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Path of Exile sees 17% increase in player hours in 2020

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Path of Exile sees 17% increase in player hours in 2020

It’s no surprise to Chris Wilson that Path of Exile players flocked to the online action-RPG during the pandemic. Grinding Gear Games keeps setting records for player hours, with the Echoes of the Atlas expansion bringing in more than any before it.

Grinding Gear’s general manager delivered these nuggets and more on Tuesday while showing off Path of Exile 2 and the upcoming Ultimatum expansion, which launches April 16. Path of Exile is a popular online game, with 35 expansions or updates and millions of players across the globe.

Path of Exile saw a 17% increase in player hours in 2020, cresting with Echoes of the Atlas. Wilson said that players preferred the expansion’s emphasis on core Path mechanics, that traditional grind of killing monsters and getting better loot, than experiments like gardening or Pokémon-like monster collecting.

“It could be the case. Yeah, we tried to mix it up occasionally. We had the Delirium league about a year ago, which was one of these combat-focused ones. And I suspect that the big picture expansions are great for variety and do attract a different type of gamer,” Wilson said in an interview with GamesBeat on Discord. [No relation to the writer — Ed.] “First, we have to make sure that [expansions] have really strong core combat and rewarding stuff in order for all the players to enjoy them.”

COVID conditions

Because New Zealand has sealed its borders, and its citizens and government heeded COVID-19 protocols, the virus is almost nonexistent there. So Wilson said Grinding Gear’s staff has been able to work on both Path of Exile and its sequel in the office.

“We’ve been back in the office for 80% of the last 12 months basically, so during the times when the government recommends that people work from home, we work from home. And during the other times, we come to the office unless there’s extenuating circumstances, like people who live with very vulnerable family members and so on,” Wilson said. “But the country is sitting there at a zero case rate, so it’s pretty safe for them to come in, because there aren’t [lingering] plague cases that haven’t been discovered, as far as we’re aware.”

Grinding Gear hasn’t experienced the same problems other studios have had with delays that come from working-at-home.

“It would just be a nightmare to have the entire team working from home. Our game has evolved to involve development that takes place in the same room. There are developers crowded around each other’s computers, pointing at stuff and having discussions … and they get their information that way. We’re not a very documentation-heavy company. We don’t sit there making a spec document for something; we just discuss it in person, and they go and make it.”

Above: Someone’s having a bloody bad time.

Image Credit: Grinding Gear Games

Grinding Gear has found itself struggling with a different COVID-related problem — hiring. New Zealand, while having a land mass that rivals California, doesn’t have a lot of people (5.1 million as of April, making it the 121st most populous country on Earth). So it doesn’t have a lot of game developers. New Zealand hasn’t let new people into the country during the pandemic, either, so you can’t hire workers. Wilson said they just got the OK to bring in folks from Australia (which has a growing game development scene), but that’s it.

So, how many hires has Grinding Gear made?

“We’ve hired one person, who is a New Zealander and has come back to New Zealand because of the pandemic, which was helpful,” Wilson said.

A number of publishers and studios have created local ecosystems to train new game developers over the years. Ubisoft in particular has a reputation for this, partnering with area universities and colleges when it opens new studios. Grinding Gear has tried this, but again, you have a limited pool when you’re dealing with a country of only 5-plus million people.

Sequel situations

The first half of Wilson’s presentation (you can see the entire shindig above) shows off Path of Exile 2 (which doesn’t have a release date yet). The video revealed a couple of different weapon-styles as the player mowed down wave after wave of enemies.

The first wielded a spear, a new weapon for Path of Exile. It’s flexible. By this, I don’t mean it flops around. You can either use it as a melee or missile weapon. This flexibility is something Grinding Gear is going for.

And I also had to ask why Grinding Gear is using spears over other pole arms, because, well, polearms are just the best, you know.

“There may be a variety of pointy polearms used. I understand that there are halberds and stuff that don’t use exactly the same attacks, but there will hopefully be more than just spears in that weapon class,” Wilson said. “It’s partly because we wanted to have these have a consistent set of skills, and this evolved into poking them into enemies and being thrown and so on. The spears alternate between being ranged, melee, or both. And so, there is surprisingly diverse selection of weapons that work like this, though it does mean we miss out on bardiches and halberds and other types of polearms, which maybe we introduce later.”

