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Panic's Playdate Is a Retro-Modern Handheld-Gaming Delight

By Michael Calore
Don't be fooled by the old-school design, with springy buttons and a black-and-white screen. It's the Game Boy for the wireless, open-source era.

3 Great Gaming Chairs for Any Budget (2020)

By Julian Chokkattu
With high backrests and generous adjustability, these thrones ease the physical strain of epic Doom Eternal sessions while also improving your WFH setup.

AOC aims to get out the vote by streaming Among Us with pokimane and HasanAbi

By Jordan Crook

We are about seven months into a pandemic and just two weeks from a presidential election. At this point, surprises are a dime a dozen. So it should feel very 2020 that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is about to stream Among Us, the hit game of 2020, on Twitch alongside mega-streamer pokimane and political analyst HasanAbi.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted yesterday that she was looking for people to play the popular game with in an effort to get out the vote, noting that she’s never played before but that it looks fun.

Anyone want to play Among Us with me on Twitch to get out the vote? (I’ve never played but it looks like a lot of fun)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 19, 2020

Streamer pokimane, who has 6 million followers on Twitch and whose YouTube videos regularly see more than 1 million views each, responded to the tweet with a figurative raised hand.

Let’s do it! I’ll set up and account and get some streaming equipment today

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 19, 2020

HasanAbi, a very popular political commentator on Twitch, who has more than 380,000 Twitter followers, also chimed in to the conversation saying that they’re already making a lobby. It wasn’t long before Rep. Ilhan Omar raised her hand, too.

👋🏽

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 19, 2020

A good game of Among Us (imagine that someone mixed a fairly basic multiplayer video game with a murder mystery party) usually requires 10 players, so the other six players are still TBD. But the Verge reports that a handful of other streamers (such as DrLupo, Felicia Day, Greg Miller, James Charles, and Neekolul) also lined up to play with AOC.

According to Ocasio-Cortez, the stream is all about getting out the vote. And this isn’t the first time that she’s used video games to connect with her followers. AOC opened up her DMs to all 6.8 million of her followers back in May to let them send her an invite to their island, and she visited them.

Millennial voters (and Gen Z) skew toward backing the Biden / Harris ticket, and AOC is coming to them by getting on Twitch and streaming one of the rocket ship games of this year.

The stream starts at 9pm ET/6pm PT and can be found here.

And you can check if you’re registered to vote here.

As Blizzard sunsets StarCraft II, some of its key creators raise cash for a new gaming studio

By Jonathan Shieber

Even as Blizzard pulls the plug on new updates for its StarCraft II game, nearly a decade after its launch, gaming investors are financing the next new thing coming from key members of the game’s early development team.

Blizzard vets Tim Morten, the former production director for StarCraft II; and Tim Campbell, the lead campaign designer for WarCraft III; have launched a new studio with a number of colleagues from Blizzard to bring real time strategy games to a bigger audience.

The new company, Frost Giant Studios, has picked up $4.7 million in seed funding from the gaming and synthetic media focused investment firm, Bitkraft Ventures, along with participation from 1 Up Ventures, GC Tracker, Riot Games, and Griffin Gaming Partners, the company said.

“Frost Giant Studios is on a mission to bring one of the most beloved genres to a broader audience,” said Scott Rupp, Founding General Partner at Bitkraft Ventures. “We are excited to see some of the most experienced leaders in real-time strategy game development come together to build a game that will secure the future growth of the RTS genre while staying true to the core player fantasy of RTS.”

Building on their experience developing StarCraft II over the past ten years, the Frost Giant Studios strategy is focused on making gameplay better, easier, and more collaborative.

Think of it as taking some of the best elements of the battle royal genre and bringing them into real-time strategy games with an eye toward playability and competitive opportunities in esports.

“Real-time strategy players are an incredibly passionate community, and they deserve not just a great new game, but one they can share broadly with friends. Building a worthy successor will take time, but we’re incredibly excited and grateful to carry real-time strategy forward at Frost Giant Studios,” said Tim Morten, Frost Giant Studios CEO.

Analogue takes on the TurboGrafx-16 with its Duo retro console

By Devin Coldewey

Analogue’s beautiful, functional retro gaming consoles provide a sort of “archival quality” alternative to the cheap mini-consoles proliferating these days. The latest system to be resurrected by the company is the ill-fated, but still well-thought-of TurboGrafx-16 or PC Engine.

