AOC’s Among Us stream topped 435,000 concurrent viewers – TechCrunch

Last night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went live on Twitch to stream Among Us with a handful of superstar streamers. The purpose of the stream, which drew a massive crowd, was to get out the vote as we head into the general election.

At its peak, the stream drew a concurrent viewership of 435,000+ people, and that’s just on AOC’s Twitch . Other streamers that were in the game, such as Pokimane, HasanAbi and DrLupo, also had their own viewerships tuned in to the game.

For context, this puts AOC’s stream in the top five of most concurrent viewers on a Twitch stream. The record is still held by Ninja’s Fortnite stream with Drake, which hit more than 600,000 concurrent viewers.

Among Us has been around for several years, but only enjoyed top-tier popularity over the past few months as streamers flock to the game. Among Us is a relatively simple game, but gives players the chance to truly show off their personality.

Here’s how it works:

Between four and 10 players join a drop ship. The majority of those players are crewmates who have tasks to complete on the map — these tasks are simple, puzzle-based mini games. The remaining minority of players are impostors, who sabotage and kill crewmates. When a dead body is found and reported, the whole group gets into voice chat to discuss who might be the killer. It’s a bit like a murder mystery party combined with a video game.

There is some irony in the fact that politicians (Rep. Ilhan Omar joined AOC) jumped into a game where lying is a primary skill. In fact, AOC mentioned before gameplay ever started that she was very nervous because she’s terrible at lying.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time that AOC has come to younger voters where they are. The congresswoman played Animal Crossing in May and visited players’ islands.

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AOC aims to get out the vote by streaming Among Us with pokimane and HasanAbi – TechCrunch

We are about seven months into a pandemic and just two weeks from a presidential election. At this point, surprises are a dime a dozen. So it should feel very 2020 that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is about to stream Among Us, the hit game of 2020, on Twitch alongside mega-streamer pokimane and political analyst HasanAbi.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted yesterday that she was looking for people to play the popular game with in an effort to get out the vote, noting that she’s never played before but that it looks fun.

Streamer pokimane, who has 6 million followers on Twitch and whose YouTube videos regularly see more than 1 million views each, responded to the tweet with a figurative raised hand.

HasanAbi, a very popular political commentator on Twitch, who has more than 380,000 Twitter followers, also chimed in to the conversation saying that they’re already making a lobby. It wasn’t long before Rep. Ilhan Omar raised her hand, too.

A good game of Among Us (imagine that someone mixed a fairly basic multiplayer video game with a murder mystery party) usually requires 10 players, so the other six players are still TBD. But the Verge reports that a handful of other streamers (such as DrLupo, Felicia Day, Greg Miller, James Charles, and Neekolul) also lined up to play with AOC.

According to Ocasio-Cortez, the stream is all about getting out the vote. And this isn’t the first time that she’s used video games to connect with her followers. AOC opened up her DMs to all 6.8 million of her followers back in May to let them send her an invite to their island, and she visited them.

Millennial voters (and Gen Z) skew toward backing the Biden / Harris ticket, and AOC is coming to them by getting on Twitch and streaming one of the rocket ship games of this year.

The stream starts at 9pm ET/6pm PT and can be found here.

And you can check if you’re registered to vote here.

Update 9:01pm ET: AOC hasn’t even started playing the game yet and has nearly 250,000 concurrent viewers. 



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Analogue takes on the TurboGrafx-16 with its Duo retro console – TechCrunch

Analogue’s beautiful, functional retro gaming consoles provide a sort of “archival quality” alternative to the cheap mini-consoles proliferating these days. The latest system to be resurrected by the company is the ill-fated, but still well-thought-of TurboGrafx-16 or PC Engine.

The Duo, as Analogue’s device is called, is named after a later version of the TurboGrafx-16 that included its expensive CD-ROM add-on — and indeed the new Duo supports both game cards and CDs, provided they have survived all this time without getting scratched.

