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Main article: Epic Games

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 67

Games already are social networks

19:00 | 25 February

Video games are only getting more popular.

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

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

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

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

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

 


0

A multiverse, not the metaverse

19:00 | 25 February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


0

Fortnite just officially became a high school and college sport

18:00 | 22 January

Fortnite, one of the world’s most popular games, will now be an official high school sport and college sport thanks to an LA-based startup called PlayVS .

The company has partnered with Epic Games to bring competitive league play to the collegiate and high school level. This also marks PlayVS’s entry into colleges and universities.

PlayVS launched in April of 2018 with a mission of bringing esports to high school, with a league akin to traditional sports like basketball or football. Though a partnership with the NFHS, high schools (or parents, or the students themselves) can pay $64/player to be placed in a league to compete with neighboring schools, just like any other sport.

But PlayVS partnerships go deeper than the NFHS (the NCAA of high school sports), as the company is also partnering with the publishers themselves. This is the part that puts PlayVS a step ahead of its competition, according to founder Delane Parnell .

While other companies are setting up paid competitive leagues around video games, very few if any have partnerships at the publisher level. This means that those startups could be shut down on a whim by the publishers themselves, who own the IP of the game.

PlayVS is the first to score such a partnership with Epic Games, the maker of the world’s most popular video game.

These publisher partnerships also allow PlayVS to productize the experience in a way that requires almost no lift for schools and organizations. Players simply sign into PlayVS and get dropped into their scheduled match. At the end, PlayVS pulls stats and insights directly from the match, which can be made available to the players, coaches, fans and even recruiters.

For PlayVS, the college landscape presents a new challenge. With high school expansion, the NFHS fueled fast and expansive growth. Since launch, more than 13,000 high schools have joined the waitlist to get a varsity esports team through PlayVS, which represents 68% of the country. PlayVS says that just over 14,000 high schools in the United States have a football program, to give you a comparison.

The NFHS has a relationship with the NCAA, but no such official partnership has been signed, meaning that PlayVS has to go directly to individual colleges to pitch their technology. Luckily, they’re going in armed with the most popular game in the world, and at a time when many colleges are looking to incorporate esports scholarships and programs.

And it doesn’t hurt that PlayVS has quite a bit of cash in the bank — the company has raised $96 million since launch.

Unlike the rest of the PlayVS titles, the first season of Fortnite competition will be free to registered users, courtesy of the partnership with Epic Games. Registration for the first seasons closes on February 17 for high schools, and February 24 for colleges and universities. The season officially kicks off on March 2.

The format for competition will be Duos, and organizations can submit as many teams of two as they like. The top teams will be invited to the playoffs with a chance to win a spot in the championship in May.

 


0

Where FaZe Clan sees the future of gaming and entertainment

21:20 | 17 January

Lee Trink has spent nearly his entire career in the entertainment business. The former president of Capitol Records is now the head of FaZe Clan, an esports juggernaut that is one of the most recognizable names in the wildly popular phenomenon of competitive gaming.

Trink sees FaZe Clan as the voice of a new generation of consumers who are finding their voice and their identity through gaming — and it’s a voice that’s increasingly speaking volumes in the entertainment industry through a clutch of competitive esports teams, a clothing and lifestyle brand and a network of creators who feed the appetites of millions of young gamers.

As the company struggles with a lawsuit brought by one of its most famous players, Trink is looking to the future — and setting his sights on new markets and new games as he consolidates FaZe Clan’s role as the voice of a new generation.

“The teams and social media output that we create is all marketing,” he says. “It’s not that we have an overall marketing strategy that we then populate with all of these opportunities. We’re not maximizing all of our brands.”

 


0

China Roundup: WeChat’s new focus on monetization

19:00 | 12 January

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. At the beginning of each year, a large crowd of developers, content creators and digitally-savvy business owners gather in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou for the WeChat conference, the messaging giant’s premier annual gathering. The event is meant to give clues to WeChat’s future and the rare occasion where its secretive founder Allen Zhang emerges in public view. But this year, much to the audience’s disappointment, Zhang was absent.