The crossbow looks quite different from how bows play in Path of Exile. The archer went from piercing shots that blasted through armor to elemental shots that threw out bolts in wide cones. The crossbow has a satisfying “thunk” with each shot. I asked how Grinding Gear made that “thunk” so splendid.

“Sometimes, we do foley work, and sometimes we do premade sounds effects,” Wilson said, not sure how the audio folks made this sound. Community manager Bex had a more in-depth answer.

“The audio team designed the sounds for the crossbow ammo skill with layers of different sounds from a variety of soundpacks. So it’s part-audio artistry and part-sound library effects,” Bex said.

Account management

One of the neat aspects of Path of Exile 2 is that it will live in the same client as the original game. They’ll both share the same endgame, and your purchases from Path of Exile will carry over to the sequel, as it’s all tied to the same account.

Path of Exile feels like a game ripe for local co-op. You can play with others online, but not at the same machine. This is because you’re playing in a client. Now, with Diablo III on console, you can play in your account and with a guest. Could the same happen with Path of Exile, or is this a problem because of the nature of the account and the client?

“That would have to change, and this is something we’re looking into, but [local co-op] is also something we don’t want to commit to until we can get it working,” Wilson said. “But certainly, it would help this kind of game. And it’d be lovely to support couch co-op on PC as well, like a combination of mouse, keyboard, and controller. It’s just a matter of changing the game and the necessary ways to support it.”

Wilson said Grinding Gear is trying to make crossplay happen between console and PC as well.

Naming rights

Path of Exile Betrayal Rewards

Above: These rewards are ready for you.

Image Credit: Grinding Gear Games

Path of Exile debuted back in 2013. When Ultimatum launches April 16, it will have almost 40 expansions and updates. That’s a lot of names for maps, monsters, characters, gear, and powers. Is it getting difficult for Grinding Gear to come up with new names for things?

“It is actually getting really hard to name stuff, because with these new skills and stuff, when naming, it’s like, ‘I want to call it, “such-and-such slash,” but it’s not a slash, because there’s 18 things called slash. And they’re like, ‘OK, well, what about a strike, then?’ Well, no, technically, it’s not a strike, and you can’t use “bloody” because that means this thing. So it’s not “blood strike” or “blood slash,” it’s, you know, “sanguine” … and technically, “sanguine” is used over here, so we can’t use that one either. And it’s hard to be consistent,” Wilson said.

So, is it getting harder to name new skills, which have requirements based on the types of actions they are, than it is new characters, areas, and lore?

“That’s surprisingly difficult as well, to be honest. Yes, there is a bit more flexibility with those because you can just come up with cool arbitrary sounding, foreign language names for for more things,” Wilson said.

And it’s been a problem for some time.

“I think it was definitely becoming a problem about five years ago, but it’s only getting worse,” Wilson said. “There’s a joke that says that in computer science, there are two problems: caches and naming things. And the same thing is kind of true with game development, once you start to get complex with names.”

No wonder Grinding Gear is keeping it simple with the sequel’s name: just Path of Exile 2.

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

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The RetroBeat — Diablo II: Resurrected gives a diabolically good first impression

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Seeing this guy makes me feel like 13-year-old again.

After the disappointing Warcraft III: Reforged, I wondered if I really wanted a Diablo II remake. When Blizzard announced Diablo II: Resurrected earlier this year, I wanted to remain skeptical. It felt a little better learning that Vicarious Visions, which created fantastic remakes for Crash Bandicoot and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, was working on the project. Still, I was worried Blizzard would mess things up again.

Now that I’ve been playing a bit of Resurrected, I feel better. Blizzard has launched a PC technical alpha that runs through the weekend. It gives access to the first two of the game’s five acts. I can play as three of the seven classes: Barbarian, Amazon, and Sorceress. It’s only for single-player, so we can’t try out online multiplayer.

The full game comes out later this year for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One along with PC. And I’m going to let myself be excited now.

