Game News Roundup: March 2023

Welcome back to your monthly report of game news, where I do my best to compile everything into one convenient ad-free place, so you don’t have to worry about the pesky cracks that info can fall through at other publications!

Thanks and credit for the banner image as always goes to the Avocado’s one and only Space Robot!

ABK Updates

March 8th: In addition to otherwise discussed licensing agreements, Microsoft’s newly proposed concessions with regulators included the appointment of a third party trustee monitor and a third party adjudicator for Microsoft’s compliance and managing potential disputes in these deals, respectively.

March 14th: The Federal Trade Commission filed to request further information from Microsoft on its deals with Nintendo and Nvidia, and its exclusivity plans for Activision Blizzard King and ZeniMax.

March 15th: Between the 14th and 15th, Xbox announced two new 10-year cloud gaming deals (complete with ABK games stipulation) on top of the previous Nvidia partnership, one with Boosteroid and the other more significantly with Ubitus, which is the partner behind every Cloud Version on Nintendo Switch. The latter partnership is likely a key foothold for future Xbox-Nintendo collaboration, especially for continuing to release on Switch 1. Xbox’s latest filings with antitrust watchdogs have also implied Steam and the Epic Store as potential future Xbox Cloud Gaming partnerships.

More minor deals were also announced on the 15th, for Minecraft on Chromebook and Redfall being bundled with Nvidia’s RTX40 GPUs

March 17th: The European Commission again delayed its deadline for provisional ruling on the ABK deal proposal, from April 25th to May 22nd, in order to review more newly submitted proposals by Microsoft. The EC didn’t publicly clarify the contents of said latest proposals, though they likely consist at least partially of the various latest licensing deals Microsoft announced in March.

March 20th: Phil Spencer discussed plans for the Xbox mobile store, anticipating a 2024 launch in conjunction with the EU’s Digital Markets Act bill requiring Apple and Google to not enforce their appstore monopoly, which has a current enforcement date of March 2024 pending any appeals.

March 21st: Judge Jacqueline Corley officially ruled to dismiss the “gamers’ lawsuit” against the proposed ABK buyout due to failure to elaborate on the anticompetitive charges.

ABK and Toys for Bob announced the launch date for Crash Team Rumble, saying that it will have a closed preorders-exclusive beta in April before a June 20th launch for cross-gen Xbox and PlayStation. They also confirmed crossplay and a seasonal live service plan for the game.

March 24th: The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority officially removed console gaming from the scope of its antitrust review on the ABK deal, leaving only cloud gaming, after Microsoft campaigned it to review data on the potential fiscal losses of ending Call of Duty sales on PlayStation. This has occurred despite Microsoft also arguing to the CMA that extending its proposed decadelong COD sharing deal is baseless because it’s a “sufficient” period for Sony to develop alternatives to COD, clearly implying longterm exclusivity intent. The CMA’s deadline for ruling on the proposed buyout is April 26th.

March 28th: The Japan Fair Trade Commission became the latest national antitrust regulator to approve the proposed ABK buyout, further punctuating the overall significant upswing March has seen for Microsoft and the deal.

March 29th: A New York Times report alleged further details on the recent implosion of ABK and NetEase’s long partnership, saying that ABK leadership had a years long history of projecting onto NetEase’s actions, feeling antagonized by things like the latter’s 2018 investment into Bungie, or casual comments about the ongoing buyout reviews, until October 2022 when that finally escalated into a conflict from which neither corporation’s executives backed down. I don’t feel I can cite NYT as a primary source right now without acknowledging how the publication is contributing to the current reactionary movement against my queer and trans communities, and that when many of its contributors offered the slightest pushback against its coverage, they were not listened to, they were publicly dismissed and browbeaten.

March 31st: Rebekah Valentine at IGN reported on a National Labor Relations Board investigation into illegal employee surveillance at ABK, saying that the federal agency will formally charge the publisher with illegal surveillance, threats to shut down communication channels, and labor law violations.