Like the rest of Analogue’s consoles, and unlike the popular SNES and NES Classic Editions from Nintendo (and indeed the new TurboGrafx-16 Mini), the Duo does not use emulation in any way. Instead, it’s a painstaking recreation of the original hardware, with tweaks to introduce modern conveniences like high-definition video, wireless controllers and improvements to reliability, and so on.

Image Credits: Analogue

As a bonus, it’s all done in FPGA, which implies that this hardware is truly one of a kind in service of remaking the console accurately. Games should play exactly as they would have on the original hardware, down to the annoying glitches and slowdowns of that era of consoles.

And what games! Well, actually, few of them ever reached the status of their competitors on Nintendo and Sega consoles here in the U.S., where the TurboGrafx-16 sold poorly. But titles like Bonk’s Adventure, Bomberman ’93, Ninja Spirit, Splatterhouse and Devil’s Crush should be played more widely. Shmup fans like myself were spoiled with originals and arcade ports like R-Type and Blazing Lazers. The Ys series also got its start on the PC Engine (if you could afford the CD attachment). Here’s a good retrospective.

I wouldn’t mind having an HDMI port on the back of my SNES. Oh, Analogue makes one…

Analogue’s consoles are made for collectors who would prefer not to have to baby their original hardware, or want to upscale the signal and play wirelessly without too much fuss. I still have my original SNES, but 240p just doesn’t look as crisp as it did on a 15-inch CRT in the ’90s.

At $199, it’s more expensive than finding one at a garage sale, but good luck with that. The original and its CD add-on cost a fortune, so if you think about it from that perspective, this is a real bargain. Analogue says limited quantities are available, and will be shipping in 2021.

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Kahoot picks up $215M from SoftBank for its user-generated, gamified e-learning platform – TechCrunch

After announcing a modest $28 million raise earlier this year, the user-generated gamified e-learning platform Kahoot today announced a much bigger round to double down on the current surge in demand for remote education.

The Norwegian startup — which has clocked 1.3 billion “participating players” in the last 12 months — has picked up $215 million from SoftBank, specifically by way of a “private placement to a subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp., through issuance of 43,000,000 new shares.” The placement was made at 46 Norwegian Krone per share, working out to NOK1,978 million (or $215 million), and the funding will be used for acquisitions and also to continue its expansion.

Kahoot is traded on the Merkur Market in Oslo — a stepping stone between being a fully private startup and a publicly-listed company — and today the company is trading more than 15% up on the news. At market open today, it was valued at NOK22.2 billion, or about $2.4 billion — so by the end of the day that market cap is likely to have gone up as a result of today’s investment.

“Kahoot! is experiencing strong momentum and accelerated adoption as enterprises increasingly seek engaging, trustworthy and user-friendly ways to build corporate culture, educate and interact,” the company noted in a statement. “|At the same time, schools and educators are looking to enhance the learning experience, whether virtually or in the classroom. The Company intends to use the net proceeds from the Private Placement to finance accelerated growth through value-creating non-organic opportunities and continue to build a unique platform company.”

We are reaching out to SoftBank for a direct comment on the news — which was announced by Kahoot in the briefest of terms necessary for disclosure as a publicly-traded company — and will update as we learn more.

SoftBank has had a long track record with investing in both gaming and online education, backing the likes of Supercell (another European gaming hit startup, now majority owned by Tencent), and most recently Unacademy, an e-learning startup in India.

Indeed, the company has been one of the more prolific investors in the startup world, both from SoftBank Group as well as via its Vision Fund and other related VC funds that it has set up.

Not all of those investments have been great: the company has come under fire for sinking hundreds of millions into growth rounds for buzzy startups that hemorrhaged cash and failed to turn a profit — OYO, WeWork and Uber being prime examples — and in some cases appeared to be run in a way that didn’t indicate that they would turn things around anytime soon. The takeaway message for some was that SoftBank, once a gold standard in investing, felt hasty and poorly managed itself.

But despite that, it has continued to remain very active, and the head of the Vision Fund, Rajeev Misra, recently highlighted e-learning as one of the three areas it’s focusing on for investments at the moment, in light of Covid-19.

