‘Westworld’ creators are developing a ‘Fallout’ TV series for Amazon – TechCrunch

“Fallout,” the post-apocalyptic video game franchise published by Bethesda Softworks, is being turned into a TV series by Kilter Films, the production company of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.

The series, which began in 1997, takes place in an alternate future with a retro tone, after a nuclear war has turned most of the world into a wasteland. The games have continued in the two decades since, most recently with the release of “Fallout 76.”

The show — currently in development, with a series commitment from Amazon Studios — is part of Nolan and Joy’s overall deal with streaming service, which they signed last year for a reported $150 million.

The husband-and-wife team is best known for creating HBO’s new version of “Westworld” (based on a Michael Crichton film from the 1970s). They’re also working on an adaptation of William Gibson’s novel “The Peripheral.”

“Fallout is one of the greatest game series of all time,” Nolan and Joy said in a statement. “Each chapter of this insanely imaginative story has cost us countless hours we could have spent with family and friends. So we’re incredibly excited to partner with Todd Howard and the rest of the brilliant lunatics at Bethesda to bring this massive, subversive, and darkly funny universe to life with Amazon Studios.”

 

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Here’s what it got wrong – TechCrunch

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit

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Twitch breaks records again in Q2, topping 5B total hours watched – TechCrunch

Twitch had already broken viewership records in the first quarter of 2020 amid coronavirus lockdowns, surpassing 3 billion total hours watched in a single quarter for the first time. In the second quarter, it appears that Twitch has broken that record and several others once again.

According to a new report from Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet, Twitch saw a massive 62.7% increase in hours watched from Q1 2020 reach 5 billion hours watched in the second quarter.

This figure was also up by 83.1% year-over-year and helps to cement Twitch’s place as the leader among game-streaming services, with a 67.6% market share.

Twitch also broke records for hours streamed, unique channels and average concurrent viewership in Q2, the report found.

In terms of streaming, Twitch jumped 58.7% from 121.4 million hours in Q1 to 192.7 million in Q2. Unique channels increased from 63.9% quarter-over-quarter from 6.1 million in Q1 to nearly 10 million in Q2. And average concurrent viewership, meaning the number of viewers watching Twitch at the same time, grew 63.4% over last quarter to reach 2.4 million in Q2.

Image Credits: Streamlabs & Stream Hatchet

Of course, the headline news this quarter was Microsoft’s announcement about its plans to shut down its game-streaming service Mixer.

The service will wind down on July 22, and Microsoft has teamed up with Facebook to give users a new home. But that doesn’t guarantee Mixer users will make the switch — and Mixer’s exit may instead help propel Twitch to acquire even more market share than it does today.

Image Credits: Streamlabs & Stream Hatchet

Though Mixer is soon exiting, it had one of its best quarters to date in Q2, reaching 106 million hours watched, up 30.6% from Q1. It also grew its lineup to over 5 million channels. But in context of the broader market, Mixer wasn’t making a dent — it only managed to secure 1.4% market share by Q2, a figure that had actually fallen by over half a percentage point from the prior quarter.

Meanwhile, YouTube Gaming Live increased its hours watched 39.6% from Q1 to Q2 to reach 1.5 billion. To some extent, the growth stems from recent acquisitions of top talent, including Jack “CouRage” Dunlop and Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, as well as the continued success of CouRage, noted the report.

Image Credits: Streamlabs & Stream Hatchet

YouTube Gaming Live also saw a 19.1% increase in hours streamed in the quarter to reach 16.9 million and unique channels grew 22.7% in the quarter to 1.1 million.

It’s still too early to know if Facebook Gaming will end up benefiting from Mixer’s exit, as planned. But hours watched on the service grew 48.5% quarter-over-quarter to reach 822 million; hours streamed hit 6.1 million; and unique channels reached 203,554. However, Facebook still only has an 11% share of the market and that hasn’t changed since Q1, the report found.

Image Credits:

Though Twitch — and to a lesser extent, other game-streaming services — have clearly gained in usage as more consumers look for ways to be entertained at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the Amazon-owned game-streaming site this year.

In recent days, Twitch streamers were hit with a deluge of new RIAA takedown notices that required creators to painstakingly dig through hundreds of hours of past footage to find the infringing content, as Twitch didn’t offer robust search tools or bulk deletion capabilities.