Above: Seeing this guy makes me feel like a 13-year-old again.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

Diablo II is still good

I love the original Diablo II. I played it back in 2000 and had an incredible, dark adventure with my Barbarian. Heck, I still remember the giant, orange-glowing bastard sword that I found toward the end of Act 2 that I ended up using for most of the game. I recalled the dozens of times I had to use a scroll to teleportation so I could go back to town and buy more health potions during my fight with Diablo. It’s one of my favorite game experiences.

That was a bit more than 20 years ago. Starting Diablo II again, everything came back to me. When I was in town but my health wasn’t full, I suddenly remembered that I had to talk to a specific NPC in the camp if I wanted to be healed. I began organizing my equipment the same way I did in 2000, putting my tomes on the far right slots and leaving the far left area for new loot.

It’s all an incredible wave of nostalgia. But Diablo II is more than that. It’s still a great game. It’s less flashy and slower than many modern action-RPGs, especially when compared to Diablo III. But that works in its favor. Yes, your inventory space is extremely small. You will not be spamming dozens of special abilities with dazzling particle effects during fights.

Combat, especially early on, is simple. You click on enemies and swing your weapon at them. As far as I can tell from my memory, it’s the same as it was in 2000. You have a stamina bar, and it limits how often your character can run instead of walk. Diablo II is restrictive. But it works. It just feels a bit more gritty than what we’re used to today. It doesn’t hold your hand and go out of its way to make things easy for you, which makes your victories feel more satisfying.

Never thought that a place called The Den of Evil could be so comforting.

Above: Never thought that a place called The Den of Evil could be so comforting.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

Remade

So, yes, Diablo II was great, and it’s still great. But we’ve seen Blizzard ruin a classic before with Warcraft III: Reforged. Thankfully, the effort appears much more polished this time. Resurrected looks updated while retaining the spirit of the original. It’s still a dark, dreary world. It’s just less pixelated and jagged. And if you like your jagged pixels, which I know I do, you can still switch to the old graphics by pushing a single button. I spent a lot of time going back and forth between the two, having fun comparing the old characters with their updated looks.

There are also some nice quality of life changes. The transparent map, which used to take up most of the screen, now nestles itself in the corner. You can still have it use the full screen if you want, you adorable purist you, but I like it just fine in its new position. Resurrected also has an option to have you pick up gold automatically when you walk over it. That’s nice. I mean, who ever doesn’t want to pick up gold?

Performance hasn’t been perfect. My framerate has suffered when loading new areas. It also drops when I’m standing on a waypoint. Of course, this is a technical alpha, so I’m not all that worried about it.

There’s a reason so many people had been asking for a Diablo II remake. It’s a special game. It’s something that I probably should have replayed on my own years ago. This remake just gives me a good excuse to do so.

This is just a sample, but it’s a promising one. Resurrected isn’t just bringing back a classic. It could also help revive Blizzard’s retro gaming credentials.

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

How will you do that? Membership includes access to:

  • Newsletters, such as DeanBeat
  • The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
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No password required: Mobile carrier exposes data for millions of accounts

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No password required: Mobile carrier exposes data for millions of accounts

Getty Images

Q Link Wireless, a provider of low-cost mobile phone and data services to 2 million US-based customers, has been making sensitive account data available to anyone who knows a valid phone number on the carrier’s network, an analysis of the company’s account management app shows.

Dania, Florida-based Q Link Wireless is what’s known as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, meaning it doesn’t operate its own wireless network but rather buys services in bulk from other carriers and resells them. It provides government-subsidized phones and service to low-income consumers through the FCC’s Lifeline Program. It also offers a range of low-cost service plans through its Hello Mobile brand. In 2019, Q Link Wireless said it had 2 million customers.

The carrier offers an app called My Mobile Account (for both iOS and Android) that customers can use to monitor text and minutes histories, data and minute usage, or to buy additional minutes or data. The app also displays the customer’s:

  • First and last name
  • Home address
  • Phone call history (from/to)
  • Text message history (from/to)
  • Phone carrier account number needed for porting
  • Email address
  • Last four digits of the associated payment card

Screenshots from the iOS version look like this:

No password required . . . what?

