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The Sims 4’s new reality show has players compete to tell the best stories

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Coming soon to TBS: a reality TV show where the best Sims players in the world compete to show off their creations. Today, EA announced a new series called The Sims Spark’d, which follows a fairly traditional reality format: contestants are given a particular goal, and a panel of three experts will judge their creations, with $100,000 in prize money on the line. The difference is instead of designing a dress or baking an outlandish cake, they’ll be telling stories inside of The Sims 4.

“Something that has always been so special to The Sims is the community and how much our players connect with each other to celebrate, share, collaborate, and show off the things they’ve been able to make or share their stories,” Lyndsay Pearson, GM of The Sims franchise, tells The Verge. “What we’re doing with Spark’d is a really interesting evolution of exactly that. It’s the same DNA, the same motivation.”

The four-episode series will kick off on July 17th. Episodes will air on TBS on Fridays and Saturdays, while an online version will be available to watch on BuzzFeed’s “Multiplayer” YouTube channel the following Monday. There will be 12 contestants — EA says they’re “familiar online personalities” — as well as a panel of celebrity judges. Those include singer Tayla Parx, YouTube personality Kelsey Impicciche, and game developer Dave Miotke, who has worked on The Sims franchise for more than a decade. Former American Idol contestant Rayvon Owen will serve as host.

Pearson — a self-confessed reality TV junkie — likens the structure of the show to other creative competitions, like Top Chef or Project Runway, where players are given a set of constraints and then are judged on how creatively they manage them. She says the idea behind the show was to showcase not only what is possible in The Sims but also how things get made, with the hope of introducing a new audience to the game.

“There’s a benefit to putting something that felt previously unattainable into something as accessible as a TV show,” she explains. “It can feel daunting if you don’t know about a game like The Sims, and you go see these people make something amazing on YouTube. But putting it into a format that introduces you to the people behind those creations, that introduces you to the smaller steps through challenges, and gives you insight into how they approach them, I think breaks down some of those assumptions and some of those barriers.”

There will also be some tie-ins with the game itself. Starting July 17th, The Sims 4 will feature a series of in-game challenges tied directly to the show. The idea is to give those who are just learning about the game a prompt to jump in and build something, in the same way that watching someone on Cupcake Wars might inspire a viewer to bake. “I’m a fan of a lot of reality TV myself, I particularly watch baking shows, and I love that in a lot of them I’m like ‘I can go make a cookie. Sure,’” Pearson says. “So what was that moment for The Sims? That’s what we were working towards. The in-game challenges are props to spark that creative moment.” (The challenges will also be used to find new contestants for the second season.)

Pearson says that the 12 contestants were chosen in part because they had an existing presence online, which would give their followers someone to root for in the beginning. But an important aspect was finding players who play the game in different ways — those who are good at building, creating characters, or telling stories — in order to show the breadth of what’s possible in The Sims.

Watching people make virtual houses doesn’t necessarily sound like the most compelling television — Pearson promises “it isn’t just watching someone at a computer” — but she believes that the producers have found a way to showcase the creative side of the game in a way that’s interesting to the average viewer. If shows about glass blowing and gardening can become popular, why not The Sims?

“It’s not the same as watching something catch fire in a kitchen,” says Pearson. “But you do get a lot of surprising drama out of ‘Oh gosh, how am I going to make this thing do what I want? And how am I going to do it in time?’ The creative process is still exposed in a way that feels really compelling.”

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Shroud returns to Twitch, exclusively

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Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek — one of the most influential live-streamers on the internet — has today announced his triumphant, exclusive return to Twitch, the platform that made him famous, after a detour to Mixer that possibly netted him a cool $10 million when the site went dark and his contract got paid out.

It’s a big deal. Grzesiek was one of the biggest names on Twitch pre-Mixer acquisition, and him leaving the site last October for then-greener pastures appeared to signal a worrying exodus of talent from Twitch onto other competing live-streaming platforms, like YouTube, Facebook Gaming, and Mixer. Ten months and one (ongoing) pandemic later, Mixer is gone and the entire live-streaming landscape has shifted again.

The power is back with the platforms, which have conspicuously stopped offering exclusive contracts to streamers — Grzesiek’s return to Twitch is the first, highest-profile move. (Guy “DrDisrespect” Beahm getting permanently banned from Twitch and then returning to stream on YouTube without a contract is a slightly different kind of movement.)

As the pandemic has decimated industries across America, it’s actually helped live-streaming flourish: according a report published by StreamElements and Arsenal.gg, Twitch grew a full 56 percent in terms of hours watched between the first quarter of this year and the second, and Facebook Gaming grew 75 percent over the same period of time. Grzesiek returning to Twitch means that his astronomical numbers — he has 7.1 million followers on Twitch as of this writing — will be counted toward what I’m sure will be even more growth in the back half of this year.

A chart showing Twitch viewership by hours watched from January through June.

