It’s always exciting to see an e-mail pop up from Wiaczesław Oziabło—better known as the “Slaw” behind Slaw Device. An engineer and purveyor of high-end flight control pedals for the “crazy enthusiast” market, he’s famous for producing devices that look less like computer peripherals and more like gleaming metallic works of art.
It’s even more exciting when that e-mail promises something new and cool. “After a long break,” Oziabło wrote, “we continued and finished preparations for the production of RH Rotor rudder pedals. At the moment, I have several sets of these rudder pedals, which were only used for photos and videos.” He offered to send me one of the near-final preproduction models for review, noting that it will have only minor differences from the production-run devices.
I accepted immediately, and a couple of weeks later, DHL deposited a heavy box on my front porch. In it was Slaw Device’s latest offering: the RH Rotor pedals.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA), a professional group of thousands of game makers from around the world, is increasingly concerned that the “ethical issues” surrounding the use of non-fungible tokens in gaming represents a “socio-political explosion waiting to happen.” That’s according to Dr. Jakin Vela, the founder of social justice-focused gaming nonprofit Games for Me. Vela was recently named interim director of the IGDA.
Axie Infinity developer Sky Mavis today announced a massive breach of its Ronin cryptocurrency sidechain. An attacker used “hacked private keys” to break through Ronin’s validator network, Sky Mavis says, transferring 173,600 ETH (worth approximately $594 million at current rates) and $25.5 million in USDC stablecoin as part of one of the largest breaches in the history of cryptocurrency.
To understand the nature of that breach, let us take you on a crash course in the short history of Axie Infinity and the complex web of crypto standards and technologies that helped allow the exploit to happen.
Kylan Coats came up with a plan to start a studio before he had even made a game, as an undergrad spending summers as a QA tester between classes. Back then, his mid-thirties seemed like the age to make this transition. If things went to plan, he would have the experience to succeed, but if everything exploded, he could still return to a AAA career. Coats worked in the industry for 14 years, but it was only after an unforeseen layoff from Obsidian Entertainment that his husband reminded him of this conviction. “He brought it up like, ‘Hey, you’ve been talking about starting your own studio for the longest time, why not now?’” Coats says.
After a good year doing contract work, more profitable than any year previous, he started Crispy Creative. His first game was an idea he’d been mulling over for a while. “Every dev always has a few of their own game ideas,” he says. A Long Journey to an Uncertain End is a queer narrative space opera, in Coats’ words. Players control a rogue spaceship fleeing between colorful Mœbius-like planets; tasks include shuttling drag queens off on grand adventures. It’s not the type of game a bigger studio would touch, he says. With Crispy, not only is he free to be creative, but his work environment is healthy: Staff don’t have to kill themselves to meet a deadline, and he can nurture mental health and inclusivity. He’d been critical of leadership in the past, so starting Crispy was the moment to put up or shut up, he says.
Not long after being promoted to the role of chief executive at Microsoft, in 2014, Satya Nadella had faced calls to ditch the tech group’s Xbox games division and concentrate its resources on cloud computing—to compete with rivals, such as Amazon. But instead, Nadella saw an opportunity to build new customer bases through online gaming communities. His first deal as chief executive was buying Minecraft, the three-dimensional world-building game.
At the same time, he further developed Microsoft’s dominant position in personal and business software and expanded its cloud and server offerings. Shares in the group have risen eightfold under Nadella’s tenure, and it remains the world’s largest software group.
However, last month’s $75 billion deal to buy video game maker Activision Blizzard will also make Microsoft the world’s third-biggest gaming company by revenue, behind only China’s Tencent and Japan’s Sony.
Non-fungible tokens have become the buzziest of concepts among big-budget game publishers these days. While Ubisoft is the only big-name publisher to actually roll out in-game NFT items thus far, everyone from Square Enix to EA and Take-Two has expressed varying levels of enthusiasm for the idea. Even aging gaming brands like Konami and Atari have used NFTs as a way to quickly cash in via artificially rare digital collectibles.
To be clear, Sega isn’t completely rebuking the idea of NFTs in its games. The company said it “would like to try out various experiments, and we have already started many different studies and considerations” in the space, including so-called “play-to-earn” games.
It’s that time of year again—time to buy more board games than you possibly have time to play.
To aid you in your quest, we’ve once again updated our massive board game buyer’s guide for the year by adding new entries (including a bunch of games from 2020 and 2021), pruning some old entries, and bringing things in line with our current thoughts. The list is divided into sections that cater to different audiences, and we think there’s something here for everyone—even those who don’t yet know they like board games.
Whether you’re looking to pick up your next cardboard obsession or need a gift idea for your weird cousin who’s always going on about “efficient resource trade routes,” you’re in the right place.
Live video broadcasting service Twitch has been hit by a massive hack that exposed 125GB of the company’s data. In a 4chan thread posted (and removed) Wednesday, an anonymous user posted a torrent file of the multi-gig data dump. The dump contains the company’s source code and details of money earned by Twitch creators.
Twitch admits to breach but is unsure of the “extent”
In a 4chan post seen by Ars today, an anonymous user claimed to leak 125GB of data lifted from 6,000 internal Twitch Git repositories. The forum poster mocked Amazon’s acquisition of Twitch, writing, “Jeff Bezos paid $970 million for this, we’re giving it away FOR FREE.”
The hacker wrote that the purpose of the leak was to cause disruption and promote competition among video streaming platforms. The hacker further said that Twitch’s “community is a disgusting, toxic cesspool.”
If you thought heightened interest in gaming-focused monitors, desktops, and laptops would falter as the pandemic eased, you might want to hold onto your RGB gaming chair: the International Data Corporation (IDC) is predicting four more years of increased demand, with each segment growing faster than its parent market.
This week, the global researcher shared the latest numbers from its Worldwide Quarterly Gaming Tracker and predicted that gaming monitor shipments will surge, growing from 14.2 million screens in 2020 to 26.4 million in 2025 for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.2 percent.
As the pandemic brought a scarcity across gaming hardware, from graphics cards to CPUs and even the latest consoles, gaming monitors were among the few pieces of serious hardware in stock for gamers. And with lockdowns mandated across the globe, many people were simply seeking something to do.
Roblox is introducing an optional age verification for its users that will combine an ID check with a selfie scan. While the system will not be needed to play most Roblox games, it will be required for those who want to gain early access to Roblox’s upcoming voice chat features when they roll out later this fall. Additionally, the company says developers will be able to create new experiences that will rely on identity verification in the future.
The verification system is an acknowledgment that many of Roblox’s core users are aging up. The company said earlier this month, when introducing its new “Spatial Voice” feature, that 50% of its users are now over the age of 13. It’s also seeing the most explosive growth among the 17 to 24-year old demographic.
Spatial Voice, which will allow Roblox gamers to have real voice conversations while in games, will initially be made available to a group of 5,000 developers, all 13 and older, who will be able to test voice chat in a custom-built Roblox community space. The rollout to Roblox’s wider user base will proceed slowly, as it will require new moderation tools and safety features to be built in parallel, the company had said. Age verification is now one of those tools.
Image Credits: Roblox
Age Verification will come in two stages.
First, using the app, Roblox users will scan an ID card, driver’s license, passport or other government ID. The company says it won’t store the raw ID document data. Instead, an anonymized value is generated, which allows Roblox to verify the identity without risking exposure of the user’s real identity. Roblox matches the data on the document to a library of thousands of global document types to determine it’s legitimate. After scanning, the user will take a selfie to verify they are a living individual as opposed to uploaded a selfie image — something that could be automated to trick the system. The selfie is then matched to the person on the document. The process takes a few seconds after the image is snapped, Roblox says.
However, in Roblox’s case, verification will become more common as it’s tied to access to newer voice-enabled games and experiences down the road. Roblox hasn’t yet said what, if any, alternatvie methods of verifying age for voice chat it may later employ.
The company notes that developers and creators will be able to use verification as a signal of trust when looking for collaborators, too — the verified status, in this case, may hold the same sort of clout that it does elsewhere in social media. On this front, Roblox this summer launched a Talent Hub, where users can look for jobs within the Roblox developer community.
Age verification is rolling out gradually, starting today, and will reach all users over the next few weeks. The opt-in feature will be globally available to everyone 13 years old or older in over 180 countries on both desktop and mobile.
“Age Verification marks a big milestone in our long-term vision of building a trusted, fun, and civil platform for everyone,” noted Roblox Senior Product Manager, Chris Aston Chen, in an announcement. “As part of that vision, we will continue to work on seamless ways to verify a user’s age, always respecting a user’s privacy. Over time, we’ll continue to introduce new and innovative ways for users to easily and securely maintain and protect their identity on the Roblox platform, unlock new and immersive social capabilities, and build and enjoy amazing experiences together,” Chen added.
Working from home and staying at home during the pandemic exacerbated being physical inactivity. Most people opt for sedentary entertainment that involves minimal movement like watching movies or streaming live concerts, playing video games and throwing virtual parties.
To solve the global problem of inactivity by creating new ways to encourage active play for everyone, NEX, a San Jose and Hong Kong-based motion entertainment startup, is building motion entertainment – content that encourages physical movement. It is now announcing a $25 million Series B round to coincide with launch of Active Arcade, its new mobile AI interactive motion-tracking game.
