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12
Dec

Order-ahead app Ritual wants to make lunch breaks easier, launches nationwide


Taking lunch breaks during the week is tough sometimes, particularly because of how time-consuming it can be to stand in line. But with the Ritual app, you can skip the line by ordering ahead for takeout. The app was first released as a beta program in New York City, but the final version is now also available in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Ritual sets out to eliminate the pain points that come with lunchtime at the office. By ordering ahead of time, you can pick up your food at the location without having to wait in line or pay extra fees.

Collectively, Ritual has more than 1,600 restaurants in the U.S. and Toronto available to order from. When you first open the app, it will tell you exactly how many restaurants are within a five- minute walk depending on your current location. You can also scroll through the feed to see restaurants around you that are a bit further.

To order food — simply pick the restaurant and the dish you want, then add it to your order and “Check Out” at the bottom of the app. Since you can save your personal card or company card, you can pay straight through the app. You also receive a notification letting you know when to leave for pick-up.

Ritual offers a rewards system as well, which can be used to unlock special offers or redeem money to be used on future orders. You can earn points by completing tasks as a small as setting a profile picture on the app, trying a new spot for the first time, inviting friends to Ritual, and more.

Ritual also uses lunch as a way to bring co-workers together, by encouraging you to use the app socially. Its latest “Piggyback” feature allows you and your office to collaborate on orders.

Upon downloading Ritual, you have the option to confirm the company you work at so that you can receive notifications when they’re starting to place their orders. You also get points every time you bring back the orders for your co-workers — the more orders you pick up, the more points you earn.

Ritual is currently available for download on iOS and through the Google Play Store.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • The world can be your oyster with a little help from the 21 best travel apps
  • Dominate the galaxy with our ‘Star Wars: Battlefront II’ multiplayer guide
  • Microsoft Office isn’t cheap. Here are 6 ways to get it for free
  • The 100 best iPhone apps (November 2017)




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12
Dec

Vibes Audio Vibrox review


Built-in smartphone speakers are, by and large, not ideal for listening to music out loud. They’re just fine for the occasional YouTube video, or for handling a hands-free call, but their limited power and size has facilitated a gigantic accessory category: The portable Bluetooth speaker. Trouble is, for a lot of folks, “portable” just isn’t portable enough. Thus a new audio holy grail has emerged, as manufacturers seek to combine the sound quality of a dedicated external speaker with the portability of a smartphone case, for a quality audio experience you can put in your pocket. Vibes Audio, with its new $150 Vibrox speaker, claims to have achieved that magical formula, thanks to a flat, carbon fiber-based speaker that snaps onto a custom case. In our Vibrox review, we set out to discover whether Vibes can deliver on that promise.

Smooth operator

The idea of a snap-on smartphone speaker is hardly new, and we’ve seen a few examples in recent years, including the $190 Peri Duo, the SoundFocus Amp , and the Zagg Speaker Case. Sound quality aside, one thing’s for sure: These are not very attractive accessories. The reality is, with traditional driver-and-cone speaker technology, it’s hard to create a low-profile speaker that pumps out big sound.

Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

The Vibes Audio Vibrox sidesteps this tradeoff with its flat, carbon fiber soundboard. The result is an ultra-thin speaker, that also looks really good. Its trapezoidal shape and contrasting black and silver plastics give it a high-tech yet minimalist look, and the built-in mic means you can use it as a speakerphone too. Instead of hiding the speaker in an enclosure, the Vibrox makes it the central feature, showing off the naturally appealing weave pattern of the carbon fiber.

The carbon fiber soundboard results in an ultra-thin speaker that looks really good.

Another benefit to the Vibrox’s flat-panel technology is that the entire speaker is designed with an IPX7-rating in mind for water resistance, the same rating as an iPhone 8 and 8 plus. That’s a big advantage for those who don’t want to start worrying about an accidental immersion now that their favorite phone can withstand one. Our review model, however, was a non-waterproof pre-production unit, so we weren’t able to test how it handled water.