WeChat’s new era of money-making

The boss’s absence was not outright unexpected, an industry analyst told me, as WeChat shifts to focus more on monetization. With 1.1 billion active users, the app has been incredibly conservative with selling ads and pursuing other money-making strategies, an admirable decision from the user’s perspective but arguably frustrating for Tencent’s stakeholders. Part of the restrain is due to Zhang’s user-first design philosophy and minimalistic product aesthetics. When reflecting on why WeChat doesn’t support splash ads — ads that are displayed full-page every time an app is launched — the boss had this to say (in Chinese) at last year’s WeChat conference:

“If WeChat is a person, it must have been your closest friend to deserve so much time you spent on it. So how could I have the heart to plaster an ad on your best friend’s face and ask you to watch the ad before speaking to him?”

The emphasis on user experience now seems overshadowed by Tencent’s need to carve out more revenue streams. The giant’s cash cow — its gaming business — has taken a hit in recent years following a wave of new government policies on the online entertainment industry. Tencent’s imminent rival ByteDance, the creator of TikTok, is getting a larger slice of the digital advertising pie in China.

One way to step up monetization within WeChat is to stimulate more business transactions. The app mapped out at the conference what it has done and what it plans to do on this front.

WeChat founder Allen Zhang addressing the audience of WeChat’s annual conference through a pre-recorded video in January 2020 

Mini programs

The lite apps that skip app store downloads and run inside WeChat have surpassed 300 million daily active users. Practically every internet service in China — with the exception of a few that are at odds with Tencent, such as Alibaba’s ecommerce platforms — have built a WeChat mini program version of their full-fledged app. Without ever leaving WeChat, users can complete tasks from playing casual games, booking movie tickets to getting food delivered.

Consumers and businesses are indeed increasingly embracing WeChat as a platform for transactions, of which the default payment method is WeChat Pay. Users spent more than 800 billion yuan ($115 billion) through mini apps in 2019, up 160% year-over-year driven by the likes of ecommerce and other retail activities.

To further drive that spending momentum, WeChat announced it will make it easier for businesses to monetize through mini programs. For one, these apps will be better integrated into WeChat’s search results, giving businesses more exposure. The messenger will also broaden the variety of ads embedded in mini programs and provide logistics management tools to retail-focused developers.

These efforts signify WeChat’s shift from focusing on mass consumers to businesses, a strategy that goes in tandem with Tencent’s enterprise-driven roadmap for the next few years. It remains to be seen whether these changes will square with Zhang’s user-first philosophy.

Credit scoring

WeChat’s one-year-old “Payments Score” has picked up some 100 million users by far. The program came about amid China’s push to encourage the development of credit scoring across society and industries to both regulate citizen behavior and drive financial inclusion, although Tencent’s private effort should not be conflated with Beijing’s national scheme. Like Alibaba’s Sesame Credit, WeChat Payments Score is better understood as a user loyalty program. Participation is optional and scores factors in the likes of user identities, payment behavior and default history.

Such a trust-building vehicle holds the potential to bring more transactions to WeChat, which previously lacked a full-fledged ecommerce infrastructure a la Alibaba’s Taobao. Users with a high score receive perks like deposit-free hotel booking, while application of the program is not limited to transactions but has also been adapted for rewarding “good” behavior. For instance, those with high points can redeem recyclable trash bags for free.

Tencent’s gaming empire

Tencent snatched up another gaming studio to add to its portfolio after earmarking an undisclosed investment in PlatinumGames, the Japanese developer of the well-received action title Bayonetta said in a blog post.

Over the decade the Chinese gaming behemoth has extended its footprint to a raft of influential gaming studios worldwide, taking stakes in the likes of League of Legends maker Riot Games (full control), Clash of Clans’ Supercell (84%), Fornite developer Epic Games (40%), PlayerUnkonwn’s Battlegrounds’ Bluehold (rumored 10%), and World of Warcraft’s Activation Blizzard. It’s also Nintendo Switch’s publishing partner in China.