The new funding was led by Blue Pool Capital, with participation from Samsung Ventures, SparkLabs and Susquehanna. This round also attracted influencers in sports, entertainment industries and business executives including Simu Liu (Shang-Chi), Albert Pujols (LA Dodgers), Thierry Henry (Arsenal Legend), Sabrina Ionescu (WNBA), tech CEOs and founders from YouTube, Dapper Labs, Alchemy, OpenDoor, WordPress and executives from Zendesk, Uber, MasterClass and Facebook.
This latest round comes after NEX raised an $8.5 million Series A in 2019 from the NBA, Will Smith’s Dreamers Fund, and the Alibaba Entrepreneurship Fund. It also previously raised a $4 million seed round from Charmides Capital, Harris BlitzerSports & EntertainmentVentures and Mandra Capital, Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin and Mark Cuban in 2018. Many other leaders in sports, media and technology have also baked NEX.
The Series B round brings NEX’s total raised so far to $40 million.
NEX was founded in 2018 by David Lee, Philip Lam and Reggie Chan, with a mission to transform passive activity into active play through apps like Active Arcade. Its first app, HomeCourt, has been played in more than 200 countries.
“A pandemic drew even more attention to the already huge and growing problem of more sedentary lifestyles across the world,” said Dave Lee, CEO and co-founder of NEX. “Having fun while moving is one of the purest definitions of play. But unlike the old days, the standard of engagement for active play must be on par with the best video games. It was apparent to us that accessible motion-based entertainment was the answer to a global need for more physical activity.”
Some people say that they don’t have enough time for physical activity, but the real problem is the idea that leisure time is supposed to be spent doing things that are fun and easy while getting active is perceived as expensive, time consuming and hard.
NEX’s newly launched Active Arcade, with a collection of motion games, helps both kids and adults move more by playing games. It is accessible to everyone, everywhere by any computing device with a camera, like smartphone, tablets, laptops and desktops.
Unlike other motion-based entertainment companies’ products that require expensive gear like a VR headset, connected hardware or game consoles, NEX develops motion-based entertainment apps without requiring special equipment, monitors, or a subscription.
Anyone can play Active Arcade using their body movement. Each game has different game play, style and depth, so there’s something for players of any age or level of activity.
“There are many high-tech exercise programs global companies developed in the motion-based entertainment industry, but most of them require expensive new equipment or a steep learning curve,” said Alex Wu, vice president of Strategy, MarComm and Partnerships at NEX.
With a proprietary combination of AI using mobile and vision technology, NEX merges the digital and physical worlds into a phone application that can create games like Active Arcade.
This summer, the company launched its limited test version of Active Arcade, Lee said.
NEX launched its first AI-based basketball training app HomeCourt in 2018, which was demoed on stage alongside Steve Nash at an Apple iPhone special event.
“I am constantly looking to invest in companies and products that I can stand behind and that are in line with my values. Nex’s approach to get kids and adults moving more and transforming activity into a play, is a mission I am wholeheartedly behind,” Steve Nash, Brooklyn Nets Coach and 2x league MVP said.
“We continue to be proud of the team at NEX as they take this significant next step in transforming activity into play for people around the world,” said Chip Austin, General Partner of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment Ventures. “We embrace their important vision and are impressed by their leadership and technology.”
As the opportunities in the gaming world continue to expand aggressively as part of post-COVID shifts to the entertainment sector, esports has found its own opportunities in reaching new audiences. While competitive gaming is still in its early stages, the stakeholders of the industry are some of gaming’s most prominent publishers and organizations, and disrupting how business gets done can be a major challenge for rising leagues and platforms.
We’re excited to have Evil Geniuses CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson join us at TechCrunch Disrupt this week to discuss the business of competitive gaming and how esports is faring in its quest to gain an even larger audience. We’ll talk to LaPointe Jameson about the various leagues and stakeholders in the industry and where the momentum is shifting.
Evil Geniuses is a two decade-old competitive gaming brand, but over the past few years, the esports company has seen a dramatic revamp, exiting leagues and joining new ones while bulking up its roster and looking to find new opportunities in a space that has matured dramatically this decade but is still chasing after mainstream audiences. The esports organization was formerly part of Amazon as a result of the Twitch acquisition, but in 2019 was acquired by Chicago-based Peak6 Investments.
LaPointe Jameson joined Evil Geniuses as CEO back in 2019. At the time, the 25-year-old investor had scant experience running a gaming organization, but since her appointment, the esports company has looked to shake up how companies in the esports world operate. Earlier this year, the company launched its own esports analytics platform, collecting and parsing professional and amateur gameplay data and giving the industry access to more streamlined tools to analyze players and recruit.
As one of very few Black women in charge of an esports organization, LaPointe Jameson has looked to build out a more diverse organization and find a more expansive audience outside traditional niches. The league has helped pioneer signing mixed-gender teams to compete at major competitions.
“To clarify for the people in the back that didn’t catch it the first time… I don’t care where you come from. Nor your creed, gender, religion, class, past industry, or sexual orientation. If you are the best of the best, you have a home here at [Evil Geniuses],” LaPointe Jameson tweeted earlier this year.
We look forward to chatting with LaPointe Jameson, alongside a whole host of amazing speakers at Disrupt, including Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, and actor-entrepreneur Ryan Reynolds.
The show is coming up fast. Get your ticket now for less than $100 before the price increases tonight — and we’ll see you soon.
Jonathan Stringfield, PhD, is VP and Global Head of Business Marketing, Measurement and Insights at Activision Blizzard Media and Esports.
The speed at which gaming has proliferated is matched only by the pace of new buzzwords inundating the ecosystem. Marketers and decision makers, already suffering from FOMO about opportunities within gaming, have latched onto buzzy trends like the applications of blockchain in gaming and the “metaverse” in an effort to get ahead of the trend rather than constantly play catch-up.
The allure is obvious, as the relationship between the blockchain, metaverse, and gaming makes sense. Gaming has always been on the forefront of digital ownership (one can credit gaming platform Steam for normalizing the concept for games, and arguably other media such as movies), and most agreed upon visions of the metaverse rely upon virtual environments common in games with decentralized digital ownership.
Whatever your opinion of either, I believe they both have an interrelated future in gaming. However, the success or relevance of either of these buzzy topics is dependent upon a crucial step that is being skipped at this point.
Let’s start with the example of blockchain and, more specifically, NFTs. Collecting items of varying rarities and often random distribution form some of the core “loops” in many games (i.e. kill monster, get better weapon, kill tougher monster, get even better weapon, etc.), and collecting “skins” (e.g. different outfits/permutation of game character) is one of the most embraced paradigms of micro-transactions in games.
The way NFTs are currently being discussed in relation to gaming are very much in danger of falling into this very trap: Killing the core gameplay loop via a financial fast track.
But that’s been done before… kind of. Developers of games with a “loot loop” like the one described above have long had a problem with “farmers”, who acquire game currencies and items to sell to players for real money, against the terms of service of the game. The solution was to implement in-game “auction houses” where players could instead use real money to purchase items from one another.
Unfortunately, this had an unwanted side-effect. As noted by renowned game psychologist Jamie Madigan, our brains are evolved to pay special attention to rewards that are both unexpected and beneficial. When much of the joy in some games comes from an unexpected or randomized reward, being able to easily acquire a known reward with real money robbed the game of what made it fun.
The way NFTs are currently being discussed in relation to gaming are very much in danger of falling into this very trap: Killing the core gameplay loop via a financial fast track. The most extreme examples of this phenomena commit the biggest cardinal sin in gaming — a game that is “pay to win,” where a player with a big bankroll can acquire a material advantage in a competitive game.
Blockchain games such as Axie Infinity have rapidly increased enthusiasm around the concept of “play to earn,” where players can potentially earn money by selling tokenized resources or characters earned within a blockchain game environment. If this sounds like a scenario that can come dangerously close to “pay to win,” that’s because it is.
What is less clear is whether it matters in this context. Does anyone care enough about the core game itself rather than the potential market value of NFTs or earning potential through playing? More fundamentally, if real-world earnings are the point, is it truly a game or just a gamified micro-economy, where “farming” as described above is not an illicit activity, but rather the core game mechanic?
The technology culture around blockchain has elevated solving for very hard problems that very few people care about. The solution (like many problems in tech) involves reevaluation from a more humanist approach. In the case of gaming, there are some fundamental gameplay and game psychology issues to be tackled before these technologies can gain mainstream traction.
We can turn to the metaverse for a related example. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in gaming, you’ve almost certainly heard of the concept after Mark Zuckerberg staked the future of Facebook upon it. For all the excitement, the fundamental issue is that it simply doesn’t exist, and the closest analogs are massive digital game spaces (such as Fortnite) or sandboxes (such as Roblox). Yet, many brands and marketers who haven’t really done the work to understand gaming are trying to fast-track to an opportunity that isn’t likely to materialize for a long time.
Gaming can be seen as the training wheels for the metaverse — the ways we communicate within, navigate, and think about virtual spaces are all based upon mechanics and systems with foundations in gaming. I’d go so far as to predict the first adopters of any “metaverse” will indeed be gamers who have honed these skills and find themselves comfortable within virtual environments.
