Despite pandemic, gaming is well-positioned to withstand recession – TechCrunch

Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 have led to a global economic downturn, but the gaming industry is booming.

With hundreds of millions of people sequestered in their homes, game usage has spiked. And while the economic repercussions will persist after people cease physical distancing, gaming is positioned to fare well during a recession.

Video game usage increased 75% during peak hours

Video game usage during peak hours increased 75% in the first week many Americans began staying home, according to Verizon data. Game distribution platform Steam set a record for peak concurrent users (more than 20 million) on March 16 without any notable new releases driving demand. Gaming chat platform Discord saw its servers go down briefly last week even after the company increased capacity by more than 20% to handle surging usage.

According to Siamc Kamalie, manager of hedge fund Skycatcher, “average time spent per user on mobile games grew 41% during Chinese New Year in 2020 versus 2019, and was up 18% versus the week prior to Chinese New Year in 2020.” (Chinese New Year is when widespread stay-at-home orders began in China.)

All of the gaming industry professionals I’ve spoken to over the last week noted increased popularity of their games, though most were wary of sharing their strong performance publicly, given the unfortunate circumstances.

People don’t just turn to games for entertainment; especially when in-person interactions are restricted and most of the most popular games are multiplayer in one form or another — games also serve as social hangout spots.

Source link

Apple launches a COVID-19 app, the outbreak’s impact on social and video apps and more – TechCrunch

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry saw a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re continuing our special coverage of how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting apps and the wider mobile app industry as more COVID-19 apps appear — including one from Apple built in partnership with the CDC, among others. We also take a look at the gains made by social and video apps in recent weeks as people struggle to stay connected while stuck at home in quarantine. In other headlines, we dig into Instagram’s co-watching feature, the Google for Games conference news, Apple’s latest releases and updates, Epic Games expansion into publishing and more.

Coronavirus Special Coverage

Social video apps are exploding due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Source link

Second Life-maker calls it quits on their VR follow-up – TechCrunch

The game developer behind Second Life has abandoned its grand efforts for a virtual reality follow-up to its early 2000s hit.

SF-based Linden Lab announced today that they’ve sold off assets related to Sansar to a small, little-known company called Wookey Search Technologies, which will take over development of the title. Linden Lab will continue developing and maintaining Second Life and it sounds like some of its employees will be joining Wookey. The deal was reported by Protocol.

The game studio had already announced layoffs last month.

Second Life has remained in the limelight of popular culture, and the studio claimed to still be hauling in substantial revenues from the game in recent years. That said, the failure of Sansar is a disaster for Linden Lab, which has focused considerable resources on the effort since it first teased the platform back in 2014.

When the title was announced, VR was at the peak of its hype following Facebook’s Oculus VR acquisition. Though Sansar launched in beta with support for both VR and desktop usage, the slow adoption of VR certainly didn’t help the title’s popularity. The studio’s leadership has detailed in interviews that the majority of Sansar’s users are desktop-based.

Given the evident turmoil at the studio, Sansar’s user base will likely be relieved to hear that the studio did their best to give the title a soft landing, though it’s unclear what resources its new acquirer has access to.

Source link

Game downloads will be throttled to manage internet congestion – TechCrunch

For the billions stuck at home during the global effort to flatten the curve, gaming is a welcome escape. But it’s also a bandwidth-heavy one, and Microsoft, Sony and others are working to make sure that millions of people downloading enormous games don’t suck up all the bandwidth. Don’t worry, though, it won’t affect your ping.

A blog post by content delivery network Akamai explained a few things it is doing to help mitigate the tidal wave of traffic that the internet’s infrastructure is experiencing. Although streaming video is of course a major contributor, games are a huge, if more intermittent, burden on the network.

Akamai is “working with leading distributors of software, particularly for the gaming industry, including Microsoft and Sony, to help manage congestion during peak usage periods. This is very important for gaming software downloads, which account for large amounts of internet traffic when an update is released,” the post reads.

Take the new “Call of Duty: Warzone” battle royale game, released last week for free and seeing major engagement. If you didn’t already own the latest CoD title, Warzone was a more than 80-gigabyte download, equivalent to dozens of movies on Netflix . And what’s more, that 80 gigs was likely downloaded at the maximum bandwidth home connections provided; streaming video is limited to a handful of megabits over the duration of the media, nowhere close to saturating your connection.

