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Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in

By Jonathan Shieber
Omer Kaplan Contributor
Omer Kaplan is CMO and co-founder at ironSource.

By the end of 2019, the global gaming market is estimated to be worth $152 billion, with 45% of that, $68.5 billion, coming directly from mobile games. With this tremendous growth (10.2% YoY to be precise) has come a flurry of investments and acquisitions, everyone wanting a cut of the pie. In fact, over the last 18 months, the global gaming industry has seen $9.6 billion in investments and if investments continue at this current pace, the amount of investment generated in 2018-19 will be higher than the 8 previous years combined.

What’s interesting is why everyone is talking about games and who in the market is responding to this and how.

The gaming phenomenon

Today, mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spend, and 10% of all time spent in-app. It’s predicted that in 2019, 2.4 billion people will play mobile games around the world – that’s almost one third of the global population. In fact, 50% of mobile app users play games, making this app category as popular as music apps like Spotify and Apple Music and second only to social media and communications apps in terms of time spent.

In the US, time spent on mobile devices has also officially outpaced that of television – with users spending 8 more minutes per day on their mobile devices. By 2021, this number is predicted to increase to over 30 minutes. Apps are the new primetime and games have grabbed the lion’s share.

Accessibility is the highest it’s ever been as barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. From casual games to the recent rise of the wildly popular hyper-casual genre of games which are quick to download, easy to play, and lend themselves to being played in short sessions throughout the day, games are played by almost every demographic stratum of society. Today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 (compared with 27.7 in 2014), the gender split is 51% female, 49% male, and one-third of all gamers are between the ages of 36-50. A far cry from the traditional stereotype of a ‘gamer’.

With these demographic, geographic, and consumption sea-changes in the mobile ecosystem and entertainment landscape, it’s no surprise that the game space is getting increased attention and investment, not just from within the industry, but more recently from traditional financial markets and even governments. Let’s look at how the markets have responded to the rise of gaming.

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on games

The first substantial investments in mobile gaming came from those who already had a stake in the industry. Tencent invested $90M in Pocket Gems and$126M in Glu Mobile (for a 14.6% stake), gaming powerhouse Supercell invested $5M in mobile game studio Redemption Games, Boom Fantasy raised $2M from ESPN and the MLB and Gamelynx raised $1.2M from several investors – one of which was Riot Games. Most recently, Ubisoft acquired a 70% stake in Green Panda Games to bolster its foot in the hyper-casual gaming market.

Additionally, bigger gaming studios began to acquire smaller ones. Zynga bought Gram Games, Ubisoft acquired Ketchapp, Niantic purchased Seismic Games, and Tencent bought Supercell (as well as a 40% stake in Epic Games). And the list goes on.

Wall Street wakes up

Beyond the flurry of investments and acquisitions from within the game industry, games are also generating huge amounts of revenue. Since launch, Pokemon Go has generated $2.3B in revenue and Fortnite has amassed some 250M players. This is catching the attention of more traditional financial institutions, like private equity firms and VCs, who are now looking at a variety of investment options in gaming – not just of gaming studios, but all those who had a stake in or support the industry.

In May 2018, hyper-casual mobile gaming studio Voodoo announced a $200M investment from Goldman Sachs’ private equity investment arm. For the first time ever, a mobile gaming studio attracted the attention of a venerable old financial institution. The explosion of the hyper-casual genre and the scale its titles are capable of achieving, together with the intensely iterative, data-driven business model afforded by the low production costs of games like this, were catching the attention of investors outside of the gaming world, looking for the next big growth opportunity.

The trend continued. In July 2018, private equity firm KKR bought a $400M minority stake in AppLovin and now, exactly one year later Blackstone announced their plan to acquire mobile ad-network Vungle for a reported $750M. Not only is money going into gaming studios, but investments are being made into companies whose technology supports the mobile gaming space. Traditional investors are finally taking notice of the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole and the explosive growth it has produced in recent years. This year alone mobile games are expected to generate $55B in revenue so this new wave of investment interest should really come as no surprise.

A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon Go game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Government intervention

Most recently, governments are realizing the potential and reach of the gaming industry and making their own investment moves. We’re seeing governments establish funds that support local gaming businesses – providing incentives for gaming studios to develop and retain their creatives, technology, and employees locally – as well as programs that aim to attract foreign talent.

As uncertainty looms in England surrounding Brexit, France has jumped on the opportunity with “Join the Game”. They’re painting France as an international hub that is already home to many successful gaming studios, and they’re offering tax breaks and plenty of funding options – for everything from R&D to the production of community events. Their website even has an entire page dedicated to “getting settled in France”, in English, with a step-by-step guide on how game developers should prepare for their arrival.

The UK Department for International Trade used this year’s Game Developers Conference as a backdrop for the promotion of their games fund – calling the UK “one of the most flourishing game developing ecosystems in the world.” The UK Games Fund allows for both local and foreign-owned gaming companies with a presence in the UK to apply for tax breaks. And ever since France announced their fund, more and more people have begun encouraging the British government to expand their program saying that the UK gaming ecosystem should be “retained and enhanced”. But, not only does the government take gaming seriously, the Queen does as well. In 2008, David Darling the CEO of hyper-casual game studio Kwalee was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to the games industry. CBE is the third-highest honor the Queen can bestow on a British citizen.

Over to Germany, and the government has allocated €50M of its 2019 budget for the creation of a games fund. In Sweden, the Sweden Game Arena is a public-private partnership that helps students develop games using government-funded offices and equipment. It also links students and startups with established companies and investors. While these numbers dwarf the investment of more commercial or financial players, the sudden uptick in interest governments are paying to the game space indicate just how exciting and lucrative gaming has become.

