Giphy is adding alt text to make GIFs more accessible

Giphy is looking to improve accessibility and help more people understand what the platform's GIFs are depicting with the help of alt text descriptions. It has teamed up with a content accessibility solutions provider called Scribely to add descriptive text to the platform's content. Screen readers will be able to read the alt text aloud, which will help visually impaired folks to know what's happening in a GIF.

The alt text won't be automatically generated. Giphy says Scribely's writers "are well-versed in accessibility guidelines and write effective and engaging descriptions that take the message and the meaning in mind." Giphy's most popular content, based on the top search terms, now includes alt text. The company plans to add alt text to more of its GIFs.

Screen readers can now read aloud alt text from GIFs on Giphy's web and mobile apps. The company is also making alt text available through its APIs. So third-party companies with Giphy integration can let their users access the alt text on other platforms.

In 2020, Twitter enabled users to add alt text to GIFs. However, if the company, which has a partnership with Giphy, employs the latest feature of the latter's APIs, Twitter users would be able to access professionally written alt text in GIFs.

“GIFs are an important part of our daily lives, thanks to their unique ability to convey ideas, emotions, and humor in ways that static images often can’t. These looping videos move us to moments of joy and happiness," Scribely founder and CEO Caroline Desrosiers said. "But without alt text, the moment is lost and excludes millions. That’s why this project with Giphy is so monumental and necessary.”

YouTube is bringing custom global emotes to live chats and comments

YouTube is rolling out Twitch-style custom global emotes for comments and live chats. Threeindependentillustrators created the first batch of emotes, which are focused on gaming, though it appears that they work on any type of channel. YouTube plans to develop emotes for other types of communities in the future.

To use the emotes, click on the smiling face icon in comments or a live chat. If you have a membership to a channel that offers its own custom emoji, you'll see YouTube's global emotes below those. As with Twitch's emotes, you can start typing the name of a YouTube emote (such as :cat-orange-whistling: or :text-green-game-over:) in the chat and the autocomplete function will show the emote and emoji options. The first emotes also include a buffering icon and text reading "GG" (i.e. "good game").

Twitch has long offered global emotes in chats. It might take a while before YouTube has emotes with the same level of cultural cachet as PogChamp, Kappa or ResidentSleeper, but it's off to a decent start.

Elden Ring’s colosseums are opening up in a free multiplayer update

Many Elden Ring fans are hoping to hear news of an expansion for the blockbuster title at The Game Awards this week. Publisher Bandai Namco has jumped the gun a bit by announcing a free multiplayer-focused update, which will go live on Wednesday.

The Colosseum update will open up the titular arenas in Limgrave, Leyndell and Caelid, where players can battle it out in "duels, free-for-alls and team fights," according to a YouTube video description. The colosseums have been in the game since launch, but were inaccessible unless players used mods or other workarounds.

Although Bandai Namco hasn't revealed a ton of details about the update, having dedicated arenas for player-versus-player (PvP) battles should freshen things up for those who like to duke it out against other humans in Elden Ring. The trailer showed off some three vs. three combat as well. The video also includes text stating that players can "join forces to fight for the Elden Ring." That suggests there will be more robust co-op options too, though we'll need to wait until tomorrow for more info.

PvP is one of the main reasons players keep coming back to FromSoftware's games long after they've finished the single-player story, so this update will likely come as welcome news for fans. Still, this announcement doesn't stop From and Bandai Namco from revealing a more substantial expansion at The Game Awards. Elden Ring is nominated for seven awards at Thursday's ceremony, including Game of the Year.

‘Valorant’ is testing a shorter casual mode called Swiftplay

The main thing that has put me off of playing more Valorant over the last couple of years is the length of matches. Riot Games is looking to do something about that with a shorter casual mode that it's starting to test in the game's public build.

Matches in the core competitive and unrated (or unranked) modes typically last around 30-50 minutes. Each round can last up to two minutes or so. As such, it can take a while for one team to win 13 rounds and become the victor. Competitive matches can last even longer if the score reaches 12-12, since teams need to win by at least two rounds in overtime if they vote to keep playing.

The new Swiftplay mode has a similar ruleset to Unrated. However, the first team to win five rounds will emerge triumphant. Attackers and defenders will swap sides after four rounds and there's a sudden-death overtime. Riot says Swiftplay matches should run for around 15 minutes.

There are some tweaks to the economy and how players earn ultimate points to make sure they can still access all the fun stuff in the shorter format. For instance, at the start of each half of a Swiftplay match, you'll get two ultimate points for free. As such, you might be able to use the game's most powerful abilities a bit more often.

