add a feature that’ll allow listeners to create clips from their favorite shows.

According to an email sent to podcast page owners and viewed by The Verge, hosts can link their show’s RSS feed up to Facebook, which will then automatically generate News Feed posts for all episodes published moving forward. These episodes will show up on a “podcasts” tab that doesn’t appear to be live yet, but that the company teased in a wider announcement about audio initiatives in April. (You can see it below.) Podnews first reported the date earlier this month, and at the time, Facebook confirmed with The Verge that a limited number of page owners would have access. However, emails are still being sent to additional page owners, suggesting the rollout might be wider than initially anticipated.

“Facebook will be the place where people can enjoy, discuss, and share the podcasts they love with each other,” the company says in this email.

Pages will eventually have a tab for podcasts.
Image: Facebook

Podcasters who publish on the platform will also be opting into Facebook’s podcast terms of service, which you can view here. It’s a relatively standard agreement, although it doesn’t have clear limits around what exactly Facebook can do with the podcasts distributed on its platform. For example, it grants Facebook the rights to make derivative works, which may be necessary for distributing shows in certain formats, but also might alarm podcasters who are protective over their IP.

Along with the option to distribute their show through Facebook, podcasters can decide whether to enable clips, which the company says will be created by listeners and last up to one minute in length. These “may help increase visibility and engagement.” Presumably, these will be easily shareable outside of the podcaster’s page. Short-form clips have been a key way for Twitch streamers to share moments from their lengthy streams, and Facebook seems to hope the same idea can apply to podcasts.

This is the pop-up podcasters will see when they go to add their show’s RSS feed to Facebook.

It’s unclear how Facebook is determining what pages belong to podcasters. My page, for example, received the option to publish Why’d You Push That Button?, a show I co-host. I have only published links to webpages that have the show embedded, however, not the actual link to my podcast episode or RSS feed. I’ve reached out to Facebook for comment and will update if I hear back.

Broadly, though, this update comes as the company begins a legitimate push into audio. Mark Zuckerberg hosted the first Live Audio Room in the US yesterday, and in April, the company also announced plans for a feature called Soundbites, which will live within the News Feed. The idea behind Soundbites is to give users a “sound studio in your pocket” and allow them to create short, shareable clips.

With podcasts, Facebook is seemingly banking on the fact that podcasters already use the platform to foster conversation with their listeners and to promote their shows. Directly publishing to the platform might make it easier for them to accomplish those goals while also giving people a reason to never leave the Facebook app. It’s also possible Facebook sees potential in podcast advertising, which Spotify has focused its efforts on as it launches exclusive shows and its own ad network.


Slack is rolling out a new scheduled send feature

Slack has announced a new Scheduled Send feature that the company is starting to roll out today, which — as the name implies — will let users schedule messages to send at a later time and date.

The scheduled send feature adds a new drop-down arrow to the green “send message” button in Slack’s desktop app. Clicking it will reveal a new menu that allows for scheduling a message to send to a room, direct message, or group thread later on. Mobile users will be able to access a similar menu by long-pressing on the send button in the Slack app on Android and iOS.

Slack will offer both pre-filled options (like “tomorrow morning at 9:00AM”) as well as the ability to set a custom date and time to send a message. Messages can be scheduled up to to 120 days in advance, and users will be able to reschedule, edit, or delete scheduled messages before they’re sent.

“Today we launched Scheduled Send to empower users to communicate and collaborate in a way that works best for them,” the company announced in a statement, explaining that “teams shouldn’t be obligated to sync their schedules in order to communicate effectively.”

The ability to schedule messages is a critical one given the various time zones and locations that offices — both remote, in-person, and hybrid — stretch across in today’s work world. And while email services like Gmail have offered the ability to schedule emails for later (so that users aren’t pinging teams at odd hours or getting messages lost overnight), the feature has been notably absent from Slack until now.


The Twitch streamers fighting to keep minority languages alive

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Minority languages are often associated with aging rural communities, thought to have fallen out of use or confined to textbooks. Defined simply as a language spoken by less than half of the population in a country, they adapt with the times like any living language, often due to the efforts of enterprising young people.

Recently, many of these languages have found new life from an unexpected source: video game streamers.