By now, you might be seeing a pattern: We’re far more interested in the “future” applications of gaming without having much of a perspective on the “now” of gaming. Game scholarship has proliferated since the early aughts due to a recognition of how games were influencing thought in fields ranging from sociology to medicine, and yet the business world hasn’t paid it much attention until recently.
The result is that marketers and decision makers are doing what they do best (chasing the next big thing) without the usual history of why said thing should be big, or what to do with it when they get there. The growth of gaming has yielded an immense opportunity, but the sophistication of the conversations around these possibilities remains stunted, due in part to our misdirected attention.
There is no “pay to win” fast track out of this blind spot. We have to put in the work to win.
During the darkest hours of the pandemic, millions upon millions of people turned to online gaming as a way to pass time in lockdown and connect with friends they couldn’t see in person. But a social, cooperative, fun and cross-platform gaming experience is remarkably hard to find — and Elodie Games is here to change that.
Elodie’s co-founders, Christina Norman and David Banks, are gaming industry vets who both worked on global hit League of Legends at Riot Games. The pair — also partners — left in 2019 to form their own company, announcing their intention in 2020 to build games focusing on co-op, crossplay, and “endlessly engaging experiences,” which suggests more open-ended, sandbox play.
The team already numbers 30 (and they’re hiring), and the game they’re working on is still something of a mystery; the images on its site are just general ideas, nothing from development. But what they showed behind closed doors was clearly enough to secure a $32.5 million Series A from Galaxy Interactive and a16z, with Brian Cho of Patron and Chris Ovitz from Electric Ant participating as well. The company last raised $5M in 2020 to get the ball rolling and clearly they’ve put that money to good use.
Norman explained that the main idea is to remove the barriers many gamers have come to accept as inevitable.
“At the simplest level, we’re designing our game so players have these great experiences more easily, and more frequently,” she told TechCrunch. “This starts with removing friction that stops you from playing with friends in the first place. Most social multiplayer gamers are segmented by platform, time investment, purchases or skill in a way that limits who you can play with, and how you can play with them. While there are examples of how to overcome these limitations individually (Among Us is doing some great stuff for example) progress overall here has been slow and we are excited to speed it up.”
Certainly I can speak personally to even the slightest amount of friction stopping a nascent play session in its tracks as one person had to update their app or OS, or another couldn’t get the lobby to load, an Android-iOS conflict emerged, and so on. We ended up playing the rather poor games built into video chat apps simply because they worked every time. Even then it depended on the feel of the gathering, and being able to decide collectively what sounds like fun is another aspect of the Elodie ambition.
Making a game cross-platform isn’t as difficult as it used to be thanks to shared architectures like Unreal and Unity, but it’s still no cake walk.
“Of course, modern engine tech helps immensely with making cross-play possible, but it doesn’t make it fun. Traditional approaches to cross-platform development are slow, expensive and repetitive,” said Banks. “That’s why we are building Elodie’s development practices to achieve exceptional cross-play and focusing on what we call the true cross-play experience from day one.”
“True” cross-play, one presumes, is a step above the elementary “Xbox players can play with PC players,” to the point where the game is actually equally desirable to play on platform. Whether that can really be achieved is a matter of debate, but the proof of the pudding is in the taste, so we’ll find out when Elodie puts its game out into the wild.
Gaming in general is moving towards accessibility, but that’s not as much the case in esports, which like other sports are competitive and by nature somewhat exclusive. Xbox and the Special Olympics are working together on a new event that combines competition with inclusion, and it’s going on right now.
This week, Special Olympics athletes will be competing against each other in tournaments of Rocket League, Madden NFL 22, and Forza Motorsports 7. The prize, other than prestige and pride, is playing with one of the Special Olympics’ celebrity supporters: “NBA superstar Jayson Tatum, NFL legend Jamaal Charles, and WWE Superstars.”
“This tournament is a meaningful and important step in making esports more accessible and it empowers Special Olympics athletes with a new way to compete,” said Jenn Panattoni, Head of Xbox Social Impact. “Xbox has invested in numerous accessibility features and products, like the Xbox Adaptive Controller and features like copilot or speech to text. The purpose of all this continued work is to ensure that players feel welcome and that they belong on the Xbox platform.”
The tournaments are being recorded right now, and will be broadcast over the rest of the week, along with the “celebrity showcase” coming Saturday with recaps. You can check out a schedule at the bottom of this post, but generally just keep an eye on the Xbox Twitch channel and Special Olympics YouTube channel.
I like to highlight these events because accessibility has been on the back burner for so long in the gaming world, and now we’re seeing big moves by developers, publishers, and partners to make things better. Microsoft’s XAC is a great example, as is the panoply of visual, audio, and difficulty options in the latest Ratchet & Clank game. Esports is definitely one of the areas that needs more diversity, though, and the participating players were glad to take part. I asked Special Olympics Jose Moreno and Colton Rice for their thoughts on the matter.
Do you think competitive gaming is getting more accessible?
Rice: Competitive gaming is definitely getting more accessible. Not only are the games becoming more accessible, accessibility allows people with disabilities to become more competitive players. People with intellectual disabilities are always trying to compete at their best. We want to do what everyone else is doing, and sometimes just need a little help to make that happen.
Moreno: I do think that competitive gaming is getting more accessible because Microsoft has started bringing out video game controllers that are accessible for people with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities – accessible to everybody. I’m a lifelong gamer, and accessibility in esports has been game-changing. Accessible gaming wasn’t available when I was growing up. Today, it’s so much more fun to play when you can play with friends of all abilities and everybody can participate.
Special Olympics athletes Colton Rice, left, and Jose Moreno.
How are you experiencing that change?
Moreno: In my opinion, the more the video games industry include people with intellectual disabilities, the better the video game community is going to get to know how we love playing video games just like everybody else. And through events like Gaming for Inclusion, I’m not just able to compete – I’m included as a part of a community of gamers where I am welcomed and included.
Rice: People with intellectual disabilities have skills and pay attention to details; when we set our minds to do something, we practice until we are the best we can be especially when we enjoy doing it – and that includes gaming. People with disabilities just need more time to learn, but when you’re dedicated to something that you’re passionate about, you won’t stop until you succeed.
What’s something you’d like to see more of, from developers, publishers etc?
Moreno: I would like to see more from developers or makers or publishers of video games in general or computer games to include more people with intellectual disabilities in the video game workforce. People with intellectual disabilities can play a variety of roles and provide unique perspectives on how to improve the gaming experience. Publishers and developers can get a different perspective from people with disabilities; whether that’s featuring people with intellectual disabilities represented in their storylines or seeing them in the games themselves. We’re eager to be a part of this process, and there are lots of passionate gamers with intellectual disabilities who would like to participate in focus groups or in actual jobs as creators within the industry.
Rice: The companies who make these games are trying to make high quality games that are enjoyable for everybody. There is still a lot that can be done to make games more accessible. For example, it can be frustrating when gamers with intellectual disabilities are learning a new game with instructions that are hard to read. It can take hours to learn how to play the new version of a game you’ve played for years. That doesn’t mean people with intellectual disabilities aren’t capable of playing or competing – it just means we need better accessibility tools to help us learn.
If gaming companies want to create accessible, inclusive games, they could benefit from including gamers with intellectual disabilities in the creative process to help make or test “easy read” or beginner’s instructions, or find ways to simplify navigation between different levels of a game. Gaming can build a community and reach people who feel left out. Accessibility allows everybody to have fun.
This competition and other events in online gaming have been essential to keeping the Special Olympics community connected and active over a difficult couple years.
“Special Olympics has a long-standing partnership with Microsoft that has been incredibly valuable for the athletes and families of the Special Olympics movement,” said the organization’s Chief Information and Technology Officer, Prianka Nandy. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, our main concern has been the safety and health of our athletes, who are amongst the most vulnerable population to have an adverse or catastrophic outcome from the virus. This led to the cancellation and postponement of thousands of annual in-person events and competitions – which meant our athletes have missed out on the connections and opportunities to experience the joy of being with their teammates, coaches, and friends. At this time, our goals remain to raise awareness of the Special Olympics movement and the accomplishments, hopes, and dreams of our incredible athletes, and to change attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities within the gaming community, all while remembering that gaming can be fun and inclusive for all.”
When you’re hot, you’re hot. And 1047 Games is making the most of the heat generated by Splitgate, its first game and a now a breakout success. After working on a shoestring for years, the team has since May raised three rounds, the latest for a massive $100M.
Co-founder and CEO Ian Proulx credited a dedicated community and, as he described it, “taking a Silicon Valley approach to running a game business.”
At the time 1047 Games was founded, about 5 years ago, free to play (f2p) PC games were a niche genre. While games like World of Tanks and Warframe were seeing success, and of course many mobile games relying on in-app-purchases, Fortnite had yet to show the industry that f2p could be so ludicrously profitable.
“5 years ago it was very hit driven: you spend years developing a product, put all this money into hyping the launch, and then hope it’s a success,” Proulx explained. “Our process was, there’s no way we can take that risk — if we spent our entire budget and got it wrong, we’re out of business. So we thought, let’s do a soft launch, put it out there and see what happens, learn, listen, look at the data. Why would I spend money marketing a product that I have no idea about whether it will be a success? If we wanted to spend money, and we didn’t have a lot, I’d rather spend it on a product that has great metrics and KPIs.”
