Fortnite adds a $12 monthly subscription bundle

Fortnite’s free to play model has no doubt been a big driver in the battle royale title’s stratospheric success. Epic clearly hasn’t had much issue monetizing the game. While revenue slipped last year, it still managed to pull in a massive windfall of $1.8 billion (down from an even more staggering $2.4 billion).

The company has had no shortage of investments, though it could always use some extra cash for…reasons.

Today, the publisher announced a new model designed to deliver reoccurring payments, in addition to its standard micro transactions — offering up a discount on some of its virtual wares in the process.

The $11.99 monthly Fortnite Crew fee entitles players to a full season battle pass, 1,000 monthly bucks and a Crew Pack featuring an exclusive outfit bundle. The monthly fee adds up — as monthly fees do. It’s certainly significantly pricier than just going in for the standard battle pass, which runs a couple of bucks less and generally lasts a few months or so. Ditto for a 1,000 V-Bucks, which run around $8.

The plan will launch December 2, along Chapter 2, Season 5 of the game. The first pack includes a Galaxia outfit. It’s a space-themed suit that also includes a unicorn-head pickaxe. Content from popular properties like the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” may also be on the horizon, as well. Certainly exclusive access to well-known IP would go a ways toward sweetening the appeal of yet another monthly subscription.

#apps, #epic, #epic-games, #fortnite, #gaming

0

Gift Guide: Which next-gen console is the one your kid wants?

This holiday season the next generation of gamers, bless their hearts, will be hoping to receive the next generation of gaming consoles. But confusing branding by the console makers — not to mention a major shortage of consoles — could lead to disappointment during the unwrapping process. Before making any big promises this year, you’ll want to be completely clear on two things: which console you’re actually trying to get, and how much of a challenge it might be to get one.

By the way, it’s totally understandable if you’re a little lost — particularly on Microsoft’s end, the branding is a little weird this time around. Even the lifelong gamers on our staff have mixed up the various Xbox names a few times.

If you’re not 100% sure which brand of console your kid (or partner or whoever) has, go take a look right now. An Xbox will have a big X somewhere on a side without cables coming out of it, and a PS4 will have a subtler “PS” symbol embossed on it. The “Pro” has three “layers” and the regular one has two.

Okay, now that you know what you’ve got, here are the new versions that they want:

Sony PlayStation 5

The PlayStation 5, or PS5 for short, is the newest gaming console from Sony. It’s the one your kids want if they already have a PlayStation 4 or even a PlayStation 4 Pro, which they might have gotten a year or two back.

The PS5 is more powerful than the PS4, but it also plays most PS4 games, so you don’t need to worry about a game you just bought for a birthday or whatever. It has some fancy new features for fancy new TVs, but you don’t need to worry about that — the improved performance is the main draw.

There are two versions of the PS5, and the only real difference between them is that one has a disc drive for playing disc-based games; they both come with a controller and are about the same size. The one with the drive costs $500, and is the one you should choose if you’re not completely certain the recipient would prefer the driveless “Digital Edition.” Saving $100 up front is enticing, but consider that some titles for this generation will cost $70, so the capability to buy used games at half price might pay for itself pretty quickly.

The PS5 doesn’t come with any “real” next-generation games, and the selection this season is going to be pretty slim. But your best bet for pretty much any gamer is Spider-Man: Miles Morales. I’ve played it and its predecessor — which Miles Morales comes with — and it’s going to be the one everyone wants right off the bat. (Its violence is pretty PG, like the movies.)

The PS4’s controllers sadly won’t work on PS5 games. But don’t worry about getting any extra ones or charging stands or whatnot right now, unless your gamer plays a lot of games with other people on the couch already.

Microsoft Xbox Series X

The Xbox Series X is the latest gaming console from Microsoft, replacing the Xbox One X and One S. Yes, the practice of changing the middle word instead of the last initial is difficult to understand, and it will be the reason lots of kids unwrap last year’s new console instead of this year’s.

The Xbox Series X is more powerful than the Xbox One X, but should also play almost all the old games, so if you bought something recently, don’t worry that it won’t be compatible. There are lots of fancy-sounding new features, but you don’t need to worry about those or buy them separately — stuff like HDR and 4K all depend on your TV, but any TV from the last few years will look great.

There are two versions of the next Xbox, and they have significant differences. The $500 Xbox Series X is the “real” version, with a disc drive for old and used games, and all the power-ups Microsoft has advertised. This one is almost certainly the one any gamer will be expecting and hoping to get.

Like Sony, Microsoft has a version of the Xbox that has no disc drive: the $300 Xbox Series S. Confusingly, this is the same price, same color, and nearly the same name and type of console as last generation’s Xbox One S, so first of all be sure you’re not buying the One. The Xbox Series S is definitely “next-gen,” but has a bit less power than the Series X, and so will have a few compromises in addition to the lack of a drive. It’s not recommended you get this one unless you know what you’re doing or really need that $200 (understandable).

For a day-one game, there isn’t really a big must-have exclusive. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is probably a good bet, though, if bloody violence is okay. If not, honestly a gift certificate or subscription to the “Game Pass” service that provides free games is fine.

No need for extra controllers — the Xbox Series X supports the last-gen’s controllers. Genuine thanks to Microsoft for that one.

Difficulty level: Holiday 2020

A PS5 and controller.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Now that you know which console to get (again… a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X), I’ve got some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is they’re probably (read: definitely) going to be sold out. Microsoft and Sony are pumping these things out as fast as they can, but the truth is they really rushed this launch to make it in time for the holidays and won’t have enough to go around.

Resist the urge to buy the “next best” in last year’s model — the new ones are a major change and are replacements, not just upgrades, for the old ones. It would literally be better for a kid to receive a pre-order receipt for a new console than a brand new old one. And don’t go wild trying to find one on eBay or whatever — this is going to be a very scammy season and it’s better to avoid that scene entirely.

The pandemic also means you probably can’t or won’t want to wait in line all night to grab a unit in person. Getting a console will almost certainly involve spending a good amount of time on the websites of the major retailers… and a good bit of luck.  Follow electronics and gaming shops on Twitter and bookmark the consoles’ pages to check for availability regularly, but expect each shipment to be sold out within a minute or two and for the retailer’s website to crash every single time.

Don’t buy them a Nintendo Switch, either, unless they’ve asked for one of course. The Switch is fantastic, but it’s completely different from the consoles above.

The good news is they won’t be missing out on much right now. Almost every game worth having for the next year will be available on the new and old consoles, and in some cases players may be able to start their game on one and continue it on the next. Good luck figuring out exactly which games will be enhanced, upgraded, or otherwise carried between generations (it’s a patchwork mess), but any of the hot new games is a good bet.

Good luck!

 

#gadgets, #gaming, #gift-guide, #gift-guide-2020, #hardware, #microsoft, #playstation, #playstation-5, #ps5, #tc, #xbox, #xbox-series-s, #xbox-series-x

0

The promise and challenge of Roblox’s future in China

In a much-anticipated move, California-based gaming firm Roblox filed to go public last week. One aspect driving the future growth of the children- and community-focused gaming platform is its China entry, which it fleshes out in detail for the first time in its IPO prospectus.

Like all gaming companies entering China, Roblox must work with a local publishing and operations partner. And like Riot Games, Supercell, Epic Games, Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, Nintendo and many more, Roblox chose Tencent, the world’s largest gaming firm by revenue, according to Newzoo.

The partnership, which began in 2019, revolves around a joint venture in which Roblox holds a 51% controlling stake and a Tencent affiliate called Songhua owns a 49% interest. The prospectus notes that Tencent currently intends to publish and operate a localized version of the Roblox Platform (罗布乐思), which allows people to create games and play those programmed by others.

User-generated content is in part what makes Roblox popular amongst young gamers, but that social aspect almost certainly makes its China entry trickier. It’s widely understood that the Chinese government is asserting more control over what gets published on the internet, and in recent times its scrutiny over gaming content has heightened. Industry veteran Wenfeng Yang went as far as speculating that games with user-generated content will “never made [their] path to China,” citing the example of Animal Crossing.

Roblox says it believes it’s “uniquely positioned” to grow its penetration in China but its “performance will be dependent on” Tencent’s ability to clear regulatory hurdles. It’s unclear what measures Roblox will take to prevent its user-generated content from running afoul of the Chinese authorities, whose appetite for what is permitted can be volatile. Tencent itself has been in the crosshairs of regulators over allegedly “addictive” and “harmful” gaming content. It also remains to be seen how Roblox ensures its user experience won’t be compromised by whatever censorship system that gets implemented.

Roblox chose Tencent as its Chinese partner. / Image: Roblox

At the most basic level, Roblox claims it works to ensure user safety through measures designed “to enforce real-world laws,” including text-filtering, content moderation, automated systems to identify behaviors in violation of platform policies, and a review team. The company expresses in its filing optimism about getting China’s regulatory greenlight:

While Tencent is still working to obtain the required regulatory license to publish and operate Luobulesi [Roblox’s local name] in China, we believe the regulatory requirements specific to China will be met. In the meantime, Luobu is working towards creating a robust developer community in China.”

The company is rightfully optimistic. China is the world’s largest gaming market and Tencent has a proven history of converting its social network users into gamers. Roblox’s marketing focus on encouraging “creativity” might also sit well with Beijing’s call for tech companies to “do good,” an order Tencent has answered. Roblox’s Chinese website suggests it’s touting part of its business as a learning and STEM tool and shows it’s seeking collaborations with local schools and educators.

Nonetheless, the involvement of Tencent is the elephant in the room in times of uncertain U.S.-China relations. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. or CFIUS, which is chaired by the Treasury Department, was inquiring about data practices by Tencent-backed gaming studios in the U.S. including Epic and Riot, Bloomberg reported in September.

Roblox isn’t exempt. It notes in the prospectus that CFIUS has “made inquiries to us with respect to Tencent’s equity investment in us and involvement in the China JV.” It further warns that it “cannot predict what effect any further inquiry by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. into our relationship with Tencent or changes in China-U.S. relations overall may have on our ability to effectively support the China JV or on the operations or success of the China JV.”