On Twitch, streamers from around the world are showcasing indigenous languages as a form of entertainment and activism. Estimates show that we lose one language every two weeks, and half of our 7,000 languages will be extinct by the end of the century, so preserving these tongues and the cultural identities that go with them is crucial. With its easy access, potential for a huge audience, and creators’ ability to combine hobbies and language promotion, it’s easy to see why young minority language speakers have turned to Twitch.

Many minority language streamers lack an official language tag for their streams, and these creators see their content lost in the miscellany of the “Other” tag, making it hard for other speakers to find, connect with, and enjoy gaming in their own language. Good news arrived for some on May 26th when Twitch announced that it would add over 350 new stream tags, encompassing different ethnic groups and underrepresented communities. The platform was frank about how it has been slow to act on adding the tags users want. However, not all streamers received the opportunity for visibility they’d been hoping for.

Two groups who missed out were Basque and Galician streamers. Basque, which is native to the semi-autonomous Basque Country straddling southwestern France and northern Spain, is one of the oldest languages still spoken and unrelated to any other in the world. Further along the Iberian Peninsula, the Galician language is spoken by around 2.4 million people in a tiny corner of Spain.

Inspired by the success of the #CatalanLoveTwitch campaign, which saw the minority Romance language added as a streaming language tag, a group of Basque streamers launched #3000Twitz last December, a campaign to see their language achieve the same status. Despite a petition, which is by far the most voted in the Twitch User Voice forums and having now surpassed the number of votes the Catalan petition received, Basque streamers are still awaiting a response from the streaming giant.

Iruñe, who streams as arkkuso, is one of the founding members of the campaign. For her, the addition of Basque as a streaming language has broader implications for the survival and visibility of the language. “It is very important that Basque has a presence online and therefore on social networks,” she says. “Nowadays, if you’re not on the internet, you don’t exist. The same will happen very soon with languages.”

Without the help of a tag to identify streamers, Iruñe feels that Twitch has made Basque creators invisible. As a result, the growth of the Basque streaming community has been entirely grassroots, and language activism is part and parcel of her channel. “I believe that at the end of the day, all of us who create content in Basque are [activists],” she says. “For many of us, the relationship we have with our mother tongue is fundamental for us when it comes to enjoying what we do.”

Fellow streamer and native Basque speaker Eneko found himself in a similar situation. “At first, I started streaming without knowing anyone on Twitch. And since there was no Basque language tag, I didn’t know if there were more people or if they were just very difficult to find. I hit a roadblock because I wanted to stream in Basque, but it meant not reaching anyone,” he says. The current camaraderie between Basque streamers and the popular support their campaign enjoys would have seemed like a fantasy when he first started out.

“When you meet people, it is through raids and not by randomly finding someone streaming the type of content you like. There are campaigns calling for double labeling because today, many of us speak several languages, and choosing only one (especially when one is a minority) greatly reduces your ability to reach people. In these circumstances, either you participate in the digital disappearance of your language or you remain visible only to a very small part of Twitch.”

The collective Galician Gamers launched a language tag petition around the same time as their Basque neighbors, with the aim of “promoting the use of Galician, not only as a home life language, but as a language for culture and entertainment as well.” Dubbed “Twitch en Galego” (“Twitch in Galician”), the movement’s social media accounts announce when any Galician-speaking streamer is going live and has exploded from a small group of four or five streamers to having a Discord server with over 200 members with 58 Twitch channels registered.

Given that other less popular language petitions such as Ukrainian have now been added as official streaming languages, Iruñe is understandably frustrated. “We are going to continue creating varied content in Basque, quality content that we want to use to reach more people as we are still a small community. Likewise, we want to create channels of dialogue with Twitch, and for this, we want to work together with the Basque government as well as get Basque streamers who have lots of followers to help us achieve this.”

Adrián, who goes by Dinav in the Galician Gamers team, is equally undeterred. CRTVG, a regional TV network in Galicia, recently created a Twitch channel and invited the Galician Gamers on to discuss their cause. “Though we’ll still act independently, organising events on certain dates to generate movement on the internet and get more people to sign the request, getting the support of Galician public institutions is a path we are open to explore.”

On the other side of the world, a community of streamers of te reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, is thriving. Despite suffering a decline after the Second World War, it has been enjoying a renaissance due to revitalization efforts in recent years, including national Māori Language Week and Māori immersion schools. According to the 2018 census, 4 percent of the population speaks the language.

