'Call of Duty: Black Ops 4' gets a second battle royale map tomorrow


Treyarch/Activision

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s Blackout battle royale mode is about to get a new map. The second arena in which players will duke it out for supremacy is Alcatraz. The map hits PS4 tomorrow and will arrive on other platforms later.

It’s not the first time the Call of Duty series has based a map on the infamous Bay Area prison. The Mob of the Dead zombies map is also set on Alcatraz, and there will be zombies for you to tackle in the Blackout map too. The trailer also suggests you’ll be able to take down your enemies with a flamethrower.

With Treyarch and Activation facing fierce competition from the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends, Battlefield V and others in a crowded battle royale marketplace, a new map based on such a recognizable location might help it draw in players new and old. In other news, Blackout will also once again have a free trial. You’ll be able to play it gratis for the rest of the month starting April 2nd, though you’ll need an Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus subscription to join in on consoles.

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'Overwatch' endorsements reduced toxic behavior by 40 percent


Activision Blizzard

Blizzard has been waging a war against toxic players for a while, but how is it faring, exactly? Quite well, it seems. The company’s Natasha Miller has revealed that the number of matches with “negative behavior” has dropped 40 percent since the addition of endorsements, the “looking for group” feature and penalties for prematurely quitting matches. Players were not only encouraged to play as a team and stick through the entirety of matches, but could find teammates who were more likely to complement their skills and gameplay styles.

The company even set up a server that helped it find out if players saw the endorsement system as responsible for the drop in hostile behavior, and the perception was “close” to reality, Miller said.

This isn’t to say that Blizzard’s achievement is flawless. It’s not clear how many instances of toxic behavior there are, and a 40 percent dip still leaves a lot of players causing grief. Still, it’s a start — and it might show other game developers how they can create a welcoming environment by changing attitudes, not just by banning offenders.

Catch up on all the latest news from GDC 2019 here!

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'Call of Duty: Mobile' beta opens soon with classic maps and gameplay


‘Call of Duty: Mobile’

Late last year Tencent and Activision started testing an Android mobile version of Call of Duty, and today at GDC, announced that the game will start a beta test soon that’s available in regions including Europe as well as North and South America. Call of Duty: Mobile maintains the look and feel of the game’s performance on at least Xbox 360 and PS3-era hardware, plus it promises familiar maps from previous entries like Black Ops and Modern Warfare.

The mobile version is a free-to-play title focused on competitive multiplayer matches in modes like Search-and-Destroy, Team Deathmatch and free for all. There’s no word on exactly when the beta test will start on both iOS and Android, but interested players can sign up for access on the official site here, and check out a brief trailer below.

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After Math: Love is in the AR


Netflix

While most of us are still recovering from the frenzied orgy of capitalist affection that is Valentine’s Day, companies from all over the industry continue to fly forth like arrows fired from Cupid’s bow. Google announced it will be spreading some of its “computer love” to nearly half the US by year’s end, while Activision isn’t showing its now ex-employees any. Oh yeah, and Benedict Cumberbatch is Satan.

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Google will have offices and data centers in 24 states by the end of 2019

Google apparently has a spare $13 billion burning a hole in its pockets and, as such, announced plans this week to pursue “major expansions” in 14 states, raising its total US footprint to nearly half of America’s provinces. The plan could lead to as many as 10,000 new construction jobs, though there’s no word on the workforce needs once the buildings have been built.

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Vuzix’s smart glasses still aren’t ready for prime time

$1,000 is a lot of money. Especially for a pair of augmented reality glasses that just aren’t that bright. Engadget reporter Nicole Lee puts a pair of the “smart specs” through their paces.

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Sonar drone discovers long-lost WWII aircraft carrier USS Hornet

More than 76 years after it was lost to the ocean’s depths, families and descendents of those who served aboard the USS Hornet can finally rest knowing the fate of the WWII warship and its crew. A sonar drone operated by the late Paul Allen’s undersea search operation discovered the largely intact vessel more than 17,000 feet below the surface near the Solomon Islands.

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Benedict Cumberbatch will play Satan in Amazon’s ‘Good Omens’ series

Everybody’s favorite neighborhood wizard will be taking on a new challenge in Amazon’s upcoming Good Omens series by playing Satan. And not just any Crown Prince of Darkness — no, no, a 400-foot tall animated Crown Prince of Darkness. Can. Not. Wait.

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Activision Blizzard lays off nearly 800 employees after ‘record’ 2018

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A marquee company, a real titan of its respective industry, enjoys a banner year of sales, revenue and profits. The company then turns around and lays off 800 staffers in order to “restructure” the business. Because that’s what Blizzard just did.

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Study says 37 percent of Americans have faced ‘severe’ online harassment

Look to your left. Now look to your right. Of you and the two people on either side, at least one has had to endure “severe” online harassment. Maybe figure out which one of you it is and give them a hug.

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Activision Blizzard lays off nearly 800 employees after 'record' 2018


ASSOCIATED PRESS

Activision Blizzard has begun laying off some of its 9,600 employees, mostly in non-development sectors, even as it reported a record net revenue of $7.50 billion in 2018, up from $7.02 billion in 2017. Activision expects to lose 8 percent of its staff, or nearly 800 employees. The company plans to restructure its efforts and focus on core franchises such as Overwatch, Diablo, Call of Duty, Candy Crush, Warcraft and Hearthstone.

On a call with investors today, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick called 2018 a record year.

“While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential,” Kotick said in Activision’s 2018 financial report. “To help us reach our full potential, we have made a number of important leadership changes. These changes should enable us to achieve the many opportunities our industry affords us.”

Reports of layoffs at Activision Blizzard started rumbling last week. Activision dropped the Destiny franchise in a deal made public last month, leaving the sci-fi space shooter completely in the hands of Bungie, the developer. Plus, esports-centric and online games under Blizzard’s banner, such as Overwatch, Hearthstone and World of Warcraft, have experienced stagnant or declining player bases over the past year at least.

Call of Duty continues to be a tentpole franchise for Activision, and the Call of Duty World League will receive some attention under the new set-up. Activision plans to launch a city-based team system for the esports league, and it’s confirmed a new title for 2019. However, the company expects lower sales than Black Ops 4.

The Overwatch League will get some love going forward, too. “The Overwatch that you know is just a small part” of what the franchise can be, according to executives on today’s investor call.

Competitors including Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive recently reported lower-than-expected financial results.

Kotick said on the investor call that Activision needs to streamline in order to react quickly to changing market conditions and fresh business models. He was responding to a question about how the industry-shaking success of Fortnite — a free, microtransaction-based battle royale title from Epic Games — has changed its approach to games like Overwatch. Kotick said he sees more space in mobile markets for free-to-play models to take off for Activision and Blizzard franchises.

Notably, Activision is building mobile versions of both Diablo and Call of Duty right now.

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