YoYo Games makes cross-platform development more affordable with GameMaker: Studio

This week, YoYo Games is officially launching GameMaker: Studio, a new development tool designed to let developers create casual and social games for a wide array of platforms.

GameMaker: Studio is the next version of 2D drag-and-drop game development tool GameMaker. Originally created in 1999 by professor Mark Overmars, YoYo Games acquired the license in 2007. This new version of the program provides developers with the options to export native titles to most platforms, including HTML 5, Facebook canvas (as seen with YoYo’s own Grave Maker), Android, iOS, Windows and OS X.

German developer Handy Games has partnered with YoYo Games to use GameMaker: Studio to create a new, as-yet-unnannounced role-playing game, but YoYo Games CEO Sandy Duncan tells us the tool is primarily intended for small companies working on a budget. According to Duncan, creating a cross-platform casual game with GameMaker: Studio can cost less than $10,000 in total. A more labor intensive social game can be done for under $50,000.

In the low-end of the game development market GameMaker: Studio could prove to be serious competition for companies like Unity Technologies and GameSalad. Priced under a modular model the base price for GameMaker: Studio is $99, which allows developers to export to Windows and OS X. HTML 5 is another $99, while iOS and Android cost $199 each. All-in, the entire platform is a one-time purchase of less than $600, compared to $1500 for Unity Pro and GameSalad Pro’s yearly subscription rate of $299.


Cross-platform lexical strategy with Word Off

Word Off is a new cross-platform asynchronous multiplayer word game from Toy Studio. The game combines wordsearch mechanics with territory control, and is available now for free via Google Play, the iOS App Store and the Web, with players able to easily maintain the same matches across all three platforms.

A game of Word Off takes place on a grid made up of hexagons, each of which has a letter printed on it. Each letter has a particular point value similar to those seen in Scrabble and its numerous imitators. The objective of the game is for players to either score more points than their opponent after a fixed number of turns has elapsed, or capture the enemy’s “base” hex on the opposite side of the board.

Each turn, players may capture territory by spelling out a word. The word must start either on a hex under the player’s control or one adjacent to it — it may not be started using a hex under the control of the other player. Once a word has been submitted, the player scores points according to the value of its letters, the letters used are refreshed to new ones. In a nice touch, the dictionary definition of the word is also displayed. If the move causes the player to own the majority of claimed territory on the board, they gain a 20-point bonus — in highly competitive matches, this bonus is often passed back and forth a number of times.

Players are also able to use up to three “boost” items in a single game. These are purchased using the game’s soft currency, which may be acquired by winning games or purchased directly. The functions of these items vary from doubling the value of a word or letter’s score to assisting with defense against the other player’s assault. While it would be easy to see them as a “pay to win” option, the limitation of no more than three per game helps prevent their abuse.

The game’s cross-platform play works smoothly for two reasons. The game is built in HTML5 and requires a proprietary user account, which may optionally be connected with Facebook.  If a connection is made with the social network, players can easily find their friends who are playing. They also then have the option of sharing their moves on their own and their opponents’ Timelines as a means of both viral promotion and of notifying the other player it is their turn. Alongside this, the game offers push notifications on iOS and Android and desktop notifications on the Web-based version as well as the facility to email players when it is their turn. These features are enabled by default but may be switched off if the volume of notifications is becoming too great for the player.

The game monetizes through sales of the aforementioned soft currency, which may also be used to purchase new, more complex board layouts, and advertising. Ads may be removed for a one-time fee — though they do not appear to be present in the Web-based version of the game at this time. The ads take the form of small banners on the game’s main menu screen and full-screen commercials following a player’s turn. On the iOS version, these ads are often video trailers for other games, and are at times not age-appropriate for Word Off’s family-friendly audience — at the time of writing, for example, a frequently-occurring ad is for Glu Games’ 12+ rated Deer Hunter Reloaded, which features players shooting a variety of realistic wild animals. On Android, the full-screen ads are often of the misleading variety, seemingly informing players that they have “1 new virus” and should “click here to scan.” Users allowing their children to play the game will likely want to either keep a close eye on the advertising or pay to remove it altogether.