If you’re not familiar with it, Splitgate is a multiplayer online competitive shooter with a lot of DNA from the old-school arena shooters like Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, and Halo. Those games are frenetic enough, but Splitgate adds the ability to bend space with portals, like the eponymous Portal, adding a truly ridiculous amount of mobility to the action.
Image Credits: 1047 Games
Proulx said investors shut the door on him repeatedly because they didn’t see Splitgate competing in any of the popular genres, battle royales and hero shooters, for instance. But he felt confident that this update to a familiar formula would be a success partly because the demand was there, just sleeping. “People grew up playing these games, and the reason [the market] is dead is not because they stopped loving them,” he said. “No one has moved the needle because there hasn’t been a lot of innovation, and there hasn’t been something that’s accessible to the masses. Quake Arena is great, but it’s extremely difficult. No 12-year-old Fortnite kid is gonna play it. We really do fill this void.”
While gameplay-wise Splitgate is most obviously similar to classic shooters, Proulx said a better comparison would be Rocket League, another huge success story in gaming that took a great concept and provided it as cheaply as possible, making money off cosmetic items and other totally optional perks.
“You can just have fun, turn your brain off and play, but there’s this limitless skill ceiling,” he explained.
It didn’t spring fully-formed from 1047 in 2019, though. The team put out the gaming equivalent of a minimum viable product. “It was fun, and the basics were there,” he said, “but we learned there’s way more to running a business and free-to-play than just having a fun game.”
The danger for any game is simply that people stop playing, so the team focused on retention and on listening to feedback from the community to make Splitgate a “forever game” that can go years with “seasons,” new features and maps, and so on.
The original MVP release saw some traction, around 600,000 downloads in its first month, but the big multi-platform relaunch — still as an “open beta” — this summer made a huge splash, pulling in more than 10 million in July.
Suddenly the tables had turned and 1047 was holding, as Proulx put it, “lightning in a bottle.”
“Our first round six months ago was extremely difficult. We talked to every investors on the planet and they all said no,” he recalled. But the hard work paid off: “We got lucky and ended up with the perfect partners — I can’t stress enough how supportive our investors have been.”
The next round ( with Human Capital, just as Splitgate was taking off, went from phonecall to funding over a weekend. This third round, with 1047 picking and choosing, was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners with participation from “Insight Partners, Anthos Capital, and earlier seed round investors Galaxy Interactive, VGames, Human Capital, Lakestar, DraperDragon, and Draper University” (from the press release).
One wonders what a team of fewer than ten people could possibly do with $100M ($116M if you count the two previous rounds). But the bet investors are making is not that 1047 is going to suddenly make Assassin’s Creed, but rather that they think ten million (and rising) people playing a unique game is potentially a huge opportunity — if the developers have the chance to follow through. This post-hype period is the valley of death for many games, the developers starved for cash after streamers and curious casuals move on. But the funding means that, for 1047, it’s license to hire like mad and double down.
“The scope of what we can do is now through the roof,” said Proulx. “There’s so much we couldn’t think about because we were a tiny team with a tiny budget, but now everything is on the table. We’re focusing on the long term — I look at the game as being 25 percent done. We don’t need to be Fortnite tomorrow, but now it really is about building the next Riot Games, the next big games business.”
In the meantime, Splitgate itself is still on the road to 1.0 and Proulx says the team can now truly focus on making it the game they and the community have been shaping it to be for years. He noted that many players have stuck by the team for years and helped make the game what it is, and that their input is just as important now.
“We read everything, we’re listening — keep the feedback coming. We’re still operating like the indie team that had to stay close with our community. We’re still in that mindset,” Proulx said, “but now we just have a ridiculous amount of money.”
Nathan Babcock is a computer scientist and freelance writer in Chicago and a co-founder of automated highlight detection startup Clip It.
Benjamin Clingan is a software developer specializing in Python back ends, finance, genetic neural networks and other machine learning strategies and a co-founder of automated highlight detection startup Clip It.
With the rise of livestreaming, gaming has evolved from a toy-like consumer product to a legitimate platform and medium in its own right for entertainment and competition.
Twitch’s viewer base alone has grown from 250,000 average concurrent viewers to over 3 million since its acquisition by Amazon in 2014. Competitors like Facebook Gaming and YouTube Live are following similar trajectories.
The boom in viewership has fueled an ecosystem of supporting products as today’s professional streamers push technology to its limit to increase the production value of their content and automate repetitive aspects of the video production cycle.
The largest streamers hire teams of video editors and social media managers, but growing and part-time streamers struggle to do this themselves or come up with the money to outsource it.
The online streaming game is a grind, with full-time creators putting in eight- if not 12-hour performances on a daily basis. In a bid to capture valuable viewer attention, 24-hour marathon streams are not uncommon either.
However, these hours in front of the camera and keyboard are only half of the streaming grind. Maintaining a constant presence on social media and YouTube fuels the growth of the stream channel and attracts more viewers to catch a stream live, where they may purchase monthly subscriptions, donate and watch ads.
Distilling the most impactful five to 10 minutes of content out of eight or more hours of raw video becomes a non-trivial time commitment. At the top of the food chain, the largest streamers can hire teams of video editors and social media managers to tackle this part of the job, but growing and part-time streamers struggle to find the time to do this themselves or come up with the money to outsource it. There aren’t enough minutes in the day to carefully review all the footage on top of other life and work priorities.
Computer vision analysis of game UI
An emerging solution is to use automated tools to identify key moments in a longer broadcast. Several startups compete to dominate this emerging niche. Differences in their approaches to solving this problem are what differentiate competing solutions from each other. Many of these approaches follow a classic computer science hardware-versus-software dichotomy.
Athenascope was one of the first companies to execute on this concept at scale. Backed by $2.5 million of venture capital funding and an impressive team of Silicon Valley Big Tech alumni, Athenascope developed a computer vision system to identify highlight clips within longer recordings.
In principle, it’s not so different from how self-driving cars operate, but instead of using cameras to read nearby road signs and traffic lights, the tool captures the gamer’s screen and recognizes indicators in the game’s user interface that communicate important events happening in-game: kills and deaths, goals and saves, wins and losses.
These are the same visual cues that traditionally inform the game’s player what is happening in the game. In modern game UIs, this information is high-contrast, clear and unobscured, and typically located in predictable, fixed locations on the screen at all times. This predictability and clarity lends itself extremely well to computer vision techniques such as optical character recognition (OCR) — reading text from an image.
The stakes here are lower than self-driving cars, too, since a false positive from this system produces nothing more than a less-exciting-than-average video clip — not a car crash.
Houseparty, the social video chat app acquired by Fortnite maker Epic Games for a reported $35 million back in 2019, is shutting down. The company says Houseparty will be discontinued in October when the app will stop functioning for its existing users; it will be pulled from the app stores today, however. Related to this move, Epic Games’ “Fortnite Mode” feature, which leveraged Houseparty to bring video chat to Fortnite gamers, will also be discontinued.
Founded in 2015, Houseparty offered a way for users to participate in group video chats with friends and even play games, like Uno, trivia, Heads Up and others. Last year, Epic Games integrated Houseparty with Fortnite, initially to allow gamers to see live feeds from friends while gaming, then later adding support to livestream gameplay directly into Houseparty. At the time, these integrations appeared to be the end goal that explained why Epic Games had bought the social startup in the first place.
Now, just over two years after the acquisition was announced, and less than half a year since support for livestreaming was added to the app, Houseparty is shutting down.
The company didn’t offer any solid insight into what, at first glance, feels like an admission of failure to capitalize on its acquisition. But the reality is that Epic Games may have something larger in store beyond just video chat. That said, all Epic Games would say today is that the Houseparty team could no longer give the app the attention it required — a statement that indicates an executive decision to shift the team’s focus to other matters.
While none of the Houseparty team members are being let go as a result of this move, we’re told, they will be joining other teams where they will work on new ways to allow for “social interactions” across the Epic Games family of products. The company’s announcement hinted that those social features would be designed and built at the “metaverse scale.”
The “metaverse” is an increasingly used buzzword that references a shared virtual environment, like those provided by large-scale online gaming platforms such as Fortnite, Roblox and others. Facebook, too, claims the metaverse is the next big gambit for social networking, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg having described it as an “embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at.”
To some extent, Fortnite has begun to embrace the metaverse by offering non-gaming experiences like onlineconcerts you attend as your avatar, and other live events. Ahead of its shutdown, Houseparty also toyed with live events that users would co-watch and participate in alongside their friends.
3/6 The metaverse vision and products we’re working on at @EpicGames are also about shared experiences, but in a more rich form than 2D video — one that's better positioned to shape the next generation of the internet.
An Epic Games spokesperson tells TechCrunch the Houseparty team has worked on (and continues to work on) a number of other projects that focus on social. But some of the “multiple, larger projects” Epic Games has in the works remain undisclosed, we’re told.