Support is coming from all levels

The evolution of investment in the gaming space is indicative of the stratospheric growth, massive revenue, strong user engagement, and extensive demographic and geographic reach of mobile gaming. With the global games industry projected to be worth a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023, it comes as no surprise that the diverse players globally have finally realized its true potential and have embraced the gaming ecosystem as a whole.

These are the games coming to Google Stadia

By Brian Heater

Google’s game streaming service isn’t set to launch until November, but the company kept the hype train going through the mid-August doldrums with a Gamescom Stadia Connect livestream. As promised, the online press conference was “all about the games,” featuring what looks to be a nearly complete list of launch (and some post-launch) titles.

The games include some top names like Cyberpunk 2077, Final Fantasy XV, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Mortal Kombat 11. It also enlists a number of top publishers, including Bethesda, Square and Ubisoft. A number of key publishing partners have opted to keep their lists under wraps until closer to (or at) launch, however, including EA, Capcom and Rockstar.

As previously noted, the service will run $10 a month, including access to games and discounts on purchases. A base version of the service will also be available at some point next year. When it launches in November, the service will be available in 14 countries, including US, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands and Finland. More will be added in 2020.

Google is currently offering up a “Founder’s Edition” pre-order for $130. That includes a controller, Chromecast Ultra and three months of the service for you and a friend.

Here’s the list of titles so far,

  • Bandai Namco – Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
  • Bethesda – DOOM Eternal, DOOM 2016, Rage 2, The Elder Scrolls Online, Wolfenstein: Youngblood
  • Bungie – Destiny 2, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep Expansion
  • CD PROJEKT RED – Cyberpunk 2077
  • Chump Squad – KINE
  • Coatsink – Get Packed
  • Codemasters – GRID
  • Dotemu – Windjammers 2
  • Deep Silver – Metro Exodus
  • Drool – Thumper
  • Giants Software -Farming Simulator 19
  • Larian Studios – Baldur’s Gate 3
  • nWay Games – Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
  • Omega Force – Attack on Titan 2: Final Battle
  • Pandemic Studios – Destroy All Humans!
  • Robot Entertainment – Orcs Must Die 3
  • Sega – Football Manager
  • SNK – Samurai Shodown
  • Square Enix – Final Fantasy XV – Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Marvel’s Avengers
  • SUPERHOT – SUPERHOT
  • 2K – NBA 2K, Borderlands 3
  • Tequila Works – Gylt
  • Warner Bros – Mortal Kombat 11
  • THQ – Darksiders Genesis
  • Ubisoft – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Just Dance , Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint , Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 , Trials Rising, The Crew 2, Watch Dogs: Legion

Minecraft to get big lighting, shadow and color upgrades through Nvidia ray tracing

By Darrell Etherington

Minecraft is getting a free update that brings much-improved lighting and color to the game’s blocky graphics using real-time ray tracing running on Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics hardware. The new look is a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the game, and manages to be eerily realistic while retaining Minecraft’s pixelated charm.

The ray tracing tech will be available via a free update to the game on Windows 10 PCs, but it’ll only be accessible to players using an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, since that’s the only graphics hardware on the market that currently supports playing games with real-time ray tracing active.

It sounds like it’ll be an excellent addition to the experience for players who are equipped with the right hardware, however – including lighting effects not only from the sun, but also from in-game materials like glowstone and lava; both hard and soft shadows depending on transparency of material and angle of light refraction; and accurate reflections in surfaces that are supposed to be reflective (ie. gold blocks, for instance).

This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it cancelled plans to release its Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add a bunch of improved visuals to the game, because it wouldn’t work well across platforms. At the time, Mojang said it would be sharing news about graphics optimization for some platforms “very soon,” and it looks like this is what they had in mind.

Nvidia meanwhile is showing off a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion.

[gallery ids="1870333,1870334,1870335"]

Samsung is bringing PC game streaming to the Note 10

By Brian Heater

One of the more interesting news tidbits from yesterday’s Unpacked event got a bit drowned out in all of the noise. Understandably so — Samsung jammed a lot into an event that ran just over an hour, virtually sprinting through a handful of gaming announcements.

The below video is the best demonstration we have of PlayGalaxy Link, a new feature that makes it possible to stream games directly from a PC to the Galaxy Note 10. Why the company didn’t make a bigger deal of the feature is beyond me, but in an area when Apple and Google are really starting to get involved in gaming in earnest, Samsung really ought to have shone a bigger like light on the new offering.

From the sound of it, the feature will offer similarly to one that Microsoft has been working on for the Xbox, letting users stream games from their PC onto the mobile device, whether or not they’re on a shared WiFi.

The video showcases the connection, as a user links a Samsung Odyssey gaming laptop to a Note nestled inside a gamepad controller. Things are initiated by signing in on the desktop, opening the PlayGalaxy Link app on the Note and clicking “Start.” In the video, at least, game play happens simultaneously on both machines.

PlayGalaxy is Samsung’s latest shot at getting more heavily involved in mobile gaming, arriving on the heels of the Apple Arcade and Google Stadia announcements. And while the new Note offers a number of hardware features optimized for gaming, it does appear that, as with Microsoft and Google’s offering, the PC is doing the heavy lifting here.

The offering seems to be linked to Samsung’s recently announced partnership with Microsoft — itself a clear shot across the bow against Apple’s ecosystem offering. There are still a lot of questions here, including how bad that lag is going to be. More coming soon, no doubt. 