Word Off is a well-presented game with a pleasant comic book aesthetic. The game works well in its Web and iOS incarnations, but the Android version (tested on a Motorola Xoom running Android 3.2) suffers from input lag and poor performance at times — it’s not unplayable by any means, but it’s a noticeably inferior experience to the other versions, at least on the device tested. The Toy Studio team is seemingly dedicated to ensuring the game experience is good for all users, however, as the Android version in particular has received several updates since its launch a few days ago.

What the game should be commended for, however, is providing a genuinely original take on the often-predictable formulae used to make asynchronous multiplayer titles. It remains to be seen whether or not the community at large will take to it, but the game’s strong social features and cross-platform capabilities will be a big help in attracting and retaining a wide variety of users.

As a new release, the iOS version of Word Off is not yet listed on our traffic tracking service AppData. Check back shortly to follow its progress through the App Store charts, or try out the game for free via the App Store, Google Play or on the Web.

GREE looks to stay profitable in North America with Wizcorp’s Mithril engine

Wizcorp has more going for it than HTML5 expertise as far as GREE is concerned — the Tokyo-based startup can reduce social game development costs by a third, giving GREE’s developers an edge in the North American market.

Founded in 2008 as a service company developing open-source web-applications, Wizcorp switched to game development in 2009. The company released its first game, the HTML5-based Majuu Wars, for GREE in January 2011. As one of the first smartphone games on the network, Majuu Wars wasn’t a success, but the experience did motivate the Wizcorp team to improve the way social games were made.

“One of the things we realized after managing our own game was there was a lot of work that was actually very generic, particularly around events and campaigns,” explains Wizcorp’s co-founder and CEO, Guillaume Hansali.  “If you want to implement those events and campaigns quickly, you start to need a lot of people. We decided to develop a game engine that would shorten development time and make the management more efficient.”

According to Hansali, most game development engines tend to focus on front-end development. Wizcorp’s Mithril engine, which uses HTML5 and Node.js, was specifically designed to optimize the back-end infrastructure of a social game. The company has also developed its own database management system to improve scalability and cut down on server costs.

“What we believe is that [by using Mithril, you] should be able to spend less on server and development costs, so even if your game is not making much in terms of revenue, you’ll still be profitable,” he explains. “We can run games and cut out a third of the usual costs.”

With GREE about to expand into the North American market — where users are far less likely to convert and return much lower ARPU than the company sees in Japan — cutting back-end costs is a simple way to help its games stay in the black.

As part of GREE’s investment, Wizcorp will be both making new HTML5 games and helping other developers manage their games. The company is already involved in technical exchanges, teaching other GREE developers how to use HTML5 and to optimize their games back-ends using web application development techniques.

[Update:  Wizcorp would like to clarify some factual inaccuracies in the above paragraph. Under the terms of GREE’s investment in Wizcorp, GREE may utilize Mithril - Wizcorp’s proprietary HTML5 game engine - and enlist Wizcorp’s technical expertise. However, Wizcorp is not involved in technical exchanges with any other third-party game developers - GREE investees or otherwise - but remains committed to sharing knowledge as an active member of the open-source community. You can find Wizcorp on GitHub here.]

GREE announced its investment in Wizcorp in early April, but has not revealed the amount of the funding or the terms involved.

Mobile App Roundup: Android, UDIDs, Draw Something clones, Deer Hunter and ODIN

50 percent of U.S. smartphones are Androids — According to ComScore’s latest mobile subscriber report, Google’s Android is now the most popular platform with 50.1 percent market share, up from the 46.9 percent it held in November. iOS was second with 30.2 percent, up from 28.7 percent. RIM and Microsoft declined to 13.4 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.

ODIN looking to set new UDID replacement standard –  Following Apple’s move to begin rejecting apps that use UDIDs to track users, mobile advertising companies Velti, Jumptap, RadiumOne, MdotM, StrikeAd, Smaato, Adfonic and SAY Media are teaming up to create a focus group called ODIN. According to TechCrunch, the companies are hoping push the mobile advertising industry to quickly decide on a UDID replacement. The group currently favors using a secure, hashed version of the iOS MAC address.

Zynga’s Draw Something cloned in China — With the blockbuster success of Draw Something, its not surprising others are looking to get in on the social-Pictionary action. According to Tech in Asia, the game has been cloned in China by Tencent as Guess What and MelonZone as Draw I Guess.