Kahoot, meanwhile, has been building a two-pronged business: first, a platform aimed at school children to build and use, and browse and use other’s online learning content; and second, a platform where corporates can build, use, and use other’s corporate training materials. The former puts an emphasis on free usage, while the latter is a paid product.

In both cases, Kahoot’s content is built around the idea of gamification — learning designed as games — to make the process more fun and engaging. It has described itself as the “Netflix of Education” — but I think of it a little more like YouTube, because of the user-generated element of a lot of the material.

Kahoot has been successful in its model so far. It says that it has had 1.3 billion participating players, with 200 million games played and 100 million user-generated Kahoots, in the last 12 months.

As a point of comparison, last month, when it announced an acquisition to boost its corporate learning business — it bought an enterprise engagement platform called Actimo for about $33 million — it said that it had counted some 1 billion “participating players,” on top of some 4.4 billion users since first launching the platform in 2013.

In its Q3 earnings released earlier this month, the company said it posted invoiced revenue of $11.6 million, up 240% increase on the same quarter a year earlier. It posted $5.2 million in positive cash flow from operations, compared to $-0.6 million in Q3 2019, and had 360,000 paid subscriptions, up 160% on the year earlier.

SoftBank is not the company’s first high-profile investor. Other backers in the company include Microsoft and Disney, as well as the well-known regional VCs Northzone and Creandum. The company tells me it has now raised a total of $325 million (based on current exchange rates).

Online education has been on a slow incline for years, as schools and students turn to the internet to supplement and in some case replace teaching in physical classrooms, tapping into infrastructure that has further reach, in some cases (like higher education) costs less, and is popular with students.

But, as with some other areas of tech, 2020 has seen that trend accelerate drastically as many schools have reduced teaching or shut down altogether in an effort to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus that leads to Covid-19.

That has led to a huge boost of activity — sometimes quite urgent and not as a choice but a necessity — and investor attention in the last year for e-learning startups. Others announcing funding in the last couple of months have included Outschool (which raised $45 million and is now profitable), Homer (raised $50 million from an impressive group of strategic backers), Unacademy (raised $150 million), and the juggernaut that is Byju’s (most recently, picking up $500 million from Silver Lake).

Alongside e-learning, gaming companies have been one of the categories of tech that have had a windfall of sorts this year by providing content to divert and occupy people as some normal activities have been curtailed because of the global health pandemic. Just yesterday the gaming giant Roblox, last valued at $4 billion, announced that it had quietly filed to go public.

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Free-to-play gaming giant Roblox confidentially files to go public – TechCrunch

The gaming company Roblox announced today that it had confidentially filed paperwork with the SEC to make its public debut.

In February, the company, which operates a free-to-play gaming empire with tens of million of users, was valued at $4 billion after a Series G funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz . The company has raised more than $335 million in venture capital funding, according to Crunchbase.

The company has not detailed the number of shares it plans to offer and furthermore notes in standard legalese that their timely debut is “subject to market and other conditions.” After a slow 2019 for tech IPOs the rebound of public markets in mid-pandemic 2020 has provided an awfully wide window for tech startups reaching for their debuts.

In the games space, we recently saw the debut of Unity Technologies, which makes a popular game engine that developers use to build and monetize gaming titles.

Roblox offers an interesting sell to both consumers and developers, shipping a free-to-play vision of the future which pushes developers away from graphics-intense game design toward building content that can be played on a wide variety of devices. The games company has been more successful than most in translating a first-party experience’s success into a robust developer network. Roblox’s platform has been particularly successful with young audiences.

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Odell Beckham Jr. turned to Mojichat’s advertising features during his inaugural live-stream – TechCrunch

Mojiit, the Los Angeles-based company behind the popular avatar generation service Mojichat, has landed one of its highest-profile users with the launch of Odell Beckham Jr.’s live stream over the weekend.

As Odell Beckham Jr. did his first live stream with the gaming superstar Dr. Disrespect, he turned to Mojichat to create the pop-up onscreen emote that danced above a logo from Scuf Gaming, a retailer of customized controllers.