And Warzone isn’t alone — there are tons of high-profile games being released at a time when many people have nothing to do but sit at home and play games — PC game platform Steam posted a record 20 million concurrent players the other day, and one analysis saw a 400% increase in gaming traffic. So gaming is bigger than ever, while games are bigger than ever themselves.

As a result, gaming downloads will be throttled for the foreseeable future, at least in some markets. “Players may experience somewhat slower or delayed game downloads,” wrote Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan in a brief blog post. I’ve asked Microsoft, Nintendo and Valve for comment on their approach as well.

It’s important to note that this should not apply to the rest of the gaming experience. Unlike downloading games, playing games is a remarkably low-bandwidth task — it’s important for packets to be traded quickly so players are in sync, but there aren’t a lot of them compared with even a low-resolution streaming video.

The best thing to do is to set your games to be downloaded overnight, as local infrastructure will be less taxed while everyone in your region is asleep. If you have downloads or updates coming during the day, don’t be surprised if they take longer than usual or are queued elsewhere.

Source link

Google Cloud launches Game Servers, a managed cloud backend for games – TechCrunch

Google Cloud today announced the beta launch of Game Servers, a managed service that provides game developers with the usual backend services for running their games, including multi-player games, in the company’s cloud. It’s worth stressing that these are not game streaming servers but solely meant to make it easier for game developers to build, scale and manage the backend services for their games.

The service sits on top of the Agones open-source game server, a project Google and Ubisoft first announced in 2018, and the Kubernetes container orchestration platform. As Google Cloud product manager Scott Van Woudenberg told me, the team is also reusing some parts of Anthos, Google’s service for managing multi-cloud Kubernetes clusters. And while Game Servers can currently only run on the Google Kubernetes Engine, the plan is to allow for hybrid and multi-cloud support later this year.

Quite a few gaming companies have already built their own on-premises server fleets, so just like in the enterprise, having hybrid-cloud capabilities is a must-have for a tool like this. Google will also make it easy for developers who already use Agones outside of Game Servers today to bring those servers into the same managed Game Servers ecosystem by registering them with the Game Servers API.

As Van Woudenberg noted, virtually every game now needs some kind of cloud backend, be that for multi-player features, match-making or keeping persistent game stats, for example. That’s true for indie developers and major game studios. Game Servers, ideally, will make it easier for these companies to scale their clusters up and down as needed. Game Servers also provides for A/B testing and canary tests, and, in future updates, it will include integrations with the Open Match matchmaking framework.

To get started, developers still have to containerize their game servers. For those companies that already use Agones, that’s a pretty straightforward exercise, Van Woudenberg said. Others, though, need a bit more help with that, and Google is working with partners to walk them through this.

Source link

Alyx delivers the watershed moment VR gaming needs – TechCrunch

If you weren’t playing games when Half-Life came out, it’s hard to drive home just how shocking a departure it was from what had come before. Though some familiar mechanics served as a base to build off of, the injection of elaborately scripted sequences that put you into the action, mature humor and genuinely engaging set piece-driven plot put Half-Life into its own special section of the stratosphere.

It’s not often that you can say that a product changes everything in its category from that moment on. Half-Life did that.

And then when Half-Life 2 debuted, it did it again with its method of delivery, incredible building tools and yes, inventive-as-hell gameplay.

Half-Life: Alyx does that again for VR, making such a direct impact that this will be a demarcation line forever in the way we craft immersive virtual experiences.

Alyx begins in the period of time between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, taking place mostly just before the action in the latter. The world is familiar, as are most of the cast of characters (along with some bespoke new additions). Given their high-fidelity look and carefully stepped variety, even newbies to the Half-Life universe should be kept entertained as they encounter new threats.

Those of you returning will find a large part of the new experience in inhabiting the same virtually physical space as headcrabs, barnacles and combined forces. Let me tell you, seeing the underbelly mouth of a ‘crab flying toward your face in VR versus on your monitor definitely hits different.

That sense of presence that is so pivotal to VR is something Valve leaned into hard with Alyx. You are rewarded for treating environments and encounters as a place to pretend to be rather than progressing through. There are a variety of tricks that Alyx uses to make you comfortable existing in this world, not the least of which is the presence of a voice in your ear in the form of an engineer named Russell.