Everything Else

Throughout March, an anonymous Twitter leaker made other claims of info on Ubisoft projects after previously being part of Assassin’s Creed: Mirage leaks last fall, with the most notable being real in-game screenshots (and promise of gameplay footage) of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora posted on March 26th. Their other allegations are: that Avatar’s new launch date and official preorders are coming with the next trailer, that the first trailer for Massive Entertainment’s Star Wars game will premiere this year, both of which would likely arrive at the June Ubisoft Forward, and that AC: Mirage and The Crew: Motorfest are both delayed.

March 7th: South Korean police were reported to have raided the offices of game developer Ironmace over accusations from publisher Nexon that when Ironmace was founded upon departure from the publisher, developers stole assets and plans from Nexon and used them in the game Darker and Darker. Before the end of March that game was delisted on Steam due to Nexon’s cease and desist order.

Square and Forever Entertainment confirmed the launch date of Front Mission 2 Remake as June 12th.

March 8th: At Nintendo Life, Ollie Reynolds and Jack Yarwood 1 exclusively reported that, in the wake of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker’s success in 2022 as TT’s alltime bestselling game, multiple longterm projects were canceled at the developer that were licensed from Disney and Warner Bros. The biggest project was a Lego Disney crossover action game that had been in development for at least four years before being canceled. TT Games had struggled with the game’s direction and Disney Dreamlight Valley proving itself an already successful crossover game apparently delivered its death blow. Disney and TT also canceled Lego Guardians of the Galaxy, in development for 18 months, while WB canceled Lego Worlds for mobile and Project Rainbow Road, a non-Lego WB crossover shooter that repeatedly faltered in its licensing arrangements. There are two more projects, a Batman game and a The Mandalorian themed story expansion for Skywalker Saga, that aren’t officially killed yet but are sidelined in favor of a sighs new Lego Harry Potter. All of these projects were/are being produced in Unreal Engine after TT Games developers previously successfully lobbied leadership to switch from their unwieldy proprietary engine to Unreal.

Microsoft officially announced that the dedicated Starfield Direct and the general Xbox Games Showcase will premiere together on June 11th, alongside releasing a launch date trailer for Starfield delaying the RPG again from Spring to September 6th 2023.

Chucklefish and Robotality announced turn based strategy game Wargroove 2 coming to Switch and PC later this year.

Halo Infinite Season 3 launched, releasing three new multiplayer maps, the game’s first new weapon, and ray tracing support for the game on PC. Ray tracing for consoles will arrive in the future.

March 9th: Nicole Carpenter at Polygon reported from four sources at Canadian indie developer Dynasty Loop that the studio owes its workers current and former more than $2 million total from months of work without pay whatsoever. Payments for November and December 2022 weren’t given until January, which obviously severely affected the notoriously stressful holidays, and no pay has been given since then. At that point, some workers also abruptly and periodically saw their equipment or software confiscated and office access cut off while still told to keep working. By late February management below CEO Rania Oueslati, who were also not being paid, finally communicated with these strained staff, telling them that funds were indefinitely frozen by the Canadian government. They attempted to appease employees with a lien agreement, a contract promising compensation would resume if possible in exchange for the employees agreeing against legal action or discussing their experiences. After that, silence until March 7th, when Oueslati fired everyone who agreed to the lien, said she wasn’t registering it after all, and refused further communication.

Jason Schreier at Bloomberg once again covered Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, reporting that due to poor reception of the game’s showcase at the February State of Play, the game has been internally delayed again to H2 2023 with risk of slipping into 2024, with no public announcement until a new date is chosen. Clearly I am a foolish fool who cursed herself when I quietly celebrated last month the thought of finally being done with coverage for this game. Schreier later clarified that the delay is only intended to apply further polish with little chance of actually overhauling or removing the game’s live service elements.

Axios’ Stephen Totilo confirmed straight from Google rep Jack Buser that the January shutdown of the Google Stadia service did in fact include shutting down its Immersive Stream technology as well as they were inextricably linked, severely reducing the extent of Google’s ability to continue cloud gaming partnerships with third parties that we covered previously like Peloton, Capcom, and AT&T.

Developer Ratloop and publisher Frontier announced that their time travel FPS live service Lemnis Gate will completely shut down this year after less than two years since launch, delisted on April 11th 2023 and servers killed in July.