The Duo, as Analogue’s device is called, is named after a later version of the TurboGrafx-16 that included its expensive CD-ROM add-on — and indeed the new Duo supports both game cards and CDs, provided they have survived all this time without getting scratched.

Like the rest of Analogue’s consoles, and unlike the popular SNES and NES Classic Editions from Nintendo (and indeed the new TurboGrafx-16 Mini), the Duo does not use emulation in any way. Instead, it’s a painstaking recreation of the original hardware, with tweaks to introduce modern conveniences like high-definition video, wireless controllers, and improvements to reliability and so on.

Image Credits: Analogue

As a bonus, it’s all done in FPGA, which implies that this hardware is truly one of a kind in service of remaking the console accurately. Games should play exactly as they would have on the original hardware down to the annoying glitches and slowdowns of that era of consoles.

And what games! Well, actually, few of them ever reached the status of their competitors on Nintendo and Sega consoles here in the U.S., where the TurboGrafx-16 sold poorly. But titles like Bonk’s Adventure, Bomberman ’93, Ninja Spirit, Splatterhouse, and Devil’s Crush should be played more widely. Shmup fans like myself were spoiled with originals and arcade ports like R-Type and Blazing Lazers. The Ys series ( also got its start on the PC Engine (if you could afford the CD attachment).

I wouldn’t mind having an HDMI port on the back of my SNES. Oh, Analogue makes one…

Analogue’s consoles are made for collectors who would prefer not to have to baby their original hardware, or want to upscale the signal and play wirelessly without too much fuss. I still have my original SNES, but 240p just doesn’t look as crisp as it did on a 15-inch CRT in the ’90s.

At $199, it’s more expensive than finding one at a garage sale, but good luck with that. The original and its CD add-on cost a fortune, so if you think about it from that perspective, this is a real bargain. Analogue says limited quantities are available, and will be shipping in 2021.

Free-to-play gaming giant Roblox confidentially files to go public

By Lucas Matney

The gaming company Roblox announced today that it had confidentially filed paperwork with the SEC to make its public debut.

In February, the company, which operates a free-to-play gaming empire with tens of million of users, was valued at $4 billion after a Series G funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz . The company has raised more than $335 million in venture capital funding, according to Crunchbase.

The company has not detailed the number of shares it plans to offer and furthermore notes in standard legalese that their timely debut is “subject to market and other conditions.” After a slow 2019 for tech IPOs the rebound of public markets in mid-pandemic 2020 has provided an awfully wide window for tech startups reaching for their debuts.

In the games space, we recently saw the debut of Unity Technologies, which makes a popular game engine that developers use to build and monetize gaming titles.

Roblox offers an interesting sell to both consumers and developers, shipping a free-to-play vision of the future which pushes developers away from graphics-intense game design towards building content that can be played on a wide variety of devices. The games company has been more successful than most in translating a first-party experience’s success into a robust developer network. Roblox’s platform has been particularly successful with young audiences.

How Roblox completely transformed its tech stack

By Ron Miller

Picture yourself in the role of CIO at Roblox in 2017.

At that point, the gaming platform and publishing system that launched in 2005 was growing fast, but its underlying technology was aging, consisting of a single data center in Chicago and a bunch of third-party partners, including AWS, all running bare metal (nonvirtualized) servers. At a time when users have precious little patience for outages, your uptime was just two nines, or less than 99% (five nines is considered optimal).

Unbelievably, Roblox was popular in spite of this, but the company’s leadership knew it couldn’t continue with performance like that, especially as it was rapidly gaining in popularity. The company needed to call in the technology cavalry, which is essentially what it did when it hired Dan Williams in 2017.

Williams has a history of solving these kinds of intractable infrastructure issues, with a background that includes a gig at Facebook between 2007 and 2011, where he worked on the technology to help the young social network scale to millions of users. Later, he worked at Dropbox, where he helped build a new internal network, leading the company’s move away from AWS, a major undertaking involving moving more than 500 petabytes of data.

When Roblox approached him in mid-2017, he jumped at the chance to take on another major infrastructure challenge. While they are still in the midst of the transition to a new modern tech stack today, we sat down with Williams to learn how he put the company on the road to a cloud-native, microservices-focused system with its own network of worldwide edge data centers.