In terms of social products, Houseparty’s technology now underpins all of Fortnite voice chat and the features they built are widely available for free to developers through Epic Games Services. They also worked on building out new social experiences, which have ranged from the social RSVP functions for Fortnite’s global events, like the recent Ariana Grande concert, to the upcoming “Operation: Sky Fire” event for collaborating quests and other game mechanics. More social functionality and new experiences are also being built into Fortnite’s user-generated content platform, Create Mode.
While it may seem odd to close an app that only last year experienced a boost in usage due to the pandemic, it appears the COVID bump didn’t have staying power.
According to data from Apptopia, Houseparty has been continually declining since the pandemic bump. To date, its app has seen a total of 111 million downloads across iOS and Android, with the majority (63 million) on iOS. The U.S. was Houseparty’s largest market, accounting for 43.4% of downloads, followed by the U.K. (9.8%), then Germany (5.6%).
Epic Games, meanwhile, said the app served “tens of millions” of users worldwide. It insists the closure wasn’t decided lightly, nor was the decision to shutter “Fortnite Mode” made due to lack of adoption.
Houseparty will alert users to the shutdown via in-app notifications ahead of its final closure in October. At that point, Fortnite Mode will also no longer be available.
Barcelona-based gaming video platform Gamestry has snatched up $5 million in seed funding, led by Goodwater Capital, Target Global and Kibo Ventures — turning investors’ heads with a 175x growth rate over the past 12 months.
While the (for now) Spanish-language gaming video platform launched a few years back, in 2018, last year the founders decided to shift away from an initial focus on curating purely learning content around gaming — allowing creators to upload and share entertainment-focused games videos, too.
The switch looks to have paid off as a growth tactic. Gamestry says it now has 4M monthly active users (MAUs) and 2,000 active creators in Spain and Latin America (its main markets so far) — and is gunning to hit 20M MAUs by the end of the year.
While Twitch continues to dominate the market for live-streaming games — catering to the esports boom — Gamestry, which says it’s focused on “non-live video content”, reckons there’s a gap for a dedicated on-demand video platform that better supports games-focused video creators and provides games fans with a more streamlined discovery experience than catch-all user-generated content giants like YouTube.
For games video creators, it’s dangling the carrot of a better revenue share than other UGC video platforms — talking about having “a fair ads revenue share model”, and a plan to add more revenue streams for creators “soon”. It also pledges “full transparency on how the monetization structure works”, and a focus on supporting creators if they have technical issues.
So, basically, the sorts of issues creators have often complained that YouTube fails them on.
For viewers, the pitch is a one-stop-shop for finding and watching videos about games and connecting with others with the same passion (gaming chat) — so the platform structures content around individual games titles.
The startup also claims to present viewers with better info about a video to help them decide whether or not to click on it (aka, tools to help them find “quality instead of clickbait”), beyond basics like title, thumbnail and videos. (Albeit to my admittedly unseasoned eye for assessing the calibre of games video content, there is no shortage of clickbaity-looking stuff on Gamestry. But I am definitely not the target audience here…). So the viewer pitch also sounds like another little dig at YouTube.
“Despite being the de-facto place for uploading content, YouTube is a generic platform that is not optimized for gaming and therefore doesn’t cater to the needs of gaming creators,” argue founders — brothers Alejo and Guillermo Torrens — adding: “Vertical or specialized platforms emerge whenever markets become large enough that current platforms can’t serve their users’ needs and we believe that’s exactly what’s happening today.”
Target Global’s Lina Chong led the international fund’s investment in Gamestry. Asked what piqued her interest here, she flagged the recent growth spurt and the platform having onboarded scores of highly engaged games content creators in short order.
“The problem Gamestry is addressing is that the vast majority of creators don’t make much money on those platforms because they are ads/eyeball driven businesses,” she told TechCrunch. “Gamestry provides a space where creators, despite audience size, can find new ways to engage with their audience and make a living. This problem among creators is so big that Gamestry now has over 2k highly engaged creators uploading multiple content pieces and millions of their viewers on the platform every month.”
It will surely surprise no one to learn that the typical Gamestry user is a male, aged between 18 and 24.
The startup also told us the “most trending” games on its platform are Minecraft, Free Fire, and Fortnite, adding that “IRL (In Real Life) content is also very successful”.
As well as YouTube Gaming, other platforms competing for similar games-mad eyeballs include Facebook Gaming and Booyah.
Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.
This week, the gaming industry again became a target of Beijing, which imposed arguably the world’s strictest limits on underage players. On the other hand, China’s tech titans are hastily answering Beijing’s call for them to take on more social responsibilities and take a break from unfettered expansion.
China dropped a bombshell on the country’s young gamers. As of September 1, users under the age of 18 are limited to only one hour of online gaming time: on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 8-9 p.m.
The stringent rule adds to already tightening gaming policies for minors, as the government blames video games for causing myopia, as well as deteriorating mental and physical health. Remember China recently announced a suite of restrictions on after-school tutoring? The joke going around is that working parents will have an even harder time keeping their kids occupied.
A few aspects of the new regulation are worth unpacking. For one, the new rule was instituted by the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), the regulatory body that approves gaming titles in China and that in 2019 froze the approval process for nine months, which led to plunges in gaming stocks like Tencent.
It’s curious that the directive on playtime came from the NPPA, which reviews gaming content and issues publishing licenses. Like other industries in China, video games are subject to regulations by multiple authorities: NPPA; the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s top internet watchdog; and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which oversees the country’s industrial standards and telecommunications infrastructure.
As analysts long observe, the mighty CAC, which sits under the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission chaired by President Xi Jinping, has run into “bureaucratic struggles” with other ministries unwilling to relinquish power. This may well be the case for regulating the lucrative gaming industry.
For Tencent and other major gaming companies, the impact of the new rule on their balance sheet may be trifling. Following the news, several listed Chinese gaming firms, including NetEase and 37 Games, hurried to announce that underage players made up less than 1% of their gaming revenues.
Tencent saw the change coming and disclosed in its Q2 earnings that “under-16-year-olds accounted for only 2.6% of its China-based grossing receipts for games and under-12-year-olds accounted for just 0.3%.”
These numbers may not reflect the reality, as minors have long found ways around gaming restrictions, such as using an adult’s ID for user registration (just as the previous generation borrowed IDs from adult friends to sneak into internet cafes). Tencent and other gaming firms have vowed to clamp down on these workarounds, forcing kids to seek even more sophisticated tricks, including using VPNs to access foreign versions of gaming titles. The cat and mouse game continues.
While China curtails the power of its tech behemoths, it has also pressured them to take on more social responsibilities, which include respecting the worker’s rights in the gig economy.
Last week, the Supreme People’s Court of China declared the “996” schedule, working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, illegal. The declaration followed years of worker resistance against the tech industry’s burnout culture, which has manifested in actions like a GitHub project listing companies practicing “996.”
Meanwhile, hardworking and compliant employees have often been cited as a competitive advantage of China’s tech industry. It’s in part why some Silicon Valley companies, especially those run by people familiar with China, often set up branches in the country to tap its pool of tech talent.
The days when overworking is glorified and tolerated seem to be drawing to an end. Both ByteDance and its short video rival Kuaishou recently scrapped their weekend overtime policies.
Similarly, Meituan announced that it will introduce compulsory break time for its food delivery riders. The on-demand services giant has been slammed for “inhumane” algorithms that force riders into brutal hours or dangerous driving.
In groundbreaking moves, ride-hailing giant Didi and Alibaba’s e-commerce rival JD.com have set up unions for their staff, though it’s still unclear what tangible impact the organizations will have on safeguarding employee rights.
Tencent and Alibaba have also acted. On August 17, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech calling for “common prosperity,” which caught widespread attention from the country’s ultra-rich.
“As China marches towards its second centenary goal, the focus of promoting people’s well-being should be put on boosting common prosperity to strengthen the foundation for the Party’s long-term governance.”
This week, both Tencent and Alibaba pledged to invest 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) in support of “common prosperity.” The purposes of their funds are similar and align neatly with Beijing’s national development goals, from growing the rural economy to improving the healthcare system.
A startup called Playbyte wants to become the TikTok for games. The company’s newly launched iOS app offers tools that allow users to make and share simple games on their phone, as well as a vertically scrollable, fullscreen feed where you can play the games created by others. Also like TikTok, the feed becomes more personalized over time to serve up more of the kinds of games you like to play.
While typically, game creation involves some aspect of coding, Playbyte’s games are created using simple building blocks, emoji and even images from your Camera Roll on your iPhone. The idea is to make building games just another form of self-expression, rather than some introductory, educational experience that’s trying to teach users the basics of coding.
At its core, Playbyte’s game creation is powered by its lightweight 2D game engine built on web frameworks, which lets users create games that can be quickly loaded and played even on slow connections and older devices. After you play a game, you can like and comment using buttons on the right-side of the screen, which also greatly resembles the TikTok look-and-feel. Over time, Playbyte’s feed shows you more of the games you enjoyed as the app leverages its understanding of in-game imagery, tags and descriptions, and other engagement analytics to serve up more games it believes you’ll find compelling.
At launch, users have already made a variety of games using Playbyte’s tools — including simulators, tower defense games, combat challenges, obbys, murder mystery games, and more.
According to Playbyte founder and CEO Kyle Russell — previously of Skydio, Andreessen Horowitz, and (disclosure!) TechCrunch — Playbyte is meant to be a social media app, not just a games app.
