FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Today — February 25th 2020Your RSS feeds

Games already are social networks

By Eric Peckham

Video games are only getting more popular.

Roughly 2.5 billion people around the world played games last year, double the number of players in 2013. Gaming is a $149 billion industry, growing 7% year over year, with the U.S. as its largest market. In America, the average gamer is 33 years old and 46% of gamers are female, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Per Quartz reporter Dan Kopf’s summary of U.S. Department of Labor data:

More people now report playing games on a typical day — 11.4% in 2017 compared to 7.8% in 2003 — and, on days they do play games, they spend more time doing so — about 145 minutes in 2017, compared to 125 in 2003.

Young people are the biggest driver of the trend. From 2003 to 2015, 15-24 year olds spent less than 25 minutes playing games on the average day. From 2015 to 2017, those in that age group dedicated almost 40 minutes a day to games.

Mobile games account for a large part of this dramatic growth, but all major game categories are growing. The console gaming market — the oldest segment and most expensive due to hardware cost — expanded more than 7% last year alone.

A multiverse, not the metaverse

By Eric Peckham

Following web forums, web platforms and mobile apps, we are entering a new stage of social media — the multiverse era — where the virtual worlds of games expand to become mainstream hubs for social interaction and entertainment. In a seven-part Extra Crunch series, we will explore why that is the case and which challenges and opportunities are making it happen.

In 10 years, we will have undergone a paradigm shift in social media and human-computer interaction, moving away from 2D apps centered on posting content toward shared feeds and an era where mixed reality (viewed with lightweight headsets) mixes virtual and physical worlds. But we’re not technologically or culturally ready for that future yet. The “metaverse” of science fiction is not arriving imminently.

Instead, the virtual worlds of multiplayer games — still accessed from phones, tablets, PCs and consoles — are our stepping stones during this next phase.

Understanding this gradual transition helps us reconcile the futuristic visions of many in tech with the reality of how most humans will participate in virtual worlds and how social media impacts society. This transition centers on the merging of gaming and social media and leads to a new model of virtual worlds that are directly connected with our physical world, instead of isolated from it.

Multiverse virtual worlds will come to function almost like new countries in our society, countries that exist in cyberspace rather than physical locations but have complex economic and political systems that interact with the physical world.

Throughout these posts, I make a distinction between the “physical,” “virtual,” and “real” worlds. Our physical world defines tangible existence like in-person interactions and geographic location. The virtual world is that of digital technology and cyberspace: websites, social media, games. The real world is defined by the norms of what we accept as normal and meaningful in society. Laws and finance aren’t physical, but they are universally accepted as concrete aspects of life. I’ll argue here that social media apps are virtual worlds we have accepted as real — unified with normal life rather than separate from it — and that multiverse virtual worlds will make the same crossover.

In fact, because they incentivize small group interactions and accomplishment of collaborative tasks rather than promotion of viral posts, multiverse virtual worlds will bring a healthier era for social media’s societal impact.

The popularity of massive multiplayer online (MMO) gaming is exploding at the same time that the technology to access persistent virtual worlds with high-quality graphics from nearly any device is hitting the market. The rise of Epic Games’ Fortnite since 2017 accelerated interest in MMO games from both consumers who don’t consider themselves gamers and from journalists and investors who hadn’t paid much attention to gaming before.

In the decade ahead, people will come to socialize as much in virtual worlds that evolved from games as they will on platforms like Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Building things with friends within virtual worlds will become common, and major events within the most popular virtual worlds will become pop culture news stories.

Right now, three-quarters of U.S.-based Facebook users interact with the site on a daily basis; Instagram (63%), Snapchat (61%), YouTube (51%) and Twitter (41%) have similarly penetrated the daily lives of Americans. By comparison, the percentage of people who play a game on any given day increased from just 8% in 2003 to 11% in 2016. Within the next few years, that number will multiply as the virtual worlds within games become more fulfilling social, entertainment and commercial platforms.

As I mentioned in my 2020 media predictions article, Facebook is readying itself for this future and VCs are funding numerous startups that are building toward it, like Klang Games, Darewise Entertainment and Singularity 6. Epic Games joins Roblox and Mojang (the company behind Minecraft) as among the best-positioned large gaming companies to seize this opportunity. Startups are already popping up to provide the middleware for virtual economies as they become larger and more complex, and a more intense wave of such startups will arrive over the next few years to provide that infrastructure as a service.

Over the next few years, there will be a trend: new open-world MMO games that emphasize social functionality that engages users, even if they don’t care much about the mission of the game itself. These new products will target casual gamers wanting to enter the world for merely a few minutes at a time since hardcore gamers are already well-served by game publishers.

Some of these more casual, socializing-oriented MMOs will gain widespread popularity, the economy within and around them will soar and the original gaming scenario that provided a focus on what to do will diminish as content created by users becomes the main attraction.

Let’s explore the forces that underpin this transition. Here are the seven articles in this series:

  1. Games already are social networks
  2. Social apps already are lightweight virtual worlds
  3. What virtual worlds in this transition era look like
  4. Why didn’t this already happen?
  5. How virtual worlds could save society
  6. The rise of virtual economies and their merging with our “real” economy
  7. Competitive landscape of the multiverse

Best of Toy Fair (2020): Baby Yoda, ASMR for Kids, and More

By Matt Jancer
We played with tons of gizmos at the annual trade show (for, uh, work reasons of course).

