FTC Blasted By Congress And Xbox Fans For Doing Its Job

Under chair Lina Khan, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken a lot of heat for trying to be aggressive in its approach to regulating tech companies and preventing monopolies. Now the FTC is facing criticism from both Republicans in Congress and very online Xbox fans for appealing a recent court decision that gave Microsoft the greenlight to finish its acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

After losing a preliminary injunction to block the $69 billion merger while it was under review, the FTC filed an appeal on July 12 with the Ninth Circuit. It’s since also requested a stay from the Northern District Court of California to prevent the deal from closing until the appeal is ruled on, as the acqusition’s July 18 deadline looms. “Your tax dollars at work,” tweeted Blizzard president Mike Ybarra, who was previously a longtime corporate VP at Microsoft.

Republicans in Congress took a similar stance. Testifying during an oversight hearing, Khan was hammered by GOP Representatives for pursuing too many antitrust cases and losing many of them. “You seem to be losing quite a bit, and I don’t say that to be disrespectful, but these are, after all, taxpayer funds,” Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Ca.) said during the hearing (via IGN).

He continued, “The court not only rejected your assertion of a likely anti-competitive effect but found just the opposite. The record evidence points to more consumer access. So why should Americans have faith in your judgment when this Biden-appointed judge says you’re so far off the mark?” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), meanwhile, called Kahn a bully for trying to prevent Microsoft from gaining an advantage over its Japanese competitor, Sony.

It didn’t take long for some of the loudest voices in the Xbox community to pile on. “Lina Khan is getting Fried, Roasted, Cooked and Buttered,” wrote influencer UniSensei, retweeting hearing footage like it was an E3 press conference. “OUCH! Maybe keep consumers and competitive markets a priority, and not a political line and you won’t get cooked, Khan,” tweeted YouTuber Colteastwood.

An antitrust scholar appointed to the FTC by President Biden in 2021, Khan was simple and unphased in her responses. “We fight hard when we believe there was a law violation, and unfortunately things don’t always go our way,” she said during the hearing. That is, after all, the agency’s mandate, regardless of what fans, executives, or politicians it might upset.


Major Nelson Is Leaving Xbox After Two Decades

Larry Hryb is shown speaking into a microphone.

Screenshot: Xbox / Kotaku

Xbox’s Director of Programming and long-time public figure in the company’s history, Larry ‘Major Nelson’ Hryb has announced he’s leaving Microsoft after 22 years at the company.

Hryb has been a figurehead for the Xbox brand for a long time. Even looking back for examples of Kotaku’s past coverage of his career brings up (now broken) podcasts and articles dating back over 15 years. Alongside public-facing work like the Xbox podcast, Hryb has been one of the more fan-focused members of the Xbox team, even taking part in fan meet and greets. So while his colleagues at Microsoft will likely feel his absence, it’s fair to say that much of the Xbox community will feel it, as well.

Hryb made the announcement on his personal Twitter account, where he thanked Xbox fans and his colleagues at Microsoft as he looked toward the “next chapter” of his career.

“After 20 incredible years, I have decided to take a step back and work on the next chapter of my career,” he wrote. “As I take a moment and think about all we have done together, I want to thank the millions of gamers around the world who have included me as part of their lives. Also, thanks to Xbox team members for trusting me to have a direct dialogue with our customers. The future is bright for Xbox and as a gamer, I am excited to see the evolution.”

At the end of his Twitter thread, Hryb also confirmed that Xbox’s official podcast (originally called Major Nelson Radio), will be taking a hiatus for the summer and will return in a new format without him.

As of this writing, Hryb has yet to publicly say what his next career move is but says he will be taking some time off for vacation.

Xbox Live Gold Ends After 18 Years, Replaced By Game Pass Core

After nearly two decades, Xbox Live Gold will die on September 14. In its place is Xbox Game Pass Core, a cheaper version of the Game Pass service that’ll allow gamers to play online together, as well as offer a curated selection of games to play. And, yes, that also means Games with Gold is going away too. You’ll still have access to those games you downloaded via the program, but there are some things to consider.

Originally launched in 2002, shortly after the launch of the original Xbox, Xbox Live quickly became the standard for online play on consoles. The service evolved with the Xbox 360, featuring various networking capabilities such as cross-game voice chat and messaging, and in 2013, Xbox Live Gold also offered free games each month via Games with Gold. In 2017, however, Microsoft turned to offering another online service with Xbox Game Pass, allowing players to download countless games for around 11 bucks a month on consoles. Now, the services are essentially fusing together on September 14, with the Xbox Live Gold branding being phased out, and Games with Gold ending on September 1. Xbox Game Pass Core, which’ll cost 10 bucks a month, or $60 a year, will offer 25 games to play and access to online multiplayer.

