Apex Legends loot boxes can be turned into crafting metals, thanks to Belgium ban

Most Apex Legends players who buy the new battle pass will receive Apex Packs (this game’s version of loot boxes) as they level up — but not if you’re in Belgium. Following the country’s 2018 ban on paid loot boxes, rewards received come in the form of crafting metals instead, an in-game currency used to buy cosmetics that are usually only earned within loot boxes. As Eurogamer points out, you don’t actually have to be in Belgium to swap your loot boxes rewards for crafting metals.

In a thread on the Apex Legends subreddit, a commenter discovered that you can fake out the game by simply changing your region to Belgium in your EA account settings on PC, Xbox One, or PS4. Interestingly, it makes no difference if you’ve bought the battle pass already. EA automatically converts your battle pass winnings into crafting metals in lieu of receiving a loot box.

It’s surprising that EA isn’t currently limiting region-swapping for those who don’t actually live in Belgium, but it’s likely a safeguard to protect itself from Belgium’s stiff penalty for including loot boxes in the game. According to Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens, punishment could include prison sentences of up to five years and fines of up to 800,00 euros if loot boxes aren’t removed.

So, should you swap your region? It depends on if you’re saving up for a specific legendary cosmetic item or if you’re happy with whatever comes inside of an Apex Pack. Eurogamer states that up to 1,350 crafting metals can be earned through the battle pass. (That’s enough for a legendary skin, if that’s what you’re after.) For seasoned Apex Legends players, knowing exactly what you’re getting is probably more appealing than rolling the dice with a loot box.

It’s hard to say how much longer EA will allow those who aren’t actually located in Belgium to swap their battle pass earnings, but if you want to try it out, proceed at your own risk. It’s possible that EA could come back and ban users who try to swap their regions.

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Save $100 on the Dyson DC33 Multifloor bagless upright vacuum at Walmart and start spring cleaning right away

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Clean in all sorts of places in your home with Dyson.
Clean in all sorts of places in your home with Dyson.
Image: Dyson

It’s time to start spring cleaning. 

To get your home in order, you need a trusty vacuum cleaner like the Dyson DC33 Multifloor bagless upright vacuum to help you on your quest to eradicate all dust, dirt, debris, and other yucky bits in your house. Luckily, the vacuum system is now on sale for $179, or $100 off its list price at Walmart.

Retailing for $279, the Dyson DC33 Multifloor bagless upright vacuum uses Root Cyclone technology to clean just about any mess on all types of floors, including hardwood, carpets, vinyl, tile, and more. It can quickly convert from upright vacuum to handheld with its one-piece telescope wand and hose release, so you can take care of all the hard-to-reach areas like ceilings, stairs, and under furniture.

The lightweight vacuum features a lifetime HEPA filtration system that can trap annoying allergens and harmful bacteria inside its hygienic bin that’s easy to empty with just a push of a button. Say goodbye to using and replacing messy vacuum bags over and over again.

The Dyson DC33 Multifloor bagless upright vacuum even comes in three stylish colors: blue, white, and yellow.

Need a second opinion? Walmart customer Mommabear4 writes:

“I purchased this model because I liked the sturdy look of it. This is my first Dyson and let me just say Wow! I vacuumed my house with my old vacuum and then I went over it again with this Dyson and I was in shock at how much dirt it collected. The tools are great, easy to use and they have great suction. I’m so happy with this purchase and a great price too!”

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All the reasons Google Stadia could (and couldn't) be the next big thing for gaming

Can Google Stadia — Google’s first entry into the world of mainstream gaming — hope to make a dent in a market that’s been dominated for more than two decades by three major platforms? Or is it just another OnLive in the making?

Even at this early stage, we can pretty definitively answer that second question: Not a chance. Between the leaps in high-speed internet capabilities over the past decade, not to mention Google’s own cloud infrastructure and overall reach, Stadia has advantages that earlier would-be competitors couldn’t have even imagined.

As for challenging the likes of Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony … well that’s a much more up-in-the-air scenario. The odds are obviously stacked against Google. These are long-established players with the communities to match.