Customized, branded emotes are one of the ways that companies are trying to make it easier for live-streamers to make money off of their shows. Companies like Mochjichat argue that it’s a more elegant solution for gamers to use, because it doesn’t take viewers away from the live stream, where they could potentially miss some of the action.

Typically, streamers rely on advertising revenue from pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll advertising, according to Mojichat co-founder Jeremy Greene. Alongside his wife, Janelle, Greene built Mojichat into one of the premier names in avatar development. As competitors crowded in, the company has been diversifying its products to allow for influencers to begin using their digital avatars as a monetization source.

“No streamer… wants to run a pre-roll,” said Greene. “The first thing about Mojichat that made us very successful from the very beginning, you have to hunt down someone to make your custom emotes for you.”

Earlier this year, the company partnered with DoorDash on a similar activation for a concert to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club as part of a broad celebrity effort to raise money to alleviate food insecurity for families affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Any time someone sends a communication, that will trigger an alert that floats as a Mojichat animation on top of the screen,” Greene said of the earlier activation. 

The way that Greene describes the service — and Janelle and his larger vision for the company — is to be the next generation of adserver for the live-streaming market.

“My plan is to become the avatar solution for all of Unity,” Greene told me earlier. “We will offer up our platform to every single gaming platform or mobile developer to plug and play… I would consider us… we’re like the Google Admob for live stream.”

Companies like Streamlabs are integrating Mojichat’s features into their streaming offerings. and the work with Dr. Disrespect and Odell Beckham Jr. show just how much demand there is for these types of offerings.

“The avatar space is going to be won in the gaming community,” Greene said.

Mojichat already has 12,000 streamers using the technology right now, and through a partnership inked earlier this year the company expects to push more ads through the service.

“Nobody wants to sit on a stream for 15 hours a day,” said Greene.

“It’s really wrong that streamers can’t make as much money as YouTubers… a streamer can spend all day on Twitch and they are forced to run these pre-rolls… [meanwhile] Jake Paul can upload a video to YouTube and make $300,000… That’s really why I built Mojichat… I wanted to make gamers’ lives easier… We are going to build custom software for gamers that makes their lives easier.”

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How Roblox completely transformed its tech stack – TechCrunch

And now has full control of its technological destiny

Picture yourself in the role of CIO at Roblox in 2017.

At that point, the gaming platform and publishing system that launched in 2005 was growing fast, but its underlying technology was aging, consisting of a single data center in Chicago and a bunch of third-party partners, including AWS, all running bare metal (nonvirtualized) servers. At a time when users have precious little patience for outages, your uptime was just two nines, or less than 99% (five nines is considered optimal).

Unbelievably, Roblox was popular in spite of this, but the company’s leadership knew it couldn’t continue with performance like that, especially as it was rapidly gaining in popularity. The company needed to call in the technology cavalry, which is essentially what it did when it hired Dan Williams in 2017.

Williams has a history of solving these kinds of intractable infrastructure issues, with a background that includes a gig at Facebook between 2007 and 2011, where he worked on the technology to help the young social network scale to millions of users. Later, he worked at Dropbox, where he helped build a new internal network, leading the company’s move away from AWS, a major undertaking involving moving more than 500 petabytes of data.

When Roblox approached him in mid-2017, he jumped at the chance to take on another major infrastructure challenge. While they are still in the midst of the transition to a new modern tech stack today, we sat down with Williams to learn how he put the company on the road to a cloud-native, microservices-focused system with its own network of worldwide edge data centers.

Scoping the problem

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Former Apple engineer and autocorrect creator builds his first app, a word game called Up Spell – TechCrunch

Former Apple software engineer and designer Ken Kocienda, whose work included the original iPhone and the development of touchscreen autocorrect, has created his first iOS app, Up Spell. The fast-paced, fun word game challenges users to spell all the words you can in two minutes and uses a lexicon of words Kocienda built to allow for the inclusion of proper names. A portion of app revenues are also being donated to a local food bank, so you can help give back while relieving stress through gaming.

Kocienda says he had never before made a standalone iOS app.