Without the extra material needed for an enclosure, the Vibrox is remarkably light, at only 3.6 ounces. You’ll be aware of the extra weight in your pocket, but we doubt it will bother you. The potential drawback to an unprotected speaker is damage from objects, like keys, coins, or anything else that might come in contact with your phone during the day. The carbon fiber soundboard will probably withstand a lot of abuse, but the thin rubber membrane that surrounds it looks like it could be easily pierced.

Too sexy?

Fire up the Vibrox and you’re welcomed by a very sultry English-sounding female voice, which says, “Hello. Ready to pair.” It’s such a come-hither tone, you can’t help but wonder exactly what she has in mind. It certainly elicited a few giggles from family members.

Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

The same voice gives you feedback about EQ modes, when you’ve hit maximum and minimum volume levels, and also says “goodbye” when you power down – and yes, the voice does seem a little disappointed that you’re turning her off.

Not quite complete

The Vibrox’s $150 price tag is a little deceiving. For that price, you do indeed get the Vibrox speaker and a companion charging cradle, but if you want to actually clamp it to a phone, you’ll need to buy a $30 Baserox bumper frame for your specific smartphone — bringing the total investment to $180. The good news is that for $30, you’re getting a well-built bumper frame that offers decent protection on all four corners and edges from drops, and is designed to accommodate both the Vibrox speaker as well as the $50 Vibes Voltrox 3,000 mAH battery pack, a separate accessory for augmenting your phone battery.

Gotta dock

One of the reasons the Vibrox is so sleek and light (and, potentially, waterproof) is that it lacks any exposed ports for charging or for an aux-in connection. In fact, it has no ports at all — just a set of five control buttons on the side, enclosed in rubber.

You’ll be aware of the extra weight in your pocket, but we doubt it will bother you.

To charge the speaker, you’ll need to undock it from your phone frame and snap it back into the included charging cradle and connect that to the included AC adapter. The dock features a built-in kickstand — good for speakerphone calls — but Vibes says that the Vibrox sounds best when sitting flat on a surface. While we’re not thrilled by the requirement of a charging dock (after all this is supposed to be an ultra-portable solution), the Vibrox’s claimed 10-12 hours of play time means that daily commuters can likely leave the dock at home. Strangely, even though Vibes’ Voltrox battery pack will snap into the charging cradle, it can’t actually be charged by it, which seems like an oversight.

Looks flat, sounds flat

We were really hoping that the Vibrox would be the best of both worlds: Great sound from a tiny, portable speaker. Unfortunately, the only real improvement it offers over your smartphone’s speaker is volume. The Vibrox does get loud — impressively so, and certainly loud enough to fill a small room — but the quality of that sound is disappointing. There’s virtually no bass, even when using the “indoor EQ” setting which supposedly favors fuller frequencies over loudness. The high frequencies are excellent however — very crisp and detailed. As you would expect with a single speaker, there’s no stereo separation.

Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

Without another clip-on speaker to compare it to directly, it’s hard to say how the Vibrox fairs in this category, but buyers should definitely consider how important bass is to their enjoyment of music before dropping $180. If you’re looking for a big volume boost and great voice clarity for phone calls in a very sleek, portable, and (eventually) waterproof package, the Vibrox may be worth consideration.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Google Pixel Buds review
  • JBL Link 20 Review
  • Ultimate Ears Blast review
  • The best Bluetooth speakers you can buy
  • FrontRow Camera Review




12
Dec

Bag some high-end VR this holiday season with the $350 Oculus Rift deal


The Oculus Rift has once again hit the price that fans hoped it would debut at, thanks to an Amazon holiday season sale. Mirroring the price seen during Black Friday, you can now get yourself an Oculus Rift headset, two constellation tracking sensors, a pair of Touch controllers, and six games for $350.