PlatinumGames noted that it will continue to operate independently under its existing corporate structure, a setup that’s in line with Tencent’s non-interference investment principle and a major appeal for companies desiring both the giant’s resources and a degree of autonomy. The corpus of cash will help strengthen PlatinumGames’ current business, expand from game developing into self-publishing and add a “wider global perspective.”

Tencent’s hands-off approach has led industry experts to call it an “investment vehicle” relying on external intellectual property but in recent times the company’s in-house development teams have been striving for more visibility. Its Shenzhen-based TiMi studio, for example, is notable for producing the mobile blockbuster Honor of Kings; its Lightspeed and Quantum studio, similarly, rose to fame for developing the popular mobile version of PUBG.

 


0

Fortnite returns with the launch of a new map for Chapter 2

16:18 | 15 October

After approximately 48 hours offline, Fortnite has returned from its black hole hiatus with a brand new map for the launch of Chapter 2.

The new map features 13 points of interest, and also includes a web of rivers that allow for new water gameplay, such as swimming, fishing, and armed motorboats that seem awfully similar to the dinghies in Call of Duty: Blackout.

[gallery ids="1897276,1897277,1897278,1897279,1897280,1897281,1897282"]

Players can also swim now, instead of just hopping around in shallow water, and can eat fish for more health.

Epic Games has added a few new mechanics to the game, most notably the ability to actually pick up and carry knocked teammates to a safer location to resurrect them. Plus, the game now has something called the bandage bazooka, which helps players heal their teammates (kind of like the chug splashes in Season 10).

And for folks who are sick of running around with common weaponry, they can visit the Upgrade Bench and use resources to upgrade their weapons.

As with any new season launch, new map or not, there is a brand new Battlepass in Fortnite that players can work their way through to receive skins, emotes, etc.

Here’s the Chapter 2 trailer:

 


0

Fortnite’s black hole stunt is the kind of alpha energy we’re here for

18:37 | 14 October

As you are likely already aware, Epic Games is pulling a massive PR stunt that has shrunk the world’s most popular game down to a single black hole.

As part of Fortnite’s Season 10 live event, called “The End”, the entire Battle Royale Island was sucked into a black hole, with every Fortnite social media channel deleting all of its content save for a livestream of aforementioned black hole.

It’s like the game never even existed.

This has been going on for nearly 24 hours now. I’d say there’s less than one percent possibility that this is actually the end of the game.

For one thing, Fortnite is an insane revenue generator for Epic Games, a company that not only makes games but develops software for others to make games. In fact, Fortnite was actually built as a marketing vehicle for Epic’s Unreal Engine, to show off what’s possible with the technology.

No numbers have been released recently, but at one point last summer, The Verge reported that the game was making $300 million/month.

Fast forward to today, more than two years after launch, and the game is far and away the most popular video game on the planet, with 250 million registered accounts. It’s also one of the biggest esports by prize pool, with Epic pledging $100 million in prize cash for 2019.

But beyond the money (and let’s not underplay the money here), there is also some evidence that the black hole event is slated to end on Tuesday morning. A data miner who goes by

points to code on Fortnite.com that allegedly reveals the end of the event is on Tuesday at 6AM EST. Of course, this is far from confirmed and though we’ve reached out to Epic, we haven’t heard back.

The point? Epic didn’t just delete Fortnite. (However, it’s been terribly fun to watch gamers’ temper tantrums play out on social media.)

Rather, the company is building as much hype as possible around its next chapter. With the entire map sucked into a black hole, all signs point to a brand new map.

This is important for two unequal reasons.

First and foremost, Fortnite has always taken place on the same map. Points of interest have been wiped away and replaced, and biodomes have been updated and tweaked along the way. Indeed, the ‘current’ Fortnite map is markedly different from the map the game launched with.

fortnite season1 season10

But it has been a slow transition, with one small change here and there for more than two years. Whatever the reason behind this, one symptom has undoubtedly had an effect on the game. The longer you’ve played Fortnite, the more of an advantage you have.

This is particularly true with mechanics like building. Experience in other games, be it Battle Royale or third-person shooters, doesn’t carry over into Fortnite where winning on both defense on offense rests in a player’s ability to build.