“We have this model in our minds for what is required to build a new social media platform,” he says.
What Twitter did for text, Instagram did for photos and TikTok did for video was to combine a constraint with a personalized feed, Russell explains. “Typically. [they started] with a focus on making these experiences really brief…So a short, constrained format and dedicated tools that set you up for success to work within that constrained format,” he adds.
Similarly, Playbyte games have their own set of limitations. In addition to their simplistic nature, the games are limited to five scenes. Thanks to this constraint, a format has emerged where people are making games that have an intro screen where you hit “play,” a story intro, a challenging gameplay section, and then a story outro.
In addition to its easy-to-use game building tools, Playbyte also allows game assets to be reused by other game creators. That means if someone who has more expertise makes a game asset using custom logic or which pieced together multiple components, the rest of the user base can benefit from that work.
“Basically, we want to make it really easy for people who aren’t as ambitious to still feel like productive, creative game makers,” says Russell. “The key to that is going to be if you have an idea — like an image of a game in your mind — you should be able to very quickly search for new assets or piece together other ones you’ve previously saved. And then just drop them in and mix-and-match — almost like Legos — and construct something that’s 90% of what you imagined, without any further configuration on your part,” he says.
In time, Playbyte plans to monetize its feed with brand advertising, perhaps by allowing creators to drop sponsored assets into their games, for instance. It also wants to establish some sort of patronage model at a later point. This could involve either subscriptions or even NFTs of the games, but this would be further down the road.
The startup had originally began as a web app in 2019, but at the end of last year, the team scrapped that plan and rewrote everything as a native iOS app with its own game engine. That app launched on the App Store this week, after previously maxing out TestFlight’s cap of 10,000 users.
Currently, it’s finding traction with younger teenagers who are active on TikTok and other collaborative games, like Roblox, Minecraft, or Fortnite.
“These are young people who feel inspired to build their own games but have been intimidated by the need to learn to code or use other advanced tools, or who simply don’t have a computer at home that would let them access those tools,” notes Russell.
Playbyte is backed by $4 million in pre-seed and seed funding from investors including FirstMark (Rick Heitzmann), Ludlow Ventures (Jonathon Triest and Blake Robbins), Dream Machine (former Editor-in-Chief at TechCrunch, Alexia Bonatsos), and angels such as Fred Ehrsam, co-founder of Coinbase; Nate Mitchell, co-founder of Oculus; Ashita Achuthan, previously of Twitter; and others.
Over the last month, Twitch users have become increasingly concerned and frustrated with bot-driven hate raids. To protest Twitch’s lack of immediate action to prevent targeted harassment of marginalized creators, some streamers are going dark to observe #ADayOffTwitch today.
Per the protest, users are sharing a list of demands for the Amazon-owned Twitch. They want the platform to host a roundtable with creators affected by hate raids, allow streamers to approve or deny incoming raids, enable tools to only allow accounts of a certain age to chat, remove the ability to attach more than three accounts to one email address, and share a timeframe for when comprehensive anti-harassment tools will be implemented.
Hey friendos, I won’t be streaming tomorrow in support of #ADayOffTwitch. (Here’s a handy graphic of some of the things those protesting are asking of @Twitch in case you’re not familiar with what’s going on.) I’ll be back on Thursday for our first swing at Senior Detective! pic.twitter.com/OA9NQlTnq3
TechCrunch asked Twitch if it has plans to address these demands. Twitch responded with a statement: “We support our streamers’ rights to express themselves and bring attention to important issues across our service. No one should have to experience malicious and hateful attacks based on who they are or what they stand for, and we are working hard on improved channel-level ban evasion detection and additional account improvements to help make Twitch a safer place for creators.”
Twitch Raids are a part of the streaming platform’s culture — after one creator ends their stream, they can “raid” another stream by sending their viewers over to check out someone else’s channel. This feature is supposed to help more seasoned streamers support up-and-comers, but instead, it’s been weaponized as a tool for harassment.
In May, Twitch launched 350 new tags related to gender, sexual orientation, race and ability, which users requested so that they could more easily find creators that represent them. But at the same time, these tags made it easier for bad actors to harass marginalized streamers, and Twitch hasn’t yet added tools for streamers to deal with increased harassment. In the meantime, Twitch users have had to take matters into their own hands and build their own safety tools to protect themselves while Twitch works on its updates. Twitch hasn’t shared when its promised anti-harassment tools will go live.
As recently as December, Twitch updated its policies on hateful content and harassment, which the platform said have always been prohibited, yet vicious attacks have continued. After facing targeted, racist hate raids on their streams, a Black Twitch creator RekItRaven started the #TwitchDoBetter hashtag on Twitter in early August, calling out Twitch for its failure to prevent this abuse. While Twitch is aware of the issue and said it’s working on solutions, many users find Twitch’s response to be too slow and lacking.
We've been building channel-level ban evasion detection and account improvements to combat this malicious behavior for months. However, as we work on solutions, bad actors work in parallel to find ways around them—which is why we can't always share details.
Along with streamers LuciaEverblack and ShineyPen, RekItRaven organized #ADayOffTwitch to put pressure on Twitch to make its platform safer for marginalized creators.
“Hate on the platform is not new,” Raven told WYNC’s The Takeaway. But bot-driven raid attacks are more difficult to combat than individual trolls. “I’ve had people come in with bots. It’s usually one or two people who program a bunch of bots, you bypass security measures that are put in place and just spam a broadcaster’s chat with very inflammatory, derogatory language.”
While Raven said they have since had a discussion with Twitch, they don’t feel that one conversation is enough.
Turns out a bunch of LGBTQUIA2+, BIPOC, Disabled, Neurodivergent, and Plural creators really can make a difference by showing up, being loud, and not backing down despite people telling us we won't accomplish anything. Just remember, we aren't done yet. #ADayOffTwitch
As part of #ADayOffTwitch, some streamers are encouraging their followers to support them financially on other platforms through the #SubOffTwitch tag. Twitch takes 50% of streamers’ revenue, so creators are promoting their accounts on platforms like Patreon and Ko-Fi, which take a much smaller cut. Though competitor YouTube Gaming takes 30% of revenue, and Facebook Gaming won’t take a cut from creators until 2023, Twitch remains dominant in the streaming space. According to Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet, Twitch represented 72.3% of the market share in terms of viewership Q1 2021.
Still, popular creators like Ben Lupo (DrLupo), Jack Dunlop (CouRage), and Rachell Hofstetter (Valkyrae) have recently left Twitch for exclusive deals with YouTube Gaming. If Twitch remains unsafe for marginalized creators, others might be swayed to follow their lead, exclusive deals or not.
Facebook is getting into fantasy sports and other types of fantasy games. The company this morning announced the launch of Facebook Fantasy Games in the U.S. and Canada on the Facebook app for iOS and Android. Some games are described as “simpler” versions of the traditional fantasy sports games already on the market, while others allow users to make predictions associated with popular TV series, like “Survivor” or “The Bachelorette.”
The first game to launch is Pick & Play Sports, in partnership with Whistle Sports, where fans get points for correctly predicting the winner of a big game, the points scored by a top player, or other events that unfold during the match. Players can also earn bonus points for building a streak of correct predictions over several days. This game is arriving today.
Image Credits: Facebook
In the months ahead, it will be followed by other games in sports, TV, and pop culture, including Fantasy Survivor, where players choose a set of Castaways from the popular CBS TV show to join their fantasy team and Fantasy “The Bachelorette,” where fans will pick a group of men from the suitors vying for the Bachelorette’s heart and get points based on their actions and events that take place during the show. Other upcoming sports-focused games include MLB Home Run Picks, where players pick the team that they think will hit the most home runs, and LaLiga Winning Streak, where fans predict the team that will win that day.
In addition to top players being featured on leaderboards, games have a social component for those who want to play with friends.
Image Credits: Facebook
Players can create their own fantasy league with friends to compete with one another or against other fans, either publicly or privately. League members can compare scores with each other and will have a place where they can share picks, reactions and comments. This league area resembles a private group on Facebook, as it offers its own compose box for posting only to members and its own dedicated feed. However, the page is designed to support groups with specific buttons to “play” or view the “leaderboard,” among others.
The addition of fantasy games could help Facebook increase the time users spent on its app at a time when the company is facing significant competition in social, namely from TikTok. According to App Annie, the average monthly time spent per user in TikTok grew faster than other top social apps in 2020, including by 70% in the U.S., surpassing Facebook.
Facebook had dabbled in the idea of becoming a second screen companion for live events in the past, but in a different way than fantasy sports and games. Instead, its R&D division tested Venue, which worked as a way for fans to comment on live events which were hosted in the app by well-known personalities.
The new league games will be available from the bookmark menu on the mobile app and in News Feed through notifications.
China’s National Press and Publication Administration has released a notice imposing limits on online gaming for minors. On September 1st, video game companies will have to restrict gaming time to three hours a week — from 8 PM to 9 PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
With this new set of restrictions, Chinese authorities want to tackle addition to online games. According to the National Press and Publication Administration, online gaming has an impact on both the physical and mental health of minors.