One of the biggest problems — still — facing virtual reality as a medium is the high (cost) barrier for entry. Along with requiring a reasonably powerful gaming PC to run modern VR games at a high enough frame rate, you also need to spend hundreds of dollars on the hardware itself. With price drops for the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, it’s becoming much more viable.

Along with the Rift headset, motion controllers and sensors, this deal gets you six full games, including: Robo Recall, Lucky’s Tale, Quill, Medium, Dead and Buried, and Toybox.

Along with being much more affordable, $350 is quite a poignant price for the Oculus Rift. It is the price that the Rift DK2 (developer kit) headset was sold at and is the “ballpark figure” that Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey was quoted as saying the Rift would likely launch at. That turned out to be far from the truth, with some fans balking at the $600 it debuted at. Fortunately for those interested in getting into virtual reality today, we’re far from that starting point.

Under Facebook ownership, Oculus’ VR hardware is more affordable than ever and this latest sale makes that even more so. Although $350 isn’t pocket change, it’s a far cry from the headset’s original launch price and is a lot cheaper than its main competitor in the high-end, PC VR space, the HTC Vive.

That’s not to say there isn’t competition for the Rift at its newly lean price point though. While it may have the most affordable top-tier VR offering on PC, the PlayStation VR headset has been discounted to $200 as part of the Gran Turismo Sport hardware bundle. It includes the PSVR headset itself, a PS Camera and a copy of the game that gives the bundle its title.

Grab one of the bundles now at Best Buy or GameStop.

As RoadToVR points out, it is for the older version of the headset without upgrades like integrated audio, but it’s certainly the most affordable way to game in virtual reality outside of the mobile-targeted headsets like the Gear VR.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Oculus Rift drops to its lowest price ever for Black Friday at $350
  • Pimax ‘8K’ headset bests original Oculus in Kickstarter funding
  • Best cheap gaming PCs
  • Everything you need to know about the Nokia 2, a budget-friendly smartphone
  • The best VR headset you can buy




12
Dec

Step back in time with Sansar’s historic Star Wars VR gallery experience


Social virtual reality application Sansar has a new setting you can explore and, for Star Wars fans, it’s a must-have. This isn’t Jedi Challenges either, but a VR gallery that contains reams of lost artwork and props from various Star Wars productions, including storyboards, costume sketches, concept drawings, and models, all curated by prop and set designer Greg Aronowitz.

Although not professionally involved with any of the Star Wars productions, Aronowitz has been a fan for decades and during his professional career has been able to collect various production pieces from the different films. His 30-year collection began by saving rejected design documents from artists who did work on the movies and he’s added to that with purchased pieces from auctions and sales ever since.

Finally solving the problem of how to showcase all of his archived materials without renting an enormous space, he created a virtual gallery of them all within the Sansar application and now anyone can view his entire collection. Most of it is made up of high-quality scans of original, 2D pieces, but there are a number of 3D models and busts of Star Wars characters and props.

For those interested in learning more about the props, there are also audio guides you can enjoy while you walk around the virtual facility. They break down the relevant history of each piece, though, as RoadToVR points out, one of the most interesting guides is the one recorded by Aronowitz, who instills a little more personal detail in the tour.

To celebrate the launch of the virtual medium, Aronowitz and several Lucasfilm Artists attended a grand premiere this weekend just gone, though now anyone can visit whenever they like. If you want to visit the “Lost Art of Star Wars,” yourself, you need an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive virtual reality headset and the Sansar application. If you already have them, the official page has a link which will get you started with the experience.

If you want to get started with virtual reality but don’t have any of the required hardware as of yet, now is a great time to get started. The Oculus Rift has just been discounted to $350 with motion controllers.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Propel Star Wars Battle Drones review
  • Use the Force to protect your iPhone with Otterbox Star Wars cases
  • ‘Star Wars: Battlefront II’ review
  • Bring the power of the Force to your holidays with these Star Wars deals




12
Dec

Best iOS app deals of the day! 6 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time


Everyone likes Apple apps, but sometimes the best ones are a bit expensive. Now and then, developers put paid apps on sale for free for a limited time, but you have to snatch them up while you have the chance. Here are the latest and greatest iOS app deals available from the iOS App Store.