The other obstacle faced by all foreign companies entering China is local clones. Reworld, backed by prominent Chinese venture firms such as Northern Light Venture Capital and Joy Capital, is one. The game is unabashed about its origin. In a Reddit post responding to the accusation of it being “a ripoff of Roblox,” Reworld pays its tribute to Roblox and admits its product is “built on the shoulders of Roblox,” while claiming “it did not take any code from Roblox Studio.”

The Beijing-based startup behind Reworld has so far raised more than $50 million and had about 100 developers working on Reworld’s editing tool and 50 other operational staff, its co-founder said in a June interview. In comparison, Roblox had 38 employees in China by September, 38 of whom were in product and engineering functions. It’s actively hiring in China.

Roblox cannot comment for the story as it’s in the IPO quiet period.

#asia, #china, #games, #gaming, #roblox, #tc, #tencent

0

Daily Crunch: Roblox is going public

Roblox opens its books, Snap makes an acquisition and Pfizer and BioNTech seek regulatory approval for their vaccine. This your Daily Crunch for November 20, 2020.

The big story: Roblox is going public

The child-friendly gaming company filed confidentially to go public in October, but it only published its S-1 document with financial information late yesterday.

How do the numbers look? Well, Roblox is certainly growing quickly — total revenue increased 56% in 2019, and then another 68% in the first three quarters of 2020, when it saw $588.7 million in revenue. At the same time, losses are growing as well, nearly quadrupling to $203.2 million during those same three quarters.

The company also acknowledged that its success depends on its ability to “provide a safe online environment” for children. Otherwise, “business will suffer dramatically.”

The tech giants

Snap acquired Voisey, an app to create music tracks overlaying your own vocals — Voisey users can apply audio filters to their voices, and they can browse and view other people’s Voisey tracks.

Despite commitment to anti-racism, Uber’s Black employee base has decreased — Uber’s latest diversity report shows a decline in the overall representation of Black employees in the U.S.

Google, Facebook and Twitter threaten to leave Pakistan over censorship law — This comes after Pakistan’s government granted blanket powers to local regulators to censor digital content.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Loadsmart raises $90M to further consolidate its one-stop freight and logistics platform — Loadsmart offers booking for freight transportation across land, rail and through ports, all from a single online portal.

ORIX invests $60M in Israeli crowdfunding platform OurCrowd — OurCrowd also says that the two groups will collaborate to create financial products and investment opportunities for the Japanese and global market.

Kea raises $10M to build AI that helps restaurants answer the phone — CEO Adam Ahmad says the startup has created a “virtual cashier” who can do the initial intake with customers, process most routine orders and bring in a human employee when needed.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right — Don’t yell at me, Danny Crichton said it!

Why is GoCardless COO Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas pivoting to become a full-time VC — “I think this is the best moment in entrepreneurship in Europe.”

What is Roblox worth? — A deeper dive into Roblox’s numbers.

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

Everything else

Pfizer and BioNTech to submit request for emergency use approval of their COVID-19 vaccine today — These emergency approvals still require supporting information and safety data, but they are fast-tracked relative to the full, formal and more permanent approval process.

Mixtape podcast: Building a structural DEI response to a systemic issue with Y-Vonne Hutchinson — Hutchinson is the CEO of ReadySet, a consulting firm that works with companies to create more inclusive and equitable work environments.

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

#daily-crunch, #finance, #gaming, #roblox

0

Extra Crunch roundup: A fistful of IPOs, Affirm’s Peloton problem, Zoom Apps and more

DoorDash, Affirm, Roblox, Airbnb, C3.ai and Wish all filed to go public in recent days, which means some venture capitalists are having the best week of their lives.

Tech companies that go public capture our imagination because they are literal happy endings. An Initial Public Offering is the promised land for startup pilgrims who may wander the desert for years seeking product-market fit. After all, the “I” in “ISO” stands for “incentive.”

A flurry of new S-1s in a single week forced me to rearrange our editorial calendar, but I didn’t mind; our 360-degree coverage let some of the air out of various hype balloons and uncovered several unique angles.

For example: I was familiar with Affirm, the service that lets consumers finance purchases, but I had no idea Peloton accounted for 30% of its total revenue in the last quarter.

“What happens if Peloton puts on the brakes?” I asked Alex Wilhelm as I edited his breakdown of Affirm’s S-1. We decided to use that as the subhead for his analysis.

The stories that follow are an overview of Extra Crunch from the last five days. Full articles are only available to members, but you can use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one or two-year subscription. Details here.

Thank you very much for reading Extra Crunch this week; I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


What is Roblox worth?

Gaming company Roblox filed to go public yesterday afternoon, so Alex Wilhelm brought out a scalpel and dissected its S-1. Using his patented mathmagic, he analyzed Roblox’s fundraising history and reported revenue to estimate where its valuation might land.

Noting that “the public markets appear to be even more risk-on than the private world in 2020,” Alex pegged the number at “just a hair under $10 billion.”

What China’s fintech can teach the world

Alibaba Employees Pay For Meals With Face Recognition System

HANGZHOU, CHINA – JULY 31: An employee uses face recognition system on a self-service check-out machine to pay for her meals in a canteen at the headquarters of Alibaba Group on July 31, 2018 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. The self-service check-out machine can calculate the price of meals quickly to save employees’ queuing time. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images)

For all the hype about new forms of payment, the way I transact hasn’t been radically transformed in recent years — even in tech-centric San Francisco.

Sure, I use NFC card readers to tap and pay and tipped a street musician using Venmo last weekend. But my landlord still demands paper checks and there’s a tattered “CASH ONLY” taped to the register at my closest coffee shop.

In China, it’s a different story: Alibaba’s employee cafeteria uses facial recognition and AI to determine which foods a worker has selected and who to charge. Many consumers there use the same app to pay for utility bills, movie tickets and hamburgers.

“Today, nobody except Chinese people outside of China uses Alipay or WeChat Pay to pay for anything,” says finance researcher Martin Chorzempa. “So that’s a big unexplored side that I think is going to come into a lot of geopolitical risks.”

Inside Affirm’s IPO filing: A look at its economics, profits and revenue concentration

Consumer lending service Affirm filed to go public on Wednesday evening, so Alex used Thursday’s column to unpack the company’s financials.

After reviewing Affirm’s profitability, revenue and the impact of COVID-19 on its bottom line, he asked (and answered) three questions:

  • What does Affirm’s loss rate on consumer loans look like?
  • Are its gross margins improving?
  • What does the unicorn have to say about contribution profit from its loans business?

If you didn’t make $1B this week, you are not doing VC right

Image Credits: XiXinXing (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

“The only thing more rare than a unicorn is an exited unicorn,” observes Managing Editor Danny Crichton, who looked back at Exitpalooza 2020 to answer “a simple question — who made the money?”

Covering each exit from the perspective of founders and investors, Danny makes it clear who’ll take home the largest slice of each pie. TL;DR? “Some really colossal winners among founders, and several venture firms walking home with billions of dollars in capital.

5 questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing

The S-1 Airbnb released at the start of the week provided insight into the home-rental platform’s core financials, but it also raised several questions about the company’s health and long-term viability, according to Alex Wilhelm:

  • How far did Airbnb’s bookings fall during Q1 and Q2?
  • How far have Airbnb’s bookings come back since?
  • Did local, long-term stays save Airbnb?
  • Has Airbnb ever really made money?
  • Is the company wealthy despite the pandemic?

Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost explains the strategy behind acquiring Spacemaker

Andrew Anagnost, President and CEO, Autodesk.

Andrew Anagnost, president and CEO, Autodesk.

Earlier this week, Autodesk announced its purchase of Spacemaker, a Norwegian firm that develops AI-supported software for urban development.

TechCrunch reporter Steve O’Hear interviewed Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost to learn more about the acquisition and asked why Autodesk paid $240 million for Spacemaker’s 115-person team and IP — especially when there were other startups closer to its Bay Area HQ.

“They’ve built a real, practical, usable application that helps a segment of our population use machine learning to really create better outcomes in a critical area, which is urban redevelopment and development,” said Anagnost.

“So it’s totally aligned with what we’re trying to do.”

Unpacking the C3.ai IPO filing

On Monday, Alex dove into the IPO filing for enterprise artificial intelligence company C3.ai.

After poring over its ownership structure, service offerings and its last two years of revenue, he asks and answers the question: “is the business itself any damn good?”

Is the internet advertising economy about to implode?

Image Credits: jayk7 / Getty Images

In his new book, “Subprime Attention Crisis,” writer/researcher Tim Hwang attempts to answer a question I’ve wondered about for years: does advertising actually work?

Managing Editor Danny Crichton interviewed Hwang to learn more about his thesis that there are parallels between today’s ad industry and the subprime mortgage crisis that helped spur the Great Recession.

So, are online ads effective?

“I think the companies are very reticent to give up the data that would allow you to find a really definitive answer to that question,” says Hwang.

Will Zoom Apps be the next hot startup platform?

Logos of companies in the Zoom Apps marketplace

Image Credits: Zoom

Even after much of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, we will still be using Zoom’s video-conferencing platform in great numbers.

That’s because Zoom isn’t just an app: it’s also a platform play for startups that add functionality using APIs, an SDK or chatbots that behave like smart assistants.

Enterprise reporter Ron Miller spoke to entrepreneurs and investors who are leveraging Zoom’s platform to build new applications with an eye on the future.

“By offering a platform to build applications that take advantage of the meeting software, it’s possible it could be a valuable new ecosystem for startups,” says Ron.

Will edtech empower or erase the need for higher education?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Without an on-campus experience, many students (and their parents) are wondering how much value there is in attending classes via a laptop in a dormitory.

Even worse: Declining enrollment is leading many institutions to eliminate majors and find other ways to cut costs, like furloughing staff and cutting athletic programs.

Edtech solutions could fill the gap, but there’s no real consensus in higher education over which tools work best. Many colleges and universities are using a number of “third-party solutions to keep operations afloat,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

“It’s a stress test that could lead to a reckoning among edtech startups.”

3 growth tactics that helped us surpass Noom and Weight Watchers

3D rendering of TNT dynamite sticks in carton box on blue background. Explosive supplies. Dangerous cargo. Plotting terrorist attack. Image Credits: Gearstd / Getty Images.

I look for guest-written Extra Crunch stories that will help other entrepreneurs be more successful, which is why I routinely turn down submissions that seem overly promotional.

