U.S. gaming industry records another excellent quarter as pandemic fuels sales

The COVID-19 pandemic has utterly decimate a number of industries over the the past several months, but the U.S. gaming industry continues to benefit as people continue to be stuck at home. Yet another report from NPD highlights an excellent quarter, with spending hitting a new Q2 record in the States.

According to the figures, gamers spent $11.6 billion, marking a 30% increase over a year prior. It was also a 7% increase over Q1’s 10.9 billion, as spending continues while the pandemic continues to rage.

Games themselves comprised $10.2 billion of that figure (itself a 28% increase y-o-y), with some familiar titles occupying the top spots, including Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Calls of Duty Warzone and Modern Warfare. The gaming hardware category saw a 57% increase from 2019, with Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One all seeing strong sales.

The Switch isn’t a surprise, given shortages experienced earlier in the year. Perhaps a bit more unexpected are continued sales on the PS4 and Xbox One, given that both consoles are set to be eclipsed by next generation devices later in the year. Of course, those upcoming systems aren’t doing gamers much good during the current moment of stay at home orders.

Genki’s Covert Dock is the perfect dock for the Nintendo Switch – and other gadgets, too

The Nintendo Switch’s ability to quickly transition from portable to home console is definitely one of its major selling points, but Nintendo’s official dock never really made much sense with the portable nature of the Switch itself. Luckily, third-party accessory maker Genki created the Covert Dock, a device no larger than a smartphone USB charger that easily connects your Switch to any TV. Plus, it actually is a USB charger for all your devices, too.

The basics

The Covert Dock includes a USB Type-C port that’s rated for the Power Delivery 3.0 standard, which means it can charge not only the Switch, but also an iPhone, Android smartphones, the iPad Pro and even a MacBook (though its max output is 30w, so you won’t get full-speed charging for any power-hungry large devices). It also includes a USB-A port, which you can use not only for charging, but also for connecting controllers, microphones, mice, Ethernet adapters, and more to devices connected via USB-C. Finally, there’s an HDMI port, which you can use to connect your Switch (or other devices that support USB-C video out) to your TV or display.

The HDMI port supports a maximum resolution of 1080p at up to 60hz, so it can easily handle the 720p output of the Switch. The Genki Covert Dock also features folding power prongs for maximum portability – and it’s extremely compact, coming in smaller than a MacBook Air charger despite all of its capabilities.

Image Credits: Genki

Genki also provides a set of global power adapters that slide on to the folded prongs for easy travel compatibility, adding to its versatility. There’s also a six-foot USB-C 3.1 charging cable included in the box, so you have everything you need to begin using it right away. When you don’t have an HDMI cable plugged in, it can also power your Switch while you play just like with any other standard USB-C charger.

At $74.99, the Genki Covert Dock actually comes in under the retail price of Nintendo’s official dock set for Switch – and it’s a much more versatile device thanks to its ability to act as a hub for a wide range of devices that support display output over USB-C. Combine that with the travel adapter set, and the Covert Dock is really replacing two or three devices in your bag, rather than just a Switch dock.

Performance

Genki’s Covert Dock feels very sturdy and well-built, not at all like many of the third-party dock alternatives that you can find on Amazon. Inside, it uses Gallium Nitride technology to enable its small size while still making sure it can provide good power output without overheating.

It worked flawlessly both for charging my Switch (and other devices) and for connecting the Switch to my TV. As soon as you plug in an HDMI cable, the Switch behaves just as it would when using the official dock, switching off the built-in display and outputting to the television in HD resolution.

Image Credits: Genki

Ditto with plugging in an iPad Pro, and a MacBook Pro. Both automatically detect the HDMI connection and behave just like they would using any other display adapter.

Users of other third-party Switch display docking solutions might be hesitant to trust another one, given how frequently third-party hardware has led to issues including console bricking. But Genki has a great and thorough explanation of why their dock shouldn’t encounter such issues, and it mostly relates to their proper implementation of the PD 3.0 specification. Over the course of testing on an up-to-date Switch console over a couple of weeks, I definitely haven’t encountered any issues.

Bottom line

If you own a Switch (not the Switch Lite, sadly, since it doesn’t support video out), then there’s no question that you should also own a Genki Covert Dock. It’s the dock that the console should’ve shipped with, since it respects the Switch’s portability and offers a way to connect to a TV that takes up no more space than the Switch USB charger itself.