Although Valorant has other casual modes that don't last as long as competitive or unrated matches (such as Spike Rush and Deathmatch), Swiftplay brings the ruleset of the core modes into a more condensed format. Riot says it's a frequently requested mode that should make it easier for folks who don't have a ton of free time to play more Valorant. It should help other players to get more reps in too.

The Swiftstep beta is going live with today's 5.12 patch, which also brings in a host of balance changes and tweaks how various abilities interact with each other. Swiftstep will be available on all maps used for the unrated mode and the beta will run until January 10th.

Yelp is making it easier to manage quotes for home projects

Yelp is offering users a more refined way to keep tabs on communications with service professionals when they have a problem to fix or want to make some home improvements. Through the Projects tab in the Yelp app, you'll be able to create, manage and organize jobs. Yelp says that you'll be able to use the feature to request quotes from businesses, compare prices, message contractors and schedule consultations.

You'll start a new project when you select Request A Quote. The app will organize each project by the most recent quote requests and there'll be category-specific icons. It should be relatively easy for folks who have multiple projects on the go to see the status of each one at a glance. You'll be able to see if you're still awaiting quotes from some contractors and which businesses have yet to respond to a message or request.

Screenshots of Yelp's Projects feature, including messages with contractors and details about the job.
Yelp

When you get an email notification after a business owner messages you, you'll be able to click a link in the email that will take you to the Yelp app and automatically log you in if you aren't already so you can respond. This should remove some of the friction and mitigate some of the stress that comes with managing home projects.

The Projects tab could come in especially handy when you're moving and are bringing in contractors for a bunch of different jobs. It should be useful for comparing quotes from different service professionals for a single job too.

Yelp is rolling out some changes for businesses as well. A revamped message center will show project titles, the location of the job, timing and message previews. Yelp suggests that this will help service professionals respond to quote and call requests more easily.

Blizzard is making it easier to unlock new ‘Overwatch 2’ heroes

One of the major (and controversial) changes Blizzard made in Overwatch 2 was gating new heroes behind a battle pass. However, it should be a little easier for players to unlock the latest character, Ramattra, in the game's second season. Players who opt for the free track of the battle pass won't need to grind through as many levels before they can use the new tank in all game modes. Making some weekly challenges less of a chore should mean players can level up more quickly too.

"After reviewing data for Season 1, we're moving Ramattra into Tier 45 of the Battle Pass and making a few more weekly challenges easier to complete," Overwatch 2 game director Aaron Keller wrote on Twitter. "Excited for you all to see everything new in Season 2 starting tomorrow!"

Although Blizzard could again move heroes to higher levels of the battle pass in future seasons, that seems unlikely given the backlash it received in season one. Once the launch issues abated and everyone was able to log in, new players had to reach level 55 of the free battle pass to unlock Kiriko, which took many folks quite a while. Alternatively, they could buy the premium pass, which costs around $10, to instantly add the support to their roster. Players coming over to Overwatch 2 from the original game gained access to Kiriko for free, as well as Junker Queen and Sojourn.

Those who buy the season two premium pass will get access to Ramattra right away as well. I've had a little bit of hands-on time with the new hero, who can shift into different forms and is all about closing the gap between his team and the enemy. Once he gets in close, he can deal devastating damage, especially since his ultimate ability can last indefinitely. Ramattra seems like a powerful (and fun!) addition to the roster, which could prompt more tank players to pay for the premium pass to unlock him as swiftly as possible. 

However, adding a new tank to the mix could make queue times longer for many folks. Not enough players are opting for support heroes, which has led to lengthy waits for tank and damage players to get into a match. Blizzard plans to make supports more fun and rewarding to play, but when rad new characters are introduced to other roles, players may be more likely to want to try them out instead.

Ramattra's far from the only addition in season two. There's a Greek mythology theme and the battle pass includes skins that pay homage to the likes of Zeus and Poseidon. There's also a new map, balance changes for several heroes and a brand-new limited-time mode that will go live in January.

Xbox will start charging $70 for some Series X/S games

Microsoft has confirmed it will increase the prices of some of its first-party Xbox games to $70 starting in 2023. Specifically, major games built for Xbox Series X/S will cost $10 more in the US, including Starfield, Redfall and Forza Motorsport. Regional price increases may vary.

"This price reflects the content, scale, and technical complexity of these titles," a Microsoft spokesperson told IGN, which first reported the news. "As with all games developed by our teams at Xbox, they will also be available with Game Pass the same day they launch.”