Game Pass will let you keep your Games with Gold games (under one condition)

Let’s get the big question out of the way first. Yes, you will be able to access games you’ve downloaded via the Games with Gold program, but here’s the catch: For Xbox One games, you’ll need to remain a Game Pass Core or Game Pass Ultimate subscriber to keep your Games with Gold games. 

According to Microsoft, Xbox 360 games are exempt from this requirement, as per the copy on the Game Pass Core announcement page:

Regardless of subscription status, any Xbox 360 titles redeemed via Games with Gold in the past will be kept in a player’s library.

If you are an existing Xbox Live Gold subscriber, you’ll automatically convert to Game Pass Core on September 14. Microsoft provided the following list of games that’ll be available on September 14 via the new service, with more to be added ahead of the service’s launch:

  • Among Us
  • Descenders
  • Dishonored 2
  • Doom Eternal
  • Fable Anniversary
  • Fallout 4
  • Fallout 76
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Gears 5
  • Grounded
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Halo Wars 2
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Human Fall Flat
  • Inside
  • Ori & The Will of the Wisps
  • Psychonauts 2
  • State of Decay 2
  • The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited

Purchase Game Pass: Microsoft

Microsoft promises to add new games to Game Pass Core two to three times each year, in addition to various membership-exclusive deals and discounts.

The pricing of the service is somewhat curious, however. At 10 bucks a month, the full Xbox Game Pass on console is a mere dollar extra. It’s hard to imagine why someone would choose not to just spend the extra dollar and get access to a far larger game library that’s abundantly added to every month. It means Microsoft is now matching PlayStation’s Plus Essential service, which is the same price, with a similar library of games, except Sony’s version still offers a couple of free games every month to subscribers. What a curious move.

Call of Duty Players Flood Fixed Xbox 360 Servers, Hit Problems

A Call of Duty: Black Ops image shows a soldier sneaking up on two enemy soldiers in a narrow hallway.

Image: Activision

In a surprise move, Activision has revived the multiplayer servers for a number of Xbox 360-era Call of Duty games, and it’s proved to be a popular decision. In fact, this past weekend, Xbox 360 Call of Duty games reportedly had more players than both Halo Infinite and Battlefield 2042 combined.

Read More: Microsoft And Sony Finally Reach Deal For The Future Of Call Of Duty On PlayStation

According to the Call of Duty news account ModernWarzone, this weekend saw more people playing Xbox 360-era CoD games that were released over 10 years ago than there were playing contemporary first-person shooters like Halo Infinite and series rival Battlefield 2042. Xbox fan account IdleSloth84_ corroborated this news with screenshots revealing that there were 123,852 people playing CoD: Black Ops, 11,514 people playing CoD: Black Ops II, and 79,619 people playing CoD: Modern Warfare 3 on Xbox 360 servers. CoD: Black Ops was first released in 2010, and CoD: Modern Warfare 3 was released the following year.

Read More: Microsoft: Pulling Call of Duty From Steam Was A ‘Failure’

While the server fixes come at an auspicious time for enthusiastic players inclined to celebrate in the streets about Microsoft and Sony coming to terms with their joint custody over the mega-popular first-person shooter franchise, reliving the glory days of these decade-old games on current-gen Xbox consoles is coming with some last-gen problems.

Unfortunately, hackers are reportedly still present in the old-school servers, and the gameplay is feeling a bit off on the Xbox Series X/S, as some players are experiencing input delay on their ninth-generation consoles. Currently, it’s unknown whether Activision will continue working to improve the experience of these older games for players who are experiencing issues.


You Can Still Play Xbox 360 Shadowrun On Xbox Live

A character fires a gun at the camera while a wall is damaged behind them.

Image: Microsoft

Remember Shadowrun? No, not the tabletop RPG with incomprehensible rules. Nope, not the very good 1993 SNES game either. And no, not Shadowrun Returns. Rather, I’m talking about the oft-ignored, largely forgotten Xbox 360 multiplayer FPS. It wasn’t a very good competitive first-person shooter, but if you want to revisit halcyon days of 2007, now’s a good time, as Microsoft just fixed the game’s matchmaking services.