Scoping the problem

Odell Beckham Jr. turned to Mojichat’s advertising features during his inaugural live-stream

By Jonathan Shieber

Mojiit, the Los Angeles-based company behind the popular avatar generation service Mojichat, has landed one of its highest-profile users with the launch of Odell Beckham Jr.’s live stream over the weekend.

As Odell Beckham Jr. did his first live stream with the gaming superstar Dr. Disrespect, he turned to Mojichat to create the pop-up onscreen emote that danced above a logo from Scuf Gaming, a retailer of customized controllers.

Customized, branded emotes are one of the ways that companies are trying to make it easier for live-streamers to make money off of their shows. Companies like Mochjichat argue that it’s a more elegant solution for gamers to use, because it doesn’t take viewers away from the live stream, where they could potentially miss some of the action.

Typically, streamers rely on advertising revenue from pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll advertising, according to Mojichat co-founder Jeremy Greene. Alongside his wife, Janelle, Greene built Mojichat into one of the premier names in avatar development. As competitors crowded in, the company has been diversifying its products to allow for influencers to begin using their digital avatars as a monetization source.

“No streamer… wants to run a pre-roll,” said Greene. “The first thing about Mojichat that made us very successful from the very beginning, you have to hunt down someone to make your custom emotes for you.”

Earlier this year, the company partnered with DoorDash on a similar activation for a concert to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club as part of a broad celebrity effort to raise money to alleviate food insecurity for families affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Any time someone sends a communication, that will trigger an alert that floats as a Mojichat animation on top of the screen,” Greene said of the earlier activation. 

The way that Greene describes the service — and Janelle and his larger vision for the company — is to be the next generation of adserver for the live-streaming market.

“My plan is to become the avatar solution for all of Unity,” Greene told me earlier. “We will offer up our platform to every single gaming platform or mobile developer to plug and play… I would consider us… we’re like the Google Admob for live stream.”

Companies like Streamlabs are integrating Mojichat’s features into their streaming offerings. and the work with Dr. Disrespect and Odell Beckham Jr. show just how much demand there is for these types of offerings.

“The avatar space is going to be won in the gaming community,” Greene said.

Mojichat already has 12,000 streamers using the technology right now, and through a partnership inked earlier this year the company expects to push more ads through the service.

“Nobody wants to sit on a stream for 15 hours a day,” said Greene.

“It’s really wrong that streamers can’t make as much money as YouTubers… a streamer can spend all day on Twitch and they are forced to run these pre-rolls… [meanwhile] Jake Paul can upload a video to YouTube and make $300,000… That’s really why I built Mojichat… I wanted to make gamers’ lives easier… We are going to build custom software for gamers that makes their lives easier.”

Former Apple engineer and autocorrect creator builds his first app, a word game called Up Spell

By Sarah Perez

Former Apple software engineer and designer Ken Kocienda, whose work included the original iPhone and the development of touchscreen autocorrect, has created his first iOS app, Up Spell. The fast-paced, fun word game challenges users to spell all the words you can in two minutes and uses a lexicon of words Kocienda built to allow for the inclusion of proper names. A portion of app revenues are also being donated to a local food bank, so you can help give back while relieving stress through gaming.

Kocienda says he had never before made a standalone iOS app.

When he worked at Apple, all the code he wrote was integrated into a bigger iOS release. So when Kocienda got the idea to develop a game, he looked to obvious sources of inspiration: his past experiences with typing, keyboards and autocorrect.

The game’s lexicon was built first with the New General Service List to serve as its foundation. This was followed by weeks of writing small programs to generate lists of candidate words — like, by adding an “S” to existing words to pluralize them, for example. And hours more were spent scanning lists to choose the words to include.

Kocienda says he also wanted the game to be fun, and personally found it frustrating that other word games wouldn’t allow proper names.

“Many games accept words like PHARAOH and PYRAMID, but not NILE or EGYPT. This doesn’t make sense to me. These are all words!,” he says.

So he built his own list that includes thousands of proper names, then added to it more slang and contractions to expand it even further. That means you can spell a word like S’MORES, which involves an apostrophe, for example.

Image Credits: Up Spell

While support for a variety of words, including proper names, is the key way the gameplay differentiates from rivals, the app’s business model is also one that’s becoming less common these days: it’s a one-time paid download.

The app is a $1.99 download that lets you pay once to play forever. Today, many games in this same space use a freemium model where the app download itself is free, but you’re then nagged with in-app hooks to buy coins or tokens to advance gameplay or unlock certain features.