However, Henrik Torstensson (CEO and co-founder of Lifesum) submitted a post about the techniques he’s used to scale his nutrition app over the last three years. “It’s a strategy any startup can use, regardless of size or budget,” he writes.

According to Sensor Tower, Lifesum is growing almost twice as fast as Noon and Weight Watchers, so putting his company at the center of the story made sense.

Send in reviews of your favorite books for TechCrunch!

Image via Getty Images / Alexander Spatari

Every year, we ask TechCrunch reporters, VCs and our Extra Crunch readers to recommend their favorite books.

Have you read a book this year that you want to recommend? Send an email with the title and a brief explanation of why you enjoyed it to bookclub@techcrunch.com.

We’ll compile the suggestions and publish the list as we get closer to the holidays. These books don’t have to be published this calendar year — any book you read this year qualifies.

Please share your submissions by November 30.

Dear Sophie: Can an H-1B co-founder own a Delaware C Corp?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

My VC partner and I are working with 50/50 co-founders on their startup — let’s call it “NewCo.” We’re exploring pre-seed terms.

One founder is on a green card and already works there. The other founder is from India and is working on an H-1B at a large tech company.

Can the H-1B co-founder lead this company? What’s the timing to get everything squared away? If we make the investment we want them to hit the ground running.

— Diligent in Daly City

#affirm, #airbnb, #doordash, #entrepreneurship, #fundings-exits, #gaming, #roblox, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #wish

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What is Roblox worth?

With Roblox joining the end-of-year unicorn stampede towards the public markets, we’re set for a contentedly busy second half of November and early December. I hope you didn’t have vacation planned in the next few weeks.

This morning we need to get deeper into the Roblox S-1 so that we can better understand the nature of its revenue generation. Why? Because we want to start working on what the gaming company is worth; some comparisons are being made to Unity, another unicorn that went public earlier this year with a gaming focus.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Should we apply Unity’s revenue multiple to Roblox? Or does the company deserve a slimmer multiple based on the substance of its revenue?

We’ll also have to remind ourselves how much capital Roblox last raised while private, and at what price. Given our historical knowledge of its financial results, we might be able to nail some valuations to revenue figures, helping us understand, roughly, how the venture capital community was valuing Roblox while it was private.

If you want an overview of just the numbers, Natasha and I wrote a digest here.

Now, let’s get to work.

What’s Roblox worth as a public company?

To get a foundation, let’s recall how Roblox was valued during its last private round. According to Crunchbase data, Roblox’s $150 million Series G was raised at a $3.9 billion pre-money valuation. So, Roblox was worth $4.05 billion after the February 2020 funding event.

Naturally there is a lag in between when a deal is struck and when it announced. So, let’s rewind the clock to Q4 2019 and ask ourselves what Roblox looked like at the time. From its S-1, here are the Q4 2019 numbers:

  • Revenue of $138.3 million, +44.2% compared to the year-ago quarter
  • A net loss of $39.6 million, +197.1% compared to the year-ago quarter

Annualizing that revenue figure, Roblox was on a $553.3 million run rate at around the time it raised that Series G. In revenue multiple terms, Roblox was valued at 7.3x its top line on an annualized basis.

If you are a SaaS fan you are probably pretty shocked right now. Why the hell was Roblox, a software company, worth so little? Well let’s remind ourselves how it makes money:

We generate substantially all of our revenue through the sales of Robux to users. Users can spend Robux to purchase access to experiences, enhancements in experiences, and items in the Avatar Marketplace. Robux are available as one-time purchases or monthly subscriptions. We recognize revenue ratably over the estimated average lifetime of a paying user. […]

Other revenue streams include a minimal amount of revenue from advertising, licenses, and royalties.

#fundings-exits, #gaming, #roblox, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange, #unity

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Google Stadia and GeForce Now are both coming to iOS as web apps

Google and Nvidia both had some news about their respective cloud gaming service today. Let’s start with Nvidia. GeForce Now is now available on the iPhone and the iPad as a web app. The company says it’s a beta for now, but you can start using it by heading over to play.geforcenow.com on your iOS device.

GeForce Now is a cloud gaming service that works with your own game library. You can connect to your Steam, Epic and Ubisoft Connect accounts and play games you’ve already purchased on those third-party platforms — GOG support is coming soon. GeForce Now is also available on macOS, Android and Windows.

Game publishers have to opt in to appear on GeForce Now, which means that you won’t find your entire Steam library on the service. Still, the list is already quite long.

Right now, it costs $5 per month to access the Founders edition, which lets you play whenever you want and for as long as you want. It’s an introductory price, which means that Nvidia could raise prices in the future.

You can also try the service with a free account. You’re limited to one-hour sessions and less powerful hardware. There are also few slots. For instance, you have to wait 11 minutes to launch a game with a free account right now.

Once you add the web app to your iOS home screen, you can launch the service in full screen without the interface of Safari. You can connect a Bluetooth controller. Unfortunately, you can’t use a keyboard and a mouse.

The company says it is actively working with Epic Games on a touch-friendly version of Fortnite so that iOS players can play the game again. It could definitely boost usage on the service.

As for Google, the company issued an update 12 months after the launch of Stadia. Unlike GeForce Now, Stadia works more like a console. You have to buy games for the platform specifically. There are a hundred games on the platform including some games that you get with an optional Stadia Pro subscription.

The company says that iOS testing should start in the coming weeks. “This will be the first phase of our iOS progressive web application. As we test performance and add more features, your feedback will help us improve the Stadia experience for everyone. You can expect this feature to begin rolling out several weeks from now,” the company wrote.

#gaming, #geforce-now, #google, #google-stadia, #nvidia, #stadia

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Is a new game and $100M investment enough for South Korea’s PUBG to return to India?

South Korea-based PUBG Corporation, which runs sleeper hit gaming title PUBG Mobile, announced last week that it plans to return to India, its largest market by users. But its announcement did not address a key question: Is India, which banned the app in September, on the same page?

The company says it will locally store Indian users’ data, open a local office and release a new game created especially for the world’s second-largest internet market. To sweeten the deal, PUBG Corporation also plans to invest $100 million in India’s gaming, esports and IT ecosystems.

But PUBG’s announcement, which TechCrunch reported as imminent last week, is treading in uncharted territory and it remains unclear if its efforts allay the concerns raised by the government.

Since late June, the Indian government has banned more than 200 appsincluding PUBG Mobile, TikTok and UC Browser, all of which identified India as their biggest market by users — with links to China.

New Delhi says it enforced the ban over cybersecurity concerns. The government had received complaints about the apps stealing user data and transmitting it to servers abroad, the nation’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said at the time. The banned apps are “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India,” it added.

KRAFTON, the parent firm of PUBG Corporation, inked a deal with Microsoft to store users’ data of PUBG Mobile and its other properties on Azure servers. Microsoft has three cloud regions in India. Prior to the move, PUBG Mobile data concerning Indian users was stored on Tencent Cloud. In addition, PUBG said it is committed to conducting periodic audits of its Indian users’ data.

In India, PUBG has also cut publishing ties with Chinese giant Tencent, its publisher and distributor in many markets. This has allowed PUBG Corporation to regain the publishing rights of its game in India.

At face value, it appears that PUBG Corporation has resolved the issues that the Indian government had raised. But industry executives say that meeting those concerns is perhaps not all it would take to return to the country.

Here’s where things get complicated.

Not a single app India has blocked in the country has made its comeback yet. Some firms such as TikTok have been engaging with the Indian government for more than four months and have promised to make investments in the country, but they are still not out of the woods.

PUBG Corporation, too, has not revealed when it plans to release the new game in India. “More information about the launch of PUBG Mobile India will be shared at a later day,” it said in a statement last Thursday. According to a popular YouTuber who publishes gameplay videos on PUBG Mobile, the company has privately released the installation file of the new game and has hinted that it plans to release the game in India as soon as Friday. (There’s also a big marketing campaign in the works, which could begin on Friday, people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.)

#apps, #asia, #china, #fortnite, #gaming, #government, #india, #pubg, #pubg-mobile

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Houseparty adds ‘Fortnite Mode,’ bringing video chat to the popular game

Epic acquired Houseparty way back in June of last year, following an absolutely massive $1.25 billion raise. It was clear why the Fortnite publisher would be interested in the social video app. After all, Fortnite is one of the most social games around.

Now, after several months of global quarantining, the deal is finally bearing some fruit. Today Epic announced that the title is getting video chat via Houseparty integration. Starting today, the feature is available on a handful of platforms: PC and PlayStation 4 and 5.

Image Credits: Epic

Users will need to install Houseparty on an Android or iOS device and connect the app with their Epic Games account. From there, the video chat will be integrated into the game. Images are cropped tight on the player’s face and a virtual background is added, à la Zoom. Given the all-ages nature of the game, there are some additional safety features on board, including the ability for parents to toggle off the feature in Fortnite’s settings.

#apps, #epic-games, #fortnite, #gaming, #houseparty

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Lego expands its Super Mario world with customization tools, new Mario power-ups, and more characters

Lego’s partnership with Nintendo delivered a pretty awesome debut earlier this year with the interactive Lego Super Mario Starter Course, and now it’s following that up with additional sets designed to complement the first. These include a new ‘Master Your Adventure Maker Set,’ which adds customization options by tweaking Lego Mario’s response via three new bricks, and a new way to shuffle the rules for each level. Lego and Nintendo are also releasing additional themed Expansion sets, new power-ups for Mario, and a second series of mystery characters to incorporate into level builds.

Image Credits: Nintendo

The Master Your Adventure Maker Set includes 366 pieces in total, and will retail for $59.99. The Expansion sets include a Chain Chomp jungle-themed playset ($19.99), a Piranha Plan puzzle challenge set ($29.99), and a new Poison-themed biome for Mario to explore featuring Wiggler ($39.99). The two new power-ups for Lego Mario are his Penguin suit, and his Tanooki suit, which retail for $9.99 each respectively.

Each new Series 2 Character Pack retails for $4.99. These come in packaging that doesn’t reveal their contents until opened, adding some degree of chance to which of the new characters you end up with. The Series 2 characters include Huckit Crab, Spiny Cheep Cheep, Ninji, Foo, Parachute Goomba, Fly Guy, Poison Mushroom, Para-Beetle, Thwimp or Bone Goomba.