Statespace picks up $2.5M to help gamers train

By Jordan Crook

Gaming continues to grow in popularity, with esports revenue growing 23 percent from last year to top $1 billion in 2019.

But the metrics by which talent is evaluated in gaming, and the methods by which gamers can train to better hone their craft, are varied and at times non-existent. That’s where StateSpace, and specifically the company’s gaming arm Klutch, come into play.

In 2017, Statespace launched out of stealth with their first product, Aim Lab. Aim Lab is meant to mimic the physical rules of a game to give gamers a practice space where they can improve their skills. Moreover, Aim Lab identifies weaknesses in a player’s gameplay — one person might struggle with their visual acuity in the top left quadrant of the screen, while another might have trouble spotting or aiming at targets on the bottom right side of the screen — and allows gamers to focus in on their weaknesses to get better.

Today, the company has announced a $2.5 million seed funding round led by FirstMark Capital, with participation from Expa, Lux Capital and WndrCo. This brings the company’s total funding to $4 million.

Alongside growing Aim Lab, which is on track to soon reach 1 million users, one of the company’s main goals is to create a standardized metric by which gamers’ skills can be measured. In football, college athletes and NFL coaches have the Scouting Combine to make decisions around recruiting. This doesn’t necessarily take into account stats like yardage or touchdowns, but rather the raw skills of a player such as 40-yard sprint speed.

In fact, Statespace has partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame for ‘The Cognitive Combine’, becoming the official integrative medicine program cognitive assessment partner of the organization. Statespace wants to create a similar ‘combine’ for gaming.

The hope is that the company can offer this metric to publishers, colleges and esports orgs, giving them the ability to not only evaluate talent, but to better serve casual users through improved matchmaking and cheat detection.

“We want to go a level beyond your kill:death ratio,” said cofounder and CEO Dr. Wayne Mackey. Those metrics greatly depend on factors like who you’re playing with. You won’t always be matched against players who are on an even keel with you. So we want to look at fundamental skills like hand eye coordination, visual acuity, spatial processing skills, and working memory capacity.”

[gallery ids="1866281,1866282,1866283"]

Klutch has partnered with the National Championship Series as the official FPS training partner for 2019. NCS has majors for both CS:Go and Overwatch, two of the biggest competitive FPS games in the world. The company is also partnering with top Twitch streamers and Masterclass to create The Academy.

Academy users will be able to get advanced tutorials from streamers like KingGeorge (Rainbox Six Siege), SypherPK (Fortnite), Valkia (Overwatch), Drift0r (CoD), and Launders (CS:GO).

Obviously, gaming is a major part of Statespace’s business model. But the skeleton of the technology has a number of different applications, particularly in medicine. Statespace is currently in the research phase of rolling out an Aim Lab product that is specifically focused on helping people who have had strokes recover and rehabilitate.

Statespace wants to use the funding to build out the team and expand the Klutch Aim Lab platform beyond Steam to mobile and eventually console, with Xbox prioritized over PlayStation, as well as launching the Academy.

Virtual reality game-streaming platform Vreal shuts down

By Lucas Matney

Vreal, an ambitious game-streaming platform that aimed to let VR users explore the worlds that live-streamers were playing in, is shutting down and laying off its staff after raising $15 million in venture capital. The startup announced the shutdown on its website’s homepage.

The Seattle startup raised cash from investors including Axioma Ventures, Upfront Ventures and Intel Capital. Vreal raised an $11.7 million Series A in early 2018.

Vreal’s tech let game streamers share the entire 3D environment of the VR world they were inside, something which allowed users to walk around streamers as avatars or explore on their own as passive observers while listening to the live-streamer blast their way through zombies.

The startup, which was founded in 2015, spent VR’s most hyped years building out their live-streaming tech. By the time they closed their Series A early last year, their platform was still in the pre-alpha launch stage. The platform launched in Early Access on Steam a few months later in June.

“Unfortunately, the VR market never developed as quickly as we all had hoped, and we were definitely ahead of our time. As a result, Vreal is shutting down operations and our wonderful team members are moving on to other opportunities,” a blog post titled “Moving on to new realities…” on the company’s hollowed-out website now reads.

As I noted after the Series A announcement, the Vreal platform was “a product for a pretty tight niche: streamers with VR hardware broadcasting for viewers with VR hardware.” The company’s religious allegiance to VR hardware being the only way to enjoy and produce the content likely limited the platform’s reach too much. Two months ago, the company announced it was adding an experimental web browser view to its platform to expand its reach, but that move seems to have been too little, too late.

Indie developer flooded with racist, misogynist abuse after announcing Epic partnership

By Devin Coldewey

The two developers of an indie game called Ooblets have been subjected to “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands” of abusive messages following their decision to put their game on the Epic Games Store. It’s a worrying yet entirely unsurprising example of the toxic elements of the gaming community and their strangely unlimited hatred for Epic.

Ooblets is a game by a husband and wife team that looks like a sort of farming/dancing/collecting simulator with a fun, cute style. They’ve been developing it for a couple years now with the help of Patreon supporters, and are getting closer to release.

In the process of lining up where and how to sell the game, the two entered into a contract with the Epic Games Store, which in exchange for near-term exclusivity would guarantee the developers the income they might have gotten if they’d decided to launch on multiple storefronts.

This practice adds some stability to what can be a very unpredictable sales environment, and as a side effect gave the two a fund up front to finish development without having to rely on their Patreon supporters — whom they told about the new deal and consulted about what should happen next.

