Best Buy Begins Selling ‘Halo Infinite’ Special-Edition Xbox Series X Video Game Console

Best Buy Nov. 15 began selling Microsoft’s special-edition Xbox Series X video game consoles themed for, and including, the new Halo Infinite video game, which doesn’t officially launch until Dec. 8. Best Buy is selling the $549 console at select stores. The controller costs $199.

Today (Nov. 15) is the 20th anniversary of the original launch of the Xbox video game console.

Per the consumer electronics retailer’s Web page: “Blue Shirts at participating stores will begin handing out tickets at 7:30 a.m. local time. They will ask you which items you wish to buy, and hand out one ticket per item per purchasing customer in line. If you receive a ticket for the Xbox Series X console, controller, and/or headset, you will be guaranteed the opportunity to purchase that item. While in the store, you will also be able to buy additional video games or gaming accessories.”

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 While Microsoft announced the special edition console in August, the company, along with Best Buy and other retailers, is hyping the event ahead of the annual Black Friday retail extravaganza through the Thanksgiving weekend.

As a result, there were media reports of small groups of video game fanatics camping out Nov. 14 at select Best Buy stores to secure a ticket. The Series X console, along with Sony’s PlayStation 5, have been difficult to find in stores due to ongoing chip and related supply chain issues.

That said, video games continue to shatter sales records as an enduring home entertainment option during the pandemic. October game revenue hit a monthly record $4.39 billion, according  to The NPF Group. That was the sixth consecutive month of revenue increases across all market segments. Through 10 months of the year, consumer game spending exceeds $46.7 billion, up 12% from the same period last year.

NPD: Record October Video Game Revenue Tops $4.39 Billion

Consumer demand for video game hardware, software and accessories continues unabated. The games market saw a 16% revenue uptick in October to a record $4.39 billion, from revenue of $3.78 billion in the previous-year period, according to new data from The NPD Group. That’s the sixth-consecutive month of revenue increases across all market segments.

Through 10 months of the year, consumer spending exceeds $46.7 billion, up 12% from $41.7 billion during the same period last year.

Despite ongoing product shortages, game console sales skyrocketed 82% to $472 million, from $259 million last year. Accessories increased 5% to $158 million, from $150 million. Video game revenue increased 11% to $3.75  billion, from $3.38 billion. Mobile gaming revenue jumped 12% to more than $2 billion, from $1.78 billion last year.

Nintendo Switch regained the monthly hardware sales No. 1 ranking after months of Sony PlayStation 5 domination. Through 10 months, the PS5 leads in revenue while the Switch leads in unit sales. Nintendo recently announced it was considering a next-generation Switch, which was last launched in 2017.

Deloitte Report: 84% of U.S. Consumers Spending More Time With Online, Rather Than In-Person Entertainment

The vast majority of U.S. consumers (84%) are spending more time with online, rather than in-person entertainment, according to Deloitte’s just released Digital Media Trends Fall Pulse Survey.

Meanwhile, more than 80% of U.S. respondents in the survey conducted in August 2021 said they remain concerned about COVID-19 variants, and about half (48%) said they spend more time on online entertainment versus six months ago.

Among other findings in the survey:

  • Both Boomers and Gen X still rank “watching TV shows or movies at home” as their favorite entertainment activity; “playing video games” is still ranked as Gen Z’s preferred form of entertainment.
  • “Churn and return” behavior is most common with younger generations, with almost half of millennials (47%) and 34% of Gen Z canceling and then re-subscribing to the same service later.
  • High cost and completing a TV show they signed up to watch are the top two reasons consumers canceled an SVOD service.
  • 65% of consumers are engaging with at least one social media service several times a day.
  • 65% of respondents are frequent gamers, playing at least once a week; on average, these frequent gamers play for around 12 hours a week.

 

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The survey revealed that consumers are getting better at developing strategies to access online content while keeping their costs low. Among the findings:

  • 84% of respondents now pay for an SVOD service; the average household has four subscriptions — largely unchanged during the past year.
  • The churn rate — the number of people who have cancelled, or both added and cancelled, a paid SVOD service — has remained stable at about 38%, although it varies from service to service.
  • Many streaming video subscribers say they actively manage costs in some way, either by looking for deals or promotions, bundles, using friends’ or family members’ accounts, and other strategies.
  • Led by cost-sensitive and savvy millennials and Gen Zs, 65% of respondents reported using free ad-supported video services.

Free Guy

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/12/21;
Disney/20th Century;

Comedy;
Box Office $119.68 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for strong fantasy violence throughout, language and crude/suggestive references.
Stars Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar.

The initial marketing campaigns for Free Guy suggested it would be another film attempting to present the story from the point of view of characters otherwise not considered alive. In this case, a non-player character (NPC) in a video game, making the film essentially a live-action spin on Wreck-It Ralph.