Image Credits: Nintendo

These will all go on sale starting January 1, both from Lego direct and from its retail partners. That’s just after the holiday rush, which seems like a bit of a miss for what you’d expect would be a popular set of gifts, but Nintendo’s still selling the original starter course and other kits

#films, #gadgets, #gaming, #hardware, #lego, #mario, #nintendo, #super-mario, #tc, #the-lego-movie

0

How esports can save colleges

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about esports and the Olympics after sitting on a panel discussing whether, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, esports had an opportunity to work with the International Olympic Committee. After careful consideration and research, my conclusion was basically, “I think that the Olympics need esports a whole lot more than esports needs the Olympics.”

I was surprised by some of the data I uncovered in the course of researching the Olympics piece, specifically on audiences for international, professional and collegiate sports. I observed that while the esports model isn’t as mature as in traditional sports, esports actually garnered close to the same level of viewership, and the audience was growing astronomically. I couldn’t help but wonder how long this phenomenon would go unacknowledged by the institutions that might benefit most from it.

Enter colleges’ and universities’ flirtation with esports: There are currently more than 170 collegiate varsity gaming programs in NCAA Division I, and the number of clubs is even higher. So even as institutions investment in esports, there are still many misunderstood and overlooked aspects of the potential to drive value (and even revenue) in the collegiate esports space.

College in the 21st century

The college experience today is very different than it was 50 years ago. The pace of change outside of institutions is ever-accelerating, often leaving colleges struggling to keep up. Technology, students’ interests, evolving economies and workplaces, and changes in cultural norms have left colleges and universities in a place of less relevance than at many points in the past.

The same can be said of college sports: Outside forces have eroded a once-near-hegemonic source of collegiate pride, cultural power, recruitment, alumni engagement and, in some cases, revenue.

I did a quick review of the audience for the biggest NCAA events in the world; the Football Bowl Subdivision Bowl Championship and the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

pre-championship viewers FBS bowls

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

post-championship viewers

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

Look at the average viewership of the big bowl games before the championship system went into effect in 2015, as well as after. Above, you see the trend line for viewership for the various big bowl viewership as well as an average. While there are certainly occasional spikes, the best case you could make here is that the product is flat — when you isolate the trend line for both, here is the result:

average viewership all bowls

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

In the aggregate, the trend seems mostly downward.

Look at the same trends in viewership for the NCAA Final Four — the early semi-final, the late semi-final and finally the championship game.

final four viewership

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

They look rather similar. So, while collegiate sports still have a massive following, there are two concerning issues here. First, the audience isn’t growing at all; in fact, it appears to be slightly contracting. Secondly, the audience is aging, making collegiate sports less relevant to younger people. While an older audience is still a valuable source of alumni donations and ancillary revenue, it doesn’t exactly align with another core target demographic: potential college students.

Now despite this, there is data that suggests that schools with elite academic departments do enjoy a phenomenon known as the “Flutie effect,” named after Doug Flutie, a quarterback for Boston College whose exciting performance on the gridiron was credited with boosting BC applications. An article in Forbes breaking down an HBS study goes into the phenomenon more deeply than we can here.

Granted, much of the data is from a few years ago, when college sports were perhaps more relevant, but the point is broadly the same: Having an elite program in an activity students enjoy benefits the institutions that sponsor and promote them. But what happens when enthusiasm for those activities among the student body is waning? One idea is to explore involvement in what the students of today are interested in.

As a comparison to FBS football (maxed out at 35 million viewers) and the NCAA Final Four (maxed out at 28 million), Riot Games’ Mid-Season Invitational event for League of Legends had a total viewership of 60 million people. In second place is the Intel Extreme Masters tournament in Katowice with 46 million people. While precise demographic data isn’t readily available, it stands to reason that the latter two events skew younger than the former two.

A few caveats, as these are not precisely apples-to-apples comparisons: These esports events are broken up over a number of days and encompass a significant number of matches — comparable to March Madness, perhaps — and the content is consumed in different ways. Much of the NCAA’s content is presented on television, some of which is on paid, premium channels. Esports events are broadcast on Twitch and YouTube via streams for free.

But the thing to understand is that esports audiences are growing at a 15%-16% year-over-year clip and it commands a worldwide audience, meaning its total addressable market (TAM) is MUCH bigger. The NCAA events are not likely to draw serious audiences outside of North America.

COVID-19

In the context of the pandemic, colleges are hamstrung by students’ inability to engage in a college experience in-person, which is one of the primary reasons one goes to college. Networking, developing new friends and having new experiences are all a part of the collegiate draw, none of which work as well from students’ parents’ living rooms. Similarly, collegiate sports as we know them have essentially ceased to exist, along with their functions of institutional pride, marketing and revenue. The NCAA Tournament was canceled in March of 2020 and there is no sign that it, or any other sport, will be back anytime soon.

Esports, on the other hand, are thriving in this context, thanks mostly to their ability to offer remote competition and viewing. Esports tournaments can isolate audiences, teams and even referees to allow for safe content creation and consumption.

Esports and college

Believe it or not, esports is a better fit for college than it is for the pros. I won’t go into all of the details here, but I actually wrote a separate article about why the pro sports model is NOT a good one for esports. In this article we talk about intellectual property, who owns the league in esports and how all of the entities make money. The biggest problem is, in pro sports, the teams own the league and can then act in the best interest of all of the teams. In esports, the league is usually owned or regulated by the publisher of the video game, meaning you have hands in the monetization pie in a way that pro sports doesn’t have.

The interesting thing about this is that college athletics actually has the same problem and has found a way to mitigate that. The athletes get their scholarships, and the schools, their athletic conference, and the NCAA itself all own a piece of the pie that gets packaged and sold for distribution to the ESPNs and Fox Sports of the world.

This is a much better model for esports. It’s unlikely that any group that “owned” football IP would tell the Dallas Cowboys how to market their team, what their cut is and how it will be distributed. This process happens all the time in college, though. In fact, in order for everyone to get their seat at the table, you HAVE to work all of this out so that the schools make some money (equivalent to a team), the conference makes their money (equivalent to the league) and the NCAA makes their money (equivalent to the publisher themselves). If the chain breaks down at any point, then the whole process grinds to a halt and nobody makes money.

I mention this in my article about the Olympics. The IOC is used to having full autonomy over how the Olympic Games are broadcast, which events are part of the games, who is eligible and who isn’t, etc. There is no chance this would be the case if the Olympics took on esports. The publisher would absolutely wield an incredible amount of influence over how the games are portrayed, broadcast, judged and the like. The IOC isn’t used to that. In college, that’s just a typical Saturday afternoon.

College admission is down and not just because of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, colleges were trying to find their footing with potential students as people reevaluate the college experience. Forbes wrote back in 2019 that college enrollments were down two million students in that decade. Add onto that the preliminary data we are getting on the effect of COVID on colleges, we could see enrollment in 2020 down anywhere from 5%-20%.

Student enrollment at US colleges has been declining since 2011

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

The outlook

For colleges, it’s not great. Revenue is massively down, with even stalwarts like Harvard University hemorrhaging cash. With enrollment down before the pandemic, we have reached a point where colleges and universities have to adapt to survive.

The good news is, I believe that esports could be an opportunity to do just that. Colleges are diving into esports, with 115 different programs offering scholarships for esports and club programs are growing even faster. Certainly, it will help attract students, but monetization in esports is really tricky.

It’s critical that colleges and universities get expert advice on how to create an ecosystem that ultimately compensates all of the stakeholders, including the college themselves. It also will require universities to move quickly and get on board with a model that is still being formed in real time. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, but I think there will be many colleges that will. The time to move is now.

#column, #education, #esports, #gaming, #league-of-legends, #ncaa, #sports, #video-games, #video-gaming

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Animal Jam was hacked, and data stolen. Here’s what parents need to know

WildWorks, the gaming company that makes the popular kids game Animal Jam, has confirmed a data breach.

Animal Jam is one of the most popular games for kids, ranking in the top five games in the 9-11 age category in Apple’s App Store in the U.S., according to data provided by App Annie. But while no data breach is ever good news, WildWorks has been more forthcoming about the incident than most companies would be, making it easier for parents to protect both their information and their kids’ data.

Here’s what we know.

WildWorks said in a detailed statement that a hacker stole 46 million Animal Jam records in early October but that it only learned of the breach in November.

The company said someone broke into one of its systems that the company uses for employees to communicate with each other, and accessed a secret key that allowed the hacker to break into the company’s user database. The bad news is that the stolen data is known to be circulating on at least one cybercrime forum, WildWorks said, meaning that malicious hackers may use (or be using) the stolen information.

The stolen data dates back to over the past 10 years, the company said, so former users may still be affected.

Much of the stolen data wasn’t highly sensitive, but the company warned that 32 million of those stolen records had the player’s username, 23.9 million records had the player’s gender, 14.8 million records contained the player’s birth year, and 5.7 million records had the player’s full date of birth.

But, the company did say that the hacker also took 7 million parent email addresses used to manage their kids’ accounts. It also said that 12,653 parent accounts had a parent’s full name and billing address, and 16,131 parent accounts had a parent’s name but no billing address.

Besides the billing address, the company said no other billing data — such as financial information — was stolen.

WildWorks also said that the hacker also stole player’s passwords, prompting the company to reset every player’s password. (If you can’t log in, that’s probably why. Check your email for a link to reset your password.) WildWorks didn’t say how it scrambled passwords, which leaves open the possibility that they could be unscrambled and potentially used to break into other accounts that have the same password as used on Animal Jam. That’s why it’s so important to use unique passwords for each site or service you use, and use a password manager to store your passwords safely.

The company said it was sharing information about the breach with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

So what can parents do?

  • Thankfully the data associated with kids accounts is limited. But parents, if you have used your Animal Jam password on any other website, make sure you change those passwords to strong and unique passwords so that nobody can break into those other accounts.
  • Keep an eye out for scams related to the breach. Malicious hackers like to jump on recent news and events to try to trick victims into turning over more information or money in response to a breach.