Diamond Dash hits 11 million downloads — The iOS version of Wooga’s Diamond Dash has been downloaded 11 million times in four months. 64 percent of iOS players log in with Facebook.

Angry Birds coming to the small screen – Rovio has revealed it is working on an Angry Birds animated series. Each of the 52 episodes will be about three minutes long, according to VentureBeat.

Indie hits coming and going from iOS — Indie games are crossing to and from mobile. Team Meat is working on a brand-new iOS version of punishingly difficult platformer Super Meat Boy, and Canadian studio Capy Games is bringing its award winning iOS game, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP to the PC via Steam.

Glu Mobile buys Deer Hunter brand – Glu Mobile has bought the trademark to Deer Hunter from Atari. Glu has been releasing mobile Deer Hunter apps for seven years, earning more than $21 million in revenue from the brand.

Windows Phone Marketplace up to 80,000 apps – All About Windows Phone reports that the Windows Phone Marketplace now has 80,000 apps, some of which may have been directly financed by Microsoft itself, according to the New York Times.

Latest version of Android OS only on 2.9 percent of Android devices — According to the latest update from Google’s Android developer platform data, Android 4.0 — aka Ice Cream Sandwich — is installed on just 2.9 percent of Android devices. The most popular Android OS is still 2.3, aka, Gingerbread, with a 63.7 percent market share.

Flurry ditches UDID in latest SDK, adds more features – Flurry has updated its iOS SDK to version 3.1.0. According to the Flurry blog, the SDK no longer collects the iOS UDID. The company has also added Funnels, Alerts and Custom Dashboards to its iOS, Android, HTML5, BlackBerry and JavaME analytics products.

Halfbrick gets in on GetJar Gold — Halfbrick is the latest developer to integrate GetJar’s GetJar Gold virtual currency. The currency, which is only available in GetJar’s independent Android app store, is based off advertising, but players can use the currency to purchase premium in-game items.

Kontagent adds new data mining tools — Kontagent has launched a new kSuite DataMine platform. The cloud-hosted tool allows developers to create detailed, custom queries in order to mine user data.

Samsung launching own mobile ad network — Samsung is partnering with OpenX Technologies to create its own mobile advertising network, reports the Wall Street Journal. The as-yet-unnamed network will launch in the second half of the year.

[Funding] The Tap Lab untaps $550,000 — Cambridge-based The Tap Lap has raised $550,000 in investment funds to work on location based games and its own location-based game engine.

[Launch] MocoSpace debuts HTML-based True Night — HTML5 gaming platform MocoSpace has launched its thirty third HTML5 game, the vampire themed True Night. It was developed by New Game Town.

Facebook open sources mobile browser test suite to promote HTML5 development

Facebook has open sourced Ringmark, its browser test suite for building apps on the mobile web, according to a post on the company’s HTML5 blog today.

The effort is part of Facebook’s push to promote HTML5 development. One of the major challenges with HTML5 development right now is fragmentation in mobile browser capabilities, but Ringmark lets developers see instantly whether their apps will be able to run on a given mobile browser.

The social network has an interest in helping HTML5 become a more viable platform for developers to build upon since it cannot monetize native iOS or Android apps. Many developers see HTML5 as inferior to native mobile experiences, but as HTML5 improves, there is more likelihood that developers will adopt it and then Facebook can benefit from the use of Credits in these apps.

Promoting HTML5 is also Facebook’s way of supporting a potential new wave of mobile development.

“For those that are building with the web today, it’s a major hurdle to learn native technologies like Objective-C and Java,” Facebook engineer Matt Kelly wrote in the blog post announcing the news. “We hope that an improved mobile web can unlock a large contingency of developers that could, and will, be developing for mobile.”

When the company introduced Ringmark at Mobile World Congress in February, there were more than 400 tests available. Now that the project is open sourced, any developer can contribute tests and provide value for others in the community. The company hopes that over time this will help mobile browser vendors build browsers that better serve developer needs and bring better apps and games to consumers.

“This is the beginning of a process, starting with open sourcing the tests,” Kelly wrote. “As we continue to build, we’ll continue to open source even more of this work.”

Facebook also says it will soon contribute Ringmark tests to the Core Mobile Web Platform Community Group in the W3C. The group is an industry-wide consortium including manufacturers, carriers and developers that aim to push HTML5 forward with a single set of standards.

