Epic Games Publishing picks up indie studios Eyes Out and Spry Fox

Epic Games Publishing is throwing its full weight behind two more indie studios, and really, they couldn't be more different — which is precisely the point. Epic has signed Eyes Out, the brand-spanking-new studio founded by Spec Ops: The Line director Cory Davis and Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, and also Spry Fox, a veteran, award-winning indie developer known for heartwarming games such as Cozy Grove, Alphabear and Road Not Taken

As a publisher, Epic offers to cover 100 percent of all development costs, and once a game comes out and breaks even in sales, the signed studio receives at least 50 percent of all profits. Epic doesn't exert creative control over its partnered games, and the developers retain the intellectual property rights to their work. Epic signed Remedy Entertainment, Playdead and genDESIGN in March 2020, and today's announcement marks the second batch of contracted studios.

"We’re open to publishing many types of games from the most talented developers, and the studios we’re partnering with are making some of the coolest, experimental and ambitious stuff out there," head of Epic Games Publishing Hector Sanchez told Engadget. "They have our full support – including Epic’s publishing and promotional services, resources, and experience – which means they can focus solely on making the best games possible."

Eyes Out is staffed with enormous creative energy, but it's unproven as a team. Davis, Finck and their collaborators are working on their debut title, a mysterious arthouse horror game with an emphasis on experimental audio and cosmic terror. The studio's teasers are filled with moody desert landscapes and unsettling layers of sound. In a chat with Engadget in September, Davis said he wants to "create mind-bending experiences that cause you to question reality."

The publisher relationship goes even deeper for Eyes Out, too — the studio received an Epic MegaGrant in 2019, which gave them the runway to build their first proof-of-concept. Epic further funded the studio's prototype, allowing them to expand their team in the process. And now, Eyes Out is officially part of Epic Games Publishing.

"From the very beginning, Robin and I knew that Eyes Out was going to require a unique publishing partner willing to empower our vision of the strange, ambitious worlds we would create together, and one capable of fueling it," Davis said about today's news. He continued, "Our collaboration with Epic continued to bear fruit. Working with Epic is really the first time I’ve felt entirely unleashed as a director, both technically and creatively. Together we’re aimed to create the thing that’s closest to my heart."

Spry Fox, meanwhile, is working on its most ambitious project to date, which it describes as a "non-violent multiplayer game designed to encourage friendship and reduce loneliness in the world." It'll come to multiple platforms, and support cross-play and cross-progression. The first bit of concept art from Spry Fox's new game depicts a pastel, Atlantis-esque world with a massive yellow whale floating across the sky.

"This is the first time in our history that we at Spry Fox have chosen to work with a publisher in this manner," studio co-founder and CEO David Edery said. "Up until now, we have only worked with publishers for much more limited regional publishing and porting arrangements. But we felt for a project as ambitious as this one, we needed more support than usual, and Epic seemed like the right company to provide that support."

Epic has positioned itself as the developer's publisher, with a goal of having "the most developer-friendly terms in the industry," emphasizing creative control and financial support for its studios. Outside of direct publishing deals, Epic also offers free access to Unreal Engine, a powerful game-development toolset, and it throws money at artists through programs like Epic MegaGrants, a $100 million fund for burgeoning creatives. The Epic Games Store went live in 2018 as a direct competitor to Steam, offering better financial terms for developers and challenging Valve to implement the same deal (spoiler: Valve didn't). 

More recently, Epic waged a very public legal battle against Apple, arguing the iPhone-maker enjoyed monopolistic control over the App Store and offered unfair terms to developers. In the end, the lawsuit played out like any other fight between multibillion-dollar corporations, resulting in little change and lots of press.

Throughout the lawsuit, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney attacked Apple for engaging in greedy, anti-consumer and anti-developer practices. This is kind of his thing — since founding Epic more than 30 years ago, Sweeney has been consistent in his mantra that game development should be accessible to as many people as possible. Even his first game, ZZT, included an editor so everyone who played it could build their own levels.