Kocienda’s decision to forgo this model was intentional, he explains.

“I made Up Spell a two-minute game without much in the way of gameplay gimmicks,” says Kocienda. “You just spell words. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, and sometimes taking out two minutes to think about nothing but spelling a few words is just the kind of right kind of stress reliever,” he adds. “I hope Up Spell brings people a little unexpected happiness to their 2020.”

Also of note, 25 cents per download is being donated to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which works to get food to vulnerable people in Kocienda’s area.

If all goes well, Up Spell may be followed by other games with a similar model, like a sounds or color-matching games, for instance.

The new game is a one-time paid download on the App Store.

 

7 Best Desktop PCs for Gaming (2020): Compact, Custom, Cheap

By Jess Grey
These PCs are fully armed and operational. They're also WIRED Recommended.

In 'Hades,' the Underworld Is Your Playground

By Louryn Strampe
It’s easy to spend hours dashing and slashing your way through this roguelike dungeon crawler.

Daily Crunch: Amazon unveils its own game-streaming platform

By Anthony Ha

Amazon announces a new game service and plenty of hardware upgrades, tech companies team up against app stores and United Airlines tests a program for rapid COVID-19 testing. This is your Daily Crunch for September 24, 2020.

The big story: Amazon unveils its own game-streaming platform

Amazon’s competitor to Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud is called Luna, and it’s available starting today at an early access price of $5.99 per month. Subscribers will be able to play games across PC, Mac and iOS, with more than 50 games in the library.

The company made the announcement at a virtual press event, where it also revealed a redesigned Echo line (with spherical speakers and swiveling screens), the latest Ring security camera and a new, lower-cost Fire TV Stick Lite.

You can also check out our full roundup of Amazon’s announcements.

The tech giants

App makers band together to fight for App Store changes with new ‘Coalition for App Fairness’ — Thirteen app publishers, including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify and others, launched a coalition formalizing their efforts to force app store providers to change their policies or face regulation.

LinkedIn launches Stories, plus Zoom, BlueJeans and Teams video integrations as part of wider redesignLinkedIn has built its business around recruitment, so this redesign pushes engagement in other ways as it waits for the job economy to pick up.

Facebook gives more details about its efforts against hate speech before Myanmar’s general election — This includes adding Burmese language warning screens to flag information rated false by third-party fact-checkers.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Why isn’t Robinhood a verb yet? — The latest episode of Equity discusses a giant funding round for Robinhood.

Twitter-backed Indian social network ShareChat raises $40 million — Following TikTok’s ban in India, scores of startups have launched short-video apps, but ShareChat has clearly established dominance.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek pledges $1Bn of his wealth to back deeptech startups from Europe — Ek pointed to machine learning, biotechnology, materials sciences and energy as the sectors he’d like to invest in.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

3 founders on why they pursued alternative startup ownership structures — At Disrupt, we heard about alternative approaches to ensuring that VCs and early founders aren’t the only ones who benefit from startup success.

Coinbase UX teardown: 5 fails and how to fix them — Many of these lessons, including the need to avoid the “Get Started” trap, can be applied to other digital products.

As tech stocks dip, is insurtech startup Root targeting an IPO? — Alex Wilhelm writes that Root’s debut could clarify Lemonade’s IPO and valuation.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

United Airlines is making COVID-19 tests available to passengers, powered in part by Color — United is embarking on a new pilot project to see if easy access to COVID-19 testing immediately prior to a flight can help ease freedom of mobility.

Announcing the final agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 — TechCrunch reporters and editors will interview some of the top leaders in transportation.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Amazon announces Luna game-streaming platform

By Lucas Matney

At its Devices and Services event, Amazon launched its own cloud gaming competitor to Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud . It’s called Luna.

The company is launching the product in early access at an introductory price of $5.99 per month. Users will be able to stream titles wirelessly without downloading the games and can play across PC, Mac and iOS (via the web). Users in the United States can request early access starting today.

Amazon says they will be launching with more than 50 games in the Luna+ app, including at least one Sonic title and Remedy Entertainment’s Control. The company has also partnered with Ubisoft but it seems users will have to subscribe separately to get access to those titles. The whole service is powered by AWS. Amazon says that users will be able to play titles at up to 4K 60fps performance.