Since at least December and possibly much earlier, My Mobile Account has been displaying this information for every customer account whenever it is presented with a valid Q Link Wireless phone number. That’s right—no password or anything else required.

When I first saw a Reddit thread discussing the app, I thought for sure there was some kind of mistake. So I installed the app, got the permission from another thread reader, and entered his phone number. I was immediately viewing his personal information, as the redacted images above demonstrate.

The person who started the Reddit thread said in an email that he first reported this glaring insecurity to Q Link Wireless sometime last year. Emails he provided show that he notified support twice again this year, first in February and again this month.

Feedback left in reviews for both the iOS and Android offerings also reported this issue, in several cases with a response from a Q Link Wireless representative thanking the person for the feedback.

Downright negligence

The data exposure is serious because phone numbers are so easy to come by. We give them to prospective employers, car mechanics, and other strangers. And of course, phone numbers are easily obtained by private detectives, abusive spouses, stalkers, and other people who have an interest in a particular person. Q Link Wireless making customer data freely available to anyone who knows a customer’s phone number is an act of downright negligence.

I began emailing the carrier about the insecurity on Wednesday and followed up with almost a dozen more messages. Q Link Wireless CEO and founder Issa Asad didn’t respond despite my noting that every hour he allowed the data exposure to continue compounded the risk to his customers.

Then late on Thursday, My Mobile Account stopped connecting to customers’ accounts. When presented with the number of a Q Link Wireless customer, the app responds with a message saying, “Phone number doesn’t match any account.” The iOS and Android versions of the app were last updated in February, suggesting that the fix is the result of a change Q Link Wireless made to a server.

number doesnt match

While My Mobile Account displayed customers’ personal information, it didn’t provide a means to change that data. The app also didn’t display passwords. That means a person couldn’t exploit this leak to perform a SIM swap or lock users out of their accounts, although the exposure might make it easier for a would-be SIM swapper to social engineer a Q Link Wireless employee into porting a number to a new phone.

There are no indications one way or the other that this leakage was actively exploited. Researchers from security firm Intel471 found no discussions in criminal forums about the available data, but there’s no way to know if it was abused on a smaller scale, say by someone a Q Link Wireless customer knows or has interacted with.

As phone users seeking low-cost, no-frills mobile service, Q Link Customers are a part of a population that may be least able to afford data breach services and other privacy services. The carrier has yet to notify customers of the data exposure. People using the service should consider any data displayed by the app to be available to anyone who has their phone number.

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Wargaming opens office for possibly hundreds of employees in Vilnius, Lithuania

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Wargaming opens office for possibly hundreds of employees in Vilnius, Lithuania

Wargaming said it has opened a new office in Vilnius, Lithuania, to strengthen the company’s distributed development model.

The office will employ developers and it will also act as a publishing arm for central and Eastern Europe. The new hub will be located in the city’s modern business district and will focus on current and future projects alike. Set in a rapidly expanding area of the capital, the studio will become a new working place for several hundred employees within three to four years.

For Wargaming’s MS-1 studio, Vilnius will become another key spot alongside the existing offices in Minsk and Moscow. While the flagship cross-platform shooter World of Tanks: Blitz boasts over 140 million global downloads, MS-1 will continue to create mid-core games for mobile and portable devices — with two unannounced titles in the development pipeline. The studio already has 325 people.

The studio is led by industry veteran Thaine Lyman, who has been with Wargaming since 2015. Prior to that, Thaine spent over 17 years at Activision, working as executive producer for the Call of Duty series on console and PC platforms, as well as vice president of of production overseeing games like Destiny and Marvel licensed product offerings.

Above: World of Tanks is a popular online game.

Image Credit: Wargaming

The plan for the MS-1 team in Lithuania is to be a multicultural melting pot, with employees from across the world. The team will utilize this variety to help deliver games that click with different audiences, while also offering a welcoming and representative work environment for new employees.

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

How will you do that? Membership includes access to:

  • Newsletters, such as DeanBeat
  • The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
  • Chatting with community members, GamesBeat staff, and other guests in our Discord
  • And maybe even a fun prize or two
  • Introductions to like-minded parties

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Continue Reading

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