These apps normally cost money and this sale lasts for a limited time only. If you go to the App Store and it says the app costs money, that means the deal has expired and you will be charged. 

Cranky Weather

There’s always something to complain about, specially when it comes to weather. Cranky Weather gives you hilariously twisted weather reports for every situation.

Available on:

iOS

Calming Meditation Oasis

Meditate easily with this simple yet elegant app. Be stress-free and worry-free. Enjoy calmness, peace of mind, joy, vibrant health, greater energy, and more.

Available on:

iOS

Rainbow

Bored of the classic grayish iPhone keyboard? Now is the time to add some rainbow color strokes to your keys with the new Rainbow keyboard, exclusive for iPhone and iPad.

Available on:

iOS

Throwback Stories

Throwback Stories helps you create stunning Instagram Stories from your memories, providing a set of useful tools to enhance and animate your stories.

Available on:

iOS

CalcKey

CalcKey allows you to perform calculations right within iMessage, without even having to leave the app, so you finally work out exactly how much your friend owes you for dinner more quickly and easily.

Available on:

iOS

GlowOrbX

GlowOrbX is a level based avoidance game. Weave your way past various hurdles and obstacles to progress through each level. There are six playable characters and the GlowOrb behaves differently inside each character.

Available on:

iOS

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Best iOS app deals of the day! 6 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time
  • Best iOS app deals of the day! 6 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time
  • Best iOS app deals of the day! 6 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time
  • Best iOS app deals of the day! 6 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time
  • Best iOS app deals of the day! 6 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time




12
Dec

Get ready for reindeer selfies — Facebook is launching its holiday features


The holidays bring out the most photos shared on Facebook, while New Year’s is the biggest day for live video — and the social network is rolling out a number of new holiday-themed tools to celebrate. On Monday, December 11, Facebook announced its list of holiday features, including new effects for Facebook Camera and, for the first time, Memories designed specifically around the holidays.

Holiday cards or “notes” start popping up on the network today. The tool allows users to send digital cards with different themes as well as for different holidays, including Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah. The cards can be customized with a photo. Status updates will also have new holiday-themed backgrounds.

December will also bring a number of different camera effects. Inside Facebook Camera, holiday-themed effects launch on December 15. Like other Camera effects, the holiday options can be accessed in-app with a right swipe.

Messenger Camera will also be getting its own slew of holiday effects. The new options include holiday masks and effects that allow users to jazz up both their photos and videos. The Messenger Camera options launch on December 22.

The following day, Facebook will bring additional features to live video chat, designed for users who can’t be home for the holidays. The option brings several of the masks available in Messenger Camera into live video, including turning yourself into a reindeer or adding falling snow.

As the holiday season begins to wrap up, Facebook will launch a new Memories designed to look back on just the holiday season. While Facebook Memories will look back on what happened this day last year or look back on an entire month of memories, the holiday look back is a first for Facebook. Rather than look back on your own holiday memories, the tool curates a group of the top images from friends to browse through. The feature will begin popping up on the newsfeed December 28, along with a New Year’s option on January 4 and 5.

The new features aren’t quite done yet — because New Year’s is the platform’s biggest day for live video, Facebook will be rolling out new effects for live broadcasts, including a pair of digital 2018 glasses and party hats. The live options and Facebook Camera effects will launch on the last day of 2017.

Facebook is also encouraging users to use the events platform to find local New Year’s Eve happenings, with over 140,000 already planned and six million users already responding.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Dun dun DUUUUN! Make your own dramatic movie with Instagram’s new Superzoom
  • Turn a series of stills into a video for Instagram Stories with latest test
  • Sharing Pins in Messenger just got simpler with new Pinterest extension, chatbot
  • You can now import your contacts from Instagram to Facebook Messenger




12
Dec

Luminoodle is a Flexible, Thin Light that You Can Use Virtually Anywhere


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Spend less time setting up lighting and more time getting work done with the Luminoodle Task!