Other major publishers, including Sony, EA and Take-Two Interactive, have been charging $70 for select current-gen games. Microsoft was able to hold off on increasing prices, likely because the company doesn't rely on games as its primary revenue driver.

In August, Sony increased the price of the PlayStation 5 in most countries, but not the US. Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said in October his company wouldn't raise Xbox prices ahead of the holiday season (the Xbox Series S actually went on sale in November), but noted that "I do think at some point we'll have to raise the prices on certain things." We're starting to see that play out now.

One possible outcome of Xbox raising prices on first-party games is that more people may be willing to try out Game Pass. Starfield, Redfall and Forza Motorsport will all be available on Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass on day one. That could make Game Pass more attractive and an even better value proposition — at least until Xbox inevitably raises the price of its subscription services too.

Furthermore, this seems to mark the beginning of a shift away from releasing major new games on previous-generation consoles. With the exception of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Microsoft has made native Xbox One versions of its Series X/S games.

The merged HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming service could be simply called ‘Max’

Warner Bros. Discovery will soon combine HBO Max and Discovery+ into a single streaming service with a new name. Right now, it seems that the frontrunner for the merged platform's moniker is "Max," which would ditch the more instantly recognizable part of HBO Max's branding.

Lawyers for the company are vetting several names, but Max is said to be the leading the pack. A Warner Bros. spokesperson told CNBC that the company was still discussing the name. They'll need to make a decision fairly soon, though, as the merged streaming service is slated to arrive in the spring.

HBO has built up a certain level of prestige over the years. However, Warner Bros. Discovery leaders are said to see some value in positioning HBO as a sub-brand alongside the likes of Discovery and CNN. The company's CEO David Zaslav slashedspending on HBO Max after WarnerMedia and Discovery merged earlier this year. The streaming service will have much more to offer than HBO content as well.

As CNBC notes, there has been some confusion surrounding the branding of HBO streaming apps — HBO Max was preceded by HBO Go and HBO Now. Having another one with HBO in the name could further muddy the waters. Moreover, executives are said to have expressed concern that the HBO Max name could weaken the value of HBO as a brand if consumers link it to less-prestigious content on the streaming service.

The new-look platform will reportedly have a similar to set up to Disney+, with hubs for content from HBO, Discovery, DC Comics, Warner Bros. and more (Disney+ has ones for Star Wars, Pixar, National Geographic and so on). It's not yet clear how much subscriptions to Max, or whatever it ends up being called, will cost.

John Wick’s creator is writing a movie based on ‘Sifu’

John Wick creator Derek Kolstad is working on yet another videogame adaptation. Fresh off the news that he's writing and producing a Streets of Rage film, it emerged that Kolstad is taking on the same duties for a live-action movie based on Sifu.

Kolstad and his partners at media company Story Kitchen have teamed up with Sifu developer and publisher Sloclap, as Deadline reports. The beat-'em-up proved a hit when it was released in February, as it sold a million copies in three weeks — despite Elden Ring and Horizon Forbidden West arriving at around the same time. What makes Sifu stand out from the pact is that every time the protagonist dies in their quest for vengeance, they get older but their enemies stay the same age.

That hook alone gives a screenwriter a lot of intriguing possibilities. The one vs. many aspect of Sifu seems right up Kolstad's alley as well, given his experience with the John Wick franchise and Nobody. As if all that wasn't enough, Kolstad is also behind Netflix's Splinter Cell, an upcoming animated series based on Ubisoft's games.

John Wick’s creator is writing a movie based on ‘Sifu’

John Wick creator Derek Kolstad is working on yet another videogame adaptation. Fresh off the news that he's writing and producing a Streets of Rage film, it emerged that Kolstad is taking on the same duties for a live-action movie based on Sifu.

Kolstad and his partners at media company Story Kitchen have teamed up with Sifu developer and publisher Sloclap, as Deadline reports. The beat-'em-up proved a hit when it was released in February, as it sold a million copies in three weeks — despite Elden Ring and Horizon Forbidden West arriving at around the same time. What makes Sifu stand out from the pact is that every time the protagonist dies in their quest for vengeance, they get older but their enemies stay the same age.

That hook alone gives a screenwriter a lot of intriguing possibilities. The one vs. many aspect of Sifu seems right up Kolstad's alley as well, given his experience with the John Wick franchise and Nobody. As if all that wasn't enough, Kolstad is also behind Netflix's Splinter Cell, an upcoming animated series based on Ubisoft's games.