Developers can view and contribute to the Ringmark code here and here. The test suite can be found here.

This post originally appeared on our sister site, Inside Facebook.

Zynga New York split into Mobile, Social studios with OMGPOP acquisition — gearing up for mobile publishing

With today’s OMGPOP acquisition, Zynga New York is split firmly into two studios: Zynga New York Social and Zynga New York Mobile. OMGPOP CEO Dan Porter now heads up the latter as vice president and general manager.

The Zynga New York Mobile studio is made up of both OMGPOP and Astro Ape, which Zynga acquired late last year to work on Dream PetHouse. The OMGPOP team will continue to work on Draw Something for mobile and other future projects — one of which Business Insider confirms as crime-themed game The Street. Draw Something will also officially arrive on Facebook as a playable game sometime “soon,” though it’s clear the developer is waiting for fan feedback before making the complete cross-platform jump.

“Aren’t you going to ask me if it’s going to be Draw SomethingWithFriendsVille?” Porter demanded during a 10-minute follow-up call scheduled after today’s media briefing. “I’m going to answer you anyway — if you don’t like the direction of the game as a player, then hit me up on Twitter and tell me what you think. I read every single thing people write about the game. We want to make games people want to play.”

OMGPOP has a history of trying various game types on different platforms to see what gets traction. On Facebook, its games have ranged from restaurant sim Cupcake Corner to the more arcade-y Pool World Champ. On mobile, it’s been pet sim Puppy World, puzzle game Boom Friends and now, most recently, Draw Something. The developer even has a true cross-platform HTML5 game, Gem Rush. Though each of these titles may have achieved traction in their respective markets at one time or another, only Draw Something stands out as a real hit.

“Every game you release you think is going to be massive or you wouldn’t waste your time making it,” Porter explained. “The only thing you can do to be successful in this space is make a lot of games. Every game we’ve made on Facebook — we basically [took] assumptions, put it out there, learned a ton…  The kinds of things you learn are so subtle. You see what doesn’t engage people. Draw Something has something from literally every game you’ve mentioned.”

As for what will happen to OMGPOP’s other games on mobile and social, Porter said he hadn’t thought about it yet. In the past, Zynga has sunsetted the games of its acquired studios unless said studio was specifically acquired for a particular game — like Newtoy and Words With Friends. Draw My Thing presents Zynga a unique challenge as it both is and isn’t the “same” as its mobile and much more successful sibling, Draw Something.

“We’re still trying to figure it out,” Porter said. “Draw My Thing can be really fun, but we nailed it more [with Draw Something]. All the things that work in the mobile version would [ideally] work in the Facebook version.”

Joining in on the call was Zynga Chief Mobile Officer David Ko, who wasn’t able to tell us much given that the company is in another quiet period during its secondary offering. He did say, however, that Zynga will soon opening up publishing to mobile titles — thought he wasn’t able to say if that would just be for native platforms, for Facebook’s HTML5 platform or for the Zynga.com platform, which currently doesn’t have a mobile games component.

“Our goal is to offer our players our games anywhere,” Ko said. “Due to the nature of the game and how popular it’s become, if they want [Draw Something] on HTML5, we’ll bring it there. We do that with all our games. We launched CityVille on HTML5 as well, but I don’t think anybody picked up on it. We push on that platform even if we don’t make a big splash on it.”

Cellufun combines HTML5 transition with user-driven renaming contest

New York-based Cellufun is pairing its shift to HTML5 with a renaming contest that puts the company’s name in the hands of users.

Formed four and a half years ago, Cellufun got its start creating games accessed from a central website and played in feature phone browsers. While most of the companies making games for feature phones switched to developing smartphone apps, Cellufun kept its platform approach, focusing on creating a destination for players. Although Google Play lists 22 results for Cellufun apps, they are actually just launchers that redirect users to the company’s mobile website.

The company is now in the process of switching to HTML5 development. So far, it has transitioned about a quarter of its catalog of 33 games. According to CEO Lon Otremba, despite the challenges of working with an evolving technology, feedback has so far been positive.

“We live solely on the mobile web,” he says. “This gives us an opportunity for our games to mimic the experience you’d have in an app, but not have the downside of an app.