Image: StreamElements and Arsenal.gg

Even so, it’s hard not to think about the reasons that live-streaming platforms might not want to sign new streamers to exclusive deals. First and foremost, there’s the pandemic: while these platforms are growing, COVID-19 has done a number on advertisers, which are integral to the business models of live-streaming platforms. Growth doesn’t necessarily mean a subsequent increase in ad revenue.

Second, it’s not so clear that signing streamers to seven-figure contracts brings in a commensurate amount of revenue; the competition between live-streaming platforms only started after Mixer shook up the whole market by getting Tyler “Ninja” Blevins to sign on their dotted line. Now that Mixer is gone, it’s not exactly clear whether any of the other platforms are willing to shake up the market again — it didn’t exactly benefit platforms to pay live-streamers tons of money just to have them stay there. (That said, Mixer’s legacy is obviously in how its lucrative contracts showed the top live-streamers how much they were worth.)

Personally, I think Twitch signing Grzesiek to an exclusive deal was more about not letting him leave again — which was a tactical error! — than it was anything else, similar to how YouTube immediately signed Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg after his contract with DLive was up. In many ways, you could even read Grzesiek’s homecoming as a return to the old status quo.

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Nvidia offers six months of GeForce Now with Hyper Scape’s battle pass for a discounted $24.95

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Verge Deals

Only the best deals on Verge-approved gadgets get the Verge Deals stamp of approval, so if you’re looking for a deal on your next gadget or gift from major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and more, this is the place to be.

Nvidia is celebrating the launch of Ubisoft’s new entry in the battle royale market, the first-person shooter Hyper Scape, with a pretty solid deal for its GeForce Now cloud gaming platform. Considering Hyper Scape is a free-to-play game but does require a moderate gaming PC (or Sony or Microsoft game console) to play, Nvidia is now offering six months of its GeForce Now subscription and a slew of Hyper Scape cosmetics and battle pass access for $24.95.

That way, you can play the PC version of the game — and any other qualifying Epic Game Store or Steam titles you own — on an Android device, a Shield TV set-top box, or a Mac or Windows machine with added access to the game’s $10 battle pass, all for a little more than $4 a month. Nvidia says you also get three rare cosmetic skins and one emote as part of the bundle.

If you already subscribe to GeForce Now through the Founders tier, which locks in your pricing at $4.99 a month, Nvidia says this new bundle will stack with that existing offer. In other words, you can pay the $25 now and get an additional six months of access to GeForce Now after your Founders pricing rate expires in addition to the Hyper Scape benefits.

Check out our preview of Hyper Scape, which launched earlier today on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. And for those interested in playing the PC version on GeForce Now while also maintaining an account on PS4 or Xbox, developer Ubisoft Montreal has announced it will support cross-progression for account management, a huge plus for those who want to take those cosmetics and battle pass progression from one platform to another as they play.

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TCL’s new $650 6-series 4K TV has Mini-LED backlighting and supports 120Hz gaming

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TCL introduced its new lineup of midrange 5- and 6-series 4K TVs for 2020. Like previous years, they pack in a lot of value, with good design, four HDMI ports, and built-in Roku software that might eliminate the need to buy a streaming device. Importantly, they also pack in complete support for HDR standards, so you won’t be left out of the next HDR-enabled Super Bowl game, whenever that will be. It features what TCL calls the “HDR Pro Pack”, with support for Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG. What warrants most of your attention, though, are the premium features, like contrast-rich QLED screens and accurate Mini-LED backlighting, that have slid down the pricing scale and are much more affordable.

At the low end, the 50-inch 5-series TV (model 50S535) costs $400 and has a QLED screen, a 60Hz refresh rate panel, and 40 local dimming zones. It’s definitely not the option you want if you crave the most cinematic experience or one that’s suited for fast-paced gaming, but a $400 QLED TV? That’s great. TCL’s new 5-series is also available in a $450 55-inch model and $630 65-inch model, each with a slight bump up in local dimming zones to 48 and 56, respectively.

The new 6-series model.
Image: TCL

TCL’s new 6-series has QLED, too, but more notably, it has Mini-LED backlighting, which was one of the main selling points of the high-end 8-series model from last year that rarely dropped below $1,000. With Mini-LED backlighting, there’s a huge boost in local dimming zones, so you won’t notice splotchy parts of the screen as much when you’re watching something that’s dark and atmospheric. What’s more, each 6-series TV supports variable refresh rate with support up to 120Hz, which you’ll want if you plan on connecting a PS5 or an Xbox Series X when they come out later this year.

To that end, TCL says the 6-series is the first TV to feature THX Certified Game Mode, which promises to thrill gamers “without any compromise in ultra-low-latency gaming.” This model starts at $650 for the 55-inch version, going up to $900 for the 65-inch TV, and finally, $1,400 for the biggest 75-inch model.

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