But, the map plays its part, too. Long-time players of the game know this island inside and out. They know that you can slide down this part of the mountain without taking fall damage, or that it’s difficult to jump your way onto this plateau without building. They know every single loot spawn on the map.

This has meant that, after two years, Fortnite has favored the veterans, which has left newcomers in a particularly difficult position.

Epic has tried to counter the imbalance of its players in a number of ways. For one, the game added Playground mode to give players a chance to practice in a relatively low-stakes environment. But Fortnite also made changes in the game that have given an edge to brand new players. The easiest and most obvious example of this is the introduction of the mechs in the beginning of Season 10, which were essentially unbeatable at their debut and took little to no skill to operate. Veterans were not pleased.

The piece that has been missing for the game is a good jumping-on point.

A brand new map may be the biggest opportunity yet for brand new players to join up alongside veterans of the game and have a fighting chance of being successful. For the first time, everyone will be lost. No one will know where all the loot is spawned in this or that building, or how to rotate from one point of interest to another with the greatest height advantage or the most cover.

But, instead of transitioning from the original map to a new one in a matter of hours, as is standard with every other update to a game, Epic has decided to draw this one out.

And let’s keep this in context. Most schools are off today for Columbus Day. All those kids who were excited to grind out Season 11 on their day off are now left staring into a Black Hole with nothing to do but simmer in rage or… ya know, do something else.

This is exactly the kind of alpha energy from a game maker that I am here for. The ego!

While other games worry about getting as many players on their servers as possible at any given second of any day, Fortnite is taking a few days off to let you really miss it. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. For both old and new players, a new map means a fresh start and a fresh reason to get excited about Fortnite.

Much less critically, a new map addresses competition.

EA’s Apex Legends remains one of the biggest threats to Fortnite. The Battle Royale game had an explosive (and reportedly expensive) launch and hit 50 million users faster than Fortnite did at launch. But interest in the game petered out until very recently, when EA introduced a brand new map for the first time.

The new map, called World’s Edge, reinvigorated the player base. It’s been out for about two weeks now.

With Epic’s black hole stunt, the publisher is having a true snap back moment.

“Go play your other game, if you must, or better yet just stare longingly into this cryptic black hole,” Fortnite is saying. “You’ll come running back the moment you hear I’ve returned.”

 


0

Loot boxes in games are gambling and should be banned for kids, say UK MPs

12:48 | 12 September

UK MPs have called for the government to regulate the games industry’s use of loot boxes under current gambling legislation — urging a blanket ban on the sale of loot boxes to players who are children.

Kids should instead be able to earn in-game credits to unlock look boxes, MPs have suggested in a recommendation that won’t be music to the games industry’s ears.

Loot boxes refer to virtual items in games that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance. The MPs argue the mechanic should be considered games of chance played for money’s worth and regulated by the UK Gambling Act.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) parliamentary committee makes the recommendations in a report published today following an enquiry into immersive and addictive technologies that saw it take evidence from a number of tech companies including Fortnite maker Epic Games; Facebook-owned Instagram; and Snapchap.

The committee said it found representatives from the games industry to be “wilfully obtuse” in answering questions about typical patterns of play — data the report emphasizes is necessary for proper understanding of how players are engaging with games — as well as calling out some games and social media company representatives for demonstrating “a lack of honesty and transparency”, leading it to question what the companies have to hide.

“The potential harms outlined in this report can be considered the direct result of the way in which the ‘attention economy’ is driven by the objective of maximising user engagement,” the committee writes in a summary of the report which it says explores “how data-rich immersive technologies are driven by business models that combine people’s data with design practices to have powerful psychological effects”.

As well as trying to pry information about of games companies, MPs also took evidence from gamers during the course of the enquiry.

In one instance the committee heard that a gamer spent up to £1,000 per year on loot box mechanics in Electronic Arts’s Fifa series.

A member of the public also reported that their adult son had built up debts of more than £50,000 through spending on microtransactions in online game RuneScape. The maker of that game, Jagex, told the committee that players “can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month”.

In addition to calling for gambling law to be applied to the industry’s lucrative loot box mechanic, the report calls on games makers to face up to responsibilities to protect players from potential harms, saying research into possible negative psychosocial harms has been hampered by the industry’s unwillingness to share play data.