"It was in those early days that Epic's kind of core philosophy was set," Sweeney told Engadget in 2019. "We both build games ourselves and we share all the results of our work with the world to build their own games. We're the both a game developer and a service company that works with partners throughout the whole industry. Everything we're doing now is this much larger version of that."

Including, it seems, Epic Games Publishing.

Epic Games Publishing picks up indie studios Eyes Out and Spry Fox

Epic Games Publishing is throwing its full weight behind two more indie studios, and really, they couldn't be more different — which is precisely the point. Epic has signed Eyes Out, the brand-spanking-new studio founded by Spec Ops: The Line director Cory Davis and Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, and also Spry Fox, a veteran, award-winning indie developer known for heartwarming games such as Cozy Grove, Alphabear and Road Not Taken

As a publisher, Epic offers to cover 100 percent of all development costs, and once a game comes out and breaks even in sales, the signed studio receives at least 50 percent of all profits. Epic doesn't exert creative control over its partnered games, and the developers retain the intellectual property rights to their work. Epic signed Remedy Entertainment, Playdead and genDESIGN in March 2020, and today's announcement marks the second batch of contracted studios.

"We’re open to publishing many types of games from the most talented developers, and the studios we’re partnering with are making some of the coolest, experimental and ambitious stuff out there," head of Epic Games Publishing Hector Sanchez told Engadget. "They have our full support – including Epic’s publishing and promotional services, resources, and experience – which means they can focus solely on making the best games possible."

Eyes Out is staffed with enormous creative energy, but it's unproven as a team. Davis, Finck and their collaborators are working on their debut title, a mysterious arthouse horror game with an emphasis on experimental audio and cosmic terror. The studio's teasers are filled with moody desert landscapes and unsettling layers of sound. In a chat with Engadget in September, Davis said he wants to "create mind-bending experiences that cause you to question reality."

The publisher relationship goes even deeper for Eyes Out, too — the studio received an Epic MegaGrant in 2019, which gave them the runway to build their first proof-of-concept. Epic further funded the studio's prototype, allowing them to expand their team in the process. And now, Eyes Out is officially part of Epic Games Publishing.

"From the very beginning, Robin and I knew that Eyes Out was going to require a unique publishing partner willing to empower our vision of the strange, ambitious worlds we would create together, and one capable of fueling it," Davis said about today's news. He continued, "Our collaboration with Epic continued to bear fruit. Working with Epic is really the first time I’ve felt entirely unleashed as a director, both technically and creatively. Together we’re aimed to create the thing that’s closest to my heart."

Spry Fox, meanwhile, is working on its most ambitious project to date, which it describes as a "non-violent multiplayer game designed to encourage friendship and reduce loneliness in the world." It'll come to multiple platforms, and support cross-play and cross-progression. The first bit of concept art from Spry Fox's new game depicts a pastel, Atlantis-esque world with a massive yellow whale floating across the sky.

"This is the first time in our history that we at Spry Fox have chosen to work with a publisher in this manner," studio co-founder and CEO David Edery said. "Up until now, we have only worked with publishers for much more limited regional publishing and porting arrangements. But we felt for a project as ambitious as this one, we needed more support than usual, and Epic seemed like the right company to provide that support."

Epic has positioned itself as the developer's publisher, with a goal of having "the most developer-friendly terms in the industry," emphasizing creative control and financial support for its studios. Outside of direct publishing deals, Epic also offers free access to Unreal Engine, a powerful game-development toolset, and it throws money at artists through programs like Epic MegaGrants, a $100 million fund for burgeoning creatives. The Epic Games Store went live in 2018 as a direct competitor to Steam, offering better financial terms for developers and challenging Valve to implement the same deal (spoiler: Valve didn't). 

More recently, Epic waged a very public legal battle against Apple, arguing the iPhone-maker enjoyed monopolistic control over the App Store and offered unfair terms to developers. In the end, the lawsuit played out like any other fight between multibillion-dollar corporations, resulting in little change and lots of press.

Throughout the lawsuit, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney attacked Apple for engaging in greedy, anti-consumer and anti-developer practices. This is kind of his thing — since founding Epic more than 30 years ago, Sweeney has been consistent in his mantra that game development should be accessible to as many people as possible. Even his first game, ZZT, included an editor so everyone who played it could build their own levels.