However, what appears at first to be another derivative story about video games is instead a smartly written, sharply funny sci-fi action comedy.

That isn’t to say the film is wholly original, but it blends recognizable elements from a number of sources in a way that works to give the film its own flavor.

Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, an NPC in a video game called Free City, which is also the name of the city that serves as the game’s primary location where players engage in all sorts of action-adventure missions such as car chases and bank heists. Guy works as a bank teller at the city’s bank that is always being robbed, but he dreams of a life of more than just needless repetition, and notes that the people having all the fun are wearing sunglasses.

So, one day, he confronts a bank robber and steals their glasses, and when he puts them on he discovers a whole new world that exists on top of his own, as he can now access the heads up display of the gamer, allowing him to engage them on their terms.

So, off the bat we get elements of The Lego Movie, with the conformist character’s desire to expand his horizons; The Matrix, with the simulated world where outsiders can manipulate time and space; and They Live, with the sunglasses unveiling the true nature of the world.

Guy then meets Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer), who fits all the parameters of Guy’s ideal woman, so he instantly falls in love with her. She’s a player who seems to be on a different mission than everyone else, and at first believes Guy is a another player like herself, so she gives him tips on how to level-up in the game in order to be able to help her.

In the real world she’s actually a programmer named Millie who once helped design an open world gaming code that was purchased by a larger company but then scrapped, though she believes it was used as the base code for Free City, so she’s trying to infiltrate the game to find proof (shades of Tron).

She and other gamers soon come to realize that Guy is in fact an NPC, which astonishes them, while alarming the owner (Taika Waititi) of the company that makes Free City, who is trying to stop Millie from uncovering the truth about the game.

It turns out there’s an actual story reason why Guy seems to be an NPC come to life, which not only plays into the larger narrative of what Millie is seeking, but also makes the film a legitimate piece of sci-fi with a message about pushing past the constraints that sometimes seem built into existence. But the film also pokes fun at gaming culture, including live-streaming game play.

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The 4K Ultra HD combo pack includes the film on a 4K disc with no extras, and a regular Blu-ray with the film and all the extras, consisting of several behind-the-scenes featurettes, a five-minute gag reel and some deleted scenes.

The featurettes, which run about 45 minutes total, are pretty extensive and showcase how director Shawn Levy and his talented cast crafted them film using some unique visual effects techniques. There’s a 15-minute general making-of, a seven-minute piece on Comer, an eight-minute piece on Waititi, and a 15-minute examination of a key action sequence with Reynolds. There’s also a two-minute video about the visual effects contraption used to record some of the actors’ faces.

There are two minor deleted scenes — one runs about a minute and features Guy musing about the nature of the world, the other is a 30-second action gag — and a four-minute extended sequence.

The disc also includes three of the film’s trailers.

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Unfortunately, the disc doesn’t include any kind of commentary track, which could have been a fun one given the cast involved, especially if Reynolds and Waititi did one in character as their Marvel characters Deadpool and Korg, like they did for a YouTube reaction video to one of the trailers.

Netflix Acquires Video Game Publisher ‘Night School Studio’

Netflix Sept. 28 announced that Night School Studio, publisher of the popular indie games Oxenfree, Afterparty and Next Stop Nowhere, among others, is joining the SVOD behemoth’s nascent game unit. The company, which is releasing Oxenfree II in 2022, was founded in 2014 by Sean Krankel and Adam Hines. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Krankel, in a blog post, said the company was attracted to Netflix due to its respect for the publisher’s “narrative and design aspirations across distinctive, original games from the heart.”

“Netflix gives film, TV, and now game makers an unprecedented canvas to create and deliver excellent entertainment to millions of people,” Krankel wrote. “Our explorations in narrative gameplay and Netflix’s track record of supporting diverse storytellers was such a natural pairing. It felt like both teams came to this conclusion instinctively.”

Mike Verdu, VP of game development at Netflix, has been tasked with creating games around the streamer’s original IP. He said the acquisition of Night School Studio is just the beginning.

“We’ll continue working with developers around the world and hiring the best talent in the industry to deliver a great collection of exclusive games designed for every kind of gamer and any level of play,” Verdu wrote in a post. “Like our shows and films, these games will all be included as part of your Netflix membership — all with no ads and no in-app purchases. Stay tuned for more.”

Netflix also recently purchased The Roald Dahl Story Company, a deal that was preceded by the acquisition of  Millarworld, the comic book publisher founded by Mark Millar, the legendary creator of characters and stories as Kick-Ass, Kingsman, and Old Man Logan.

‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ Arriving on 4K Ultra HD Nov. 16

The animated action adventure Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) is coming to 4K Ultra HD for its 20th anniversary Nov. 16 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

In the film, the year is 2065, and a meteor has crashed onto Earth unleashing millions of alien creatures who roam around decimating field and city alike, threatening to extinguish life itself. The film features the voices of Alec Baldwin and Steve Buscemi.