In Fortnite’s new spy-themed season, more is more

By Taylor Hatmaker

The new season of Fortnite’s second chapter finally landed last week, shaking up a reimagined map that burst dramatically out of a black hole in the game last year. Over the weekend, we scoped out what’s changed in a game now sprinkled with secret agents, laser beams and all manner of things dipped in gold. Happily, we can report that Epic returns the game to its true colors in season 2, with some innovative ideas that deepen the game for casual players.

The black hole event and subsequent total map makeover were exciting at the time, but as the months ticked by, Epic’s decision to pare down the game’s excesses left the game feeling bare. In season 2, Epic piles a lot of new ideas onto the game’s foundation, and the game feels weirder and more chaotic with a map that’s much more alive as a result. And bananas in suits. Did we mention bananas in suits?

The Island has been taken over by covert operatives – members of Ghost and Shadow. Will you join the fight? pic.twitter.com/dmUiUyxWM2

— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) February 20, 2020

In season 2, Fortnite takes its most committed stab yet at a coherent theme, with spies, secret societies, dapper bananas, bulky henchmen and… a really swole cat for some reason. It’s a fun vibe and well-executed so far. That theme plays out everywhere, from a revamped battle pass menu designed as a spy headquarters to some very dynamic new high-risk/high-reward map hotspots chock full of special new weapons, locked vaults and laser beams.

Even better, the new locations are stocked with NPC versions of the boss-like characters the season introduces us to right off the bat, making for a fun and reasonably challenging way to mix up gameplay when you need a break from the sometimes lonely intensity of battle royale play.

Suit up, it’s time to drop in, secure intel and take back the Island. The Agency is calling, whose side are you on? pic.twitter.com/kHw6LcDSnT

— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) February 20, 2020

The new season keeps the old map mostly intact while adding five main new locations, all heavily guarded, loot-rich fortresses. That means a new point of interest near each corner of the map, and one right on the central island (a spot inevitably destined for something more interesting than a suburban home). The rest of the map doesn’t have many visual changes, but a handful of smaller, old locations scattered around the map have been co-opted by spy organizations and staffed with henchmen, which makes for a chaotic surprise when you come across them in the heat of gameplay. Even Pleasant Park has its own underground spy hub now.

Down the line, the new season will also introduce two competing factions for players to join, Ghost and Shadow. Depending on which faction you choose, players can unlock some pretty cool variants on battle pass skins, including Meowscles, a shirtless, muscle-bound catman with a pec-flexing animation that might be the best thing to ever happen to Fortnite. Well, except for the new teleporting port-a-potties. You’ll find those soon enough.

⚠ Attention Operatives: Your choices will impact each Chapter 2 – Season 2 Battle Pass Agent’s future… permanently.

No matter what side you turn them to – GHOST or SHADOW, their allegiance cannot be reversed. Choose wisely! pic.twitter.com/k88IXZAEjl

— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) February 20, 2020

As far as changes that will affect gameplay, there are many, many unvaulted weapons mixing things up relative to last season’s stripped-down arsenal. Traps are gone, chests no longer shower you with fishing rods (thankfully) and heavy assault rifles and all manner of silenced guns have made a comeback. And if you really want to be treated to the best weapons in the game, you can raid one of the five new spy headquarters to take down bosses, including an explosive-happy rocker named TNTina, a sharply dressed guy calling himself Midas and Meowscles (oh Meowscles!), who hangs out on his own gigantic, laser-guarded yacht.

As you work through the battle pass, you’ll also unlock these boss characters as skins. It’s a fun way to drape some light narrative over a game loved mostly for its incoherent total cartoon chaos rather than a character-centric light and fluffy multiplayer shooter like Overwatch. And because Epic is tasked with the impossible — maintaining momentum on a game with such historic success it basically became a mainstream social network at its peak — carving out a deeper game under Fortnite’s candy-colored shell can’t hurt.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Twitch to top 40 million US viewers next year, forecast says

By Sarah Perez

Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming service for gamers, is poised to surpass 40 million monthly active viewers in the U.S. as of next year, according to a new forecast from eMarketer out on Thursday. By 2023, it will reach 47 million viewers. Currently, the analyst firm estimates Twitch has 37.5 million viewers in the U.S. who tune in to watch at least once per month.

Officially, Twitch reports it has more than 3 million active monthly creators and over 15 million average daily streamers, per its own website. But it focuses on metrics like minutes watched and concurrent viewers to paint a picture of its size and growth.

While Twitch continues to gain new viewers in the U.S., the new forecast indicates Twitch’s growth is slowing due to increased competition from YouTube, Microsoft’s Mixer and Facebook Gaming. This backs up findings from a separate report released last month, which found that Twitch’s loss of top streaming talent began to impact hours watched and streamed on its site in Q4 2019.

While none of the defections knocked out Twitch from its No. 1 position, it is starting to slow down its growth across a number of key metrics.

Last year, for example, Twitch lost top streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek to Mixer, plus Jack “CouRage” Dunlop to YouTube, and Jeremy “Disguised Toast” Wang and Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios to Facebook Gaming. Corinna Kopf, a member of David Dobrik’s “Vlog Squad,” also left Twitch for Facebook at the very end of December.

The defections continued in Q1 2020, with Ronda Rousey moving exclusively to Facebook Gaming earlier this month.

Despite these losses, eMarketer says Twitch will still see double-digit growth in the U.S. this year, up 14.3% from 2019. However, that’s down from 23.5% growth last year. And in the following years, growth will continue to slow, dropping to 6.3% by 2023.

The report stresses that Twitch needs to find ways to retain its gaming talent going forward, instead of losing them to better deals offered by rivals. It will also likely continue to invest in its expansion beyond gaming, as non-gaming traffic drove significant viewership in 2019. Twitch’s “Just Chatting” category, for instance, was watched more than any game on the site in December and was No. 2 in January, according to StreamElements.