But more concerning is that Twitch has come under fire for its failures to properly protect its community members from abuse and harassment, predatory behavior from adult streamers toward children, and other issues. In June, over 70 people in the gaming industry came forward with allegations of gender-based discrimination, harassment and sexual assault. Twitch vowed to do better, but its failure to set the proper tone for its community in the early days may work against it.

To date, these problems haven’t dampened Twitch’s growth from a viewership or market share perspective, but they could handicap its potential as a revenue-generating business. Already, Twitch has been struggling to generate ad revenue, and its failures to detoxify its community could only make things worse.

Marketers today are growing increasingly concerned about having their messages positioned next to hate speech and other divisive and toxic content. Currently, an ongoing Facebook ad boycott has grown to now officially include over 400 advertisers and has pushed giants like Unilever, Coca-Cola and Pfizer to pause their ad spend on Facebook’s social network. These same advertisers won’t likely jump at the chance to market their products and services on a game-streaming site that can’t control sexual abuse, either.

The full Streamlabs and Stream Hatchet report is here.

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Oculus co-founder and games industry vets form Mountaintop Studios – TechCrunch

Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell is heading up a new game development house called Mountaintop Studios, joined by colleagues from around the gaming industry. The company aims to leave the crunch and toxic culture pervasive in game studios behind and make one that’s “collaborative, anti-crunch, diverse and inclusive.”

The founding team includes Mitchell’s former colleague Mark Terrano, who was creative director at Oculus, Matt Hansen, former COO of Double Fine, and artist Rich Lyons, who worked at Naughty Dog and Vigil.

According to its webpage, Mountaintop will be creating “multiplayer games for players who crave a challenge,” though when I chatted with Mitchell and Hansen, they cited mostly single-player titles. The theme they came back to was growth and a journey: mystery, but also mastery.

As the company’s initial blog post puts it:

It isn’t just the thrill of victory. It’s looking back and seeing how far you’ve come. How you were forced to grow, adapt and improve. It’s the satisfaction of knowing you’re better than you were before. And sometimes, it’s sharing the joy of the climb with your friends.

While it’s too early for the team to reveal details on their first game, “We think we’re onto something,” Mitchell said. Considering the time and effort it takes to create a AAA game these days, and the fact that Mountaintop is currently only five full-timers, we can probably expect the first details no earlier than next year.

But the founders were clear that the company is also about getting away from the culture problems in game development.

“What we really want to do is have a studio that is people first,” Mitchell said. “There are so many folks across the industry who have just been burnt out by endless crunch. And the expectations around hours don’t allow for any sort of work-life balance. We want Mountaintop to be a place where people can come and still have that.”

But it isn’t just labor issues of crunch and overtime plaguing gaming. Racism and sexism that are endemic and evident in both the final products and companies themselves. And it must be said that the founders themselves follow one of the most common and unfortunate trends in the industry: All four are white men.

Mitchell and Hansen declined to make any specific commitments as far as diversity and inclusion go, despite those values being central to the new studio. They did, at least, acknowledge the difficulty and complexity of this pursuit.

“There’s no silver bullet for inclusivity, a lot of it is long-term work,” Mitchell said. “Because it’s a fresh studio, a fresh culture, we can start from scratch with the right foundation. We never thought when we kicked off the studio that we’d be launching in the middle of not just a pandemic, but a global conversation about institutionalized racism, police violence and injustice. So talking about that stuff internally, where we stand as individuals and as a company, that informs how we act as a company.”

“One of the earliest conversations we had was around getting the culture right. Our founders are all aligned in this,” added Hansen.

“There’s a bunch of micro things we can do every day,” continued Mitchell. “Setting our cultural values, making sure people understand those, driving toward inclusivity and diversity training, excellent hiring practices, working with community groups and integrating and supporting them, maybe recruiting from there.”

It’s a lot of promises and few concrete commitments, a common theme in tech and gaming these days. Having one’s heart in the right place is nice, but what the industries need is action. Hopefully the promises are preludes to lasting decisions, but only time (plus real and sustained effort on Mountaintop’s part) will tell.

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Mobile developer Tru Luv enlists investors to help build a more inclusive alternative to gaming – TechCrunch

Developer and programmer Brie Code has worked at the peak of the video game industry — she was responsible for many of the AI systems that powered non-player character (NPC) behavior in the extremely popular Assassin’s Creed series created by Ubisoft. It’s obvious that gaming isn’t for everyone, but Code became more and more interested in why that maxim seemed to play out along predictable gender lines, leading her ultimately to develop and launch #SelfCare through her own independent development studio TRU LUV.