Shadowrun, originally a tabletop roleplaying game first published in 1989, has been adapted to video game form a few times, and 2007’s Xbox / Windows Vista release was certainly one of them: A multiplayer-only first-person shooter, it wandered far from its RPG origins. Shadowrun wasn’t terribly notable as a first-person shooter, and it didn’t necessarily win over any fans from the RPG. But the game did do something very cool for 2007: cross-platform play between Xbox Live and PC (using the dreaded Games for Windows service). Shadowrun has otherwise drifted into relative obscurity since then. But could it be back? A new update for classic Xbox 360 Call of Duty games fully broke multiplayer matchmaking recently, but a subsequent update has Shadowrun online play working better than ever.

As documented in a thread on Resetera, Shadowrun’s dedicated servers had been shuttered a year after release, leaving the game to rely on very slow, peer-to-peer matchmaking. And the small gathering of folks who were still playing Shadowrun ‘07 weren’t too pleased when updates to Call of Duty games on Xbox Live seemed to bork matchmaking entirely.

Thankfully, Microsoft quickly fixed the unpopular, 16-year-old game’s new technical snafus. After fans reached out to Microsoft, the publisher restored service on Xbox and PC and it’s apparently better than it was before. According to wwm0nkey on Resetera:

the game usd to fake search for servers which would take a while before putting you into a match, well whatever [Microsoft] did they eliminated that process fully and now Search > Match takes like 3 seconds where ti used to be about 30+.

Between Shadowrun and 360-era CoD games, now’s a good time to get some late aughts gaming nostalgia in. Dare we hope for more old online games to get refurbished? Hey Sony, let’s talk about Dust 514.

Xbox Head Phil Spencer Is Probably Playing Starfield Right Now

Starfield isn’t out until September 6, but Xbox head Phil Spencer already appears to be playing the massive spacefaring RPG.

Read More: Starfield’s Most Expensive Version Has A Fancy Space Watch

The Xbox app has a section called “popular with friends” that shows you the games your buddies are playing. It can be a handy little tool for bothering your friends about their progress in Diablo IV or needling them over their refusal to stop playing Overwatch 2 (it’s me, I’m that friend).

But based on a picture shared on Reddit, it looks like at least one person has early access to Starfield: Phil Spencer. The screenshot shared shows Spencer’s Xbox profile picture, an Xbox Avatar version of him (notice he’s also wearing a t-shirt and jeans, so it’s lore-accurate) against a purple background, underneath both Starfield and Exoprimal, a dinosaur shooter from Capcom that came to Xbox Game Pass on July 14.

While Spencer playing Exoprimal checks out as the game just launched, his apparent access to Starfield is interesting. It makes sense, though—Spencer and Todd Howard have worked closely together to promote the upcoming Bethesda RPG ever since Microsoft bought Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax in 2021. At Summer Game Fest, they sat down for a press presentation alongside the head of Xbox Game Studios, Matt Booty, and head of Xbox’s gaming ecosystem, Sarah Bond. If you’re the head of Xbox, you can have a little Starfield early access as a treat.

After several delays, Starfield is finally dropping this fall. The “irresponsibly large game,” as Pete Hines called it during his FTC testimony last month, boasts space combat, extensive ship customization, 1,000 worlds and over 250,000 lines of dialogue, as we learned during the massive Starfield Direct from Summer Game Fest.

Based on the Reddit post, it seems like Spencer was playing Starfield on July 14, the day the news dropped that the FTC failed to pause Microsoft’s $69 million purchase of Activision. Maybe he was celebrating the lengthy battle by hopping from planet to planet in Starfield, his mind finally free from fretting over whether Microsoft would get another jewel in its gaming Infinity Gauntlet or not. In space, no one can hear you gloat.

TMNT Xbox Controller Smells Like Actual Pizza

A woman smells a pizza Xbox controller.

Photo: Microsoft

Is that delivery? No, it’s an Xbox Series X/S controller designed in a lab to smell like pizza. In the leadup to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’s August 2023 release, Microsoft is giving away a certain number of TMNT-themed, slice-infused controllers.

“Designed to deliver the smell of the Turtles’ beloved meal to your game time, these exclusive Xbox Wireless Controllers come with a built-in scent diffuser shaped like a slice of delicious New York ‘za,” reads the official description. As long as it doesn’t end up smelling disgusting, it will probably make you very hungry whenever you sit down to play, and probably kill your battery life in the process.