The company is backed by $7 million in funding from Longworth Capital, and is described by CEO Lon Otremba as being “modestly profitable.” Between 10 and 15 million monthly active users visit the Cellufun site, which has 9.1 million registered players — all of whom now have a say in what the company will be called, thanks to the company’s Re-Name Game.

“It was the result of some deep thinking about what we wanted to accomplish as a company over the next 12 to 36 months,” Otremba explains when asked why the company decided to rename after four and a half years. “We all concluded the existing name was looking backwards. As we go forward and rebuild our titles in HTML5, we can do a lot more. If we’re doing a lot of new and innovative things, it’s a good chance to really take a much more comprehensive approach to how we do business, including marketing, brand identity and even our name.”

Last month, the company challenged its users to come up with a new name for the company, promising the submitter of the winning suggestion a $10,000 cash prize.  Cellufun whittled down more than 17,000 submissions to 16 names and opened up the voting to registered users. The final name will be unveiled on April 4, and the company will relaunch with a new website shortly after the contest closes. The names still in the running are: Wirebolt, Zoynks, Tylted, Bamterra, Ahsylum, Groovoo, Uforiya and Gahoots.

Spaceport says HTML5 performs better on iOS than Android

Cloud-based games platform Spaceport released a report today rating HTML5‘s performance on different mobile devices like iPad and Kindle Fire. Unsurprisingly, HTML5 images rendered better on iOS than Android.

The study created benchmarks for HTML5 performance using advances from the HTML5 Consortium’s RingMarks test suite, announced last week at Mobile World Congress. Through a series of tests using different animation techniques, Spaceport found that the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 scored the highest in HTML5 image rendering, supporting more than 200 and 300 moving objects, respectively. The Galaxy Nexus was the highest-scoring Android device, but it was the only one in the family that could maintain more than one moving object on screen at a time.  Android phones besides the Galaxy Nexus could “barely handle a single image” at 30 frames per second. Specific animation techniques, like css3dbackground and css2dimg, performed fairly well on the Galaxy Tab and Asus Eee Pad Transformer tablet.

For the sake of comparison, Spaceport throws in the little gem pictured above (click to see the rest of the infographic). The oldest device tested, the iPhone 3GS, clocked in at 53 moving objects at 30 frames per second.

Though most mobile and social game developers prefer creative native apps for each platform, many are still hoping HTML5 will grow into cross-platform shortcut it promises to be. Right now, the technology is limited in several ways — like low frame rates and a lack of tools — that discourage most developers from investing resources in it. Even early adopters like wooga, which built Magic Land as a launch title for Facebook’s HTML5-based mobile platform, have backed off on it somewhat. CEO Jens Begemann telling us at Inside Social Apps last month that HTML is still a good three years off from being a viable platform on which to release a game across Facebook and mobile.

“HTML5 is getting faster over time, as seen in the latest OS updates across Android and iOS,” Spaceport founder Ben Savage said in a press release. “There is still a long way to go.”

Facebook puts its weight behind industry-wide initiative to push HTML5 forward

Facebook announced a new industrywide consortium including manufacturers like Samsung and carriers like AT&T and Verizon meant to push HTML5 forward with a single set of standards. It also announced a test suite called Ringmark, that will help everyone from manufacturers to developers test to see whether their mobile web apps work uniformly across devices and platforms.

Called the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group, the new industrywide consortium includes players like:

Samsung, HTC, Sony Mobile Communications, Nokia, Huawei, ZTE, TCL Communication, AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, Orange, Telefónica, KDDI, SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp., Qualcomm Innovation Center, Inc., NVIDIA, ST-Ericsson, Intel Corporation, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft, Adobe, Netflix, VEVO, Zynga, @WalmartLabs, Electronic Arts, Sencha and Bocoup. You can read more about the group, and how to join, here.

Apple and Google are conspicuously absent.

Over the past year, Facebook has turned to HTML5 as a way to circumvent a mobile ecosystem that is increasingly dominated by Apple and rival Google. Because Facebook does not own the lower levels of the mobile stack with a proper mobile operating system like iOS or Android, the company’s options for deriving revenue from third-party mobile apps like payments or fees are more limited. If HTML5 improves, Facebook will have an easier time convincing developers to build for the web instead of focusing on native iOS or Android applications.