Played hilariously by Rhys Darby, Russell’s voice serves to mitigate issues that many VR aficionados may recognize. One of VR’s primary powers is that of embodiment — making the experience of being there so convincing that you generate real memories of presence. Along with that, though, comes isolation. Long VR sessions can make you feel cut off from reality, and horror experiences, especially, can become overwhelming. Having Russell there offering humanity and humor to punctuate the darkness of this supremely dystopian environment is a fantastic choice. You’re a solo operator, but you’re not alone.

The environmental intensity of Alyx is well paced, too. An intermix of heart-pounding horror with moments of harsh beauty and humor can often be a difficult cocktail.

“There’s a lot of different things that we give you the opportunity to do that give, I would argue, different types of players, different things to go deep on,” says Half-Life: Alyx character animator Christine Phelan. “With intentionality, we definitely spent a bunch of time trying to figure out what is that line?”

Phelan notes that when there are horror elements, VR is well-known to be an intense experience, and modulating that was key to not alienating players. Rather than a relentless onslaught, you are brought up and down.

I checked my Apple Watch heart rate data over the past week that I’ve been playing Alyx and, sure enough, there were the spikes in rate during my play sessions to prove the impact of those choices. Some of the more intense segments play like the best horror action movies you’ve seen — “Aliens” comes to mind, as well as more recent fare like “A Quiet Place.”

Keeping you engaged in that environment, of course, means that control schemes are incredibly critical. Valve’s choices on Alyx reflect a desire to make sure that the widest array of people can experience the game. They offer all of the accepted travel modes. including teleporting, a continuous travel mode like walking and, my favorite, shift — a sort of zooming snap that keeps a sense of context to your movement.

Personally, I am unable to walk continuously in VR without wanting to toss my cookies, and Alyx is no different here. In fact, the game takes a lot of pains to make sure it moves the character involuntarily as little as possible, even offering a “toggle barnacle lift” setting to avoid the motion sickness some people may feel being virtually hoisted in the air. A wise choice, as there’s a lot going on in Alyx already, with some encounters forcing you to move rapidly through the environment to combat enemies or solve puzzles.

The sheer accessibility of Alyx’s options speaks to the desire by the team to make sure it accommodated as many people as possible. Standing, seated, either hand, choice of dominant eye, room-scale or not — if there’s a way to play a VR game, Valve has you covered.

One of the biggest effective bits is the presence of Alyx’s hands in the game world. Because most people interact with the world via their hands (though not all), Phelan notes that you get a lot “for free” when you make those the primary interaction method. People already know what to expect when they do things with their hands and at that point your job just becomes to make them act exactly as you’d expect in as many situations as possible.

And they do. Your hands realistically grasp, tap, push and poke the environment (and there is a lot of environment with the most interactive objects I’ve ever seen in a VR game).

The hands even adapt to the contours of things, curving or turning corners as you slide them across objects. The fingers are used to tell you that you really can’t interact with this, but you can feel it — this is not an action point for you. But then, when there is an action point, the hand naturally curves around something, and you get the message “Oh, yeah, I can grab this.”

A lot has been said about the Knuckles controllers that come with the Valve Index headset, and they’re great. But the marquee feature for me is the soft hand strap that keeps them attached to you. This frees you up to make grabbing and grasping motions with your whole hand, as you would normally.

I have the Vive controllers, the Oculus controllers and the Knuckles. Certainly, the Knuckles, with the individual finger control, absolutely locks it in, I think, for people on the hand interaction. If every company doesn’t dupe the work that Valve has done with these, they’re dumb.

“I think the Knuckles and the Index broadly is essentially Valve’s attempt to say, ‘This is pointing towards a heightened VR experience. This is what we think of as a really great direction for this hardware to go,’ ” says Valve’s Chris Remo, who also added that they did a lot of work to make sure all the compatible VR hardware turned out a great play experience. “It was obviously pretty important that this wasn’t a Valve Index game. It’s a VR game. We genuinely tried our best to support those features, [including] all the finger tracking the Index does on the Knuckles controllers and everything else.”

A lot of the work on interactions mirrors what other creatives have done in VR, but polishes it up a level. And a lot of that work is hidden unless you look very hard for it. Doors open in the direction of your hand’s travel, for instance. Magically outwardly opening doors that open inward is a perfect affordance. Most people will never notice. The people that care will, and that’s fine, but most people will just have a better time of going through this way versus that way without fussing too much.