"It was in those early days that Epic's kind of core philosophy was set," Sweeney told Engadget in 2019. "We both build games ourselves and we share all the results of our work with the world to build their own games. We're the both a game developer and a service company that works with partners throughout the whole industry. Everything we're doing now is this much larger version of that."

Including, it seems, Epic Games Publishing.

Real Tone is Google’s attempt at a more inclusive Android camera

At Google I/O in May, Android VP Sameer Samat announced an initiative to build a more racially inclusive camera for the company's Pixel devices, with better support for non-white hairstyles and darker skin tones. Today, Google confirmed the cameras on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro will support this technology, and gave it a name — Real Tone.

Google partnered with "a diverse set of expert image makers and photographers" to tune its new camera algorithms, including adjustments to automatic white balance, automatic exposure and stray light settings. The goal, in the company's words, is to "ensure that Google’s camera and imagery products work for everyone, of every skin tone." Considering Google's consumer base has always included humans of every skin tone, and this is the sixth iteration of the Pixel, it's about time these considerations were made.

Real Tone is built into the cameras of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, and there's no way to disable it. While the software is going live in Pixel devices first, Samat said in May that Google was committed to sharing its inclusivity solutions with the wider Android ecosystem.

Google said it hopes the Pixel 6 cameras will better represent "the nuances of different skin tones for all people beautifully and authentically." The updates are designed to make all photos look better in all instances, which is something everybody should be able to get behind.

Catch up on all the latest news from Google's Pixel 6 event!

Real Tone is Google’s attempt at a more inclusive Android camera

At Google I/O in May, Android VP Sameer Samat announced an initiative to build a more racially inclusive camera for the company's Pixel devices, with better support for non-white hairstyles and darker skin tones. Today, Google confirmed the cameras on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro will support this technology, and gave it a name — Real Tone.

Google partnered with "a diverse set of expert image makers and photographers" to tune its new camera algorithms, including adjustments to automatic white balance, automatic exposure and stray light settings. The goal, in the company's words, is to "ensure that Google’s camera and imagery products work for everyone, of every skin tone." Considering Google's consumer base has always included humans of every skin tone, and this is the sixth iteration of the Pixel, it's about time these considerations were made.

Real Tone is built into the cameras of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, and there's no way to disable it. While the software is going live in Pixel devices first, Samat said in May that Google was committed to sharing its inclusivity solutions with the wider Android ecosystem.

Google said it hopes the Pixel 6 cameras will better represent "the nuances of different skin tones for all people beautifully and authentically." The updates are designed to make all photos look better in all instances, which is something everybody should be able to get behind.

Catch up on all the latest news from Google's Pixel 6 event!

Netflix fires employee for leaking data about controversial Dave Chappelle special

Netflix has fired an employee, alleging they shared confidential, commercially sensitive information about Dave Chappelle's new standup special, The Closer, with media outlets, Variety reported. 

The employee is accused of leaking data that appeared in Bloomberg about how much Netflix paid for a handful of shows and standup specials, including The Closer and previous Chappelle contracts. According to Bloomberg, Netflix spent $24.1 million on The Closer, compared with $23.6 million for his 2019 show, and just $3.9 million for Bo Burnham's Emmy-winning special Inside. Squid Game, the biggest series debut in Netflix history, cost the company $21.4 million, the report said.

“We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company," the company said in a statement to Variety.

Netflix employees and external equality groups — including GLADD and the National Black Justice Coalition — have called for The Closer to be removed from the streaming service, arguing it contains hateful transphobic and homophobic rhetoric. In the special, Chappelle doubles down on his previous transphobic comments and defends the bigotry of anti-trans feminist JK Rowling. As of now, the special is still available on Netflix.

"With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States — the majority of whom are Black transgender people — Netflix should know better," David Johns, executive director of the NBJC, said to CNN. "Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence. Netflix should immediately pull The Closer from its platform and directly apologize to the transgender community."