#SelfCare went on to win accolades, including a spot of Apple’s App Store Best of 2018 list, and Code and TRU LUV was also the first Canadian startup to attend Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp program. Now, with more than 2 million downloads of #SelfCare (without any advertising at all), Code and TRU LUV have brought on a number of investors for their first outside funding, including Real Ventures, Evolve Ventures, Bridge Builders Collaborative and Artesian Venture Partners.

I spoke to Code about how she came up with and created #SelfCare, what’s next for TRU LUV and how the current COVID-19 crisis actually emphasizes the need for an alternative to gaming that serves many similar functions, but for previously underserved groups of people for whom the challenges and rewards structures of traditional gaming just don’t prove very satisfying.

“I became very, very interested in why video games don’t interest about half of people, including all of my friends,” Code told me. “And at that point, tablets were becoming popular, and everyone had a phone. So if there was something universal about this medium, it should be being more widely adopted, yet I was seeing really clear patterns that it wasn’t. The last time I checked, which was maybe a couple years ago, there were 5 billion mobile users and around 2.2 billion mobile gamers.”

Her curiosity piqued by the discrepancy, especially as an industry insider herself, Code began to do her own research to figure out potential causes of the divide — the reason why games only seemed to consistently appeal to about half of the general computer user population, at best.

“I started doing a lot of focus groups and research and I saw really clear patterns, and I knew that if there is a clear pattern, there must be an explanation,” Code said. “What I discovered after I read Sheri Graner Ray’s book ‘Gender Inclusive Game Design,’ which she wrote in 2004, in a chapter on stimulation was how, and these are admittedly gross generalizations, but men tend to be stimulated by the sense of danger and things flashing on screen. And women, in her research, tended to be stimulated by something mentioned called a ‘mutually-beneficial outcome to a socially significant situation.’ That’s when you help an NPC and they help you, for instance. In some way, that’s more significant, in the rules of the world than just the score going up.”

TRU LUV founder and CEO Brie Code (Image Credits: Brie Code)

Code then dug in further, using consumer research and further study, and found a potential cause behind this divide that then provided a way forward for developing a new alternative to a traditional gaming paradigm that might prove more appealing to the large group of people who weren’t served by what the industry has traditionally produced.

“I started to read about the psychology of stimulation, and from there I was reading about the psychology of defense, and I found a very simple and clear explanation for this divide, which is that there are two human stress responses,” she said. “One of them, which is much more commonly known, is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When we experience the fight-or-flight response, in the face of challenge or pressure or danger, you have adrenaline released in your body, and that makes you instinctively want to win. So what a game designer does is create these situations of challenge, and then give you opportunities to win and that leverages the fight-or-flight response to stress: That’s the gamification curve. But there is another human stress response discovered at the UCLA Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab in 2000, by Dr. Shelly Taylor and her colleagues. It’s very prevalent, probably about half of stress responses that humans experience, and it’s called tend-and-befriend.”

Instead of generating an adrenaline surge, it releases oxytocin in the brain, and instead of seeking a victory over a rival, people who experience this want to take care of those who are more vulnerable, connect with friends and allies and find mutually beneficial solutions to problems jointly faced. Seeking to generate that kind of response led to what Code and TRU LUV call AI companions, a gaming alternative that is non-zero sum and based on the tend-and-befriend principal. Code’s background as an AI programmer working on some of the most sophisticated virtual character interactions available in modern games obviously came in handy here.

Code thought she might be on to something, but didn’t anticipate the level of #SelfCare’s success, which included 500,00 downloads in just six weeks, and more than 2 million today. And most of the feedback she received from users backed up her hypotheses about what the experience provided, and what users were looking for in an alternative to a mobile gaming experience.

Fast forward to now, and TRU LUV is growing its team, and focused on iterating and developing new products to capitalize on the clear vein of interest they’ve tapped among that underserved half of mobile users. Code and her team have brought on investors whose views and portfolios align with their product vision and company ethos, including Evolve Ventures, which has backed a number of socially progressive ventures, and whose managing director, Julius Mokrauer, actually teaches a course on the subject at Columbia Business School.

#SelfCare was already showing a promising new path forward for mobile experience development before COVID-19 struck, but the product and TRU LUV are focused on “resilience and psychological development,” so it proved well-suited to a market in which mobile users were looking for ways to make sustained isolation more pleasant. Obviously we’re just at the beginning of feeling whatever impacts come out of the COVID-19 crisis, but it seems reasonable to expect that different kinds of mobile apps that trigger responses more aligned with personal well-being will be sought after.