Just consider the history for a moment. The original Xbox launched almost two decades ago, in 2001. That was really the last major market disruption for the audience Google appears to be chasing with Stadia. 

It’s true that the lines between console/PC gaming and mobile gaming have blurred in recent years. But no one who’s observed the industry for any significant period of time is under any illusions: Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony are the clear market leaders for a certain kind of gaming audience, and Stadia is another hopeful new kid on the block.

Of course, an effort spearheaded by Google is more than just “hopeful.” This is a company with the resources and reach to force its way into the conversation. So let’s consider what Stadia’s big promise actually looks like, and the various elements the work in the service’s favor, or against it.

Why is Stadia so exciting?

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 19: Google vice president and general manager Phil Harrison shows the new Stadia controller as he speaks during the GDC Game Developers Conference on March 19, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Google announced Stadia, a new streaming service that allows players to play games online without consoles or computers. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Image: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

For those who don’t remember OnLive: Stadia is a gaming platform that moves all the expensive hardware you’d normally need for console/PC games into a data center. That data center delivers gameplay to the screen of your choice via high-speed internet while also receiving commands from whatever controller you’re using.

“Netflix, but for games” is accurate from a technical standpoint; same principle here (though the technology powering it all is much more complex). That comparison fails, however, at the content level: We know Google wants the latest mainstream games to be playable on Stadia, but whether you’ll pay for them individually or as a packaged subscription deal remains to be seen.

That comparison also fails because Stadia is so much more than Netflix. Remember, this is Google. In terms of what we know, that means integrations with YouTube and Google Assistant. But it’s not hard to see the possibilities with other popular Google services, like Hangouts or even Gmail (what if, say, your contacts list suddenly doubled as your friends list?).

“Netflix, but for games” is accurate from a technical standpoint.

Don’t forget, too: The delivery platform here is Chrome, the most-used web browser on the planet by a wide margin. It runs on pretty much everything, just like Stadia will. It’s hard to say at this point how Chrome extensions might factor in (if they do at all), but the idea of using them to customize your experience creates some exciting possibilities.

Google’s reveal also pointed to a number of service-specific features that will help differentiate Stadia. State Sharing, for example, could give players the ability to create a shareable link mid-game that would allow other users with access to the same game to click that link and pick up right in the same spot.

There’s also a Crowd Play feature that makes jumping into a game with someone who’s streaming a one-click process. That kind of access will of course be limited by the game in question’s lobby size (or online play support at all), as well as the streamer’s personal preference.

Those two features, the way they were revealed, feel like work-in-progress examples aimed at making a larger point. Google wants everyone to understand just how vertically integrated Stadia is as a platform. It’s your console, but it’s also your streaming platform, your community board, and your content sharing portal. 

On top of all that, it’s also completely portable. If you have a screen with high-speed internet access and Bluetooth or USB support, you’re good to go.

What’s working against Stadia?

Google Vice President Majd Bakar speaks on-stage during the annual Game Developers Conference at Moscone Center in San Francisco, California on March 19, 2019. - Google set out to disrupt the world of video games with a Stadia platform aimed at putting its massive data center power in game maker's hands and letting people play blockbuster titles from any device they wish. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Image: JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

For all the excitement and noise around Google’s Stadia reveal, it’s not a guaranteed winner by any stretch. Let’s set aside the industry competition that we’ve already acknowledged. It’s unquestionably a factor, but it’s a factor that depends in large part on how the service assuages these other, more platform-specific concerns.

For now, the biggest thing working against Stadia is the range of questions Google hasn’t answered yet. The games lineup is largely a mystery. Stadia’s beta program, better known as Project Stream, proved that even a hot, new game like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey can run well when it’s delivered from the cloud. And Google made it clear during the reveal that Odyssey represents the kinds of games the service will hope to deliver.

But in terms of specific titles that will actually be available at or close to launch? The list is very short. Marty Stratton, a creative lead at id Software, showed up to confirm that Doom Eternal will be available on Stadia. But that was notably the only high-profile title Google let slip. Ubisoft, Odyssey‘s publisher, pledged to support Stadia as well, but stopped short of listing specific games.