Nacon Connect: Nacon showcased co op roguelike Ravenswatch with an April early access date and 2024 multiplatform 1.0 launch, turn based superhero RPG Capes, horror game Ad Infinitum coming in September, a shadowdrop release for Clash: Artifacts of Chaos, TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge 3 launching May 11th, War Hospital coming August 31st, the gameplay reveal for Gangs of Sherwood, plus a new trailer for LOTR Gollum. Later on the 23rd, the launch date for Gollum on all non-Switch platforms was announced as May 25th. Finally, a gameplay trailer announced that RoboCop: Rogue City will launch in September for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S|X, with no current info on the previously announced Switch port.

Capcom Spotlight: Dino shooter Exoprimal was announced to be launching July 14th 2023 for PC, PS4/5, and Xbox One/Series/Game Pass, with an open beta test that occurred during March. The Ghost Trick remaster was announced to be releasing June 30th for Switch, PC, Xbox One, and PC. Monster Hunter Rise Sunbreak’s Xbox and PlayStation ports were announced to be releasing April 28th. Street Fighter 6’s fourth and final commentator was announced. A digital theme park called Capcom Town was revealed. Lastly, Resident Evil saw its latest CG movie shown off alongside the announcement and release of the RE4make demo.

March 10th: In a culmination of the many institutional problems within its particular sectors, Silicon Valley Bank became the US’ second biggest bank failure ever. This put the many VC, tech, and media companies it financed, including Roblox Corp and Polygon/Verge parent company Vox Media, briefly at risk until the FDIC stepped in to pay back all depositors in totality, propping up many worthless corporations for the sake of broader economic stability.

March 12th: Stalker 2 developer GSC publicly announced that they had been hit with a ransomware hack which will potentially illegally leak their game ahead of its scheduled launch later this year. The studio cites their Ukrainian background as a motive for the cyberattacks they’ve experienced and they request that players avoid anything that comes from the hack.

March 13th: Several controversial events all plagued the Pokémon Company in short order surrounding the Japanese airing of Ash Ketchum’s finale anime episodes: a composer for one of their most recent anime seasons was arrested and pled guilty to being a sexual predator, TPC began publicly recruiting for blockchain/metaverse specialist consultants, and a competitive card game event was plagued by an official judge harassing trans players.

After launching earlier in the week, indie Soulslike Bleak Faith: Forsaken was accused of stealing animation assets from Elden Ring, which the developer defended as an asset pack they bought from Epic, but they still agreed to replace the assets to settle the matter.

March 14th: Disco Elysium’s contentious owner ZA/UM claimed the end of all previous legal disputes it was facing, with ousted toxic creatives Robert Kurvitz and Alexander Rostov dropping their charges of unfair dismissal, while departed producer Kaur Kender has divested his shares in the org and repaid its legal fees after it satisfied his concerns back in December. Kurvitz and Rostov quickly disputed this account, saying that they did not volunteer the dropping of their charges and they continue to pursue legal action.

Predictably, Nightdive Studios delayed System Shock Remake for PC yet again from March to May 30th 2023, just before Nightdive was announced to have been acquired by Atari, bringing millions in funding to the dedicated retro rerelease team.

Developer Heart Machine debuted the gameplay reveal trailer for Hyper Light Breaker, their third game and fully 3D direct sequel to Hyper Light Drifter, announcing the game will launch Fall 2023 in Early Access and revealing a major design change as well: over the past year, the game’s individual roguelike levels have been merged into a single procedural open world.

Citizen Sleeper’s PS4/PS5 ports and third/final free story expansion DLC were announced to be releasing on March 30th and 31st.

March 15th: After first settling with Epic Games in December, the FTC finalized its orders for Epic in March, with a $245 million refund from Epic to consumers victimized by unwanted charges in Fortnite, and a $275 million fee to the FTC for the misuse of personal data from minors playing Fortnite.

Ahead of Shinji Mikami’s departure this year, Tango Gameworks and Xbox finally officially announced that Ghostwire: Tokyo will release for Xbox Series S|X/Game Pass on April 12th, alongside a story expansion update coming to the game on all platforms at that time.

Indie RPG Sea of Stars was announced to be coming to Xbox One/Series alongside the previous Switch release at launch on August 29th.

IO Interactive officially opened their fourth development office in Istanbul, Turkey, which will be contributing to production in not only Project 007 and Project Fantasy, but also the Hitman series.