#articles, #computer-security, #data-breach, #data-security, #gaming, #have-i-been-pwned, #password-manager, #player, #security, #security-breaches, #united-states

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‘Resident Evil’ game maker Capcom confirms data breach after ransomware attack

Capcom, the Japanese game maker behind the Resident Evil and Street Fighter franchises, has confirmed that hackers stole customer data and files from its internal network following a ransomware attack earlier in the month.

That’s an about-turn from the days immediately following the cyberattack, in which Capcom said it had no evidence that customer data had been accessed.

In a statement, the company said data on as many as 350,000 customers may have been stolen, including names, addresses, phone numbers, and in some cases dates of birth. Capcom said the hackers also stole its own internal financial data and human resources files on current and former employees, which included names, addresses, dates of birth, and photos. The attackers also took “confidential corporate information,” the company said, including documents on business partners, sales, and development.

Capcom said that no credit card information was taken, as payments are handled by a third-party company.

But the company warned that the overall amount of data stolen “cannot specifically be ascertained” due to losing its own internal logs in the cyberattack.

Capcom apologized for the breach. “Capcom offers its sincerest apologies for any complications and concerns that this may bring to its potentially impacted customers as well as to its many stakeholders,” the statement read.

The video games maker was hit by the Ragnar Locker ransomware on November 2, prompting the company to shut down its network. Ragnar Locker is a data-stealing ransomware, which exfiltrates data from a victim before encrypting its network, and then threatens to publish the stolen files unless a ransom is paid. In doing so, ransomware groups can still demand a company pays the ransom even if the victim restores their files and systems from backups.

Ragnar Locker’s website now lists data allegedly stolen from Capcom, with a message implying that the company did not pay the ransom.

Capcom said it had informed data protection regulators in Japan and the United Kingdom, as required under European GDPR data breach notification rules. Companies can be fined up to 4% of their annual revenue for falling foul of GDPR rules.

#articles, #capcom, #data-breach, #data-security, #gaming, #general-data-protection-regulation, #japan, #ransomware, #security, #security-breaches, #united-kingdom

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Extra Crunch roundup: Inside DoorDash’s IPO, first-person founder stories, the latest in fintech VC and more

One of my favorite series of Monty Python sketches is built around the concept of surprise:

Chapman: I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.

[JARRING CHORD]

[Three cardinals burst in]

Cardinal Ximénez: NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!

I was reminded of this today when I needed to reschedule a few stories so we could cover DoorDash’s S-1 filing from multiple angles. First, Managing Editor Danny Crichton looked at how well the company’s co-founders and many investors stand to make out. Alex Wilhelm covered the IPO announcement in depth on TechCrunch before writing an Extra Crunch column that studied the role the COVID-19 pandemic played in the home-delivery platform’s recent growth.

Our all-hands-on-deck coverage of DoorDash’s S-1 is a good illustration of Extra Crunch’s mission: timely analysis of current and future technology trends that serves founders and investors. We have a talented team, and as today’s coverage shows, they’re just as good as they are fast.

The stories that follow are an overview of Extra Crunch from the last five days. The full articles are only available to members, but you can use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one or two-year subscription. Details here.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week. I hope you have a great weekend!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


What I wish I’d known about venture capital when I was a founder

Why I left edtech and got into gaming

Young woman jumping on white sand through door frame at desert during sunny day. Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

We frequently run posts by guest contributors, but two stories we published this week were written in the first person, which is a bit of a departure.

In Why I left edtech and got into gaming, Darshan Somashekar brought us inside his decision to pivot away from a sector that’s been growing hotter in 2020.

His post is a unique take on two oft-discussed categories, but it also examines one founder/investor’s thought process when it comes to evaluating new opportunities.

Andy Areitio, a partner at early-stage fund TheVentureCity, wrote What I wish I’d known about venture capital when I was a founder, a reflection on the “classic mistakes” founders tend to make when it’s time to fundraise.

“Error number one (and two) is to raise the wrong amount of money and to do it at the wrong time,” he says. “They can also put all their eggs in one basket too early. I made that mistake.”

You can find business writing that explores best practices anywhere, which is why we hunt down stories that are firmly rooted in data or personal experience (which includes success and failure).

How COVID-19 accelerated DoorDash’s business

doordash dasher bicycle delivery person

Image Credits: DoorDash

The coronavirus pandemic looms large in DoorDash’s S-1 filing.

According to the food-delivery platform, “58% of all adults and 70% of millennials say that they are more likely to have restaurant food delivered than they were two years ago,” and “the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated these trends.”

As in other sectors, the pandemic didn’t wave a magic wand — instead, it hastened trends that were already in play: consumers love convenience, which means DoorDash’s gross order volume and revenue were tracking well before the virus started to shape our lives.

“It’s your call on how to balance the factors and decide whether or not to buy into the IPO, but this one is going to be big,” writes Alex Wilhelm in a supplemental edition of today’s The Exchange.

 

The VC and founder winners of DoorDash’s IPO

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 05: DoorDash CEO Tony Xu speaks onstage during Day 1 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

None of us knew DoorDash would release its S-1 filing today, but Danny Crichton jumped on the story “so we can see who is raking in the returns on the country’s delivery startup champion.”

After estimating the value of the respective ownership stakes held by DoorDash’s four co-founders, he turned to the investors who participated in rounds seed through Series H.

Some growth funds are about to look very good after this IPO, and each founder is looking at hundreds of millions, he found.

But even so, their diminished haul of about $1.3 billion is “a sign of just how much dilution the co-founders took given the sheer amount of capital the company fundraised over its life.”

 

Fintech VC keeps getting later, larger and more expensive

Investors sent stacks of cash to late-stage fintech companies in Q3 2020, but these sizable rounds may also point to shrinking opportunities for early-stage firms, reports Alex Wilhelm in this morning’s edition of The Exchange.

2020 could be a record year for fintech VC in Europe and North America, but are these “huge late-stage dollars” actually “a dampener for new fintech startups trying to get off the ground?”

 

Accelerators embrace change forced by pandemic

Devin Coldewey interviewed the leaders of three startup accelerators to learn more about the adaptations they’ve made in recent months:

  • David Brown, founder and CEO, Techstars
  • Cyril Ebersweiler, founder HAX, venture partner at SOSV
  • Daniela Fernandez, founder, Ocean Solutions Accelerator

Due to travel bans, shelter-in-place orders and other unknowns, they’ve all shifted to virtual. But accelerators are intensive programs designed to indoctrinate founders and elicit brutally honest feedback in real time.

Despite the sudden shift, that boot-camp mindset is still in effect, Devin reports.

“Cutting out the commute time in a busy city leaves founders with more time for workshops, mentor matchmaking, pitch practice and other important sessions,” said Fernandez. “Everybody just has more flexibility and tranquility.”

Said Ebersweiler: “People are for some reason more participative and have more feedback than physically — it’s pretty strange.”

Greylock’s Asheem Chandna on ‘shifting left’ in cybersecurity and the future of enterprise startups

Asheem Chandna

Image Credits: Greylock

In a recent interview with Greylock partner Asheem Chandna, Managing Editor Danny Crichton asked him about the buzz around no-code platforms and what’s happening in early-stage enterprise startups before segueing into a discussion about “shift left” security:

“Every organization today wants to bring software to market faster, but they also want to make software more secure,” said Chandna.

“There is a genuine interest today in making the software more secure, so there’s this concept of shift left — bake security into the software.”

 

Square and PayPal earnings bring good (and bad) news for fintech startups

If you missed Wednesday’s The Exchange, Alex scoured earnings reports from PayPal and Square to see what the near future might hold for several fintech startups currently waiting in the wings.

Using Square and PayPal’s recent numbers for stock purchases, card usage and consumer payment activity as a proxy, he attempts to “see what we can learn, and to which unicorns it might apply.”

 

Conflicts in California’s trade secret laws on customer lists create uncertainty

Concept of knowledge, data and protection. Paper human head with pad lock.

Concept of knowledge, data and protection. Paper human head with pad lock. Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

In California, non-competition agreements can’t be enforced and a court has ruled that customer contact lists aren’t trade secrets.

That doesn’t mean salespeople who switch jobs can start soliciting their former customers on their first day at the new gig, however.

Before you jump ship — or hire a salesperson who already has — read this overview of California’s trade secret laws.

“Even without litigation, a former employer can significantly hamper a departing salesperson’s career,” says Nick Saenz, a partner at Lewis & Llewellyn LLP, who focuses on employment and trade secret issues.

As public investors reprice edtech bets, what’s ahead for the hot startup sector?

light bulb flickering on and off

Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

News of a highly effective COVID-19 vaccine appeared to drive down prices of the three best-known publicly traded edtech companies: 2U, Chegg and Kahoot saw declines of about 20%, 10% and 9%, respectively after the report.

Are COVID-19 tailwinds dissipating, or did the market make a correction because “edtech has been categorically overhyped in recent months?”

 

Dear Sophie: What does a Biden win for tech immigration?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

What does President-elect Biden’s victory mean for U.S. immigration and immigration reform?

I’m in tech in SF and have a lot of friends who are immigrant founders, along with many international teammates at my tech company. What can we look forward to?

— Anticipation in Albany

 

#asheem-chandna, #diversity, #doordash, #ecommerce, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch, #financial-technology, #food, #gaming, #payments, #paypal, #saas, #startups, #tc

0

Demon’s Souls: The first truly next-gen game is a lopsided but impressive showcase

The next generation of gaming is here with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X — except it isn’t, because there are almost no next-generation games to play on them. Demon’s Souls is the first title that can truly be called next-gen, and it shows — even though it’s a remake of a PS3 game… which also shows.

The original Demon’s Souls was an incredibly influential game. Its sequel, Dark Souls, was more popular and improved on the first quite a bit, but much of what made the now major series good had already been established. “Souls-like” is practically a genre now, though the originals are unsurprisingly still the nonpareil.

The comparative few who played Demon’s Souls were elated to hear that it was being remade, and by Bluepoint at that (who also remade the legendary Shadow of the Colossus), but worried that the game might not stand up by modern standards.

Can an old game, the essentials of which are a decade behind its descendants, be given a really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking coat of paint and still act as a blockbuster next-gen debut? Well, it kind of has to — there’s no other option! Fortunately the game really does hold up, and in fact makes for a harrowing, cinematic experience despite a few significant creaks.