Even if you don’t own a Switch, the Genki Covert Dock might be something you need – it’s a great way to power an iPad while presenting during a meeting, for instance, and also a fantastic travel charger even when you’re not using the display features. Genki has done a tremendous job of packing a whole lot of versatility into a unique and well-built device, and at a price that’s very reasonable when you consider how many other potential gadgets and dongles it’s replacing.

Genki’s Covert Dock is the perfect dock for the Nintendo Switch – and other gadgets, too

The Nintendo Switch’s ability to quickly transition from portable to home console is definitely one of its major selling points, but Nintendo’s official dock never really made much sense with the portable nature of the Switch itself. Luckily, third-party accessory maker Genki created the Covert Dock, a device no larger than a smartphone USB charger that easily connects your Switch to any TV. Plus, it actually is a USB charger for all your devices, too.

The basics

The Covert Dock includes a USB Type-C port that’s rated for the Power Delivery 3.0 standard, which means it can charge not only the Switch, but also an iPhone, Android smartphones, the iPad Pro and even a MacBook (though its max output is 30w, so you won’t get full-speed charging for any power-hungry large devices). It also includes a USB-A port, which you can use not only for charging, but also for connecting controllers, microphones, mice, Ethernet adapters, and more to devices connected via USB-C. Finally, there’s an HDMI port, which you can use to connect your Switch (or other devices that support USB-C video out) to your TV or display.

The HDMI port supports a maximum resolution of 1080p at up to 60hz, so it can easily handle the 720p output of the Switch. The Genki Covert Dock also features folding power prongs for maximum portability – and it’s extremely compact, coming in smaller than a MacBook Air charger despite all of its capabilities.

Image Credits: Genki

Genki also provides a set of global power adapters that slide on to the folded prongs for easy travel compatibility, adding to its versatility. There’s also a six-foot USB-C 3.1 charging cable included in the box, so you have everything you need to begin using it right away. When you don’t have an HDMI cable plugged in, it can also power your Switch while you play just like with any other standard USB-C charger.

At $74.99, the Genki Covert Dock actually comes in under the retail price of Nintendo’s official dock set for Switch – and it’s a much more versatile device thanks to its ability to act as a hub for a wide range of devices that support display output over USB-C. Combine that with the travel adapter set, and the Covert Dock is really replacing two or three devices in your bag, rather than just a Switch dock.

Performance

Genki’s Covert Dock feels very sturdy and well-built, not at all like many of the third-party dock alternatives that you can find on Amazon. Inside, it uses Gallium Nitride technology to enable its small size while still making sure it can provide good power output without overheating.

It worked flawlessly both for charging my Switch (and other devices) and for connecting the Switch to my TV. As soon as you plug in an HDMI cable, the Switch behaves just as it would when using the official dock, switching off the built-in display and outputting to the television in HD resolution.

Image Credits: Genki

Ditto with plugging in an iPad Pro, and a MacBook Pro. Both automatically detect the HDMI connection and behave just like they would using any other display adapter.

Users of other third-party Switch display docking solutions might be hesitant to trust another one, given how frequently third-party hardware has led to issues including console bricking. But Genki has a great and thorough explanation of why their dock shouldn’t encounter such issues, and it mostly relates to their proper implementation of the PD 3.0 specification. Over the course of testing on an up-to-date Switch console over a couple of weeks, I definitely haven’t encountered any issues.

Bottom line

If you own a Switch (not the Switch Lite, sadly, since it doesn’t support video out), then there’s no question that you should also own a Genki Covert Dock. It’s the dock that the console should’ve shipped with, since it respects the Switch’s portability and offers a way to connect to a TV that takes up no more space than the Switch USB charger itself.

Even if you don’t own a Switch, the Genki Covert Dock might be something you need – it’s a great way to power an iPad while presenting during a meeting, for instance, and also a fantastic travel charger even when you’re not using the display features. Genki has done a tremendous job of packing a whole lot of versatility into a unique and well-built device, and at a price that’s very reasonable when you consider how many other potential gadgets and dongles it’s replacing.

‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ and the limits of today’s game economies

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is a bonafide wonder. The game has been setting new records for Nintendo, is adored by players and critics alike and provides millions of players a peaceful escape during these unprecedented times.

But there’s been something even more extraordinary happening on the fringe: Players are finding ways to augment the game experience through community-organized activities and tools. These include free weed-pulling services (tips welcome!) from virtual Samaritans, and custom-designed items for sale — for real-world money, via WeChat Pay and AliPay.

Well-known personalities and companies are also contributing, with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” scribe Gary Whitta hosting an A-list celebrity talk show using the game, and luxury fashion brand Marc Jacobs providing some of its popular clothing designs to players. 100 Thieves, the white-hot esports and apparel company, even created and gave away digital versions of its entire collection of impossible-to-find clothes.