March 16th: Twinsen announced that they are releasing Unreal 5 remakes of classic 90s adventure games Little Big Adventure 1 and 2 with the hope of securing publishing and funding of their planned reboot of the series.

Gun Media and Sumo Digital announced that their game The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will launch on August 18th 2023 for all confirmed platforms, with a public technical test starting on May 25th.

After previously announcing the project alongside Dying Light 2 all the way back in 2016, Techland officially confirmed that they’re in full development for an open world fantasy game as their next main project, it having fallen to the wayside to focus on finishing Dying Light 2.

Gunfire Games announced a Summer 2023 release window for their soulslike shooter Remnant 2 while revealing an AI dog companion as a major new addition to the series’ gameplay.

Sega and Atlus revealed a new mobile Persona 5 spinoff game, P5: The Phantom X or Phantom of the night.

Retroware announced their new beatemup based on the Toxic Crusaders cartoon, coming Late 2023 to all platforms.

Second Life developer Linden Lab announced a mobile port is in development for the virtual social platform, in another advancement for the only real metaverse success story.

March 17th: Beloved character actor Lance Reddick, of The Wire, Fringe, John Wick, and major characters in Bungie’s Destiny and Sony/Guerrilla’s Horizon game series, tragically passed away at age 60 from natural causes. Both developers quickly responded with tributes, with Bungie later noting that they hoped to honor Reddick with the remaining work he’d completed for future Destiny 2 expansions. The very early in development Horizon 3 is faced with the auspicious task of rewriting or recasting its material for Reddick’s character Sylens.

Indie developer Molegato revealed Frogun Encore, the full sequel to their successful retro 3D platformer Frogun. It’s scheduled to launch this Summer for Switch, PC, Xbox, and PlayStation.

Combat racer crossover Disney Speedstorm received its new Early Access launch date of April 18th 2023.

Sega officially licensed Virtua Fighter out to its co-creator Yu Suzuki’s line of NFTs.

March 18th: Tetsuya Nomura and Yoko Shimomura appeared at a Kingdom Hearts concert in Tokyo to briefly discuss the series’ future, commenting that after the series’ 20th anniversary event and reveal of Kingdom Hearts 4 last year, something occurred to ‘change the direction’ of the series, without any further public details at this time.

March 20th: The parent company of Destructoid, Siliconera, and many other gaming coverage sites announced layoffs.

Respawn released a new story trailer for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and announced a new development office in Wisconsin dedicated to Apex Legends support. The trailer confirmed the rest of Cal’s crew from the first game as returning, with Night Sister Merrin and another character now being companions actively accompanying Cal in combat and exploration.

Paradox Tectonic fully detailed their Sims-style life sim Life By You, announcing a September 12th Early Access date for PC and promising extensive customizability in an open world “free of load screens.”

Indian indie dev Visai Games newly announced additional platforms for their upcoming cooking game/narrative adventure Venba: alongside the previously confirmed PC and Switch, the game will launch on Xbox One/Series/Game Pass and PS4/5 later in 2023.

CDPR informed its investors that it will be incurring an immediate loss on multiplayer Witcher spinoff Project Sirius from developer The Molasses Flood due to rebooting the game’s development, while reassessing scope and sales potential.

Baten Kaitos HD was confirmed to launch June 30th.

March 21st: Venom voice actor and beloved genre character actor Tony Todd seems to have mistakenly confirmed on Twitter that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 from Insomniac is scheduled for a September 2023 launch, the same release window that various publications like VGC say they have already heard from internal sources. The post was deleted with no apparent further action by Insomniac. With Starfield‘s delay to September, this marks the first time in years that big Xbox and PlayStation games will directly go head to head, while this Spring’s PlayStation Showcase is anticipated to arrive before the June Xbox Games Showcase, per Jeff Grubb.

Jake Solomon publicly commented on his recent shocking departure from Firaxis, saying he plans to form a new studio and doesn’t expect to make another turn-based strategy as he “[doesn’t] have anything more to say in that area.”

EA and DICE announced sunsetting plans for several of DICE’s older cult classics, originally saying that Bad Company 1 and 2, Battlefield 1943, and Mirror’s Edge were all going to be delisted from sale on April 28th and lose online support on December 8th, before soon retracting Mirror’s Edge and insisting its mention was in error.