One of the big selling points for the platform will be its Twitch integration, which will theoretically allow gamers to dive right into the titles they just saw their favorite streamers playing. This will depend heavily on coaxing streamers to play the limited subsection of titles that are present on Luna, however. Google made much the same pitch with Stadia and YouTube Gaming, but that dream hasn’t been fully realized yet.

Much like Google Stadia, Amazon will also be selling a custom controller that connects directly to the service to reduce latency. The Alexa-enabled Luna Controller will go for $49.99 during the early access period.

With this entrance, now Google, Microsoft and Amazon are each competing to define a new gaming platform. It’s apparent that Microsoft has a huge advantage given its existing relationships with developers and its own network of Microsoft-owned studios, but we’ll see what Amazon can cook up during the platform’s early access period.

How to Preorder the Xbox Series X and Series S: Pricing, Release Date, and More

By Jess Grey
Preorders for Microsoft's next-gen consoles go live today. We've compiled the best places you can snag one—and if you should.

Supercell’s CEO talks about its majority owner Tencent, finding its next hit, and more

By Ingrid Lunden

Mobile games maker Supercell has been one of the great, understated, breakthroughs of the European startup world. The Helsinki-based mobile games maker built an empire out of Clash of Clans, raking in tons of money and catching the eye of world class investors and eventually a new strategic majority shareholder in the form of Tencent at a $10.2 billion valuation.

That was in 2016. So how does a hot startup keep its edge?

As part of this year’s virtual Disrupt,we sat down to talk with the company’s founder and CEO, Ilkka Paananen, about that and the other challenges and opportunities facing the company, and asked for his tips and opinion on spinning up and running startups in Europe today.

Times are definitely not easy right now: all of us are living through a global health pandemic, and economies as a result of that are teetering; and there is an interesting sea change happening as gaming companies (along with other content makers) face off against big tech, where question of whether platforms or the games themselves have the upper hand. (The most visible and recent example of that: the counter-lawsuits between Epic and Apple over in-app payments.)

For Supercell specifically, its majority owner, Tencent, is in hot water in the US (a major market for Supercell); and it’s sitting on a still-popular but now-ageing game franchise that you could argue is in the middle of its own Battle Royale against the many other big games that are vying for people’s attention (and spending power to keep playing and levelling up). In short, the company itself, now 10 years old, may itself be facing more existential questions of, who are we now, and what comes next?

As you’ll see in the video below, Paananen is very sanguine and calm, which is to say quite Finnish, about a lot of this.

Even without the experience thus far of Supercell under his belt, he has been in the industry for years. Supercell is his second big hit company: before that he founded Sumea, which was acquired by Digital Chocolate, where he became president in the now-defunct bigger studio’s heyday. And, he has been and is an investor, too: most recently Paananen backed Zwift, the gamefied home fitness startup, in its most recent, $450 million round, which included him joining the company’s board. All of this is to say that he can see the bigger picture.

The Tencent issues in the US, he said, are something that the company is watching. But not only are they unresolved — indeed just this week, ahead of any proposed bans on Tencent properties and WeChat in particular, the US government issued more clarification on how people are liable for using WeChat. In any case, Paananen said in the interview that he believes that Supercell doesn’t fall under the US executive order to be shut down, since Tencent is only a shareholder, not a full owner. He’s still waiting to see how it all plays out.

“Our current understanding [is that] it’s about WeChat not Tencent as a whole,” he said, “and that it doesn’t apply to Tencent-invested companies like Supercell.” (Also: one of the good things to have come out of not getting fully acquired, it seems.)

Similarly, Paananen is not overly concerned about the fact that its big hit, while still one of the highest grossing apps globally, is getting on and slowly bringing in less revenues.

Judging by the fact that Supercell has yet to follow up with another successful franchise, and has killed quite a few attempts in the meantime, the process to produce a hit, in fact, still seems to be as elusive to a company that has produced a hit already as it is to those that have not.

“It would be nice to be always on this kind of a growth curve, but the reality is… it’s very much about hits or misses,” he said.

“Sometimes figures go up, and sometimes they go down [so] what’s your time horizon? We never ever think about the next quarter, and very, very rarely think about it and maybe next year, I think that’s a target in itself, you know. We try to think in decades. Our dream is to build a game so as many people as possible will play for a very long time. We are inspired by companies like, say, Nintendo. And if you’re going to take that… then that changes your perspective.”