To be clear, the game will still be able to be bought and played by pretty much everyone on PC, just using a different storefront. Like if the chips you prefer started being sold at 7-11 instead of AM/PM. Except you can go to either one just by clicking your mouse.

But when they announced the news to the broader internet, it drew down on Ben and Rebecca Cordingley the ire of the easily provoked gaming world, specifically those who believe that Epic’s purchase of exclusives for its nascent gaming storefront is an affront to all that is sane and good in this world.

Immediately the two were inundated with messages “on every conceivable platform” telling them to die, swallow bleach, get raped, and both accusing Ben of anti-semitism and mocking his being Jewish. Some, he said, went so far as to doctor video to make it seem like he had posted something then deleted it.

Horrified and taken aback by this massively disproportionate response to two people deciding to make a deal that should benefit their game and not affect their supporters (their patrons on Patreon were never promised the game, let alone on a specific platform), Ben wrote a post with his thoughts on the matter. You can read it here, along with some rather disturbing excerpts of the attacks on him and his wife.

These attacks are likely ongoing — in fact, the new post has probably just stoked the fire, and the two can look forward to a few more weeks of being told to kill themselves or that someone is going to find them and assault them.

The backlash against Epic over the last year has been perplexing to watch. The new storefront was created in the wake of Fortnite’s success to act as a dark horse challenger to the reigning champ of the PC gaming world, Valve’s Steam. Releasing on Steam has been a foregone conclusion for most PC games for years, but recently that practice has been challenged as companies like Epic and Ubisoft created their own launchers and game stores.

Flush with Fortnite cash, Epic has relied on two things to grow its storefront, which began (and remains) rather lackluster compared to its more mature and popular competitors. First, it has simply picked a number of games each month to give away for free, no strings attached — and not shovelware either, but actually great games that people want. Second, they’ve arranged for upcoming games to release exclusively on their platform.

Paid exclusivity is of course by no means new, especially not in the gaming community, where exclusivity among platforms has been the rule since the ’80s, when it was Mario vs Sonic, to today, when it’s Halo vs. Destiny or a hundred others. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and many others pay huge amounts to lock in developers for years, sometimes buying them outright so their games will be released exclusively on a certain platform. Epic seems to be joining a fairly large club

Steam has many features Epic doesn’t, it is true. The community of recommendations, mods, forums, and gamified purchasing on Steam is unmatched anywhere else. But for the purpose of buying and launching a game, the two are pretty evenly matched. It’s understandable that people might be upset when a game they are looking forward to disappears from their wishlist on Steam, or that they have to download another app in order to launch some games. But this inconvenience is, let’s be honest, minimal.

It’s sad reading not just the initial outrage at the pair’s decision — which, as they explained, is helpful for them as developers and lets them finish the game with less financial uncertainty — but at the justification that many have put forward that by joking about how angry people get about the Epic thing in the original post, Ben was inviting the abuse he received. These “they should have known” or “they were asking for it” people seem to want the developer’s perceived tone to have equal importance as the thousands of death threats they received subsequently.

From Ben’s post:

I’d challenge anyone to be on the receiving end of this for a few minutes/hours/days to not come to the conclusion that a huge segment of the broader gaming community is toxic.

There’s a strange relationship a segment of the gaming community has with game developers. I think their extreme passion for games has made them perceive the people who provide those games as some sort of mystical “other”, an outgroup that’s held to a whole set of weird expectations. These folks believe they hold the magic power of the wallet over developers who should cower before them and capitulate to any of their demands. You can see this evidenced by the massive number of angry people threatening to pirate our game in retaliation to any perceived slight.

It’s hard to see the effects or scope of what a massive mob of online harassment is doing to someone until you’re on the receiving end of it. It’s also really hard to realize when you’re unwittingly part of a harassment group because you’ve been so convinced by the mob mentality that your anger and target are justified.

Ben and Rebecca are far from the first to be the target of this type of mob, and let’s not forget that 8chan got its start as a refuge for “gamergate” diehards who had been ejected from other platforms. The original toxic gamer outrage factory is now known for being an incubator for white nationalist terrorists. Threats from the collective fragile internet ego are manifesting in bullets and taking lives with frightening frequency.

If you’d like to support the game and developer, which I already intended to do before this unseemly furore, you can follow the developers and see the latest over at Ooblets.com.

Roblox hits 100 million monthly active users

By Brian Heater

Roblox is big. Bigger than Minecraft big. The massively multiple online title has been around since 2006, but the game has been achieving a crazy amount of momentum of late. On Friday, it announced via blog post that it’s grown past 100 million monthly active users, pushing past Minecraft, which is currently in the (still impressive) low-90s.

Here’s a recent piece detailing the service’s dizzying growth since February 2016, who it was hovering around 9 million players. That’s more than 10x growth in a three and a half year span. User-Generated content is a big part of that number, and the company notes that it has around 40 million user created experiences in the game at present.

roblox maus 1

Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox

“We started Roblox over a decade ago with a vision to bring people from all over the world together through play,” founder and CEO David Baszucki said of the big new round number. “Roblox began with just 100 players and a handful of creators who inspired one another, unlocking this groundswell of creativity, collaboration, and imagination that continues to grow.”

The company behind the game has also been pumping some big money into development. It paid $30 million in 2017 and $60 million in 2018. Next week, it will be hosting hundreds of attendees at its fifth Roblox Developer Conference.

Per the new numbers, around 40 percent Roblox users are female, with players spread out across 200 countries.

E3’s organizer apologizes after revealing information for thousands of journalists

By Brian Heater

The Entertainment Software Association issued an apology of sorts after making available the contact information for more than 2,000 journalists and analysts who attended this year’s E3.