The gravity gloves shown off prominently in the gameplay trailers are another such affordance. They neatly avoid the VR problem of people constantly inching out or down and ramming into things outside of their play area while trying to grab objects on the ground or inside containers. They also give the player the ability to quickly utilize the environment to fend off enemies or distract them with a speed and agility that you’d never be able to realize otherwise.

Call it fate or design that Half-Life 2’s gravity gun offered the perfect in-world explanation, but it works incredibly here. Grabbing a gas mask off the ground and attaching it to your face, fending off a headcrab with a trash can lid, throwing a brick to stagger a zombie, it’s all possible with Russell.

“You can move through a space just as quickly physically, but people do end up taking longer, because you’re naturally invited to do so,” says Remo. “You can look around something in a physical way that just, there’s no equivalent to that in a non-VR game. It also meant that you can get up close to props in a way that isn’t really possible or feasible as much in a non-VR game, which meant that all that stuff has to actually hold up and be worthwhile.”

I can vouch for the time put in. At one point I grabbed a random half-crushed water bottle laying in a corner and looked inside the mouth to find the interior dimples of the bottom lovingly rendered. One person’s trash, etc.

There are so many other things that I could talk about here. The use of spatial audio anchored in what seem to be Gaussian spheres that attach sound and (incredible) music to environments, with nested encounter scores inside. The dynamic loot system that keeps the balance of the resources you have available to you tuned so that the game remains fun. The encounters that take those early scripted scenes in Half-Life and plus them to create a symphony that taxes and rewards the player for creative and thoughtful gameplay.

It’s not so much that Valve has executed One Weird Trick for making VR good. Many of these major ideas has been tried by one team or another over the past few years. But the execution has never been more precise and thoughtful. One after another the good choices keep coming — and the whole adds up to something truly special and bar-setting.

Inventive, clever and completely engaging, Half-Life: Alyx is the first masterwork of VR gaming.

But that could actually be understating its eventual impact on VR, if that’s possible. Though the template for what a truly A-list title looks like has now been truly sketched, it has always been Valve’s willingness to share its tools that has made the most impact on the gaming scene at large.

That’s why I’m looking forward to an eventual SDK. Hammer 2 is easily one of the best game-building tools ever created. Valve is already going to ship Source 2 tools for building new VR levels in Alyx, but as fans of history will remember, the level building scene really took off once the deeper tools to craft a game became available. The ripple effect on the industry will be felt long after people have dissected every sliver of what makes this game so fun. You can trace a major portion of the $1 billion esports industry directly back to mods enabled by Valve being generous with their internal tools.

Imagine what that kind of impact looks like for VR, a field that has been experimenting like mad but has no real coda of best practices for building. It could be massive, and though members of the team have said that they’re not currently planning to release an SDK, my hopes are high.

Until then, we have Alyx, and it is good.

Source link

With kids and adults staying at home, are virtual worlds ready for primetime? – TechCrunch

We’ve been diligently following the development of virtual worlds, also known as the “metaverse,” on TechCrunch.

Hanging out within the virtual worlds of games has become more popular in recent years with the growth of platforms like Roblox and open-world games like Fortnite, but it still isn’t a mainstream way to socialize outside of the young-adult demographic.

Three weeks ago, TechCrunch media columnist Eric Peckham published an in-depth report that positioned virtual worlds as the next era of social media. In an eight-part series, he looked at the history of virtual worlds and why games are already social networks, why social networks want more gaming, what the next few years looks like for the industry and why isn’t it mainstream already, how these virtual worlds will lead to healthier social relations, what the future of virtual economies will be and which companies are poised for success in this new market.

Given all that has changed in just the last three weeks — who would have thought that large swaths of the knowledge economy would suddenly find themselves entirely interacting virtually? — I wanted to get a sense of what the rising popularity of virtual worlds looks like in the midst of the outbreak of novel coronavirus. Eric and I had a call to discuss this and decided to share our conversation publicly.

Danny Crichton: So let’s talk about timing a bit. You wrote this eight-article series around virtual worlds and then all of a sudden post-publication there is this massive event — the novel coronavirus pandemic — causing a large portion of the human population to stay at home and interact only online. What’s happening now in the space?