The company has been building out its options, though, making about three investments a year in other gaming startups, and some full acquisitions of studios, to diversify the team and bring in more options for new games in the future. Later in the Q&A with viewers, Paananen said Supercell has no plans yet for anything in AR or VR, with a firm belief that mobile, and the mechanics of a touch screen, are the best for what it’s building.

It seems that most valuable lesson Paananen has learned, it turns out, is the thing that continues to be his top priority: building the right team for the long haul.

Making sure you have a group that can work together, inspire each other and be productive has been the constant, one that perhaps means even more as the company grows bigger and we continue to work under very decentralised circumstances.

“We are currently on the look-out for people from all around the world to join Supercell to build the be the best teams and then of course the best games,” he said.

Hear about all this, plus Paananen’s opinion on raising money and more, below.

PlayVS is halfway to recruiting every state into its global esports community

By Devin Coldewey

Millions of high school kids play online multiplayer games, but they seldom have crosstown rivals in Fortnite or Valorant. PlayVS wants to make that happen with its platform for school-sponsored esports, and it’s growing like crazy, doubling its staff in the last year and putting thousands of schools on its platform.

PlayVS connects online games with official school administration and branding, elevating esports from hobby to school-sponsored activity.

“I think we’re building the biggest company in gaming,” founder and CEO Delane Parnell said in an interview at Disrupt  2020 this week. With around 20,000 high schools signed up currently and nearly a hundred million dollars in the bank to grow with, it’s not a totally unrealistic statement.

The company collects $64 per player per semi-yearly season, which starts to add up real quick when you have Counter-Strike teams of a dozen people with alternates, or competing League teams at the same school — multiplied by 20,000, of course. A bit of napkin math suggests income from existing customers is easily in the tens of millions.

Parnell offered the following metaphor to explain what the company aspired to.

“Imagine if there was one basketball court, and every kid who ever wanted to play basketball, whether it’s on behalf of their school, or pick up, or some sort of tournament, that’s the court that they had to play on,” he said. “That’s what we’re building.”

Sure, it sounds a little bit like a monopoly on hoops, but the problem right now is that there really isn’t a shared court at all. Esports is wildly disorganized at that level, if it’s organized at all (and let’s be honest, even at the pro level it’s a bit of a jumble). PlayVS wants to provide the connective tissue so that there’s one place that both players and administrators go to when it comes to inter-school competitive gaming.

Parnell explained that the last year has been about learning the ropes and establishing a presence in the also quite confusing world of state school systems.

“We certainly built the base of the business on the partnership with the NFHS — essentially the NCAA of high schools, they govern and write the rules for our high school sports,” he said. But then individual relationships need to be established with districts, financial programs, state leaders, and of course the game publishers themselves, which are understandably eager to connect with the younger generation of gamers.

So far schools in 23 states have signed up, and Parnell said they’re on track to get every state in the union on board by 2022.

“Those are partnerships that take a little time to form. It also takes additional time to build the technology that actually enables online esports, which most people think exists today, but it actually doesn’t,” he said. “So we’ve started to invest very deeply into hiring a team to build our product. We have a ton of capital in the bank and we intend to use that very wisely.”

The product build-out is more than buying servers — it’s attempting to create parity with the tools available in the context of sports like football and basketball.

“There’s products and services that we can bake in, things like recruiting, scouting, proven technology, highlights… these are things that would normally exist from independent companies within traditional sports,” he said. “One company does one thing, a thousand companies do ancillary things that make the sports experience better for every stakeholder, a parent, a coach, a player, etc. We’re going to be able to do all of those things within the PlayVS ecosystem, because we’re the league operator and the sole holder of that data. We will effectively have complete control of what that experience looks like and all of the revenue models associated with that.”

For comparison he suggested fantasy sports, now a huge industry but not one dominated by a single entity. “If there was one group, like CBS for example, that could have aggregated all that behavior, that’d be a $40-50 billion a year company. But they couldn’t get in with, you know, the NFL, the NBA, to give them exclusive rights to be the only fantasy provider on the market,” Parnell explained. “Game publishers are willing to do that with us, they’re willing to integrate with our product because they know we can execute. So I think that’s a big opportunity. And one could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.”

PlayVS won’t be expanding into pro leagues, he confirmed, saying that the high school and college level work is as much as they can handle right now. But they’re overwhelmed in the best way.