There are four unique controller variations—one for each of the four Turtles—sporting their names in graffiti, profile pic, and weapons of choice alongside the green ooze paint jobs. They actually look really neat, and like a lot of Microsoft’s recent branded partnerships, it would be cool if you could actually just go out and buy them.

According to an official Xbox Wire announcement for the contest, all you need to do to win one of them is follow the Xbox Game Pass Twitter account and retweet the sweepstakes tweet. Perfect timing given the social media website continues to unravel before our eyes thanks to the brain-dead mood swings of billionaires and the sycophants in their inner circle who never tell them “No.”

Microsoft’s new TMNT crossover also extends to Minecraft, where a new DLC arriving August 3 will add playable Turtles, Krang and Leatherhead enemies, and locations from the movie including the heroes’ sewer lair. We don’t have any screenshots of what that will look like yet but it actually sounds super rad.

In the meantime you can always get into the pizza-eating, foot soldier-bashing spirit with 2023 GOTY contender Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (on Game Pass and PS Plus Extra) or the excellent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection which collects every retro platformer and beat-em-up in the franchise’s long-running video game adaptation history.


New Xbox Dashboard Looks Great, Still Has Too Many Ads

A screenshot shows the revamped Xbox dashboard.

Screenshot: Microsoft

Microsoft’s long-awaited dashboard redesign for the Xbox Series X/S is finally rolling out for everyone starting today. It’s a welcome update that lets players highlight their favorite game art while also opening more options to get around the Xbox home menus more quickly. If only it didn’t still include so many Game Pass ads.

“When we first showed Xbox Insiders what we were working on we heard your feedback clearly—you wanted more room to show off custom backgrounds or game art, quicker navigation options, and more personalization,” Ivy Krislov, Xbox experiences product lead, wrote over on the Xbox Wire blog. “Over the last eight months since initial release, we’ve implemented changes to meet those requests and have a new Home that feels fresh, puts the focus on your games and apps, and creates space for beautiful backgrounds.”

The new dashboard, which will slowly roll out to all Xbox Series X/S users in the days and weeks ahead, includes five main improvements:

  • Adds quick access menu for Game Pass, Settings, and more at the top
  • Pushes the first group of icons lower to make room for background art
  • Introduces an option for dynamic game art so the background changes depending on the icon currently selected
  • Curates lists of games you might be interested in
  • Lets you pin suspended games to the home screen.

On the whole, the redesign is a nice mixture of minimalism, customizability, and efficiency. No core feature or option is more than a couple button presses away, and the rest of the time it’s easy to display your favorite Xbox backgrounds rather than having your eyeballs accosted by a ton of random squares. I especially like being able to have my Quick Resume queue out in the open rather than stashed away in a submenu.

There are still some issues, however. The pinned groups at the bottom after the first page are wedged below a mandatory “Recently Added to Game Pass” row. One of the slots on the home screen is also reserved for advertising Game Pass games, even if you’re already subscribed like I am. Another tile is dedicated to hawking other paid content, deals, and new sales. And once you scroll passed your pinned icons, every new row is basically something about Game Pass: which games you might like, which ones are leaving soon, etc.

Too many Game Pass ads was the original complaint when Microsoft first tested the redesign. It has certainly improved things on that front, but it still didn’t do away with them entirely. The PlayStation 5 home screen has plenty of ads too, depending on where you scroll. Those also suck. I paid hundreds of dollars for these consoles. It would be nice to not occasionally feel like I’m getting bombarded with deals and upsells like I’m standing in front of a gas station kiosk.


Final Fantasy 14 Finally Coming To Xbox A Decade Later

At long last, Xbox owners will soon get to enjoy the MMORPG PlayStation players have enjoyed for nearly a decade. Final Fantasy XIV is headed to Xbox Series X/S in spring 2024 after being a PlayStation console exclusive since 2014.

Producer and director Naoki Yoshida made the announcement on stage at the game’s 2023 fanfest in Las Vegas, NV alongside Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer. The Xbox Series X/S version will offer 4K graphics and faster load times, like its PlayStation 5 counterpart. While the full release is still almost a year away, an open beta will be available for players to try much sooner when patch 6.5x arrives in the months ahead.

For those who have been living under an adamantoise shell, Final Fantasy XIV has you complete fetch quests, dungeons, and raids across the dazzling world of Hydaelyn, full of political intrigue and mythical wonder. The game was one of the first live-service disasters when it first launched in 2013, and was even entirely shutdown for a time before re-releasing as A Realm Reborn.