When he worked at Apple, all the code he wrote was integrated into a bigger iOS release. So when Kocienda got the idea to develop a game, he looked to obvious sources of inspiration: his past experiences with typing, keyboards and autocorrect.

The game’s lexicon was built first with the New General Service List to serve as its foundation. This was followed by weeks of writing small programs to generate lists of candidate words — like, by adding an “S” to existing words to pluralize them, for example. And hours more were spent scanning lists to choose the words to include.

Kocienda says he also wanted the game to be fun, and personally found it frustrating that other word games wouldn’t allow proper names.

“Many games accept words like PHARAOH and PYRAMID, but not NILE or EGYPT. This doesn’t make sense to me. These are all words!,” he says.

So he built his own list that includes thousands of proper names, then added to it more slang and contractions to expand it even further. That means you can spell a word like S’MORES, which involves an apostrophe, for example.

Image Credits: Up Spell

While support for a variety of words, including proper names, is the key way the gameplay differentiates from rivals, the app’s business model is also one that’s becoming less common these days: it’s a one-time paid download.

The app is a $1.99 download that lets you pay once to play forever. Today, many games in this same space use a freemium model where the app download itself is free, but you’re then nagged with in-app hooks to buy coins or tokens to advance gameplay or unlock certain features.

Kocienda’s decision to forgo this model was intentional, he explains.

“I made Up Spell a two-minute game without much in the way of gameplay gimmicks,” says Kocienda. “You just spell words. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, and sometimes taking out two minutes to think about nothing but spelling a few words is just the kind of right kind of stress reliever,” he adds. “I hope Up Spell brings people a little unexpected happiness to their 2020.”

Also of note, 25 cents per download is being donated to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which works to get food to vulnerable people in Kocienda’s area.

If all goes well, Up Spell may be followed by other games with a similar model, like a sounds or color-matching games, for instance.

The new game is a one-time paid download on the App Store.

 

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Tokyo-based virtual reality game developer Thirdverse gets $8.5 million Series A – TechCrunch

Thirdverse, the virtual reality game developer behind “Swords of Gargantua,” has raised $8.5 million in Series A funding. The round was led by JAFCO, with participation from Presence Capital, Sisu Ventures and Incubate Fund, and will be used for hiring, co-founder Masaru Ohnogi told TechCrunch.

Based in Tokyo, Thirdverse was started four years ago as Yomuneco, but relaunched as Thirdverse in June to align with its corporate mission of creating a “Third Place inside the Metaverse,” where “each person has choices in his or her own hands and can live whatever life he or she wants to.” The company is currently focused on multiplayer virtual reality games, but its ultimate goal is to combine virtual reality with blockchain technology to create “VR worlds” where people can create online communities.

The concept has taken on a new relevancy, as COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders prompted organizations to bring online gatherings, including conferences, concerts and even their offices.

Users have also spent more time playing online games during the pandemic, with titles that have a social element, like “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” proving especially popular.

“Our sales and active users started increasing in late March as people started spending more time at home,” said Ohnogi. “And this increased engagement has remained consistent, even as some communities have lifted stay-at-home orders.”

Most of Thirdverse’s current users are located in America, and Ohnogi said many of them use Oculus Quest headsets. During Facebook’s href=”https://techcrunch.com/2020/09/16/facebook-is-officially-killing-off-the-oculus-rift-line/”> virtual reality conference last month (which itself was held virtually), the tech giant announced it would release its new Oculus Quest 2 in Japan this month. Ohnogi said this is a big opportunity for Thirdverse because many Japanese people will see the new headsets in retail stores. “As one of the earliest leading VR companies in Japan, we’ve already seen a huge number of traction. We are really excited about it.”

Thirdverse is currently preparing to release other virtual reality games, including “Frostpoint VR: Proving Grounds,” a multi-player shooter game that will be available later this year for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive VR and Valve Index headsets.

In a statement, Sisu Ventures and Presence Capital founding partner Paul Bragiel said, “In the rapidly growing VR gaming landscape, Thirdverse stands out as having strong leadership, deep relationships and a big vision to become the category leader in this market.”

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