“[Twitch’s] platform is designed for live streaming video and streamer/viewer interaction; these features are certainly intriguing to content creators outside of gaming,” noted eMarketer forecasting analyst Peter Vahle.

This is the first time the analyst firm has estimated the number of people watching Twitch on a regular basis — a decision it likely made because of how large Twitch has become.

“Twitch,” said Vahle, “…is now too big for the internet giants to ignore. The big platforms, owned by the likes of Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, are competing to sign big deals with popular streamers and esports leagues. Twitch will have to find ways to encourage streamers — and viewers and advertisers — to stay on its platform now that other attractive options exist,” he added.

Another possible way for Twitch to boost viewership — and one not mentioned in eMarketer’s report — is to lean on its ties to parent company Amazon.

“Last year was actually our biggest year ever in terms of growth of Twitch on Fire TV,” Amazon’s Fire TV head Marc Whitten told TechCrunch in January, when talking about Fire TV’s 2020 plans.

Amazon is now thinking about how to better integrate Twitch and Fire TV — especially since Fire TV supports the integration of live content right on its homepage, and Twitch is a live-streaming service. With Fire TV’s now over 40 million monthly users, Amazon could easily send more viewers to Twitch if it just turned the dials a little.

Voodoo Games thrives by upending conventional product design

By Walter Thompson
Will Robbins Contributor
Will Robbins is an early-stage investor at Contrary.

Voodoo Games is one of the most interesting startups alive today. In mid-2018, it had 150 million MAUs and raised $200 million from Goldman Sachs, yet I’ve never heard anyone mention the company. That might be normal for an obscure enterprise SaaS play, but Voodoo is consumer-facing through and through.

Quantitative success aside, Voodoo upends much of the conventional thinking about product design and gaming. If it can do it, how can similar strategies apply to other products?

But first, some background: What is Voodoo Games?

Voodoo is best described as a product conglomerate. Take a look at its App Store page. It has dozens of generic-looking apps. The basic playbook is:

  • Quickly build a relatively low-quality, single-purpose game.
  • Make sure one mechanic is really fun. It doesn’t matter if users churn 20 minutes after downloading it.

The drunken HQ Trivia finale before it shut down was insane

By Josh Constine

“Not gonna lie. This f*cking sucks. This is the last HQ ever!” yelled host Matt Richards . And it just got crazier from there.The farewell game of HQ Trivia before it shut down last night was a beautiful disaster. The hosts cursed, sprayed champagne, threatened to defecate on the homes of trolls in the chat window, and begged for new jobs. Imagine Jeopardy but Trebek is hyped-up and blacked-out.

Yesterday HQ Trivia ran out of money, laid off its 25 employees, and shut down. It was in talks to be acquired, but the buyer pulled out last minute and investors weren’t willing to pour any money into the sagging game show. It had paid out $6 million in prizes from its $15 million-plus in venture capital since launching in late 2017.

But HQ was in steady decline since February 2018 when it peaked at over 2.3 million concurrent players to just tens of thousands recently. The games grew repetitive, prize money was split between too many winners, co-founder Colin Kroll passed away, original host and quiz daddy Scott Rogowsky was let go, the startup’s staff failed in an attempt to mutiny and oust the CEO, and layoffs ensued. You can read how it all went down here.

But rather than wither away, the momentary cultural phenemenon went out with a bang. “Should HQ trivia shut down? No? Yes? Or f*ck no!” Richards cackled.

You can watch the final show here, and we’ve laid out some of Richards’ and co-host Anna Roisman’s choicest quotes from HQ’s last game:

  • “If you just got here, this is HQ Trivia. It’s a live mobile gameshow. We’re gonna read about 34 questions and then you’re gonna win about 2 cents and you’re gonna fucking loooooove it” -Roisman
  • “This $5 prize is coming out of my own pocket. We ran out of money. We just kept giving it away. We gave it all to the players, to you, you loyal HQties” -Richards
  • “Take this time now to buy some extra lives. You never know when you’re going to need them. I wish we had an extra life for the company. I’m sorry. I f*cking can’t. I’m gonna cry. My dogs eat $200 worth of food a day. My dogs are gonna starve” -Richards
  • “Why are we shutting down? I don’t know. Ask our investors. What am I going to do with my fish tank? I think our investors ran out of money” -Richards
  • “Who likes healthy snacks! That’s why the investors stopped giving us money, because there wasn’t any f*cking snacks in this b*tch. We were snackless. Who the fuck can work in a place without snacks!” -Richards
  • “I met a couple who told me HQ is part of their foreplay” -Richards
  • “Who’s going to miss the HQ chat? I’m going to miss all those people telling me I don’t have eyebrows or to do the Carlton” -Richards
  • “Maybe we should close every night. These are the nicest f*cking comments I’ve ever seen. Wow, you’re finally telling me I look hot. I tried for a year and a half -Roisman
  • [Reading comments] “‘Won’t miss you at all, good riddance'” -Roisman. “Who said that? Let’s find that mothef*cker and sh*t on his porch” -Richards
  • “Hire everyone! All the people who don’t have jobs they f*cking rock!” -Richards
  • [While doing a headstand] “Someone hire me! I’m f*cking talented” -Roisman
  • “We should have unionized a long time ago” -Richards
  • [To his girlfriend] “Hello baby! I don’t got a job, you still love me?” -Richards
  • “We bought this giant bottle of champagne for when we hit 3 million players” -Richards (HQ never got there)
  • [Shakening up the champagne and opening it to a disappointing trickle] “It wasn’t as big as I thought it was gonna be” -Richards.That’s what she said. It was anti-climactic” -Roisman. “Much like this episode” -Richards. “Much like this app” -Roisman
  • “They gave me like two double shots of tequila” -Richards, on why he was drunk