Eric Peckham: I wrote my series on the multiverse because I was already seeing a surge of interest, both in terms of consumer demand for open-world MMO games and in terms of social media giants like Facebook and Snap trying to incorporate virtual worlds and social games into their platforms. Large companies are planning for virtual worlds in a way that is actionable and not just a futuristic vision. Over the last couple of years there has also been a lot of VC investment into a handful of startups focused on building next-generation virtual worlds for people to spend time in, virtual worlds with complex societies shaped by users’ contributions.

Talking to founders and investors in the gaming space, there has been a huge increase in usage over the last few weeks as more people hang out at home playing games, whether it’s on the adult side or the kid side.

Most of these next-generation virtual worlds are still in private beta but already popular platforms like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite are getting substantially more use than normal. A large portion of people stuck at home are escaping via the virtual worlds of games.

You wrote this whole analysis before you knew the extent of the pandemic — how has the outlook changed for this industry?

This accelerates the timeline of virtual worlds being a mainstream place to hang out and socialize in daily life. I think people will be at home for multiple months, not just a couple of weeks, and it’s going to change people’s perspectives on socializing and working from home.

That’s a really powerful cultural shift. It’s getting more people beyond the core gaming community excited about spending time in virtual worlds and hanging out with their friends there.

We have seen this most heavily with the youngest generation of internet users. The majority of kids 9-12 years old are users of Minecraft and Roblox who hang out there with friends after school. We’ll see that expand to older demographics more quickly than it was going to before.

One of the complaints that I’ve seen on Twitter is that even though we have one of the largest global human lockdowns of all time, all the VR headsets are basically gone. Is VR a key component of virtual worlds?

Well, you don’t need VR headsets in order to spend meaningful time with others in a virtual space. Hundreds of millions of people already do it through their mobile phones and through PCs and consoles.

This is at the heart of the gaming industry: creating virtual worlds for people to spend time in, both pursuing the mission of whatever a game is designed for but also interacting with others. Among the most popular mobile and PC games last year were massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.

Talking about gaming, one facet of the story that I thought was particularly interesting was the fact that gaming was still not that high in terms of market penetration in the population.

More than two billion people play video games in the context of a year. There’s incredible market penetration in that sense. But, at least for the data I’ve seen for the U.S., the percent of the population who play games on a given day is still much lower than the percent of the population who use social media on a given day.

The more that games become virtual worlds for socializing and hanging out beyond just the mission of the gameplay, the more who will turn to virtual worlds as a social and entertainment outlet when they have five minutes free to do something on their phone. Social media fills these small moments in life. MMO games right now don’t because they are so oriented around the gameplay, which takes time and uninterrupted focus. Virtual worlds in the vein of those on Roblox where you just hang out and explore with friends compete for that time with Instagram more directly.

Theater chains like Regal and AMC announced this week that they are entirely shutting down to wait out the pandemic. Is that going to affect these virtual world companies?

I think they are separate parts of media. Cinema attendance has been declining quite substantially for years, and the way the industry has made up for that is trying to turn cinemas into these premium experiences and increasing ticket prices. Kids are just as likely, if not more likely, to play a game together on a Friday night as they are to go to the cinema. Cinemas are less culturally relevant to young people than they once were.

We’ve seen a massive experiment in work from home, which is a form of virtual world, or at least, a virtual workplace. When it comes to popularizing virtual worlds, is it going to come from the entertainment side or the more productivity-oriented platforms?

It will come from the entertainment side, and from younger people using it to socialize, in part because there’s less fear around cultural etiquette compared to people meeting in a business setting who are worried about a virtual world context not feeling as professional. Over time, as virtual worlds become pervasive in our social lives they will become more natural places to chat with people about business as well.

As more and more people are working online and interacting virtually, a big question is how you get beyond Zoom calls or the technology that’s currently in the market for virtual conferences to something that feels more like walking around and chatting with people in person. It’s tough to do without the ability to walk around a virtual space. You can’t have those unplanned small group or one-on-one interactions with people you don’t know if you’re just boxes within a Zoom call or some other broadcast. It will be interesting to see what develops around virtual business conferences that stems from virtual world technology. I’ve seen a few teams exploring this.

Last question here, but we are looking at a major recession in the economy, and so how does the landscape of people earning money from virtual worlds change with coronavirus?

The second-to-last article in my series is about the virtual economies around virtual worlds. Any virtual world inherently has commerce and people have already been making real-world money from games and from early virtual worlds like Second Life.