“ESA was made aware of a website vulnerability that led to the contact list of registered journalists attending E3 being made public,” the organization said via statement. “Once notified, we immediately took steps to protect that data and shut down the site, which is no longer available. We regret this this occurrence and have put measures in place to ensure it will not occur again.”

It’s not clear whether the organization attempted to reach out to those impacted by the breach.

In a kind of bungle that utterly boggles the mind in 2019, the ESA had made available on its site a full spreadsheet of contact information for thousands of attendees, including email addresses, phone numbers and physical addresses. While many or most of the addresses appear to be businesses, journalists often work remotely, and the availability of a home address online can present a real safety concern.

After all, many gaming journalists are routinely targets of harassments and threats of physical violence for the simple act of writing about video games on the internet. That’s the reality of the world we currently live in. And while the information leaked could have been worse, there’s a real potential human consequence here.

That, in turn, presents a pretty compelling case that the ESA is going to have a pretty big headache on its hands under GDPR. Per the rules,

In the case of a personal data breach, the controller shall without undue delay and, where feasible, not later than 72 hours after having become aware of it, notify the personal data breach to the supervisory authority competent in accordance with Article 55, unless the personal data breach is unlikely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons. Where the notification to the supervisory authority is not made within 72 hours, it shall be accompanied by reasons for the delay.

There is, indeed, a pretty strong argument to made that said breach could “result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons.” Failure to notify individuals in the allotted time period could, in turn, result in some hefty fines.

It’s hard to say how long the ESA knew about the information, though YouTuber Sophia Narwitz, who first brought this information to light publicly, may have also been the first to alert the organization. The ESA appears to have been reasonably responsive in pulling the spreadsheet down, but the internet is always faster, and that information is still floating around online and fairy easily found.

VentureBeat notes rightfully that spreadsheets like these are incredibly valuable to convention organizations, representing contact information some of the top journalists in any given industry. Many will no doubt think twice before sharing this kind of information again, of course.

Notably (and, yes, ironically), the Black Hat security conference experienced a similar breach this time last year. It chalked the issue up to a “legacy system.”

Natasha Lomas contributed to this report

Ninja is leaving Twitch for Microsoft’s Mixer

By Jordan Crook

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the biggest streamer ever, has today announced his intention to leave the Twitch platform in favor of Microsoft’s Mixer.

Twitch is far and away the biggest video game streaming platform on the internet, claiming 72% of all hours watched, according to StreamElements. Mixer, by comparison, owns 3%, which is approximately 112 million viewership hours this most recent quarter.

Mixer is owned by Microsoft following an acquisition in 2016, back when Mixer was called Beam. Interestingly enough, Beam won the Disrupt NY Battlefield competition in 2016.

Twitch offered this statement to the Verge:

We’ve loved watching Ninja on Twitch over the years and are proud of all that he’s accomplished for himself and his family, and the gaming community. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Surprisingly quickly, Twitch took away Ninja’s “Partnered” check mark, the Twitch equivalent of a verified blue tick.

Damn they snagged this mans checkmark QUICK pic.twitter.com/Br62NB8uX5

— 100T Mako 🗣💯 (@Mako) August 1, 2019

Ninja announced the news via video:

The announcement is very light on reasons why Ninja might have moved from his longtime home at Twitch over to Microsoft. It’s possible (and likely?) that Mixer offered the streaming star an enormous amount of money to make the move, which could signal the beginning of a new wave of payouts for mega streaming stars — not unlike the current NBA free agency bonanza, which has seen the migration of superstars to marquee franchises in order to form basketball equivalents of supergroups.

It’s also worth wondering who reigns supreme in this equation: players or platforms? Luckily, we’ll find out quickly as the video game streaming space sees its biggest talent shakeup since the industry’s inception.

Watch a Tesla Model 3 play chess against the top-ranked player in the US

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla cars can now take on human players in a game of chess, thanks to a software update it pushed out to vehicles last month. Its programmers likely didn’t imagine they were designing a chess program to take on the best players in the world, however: U.S. No. 1 ranked chess player Fabiano Caruana (also currently ranked No. 2 in the world) played a Tesla Model 3 in a recent match… but Deep Blue versus Kasparov, this was not.

Caruana bests the vehicle in just under five minutes of playing time, and he’s not particularly stressing the time, plus he’s offering a running commentary. The car makes some questionable moves, but to be fair, it’s not a super computer with deep artificial intelligence, and Caruana is one of the world’s best. He also gives it credit at the end, calling the game “challenging” and you can hear it’s probably more than he was expecting from a car’s infotainment system.

The car would probably beat me, but I’m unranked and haven’t played a game of chess in probably 15 years, so there’s that.

This $3.5 million new Pagani hypercar got its world debut in a Zynga mobile game

By Kirsten Korosec

High-priced, handmade boutique sports cars typically make their debut where the well-heeled and the media gather. Pagani took a different approach this time around.

The Italian supercar manufacturer unveiled its new nearly $3.5 million Huayra Roadster BC in CSR2, the mobile game produced by Zynga .

The physical car will eventually get its moment. Pagani will show off the hypercar to the public next month at the Monterey Car Show. In the meantime, Zynga rebuilt the Pagani Huayra Roadster BC in CSR2, giving users a chance to “drive” the supercar.

Pagani HuayraBCRoadsterPB 2019 RaceScreenshot 2

“When Horacio Pagani first began designing cars 44 years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that a car like the Roadster BC would ever be unveiled to the world in a mobile game,” Michael Staskin, managing director of Pagani Automobili America, said in a statement. “We chose to partner with CSR2 on the reveal of the Roadster BC because we are both leaders in our respective industries, we both show incredible attention to design and detail and we both continue to disrupt what is considered normal in the automotive industry.”