Netflix executives have said little publicly about the controversy, though CEO Ted Sarandos reportedly said in an internal memo that The Closer was too popular to remove.

The fired employee was a leader of the company's internal trans resource group, and was helping to organize a walkout in protest of Netflix's handling of the Chappelle special, The Verge reported. The walkout is planned for October 20th. The former employee is Black and pregnant, and actually spoke out against leaks with colleagues, arguing that they could hurt the walkout, according to The Verge.

Earlier this month, Netflix suspended a trans software engineer who tweeted her disapproval of the Chappelle special. The employee was reinstated a day later and Netflix said the suspension was due to an unrelated matter.

Netflix fires employee for leaking data about controversial Dave Chappelle special

Netflix has fired an employee, alleging they shared confidential, commercially sensitive information about Dave Chappelle's new standup special, The Closer, with media outlets, Variety reported. 

The employee is accused of leaking data that appeared in Bloomberg about how much Netflix paid for a handful of shows and standup specials, including The Closer and previous Chappelle contracts. According to Bloomberg, Netflix spent $24.1 million on The Closer, compared with $23.6 million for his 2019 show, and just $3.9 million for Bo Burnham's Emmy-winning special Inside. Squid Game, the biggest series debut in Netflix history, cost the company $21.4 million, the report said.

“We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company," the company said in a statement to Variety.

Netflix employees and external equality groups — including GLADD and the National Black Justice Coalition — have called for The Closer to be removed from the streaming service, arguing it contains hateful transphobic and homophobic rhetoric. In the special, Chappelle doubles down on his previous transphobic comments and defends the bigotry of anti-trans feminist JK Rowling. As of now, the special is still available on Netflix.

"With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States — the majority of whom are Black transgender people — Netflix should know better," David Johns, executive director of the NBJC, said to CNN. "Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence. Netflix should immediately pull The Closer from its platform and directly apologize to the transgender community."

Netflix executives have said little publicly about the controversy, though CEO Ted Sarandos reportedly said in an internal memo that The Closer was too popular to remove.

The fired employee was a leader of the company's internal trans resource group, and was helping to organize a walkout in protest of Netflix's handling of the Chappelle special, The Verge reported. The walkout is planned for October 20th. The former employee is Black and pregnant, and actually spoke out against leaks with colleagues, arguing that they could hurt the walkout, according to The Verge.

Earlier this month, Netflix suspended a trans software engineer who tweeted her disapproval of the Chappelle special. The employee was reinstated a day later and Netflix said the suspension was due to an unrelated matter.

EA Sports is deleting ex-Raiders coach Jon Gruden from ‘Madden NFL 22’

Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden will be removed from Madden NFL 22 and replaced with a generic character, EA Sports confirmed today on Twitter. The change will occur within the next few weeks and will roll out automatically in a title update. 

Gruden resigned from his position as Raiders head coach on October 11th amid reports that he routinely and for years sent racist, misogynistic and homophobic emails to colleagues.

Regarding the removal, EA Sports said, "Due to the circumstances of Jon Gruden's resignation, we are taking steps to remove him from Madden NFL 22. We will replace him with a generic likeness via a title update in the coming weeks."

Madden NFL 22 is the latest iteration of the legendary American football series, and it came out on August 20th for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Stadia.

EA Sports is deleting ex-Raiders coach Jon Gruden from ‘Madden NFL 22’

Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden will be removed from Madden NFL 22 and replaced with a generic character, EA Sports confirmed today on Twitter. The change will occur within the next few weeks and will roll out automatically in a title update. 

Gruden resigned from his position as Raiders head coach on October 11th amid reports that he routinely and for years sent racist, misogynistic and homophobic emails to colleagues.

Regarding the removal, EA Sports said, "Due to the circumstances of Jon Gruden's resignation, we are taking steps to remove him from Madden NFL 22. We will replace him with a generic likeness via a title update in the coming weeks."

Madden NFL 22 is the latest iteration of the legendary American football series, and it came out on August 20th for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Stadia.

‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ and ‘Vanguard’ anti-cheat updates include a kernel-level driver

Activision has unveiled its big, new approach to squashing hackers in Call of Duty: Warzone and Vanguard, and it's a two-pronged system called RICOCHET Anti-Cheat. The first stage is a series of server-side enhancements that will better identify and remove cheaters from games, and this is scheduled to hit Warzone with the Pacific update later this year. These new server tools will be live in Vanguard when it comes out on November 5th.

The second prong is a PC kernel-level driver designed to monitor the deepest level of every player's rig while they're in-game, in an effort to stop outside software from sneaking in through this back door. The kernel, or ring 0, is the most privileged level of any PC, granting access to every layer of hardware, and generally reserved for things like graphics card drivers and trusted bits of the operating system. The RICOCHET Anti-Cheat kernel-level driver will only turn on when Warzone or Vanguard is active; it's not an always-on situation.

While operating in the kernel isn't uncommon for anti-cheat software, this is likely the most concerning part of Activision's new plans for many players. Riot Games faced scrutiny in 2020 for implementing a similar kernel-level driver in Valorant, though the main issue was that it was always on, operating even when the game wasn't active. (Confusingly, the Valorant anti-cheat system is called Vanguard).

This isn't a new worry, either — in 2013, the always-on ring 0 anti-cheat system employed by ESEA was commandeered to turn unsuspecting players' PCs into a secret bitcoin mining farm.

With these lessons in mind, Activision has stressed that RICOCHET will only be active when the associated game is live, saying specifically, "the driver shuts down when you exit the game and turns on when you start a new game."

The kernel-level driver will hit Warzone alongside the Pacific update this year, and it'll come to Vanguard at a later date.

Cheating has been a significant problem in Call of Duty: Warzonefor a long while now. Activision has banned more than 500,000 accounts since the game's launch, though it's not uncommon for matches to be riddled with aimbots and cheap hacks to this day. Players have been screaming for a robust anti-cheat system in Warzone and other Call of Duty titles, and RICOCHET is Activision's kernel-level, not-always-on answer.

‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ and ‘Vanguard’ anti-cheat updates include a kernel-level driver

Activision has unveiled its big, new approach to squashing hackers in Call of Duty: Warzone and Vanguard, and it's a two-pronged system called RICOCHET Anti-Cheat. The first stage is a series of server-side enhancements that will better identify and remove cheaters from games, and this is scheduled to hit Warzone with the Pacific update later this year. These new server tools will be live in Vanguard when it comes out on November 5th.

The second prong is a PC kernel-level driver designed to monitor the deepest level of every player's rig while they're in-game, in an effort to stop outside software from sneaking in through this back door. The kernel, or ring 0, is the most privileged level of any PC, granting access to every layer of hardware, and generally reserved for things like graphics card drivers and trusted bits of the operating system. The RICOCHET Anti-Cheat kernel-level driver will only turn on when Warzone or Vanguard is active; it's not an always-on situation.

While operating in the kernel isn't uncommon for anti-cheat software, this is likely the most concerning part of Activision's new plans for many players. Riot Games faced scrutiny in 2020 for implementing a similar kernel-level driver in Valorant, though the main issue was that it was always on, operating even when the game wasn't active. (Confusingly, the Valorant anti-cheat system is called Vanguard).

This isn't a new worry, either — in 2013, the always-on ring 0 anti-cheat system employed by ESEA was commandeered to turn unsuspecting players' PCs into a secret bitcoin mining farm.

With these lessons in mind, Activision has stressed that RICOCHET will only be active when the associated game is live, saying specifically, "the driver shuts down when you exit the game and turns on when you start a new game."

The kernel-level driver will hit Warzone alongside the Pacific update this year, and it'll come to Vanguard at a later date.

Cheating has been a significant problem in Call of Duty: Warzonefor a long while now. Activision has banned more than 500,000 accounts since the game's launch, though it's not uncommon for matches to be riddled with aimbots and cheap hacks to this day. Players have been screaming for a robust anti-cheat system in Warzone and other Call of Duty titles, and RICOCHET is Activision's kernel-level, not-always-on answer.