Both people staying home amid the coronavirus and the recession that we seem to be entering are pressures that will push more people to look online for ways to make money. That will only increase the activity of virtual economies around some of these worlds, whether those are formally built into the game or they’re happening in a gray or black market around the games (which is more common).

Thanks, Eric.

Source link

Women-led Robin Games raises $7M to combine lifestyle content with fantasy gaming – TechCrunch

As a former Jam City executive, Jill Wilson led teams behind some of the top-grossing gaming franchises, like Cookie Jam and Panda Pop. Now she’s running her own startup, Robin Games, where a team of mostly women is working to create a new niche in mobile entertainment they’re calling “lifestyle gaming.” As the name implies, the idea is to create a mobile gaming experience — in this case, fantasy gaming — that’s more like the sophisticated and stylish lifestyle content that’s popular today.

Robin Games is backed by $7 million in seed funding, the company announced on Thursday, as it made its public debut. The round was led by early-stage fund LVP, which has invested in other to game companies including Supercell, Playfish, and NaturalMotion . Additional investors in the oversubscribed round include 1Up Ventures, Alpha Edison, Everblue Management, firstminute Capital, Greycroft Tracker Fund, Hearst Ventures, and Third Kind Venture Capital.

“Traditionally in gaming, when you say ‘fantasy,’ you mean dragons and other mythical creatures, disproportionately built women, armies and battles and explosions and glory,” explained Wilson, Robin Games’ sole founder and CEO. “As a lifelong gamer, I love (most) of these themes, but traditional gamers are no longer in the majority. Thanks to the smartphone, everyone now has access to a gaming console in their pockets. We are expanding the definition of “fantasy” for this modern wave of gamers, whose fantasies are just as diverse as they are,” she added.

Wilson clarified that she’s not meaning to stereotype women as not enjoying fantasy games about things like warriors and dragons. Instead, Robin Games aims to expand the types of fantasies being explored through gaming — including those mobile gaming has yet to include.

While the company isn’t yet announcing its first titles or specific details, like launch dates, the games are said to cover content you’d typically find in a lifestyle magazine, on an Instagram influencer’s profile or on a lifestyle blog for example.

“We are focused on developing games that are deeply sophisticated under the hood, with an elevated, real-world, approachable style that reflects more of the lifestyle content you’d previously see outside of gaming,” Wilson told TechCrunch .

All this will be wrapped up in the free-to-play business model that powers most top-grossing games. In addition, Robin Games’ strategy will allow it to expand to include a partnership strategy, which will diversify its revenue streams further down the road.

Wilson said the idea for Robin Games was something she had in mind for some time, as she was personally looking for games to like this to play herself — only to find they didn’t exist.

“I’ve always designed products for myself first and foremost, which allows me to deeply connect with what the end-user really wants — since the end-user is me,” said Wilson. “Recently, I realized that not only did we have a unique answer to a pretty major gap in the market, but also that the timing was right and, most importantly, that we could pull together the exact right team to execute this vision.”

The startup is currently a team of nine based in Venice Beach. Management is 80% women and everyone had worked together to make hit games in years prior. In terms of hiring, the company is focused on building out a diverse team in order to better realize its vision, Wilson said, and, more broadly, change the face of the gaming industry as it stands today.

“Our mission goes beyond filling a gap in the market. We’re really looking to shake up the games industry, not only redefining what a modern game team looks like, but also changing the definition itself of what it means to be a gamer,” noted Wilson.

In previous studies, female players have been shown to prefer match-3 and social farming games, among others, with fantasy and MMOs further down the list, and sports and shooting games last. But the types of games Robin Games is proposing don’t really fit into any one category that exists today, so it’s still unknown how female gamers will respond.

However, it makes sense to target this underserved market, given that women account for 46% of all U.S. game enthusiasts.  

“Jill Wilson and her incredible team are already further along than most developers starting out,” added Are Mack Growen, partner at LVP and member of Robin Games’ Board of Directors, about the firm’s investment. “This team has developed and operated some of the world’s most successful games for a decade, and now they have assembled to bring premium experiences to the massively underserved audience of women. In addition to their industry expertise, they fundamentally understand their audience and the ingredients for powerful entertainment. We are proud to have led their seed round and look forward to helping them redefine what it means to be a gamer.”