Then things really went off the rails at 41 minutes in, cued up here:

  • [Upon a bunch of people getting a question wrong] “Y’all fucking fucked up!  You are dumb! I’m kidding, you’re not dumb. You fucked up. It happens” -Richards
  • [Reading the final question together] “What does Subway call it’s employees? Ham hands, sandwich artists, or beef sculptors?”
  • “520 people are splitting $5. Send me your Venmo requests and I’ll send you your fraction of a penny” -Richards

Farewell, HQ Trivia, you glorious beast.

 

HQ Trivia shuts down after acquisition falls through

By Josh Constine

HQ Trivia is dead. Today the company laid off its full staff of 25 and will cease operation of its trivia, sports and word guessing games, a source close to the company confirmed.

HQ Trivia had a deal in the works to be acquired, but the buyer pulled out yesterday and investors aren’t willing to fund it any longer, CEO and co-founder Rus Yusupov said in a statement attained by CNN Business’ Kerry Flynn:

“We received an offer from an established business to acquire HQ and continue building our vision, had definitive agreements and legal docs, and a projected closing date of tomorrow, and for reasons we are still investigating, they suddenly changed their position and despite our best efforts, we were unable to reach an agreement,” Yusupov writes. “Unfortunately, our lead investors are no longer willing to fund the company, and so effective today, HQ will cease operations and move to dissolution. All employees and contractors will be terminated as of today.”

With HQ we showed the world the future of TV. We didn’t get to where we hoped but we did stretch the world’s imagination for what’s possible on our smartphones. Thanks to everyone who helped build this and thanks for playing.

— Rus (@rus) February 14, 2020

Launched in October 2017, TechCrunch wrote the first coverage of the 12-question live video trivia game started by two of the former Vine founders. Users could win real money by answering all the questions and not being eliminated in multiple daily games. HQ Trivia had raised more than $15 million, including a Series A led by Founders Fund. At one point it had more than 2.3 million concurrent players.

hq trivia app 1

But eventually the novelty began to wear off. Cheaters came in, splitting the prize money down to just a few dollars or cents per winner. Copycats emerged internationally. Engineering issues led users to get kicked out of the game.

Then tragedy struck. Co-founder Colin Kroll passed away. That exacerbated internal problems at HQ Trivia. Product development was slow, leading users to grow tired of the game. New game types and viral features materialized too late.

A failed internal mutiny saw staffers prepare to petition the board to remove Yusupov from the CEO position. When he caught wind of the plot, organizers of the revolt were fired. Morale sunk. By July 2019, downloads were just 8% of their previous year’s, and 20% of the staff was laid off. HQ managed about 15 million all-time installs, peaking at 2 million in February 2018, while last month it had just 67,000, according to Sensor Tower.

The demise of HQ Trivia demonstrates the fickle nature of the gaming industry, and the startup scene as a whole. Momentary traction is no guarantee of future success. Products must continually evolve and adapt to their audience to stay relevant. And executives must forge ahead while communicating clearly with their teams, even amongst uncertainty, or find their companies withered by the rapid passing of time.

GameSnacks, from Google’s Area 120, brings fast, casual online games to developing markets

By Sarah Perez

A new project called GameSnacks is launching today from Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120, with the goal of bringing fast-loading, casual online games to users in developing markets. Billions of people are coming online through mobile devices. But they’re often on low memory devices with expensive data plans and struggle with unreliable network connections. That makes web gaming inaccessible to millions, as the games aren’t optimized for these sorts of constraints.

Today, over half of mobile website visitors leave a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, but on low memory devices and 2G or 3G networks, a typical web game will load much more slowly — even triple or quadruple that load time, or worse.

The idea with GameSnacks is to speed up load time and performance of web games by reducing the size of the initially-loaded HTML page, compressing additional assets like scripts, images, and sounds, then waiting to load them until necessary.

GameSnacks says this allows its games to load in a few seconds even on network connections as slow as 500 Kbps.

For instance, A GameSnacks title called Tower is ready to play on a 1 GB RAM device over 3G within just a few seconds. A typical web game on that same device took as long as 12 seconds, the company claims.

In addition, GameSnacks’ games are simple, casual games that only last a few minutes. They’re meant to fill those idle moments you have when waiting line, waiting at the bus stop, or waiting for a doctor’s appointment to start, for example. The games are also designed to have straightforward rules so they can be learned without instructions.

While mobile may be a primary platform, GameSnacks’ games are also accessible on any web-capable device, including desktop computers with a keyboard and mouse. On mobile, both iOS and Android are supported.

At launch, GameSnacks is partnering with a leading technology platform in Southeast Asia, Gojek, which is bringing the new games to their ecosystem through the GoGames service. Initially, this partnership is focused on delivering games to users in Indonesia before expanding elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Currently, GameSnacks is working with developers including Famobi, Inlogic Games, Black Moon Design, Geek Games, and Enclave Games. Other HTML5 game developers who think their title may make sense in the GameSnacks catalog are encouraged to reach out.

GameSnacks’ business model will ultimately involve other partnerships that allow other developers to embed GameSnacks games into their own apps, even customized to feel native to that app’s experience.