Legacy bonus features on the Blu-ray include two feature-length commentaries, the interactive documentary “The Making of Final Fantasy,” the original opening, “Aki’s Dream Reconstruction,” “On the Set with Aki,” character profiles, vehicle scale comparisons, compositing builds, joke outtakes, “The Gray Project” and theatrical trailers.

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NPD: August Video Games Sales Up 7%, Driven by ‘Madden NFL 22’

Another month, another feather in the cap of the burgeoning video game market, thanks to the pandemic, new-generation game consoles and Madden NFL 22.

The debut of the latest entry from the venerable NFL-themed game franchise marked the 22nd consecutive season the Electronic Arts’ franchise ranked No. 1 during its first-month of release. NPD said Madden NFL 22 already ranks as the fourth-best-selling game in 2021.

New data from The NPD Group found that sales of game hardware, software and accessories in August increased 7% to a monthly record of $4.4 billion, compared with $4.1 billion during the previous-year period. Consumer spending on games for eight months of the year approached $38 billion, up 13% from $33.5 billion a year ago.

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Driven by increased availability of Sony PlayStation 5, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Series S consoles, in addition to Nintendo Switch, hardware revenue rose 45% to $329 million from $226.8 million. Console revenue is up 49% through eight months to $3 billion from $2 billion.

Game sales increased 5% to $3.87 billion from $3.6 billion last year, while accessories revenue remained flat in the month at $164 million, but up 12% through eight months at $1.6 billion, from $1.42 billion in 2020. The top-selling accessory was Xbox Elite Series 2 Wireless Controller.

Through August, game sales are up 11% to $33.33 billion, from $30 billion a year ago. Nintendo continues to lead in unit sales, while PS5 dominates in dollars.

Netflix Testing Video Games in Poland

Netflix has begun rollout of mobile video games, testing the concept with branded “Stranger Things” games in Poland. The American series has proved to be one of Netflix most popular and critically acclaimed original shows, with a fourth season launching in 2022.

The games, Stranger Things: 1984 and Stranger Things 3 are available in Polish and ad-free to mobile subscribers using Android devices.

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“Let’s talk about Netflix games,” read a translated blog post. “Starting today, users in Poland can try out two mobile games on Android. We are at an early stage and we still have a lot of work to do in the coming months, but this is our first step.”

Netflix earlier this year announced the hire of video game executive Mike Verdu to spearhead the streamer’s online gaming strategy.

Mortal Kombat (2021)

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Action;
Box Office $42.2 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and some crude reference.
Stars Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, Tadanobu Asano, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Matilda Kimber, Laura Brent.

With its relentless action and brutal one-on-one fights, the Mortal Kombat remake should please fans of the video game franchise.

Mainstream audiences, on the other hand, may find the proceedings just another visual effects extravaganza with a convoluted plot that doesn’t do much to engage the viewer aside from the promise of more violence and over-the-top blood splatter.

The story involves the thunder god Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) assembling a team of heroes to defend Earthrealm in a tournament against the evil forces of Outworld, led by Shang Tsung (Chin Han), who needs one more victory to be allowed to conquer Earth.

At the center of the action is MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan), who is recruited to the battle because he was born with the dragon-shaped birthmark that marks potential warriors. He is a descendant of a ninja clan defeated in the 17th century by Sub-Zero, an Outworld warrior with ice powers.

So the movie maneuvers the various characters around to fight each other, with predictable results and the hint of more adventures to come in potential sequels.

The film is slickly produced and looks great with its elaborate costumes and set design, but it is also extremely loud.

The Blu-ray includes four deleted scenes that total about four minutes, plus several behind-the-scenes featurettes. There’s also a four-minute featurette about Easter eggs and other references to the game embedded in the film, which certainly makes an effort to include iconic catchphrases and signature fighting moves from the games.

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NPD: July Video Game Sales Increased 10% to Record $4.6 Billion

Following a brief downturn in April, sales of video games, hardware and accessories rose 10% in July to a record $4.6 billion, compared with revenue of $4.18 billion in July 2020 at the height of the pandemic, according to new data from The NPD Group.

Spurred by greater availability of new-generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony, hardware sales skyrocketed 98% to $323 million — the best July sales tally since 2008. Hardware sales topped $161 million in the previous-year period. Year-to-date spending on consoles through July is up 50% to $2.7 billion from $1.81 billion in 2020.

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Game software sales rose 6% to $4 billion, from $3.7 billion in 2020. Year-to-date revenue rose 12% to $29.45 billion, from $26.29 last year. The top-selling game in July was Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, followed by perennial chart topper Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War from Activision.

Total consumer spending on gaming for seven months reached $33.5 billion, up 14% from $29.38 billion during the same period last year.