CSR2 players can enter the 80-race ladder by using a Pagani Huayra Coupé. During the game, players get the chance to add the Pagani Huayra Roadster BC to their collection. Using augmented reality, players can also park their Pagani cars in their real-world driveways and open every panel to study the details close up.

In the real world, the Pagani Huayra Roadster BC gets its power from a 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V12 engine built for Pagani by Mercedes-AMG. The result is an engine that produces 800 horsepower at 5,900 rpm and 774 pound feet of torque. It boasts a seven-speed, single-clutch automated manual transmission and weighs 2,756 pounds, just a skosh lighter than the regular Huayra Roadster.

As one might expect, the Roadster BC is a fast can-you-handle-how-it-corners beast that accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds and generates 1.9 of lateral grips through corners.

Sadly, few will get to drive this real-world version. Pagani will make only 40 of Roadster BCs.

Calling all hardware startups! Apply to Hardware Battlefield @ TC Shenzhen

By Neesha A. Tambe

Got hardware? Well then, listen up, because our search continues for boundary-pushing, early-stage hardware startups to join us in Shenzhen, China for an epic opportunity; launch your startup on a global stage and compete in Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen on November 11-12.

Apply here to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019. Why? It’s your chance to demo your product to the top investors and technologists in the world. Hardware Battlefield, cousin to Startup Battlefield, focuses exclusively on innovative hardware because, let’s face it, it’s the backbone of technology. From enterprise solutions to agtech advancements, medical devices to consumer product goods — hardware startups are in the international spotlight.

If you make the cut, you’ll compete against 15 of the world’s most innovative hardware makers for bragging rights, plenty of investor love, media exposure and $25,000 in equity-free cash. Just participating in a Battlefield can change the whole trajectory of your business in the best way possible.

We chose to bring our fifth Hardware Battlefield to Shenzhen because of its outstanding track record of supporting hardware startups. The city achieves this through a combination of accelerators, rapid prototyping and world-class manufacturing. What’s more, TC Hardware Battlefield 2019 takes place as part of the larger TechCrunch Shenzhen that runs November 9-12.

Creativity and innovation no know boundaries, and that’s why we’re opening this competition to any early-stage hardware startup from any country. While we’ve seen amazing hardware in previous Battlefields — like robotic armsfood testing devicesmalaria diagnostic tools, smart socks for diabetics and e-motorcycles, we can’t wait to see the next generation of hardware, so bring it on!

Meet the minimum requirements listed below, and we’ll consider your startup:

Here’s how Hardware Battlefield works. TechCrunch editors vet every qualified application and pick 15 startups to compete. Those startups receive six rigorous weeks of free coaching. Forget stage fright. You’ll be prepped and ready to step into the spotlight.

Teams have six minutes to pitch and demo their products, which is immediately followed by an in-depth Q&A with the judges. If you make it to the final round, you’ll repeat the process in front of a new set of judges.

The judges will name one outstanding startup the Hardware Battlefield champion. Hoist the Battlefield Cup, claim those bragging rights and the $25,000. This nerve-wracking thrill-ride takes place in front of a live audience, and we capture the entire event on video and post it to our global audience on TechCrunch.

Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen takes place on November 11-12. Don’t hide your hardware or miss your chance to show us — and the entire tech world — your startup magic. Apply to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019, and join us in Shenzhen!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Luna Labs creates playable ads, directly from Unity

By Anthony Ha

It seems obvious that the best way to advertise a game is to let people play the game itself — and we’ve covered other startups tackling this problem, such as AppOnboard and mNectar.

But Luna Labs co-founder and CEO Steven Chard said that for most developers, the creation of these ads involves outsourcing: “It might take weeks to make an ad, and the quality of the content at the end could be limited.”

The problem, Chard said, is that most games are built on the Unity engine, while the ads need to be in HTML5, which means that developers often have to build playable ads from scratch — hence the outsourcing.

“There’s this huge demand for playables, but the tech hasn’t caught up with it,” he said. “Our view — and I think why it’s really resonating with developers — we’re saying to developers: Use that same [Unity] editor to create a playable ad. You’re going to give the user a playable ad which genuinely feels like the game.”

In fact, while Luna is officially launching its service to developers this week, it’s already been working with a few partners like Kwalee and Voodoo. Luna says that in Kwalee’s case, the results were good enough that the company spent 60% more than they did on other playable ads, and the Luna playables drove more than 250,000 installs per day.

“Luna is solving a real pain point for our studio, and the initial results have been tremendous,” said Kwalee COO Jason Falcus in a statement. “Integrating the Luna service has allowed us to significantly scale our campaigns by a comfortable margin, to the best results so far.”

Luna Labs screenshot

Luna’s investors include Ben Holmes (formerly of Index Ventures, backer of King and Playfish) and Chris Lee (who also invested in Space Ape and Hello Games).

Chard said the startup is currently focused on providing tools to developers, rather than getting involved in the ad-buying process. More generally, he said the company has been focused on the technology rather than the business model.

“We’re an early company with a very, very complex piece of technology — it’s taken a lot of time to get where we are,” he said. “We’re not doing it for free, but the focus isn’t on short-term profitability. It is, in the longer term, on creating a scalable product which can be used by developers.”

Chard added that eventually, he’s hoping Luna can become more involved in “at the content creation level.” For example, he suggested that developers could use the technology to test out playable concepts and see what resonates, before building a full game.