In order to implement those time limits, game companies will have to leverage a real name-based registration system. In 2018, Tencent started using this system to limit playtime on Honor of Kings, a widely popular mobile game.
Back then, limits weren’t as strict though as children up to aged 12 could play one hour per day, and up to two hours per day for children between 13 and 18. At the time, authorities were concerned about worsening myopia among minors.
During the signup flow, users have to go through an ID verification system, which means that you can only have one account associated with your real name. Regulators will regularly check whether gaming companies comply with local regulation.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the new rules affect video games as a whole. Online gaming is mentioned specifically, which could mean that solo games won’t be restricted going forward. Similarly, it’s unclear whether console games and foreign games will have to implement the new real name-based registration system.
Some young gamers will also be tempted to circumvent the restrictions by signing up on a foreign server. It’s also worth noting that adult players will still be able to play 24/7.
Following the news, Tencent has issued a statement. “Tencent expressed its strong support and will make every effort to implement the relevant requirements of the Notice as soon as possible,” the company says.
As Bloomberg noticed, NetEase shares are currently down 8% compared to yesterday’s closing price. NetEase is another popular Chinese game development company and its activities aren’t as diversified as Tencent’s activities.
Pokémon Go announced yesterday that it will permanently keep an in-game feature that made the game easier to play while social distancing. Introduced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the feature doubled the interaction radius around key augmented reality landmarks that are essential to gameplay. Though Niantic — parent company to Pokémon Go — removed the feature earlier this month, it chose to permanently reinstate it after weeks of community- and creator-led backlash.
Trainers – we’re looking forward to sharing our plans as a result of the task force on September 1, but one thing does not have to wait! From now on, 80 meters will be the base interaction radius for PokéStops and Gyms globally. (1/2)
Pre-pandemic, Pokémon Go players needed to be within 40 meters of a PokéStop or Gym to interact with it, but with the now-permanent change, the radius is expanded to 80 meters. Incidentally, disabled players found that this feature made the game more accessible to people with limited mobility. As one of the first mainstream AR mobile games, Pokémon Go is virtually unplayable if you’re unable to travel to real-world landmarks like PokéStops and Gyms — so allowing users to interact with these landmarks from further away (for example, if a wheelchair-user can’t journey off of a paved sidewalk) opened the game up to new players.
Since Pokémon Go has long positioned itself as a game that encourages real-world exploration, worldwide lockdowns posed a unique challenge for Niantic. But by making some small changes — like expanding the interaction radius by just 40 meters, increasing Pokémon spawns, and making it easier to obtain more PokéBalls– the game became easier to play from home.
These changes didn’t break the game or contradict its adventurous spirit, which made the rollback of a well-loved upgrade confusing for players, especially in light of the spreading Delta variant. From a financial standpoint, the app thrived during the pandemic. In 2020, Pokémon Go had its best-earning year since its launch in 2016, earning over $1 billion. According to app analytics firm SensorTower, this upward trend continued for Pokémon Go in the first half of 2021 with $642 million. This marked a 34% increase in consumer spending compared to the first half of 2020, when it made $479 million.
Some players organized a boycott of the game on August 5th, which was referred to as “Pokémon No Day.” That same day, Niantic issued a response letter addressed to the Pokémon Go community.
“Encouraging people to explore, exercise and safely play together in person remains Niantic’s mission. The health and wellbeing of players is our top priority,” Niantic’s statement read. The company formed an “inter cross-functional team” to address these concerns and invited prominent Pokémon Go content creators to share community feedback. While expanding the interaction radius is the first result of the task force, Pokémon Go tweeted that it will share more findings on September 1.
TechCrunch asked Niantic why it initially chose to rebuke these gameplay updates despite positive community feedback, increased revenue, and an ongoing pandemic, but Niantic declined to comment.
Despite players’ visible negative response on social media, SensorTower told TechCrunch that it didn’t see any change in consumer spending or active users for Pokemon Go around the time of the in-game strike. However, there was a significant uptick in negative App Store reviews.
Though the wider interaction radius is now reinstated, some players remain frustrated, since community leaders had previously provided this feedback in June after Niantic announced its plans to roll back these changes.
“Why did it have to take this giant community movement for any of our feedback to be heard?” said creator ZoëTwoDots in a YouTube video.
Netflix today announced it will begin testing mobile games inside its Android app for its members in Poland. At launch, paying subscribers will be able to try out two games, “Stranger Things: 1984” and “Stranger Things 3” — titles that have been previously available on the Apple App Store, Google Play and, in the case of the newer release, on other platforms including desktop and consoles. While the games are offered to subscribers from within the Netflix mobile app’s center tab, users will still be directed to the Google Play Store to install the game on their devices.
To then play, members will need to confirm their Netflix credentials.
Members can later return to the game at any time by clicking “Play” on the game’s page from inside the Netflix app or by launching it directly from their mobile device.
“It’s still very, very early days and we will be working hard to deliver the best possible experience in the months ahead with our no ads, no in-app purchases approach to gaming,” a Netflix spokesperson said about the launch.
Let’s talk Netflix and gaming.
Today members in Poland can try Netflix mobile gaming on Android with two games, Stranger Things: 1984 and Stranger Things 3. It’s very, very early days and we’ve got a lot of work to do in the months ahead, but this is the first step. https://t.co/yOl44PGY0r
The company has been expanding its investment in gaming for years, seeing the potential for a broader entertainment universe that ties in to its most popular shows. At the E3 gaming conference back in 2019, Netflix detailed a series of gaming integrations across popular platforms like Roblox and Fortnite and its plans to bring new “Stranger Things” games to the market.
On mobile, Netflix has been working with the Allen, Texas-based game studio BonusXP, whose first game for Netflix, “Stranger Things: The Game,” has now been renamed “Stranger Things: 1984” to better differentiate it from others. While that game takes place after season 1 and before season 2, in the “Stranger Things” timeline, the follow-up title, “Stranger Things 3,” is a playable version of the third season of the Netflix series. (So watch out for spoilers!)
With the launch of the test in Poland, Netflix says users will need to have a membership to download the titles as they’re now exclusively available to subscribers. However, existing users who already downloaded the game from Google Play in the past will not be impacted. They will be able to play the game as usual or even re-download it from their account library if they used to have it installed. But new players will only be able to get the game from the Netflix app.
The test aims to better understand how mobile gaming will resonate with Netflix members and determine what other improvements Netflix may need to make to the overall functionality, the company said. It chose Poland as the initial test market because it has an active mobile gaming audience, which made it seem like a good fit for this early feedback.
Netflix couldn’t say when it would broaden this test to other countries, beyond “the coming months.”
The streamer recently announced during its second-quarter earnings that it would add mobile games to its offerings, noting that it viewing gaming as “another new content category” for its business, similar to its “expansion into original films, animation and unscripted TV.”
The news followed what had been a sharp slowdown in new customers after the pandemic-fueled boost to streaming. In North America, Netflix in Q2 lost a sizable 430,000 subscribers — its third-ever quarterly decline in a decade. It also issued weaker guidance for the upcoming quarter, forecasting the addition of 3.5 million subscribers when analysts had been looking for 5.9 million. But Netflix downplayed the threat of competition on its slowing growth, instead blaming a lighter content slate, in part due to Covid-related production delays.
Microsoft is moving into the next phase of its plan to bring Xbox Cloud Gaming to as many devices as possible, and it’s one of the most important steps yet. Starting this holiday season, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers will have access to cloud gaming on Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One consoles.
The company, which made the announcement during its Gamescom showcase, said you’ll be able to fire up more than 100 games without having to download them first. At some point in the future, Xbox One owners can play some Series X/S games through the cloud, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator. You’ll know a title is cloud gaming-compatible if you see a cloud icon next to it in the Game Pass library. Microsoft is targeting 1080p gameplay at 60 frames per second.
Roblox has become a video game titan, in recent years dominating the world of kids’ gaming and earning $454 million in revenue last quarter alone. A new report argues that success is built on exploiting young game developers, many of them children, who are making content for the game.
As a platform, Roblox provides gamers the tools to both create and play an almost unfathomable array of “experiences,” from climbing an enormous stairway to running a restaurant to escaping a prison. Tens of millions of these games live on Roblox’s browser—hundreds of times more titles than exist on Steam. Every day, 43 million people play those games, mostly kids. Some of the most popular experiences have received billions of visits and earn their developers millions annually.
Tabletop gaming is in the middle of a historic boom, despite recent restrictions imposed on in-person gatherings by COVID. The tools adopted by game masters and casual players to play remotely are powerful but not always the easiest to use or adopt. Role hopes to change that with a super-accessible video platform focused on the social aspect of role-playing games, and it has raised a $2.75 million seed round to do so.
It’s hard to say what has powered the incredible growth of the tabletop gaming space, which just a few years ago was perceived as a sleepy realm of basement-dwelling nerds, a niche within a niche. But it was a different kind of sleeping giant, one that has proven to be immensely diverse, valuable, and surprisingly tenacious in the face of the pandemic.
Some platforms, like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, have seized on this opportunity to provide online video collaboration platforms for playing games like D&D, strategy titles, and many others of the general tabletop type.
But Logan Dwight and Ian Hirschfeld, co-founders of Role, felt these approaches tended to emphasize the mechanics over what they felt was a more important aspect of RPGs.