I don’t want to give a full review of the game itself; let it suffice to say that, although it looks and runs much better, the core of the game is almost entirely unchanged. Any review from the last decade is still completely relevant, down to the “magic is overpowered” and “inventory burden is annoying.”

As a next-gen gaming experience, however, Demon’s Souls is as yet without comparison. It serves as a showcase not only for the PS5’s graphical prowess, but its sound design, haptics, speed, and OS.

Image Credits: Sony

First, the graphics. It’s clear that Sony and Bluepoint intended this to be a truly lavish remake, and the game’s structure — essentially five long, mostly linear levels — provides an excellent platform for breathtaking visuals carefully tuned to the user’s experience.

The environments themselves are incredibly detailed, and the various enemies you fight very well realized, but what I kept being impressed by was the lighting. Realistic lighting is something that has proven difficult even for top-tier developers, and it’s only now that the hardware has enough headroom to start doing it properly.

Demon’s Souls doesn’t use ray-tracing, the computation-heavy lighting technique perennially on the cusp of being implemented, but the real-time lighting effects are nevertheless dramatic and extremely engaging. This is a dark, dark world and the player is very limited as far as personal light sources, meaning the way you experience the environment is carefully designed.

Although the detailed armor, props, and monsters are all very nice, it’s the realistic lighting that really sets them off in a way that seems truly new and beautiful. Dynamic range is used properly, to have actually dark areas illuminated dramatically, such as the still-terrifying Tower of Latria.

Image Credits: Sony

The game isn’t a huge leap over the best the PC has to offer right now, but it does make me excited for game designers who really want to use light and shadow as gameplay elements.

(Incidentally, don’t bother with the “cinematic” option versus “performance.” The latter keeps the game silky smooth, which for Souls games is a luxury, and the other setting didn’t improve the look much if at all, while severely affecting the framerate. Skip it unless you’re taking glamour shots.)

Similarly sound is extremely well done in the game, though I’m cautious about hyping Sony’s “3D audio” — really, games have had this sort of thing for years on many platforms. Having a decent pair of headphones is the important bit. But perhaps the PS5 offers improved workflows for spatializing sound; at all events in Demon’s Souls it was very good, with great separation, location, and clarity. I have reliably dodged an enemy attack from offscreen after recognizing the characteristic grunt of an attacking foe, and the screeches and roars of dragons and boss monsters (as well as the general milieu of Latria) were suitably chilling.

A Sony DualSense controller seen from above.

Image Credits: Sony

This combined well with the improved haptics of the DualSense controller, which seemed to have a different “sensation” for every event. A dragon flying overhead, a demon stomping the ground, a blocked attack, an elevator ride. Mostly these were good and only aided immersion, but some, like the elevators, felt to me more like an annoying buzz than a rumble, like holding a power tool. I hope that developers will be sensible about these things and identify vibration patterns that are irritating. Fortunately the intensity can be adjusted universally in the PS5’s controls.

Likewise the adaptive triggers were nice but not game-changing. It was helpful when using the bow to know when the arrow was ready to release, for instance, but beyond a few things like that it was not used to great advantage.

Something that had a more immediate effect on how I played was the incredibly short load times. The Souls series has always been plagued by long load times when traveling and dying, the latter of which you can expect to do a lot. But now it’s rare that I can count to three before I’m materializing at the bonfire again.

This significantly reduces (but far from eliminates) frustration in this infamously unforgiving game, and actually makes me play it differently. Where once I could not be bothered to briefly travel to another area or the hub in order to accomplish some small task, now I know I can return to the Nexus, fuss around a bit with my loadout, and be back in Boletaria in 30 seconds flat. If I die, I’m back in action in five seconds rather than twenty, and believe me, that adds up real fast. (Load times are improved across the board in PS4 games running on the PS5 as well.)

Aiding this, kind of, is the new fancy pause screen Sony has implemented on its new console. When hitting the (annoyingly PS-shaped) PS button, a set of “cards” appears showing recent achievements and screenshots, but also ongoing missions or game progress. Pausing in Latria to take a breath, the menu offered up the ability to instantly warp to one of the other worlds, losing my souls but skipping the ordinarily requisite Nexus stop. This will certainly change how speedruns are accomplished, and provides a useful, if somewhat immersion-breaking, option for the scatterbrained player.

The pause menu also provides a venue for tips and hints, in both text and video form. Again this is a funny game to debut these in (I don’t count Astro’s Playroom, the included game/tech demo, which is fun but slight), because one of the Souls series’s distinctive features is player-generated notes and ghosts that alternatively warn and deceive new players. In another game I might have relied on the PS5’s hints more, but for this specific title they seem somewhat redundant.

As arguably the only “real” PS5 launch title, Demon’s Souls is a curious but impressive creature. It definitely shows the new console to advantage in some ways, but the game itself (while still amazing) is dated in many ways, limiting the possibilities of what can be shown off in the first place.

Certainly the remake is the best (and for many, only) way to play a classic, and for that alone it is recommended — though the $70 price (more in Europe and elsewhere) is definitely a bit of a squinter. One would hope that for the new higher asking price, we could expect next-generation gameplay as well as next-generation trimmings. Well, for now we have to take what we can get.

#gadgets, #gaming, #reviews, #tc

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Nintendo’s Mario Game & Watch is a choice gaming stocking stuffer of 2020

Nintendo will never stop mining its past for new nostalgia-based products, but at least it tends to do so with aplomb and occasionally even generosity. The former at least is on display with the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch, a standalone handheld that plays the first Mario game, its unbelievably hard “Lost Levels” sequel, and acts as a totally impractical timepiece.

This tiny gaming system isn’t the most practical thing in the world, but it is a charming piece of hardware that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Turn on the Game & Watch with a button on the side and you can select between, naturally, the Game and Watch modes. In game mode, you can select between playing the original Super Mario Bros. for NES, the sequel we never got in the U.S., but was eventually released as “The Lost Levels,” and a recreation of an old-school LCD game where Mario juggles balls at ever-increasing speeds.

Nintendo's Super Mario Bros handheld system

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The screen, while certainly small, is bright and sharp, apparently displaying the exact pixel dimensions of the original Nintendo game. It plays well, too — the controls are responsive, though it feels strange to play the game on anything other than an original NES controller. The buttons of the Game & Watch are a bit softer than I’d like — but they were good enough that I cleared the first set of levels without any real frustration other than my own lack of skill.

While there is no support for saving or rewinding the game — pretty much essential for the 99 percent of us who can’t beat it honestly — at least you don’t have to to try to beat it in one sitting. The game freezes its state when you turn if off or switch to any other game or mode, meaning you can play a couple levels between subway stops and not worry about losing progress.

Nintendo's Super Mario Bros handheld system, side view

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

You can hand it back and forth with a friend (after sanitizing it, of course) too, since player 2 uses the same controls.

The juggling game is a fun little diversion but, like most of those old LCD games, goes from really boring to nearly impossible in the course of about 60 seconds.

Nintendo's Super Mario Bros handheld system

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The “Watch” mode has a charming little landscape with the current time made out of bricks, and Mario running across the screen below stomping goombas and avoiding bullet bills. If you watch for a while he’ll moonwalk, mount a pipe, and perform other hijinks. You can switch the background from normal to hills to mushroom platforms. I wouldn’t use it as a watch but if you don’t want to pull your phone out while you’re playing, there you go.

For $50 it may seem a little steep, and perhaps it is. If this had Marios 1 through 3 on it I would consider it a bargain, especially considering the ability to come back to the game time after time — I’d work my way through the epic-length third game with pleasure.

As it is, however, it’s hard to justify the price — except, of course, as a gift to a Nintendo-loving friend or loved one. That’s why I suspect these will sell like hotcakes this holiday season. With no new Switch hardware, no N64 mini, and no must-have games on Nintendo’s platforms, it’s looking a bit dry, but a Game & Watch is just silly enough — and decent enough — a device to sate the hunger of a retro-minded gamer for a few days.

#gadgets, #gaming, #hardware, #nintendo, #super-mario-bros, #tc

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Nintendo’s Switch dominates US console sales ahead of PlayStation/Xbox launches

Another banner month month for Nintendo hardware sales, per the latest figures from NPD. The firm puts Switch sales (including the standard and Lite models) at 735,000 units in the U.S., making the best October for a Nintendo console since the Wii sold 807,000 units in October 2008.

It’s been a good couple of years for the Switch, which has marked 23 straight months as the best-selling console in the States. In its own reporting, Nintendo adds that the company has sold more than 63 million units worldwide, to date. 2020 has been particularly strong for the company, owing to both pandemic-related stay-at-home orders and the strength of titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which was a downright powerhouse.

Of course, many Microsoft and Sony devotees were no doubt holding off on purchasing new hardware, with the arrival of the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 a month out. Per NPD, Nintendo offset its competitors’ declines in the meantime. Though an end to Nintendo’s console sales dominance could very well be in the cards for November, even with the Switch bundles the company has on offer for Black Friday.

FIFA 21 was the best-selling game for the month — the first time an entry in the soccer franchise hit the number one spot in the U.S. on launch. The hybrid title, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, was Nintendo’s best-selling game at number five overall, though Nintendo managed to claim nine of the top 20 spots for the month.

#gaming, #hardware, #microsoft, #nintendo, #npd, #playstation, #sony, #switch, #xbox

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PUBG announces return to India: New game, $100 million investment

PUBG Mobile will make its return to India in a new avatar, parent company PUBG Corporation said on Thursday. TechCrunch reported last week that the South Korean gaming firm was plotting its return to the world’s second largest internet market two months after its marquee title was banned by the country.

Additionally, the company said it plans to make investments worth $100 million in India, one of the largest markets of PUBG Mobile, to cultivate the local video game, esports, entertainment, and IT industries ecosystems. “Thanks to overwhelming community enthusiasm for PUBG esports in India, the company also plans to make investments by hosting India-exclusive esports events, which will feature the biggest tournaments, the largest prize pools, and the best tournament productions,” it said in a statement.

The company did not share exactly when the new game would be released in India.

New Delhi has banned over 200 apps including PUBG Mobile and TikTok in recent months over cybersecurity concerns. To allay concerns of the Indian government, PUBG Mobile has cut ties with Chinese internet giant, Tencent, which is its publisher in many markets. The company last week announced that it had inked a global deal with Microsoft to move all PUBG Mobile data — as well as data from its other properties — to Azure.