Founded by Ani Mohan and Neel Rao, GameSnacks is a team of six working within Area 120 at Google, which is home to a variety of experimental ideas, including those in social networking, video, advertising, education, transit, business and more.

Microsoft’s game streaming service Project xCloud launches in preview on iOS

By Sarah Perez

Last year, Microsoft launched a preview of Project xCloud, its ambitious game streaming service that aims to deliver games to any screen — console, PC or mobile. However, the service until now has only been available to mobile users on Android. Today, that changes as Microsoft is bringing the Project xCloud preview to iOS devices by way of Apple’s TestFlight program.

Microsoft had been testing xCloud on iOS internally, but had yet to open it up to the public.

Unfortunately, the iOS test will be limited. As is standard with Apple’s TestFlight platform, the new build will be limited to only 10,000 testers.

That won’t likely be enough spots to meet demand, Microsoft admits, and says invitations will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. To work around the limitation, Microsoft plans to boot out some early testers to make room for new testers during the course of the public beta.

“Those who are accepted into the iOS TestFlight preview may not necessarily participate for the full duration of the preview,” the company explains via blog post. “As noted earlier, there are limited spaces available, so for testing purposes we may need to cycle through registrants in order to best utilize the available testing audience. This also means that even if you miss out on the initial allocation, you might receive an invitation to participate later in the preview,” it says.

The iOS preview will also be limited to only one game: “Halo: The Master Chief Collection.” In addition, this particular test won’t include the preview of Xbox Console Streaming as the Android test currently does.

To qualify, testers will need a Microsoft account associated with their Xbox gamertag; an iPhone or iPad running iOS 13.0 or higher and Bluetooth v. 4.0; a Bluetooth-enabled Xbox Once Wireless Controller; access to Wi-Fi or a mobile data connection that supports 10 Mbps-down bandwidth; and, optionally, a third-party controller mount for phone-based games (like this one).

The move to bring console-quality games to smartphones represents a shift in Microsoft’s gaming strategy. The company understands that it can only sell so many consoles, for starters, but mobile phones are everywhere. In addition, people today want to play games on any available screen — not just the big TV screen at home. And for some users, mobile is their only screen.

Meanwhile, cross-platform gaming is becoming increasingly popular, thanks to titles like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, PUBG and others, which proved that mobile experiences can match consoles.

Project xCloud aims to make it easier for developers to build games that work everywhere. This is no small task, as it required Microsoft to architect a new customizable blade that hosts the component parts of multiple Xbox One consoles, as well as the associated infrastructure needed to support it. It also needs to ensure the technology can deliver games at console speeds with low latency, so mobile users don’t feel like they’re getting a second-rate experience.

Instructions on how to join the TestFlight are available here.

26 Best Nintendo Switch Accessories (2020): Docks, Cases, and More

By Jeffrey Van Camp
Own Nintendo's two-in-one console? These are our picks for the best screen protectors, chargers, controllers, and more.

The team behind Apple’s ‘Mythic Quest’ says video games aren’t the punch line

By Anthony Ha

When Ubisoft first approached “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” stars Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day about creating a new show set in the video game industry, McElhenney said they weren’t interested — at least, not initially.

“Anything that we had ever seen in the past, from a movie or television show perspective, the industry was always presented in such a negative light,” he told me. “It was the butt of the joke. The characters themselves were derided, and it was very specific to geek culture … We just had no interest in that.”

And yet McElhenney, Day and “It’s Always Sunny” writer Megan Ganz ended up creating “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” which premieres on Apple TV+ this weekend. McElhenney explained that a visit to the Montreal offices of Ubisoft — publisher of “Assassin’s Creed”, “Prince of Persia” and other major game franchises — changed his mind.

“Once we went to Montreal and met all of the devs that worked at Ubisoft, that all work in communion to make these games, [we realized] how many different, disparate personalities there really were and how much they were all all united by their love of games,” he said.

So McElhenney decided that “this just seemed like a really interesting and new place to set those kinds of stories.”  And just as he assumes most “Sunny” viewers aren’t tuning in to learn the fate of Paddy’s Pub (the Philadelphia bar run by the show’s main characters), “The approach we took was, the general audience is not going to care about the success or failure of a video game, they’re going to care about the interpersonal dynamics of the characters themselves.”

Ganz also said she didn’t know much about video game development when McElhenney first approached her about collaborating on the show, but she started to see parallels between that world and a TV writers’ room.

“Except that instead of everyone being a writer, they all have very specialized jobs that they care about, like just the writing or just the design or just the money that’s being made,” she said. “And I thought, well, that’s really fun because that presents something that’s even more complex than your typical writers’ room — you have all these sort of Greek gods that all control their very specific part of the world.”

Mythic Quest

Of course, “Mythic Quest” had a writers’ room of its own, which Ganz said was divided evenly between people with deep knowledge of the industry (like Ashly Burch, who’s done extensive voiceover work on games like “Team Fortress 2” and “Fortnite,” and who also plays a game tester on the show), and those like Ganz herself, “who maybe played casually when they were younger” but ultimately didn’t know much about that world.

“We did that because ultimately, if you come up with a script or a joke that satisfies both of those people, then you’re going to satisfy as much of the audience as you possibly can,” she said.

The goal, she added, was not “pandering to the video game community,” but rather “to be authentic and not make fun of them, but also be authentic in terms of talking about some of the toxicity that happens in the video game space, the gender dynamics that are at play.”

It wasn’t just a learning process for the writers. F. Murray Abraham (who won an Oscar for playing Salieri in “Amadeus”) plays an eccentric science fiction writer who works on the game, and he told me that when it came to video games, “I had no idea. I knew something, I was aware of it, but not the size of it, the success of it, the reach of it, my God.”