You can test it out for yourself on the Luna Labs website.

Nintendo Switch sales are up, even with new models on the way

By Brian Heater

Quarterly sales for the Switch remained brisk for Nintendo’s most recent quarterly earnings. The number made a jump from 1.88 to 2.13 million units year over year. Modest, sure, but still solid for a console that’s getting slightly long in the tooth — especially given the fact that we’ve been aware a new versions are on the way.

Two were confirmed earlier this month, addressing concerns with the product. There’s the Switch Lite, a $200 version of the console ($100 less than the standard price) that swaps convertibility for portability and a unit with longer battery life. The arrival of both will almost certainly boost sales as the company heads into the holiday season.

With the new quarter factored in, Switch sales are now at 36.9 million for the life of the product. Nintendo, meanwhile, expects total unit sales to hit 18 million for the full year. In spite of positivity numbers on the console front, operating profit dropped ~10 percent year over year for the quarter.

The 3DS, meanwhile, while still alive, has unsurprisingly began a death rattle, slowing to 200,000 for the quarter. Still, it was a respectable life, with more than 75 million sold over the life of Nintendo’s previous portable. Farewell, 3DS, it was a good run.

Mobile numbers saw a nice 10 percent bump for the quarter, and Nintendo’s got plenty of solid titles lined up for the back half of the year, so likely most aren’t too concerned by some lackluster financials this time out.

14 Best Online Co-Op Games (2019): PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

By Robert Carnevale
Our favorite cooperative multiplayer games that let you play together online no matter what system you own—PS4, Xbox One, PC, or the Nintendo Switch.

Analogue’s Mega Sg is the Sega Genesis Mini alternative for the discerning retro gaming fan

By Darrell Etherington

The official Sega Genesis Mini is coming in September and hopes to capitalize on some of the retro gaming hype that turned the Super Nintendo and NES Mini Classic editions into best-sellers. But there’s already a modern piece of hardware out there capable of playing Sega Genesis games on your HDTV — plus Mega Drive, Master System and Sega CD, too.

The Analogue Mega Sg is the third in a series of reference-quality, FPGA-based retro consoles from Analogue, a company that prides itself on accuracy in old-school gaming. It provides unparalleled, non-emulated gameplay with zero lag and full 1080p output to work with your HD or even 4K TV in a way no other old-school gaming hardware can.

For $189.99 (which is just about double the asking price of the Sega Genesis Mini), you get the console itself, an included Master System cartridge adapter, an HDMI cable and a USB cable for power supply (plus a USB plug, though, depending on your TV, you might be able to power it directly). The package also includes a silicon pad should you want to use it with original Sega CD hardware, which plugs into the bottom of the SG hardware just like it did with the original Genesis. It includes two ports that support original wired Genesis controllers, or you can also opt to pick up an 8bitdo M30 wireless Genesis controller and adapter, which retails for $24.99.

[gallery ids="1861820,1861821,1861822,1861823,1861824,1861825,1861826,1861827"]

Like the Nt mini did for NES, and the Super Nt did for SNES before it, the Mega Sg really delivers when it comes to performance. Games look amazing on my 4K LG OLED television, and I can choose from a variety of video output settings to tune it to my liking, including adding simulated retro scaliness and more to make it look more like your memory of playing on an old CRT television.

Sound is likewise excellent — those opening notes of Ecco the Dolphin sounded fantastic rendered in 48KHz 16-bit stereo coming out of my Sonos sound system. Likewise, Sonic’s weird buzzsaw razor whine came through exactly as remembered, but definitely in higher definition than anything that actually played out of my old TV speakers as a kid.

Even if you don’t have a pile of original Sega cartridges sitting around ready to play (though I bet you do if you’re interested in this piece of kit), the Mega Sg has something to offer: On board, you get a digital copy of the unreleased Sega Genesis game “Hardcore,” which was nearly complete in 1994 but which went unreleased. It’s been finished and renamed “Ultracore,” and you can run it from the console’s main menu as soon as you plug it in and fire it up.

Analogue plans to add more capabilities to the Mega Sg in the future, with cartridge adapters that will allow it to run Mark III, Game Gear, Sega MyCard, SG-1000 and SC-3000 games, too. These will all be supported by the FPGA Analogue designed for the Mega Sg, too, so they’ll also be running natively, not emulated, for a true recreation of the original gaming experience.

Analogue Mega Sg 8

If you’re really into classic games, and care a lot about accuracy, this is definitely the best way to play Sega games on modern TVs — and it’s also just super fun.

Fortnite World Cup has handed out $30 million in prizes, and cemented its spot in the culture

By Jonathan Shieber

The Fortnite phenomenon — the wildly popular battle royale game from Epic Games — has manifested itself in concerned articles and cultural shoutouts, and now has sealed its place in the cultural firmament by wrapping up its first “World Cup,” which saw the company give away $30 million in prizes.

Congrats to all of our winners this weekend at the #FortniteWorldCup Finals

Solo Champion: @bugha
Duos Champions: @nyhrox @aquaa
ProAM: @Airwaks @RLGRIME
Creative: #FishFam @cizzorz @hiimtylerh @suezhoo @zandOfficial pic.twitter.com/ilBs7RTeTv

— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) July 28, 2019

The big winner in today’s solo challenge was 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, who won $3 million for beating out the competition in the solo tournament. And, as sports writer Darren Rovell noted on Twitter, Giersdorf’s prize pool is only $850,000 smaller than the pot for the winner of the U.S. Open, which is set to begin in a few weeks at the same stadium.