It seems like you never have the right lighting right where you need it. How often have you found yourself propping up your phone with the flashlight on, or using some other makeshift solution to give you lighting when you’re fixing something in a dark corner of your home, working outside at night, or in your dimly lit workshop?

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Power Practical has been working hard to brighten our world with its line of flexible lighting solutions and the Luminoodle Task is its most powerful and flexible product yet! The Luminoodle is an ultra thin, flexible LED utility light that comes in three varieties — the Luminoodle Task, Task Link, and Task USB. The Task and Task Link run off of a 12V power source and are capable of a maximum brightness of up to 3,600 Lumens, while the USB version is capable of up to 1,000 Lumens — slightly underpowered, but infinitely more portable when paired with a USB power pack.

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The Luminoodle Task is very reminiscent of other LED light strips, but these are built to be rugged and flexible in every sense of the word. The Task is cased in a super flexible and weatherproof silicone that allows you to wrap or bend the Luminoodle exactly how you need it, and then roll it up nice and compact when your work is done. Super-strong magnet sliders and oversized loops on both ends let you attach or connect these lights however you desire with little to no setup required. Each Luminoodle Task comes with a stow pouch, 6-foot extension cable, and a wireless remote which allows for adjustable brightness. And because it’s so easy to pack up and put up anywhere, it’s an ideal option for campers or cabin goers looking for a bit of extra light in the night.

Power Practical has already surpassed its initial goal, and there’s only a few more days remaining to get in on the Kickstarter discounts. With a pledge of $44, you get a Luminoodle Task USB, but pledge $119 and you get the full Luminoodle Task in all it’s 5-foot, 3,600 lumens glory. Pledge $169 or more and you’re eligible for the Luminoodle Task Link bundle which includes three 2-foot Luminoodle Task Links which are capable of being used individually or daisy-chained together. Need more? Power Practical allows you to add additional products to your order including it’s Pronto 12V or USB battery packs, which let you quite literally take your Luminoodles with you wherever.

This is Power Practical’s sixth Kickstarter campaign and their third based on the Luminoodle product line, so you can back this project knowing there’s a capable team bringing it to reality. The Luminoodle Task is set to start shipping to backers in Spring 2018.

See Luminoodle Task on Kickstarter

12
Dec

Fallout 4 VR review: All the scum and villainy, now in your Vive


The Cram and Nuka-Cola taste just as good in VR.

Birds are chirping, your son, Shaun, is safe in his crib, and Codsworth is preparing something in the kitchen. It’s the same intro we’ve seen countless times in the standard version of Fallout 4, except this time I’m physically standing in the middle of my VR room with everything that isn’t nailed down moved away and out of sight.

There’s going to be radiation poisoning (can’t get enough Fancy Lad Snack Cakes), there’s going to be scavenging (need everything we can get for building settlements), and there’s going to be a whole lot of hurt laid down in this redone Commonwealth. Here’s what we think of Fallout 4 VR.

Read more at VRHeads!

12
Dec

Loot boxes and in-app purchases: A necessary evil or the scourge of the gaming world?


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It’s time we talk about micro-transactions in video games.

You may have read about the controversy surrounding loot boxes and micro-transactions in full-priced video games. The topic has been a point of frustration for many of us, but it’s been getting a lot of attention over the past few weeks, largely due to EA’s recent attempts at implementing those mechanics in “Star Wars Battlefront 2.” If you need a refresher, our friends over at Windows Central have covered it pretty well.

Not to be confused with the subscription service of a similar name, loot boxes or crates in gaming are used to give the player helpful items, upgrades, or in-game currency. They’re opened one at a time, and typically come with a cooldown period between each opening. Usually depicted as a treasure chest or a card pack, they basically function as a means of controlling the player’s progress in the game and are almost always associated with some sort of in-game currency or in-app purchase, which can be bought to speed up the process.