“We asked ourselves, why is it that people, when they have all these options, choose to play D&D on the internet? And what we figured out is, it’s the people,” said Dwight. “The game lives in the minds of the people, a shared social experience. It’s about the conversation, the face-to-face interactions.”
This is the start of something new, they said — and big. As an analogue, they referred to the social gaming explosion a decade ago.
“People always find a way to play. Because we had social media platforms and mobile phones then, we were socializing over those — so we naturally looked for ways to play over them,” they said. “We’re at another one of those inflection points now with the explosion of online video and the creator economy in gaming. Video has become so good and so ubiquitous it’s becoming the dominant way people socialize — and then what naturally happens is we look for a way to play. And it turns out the, answer was right under our noses, and it’s been there since the ’70s: it’s role playing, a game that takes the form of conversation.”
Role was designed from the ground up to smooth out and simplify how the complex mechanics of these games are implemented, putting the players visually and cognitively at the forefront. After all, when you’re playing D&D or another game around the table, you spend most of your time looking at each other, not the game board — because it’s a game and you’re having fun with each other, right?
Of course, it’s easy to say the face-to-face interactions should be front and center, but the truth is these games are mechanically complicated and involve sheets, dice, maps, rulebooks and so on. Dwight said the problem here is not so much keeping them always in view, but making them simple and intuitive to access and involve in gameplay.
Take a character sheet with some attributes and associated bonuses, and a standard combat encounter. Depending on how well the GM has prepped, it may be that the dice rolls need to have bonuses added manually, and the results compared manually to the defending monster’s sheet. But if the bonuses, the dice, and the monster’s stats are all aware of one another, you know if you hit as soon as the die is cast.
It looks complicated, but compared with scripting it manually, this is a cakewalk.
This can be done in many games but it’s not always easy, and becomes much harder the further one goes from official, canon rulebooks. House rules are common enough, but these days there are entire variant game types being built out from open-license rulebooks that have no “official” support from a major gaming company like Wizards. Prepping a game for play online might be weeks of work that’s relatively technically demanding.
Some GMs and creators take pleasure in the intricacy of these systems, but as Dwight pointed out, the expansion of the community means more people are coming to this from non-gaming and non-tech backgrounds.
“The core skills people are bringing to this are that they’re a writer or something. So the ability to create together needs to be really easy and really powerful,” they said. “We want to give people like… a Squarespace for tabletop RPGs. It’s a WYSIWYG editor, the RPG equivalent of a box of LEGO. You can make a whole set of templates for whatever game you want to run, tweak sheets, create animations, all without having to touch code, and you can share it easily.”
The platform has already seen major growth in user-created campaigns and variants for games designed to be built upon, like Mörk Borg and Lancer, with thousands being shared.
Role first raised money via Kickstarter (though the idea goes back to 2015), then via some angel funding, but this seed round brings in their first proper VC money. The $2.75M round is co-led by Konvoy and London Venture Partners, with whom Dwight said they were pleased to find willing partners who understood the opportunity perfectly. That’s a feat, considering the skyrocketing value and diversity of tabletop has taken even industry veterans by surprise.
The money is going towards effecting the lessons the company has learned from its early adopters, with a renewed focus on ease of use, accessibility, and extensibility. As for making money, the company intends to do so through a marketplace for games and scenarios, and for premium features like extra online storage and so on. But for regular users who just want to play with friends, Role is free to sign up for and use right now.
During today’s Pokémon Presents livestream, The Pokémon Company announced that Pokémon Unite will become available for iOS and Android on September 22. The strategic battle game came out for Nintendo Switch in late July, but its arrival on mobile devices will expand the game’s potential user base.
For users already playing on Nintendo Switch, fear not — the game allows cross-platform play, which means you can play on your Switch, then pick up where you left off on mobile. All users can play together regardless of what device they’re using, and it’s not necessary to have a Switch to get the mobile game. Pokémon Unite is free-to-start with microtransactions — you can purchase in-game currency to get certain items or Pokémon.
Image Credits: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
Like previous main series game remakes, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will expand upon the original games’ foundation and introduce features that appeared in later games, like Following Pokémon, Secret Bases, and — very importantly — changing your trainer’s outfit. The game will also include re-designed features from its original release, like designing Poké Ball capsules and competing in Pokémon Contests. But for the first time in a Pokémon Game, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will introduce a new aspect of gameplay called the Sinnoh Underground. Players can collect statues of Pokémon for their Secret Base, and depending on what statues are on display, different Pokémon will appear in Pokémon Hideaways within the Sinnoh Underground. To commemorate the fifteen-year-old games’ remakes, on November 5, 2021, Nintendo will release a “Dialga and Palkia Edition” of the Nintendo Switch Lite, which features the legendary Pokémon in gold and silver on a grey console.
Then, the Pokémon Company shared more information about Pokémon Legends Arceus, a first-of-its-kind release for the iconic franchise. Fans have compared its open world design to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is the fourth best-selling Nintendo Switch game with 23.2 million copies sold, but others say it’s more similar to Monster Hunter. The new game introduces the Hisui Region (an ancient version of the Sinnoh Region), along with new Pokémon like a grandpa-esque Growlithe, and an evolution of Basculin called Basculegion, which can evolve when “possessed by the souls of other Basculin from their school that could not withstand the harsh journey upstream”… Yes, this is a children’s franchise.
Nightmare-inducing new Pokémon aside, the livestream revealed more information about how exactly this new type of Pokémon game will work.
Like standard Pokémon games, players will set out on a mission to complete a Pokédex, but rather than training to become “the best like no one ever was,” they will be part of an expedition team, conducting survey work to learn more about the nature of Pokémon and the secrets they hold. In between field assignments, players can heal their party, craft items, and buy supplies at outposts (ancient Pokémon Centers?). Pokémon Legends: Arceus will also introduce a new battle style — like Pokémon Unite, it won’t simply repurpose the turn-based gameplay we’ve been accustomed to since the first Pokémon games were released in 1998.
Anyway, these games seem promising, but just try your best not to think about Basculegion.
Fortnite now boasts its own version of one of the pandemic’s hottest games.
Fortnite-maker Epic just introduced into the game a new limited-time mode called Impostors; it follows the hit format that sent Among Us to Twitch’s front page — and Congress — during the pandemic’s earlier days.
Up to 10 people can play the new Impostors game mode simultaneously, divided into two competing factions: agents and… impostors. Eight agents work to complete tasks around the new map before the two impostors can sabotage their efforts by eliminating agents and undoing their work. And because it’s Fortnite, you can also teleport players randomly around the map and turn everyone into a banana.
The game takes place in a new interior map location that properly conjures the claustrophobic paranoia that makes the social deception-style game intense to play and fun to watch. During each round, the players come together to vote on who they think is secretly working against the agents, which generally leads to a lot of spicy conversation. Players can stick with a smaller group (by picking the private game mode) if they’d like to keep things intimate.
Happily, you can still try it out if you don’t have a group of friends to play with, though this kind of game works best with people you know. While public voice chat is off in the new mode, players in open matches can communicate through a quick chat box and the game’s emotes to vote on who they think has infiltrated the group.
It’s too early to say if Fortnite’s Among Us clone will take off in the same way as the game that inspired it, or how long it’ll stick around. But considering that Fortnite is still one of the most popular games in the world, a new hit whodunnit game mode that’s eminently streamable is just icing on the cake.
Roblox is using M&A to bulk up its social infrastructure, announcing Monday morning that they had acquired the team at Guilded which has been building a chat platform for competitive gamers.
The service competes with gaming chat giant Discord, with the team’s founders telling TechCrunch in the past that as Discord’s ambitions had grown beyond the gaming world, its core product was meeting fewer competitive gaming needs. Like Discord, users can have text and voice conversations on the Gulded platform, but Guilded also allowed users to organize communities around events and calendars, with plenty of specific functionality designed around ensuring that tournaments happened seamlessly.
The startup’s product supported hundreds of games, with specific functionality for a handful of titles including League of Legends, Fortnite, CS: GO and, yes, Roblox. Earlier this year, the company launched a bot API designed to help non-technical users build bots that could enrich their gaming communities.
Guilded had raised $10.2 million in venture capital funding to date according to Crunchbase, including a $7 million Series A led by Matrix Partners early last year. The company launched out of Y Combinator in mid-2017.
Terms of the Roblox deal weren’t disclosed. In an announcement post, Roblox detailed that the Guilded team will operate as an independent product group going forward. In a separate blog post, Guilded CEO Eli Brown wrote that existing stakeholders will be able to continue using the product as they have previously.
“Everyone – including communities, partners, and bot developers – will be able to keep using Guilded the same way you are now,” Brown wrote. “Roblox believes in our team and in our mission, and we’re going to continue to operate as an independent product in order to achieve it.”
Roblox has seen profound success and heightened investor attention in recent years as the pandemic has pushed more gamers online and brought more users into the fold, but that success has drawn the attention of competitors. In June, Facebook acquired a small Roblox competitor called Crayta, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing just weeks ago that he planned to transform Facebook into a “metaverse” company, using a term many have come to associate closely with what Roblox has been building. Guilded represents an opportunity for Roblox to bring its user base