Indeed, the esports prize pool is one of the biggest awards for a popular competitive event. Wimbledon winners took home less than $3 million and Tiger Woods won $2 million for besting the field of competitors at the Masters.

Fortnite’s big moment is also a big deal for competitive esports in the U.S. The biggest prize pool for an esports event in the U.S. was likely meant to plant a flag and show that competitive gaming is something that can capture the attention of a younger audience that has drifted away from watching more traditional pastimes and watching less sports, according to a McKinsey study.

Screen Shot 2019 07 28 at 6.01.13 PM

Courtesy of McKinsey

Giersdorf, who hails from Pennsylvania and plays professionally for the Los Angeles-based esports team, the Sentinels, became the inaugural Fortnite World Cup solo champion by putting in a dominant performance over the entire weekend of competition.

For folks who’ve never played the game (or had it explained to them), Fortnite involves dropping 100 players onto an island where they have to find weapons, build bases and try to eliminate the competition until only one player is left standing.

It’s a cartoon version of the Hunger Games, with no bloodshed, a lot of victory dances and hours of social networking.

The game has turned its publisher, Epic Games, into a multibillion-dollar business. Certainly, it’s one that can afford to front a $30 million prize purse for a few days of competition.

The tournament wasn’t just about solo play. The company had different rounds for the duos competition featuring two-player teams. That competition, which ended on Saturday, also featured a $3 million prize pool and was won by the European duo of Emil “Nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen and David “Aqua” W.

Epic pulled out all the stops it could for the multi-day event at Arthur Ashe stadium. In addition to pulling in some of the top names in live streaming and competitive esports to participate in the event, the company also brought in the DJ Marshmello for a performance.

The tournament pulled in nearly 9 million viewers on YouTube alone for the final day of the competition. More than 40 million people tried out for a slot in the World Cup finals.

And while the prize pot takes a significant chunk out of the $100 million that Epic has committed to spend on competitions this year, the returns in terms of the social capital and cachet that Epic has given to the esports world can’t be underestimated.

It’s certainly going to change the life of its first World Cup champion, a fact that Giersdorf knows all too well himself.

“Emotionally, right now, I don’t feel too much, except I know that this could pretty much change my life forever,” Giersdorf said in an interview with ESPN. “It’s just absolutely unreal.”

Hit indie game Cuphead is headed to Tesla vehicles in August

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla’s games library is getting bigger, and the latest announced title is probably a familiar one to gaming fans: Cuphead. This indie game was released in 2017 for Xbox One and Windows after making a big debut in 2013, attracting a lot of attention thanks to its hand-drawn, retro Disney-esque animation style.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Cuphead would be getting a Tesla port sometime in August, replying to a post in which Tesla announced its latest addition to the in-car arcade library: Chess. The game will run at 60fps on the in-car display, Musk added, noting that while 4K isn’t supported for Tesla’s screens, the game “doesn’t need” that high resolution.

Cuphead for Tesla coming out in August

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 27, 2019

Cuphead has since been released for both macOS and Nintendo Switch, and has gained critical acclaim for its challenging gameplay in addition to its unique graphic style. The game works with one or two players (which Tesla cars also now support via gamepad controllers for some other titles) and basically involves side-scrolling run-and-gun action punctuated by frequent boss fights.

Musk continued on Twitter regarding the Cuphead port that it will use a Unity port for Tesla’s in-car OS, which is already done, and currently they’re in the process of refining the controls. A limit of available onboard storage will be solved by allowing added game storage via USB, so that Tesla owners will be able to add flash drives to hold more downloaded games.

Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it would be developing an animated series based on Cuphead, and the game has sold over 4 million copies world-wide so far. Tesla launched Tesla Arcade last month as a dedicated in-car app to host the growing collection of games it’s brought to the car – and it’s worth noting that you can only access these games while in park.

 

Old-school Doom and its sequels come to Switch, Xbox One and PS4

By Devin Coldewey

Thinking about what to do this weekend? Think no more. Doom, Doom II and Doom 3 have all just appeared on the Switch, Xbox One and PS4, giving you no excuse not to play these classics. All the time. Over and over. Rip and tear!

The announcement was made at QuakeCon 2019, the annual gathering of slayers and gibbers where id Software usually shows off its latest wares. Or in this case, its earliest.

At $5 each, the original Doom and Doom II should provide dozens of hours of old-school fun. I’ve found in revisiting these games that the level design really is spectacular and the gameplay, while of course simple compared to your Dishonors or your Division 2s, is also elegant and carefully calibrated. It’s also amazing how scary these games can still be.

Play the games that started it all. DOOM, DOOM II, and DOOM 3 are all available now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4. #DOOM25 #QuakeCon pic.twitter.com/aZwEfnJaP0

— DOOM (@DOOM) July 26, 2019

Not that you haven’t had ample opportunity to play them — and the thousands of free maps available for PC players — these last couple decades. But if your console of choice, with your surroundsound system and big screen, is how you tend to play games, then perhaps it’s worth a tenner to put these enduring classics on there.

Importantly, these include 4-play split-screen deathmatch and co-op. Probably been a while since you played it that way, right?

As for Doom 3 — well, my most salient memory of the game is playing the leaked Alpha version, which scared the pants off me and almost put me off the actual game. It was a huge graphical advance at the time, and due to its deliberate use of lighting still looks pretty cool, though of course highly primitive in other ways.

Is it still any good to play? Ten dollars lets you find out.

The original two games are also officially available on iOS as well, and will, amazingly, run at about a dozen times the resolution they originally did back in the ’90s.

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