Twitch creator Rangiora has lived his whole life through teo reo Māori. Combining his two passions, he streams under the moniker PrideLandz, and it’s only natural that he would do so in his native tongue. “Te reo Māori is what connects me to my culture, my ancestors, my family, my environment, and helps to navigate the world I live in,” he shares. “In the last five years, I noticed I was speaking next to no Māori because I wasn’t surrounded by confident speakers. Streaming in Māori has provided a space where I can practice, share, and learn about the language more often.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of Māori streamers’ content is their incorporation of an ancestral language into modern gaming. As he lays waste to beasts on the screen superimposed behind him, Rangiora explains how game titles are translated into te reo Māori. Call of Duty is composed using the name of the Māori god of war, translating as something like “a call to arms in the realm of Tūmatauenga.”

His streams are open to speakers of all levels and even those just interested in learning more about the culture. “I don’t stream entirely in Māori, but I try to share some knowledge such as having Māori word of the week or Māori phrase or saying as something viewers can redeem with their channel points. Hopefully we can inspire more people to speak [the language] because I’m aware that a lot of Māori [people] aren’t confident due to colonization and the suppression in the past. I feel as if people are learning something every time I stream as we try to normalize Māori in this space.”

The community of Māori and Pacific Islander streamers on Twitch have been a huge motivator for Rangiora, so much so that he’s launched a campaign to achieve Partner status on the platform. Spurred on by support from Ngati Gaming, a Discord community of Māori streamers, the ultimate goal is to launch a Māori esports organization.

Multiplayer online gaming has been a lifeline for speakers of regional tongues to stay connected over the course of the pandemic. YnChwarae, meaning “In Play,” is a group of Welsh language streamers. Pre-COVID, they met monthly to livestream games while chatting in Welsh; for the time being, they’ve brought their club online on a weekly basis. “I feel it’s important to be able to express yourself in the language you feel most comfortable. For Welsh as a language to grow quicker, there has to be a space for people to do everything in Welsh and this includes the digital realm,” says Morgan from the group. “Gaming can be an extremely sociable activity and the majority of our streams reflect this.”

Despite a gradually increasing amount Welsh speakers over the last decade, there’s still work to be done in maintaining its survival. “A lot of the crew are not able to use Welsh in their everyday jobs, so streaming with YnChwarae gives them the opportunity to use the language meaningfully doing something they love and not forget it,” Morgan explains. “We are allowing other Welsh speakers to access Welsh language content on Twitch and be a part of our streams through communicating with us in the chat.”

Lacking in the community size of their Welsh counterparts, streamers of other Celtic languages have pioneered the use of their tongue on Twitch. Gwenn, a streamer from Brittany in the northwest of France, is the only person on Twitch who regularly streams in Breton, the traditional language of the region. As a severely endangered language, Breton faces more challenges than just visibility online. Having lost around 800,000 speakers since 1950, the language is not recognized at a national level by the French state, and so it receives little government support in media or public services.

“I think it is important for Breton to be everywhere Breton speakers are,” Gwenn says. “There are a lot of young Breton speakers, and they use what young people use: Discord, Twitch, TikTok, Instagram… I think it’s a good thing to grow minority language communities on those platforms.”

Like YnChwarae, the interactive aspect of Twitch is a huge draw. Although happy to help learners, Gwenn’s target audience is advanced speakers. “When I stream, the beginners can take their time to write out sentences that I will read and correct, and the people who are fluent are happy with just meeting other Breton-speaking people, which could be already rare in the pre-lockdown world and is even rarer now. That is why I usually stream chill games like GeoGuessr that allow [people] to read the chat and have subjects to talk about.”

Twitch’s addition of new tags is bittersweet. “I think it’s good for the communities that will benefit from those new tags. I wasn’t expecting Twitch to add minority languages, so I’m not really disappointed. I will follow what happens for more active language communities like Basque to see if it is something that can be achievable for Breton before trying to spend energy on this.”

Cluicheamaid, the brainchild of Scottish streamer Robbie, is an award-nominated Scots Gaelic video game streaming series including Fall Guys, Among Us, and Dark Souls III all in the ancient Scottish tongue. Classed as definitely endangered on the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, Robbie’s channel is an opportunity for speakers to use their Gaelic in a world without English subtitles. “Streaming is such a new form of entertainment, and I like giving Gaelic representation on the cutting edge,” he says.