The studio behind EVE Online secured $40 million in funding for a AAA blockchain based EVE spinoff game.

March 22nd: The Solidaires Informatique union, in conjunction with internal sources and reporting at New Musical Express, covered the harmful work culture of Ubisoft Paris, chock full of the crunch and mismanagement you all expect from Ubisoft by now. The mismanaged development of Just Dance 2023 was the focus, with 13 hour work shifts for understaffed devs resulting in severe burnout and sick leave, mandating late engine changes and the series’ shift to a live service format while refusing the needed extra dev time. “Though this source spoke primarily of their experience on Just Dance 2023, they said that to their knowledge, every project at Ubi Paris [is] affected by crunch culture”.

After being previously rumored last month, Valve officially announced Counter-Strike 2 for a Summer 2023 release as a free overhaul update to CS:GO which will transfer the game to the Source 2 engine among other additions.

A new gameplay trailer for Focus and Tindalos’ Aliens: Dark Descent announced that it will launch June 20th.

CI Games revealed another new trailer for their soulslike series’ reboot, Lords of the Fallen 2 as part of a State of Unreal keynote, ahead of launch later this year.

Amazon’s Luna cloud gaming service began its international expansion by launching in Canada, the UK, and Germany.

March 23rd: Take-Two and developer Visual Concepts revealed Lego 2K Drive, a licensed open world racing game launching for PC, Switch, and cross-gen Xbox/PlayStation on May 19th. Video Games Chronicle leaked Lego’s new deal with 2K Games last year and leaked this particular game three days early.

After leaking previously in full detail, Sega announced Sonic Origins Plus coming June 23rd to all previous platforms, a premium expanded rerelease of the retro collection which adds 12 Game Gear ports/releases from the Sonic series, playable Amy and Knuckles in extra games, major bugfixes, and includes past DLC. For current owners, Plus is a $10 upgrade rather than full price, but that doesn’t make paygating even bugfixes more acceptable.

Developer Build a Rocket Boy released both the gameplay debut trailer for Everywhere and the premiere trailer for MindsEye, revealing that Everywhere is a platform for the creation and playing of games built in its framework a la Roblox or Dreams. Everywhere‘s hub at launch has game creation, competitive racing, and third person shooting sections with MindsEye coming sometime after launch as the devs’ first full-size Everywhere exclusive game, a story driven open world shooter. Everywhere is scheduled to launch for PC in 2023 with current-gen console releases in the future.

Bandai Namco and Limbic announced that their sim game Park Beyond will launch June 16th for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S|X, with a closed beta test first on May 9th.

March 24th: Genshin Impact’s Hoyoverse finally announced the launch date of their next game, sci fi RPG Honkai Star Rail, coming April 26th to PC and mobile with PS4/5 versions later this year.

Resident Evil 4 Remake saw one of Capcom’s biggest launches at more than 3 million copies sold in its first two days, putting it third behind only Resident Evil 6 and Monster Hunter World. The game has already been datamined for its Ada Wong focused side story as future DLC.

March 26th: Microsoft confirmed that it’s officially ending the $1 for first month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate deal.

A ESRB listing has leaked native current-gen ports of Dead Cells and a new physical release packaged with the Return to Castlevania expansion.

March 27th: Hilariously, perhaps inevitably, Ubisoft confirmed to Video Games Chronicle in an exclusive report that it will independently host the Ubisoft Forward Live physical presentation event in Los Angeles on June 12th instead of attending/presenting at E3, so the only publisher that had formally committed to E3 2023 has now exited just as quickly as joining. From there, the snowball effect proceeded to officially kill E3 2023 by the end of the week due to “lack of sustained interest” from the idnustry, making it the second consecutive dead E3 and the third out of the last four. For better or worse physical gaming events are fully back by now, but they have left E3 behind.

On the 28th, Kat Bailey and Rebekah Valentine put out a comprehensive report at IGN on the state of E3 2023. Publishers feel that ReedPop and the ESA have completely failed at communication and information, while ReedPop brought in as the new organizer was completely unprepared for partners’ continued distrust after years of being fucked over by the ESA. E3’s appearance costs haven’t helped anything either for publishers of any size whose marketing budgets are still below where they were before COVID.