All the “Mythic Quest” writers and actors I spoke to said that their approach has evolved significantly from the original pilot script. For example, there’s McElhenney’s character Ian Grimm, the creative director of the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game that gives the show its name.

“In the first draft of the script, we made Ian a little bit more of just a straight buffoon,” McElhenney said. “We read through it and we realized it just felt false. It was missing something, that if we didn’t want this to feel like a live action cartoon — like ‘Sunny’ often does, which is by design — and we wanted these people to feel real and authentic, that we needed to believe that he really should have that position.”

The question, then was how to make him competent, but in a funny way. They went with a pilot episode where Ian and lead engineer Poppy (played by Charlotte Nicdao) end up in a passionate debate about the properties of the game’s brand new shovel. While that debate will probably seem silly to most viewers, McElhenney said it also conveys “that thing that so many people in the creative arts have, or don’t have — the ability to see the most minor detail, the reason why something is going to work, or why it might not work.”

Mythic Quest

Throughout that process, the writers also tapped Ubisoft for advice. Jason Altman, Ubisoft’s head of film and television, is an executive producer on the show, and he recalled bringing in different team members to help the writers understand everything that goes into the development process.

In addition, Ubisoft Red Storm (the studio behind the Tom Clancy game franchise) pitched in by building the game segments that we actually see on the show.

“What they created were actually small gameplay sandboxes that we could bring to set, and the actors could sit and play with them and it would actually inform their performances,” Altman said.

He acknowledged that there were challenges, like helping the “Mythic Quest” writers realize that the developers needed time to do their work — but ultimately, he said the Red Storm team had “a great time” creating something that gave the show “a real sense of authenticity.”

Ganz and McElhenney also had plenty of praise for the developers, particularly for their openness to adding silly comedic elements like ridiculous gouts of blood. McElhenney pointed to one episode that required them to create “a really believable Sieg Heil Nazi salute.”

“There’s no way they’re going to go for that, it’s going to take a follow-up phone call,” he recalled thinking. “And they were like, ‘Okay great.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what do you mean, okay great?’ They said, ‘No, we do Nazis all the time’ — and we put this in the show — ‘because Nazis make the best villains, everybody hates Nazis.”

I was also curious about why the show focuses on the development of an ongoing MMORPG, rather than launching a new game. Altman had an answer for me: “I think it represents what’s happening within the game industry. You don’t just launch a game and forget it, the development team lives with it, you’ve got live services and live events. It’s the way games are operated right now.”

Plus, he said it reflects another aspect of development, the fact that teams “don’t just spend six months together, they spend years together, and the success that they create together binds them together.”

David Hornsby — who, like McElhenney, is both a writer, executive producer and actor on the show — told me that the writers’ understanding of show’s distribution also evolved, since Apple TV+ hadn’t launched (or even been officially announced) when “Mythic Quest” first got picked up.

“We weren’t sure if it wasn’t going to be binge-able from the start, we heard incrementally,” Hornsby said. “Apple is good at keeping secrets.”

Ultimately, they did find out that all nine episodes would drop at once, which Hornsby said led them to structure the season “like a movie — we know where we are going to be in the middle of the season, the story arcs for each of our characters.”

I also brought up Apple TV+ with McElhenney, who said the team had offers from a number of studios.

“It was scary,” he said. “And I remember we were discussing it, we were like, do we go with a known quantity? Or do we jump into the waters of mystery, because even though it’s the biggest company in the world, you don’t know if it’s going to work.”

So why choose Apple? “We just felt like, if you’re gonna bet on somebody, why not bet on a trillion dollars? They seem to have the resources and something figured out.”

Twitter-backed ShareChat eyes fantasy sports in India

By Manish Singh

The growing market of fantasy sports in India may soon have a new and odd entrant: ShareChat .

The local social networking app, which in August last year raised $100 million in a financing round led by Twitter, has developed a fantasy sports app and has been quietly testing it for six months, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

ShareChat’s fantasy sports app, called Jeet11, allows betting on cricket and football matches and has already amassed more than 120,000 registered users, the sources said. The app, or its website, does not disclose its association with ShareChat.

A ShareChat spokesperson confirmed the existence of the app and said the startup was testing the product.

Jeet11 is not available for download on the Google Play Store due to the Android maker’s guidelines on betting apps, so ShareChat has been distributing it through Xiaomi’s GetApps app store and the Jeet11 website, and has been promoting it on Instagram. It is also available as a web app.

Fantasy sports, a quite popular business in many markets, has gained some traction in India in recent years. Dream11, backed by gaming giant Tencent, claimed to have more than 65 million users early last year. It has raised about $100 million to date and is already valued north of $1 billion.

Bangalore-based MPL, which counts Sequoia Capital India as an investor and has raised more than $40 million, appointed Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian cricket team, as its brand ambassador last year.

In the last two years, scores of startups have emerged to grab a slice of the market, and the vast majority of them are focused on cricket. Cricket is the most popular sport in India, just ask Disney’s Hotstar, which claimed to have more than 100 million daily active users during the cricket season last year.

Or ask Facebook, which unsuccessfully bid $600 million to secure streaming rights of the IPL cricket tournament. It has since grabbed rights to some cricket content and appointed the Hotstar chief as its India head.

So it comes as no surprise that many sports betting apps have signed cricketers as their brand ambassador. Hala-Play has roped in Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya, while Chennai-based Fantain Sports has appointed Suresh Raina.