Facebook’s chief technology officer Bret Taylor said that the company had to address three pain points in fixing HTML5 for developers: 1) discovery 2) fragmentation and 3) payments.

“There’s no app store for the mobile web, so there’s no easy way to have users discover mobile web apps,” he said. “Secondly, technology fragmentation means developers don’t know which parts of HTML5 work on which devices. Thirdly, there’s no easy payments solution for the mobile web.”

Addressing the discovery problem, Facebook launched new viral channels for mobile apps late last fall. That lets activity from mobile apps appear in notifications and news feeds. If users click on links from apps in the news feed, that will take them either to the app store where they can install the app or to the relevant part of the app.

Facebook pointed to a couple case examples where the mobile platform has been able to drive serious traffic. Taylor said Facebook is the top referrer of traffic to Spotify, bringing the social network 7 million users in its first month. Those users are twice as likely to pay. He also said that 20 percent of Pinterest’s users come from Facebook.

The problem, however, with many of Facebook’s example mobile apps is that they’re ones that already have a strong competency on the desktop version of the platform. Or they are preferred partners that get special treatment from the company. Spotify, which shares a key investor with Facebook in Sean Parker, got a spot on-stage at Facebook’s last developer conference while many other music apps were mentioned in passing. So it’s unclear whether Facebook’s mobile platform performs for brand-new developers that do not already have a strong footprint on the desktop version of the social network.

The new industrywide group, created with the involvement of W3C or the World Wide Web Consortium, is meant to address the second problem with fragmentation. It’s meant to speed up improvements in mobile web browsers so that HTML5-based apps works uniformly across devices.

The new test suite, Ringmark, can be found at http://rng.io. It includes more than 400 tests to help developers see whether their web apps will work properly in different mobile web browsers. The tests run the gamut from ones that examine basic features for mobile web apps, to more sophisticated ones that will eventually allow developers to access features like a phone’s camera. Ringmark was built with the help of Bocoup, a Boston-based open web technology company.

Facebook’s mobile platform sends 60M visitors a month to apps and games

Facebook’s mobile platform may be starting to live up to its promise, with more than 60 million monthly users engaging with mobile applications via the social network. The company today officially released statistics it first revealed at our Inside Social Apps conference earlier this month.

The company’s new head of mobile developer relations James Pearce says that single sign-on and the open graph have boosted traffic for developers with more than 60 million users visiting Facebook-connected mobile apps each month. He adds that the average user engages with mobile apps five times per month.

But the thing is that many of the example apps Facebook points to aren’t necessarily top performers on the iOS or Android charts. The rule of thumb we suggest, is that if a lot of your web-based traffic arrives via viral or social channels, an HTML5 and Facebook-enabled approach might be the best way to come to mobile. But if you derive a lot of traffic through direct visits, a native app is superior and a Facebook integration may be less important.

The company highlighted several success stories like BranchOut, which was a launch partner for Facebook’s mobile platform on HTML5. It receives 350,000 visitors every day through Facebook mobile. Wooga’s native iOS version of Diamond Dash has also been popular with Facebook’s mobile users, receiving more than 1.9 million visitors a month from the platform. It’s currently ranked around #100 on iOS’ top free charts in the U.S.

Apps that have integrated Facebook’s Open Graph are typically seeing the most benefit according to Facebook. Foodspotting’s native app has seen the number of visits and shares increase threefold, and traffic to the Yahoo! News web app has increased by three and a half times since implementing the Open Graph. The app now receives 1.6 million visitors a day.

Interestingly, Facebook didn’t highlight the performance of any HTML5 games, which got off to a a slow start on the platform due to technical issues.  When Inside Mobile Apps looked at the performance of HTML5 apps on the platform a week after launch, uptake was slow, and so far HTML5-only titles like Moblyng’s Word Racer Live and Social Poker Live haven’t been big hits, with current monthly active user counts of just 30,000 and 75,600 according to AppData.

In October, Facebook brought many of the viral channels from its website to its mobile apps, incorporating bookmarks, requests, the News Feed, authenticated referrals and Facebook credits to its mobile apps, opening the way for greater discoverability on the platform.

This post originally appeared on our sister site, Inside Social Games.


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