“It’s almost as if the NBA existed for four years, and then they went back and said hey, we need to build high school basketball, college basketball, etc,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot of catching up to do.”

Sony’s PlayStation 5 arrives November 12, priced at $500

By Brian Heater

If in-person events were still a thing in 2020, there’s a pretty good chance we’d know a lot more about the PlayStation 5 by now. With tech companies setting their own event schedules, however, Sony and Microsoft have offered themselves a more leisurely schedule with which to portion out news. Microsoft struck first, with aggressive pricing, two different launch models and a financing plan.

Now it’s Sony’s time to shine. Today’s big event answered some of the lingering questions about the next generation console. The company waited until the bitter end for the most important details. The PS5 will arrive in select markets on November 12 for $500, while the Digital Edition (sans-optical drive) runs $400.

Developing…

As ever, the event leaned very heavily toward trailers and gameplay demos, showcasing the titles the PS5 will have on offer. Thing kicked off with some major franchise blockbusters including Final Fantasy XVI and the best look yet at Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which featured an extremely compelling bridge battle.

The Spider-Man expansion is due this holiday, to coincide with the console’s launch. Ditto for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which got a brand new trailer, including some RC car action.

The long-rumored Harry Potter RPG finally got a name and official trailer. Hogwarts Legacy looks like an an epic time in the Wizarding World. That’s due out at some point in 2021.

What’s this? A non-franchise game? Yes, it’s Bethesda’s Deathloop. The tine looping adventure game is due out in mid-2021. The sufficiently creepy trailer for zombie favorite Resident Evil: Village answered more questions than it answered. The title is also slated for next year.

Other titles include Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition (due at launch), Oddworld: Soulstorm and the Demon Souls remaster. Also a little time for Fornite, which is set to be available for the console at launch.

The Oculus Quest is getting its own Fortnite ripoff

By Jonathan Shieber

Fortnite may not be available in VR (or on iOS), but Oculus Quest users will soon be getting their own Fortnite clone for virtual reality.

Nearly two years after its funding and initial launch announcement, BigBox VR is finally ready to roll out its battle royale game, “POPULATION: ONE” to players on the Quest (and the sunsetting Rift hardware).

Co-founders Chia Chin Lee and Gabe Brown started their game development for virtual reality with a shooter called Smashbox Arena, but “POPULATION: ONE” is the big gambit for the game studio.

The COVID-19 pandemic has managed to boost the sales of the Quest, turning it into more of a genuine consumer device instead of just something for the technorati and digital power users. If this new audience for virtual reality can take to the battle royale game in the same way that they’ve taken to Epic Games’ Fortnite title, it could go a long way toward giving Facebook’s platform a wedge to gain market share in what’s become the newest social network.

A lot has been written about how Fortnite has become the social forum for Gen Z and the cohort that’s coming up after them. As these users gravitate to TikTok and Fortnite, Facebook is becoming an afterthought for a new consumer demographic that the social network needs.

And as we wrote earlier, BigBox VR’s title shares more than a passing similarity to Fortnite.

To say the game shares some similarities with Fortnite is an understatement. Not only is it a battle royale title with a shrinking environment, but certain mechanics like gliding in at the beginning to scrounge for weapons and even Fortnite’s building feature are central to the gameplay. That being said, battle royale titles have exploded in the wake of PUBG and they seem to all share a lot among each other. For BigBox, VR is the distinguishing feature, with motion controls and the general feeling that everything is life-sized and in your control.

If the game can replicate Fortnite’s popularity in virtual reality, that could be a coup for Facebook and BigBox VR in a space where the social networking giant has traditionally been pwned.

Ubisoft teases Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell VR titles for Oculus

By Brian Heater

One of the biggest complaints around VR is the same issue that’s plagued generations of gaming platforms: content. A console is only as good as its games, as the saying goes. Today at Facebook Connect, however, Oculus just added two of gaming’s biggest franchises to its slate of upcoming titles.

Ubisoft marked the event by announcing that it will be bringing Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell games to VR. The key details are still extremely thin at the moment, but the gaming giant calls them both “new, made-for-VR,” implying that they’ll be more than just ports of existing games.

Production for both is being spearheaded by Ubisoft’s Red Storm subsidiary. The developer has been working on Tom Clancy titles since the late-90s. It’s also behind a handful of VR titles, including 2017’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew.

More details — including timing — will be available closer to launch. Whenever that is.

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