These months of tensions culminated in the official end of E3 2023 on March 30th, but before that came the resignation of ReedPop President and founder Lance Fensterman on one end and publishers moving on at the other: Sega, Tencent, and Devolver had all confirmed to the reporters that they were skipping E3, before no other major publisher got the chance to announce it. The contrast at GDC was reportedly stark: companies like Devolver know where they stand on Summer Game Fest, aware and relatively satisfied, while everyone was asking (quote from Jason Schreier) “Is your company going to E3?” “No idea.” “Is it actually going to happen?” “Who knows?”

Moratoriums published since the cancellation have fairly criticized publishers, emphasized the way cutting out E3 also cuts out more contact with critical coverage. It’s no secret that publishers hate game journalists and will punish working outside PR guidelines at any chance. But that doesn’t change how the ESA is an exploitative, doxxing, money-grubbing dinosaur of an org that nobody should want to work with anymore.

Bioware and EA announced that retired director/producer Mark Darrah and a majority of the Mass Effect 5 team are now temporarily working with the rest of Bioware on the completion of Dragon Age: Dreadwolf.

WB and Player First Games announced an unexpected major shift for their crossover fighter MultiVersus: it’s planned to go fully offline on June 25th as the end of “Open Beta” ahead of a 1.0 relaunch scheduled for Early 2024, with no refunds for understandably frustrated and skeptical customers. The game will remain available with local matches and training room still playable during the 6+ months of downtime. The game’s devs burnt through every ready or nearly ready fighter, stage and mode in its first few months and then remained stagnant for just as long up until now. After previously promising a Season 3 for Spring, they’ve fully given up on the illusion of regular major updates for the foreseeable future.

March 28th: Nintendo premiered a roughly 10 minute gameplay demo of Tears of the Kingdom hosted by Eiji Aonuma, featuring confirmation that the base game is finished providing further details on previously revealed new major gameplay additions, including how the vehicle building is part of a Fuse power which also revamps the weapons system, and the expected reveal of a TOTK themed Switch OLED console.

Major indie publisher Team17’s CEO Debbie Bestwick announced her departure from the role after a five year tenure, where she is lingering until a successor is selected, at which point she will stay on the Board of Directors in a smaller role.

March 29th: EA announced firings of over 700 employees or roughly 6% of its total, global workforce of nearly 13,000 as part of a significant restructuring. Andrew Wilson said that these layoffs have been undergoing since earlier in 2023 and will be completed early in the new fiscal year which started April 1st. Based on that official context, it’s most likely that the leaked Apex Legends QA layoffs I’ve previously covered are included in this. The publisher reported more than $200 million in profits for last year.

As part of larger appalling 7000-worker layoffs at Disney by current CEO Bob Iger, a 50-person metaverse division established under Bob Chapek was shut down.

Square Enix detailed its paid story expansion for Forspoken, a prequel titled In Tanta We Trust launching May 26th.

March 30th: Square Enix announced that Live a Live Remake will hop off the Switch and release for PS4/5 and PC nine months later on April 27th 2023. I really wish Square was better at communicating upfront about the terms of these timed exclusivity deals, all of theirs really, but I’ll admit I’m still quite curious to see what’s next for the 2DHD series.

March 31st: Dragon Quest series chief producer Ryutaro Ichimura announced his departure from Square Enix.

Roblox Corp agreed to start hiding in game ads from users age 13 and younger.

After being announced for H1 2023 last June, Ark II‘s launch has been delayed to Late 2024. For the meantime, developer WildCard announced an upgraded PC port/native current-gen console port of the first game, Ark: Survival Ascended, for an August launch as a $50 ‘bundle’ preorder of Ark II. However, the original Ark: Survival Evolved’s servers are being shut down at that time in August, meaning existing players will have to repurchase this expensive new form of the game they already own to keep access.

Poncle announced their second expansion for Vampire Survivors, Tides of the Foscari, launching April 13th.

Sega released a free game on Steam in observance of April Fools Day, a visual novel with a few hidden mechanical surprises called The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog.

April 1st: SNK announced a complete package port of King of Fighters 13, all DLC and rollback netcode, for the Switch, coming Summer 2023.

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