Google is assuming that more people have access to a stable high-speed connection than not.

Google did make it clear that there are plans to create first-party games that will be exclusive to Stadia. But the reveal suggested that the in-house studio effort is just getting started. Jade Raymond, a veteran of Ubisoft and Electronic Arts, is heading up the new team, but she only joined Google in March. Most modern games take 3 to 5 years to complete, from pre-production to release.

Cost is another major factor, and an unanswered question. We don’t know if games will be sold individually or as part of a subscription plan. Google confirmed that Stadia will allow for cross-platform play, but is there a cross-buy scenario as well where games you own on one platform or another are also accessible via Stadia?

Maybe that’s part of the business model here: You pay for a subscription that unlocks all the games you already own elsewhere. It’s a far-fetched (and very unlikely!) scenario, but that’s my point. It’s impossible to speculate about Stadia’s impact on the market until we know how Google intends to make money off of it.

There’s also the bandwidth concern. Yes, high-speed internet has improved immeasurably since the last push toward cloud gaming ended in around 2012. But Google is making a basic assumption with this service, that more people have access to a stable high-speed connection than not.

A 2018 report from the UK broadband company Cable (via BBC) found that the global average download speed at the time was 9.10 Mbps. Stadia is launching first in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and “most of Europe,” according to Google. The averages for all of those countries hover in the 20-25 Mbps range, according to the report.

Of course, download speeds are only part of the equation here because of the way Stadia (and streaming in general) works. But a Google rep told Kotaku on Monday what the performance expectations are for a 25 Mbps download speed.

A Google PR rep tells Kotaku that Google’s Project Stream was able to provide 1080p, 60fps gameplay for users with 25 megabits per second connections. “When Stadia launches later this year, we expect to be able to deliver 4k 60 fps at approximately the same bandwidth requirements,” they said. 

“Approximately” is a key word there. The actual speed target for 4K resolution at 60 frames per second could come in higher or lower than 25 Mbps (but not by much, if Google’s estimate turns out to be accurate). It’s also worth noting: Not everyone will be playing on a 4K display. For a good chunk of people, 1080p will be all they need — and that should lower the bandwidth demands even further.

Even with manageable bandwidth demands, it’s not yet clear how much data you’ll actually be using for the games you play. Some service providers impose data caps, and game streaming could easily test those limits. There’s about to be a reckoning in the way data is valued, in terms of dollars, with the looming launch of 5G networks. But any major shifts resulting from that are likely more than a year away — and Stadia is launching in 2019.

People still matter too. Someone who’s fully invested in a console ecosystem already isn’t necessarily going to be enthusiastic about jumping over to a new platform. Especially one like Stadia, where there’s no physical product you can hold in your hands or have access to even when there’s no internet.

There are even more obstacles for social gamers. Stadia may support cross-platform play, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to hop into voice chat with friends on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. Online games have increasingly transformed into virtual hangout spaces (I’m thinking of examples like Fortnite and Destiny 2 here); where your friends are playing matters just as much as where you yourself play. For some friend groups, switching over to a new platform might feel like an all or nothing proposition.

The close integration of Stadia with YouTube could convince popular streamers to leap over and bring their communities along for the ride. But content moderation is already a tricky proposition on the more popular Twitch, and YouTube has struggled again and again (and again) to create a safe environment for all users. Google also hasn’t yet laid out the moneymaking advantages of being on Stadia, an important factor since this is a job for them.

Stadia’s closer integration of play with streaming and community features is all the more concerning when you remember that this is the video game scene we’re talking about. It’s been almost five years since the GamerGate hate group brought the most toxic elements of the gaming community to the forefront. Yet we continue to have front-and-center conversations about how to mitigate the still-rampant misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all manner of other shitty, anti-society views that the worst offenders from the gaming scene tend to espouse.