While the addition of loot crates and micro-transactions is relatively new to major console releases, mobile gamers are more than a little familiar with the concept. In-app purchases and loot crate systems are key tenets in the free-to-play games on mobile where you are enticed to pay for in-game currency, new player cards, or simply a smoother, ad-free experience. It’s less than ideal, but it’s a necessary evil that we just sort of accept when you want to play a game on your phone without paying up front.

The free-to-play model works because game developers know that not all players will convert real money into in-game currency, but enough players will to make the system incredibly profitable. It’s an open secret that the free-to-play micro-transaction model has been built around the idea of “white whale” gamers — game developers can typically count on a small number of players dropping insane amounts of cash via in-app purchases. Presumably, this group consists of YouTubers who upload epic videos of them unlocking loot boxes, the obscenely rich who have hundreds of dollars to spend on games, and the occasional kid who drains their unsuspecting parent’s credit card limits.

Games designed to generate profits

Since it was EA who stirred up this controversy surrounding loot boxes, it only makes sense to use another of their bigger franchises, FIFA, to illustrate the drastic shift towards a profit-driven model. Back in 2013, I gladly paid my $5 for FIFA ’13 on iOS, and I played the shit out of that game because it let you actually play the game however and for as long as you want. I started up Manager Mode and played through multiple seasons with my team, trading players and tweaking my line up as I saw fit, and guiding my team to several championships. It felt very much like the console version scaled down for mobile, which was exactly what I wanted.

With the next year’s release, EA made the game free — presumably a good thing, right? — as they steadily shifted the game’s focus towards the new Ultimate Team mode, which relies on gamers opening card packs to not only unlock new players for your squad, but also player upgrades, uniforms, and your team’s logo. Each player had a set number of matches they could play before they needed to be “boosted” with another card to keep them in your line up. The other modes were available after an in-app purchase, but the writing seemed to be on the wall — the traditional gaming I loved was on the way out and building your Ultimate Team through card packs would slowly become the new norm.

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Today, Ultimate Team is a ubiquitous mode that’s found in nearly every EA Sports title, including the latest version of FIFA Soccer, which has you unlocking players for your Ultimate Team during the opening tutorial. You can’t even play a full online match anymore, given instead something called “VS Attack” mode, which limits you to playing offense-only two-minute spurts. The game is entirely “free to play” and the on-field gameplay itself is still top-notch, but you’re going to be spending more time managing your cards than anything else, and Manager Mode is nowhere to be found — even as an in-app purchase main menu.

I used to be able to use my team’s funds to buy player contracts from the free agent pool in Manager Mode. You know, sort of like a video game simulation of how player transfers work in the real world. Now, you’re stuck opening free player packs every day waiting hoping to land that star player to boost your squad — or give into temptation and spend money on FIFA Points which can, in turn, be spent on more “premium card packs” to help upgrade my team faster. Once you’ve run into a few super-charged teams in online play, you start to seriously consider buying into the system because you presumably play these games to win and losing is no fun — but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get exactly what you need each time you open a player pack.

Are loot boxes a form of gambling?

Critics compare loot boxes to gambling — because that’s essentially what it is. Some games are intentionally designed to keep you coming back mostly to open and earn more free crates, which only offer the slimmest chance of containing something rare or valuable, while constantly peppering you with ads for “great deals” on gems or diamonds to spend on more valuable crates or packs with higher odds of containing the cards you want. Each crate opening is a big event, of course, with explosions and glitter animations to give you that happy feeling like you’ve accomplished or won something.

Unlike other forms of gambling, you aren’t actually winning anything in a game with loot boxes, even though you can still drop tons of cash on it.