 

 

Source link

Venture investment in esports looks light as Q1 races to a close – TechCrunch

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re taking a look at the world of esports venture capital investment, largely through the lens of preliminary data that we’ll caveat given how reported VC data lags reality. That phenomenon is likely doubly true in the current moment, as COVID-19 absorbs all news cycles and some venture rounds’ announcements are delayed even more than usual.

All the same, the data we do have paints a picture of a change in esports venture investment, one sufficient in size to indicate that an esports VC slowdown could be afoot. As with all early looks, we’re extending ourselves to reach a conclusion. But… no risk, no reward.

We’ll start by looking at Q1 2020 esports venture totals to date, compare them to year-ago results, and then peek at Q4 2019’s results and its year-ago comparison to get a handle on what else has happened lately in the niche. The picture that the quarters draw will help us understand how esports investing is starting a year that isn’t going as anyone expected.

Venture results

Today we’re using Crunchbase data, looking at both global and U.S.-specific venture totals in both round and dollar volume. To get a picture of the competitive gaming world, we’re examining investments into companies that are tagged as “esports” related in the Crunchbase database. Given that this is a somewhat wide cut, the data below is more directional than precise and should be treated as such.

Source link

‘Cloud-first’ game studio Mainframe raises $8.1M led by Andreessen Horowitz – TechCrunch

With most new social media startups seeming to dial in on specific communities to thrive in a still Facebook-dominated sphere, some of the more broadly focused social investments from top VCs are going into online gaming.

The latest is Mainframe Industries, a Nordic game studio building a massively multiplayer online title. The team doesn’t have much to share of what their title will actually look like gameplay-wise, they’re just saying it’s a sandbox MMO designed for cloud streaming built on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.

The startup, which has offices in Helsinki and Reykjavik, isn’t building cloud gaming tech but is instead building an MMO title that’s designed from the get-go for streaming platforms like Google Stadia or Microsoft xCloud that beam a title to a user’s device from a cloud-hosted GPU. What does being a cloud-native game entail? Mainly, it seems to mean that they’re creating a social title that is as fully playable on mobile as it is on PC/console.

Building a robust mobile game that meets console/PC gamers expectations has been one of the more tenuous pursuits of the past decade, and one that has more often than not led to watered-down experiences. Mainframe CEO Thor Gunnarsson acknowledges that titles have sometimes catered to the “lowest common denominator,” but he believes that as game-streaming advances lower technical barriers, his team can focus wholly on solving the user experience challenges.

A big focus seems to be leveraging cross-play with more consistent experiences on differently powered devices thanks to cloud streaming. Gunnarsson believes his company’s approach to what occurs on the “social layer” of the title will be what differentiates them the most, though he is mum on details regarding what that will look like in the eventual release.

The startup has some big names supporting them in their quest. The startup announced today that they’ve closed an $8.1 million (€7.6 million) Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz. Riot Games, Maki.vc, Play Ventures, Sisu Game Ventures and Crowberry Capital also participated in the round.

Andreessen Horowitz, already having bet big on Roblox’s $150 million Series G last month, has been quite active in placing bets on smaller gaming startups in the past year or so, most of which have been made by GP Andrew Chen.

Early last year, Chen directed a16z’s investment in Sandbox VR’s $68 million Series A, a startup aiming to make shared virtual reality experiences more common by building out physical retail locations in malls and shopping areas across the globe. This past August, Chen was also behind the firm’s investment in Singularity 6, another MMO gaming startup that’s looking to build a “virtual society.” Chen was also behind the investment in Mainframe Industries .

“We believe that cloud-native games are poised to revolutionize the entertainment industry in the coming years, yielding entirely new gameplay experiences and business models,” said Chen in a press release announcing the startup’s raise.

In some part, these investments highlight the belief of venture capitalists that online games like Fortnite may represent the future of social networks. They are also, however, platform bets that are rooted in early content plays, which can be notoriously difficult to pick winners in.

While Gunnarsson was quick to discuss how important he believed their title’s social platform would become, he was also just as quick to admit that building a great game was the most critical. “All of the platform stuff is ancillary to the prospect of creating a fun game, but we have really strong game design team.”

Games these days, particularly MMOs, are far from “finished” by launch. Gunnarsson plans to use this round of funding to reach a closed alpha of their title. He didn’t offer any timelines for launch, as they’re only in pre-production now, but did say it certainly won’t be coming out this year.

Source link