This community-based phenomenon gives us a pithy glimpse into not only where games are inevitably going, but what their true potential is as a form of creative, technical and economic expression. It also exemplifies what we at Forte call “community economics,” a system that lies at the heart of our aim in bringing new creative and economic opportunities to billions of people around the world.

What is community economics?

Formally, community economics is the synthesis of economic activity that takes place inside, and emerges outside, virtual game worlds. It is rooted in a cooperative economic relationship between all participants in a game’s network, and characterized by an economic pluralism that is unified by open technology owned by no single party. And notably, it results in increased autonomy for players, better business models for game creators, and new economic and creative opportunities for both.

The fundamental shift that underlies community economics is the evolution of games from centralized entertainment experiences to open economic platforms. We believe this is where things are heading.

Gaming sales had another great month in June

We continue to be stuck inside, and video games continue to sell well. It’s pretty much as simple as that, honestly. I mean, there’s more nuance than that, obviously, but that’s really the top line takeaway from NPD’s June gaming numbers.

More specifically, last month saw $1.2 billion total spent on gaming, up 26% from the year prior. That marks the highest figure for June since 2009. With June included, the first half of the year saw $6.6 billion total spent for the industry, the highest figure for that time frame since 2010, when it hit $7.0 billion. Not too shabby, considering the extremely tenuous economic situation the world finds itself in.

Gaming software spending hit $570 for the month, up a full 49% from 2019. The Last of Us: Part II took the top spot for June, making it the third-best-selling title for the year and marking the highest launch month sales figure for the year so far.

Also notable is the success of the Nintendo Switch exercise title Ring Fit Adventure, which shot to No. 7 after only hitting No. 835 in May. The game’s success is no doubt due in part to the lack of access to gyms and other more traditional workouts. The figure was previously skewed by a depletion of stock for the game — something that has also impacted Switch sales.

Even so, the Nintendo console was once again the best-selling system for the month.

Hand-crank a level of Super Mario Bros. on Lego’s new 2,646-piece NES kit

Feel that? That’s the unmistakable and overwhelming sensation of nostalgia for your misspent youth coursing through your blood, as the 35th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System is sneaking up on you. The original NES turns 35 years old tomorrow, and to celebrate another shocking reminder of our own mortality, Lego just announced another fantastic-looking set scheduled to arrive later this summer.

Image Credits: Lego/Nintendo

After a brief tease, the NES Building Kit is now officially official, featuring a buildable console, cartridge and controller (even the RCA ports are present on the system’s side). The game can be loaded into the system and locked in place, and the controller has its own cable that plugs directly into the front. The pièce de résistance, however, is that period-appropriate television set. There’s a buildable 2D Mario that runs and jumps along a level that unfolds and scrolls as you spin a hand crank.

Image Credits: Lego/Nintendo

Honestly, the execution is great. Just really, really clever. It plays on the boxy eight-bit graphics of the classic console, while offering an adorable counterpart to the already announced Mario set. The power of synergy is strong here. The Mario from the other set actually plugs into the top of the TV set once you remove a piece, with its speaker playing out the soundtrack and effects as his 2D counterpart makes his way through the level.

Image Credits: Lego/Nintendo

No word on pricing, but I’m willing to bet that the final price is no object for many fans. Also, knowing what we know about Lego, it seems safe to guess it’s not going to be cheap. There are 2,646 pieces in the set. It’s one of the most technically impressive Lego sets I’ve seen, starting with the detailed accuracy of the console and really taking it up a notch with the crank system that advances the background, as Mario, attached to a stick, bounds up and down. The Mario from the other set, meanwhile, appears to scan for the colors on the series of blocks at the top, outputting the corresponding sounds. 

Honestly, this thing effectively triggers all of the human nostalgia centers simultaneously, and you’re powerless to deny it, so you might as well earmark some cash and set aside some shelf space. If I had to guess, I would put it somewhere in the ballpark of $300. Consider the Mario set the playable one for the kids and this one a complimentary conversation piece for their parents who grew up playing the original system. It’s available through the Lego site (and those brick and mortar stores that happen to be open) starting August , along with the Super Mario set). It will be available at additional retailers at some point next year. 

Ford’s Bronco relaunch demonstrates the power of nostalgia

Ford is finally taking the wraps off the reborn Bronco next week. Literally. The company has teased the vehicle for months, showing a camouflaged SUV bouncing through rocky streams and charging over dusty hills. This week, the wraps come off and the sheet metal will finally be exposed.