The thing is, unlike other forms of gambling, you aren’t actually winning anything in a game with loot boxes, even though you can still drop tons of cash on it. That’s okay if you’re only unlocking superficial upgrades for your character, like a new hat or outfit, but when the loot boxes contain significant player upgrades or other advantages that have a massive effect on the gameplay itself, it becomes more than a little problematic. When you spend money on loot boxes, you’re really only paying for a better chance at winning something valuable, and that perceived value, again, only exists within the confines of that app. Worst of all, these games are often targeted at young, impressionable minds who are just looking to play free, fun games on their phone or tablet.

I hate to be so cliché, but back in my day, it used to be that when you bought a game, you got the whole game. These days I’m more inclined to pay up front for a game rather than play a game that’s free but relies on in-app purchases to turn a profit. It’s also why we clearly state it when the games we write about include in-app purchases, because it’s often an indication as to whether a game has been designed to be fun to play or designed to generate profits for shareholders.

What happens next?

I just want to be clear here that I’m not trying to disparage game developers from implementing in-app purchases, nor the players who buy them. I understand that developing games isn’t cheap and that the “freemium” model has proven itself to be a much more reliable stream of cash in a climate where consumers may be wary of shelling out money for a mobile game in advance — a reason why in-app purchases for unlocking the additional game content or to remove ads has always felt like a fair compromise.

Up to this point, regulation of in-app purchases in mobile games has been left to Google or Apple to monitor within their respective app stores, as no existing laws specifically address the in-app sale of loot boxes — but that might change.

That’s the ruse — gaming companies can use tie-ins with popular brands we all know and love to draw us in, only to then peddle the same in-game currency systems and methods designed to get us hooked.

Hawaii State Legislator Chris Lee recently called a press conference to discuss the issue of loot boxes in gaming. He’s now gone a step further and proposed legislation to prohibit the sale of games with “gambling mechanisms” to anyone under the age of 21. We’ve also seen a legislator from Belgium mention a potential ban on loot boxes in Europe. Perhaps we’ll see more legislators will jump in on the debate, as it feels extremely deceiving to sell a game for $60 and then expect players to shell out more cash for in-game upgrades and expansions.

Meanwhile, you can track how EA’s mobile gaming division has managed to generate massive profits with the free-to-play monetization scheme, ever since first striking gold with The Simpsons: Tapped Out. That’s essentially the ruse — gaming companies can use tie-ins with popular brands we all know and love like “The Simpsons,” “Star Wars,” or a popular sports brand to draw us in, only to peddle the same in-game currency systems and methods for getting us hooked. And it feels more and more exploitative the more times you come across it.

What can you do?

Well, for starters, it’s more important than ever to support indie developers who are actually putting out games that buck this trend by creating unique gaming experiences that focus on storytelling and gameplay as opposed to adding a veneer to cover the same free-to-play/pay-to-win trappings. Off the top of my head, games like Penarium, Kingdom: New Lands, and Death Road to Canada are all examples of great games I’ve played in 2017 that are well worth the price of admission, and yet won’t ever reach the same heights as free-to-play games that aren’t nearly as fun to actually play.

I always try to highlight some great new indie games on my weekly gaming round up and will continue to do so, and just remember that the Google Play Store has a pretty decent refund system where you can get a full refund up to 2 hours after buying a game. There are so many smaller studios producing great games on the Google Play Store that flounder because they can’t reach the mass audiences the same way that big-developer games can.

So the next time you’re browsing through the Google Play Store, take a risk on that paid game that looks really interesting — you’ll be supporting more quality games for the future, and just might find your next gaming obsession that won’t bleed you dry.

Where do you stand on the issue?

We want to know what you think of the current state of gaming. Do you think loot boxes and microtransactions have become a problem worth addressing, or is it just how the free market works? Let us know in the comments!

Android Gaming

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  • Best Android games
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  • Best games with no in-app purchases
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  • All the Android gaming news!

12
Dec

Practical Gear Gift Guide


Practical gifts may not be on your loved one’s wishlist, but they’ll thank you later when they realize how much hassle you’ve saved them from dealing with. Cable management sleeves, velcro ties, device stands… anyway you give it, organization is a gift.