In a statement on Thursday, PUBG Corporation said, “privacy and security of Indian player data being a top priority for PUBG Corporation, the company will conduct regular audits and verifications on the storage systems holding Indian users’ personally identifiable information to reinforce security and ensure that their data is safely managed.”

Prior to the ban in early September, PUBG Mobile had amassed over 50 million monthly active users in India, more than any other mobile game in the country. It helped establish an entire ecosystem of esports organisations and even a cottage industry of streamers that made the most of its spectator sport-friendly gameplay, said Rishi Alwani, a long-time analyst of Indian gaming market and publisher of news outlet The Mako Reactor.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #china, #gaming, #india, #microsoft, #pubg, #pubg-mobile

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Roblox to host its first virtual concert, featuring Lil Nas X

Roblox this morning announced a partnership with Columbia Records that will allow it to bring a virtual concert experience featuring Lil Nas X to its gaming platform. Notably, this will be Roblox’s first-ever virtual concert, and follows similar events that have been held during the pandemic, like the “One World: Together At Home” concert to benefit WHO in April, and Fortnite’s Travis Scott concert hosted in-game, which attracted 12.3 million concurrent players at its peak.

The Lil Nas concert, meanwhile, will be hosted in an online event space custom-designed by Roblox to allow for an immersive experience. There will be several different stages, each inspired by Lil Nas X’s songs and music videos, that will use a variety of technologies including the latest in shadowing, lighting, and physically based rendering (PBR) facial recognition technologies, the company says.

During the concert, Lil Nas X will also perform his new single “Holiday” for the first time live, as well as other popular hiits.

The event itself will actually be run over three showings starting with the main event on Sat. Nov. 14th at 1 PM PST. The Asia showing will follow at 10 PM PST, then the European show will be on Sun. Nov. 15 at 9 AM PST.

In addition, Roblox and Columbia Records will host a Q&A with Lil Nas X that will be streamed in the concert venue with a preshow at 4 PM on Friday Nov. 13.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Columbia Records to bring Lil Nas X fans and the Roblox community together in an entirely new way,” said Jon Vlassopulos, Global Head of Music at Roblox, in a statement about the event. “This concert with Lil Nas X will transport players and their friends into the Metaverse, and bring to life the future of what immersive, social experiences can look like.”

Ahead of the event, the new concert venue will feature mini games and other activities for players to explore, as well as a virtual store offering exclusive merchandise, like accessories, emotes, and Lil Nas X avatar bundles.

“We’re throwing the biggest virtual concert of 2020, and I hope everybody in the world can come check it out,” said Lil Nas X, in a statement. “I feel very lucky to be the first artist to ever do this on Roblox. We had so much fun putting this together for my fans, and I can’t wait for everyone to see it,” he added.

Roblox has been signaling an interest in expanding its platform beyond gaming in recent months, as the pandemic fueled a jump in monthly users and player spending, as well as a desire for virtual activities in general. The company in July reported it had grown to more than 150 million monthly active users, up from the 115 million it had in February, before the U.S.’s shelter-in-place orders had kicked in.

It also in July launched  “Party Place,” a virtual venue focused on hanging out for meetups or birthday parties.

The shift to virtual platforms for socializing has helped boost Roblox revenues, as well.

One third-party estimate, from Sensor Tower, pegged Roblox mobile spending at $94 million in September. It also suggested Roblox had passed $2 billion in spending to date. A more recent report from Safe Betting Sites, estimated Roblox players spent $820 million in total from Jan. through Sept. 2020.

The gaming company is poised to IPO, but a date has not been disclosed.

#columbia-records, #gaming, #lil-nas-x, #metaverse, #musicians, #nas, #online-games, #player, #roblox, #sensor-tower, #travis-scott, #united-states

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Why I left edtech and got into gaming

Now that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital education tools, edtech has become one of the hottest areas of investment.

As someone who has been in edtech for nearly 20 years, this sounds like the precise moment to capitalize on all the newfound interest. Which is why what I’m about to say might be surprising: I’m leaving edtech for the world of gaming with my new company, Solitaired.

I first got into edtech in high school, when a friend and I founded EasyBib, a website that helped students cite sources for their papers. At the time, we were just students who felt there had to be a better way than formatting tedious citations for research papers by hand. But as we dove into the business further, we realized there was a lot to like about bibliographies and education technology in general.

For one, the education market is large. There are more than 56 million K-16 students in the U.S., and over 1.3 billion globally. Federal, state and local governments spend an aggregate of 5% of GDP on education, and that doesn’t even include what students and parents spend on content and technology.

Secondly, it’s structured. Students generally all go through the same curriculum together. That means most students have the same problem in the same way; if you solve a problem for one group of users, you’ve probably solved it for most users.

The citation problem was just like that. When we sold our company to Chegg, we were already reaching four out of five students that needed bibliographies, or over 30 million students in the U.S. Edtech companies that help students with math, chemistry, homework help, tutoring and other curricular needs can build massive audiences quickly.

Edtech that’s part of the curriculum also has high engagement. EasyBib users stayed on our site for nearly ten minutes per session, creating one citation after another for their bibliographies. For direct-to-consumer edtech companies that are ad and subscription driven, this behavior creates many monetization opportunities.

While we grew fast, our endemic market opportunity was limited. Why? The strengths of edtech can also be its downsides, especially for a startup. On the user growth front, we focused on school relationships, marketing and SEO. But once we reached four out of every five students in the U.S., there wasn’t much more room to grow.

To increase engagement even further, we tried a number of things: encouraging more citation creation, adding research and note-taking features and building a Chrome extension to be more ever-present in the user’s research journey. Those efforts fell short too. Ultimately, the school calendar dictated how often students needed to use us, and we were constrained by the number of research papers teachers assigned.

These challenges can certainly be overcome. But as a startup, we had to decide if we wanted to pursue adjacencies and expansions ourselves. Ultimately, this realization was one of the reasons we decided to sell our company to Chegg, which had a wider user base and product synergies that we couldn’t achieve on our own. As anyone who follows Chegg might know, they’ve been very successful in accelerating the edtech digital transformation.

When we began thinking about our second business, we had these lessons in the back of our mind. That’s when we discovered gaming.

#chegg, #column, #education, #education-technology, #entrepreneurship, #gaming, #online-tutoring, #startups, #tc

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The PlayStation 4 will be able to play PlayStation 5 games remotely

Well, isn’t this a nice little surprise? This morning some PlayStation 4 owners are reporting the sudden and unexpected arrival of a new “PS5 Remote Play” app. While the app doesn’t do much yet (the PS5 isn’t out yet, after all), it seems meant to let you keep a PlayStation 5 in one room and stream it to (and control it from) a PlayStation 4 in another.

Now, that’s not quite the same as actually having another PS5 in that second room; Remote Play tends to introduce a little bit of lag into the mix, so you probably won’t want to turn to it for twitchy games where every millisecond counts. But given that last-gen’s console tends to eventually find itself gathering dust or tucked into another room as a wildly overpowered Blu-ray/Netflix player, this is a pretty great way to extend the PS4’s lifespan. IGN spotted the app this morning, and it appears to be rolling out to users in batches

Sony hasn’t said much about how it’ll all work, so there are still plenty of questions to be had about compatibility — will all games work, or just some? Will PS4 controllers work on PS5 games via Remote Play, whereas Sony has otherwise said they’ll only work on the PS5 when playing backwards compatible PS4 titles? An FAQ on the PlayStation blog does confirm that it’s meant for playing PS5 games on the PS4, but doesn’t go any deeper than that:

We’re updating PS4’s Remote Play feature. Now, in addition to being able to access your PS4 from a PC or a mobile device, your PS4 can access other consoles via Remote Play too, right on your TV. This includes the ability to connect to your PS5 and stream a PS5 game to your PS4 so you can play it there.

Sony also notes that Remote Play will now support multiple remote users simultaneously, allowing you to play local multiplayer games with friends who aren’t actually, you know, local.

#gaming, #playstation, #playstation-5, #ps5, #sony, #tc

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Review: Sony’s PlayStation 5 is here, but next-generation gaming is still on its way

The new generation of consoles is both a hard and an easy sell. With a big bump to specs and broad backwards compatibility, both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are certainly the consoles anyone should buy going forward. But with nearly no launch content or must-have features they also fail to make a compelling case for themselves beyond “the same, but better.” What we’re left with is something more like a new iPhone: You’ll have to upgrade eventually, and it’ll be fine. Just don’t believe the hype for the new consoles… yet.

Disclosure: TechCrunch was provided consoles from both Microsoft and Sony ahead of release, as well as a handful of titles from first- and third-party publishers.

In accordance with an elaborate (and ongoing!) series of embargoes for different features and games, impressions have been trickling out about the new platforms for a month now. For a launch that’s already lacking impact, this may have further blunted excitement: Few gamers will get excited when all anyone can write about is the exterior of the console itself, or the first level of the pack-in game. Some features wouldn’t even be available before launch, or are prohibited from coverage until long afterwards, leaving reviewers wondering whether day-one changes would make any impressions they had obsolete. (I’ll update this review when new information comes to light, or link to future coverage.)

But whatever the case, the shackles are finally removed and now we can talk about most (but not all) the new consoles have to offer. Unfortunately it’s… not that much. Despite the companies’ attempts to hype the next generation as a huge leap, there’s simply no evidence of that at launch and probably won’t be for many months.

That doesn’t mean the new platforms are a flop — or even that they aren’t great. But the new generation is a lot like the old one, and compatibility with it is actually the biggest thing the PS5 and Series X have going for them for the opening stretch. Here’s what I can tell you honestly about my time with the PS5.

The hardware: Conversation piece

A PS5 console with a PS4 on top

As you can see, the PS5 is CONSIDERABLY larger than the PS4 Slim.

The PS5 is a strange-looking beast, but I’ll give it this: no one is going to mistake it for any other gaming console. Though they may think it’s an air purifier.

The large, curvy device likely won’t fit with anyone’s decor, so it may be best to just bite the bullet and display it prominently (fortunately it sits comfortably vertically or on a stand horizontally). I look forward to getting custom shields for the side to make this thing a little less prominent.