Existing in a linguistic niche has given him a different perspective of what success on Twitch looks like. “There are fewer folk I can get watching my stream in terms of total numbers, but also I am not in competition with thousands of other video game streamers at the same time. I think when you grow up speaking a minoritised language, you have to adjust your expectations of success. Every stream that I get four or five folk all talking Gaelic in the chat feels like a massive win because that is what it is.”

Included in Twitch’s recent launch of new tags is “Scottish,” referring streamers from Scotland as opposed to those speaking Scots Gaelic. Irish, Welsh, and Māori creators found themselves with a new national identifier for their streams. For minority language speakers who fall into these groups, the reaction in terms of linguistic visibility has been ambivalent. “Language tags would be more useful to me than nationality tags,” Robbie says. “My stream will have more in common with Irish-language streamers than most generic ‘Scottish’ streams. So I am hopeful but not expectant that the addition of the new tags is a step towards more easy identification.”

Across the sea in Ireland, Úna-Minh — or yunitex as she is known on Twitch — has brought the Irish national language to an audience of over 2,500 followers. Like Gwenn and Robbie, she is the only person regularly creating content in her language, but the main aim of her bilingual channel isn’t activism. “Ultimately, I’m using it [Irish] as I would in my everyday life, and if that inspires people to become more interested, then that’s a welcome bonus,” she explains.

She has partnered with language-learning app Duolingo to bring a little more Gaeilge to the world through her streams, be that through livestreaming Final Fantasy or painting and sketching. However, she believes that minority language Twitch creators like herself can’t be at the forefront of language revival alone. “Too many times do I see people treating people like me, fluent speakers, like their personal teachers or translators, and it’s not fair. I’m not a teacher, I’m just me. I think it’s important that communities don’t rely on one person ever to be a beacon, they need to work together to keep the language alive.”

With or without formal support from Twitch, those who stream in minority languages are doing the important work of ensuring that their mother tongue is used among young people, outside of the classroom, and within a modern context — the key ingredients for survival.

Aurélie Joubert, assistant professor of Language and Society at the University of Groningen, is all too aware of this. “The problem is that for languages to survive, they need to be considered as equal in their function and their communicative value for their own community. Language planners have realized that if kids nowadays speak more Irish, Breton, or Basque at school, it doesn’t mean that they use it in the playground. The reality is that a language needs to be perceived positively everywhere. This type of modern online interaction attracts the younger generation who needs to see and hear their minority language being used in modern online platforms.”

Across linguistic groups, one thing remains clear: minority language movements on Twitch are grassroots, community-centric, and driven by small gains. Visibility is essential for minority language creators to grow and thrive. “We sometimes see minority languages as not fit for modern technology but if they are not part of it in the first place, they cannot develop the corresponding vocabulary needed for it,” Joubert explains. “Linguists increasingly adopt a holistic approach towards language planning and that includes all modes of interaction, social media, and video gaming. It is a battle to lead on all fronts.”


Deezer launches ‘360 Sessions’ to showcase Sony 360 Reality Audio

(Image credit: Deezer)

There’s been plenty of excitement about Apple Spatial Audio in recent weeks but now it’s the turn of Deezer to step into the spatial audio limelight. The music streaming service has revealed it will offer HiFi subscribers a series of ‘360 Sessions’ – live performances reformatted in Sony 360 Reality Audio.

Using Sony’s object-based spatial audio technology, the 28 track playlist aims to provide a “unique immersive experience in which all audio elements – including vocals, individual instruments and audience – can be heard as if they are in different positions inside a 360 spherical space”.

The tracks include live performances from a slew of global stars and rising talents ranging from Dua Lipa and Anne-Marie, to Circa Waves, Lolo Zouai, Barrie, Fireboy Dml, Joesef, Half Moon Run and Georgia.

Anyone with a subscription to Deezer HiFi, the service’s CD-quality tier, can enjoy the 360 Sessions from today. No special hardware is needed but you will need to download the standalone 360 by Deezer app. Premium users can enjoy the playlist, but only in stereo.

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format offers a 3D sound space by creating multiple virtual speakers and can be listened to via most standard headphones. That said, the experience has been optimised for Sony headphones that use the Headphones Connect app, such as the WH-1000XM4 over-ears and WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds.

Deezer was the first music streaming service to offer 360 Reality Audio, but it has since been joined by Tidal, Amazon Music HD and (a streaming service dedicated to live concerts).


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