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Elevation Lab’s The Anchor under desk headphone mountIf space on top of your desk is at a premium, maybe the underside needs to pick up the slack. This mount hangs from below and gives you space to store your headphones without infringing on prime real estate.Amazon$10.95WishlistHeadphone stand and headset holderGive your headphones a home that isn’t just the nearest empty spot on the floor. This headset holder gives you quick and easy access to your headphones and lets you display your favorite pair proudly.Amazon$8.99WishlistTwelve South Fermata luxury headphone charging standIf you use micro USB-powered headphones, you can display them proudly on this stand while keeping them charged. It even has a port on the back to plug your smartphone into so you can keep all the wires under your desk.Amazon$79.99WishlistFinnhomy Bamboo Computer Monitor Riser StandThis small monitor stand has hidden holes and conduits to keep your wires at bay so you can work in style.Amazon$25.99WishlistAkwox Wooden Cable Organizer SystemPractical cable management doesn’t have to look like the back of an IT server room. This wooden cable organizer keeps your cables where you need them without being an eyesore in the process.Amazon$9.99WishlistPhilonext TedGem Magnetic Cable ClipsKeep the cables you use the most close-by, looking good, and locked in place with these magnetic clips you can attach anywhere you need them.Amazon$8.98WishlistSugru Moldable Glue Rebel Tech kitMoldable glue offers you a lot of flexibility because you can stick it and shape it however you want. Use it like an adhesive wall clip or to hold a broken spoon together. The ideas are endless and totally up to you.Amazon$15.00WishlistVelcro 100-count one wrap thin tiesYou don’t have to change your messy values to keep your office looking clean. These Velcro ties take two seconds to use and are one of the most practical buys on this list.Amazon$10.19WishlistWhellen cable clips 10-pieceThese clips come with adhesive on the back so you can attach them to the wall or the underside of your desk and at least hide the mess that is your cable management.Amazon$6.99WishlistJOTO cable management sleeveBring order where there is chaos. Organization where none existed before. This sleeve is perfect for behind the living room TV or your desktop PC where the cables have just gotten so out of control you’ve lost all hope.Amazon$14.99WishlistWater-resistant smartphone armband for working outIf your 2018 resolution is to work out a little more, music is a great way to help you through that. This water-resistant armband will keep your phone secured to you and your hands free.Amazon$9.98WishlistamFilm 2-pack screen protectors (iPhone 8/7/6)Your iPhone has a beautiful display, but one little fall could change that. Don’t let it get all scratched up or cracked, and instead add a layer of protection you’ll hardly even notice.Amazon$7.99WishlistAnker 6-port wall chargerWhy waste time bending over to plug things in? Sometimes you even have to reach behind other gear to get to the outlets you have setup. How about you plug in this wall charger, stick it on your desktop, and charge everything you need from one conveniently-placed device?Amazon$20.99WishlistSeagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB portable hard driveIf you want to bring your data with you, be it music, movies, or that 10-page paper you stayed up writing, you need a hard drive that’s fast, dependable and capable of surviving the trip. That’s where Seagate comes in.Amazon$64.99WishlistAeroGarden SproutFor the green thumb who can’t afford a greenhouse, this little garden-in-a-cup works great for anyone who wants to grow some veggies but doesn’t have a lot of space.Amazon$50.00WishlistTile Bluetooth Trackers Combo PackIf you lose your phone or your keys a few times a week, you should probably get these so you can find them no matter what happens. Oftentimes I can’t find my phone even when I’m holding it.Amazon$60.00WishlistEneloop Power Pack Rechargeable BatteriesEver since I bought rechargeable batteries I’ve stopped caring about the gear I own that need batteries. There’s always one available and I haven’t been to a corner store in years as a result.Amazon$35.99WishlistMagicFiber Microfiber Cleaning ClothsThere is not a single more useful and practical thing to have around your house than microfiber cleaning cloths. Clean your phone, your tablet, your glasses, or your windows without scratching them up.Amazon$9.00Wishlist

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