The console is fairly quiet while playing games, but you’ll probably want it at least a few feet away from you, especially if you’re going to play with a disc, which is much louder than normal operation.

As for performance, it’s really impossible to say. The only “next-gen” (really cross-gen) game I got to play much of was Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and while it looked great (more impressions below), it’s incredibly hard to make any substantive comment on the machine’s computing and rendering chops.

Close up of the Sony logo on the PS5 and tiny characters making a pattern.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The prospect of gaming in 4K and HDR, and of advanced techniques like ray tracing changing how games look, is an exciting one. But in the first place you need a TV setup that’s capable of taking advantage of these features, and in the second — to be perfectly honest, they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. A high-quality 1080p TV from the last couple years will look very nearly as good despite not supporting Dolby Vision or what have you. (I know because I got a new TV during the review period. They both looked great.)

Load times — a factor of the much-lauded custom SSD in this thing — are similarly hard to evaluate, though certainly going from menu to game in Miles Morales was fast, fast-traveling faster, and the previous game was faster to load than on my regular PS4. This benefit will of course vary from game to game, however — some developers are announcing their performance gains publicly, while others with less impressive ones may just let sleeping dogs lie. Without more titles to get a feel for the console’s performance improvements, right now you’ll have to take Sony’s word on things.

The controller: DualSense makes sense

Close up image of a Sony DualSense controller

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey/TechCrunch

One place where Sony is attempting to advance the ball is in the new DualSense controller.

Not in the shape and color and slick, transparent buttons — those are not so hot. It feels like a DualShock that’s let itself go a bit, and I’m definitely not a fan of the “PS” shaped PlayStation button. This thing feels like a grime magnet.

And not in the built-in speaker and microphone, either; I struggle to think of any application for these that wouldn’t be better served by a headset or avoided altogether.

What’s actually a clear and impressive upgrade is the triggers, which feature incredibly precise mechanical resistance that serves all kinds of gameplay functions and sets the imagination running.

A Playstation 5 and 4 controller next to each other.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The new triggers are connected to a set of gears that impart actual pressure against your fingers, from a very light tap to, presumably (though I haven’t experienced it), actually pushing your fingers back.

The range is wide and it can impart the pressure anywhere along the trigger’s range, giving interesting effects like (the obvious one in violent games) resistance while you pull a gun’s trigger, which then clicks and releases when it fires. In Miles Morales, the triggers act as a very sensitive rumble, but also give you tactile feedback when you’re swinging, telling you when you’ve made contact and so on.

Honestly, I love it. I want to play games that use it well. I don’t want to play games that don’t have it! Hopefully developers will embrace the variable-resistance triggers, because it genuinely adds something to the experience and if I’m not mistaken even has the potential to make games more accessible.

The UI: More is more

The PS4’s interface had the illusion of simplicity, and the PS5 continues that with two steps forward and one step back.

For one thing, separating out the “games” and “media” portions of the machine is a smart move. As OTT apps and streaming services proliferate they take up more and more space and it makes perfect sense to isolate them.

Screenshot of the PS5 menu.

As for the games side, it’s similar to the PS4 in that it’s a horizontal line that you click through, and when a game is highlighted it “takes over” the screen with a background, the latest news, achievements, and so on. As before it works perfectly well.

Previously, when you pressed the PlayStation button, you’d return to the main menu and pause whatever you were playing. If you held down the button, it opened an in-game side menu where you could invite friends, turn off the console, and other common tasks.

The PS5 reverses that: the long press now returns you to the home screen, while a short press brings up the in-game menu (now a row of tiny icons on the bottom of the screen — not a fan of this change).

The in-game menu now sports an in-depth “card” system that, while cool in theory, seems like one of those things that will not actually be used to great effect. The giant cards show recent screenshots and achievements, friend activity, and if the developer has enabled it, info about your current mission or game progress.

For instance, in Miles Morales, hitting pause told me I was 22% of the way through a side mission to rescue a bodega cat named Spider-Man, with an image of the bodega where I accepted it. Nice, but it’s redundant with the info presented in-game if I pause in the ordinary way. There’s more to it, though — the cards can also be used as “deep links” to game features like multiplayer, quests in progress, quick travel locations, even hints.

Sony showed these advanced possibilities off in a video of Sackboy: The Big Adventure, but since that game isn’t yet available I can’t yet speak to how well it works. More importantly, I can’t make any promises on behalf of developers, who may or may not integrate the system well. At the very least it could be nice, but I’m afraid it will be relegated to first-party games (of which Sony promises many) and be optional at that.

It’s hard to call the new UI an improvement over the old one — it’s different, in some ways more busy and in some ways streamlined. Where it may improve things is in reducing friction in things like organizing voice chat and joining friends’ games. But that capability wasn’t ready for launch.

A couple nice things I want to note: Setting up the PS5 to your own preferences is super easy. I downloaded my cloud saves in a minute or two, and there’s a great new settings page for things people often change in games: difficulty, language, inverting the camera, and some other things. There are also accessibility options built-in: a screen reader, chat transcription, and other goodies I wasn’t able to test but am glad to see.

The games: Well… the PS5 is the best PS4 you can buy

The chief reason for buying a new console is to play the new games on it. When the Switch came out, half the reason anyone bought it was to play the fabulous new Zelda. Sadly, the selection at this launch is laughably thin for both Sony and Microsoft fanboys.

As I noted above, the only game I was provided in time to get any real impressions (that I’m permitted to write about) was Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Having recently completed its predecessor on PS4, I can say that the new game looks and plays better, with shorter load times, improved lighting, more detailed buildings, and so on. But the 2018 Spider-Man still looks and plays very well — this is the difference you’d expect in a sequel, not from one generation to the next.

A screenshot of Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PS5As far as a review goes, I’ll just say that if you liked the first, you’ll like the second, and if you didn’t play the original, play it first because it’s great. I also want to hand it to the new game for its commitment to diversity.

But that will also be coming out on the PS4… and Xbox One and Series X… In fact, almost all the big games of the next year will be.

They will, of course, play and look better on the PS5 than the PS4. But it’s a hard sell to tell someone to pay $500 so they can play the next Assassin’s Creed or Horizon: Zero Dawn in 4K HDR rather than 1080p.

Meanwhile, the few games you can only play on PS5 are niche players. Sackboy looks to be a fun platformer but hardly a blockbuster; Demon’s Souls is my most anticipated title of the season, but a remake of a legendary but little-played and controller-bitingly difficult PS3 game isn’t going to break sales records; Destruction All-Stars, an online-only racing battle royale game, got delayed until February, which suggests it’s not playing well.

Adding them all up there really isn’t much reason in terms of exclusives to pick the PS5 over the Xbox Series X or, at least for 2021, a PS4 Pro.

The good news is that the PS5 is now without a question the best way to play the huge catalog of amazing PS4 games out there. Nearly all of them will look better, play better, and load faster. Sony as much as admitted this when they bundled a dozen of the best games from the last generation with the PS5. Honestly, I’m looking forward to finally playing God of War (I know… don’t hassle me!) on this thing than I am to Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.

Unfortunately I can’t speak to whether these PS4 games have much to speak of in terms of real improvements yet. As mentioned above, a lot of that depends on support from the developers. But as a simple test, loading the Central Yharnam area in Bloodborne took about 33 seconds on the PS4, and 16 on the PS5 (as you can see in the shots above, the game looks identical). I didn’t time them, but anecdotally other games showed improvements as well.

The verdict: The must-have console for the 2021 holidays

A PS5 console

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

No, that isn’t a typo. The PS5 (and I am joined in this opinion by our review of its rival, the Xbox Series X) simply isn’t a console anyone should rush out and purchase for any reason. Not least of which because it will be near-impossible to get one in the next month or so, making the possibility of unwrapping a PS5 a remote one for eager youths.

The power of the next generation is not much on display in any of the titles I have been able to play, and while a handful of upcoming games may show off its advantages, those games will likely play just as well on the other platforms they’re being released on.

Nor are there any compelling new features that make the PS5 feel truly next gen, with the possible exception of the variable resistance triggers (the Series X has multi-game suspension at least, and I’d jealous if there were any games to switch between). For the next 6-8 months, the PS5 will merely be the best way to play the same games everyone else is playing, or has been playing for years, but in 4K. That’s it!

The rush by Sony and Microsoft to get these consoles out by the holidays this year simply didn’t have the support of the publishers and developers that make the games that make consoles worth having. That will change late next year as the actual next-gen titles and meaningful exclusives start to appear. And a year from now the PS5 and Series X will truly be must-haves, because there will be things that are only available for them.

I’m not saying buy your kid a PS4 Pro for Christmas. And I’m not saying the PS5 isn’t a great way to play games. I’m just saying that outside some slight differences that many gamers don’t even have the setup to notice, there’s no reason to run out and buy a PS5 right now. Relax and enjoy the latest, greatest games on your old PS4 in confidence, knowing that you’ll save $50 when a Cyberpunk 2077 bundle goes on sale in the summer.

So don’t feel bad if you can’t lay your hands on a PS5 to keep you entertained this winter — a PS4 will do you just fine for the present while the next generation makes its lazy way towards the consoles it will eventually grace.

#gadgets, #gaming, #hardware, #playstation-5, #ps5, #sony, #tc

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Sony’s PlayStation 5 won’t be available in-store at launch

A small wrinkle in the console wars. Sony took to Twitter today to note that the PlayStation 5 won’t be available for in-store purchases on launch day (November 12 or 19, depending on what part of the world you live in). Instead, users will only be able to but it online at that date. The next-gen console went up for pre-order in mid-September, though a rush on purchasing caused a bit of a hiccup early on.

Sony specifies in a blog post that the decision was made — at least in part — over safety concerns surrounding the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the interest of keeping our gamers, retailers, and staff safe amidst COVID-19, today we are confirming that all day-of launch sales will be conducted through the online stores of our retail partners,” the company writes. “[P]lease don’t plan on camping out or lining up at your local retailer on launch day in hopes of finding a PS5 console for purchase. Be safe, stay home, and place your order online.”

Microsoft’s latest — the Xbox Series X/S — will launch globally two days prior. Lucas just posted up an on-going review of the system earlier today. On the Sony side, Devin has thus far featured this hands-on with the console’s controller.

#gaming, #hardware, #playstation, #playstation-5, #sony

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