Stadia still brims with potential

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 19: Google vice president and general manager Phil Harrison shows the new Stadia controller as he speaks during the GDC Game Developers Conference on March 19, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Google announced Stadia, a new streaming service that allows players to play games online without consoles or computers. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Image: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

As much as it might seem on paper like there’s more working against Stadia than for it, I’m not here to be a killjoy. Personally, as someone who’s been working in this industry for the better part of 15 years (and who’s been gaming for more than twice that), I’m bowled over with excitement after this announcement.

The potential here to disrupt a market that often seems to run like clockwork — which isn’t necessarily a great thing! — is huge. Fresh competition breeds fresh ideas, and Google’s efforts with Stadia will inevitably push everyone to innovate and be bolder when trying out new things. 

That should be true even if the service itself ultimately fails. Google doesn’t always put out winners, but the company’s sheer size and influence as a global business all but guarantees that the industry’s existing big players will sit up and get to work on what their response looks like.

Also, don’t forget: Some of the heaviest concerns here could be wiped away once Google answers more of the still-unaddressed Stadia questions, price and catalog being the big ones.

Stadia won’t be the next OnLive, we can assume that much. But can it hope to disrupt an entrenched market where the most established players have carried the reins for almost two full decades? The ideas are there, the potential is evident. We’ll just have to wait and see what — and how — Google delivers.

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Save $700 on this Sony 70-inch 4K TV *and* get a $350 Dell gift card with purchase

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This TV features exceptionally realistic picture.
This TV features exceptionally realistic picture.
Image: sony

If you’ve been waiting for a sign to upgrade your entertainment system, this is it. Dell is offering a discounted price on a Sony 70-inch LED 4K Smart TV and throwing in a gift card when you purchase the TV. Dell is basically paying you to shop.

Right now you can get the Sony XBR70X830F UHD 70-Inch LED 4K Smart HDR TV for $1,599.99 — a savings of $700 — and they’ll throw in a $350 Dell electronic gift card.

Discover exceptionally realistic picture with this TV’s large 70-inch display as it reproduces enhanced depth, textures, and natural colors. 

This smart TV is engineered with Android technology and includes Google Play — connect the TV to WiFi to get the most out of it. It has four HDMI ports, three USB ports, and a two-speaker system.

Dell customer Chas C writes:

“You get what you pay for. If you’re looking for a relatively affordable and fair priced TV while still keeping the highest level of quality & performance, this is your TV. I could write about all the features I love, but I don’t have enough time in my day so take my summary with added value when I tell you that you will not regret nor be disappointed with this product.”

Don’t forget about the sweet $350 gift card bonus when you buy this TV. It will be emailed to you within 20 days of purchasing and expires 90 days from issuance. Take advantage of this deal from Dell and get the Sony XBR70X830F UHD 70-Inch LED 4K Smart HDR TV for $1,599.99.

Image: sony

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Apple's new AirPods come with hands-free "Hey Siri," wireless charging option, longer battery life, and more

What just happened? After months of rumors and a report claiming they could launch in March, Apple has finally unveiled its second-generation AirPods. They include several new and improved features, including a version that comes with a wireless charging case.

Following the announcement of its two new iPads and an update to the iMac, Apple has debuted the latest generation of AirPods. They feature the new H1 chip, which brings several improvements.

Compared to the first generation AirPods, the latest version delivers up to 50 percent more talk time, bringing the total to around three hours. Switching between devices while listening to music is now more seamless thanks to two times faster pairing, while connection to phone calls is 1.5 times faster, and there’s 30 percent lower latency when using the AirPods with games. As previously rumored, they also come with hands-free “Hey Siri” support, so you can activate Apple’s assistant using your voice.

The new wireless charging case and the latest AirPods are priced at $199, or existing owners can purchase the case by itself for $79. Buying the new AirPods with the non-wireless case will cost the same $159 as the previous version. Both cases can charge the earphones to last for 24 hours. The wireless case can be recharged with Qi-compatible chargers, and it has an LED light to show the charge status.

Another new feature for buyers is the option to add a personal engraving to the AirPods free of charge. You can preorder the earphones now for delivery, and they’ll appear in stores next week.

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