But despite the growing popularity of fantasy sports apps, where users pick players and bet real money on their performances, the niche is still sketchy in many markets that consider it betting. In fact, Twitter itself restricts promotion of fantasy sports services in many markets across the world.

In India, too, several states, including Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Telangana, have banned fantasy sports betting. Jeet11 currently requires users to confirm that they don’t live in any of the restricted states before signing up for the service.

“It doesn’t help matters either that the fantasy sports business’ attempts at legitimacy involve trying to be seen as video games — a cursory glance at a speakers panel for any Indian video game developer event is evidence of this — rather than riding on its own merits,” said Rishi Alwani, a long-time analyst of Indian gaming market and publisher of news outlet the Mako Reactor.

An executive who works at one of the top fantasy sports startups in India, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that despite handing out cash rewards to thousands of users each day, it is still challenging to retain customers after the conclusion of any popular cricket tournament. “And that’s after you have somehow convinced them to visit your website or download the app,” he said.

For ShareChat, which has been exploring ways to monetize its 60 million-plus users and posted a loss of about $58 million on no revenue in the financial year ending March 31, that’s anything but music to the ears. In recent months, the startup, which serves users in more than a dozen local languages, has been experimenting with ads.

VCs hunt for platform opportunities in ‘hyper-casual’ gaming

By Lucas Matney

There are billions of gamers on the planet, and even as gaming consoles and devices grow more powerful, there’s a good deal of investor attention being paid to so-called “hyper-casual” games that likely could have shipped on decades-old hardware.

Simplicity has never been something to take for granted in game design, but as design tools have gotten easier to use, a larger group of game creators has entered the fray. Many popular games have introduced “creator modes” to whet user appetites, but this has emerged alongside the introduction of dedicated tool that enable amateur developers to become miniature studios.

This past week, I chatted with David Lau-Kee, general partner at London Venture Partners, about opportunities in the game development industry for less-experienced game creators to build titles that find an audience. His firm closed an $80 million fund last September to invest in early-stage gaming startups.

“[Hyper-casual] is a very elegant trend in the demographics of getting games into the hands of people who weren’t traditional gamers who want very low on-boarding so they can get straight into the game,” Lau-Kee says. “The challenge with that for us is that, you know, as a developer in hyper-casual games, you can have a great business, but it might not be a VC-investable opportunity.”

Best Nintendo Switch Deals and Console Bundles (February 2020)

By Jeffrey Van Camp, Louryn Strampe
The best Nintendo Switch console deals, and all the essentials you'll need when you own one.

Google’s Glass dreams live on with the arrival of enterprise hardware

By Brian Heater

Google Glass was ahead of its time. That’s not to say that the people who wore it out in public didn’t look like giant dorks, of course, but in hindsight it seems safe to say that the world just wasn’t ready for wearable augmented reality. The phenomenon has, however, seen a resurgence among enterprise applications, courtesy of companies like Epson and Microsoft.

Google’s ready to ride that wave. In May, the company announced the arrival of the second version of its Enterprise Edition of Glass. Today, the headset is available for developers as a direct purchase from a handful of resellers. The Android-based device, which graduated from Google X mid last year, looks remarkably like the earliest versions of Glass, albeit with a slightly refined design.

Seven years after the arrival of the original model, the Glass Enterprise 2 isn’t cheap, either. It runs $1,000 from partner sites. There are a few suggestions for potential applications, including card text, imaging samples and QR scanning.

As Lucas noted in his initial write-up, the Glass system is much more limited than the likes of the latest HoloLens, which is focused on a more XR experience. Google, instead, is focused on lightweight usability — which could certainly serve as an advantage in certain settings. Key applications for the product include settings like construction sites, where contextual environmental information can otherwise be difficult to access.

Quibi links up with FaZe Clan for a game show that would let winners join the FaZe team

By Jonathan Shieber

Quibi has linked up with the popular esports team FaZe Clan on a new game show that would let 6 subscribers for the new short-form streaming service compete for a slot on the FaZe roster.

The show is called “FaZe Up” and it’s an example of the new types of entertainment and game shows Quibi’s looking to try to appeal to younger demographics.

For FaZe Clan, one of the dominant esports franchises in popular culture, the game show is a chance to find new talent and extend the reach of its entertainment studio, gaming teams, and fashion line onto another platform. For Quibi, bribery is certainly one way to win an audience.

WndrCo, the parent company for Quibi, is keeping the production in its family of portfolio companies since the show is being produced by the WndrCo-backed entertainment and sports media company, Whistle Sports.

“We have had an incredible partnership with FaZe and couldn’t be more excited to take it to new heights with this show, especially on a unique platform like Quibi,” said Michael Cohen, president of Whistle. “Whistle is all about incorporating our fans into our content and so the fact that the Quibi audience gets the ability to participate and immerse themselves in this experience is a truly perfect fit.”

Quibi describes the show as part contest, part competition show “and 100% FaZe”. Six contestants, chosen from Quibi’s audience of subscribers will get the chance to win money and a slot in the FaZe Clan roster.

Directed by William Silva Reddington and produced by FaZe Clan, Nathan Gaines, Dennis Lisberger, Mike Basone, and showrunner Harrison Nalévansky the new show will use voting tools from Quibi and FaZe Clan’s key members to select contestants for eligible slots to compete and eventually join FaZe Clan.

The six winners will then be flown to the FaZe Clan mansion to live at the house and compete in gaming and reality show style events to determine who deserves a slot on the team.