Specner And Yoshida announce the Xbox port at Fanfest 2023.

Screenshot: Square Enix / Kotaku

It’s recieved increasingly excellent expansions ever since, each introducing new characters, classes, and conflicts. And while it’s an MMO, a Duty Support system lets you play solo with AI-controlled NPCs. By the time Final Fantasy XIV comes to Xbox Series X/S, Square Enix says the feature will enable players to complete everything from the start of the game up through its most recent Endwalker expansion without ever needing to interact with another human being.

Why did it take so long to get FFXIV on Xbox?

The story of how we got here, however, is a long one. Yoshida was asked as early as 2013 why the game wasn’t on Xbox One. His answer at the time was that Microsoft’s stance on crossplay was too restrictive. “The main reason from our side is that I don’t want the community to be divided; to be split into two or more. For example, one player might be on the PC version, another might be on the PS4 version, and I’m playing the Xbox version – but we’re not able to join the same game servers,” he told RPGSite at the time. “That is just… I just don’t like the idea. I disagree with it.”

That was back when Microsoft was the company seemingly standing in the way of crossplay between the two consoles. Years later, roles were reversed, with Sony pushing back against crossplay for games like Fortnite. Yoshida repeated his requirement for crossplay in a 2017 interview with Kotaku, and things seemed to be progressing in that direction not long after.

Spencer publicly promised to bring the game to Xbox at the X019 fanfest event in London. “We have a great relationship with Yoshida-san and we’re working through what it means to bring a cross-platform MMO, that they’ve run for years,” he told VGC at the time. “It will be one of the games that’s coming and it’s something that I know our Xbox fans will be incredibly excited to see.”

No deal immeidately materialized, however. Yoshida was asked again what the problem was during a 2021 interview around the time Final Fantasy XIV came to PS5. “So I feel bad for saying the same thing every time,” he told Easy Allies. “But we are still in discussions with Microsoft and I feel like our conversations are going in a positive tone.”

The positive tone of those conversations seemingly wasn’t enough to finally get Sony to agree to crossplay though, until now. The two companies also recently reached a 10-year agreement for Call of Duty to keep coming to PlayStation after Microsoft’s acqusition of Activision Blizzard is finalized. Purely a coincidence, I’m sure. Sony, Microsoft, and Square Enix did not immediately respond to requets for comment.

Survivor Is Coming To PS4, Xbox One

Respawn and Electronic Arts’ popular single-player Star Wars sequel, Jedi: Survivor, is making the leap from current-gen to the older PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.

Launched in April, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is the follow-up to 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order. In this most recent Star Wars adventure from Titanfall devs Respawn, players again take on the role of Cal Kestis, a Jedi who survived the purge during the end of the Clone Wars as a young boy and who now hangs out with his ragtag found family of misfits as they try to free the galaxy from the Empire’s clutches. This very good follow-up originally skipped last-gen consoles in order to, in the words of the game’s director, offer up a “true new-gen experience.” But now, Cal Kestis is coming to a PS4 near you.

During Electronic Arts’ August 1 earnings briefing, the publisher revealed that Respawn was “in the early stages of development” on PS4 and Xbox One ports of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.

EA didn’t specify when these last-gen ports would be released and declined to offer any extra details to Kotaku.

The publisher clarified that Star Wars Jedi: Survivor’s current versions weren’t going to be left behind, and confirmed that “additional performance improvements” for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC still remained a “top priority” for Respawn. It also promised to share more about these improvements “as soon as the next update is ready.” This is good news, as the game still suffers from performance issues after previous updates helped, but didn’t quite fix, framerate drops and in-game stuttering.

A surprise, to be sure...

For many, the news that EA is bringing Jedi: Survivor to PS4 and Xbox One will be surprising. While it makes sense from a financial standpoint—those older machines still have millions of dedicated players in 2023—it seems at odds with what Respawn said before the game’s launch.

Specifically, the game’s director Stig Asmussen explained the reason for skipping PS4 and Xbox One was so the team could deliver a “true new-gen experience in the Star Wars universe.” It seems Respawn is also willing to lower the resolution and framerate limits to accommodate the older hardware.

It’s also interesting that the game is coming to older, less powerful machines since Jedi: Survivor seemed to push the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S harder than most games. I’m curious how well the game will run on much older hardware, in particular the base Xbox One, which is rather long in the tooth. These consoles are almost a decade old, now.


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