“Data on how long people play games for is essential to understand what normal and healthy — and, conversely, abnormal and potentially unhealthy — engagement with gaming looks like. Games companies collect this information for their own marketing and design purposes; however, in evidence to us, representatives from the games industry were wilfully obtuse in answering our questions about typical patterns of play,” it writes.

“Although the vast majority of people who play games find it a positive experience, the minority who struggle to maintain control over how much they are playing experience serious consequences for them and their loved ones. At present, the games industry has not sufficiently accepted responsibility for either understanding or preventing this harm. Moreover, both policy-making and potential industry interventions are being hindered by a lack of robust evidence, which in part stems from companies’ unwillingness to share data about patterns of play.”

The report recommends the government require games makers share aggregated player data with researchers, with the committee calling for a new regulator to oversee a levy on the industry to fund independent academic research — including into ‘Gaming disorder‘, an addictive condition formally designated by the World Health Organization — and to ensure that “the relevant data is made available from the industry to enable it to be effective”.

“Social media platforms and online games makers are locked in a relentless battle to capture ever more of people’s attention, time and money. Their business models are built on this, but it’s time for them to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users,” said DCMS committee chair, Damian Collins, in a statement.

“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the Government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.

“Gaming contributes to a global industry that generates billions in revenue. It is unacceptable that some companies with millions of users and children among them should be so ill-equipped to talk to us about the potential harm of their products. Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive game play has been recognised by the World Health Organisation. It’s time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers.”

The committee wants independent research to inform the development of a behavioural design code of practice for online services. “This should be developed within an adequate timeframe to inform the future online harms regulator’s work around ‘designed addiction’ and ‘excessive screen time’,” it writes, citing the government’s plan for a new Internet regulator for online harms.

MPs are also concerned about the lack of robust age verification to keep children off age-restricted platforms and games.

The report identifies inconsistencies in the games industry’s ‘age-ratings’ stemming from self-regulation around the distribution of games (such as online games not being subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system, meaning voluntary ratings are used instead).

“Games companies should not assume that the responsibility to enforce age-ratings applies exclusively to the main delivery platforms: All companies and platforms that are making games available online should uphold the highest standards of enforcing age-ratings,” the committee writes on that.

“Both games companies and the social media platforms need to establish effective age verification tools. They currently do not exist on any of the major platforms which rely on self-certification from children and adults,” Collins adds.

During the enquiry it emerged that the UK government is working with tech companies including Snap to try to devise a centralized system for age verification for online platforms.

A section of the report on Effective Age Verification cites testimony from deputy information commissioner Steve Wood raising concerns about any move towards “wide-spread age verification [by] collecting hard identifiers from people, like scans of passports”.

Wood instead pointed the committee towards technological alternatives, such as age estimation, which he said uses “algorithms running behind the scenes using different types of data linked to the self-declaration of the age to work out whether this person is the age they say they are when they are on the platform”.

Snapchat’s Will Scougal also told the committee that its platform is able to monitor user signals to ensure users are the appropriate age — by tracking behavior and activity; location; and connections between users to flag a user as potentially underage. 

The report also makes a recommendation on deepfake content, with the committee saying that malicious creation and distribution of deepfake videos should be regarded as harmful content.

“The release of content like this could try to influence the outcome of elections and undermine people’s public reputation,” it warns. “Social media platforms should have clear policies in place for the removal of deepfakes. In the UK, the Government should include action against deepfakes as part of the duty of care social media companies should exercise in the interests of their users, as set out in the Online Harms White Paper.”

“Social media firms need to take action against known deepfake films, particularly when they have been designed to distort the appearance of people in an attempt to maliciously damage their public reputation, as was seen with the recent film of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi,” adds Collins.

 


0

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

20:30 | 22 August

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

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

The gaming phenomenon 

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on Games 

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

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

Wall Street wakes up

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

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

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

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

Government intervention

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

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

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

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

Support is coming from all levels

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

 


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

01:12 | 7 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Ben’s post:

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

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

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

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

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

 


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