“Over the past 10 years, FaZe Clan has not only contributed to the growth of the gaming lifestyle and the esports community, but we have broken barriers and are not afraid to disrupt the status quo,” said FaZe Clan Head of Content Oluwafemi Okusanya. “In 2020, we plan to do the same with content creation and media distribution. The ‘FaZe Up’ show represents our next chapter in content creation with our first premium production effort and in collaboration with innovative partners like Whistle and Quibi.”

The addition of FaZe to the roster of creative talent that Quibi has amassed puts a different spin on the company’s pitch of high-end, short form content. The company has already attracted Jennifer Lopez, Liam Hemsworth, Catherine Hardwicke and Antoine Fuqua, who are all attached to projects slated to debut on the platform.

Quibi doesn’t debut until April, but it’s teasing updates and information about what’s to come — including more news about “FaZe Up” at Quibi Insider, its newsletter about all things Quibi.

Nvidia officially launches cloud gaming service GeForce Now for $5 per month

By Romain Dillet

After a lengthy beta phase, Nvidia is launching its cloud gaming service GeForce Now. Unlike Google’s Stadia, GeForce Now isn’t trying to build a console-like experience with its own lineup of games. Nvidia connects with your Steam, Epic or Battle.net account so that you can play games that you already purchased on those third-party platforms. It works a bit more like Shadow for instance.

But GeForce Now isn’t a free service. Customers basically rent a gaming PC in a data center near them. Right now, it costs $5 per month to access the Founders edition, which lets you play whenever you want and for as long as you want. But the company says that it plans to raise the subscription fee at some point.

You can try the service by creating a free account as well. If there are too many people connected to the service, you may have to wait to launch a game. You’re also limited to one-hour sessions and less powerful hardware.

You’ll have to download an app that works on macOS, Windows and Android devices including the Nvidia Shield TV. GeForce Now isn’t available from anywhere in the world as you have to be near a data center to reduce latency. The company currently has nine data centers in the U.S., five in Europe, one in Korea and two in Japan.

Nvidia is optimizing games for the platform one at a time. So it’s possible that you own a game but that it doesn’t appear in the list of compatible games. Yes, that’s a long list of restrictions. But it could be the future of gaming, maybe.

Behind the scene, the company uses Nvidia graphics cards (duh) that support ray tracing. Nvidia doesn’t share more details beyond that. I’d recommend testing the service with a free account first to see if your connection is stable enough to support game streaming.

The Meta, a training platform for gamers, builds on Kovaak’s FPS Aim Trainer

By Jordan Crook

As esports grows and creates opportunities for gamers to level up to the pro or streamer level, there is still a huge barrier in the way. There is not a wealth of training options for gamers. If you can’t get better within the environment of the game itself, then you’ve peaked. Practice makes perfect, but what if there’s no such thing as practice?

The Meta is looking to change that with the launch of a new training platform that builds off the success of KovaaK’s FPS Aim Trainer. Kovaak is a former Quake pro, known for his hyper accurate aim, who built Kovaak’s FPS Aim Trainer out of personal need. He wanted a way to grind out his mechanical aiming skills, and built out various scenarios across 10+ major titles to practice.

The Meta cofounders Duncan Haberly and Chris Olson had been working on their own training platform that focuses on guided trainings around specific skills, with physics and gun mechanics identical to popular titles, to let gamers learn from their mistakes and train better habits.

After the two esports entrepreneurial teams met, they decided to join forces and offer what they believe to be the ultimate training tool.

It’s comprised of two parts. The first is The Meta’s self-guided training platform, with various branches that focus on a different skill set in FPS gaming. The second is Kovaak’s Sandbox, the aim trainer that lets users test the skills they’ve learned by playing through more than 2600 user-generated scenarios.

For now, the Meta guided training focuses on flicking (otherwise known as click timing), with plans to introduce tracking and scoping skill branches soon. The self-guided training side of the platform feeds users insights about their deficiencies — maybe they tend to miss their shots when enemies are in the upper left quadrant of the screen — so they can dedicate time and energy to improving that part of their game in the aim trainer.

[gallery ids="1941505,1941506,1941507,1941508"]

The Meta is available on Steam for PC players, with plans to launch for consoles in the future.

The Flicking trainer has more than 40 sub-levels, with support for Overwatch and Fortnite. Kovaak’s Sandbox, as the FPS Aim Trainer is now known, has more than 2600 user-created scenarios and supports titles like Overwatch, Fortnite, Quake, Call of Duty, Apex Legends, Paladins, CS:GO, Battlefield, and Rainbow 6.

The Meta is $9.99, as a single-time payment, and the company says it’s currently averaging 20k units sold per month. The gaming startup has raised $2.5 million in funding from investors like Village Global, Canaan Beta Fund, Courtside VC, AET Fund (Akatsuki Entertainment Technology), betaworks, and GFR Fund (GREE).

There is movement in the esports space around training and improvement. In 2018, Epic Games introduced Playground Mode to allow players a chance to experience the Fortnite environment without dropping in alongside 99 other gamers. PlayVS, the startup looking to take esports infrastructure to the high school and college level, is investing heavily in data, reporting stats and analysis to players, coaches, fans and recruiters. StateSpace, a direct competitor to The Meta with $4 million in funding, uses neuroscience to help gamers train, hoping to create a standardized metric by which gamers’ skills can be measured.

Esports is growing across almost every metric, from viewership to awareness to revenue, and with that, we can only expect to see more startups dive into the space and stake their claim.

7 Best Gaming Controllers (2020): PC, Xbox, PS4, Switch

By Jess Grey
A great gamepad instantly levels up your play. These are our top picks for Switch, Xbox, PS4, and PC.
❌