The launch of the Bronco looks to be a masterclass in nostalgia. For the last few weeks, Ford has been feeding journalists with media assets — pictures, staged interviews, and upcoming advertisements. And I’ve yet to see the full vehicle because in the end, Ford is not relying on the Bronco itself to drive sales, but rather, is digging deep into the power of nostalgia to move the Bronco off lots.

Recalling the past can help companies develop a unified theme around a product or service. And in this case with the Bronco, only recalling part of the past helps companies dial in messaging. With Ford, the company wants consumers in agreement: this is a tough vehicle and it’s always been a tough vehicle. Forget about OJ, these adverts say. Instead, look at how the Bronco was used by two burly men bounding over the rolling hills of a cattle ranch. Ford is digging deep into American lore to show the Bronco as a rugged conqueror of the frontier instead of a conqueror of parking lot flowerbeds.

The Bronco is an iconic American vehicle. It wasn’t the best selling, nor the best performing vehicle in its class. It had reliability issues, and was often underpowered and outclassed by competitors. And yet, like the Mustang, it was a hit for Ford. In 1966 Ford unveiled the Bronco as a competitor to the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout. Ford took the Bronco racing, and racked up wins in long-distance endurance races. Over its 31-year run, the Bronco remained true to itself as a two-door, sport utility vehicle.

The upcoming model is set to be different than the past. Ford is relaunching the Bronco as a family of vehicles with three models at launch. Little is known about the difference at this time, though the family appears to include a two-door off-roader, four door version and an entry-level sport model.

The launch of the new Bronco is similar to how Ford launched the retro Mustang in 2005. At the time, the Mustang was coming off decades of stale designs and lagging sales. The Fox body Mustang of the 80s was boring at best (though the 5.0 engine is notable), and the swooping design of the ’90s model was uninspired. In 1999, Ford launched a sharp, modern take on the Mustang, and yet in a few years, it was time for something new.

Here’s the full lineup of Lego Super Mario sets, due out August 1

Back in March, Nintendo and Lego teamed up to reveal one of the most delightful bits of colorful ephemera in an otherwise overwhelmingly bleak time. Lego Super Mario continues to be one thing worth looking forward to, through it all for the young and nostalgia-inclined old alike. And thankfully you only have to hang tight a couple more months to get it.

Today, the childhood staples revealed the full rundown of sets. The list includes the already announced Starter Course, along with 10 expansion sets. Four Power-Up Packs and a variety of Character packs. The Starter Course is currently up for pre-order on Lego’s site, and all will be made available on August 1, online and through select retailers that happen to be open for business.

The Expansion sets include a range of familiar levels from the Nintendo series and a few other riffs on the Mushroom Kingdom, including Bowser’s Castle Boss Battle, Mario’s House and Yoshi, King Boo and the Haunted Yard and Toad’s Treasure Hunt. Those range in price from $20 to $100, for the final boss. The Power-Power-ups will all run $10 and the blind bag Character Packs are $5. Nothing too crazy in Lego terms, but any fan will tell you these things add up quickly. All of the sets are designed to be used together, and each feature clever articulation designed to mimic gameplay. 

The Starter Course, meanwhile is $60. Of the figures, Mario continues to the be the most advanced, with four built-in LEDs (two eyes, a mouth and a chest), a speaker for sound and color sensors on his feet, so the figure can track where it jumps. Understandably, he’s the centerpiece of all of the play sets. 

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There’s also some more information on the included app, which offers build guidance, keeps track of scores and presses young players to build and rebuild the levels. There’s a sharing function, as well, along with a kid-safe forum for discussing build ideas.

VLC prepares to add AirPlay support as it crosses 3 billion downloads

VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filing one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as its just crossed an incredible three billion users.

The new feature was revealed by Jean-Baptiste Kempf, one of the service’s lead developers, in an interview with Variety at CES and it will give users a chance to beam content from their Android or iOS device to an Apple TV. The addition, which is due in the upcoming version 4 of VLC, is the biggest new feature since the service added Chromecast support last summer.

But that’s not all that the dozen or so people on the VLC development team are working on.

In addition, Variety reports that VLC is preparing to add enable native support for VR content. Instead of SDKs, the team has reversed engineered popular hardware to offer features that will include the option to watch 2D content in a cinema-style environment. There are also plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eying PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by non-profit parent VideonLAN, racked up its 3 millionth download at CES, where it celebrated with the live ticker pictured above. The service reached one billion downloads back in May 2012, which represents incredible growth for a venture that began life as a project from Ecole Centrale Paris students in 1996.