Code says that COVID-19 hasn’t really changed TRU LUV’s vision or approach, but that it has led to the team moving more quickly on in-progress feature production, and on some parts of their roadmap, including building social features that allow players to connect with one another as well as with virtual companions.

“We want to move our production forward a bit faster than planned in order to respond to the need,” Code said.”Also we’re looking at being able to create social experiences a little bit earlier than planned, and also to attend to the need of people to be able to connect, above and beyond people who connect through video games.”

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Why isn’t its IPO worth more? – TechCrunch

Agora isn’t the only company headquartered outside the United States aiming to go public domestically this quarter. After catching up on Agora’s F-1 filing, the China-and-U.S.-based, API-powered tech company that went public last week, today we’re parsing DoubleDown Interactive’s IPO document.


The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription.


The mobile gaming company is targeting the NASDAQ and wants to trade under the ticker symbol “DDI.”

As with Agora, DoubleDown filed an F-1, instead of an S-1. That’s because it’s based in South Korea, but it’s slightly more complicated than that. DoubleDown was founded in Seattle, according to Crunchbase, before selling itself to DoubleU Games, which is based in South Korea. So, yes, the company is filing an F-1 and will remain majority-held by its South Korean parent company post-IPO, but this offering is more a local affair than it might at first seem.

Even more, with a $17 to $19 per-share IPO price range, the company could be worth up to nearly $1 billion when it debuts. Does that pricing make sense? We want to find out.

So let’s quickly explore the company this morning. We’ll see what this mobile, social gaming company looks like under the hood in an effort to understand why it is being sent to the public markets right now. Let’s go!

Fundamentals

Any gaming company has to have its fun-damentals in place so that it can have solid financial results, right? Right?

Anyway, DoubleDown is a nicely profitable company. In 2019 its revenue only grew a hair to $273.6 million from $266.9 million the year before (a mere 2.5% gain), but the company’s net income rose from $25.1 million to $36.3 million, and its adjusted EBITDA rose from $85.1 million to $101.7 million over the same period.

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Where to open a game studio – TechCrunch

With the game industry booming, more entrepreneurs are evaluating where to base their new startup or open a new office for their existing company. The U.S. government’s block on H1-B and L-1 visas will encourage American game startups to add an office abroad much sooner than they otherwise would have. But where?

This spring, I surveyed a number of gaming-focused VCs about which cities are the best hubs for game studios targeting the Western games market. Several locales stood out as heavily recommended — which I’ve shared below — but the most interesting takeaway was the lack of consensus.

Game studios are far less geographically concentrated than other categories of VC-backed startups. While there are odes on Twitter and conference stages that “you can build a successful startup anywhere,” most investors will push founders to locate themselves in the SF Bay Area, or at least in LA, NYC or London. Meanwhile, the most common piece of advice from those I spoke to: You should probably not base a gaming startup in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Access to the right talent is the top priority, as is the ability to retain them. Proximity to investors matters, but a successful game quickly turns a profit, which reduces the need for outside funding beyond Series A (and U.S. and European VCs who focus on gaming tend to be very international in scope). Quality of life, ease of obtaining visas and access to strategic partners all play into the decision as well and will weigh these recommendations differently depending on who you are and the games you’re developing.

Three notes:

  • I focused on qualitative research, gauging the assessments of top investors who track new startups in the sector about where the action is right now. 
  • The scope of this survey is limited to studios targeting the Western gaming market, so leading hubs in Asia weren’t included.
  • I group cities by metropolitan area so, for example, San Francisco includes Redwood City and Seattle includes Bellevue.

North America

In North America, Los Angeles is the clear favorite with Montreal, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver all receiving many endorsements as the other top hubs. Regarding cities with the most interesting gaming startups recently, Ryann Lai of Makers Fund said, “It is hard to name a single best location, but Toronto, Culver City (in Los Angeles), Orange County (next to Los Angeles) have gotten increasingly popular among gaming founders lately.”

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Newzoo forecasts 2020 global games industry will reach $159 billion – TechCrunch

Games and esports analytics firm Newzoo released its highly cited annual report on the size and state of the video gaming industry yesterday. The firm is predicting 2020 global game industry revenue from consumers of $159.3 billion, a 9.3% increase year-over-year. Newzoo predicts the market will surpass $200 billion by the end of 2023.

Importantly, the data excludes in-game advertising revenue (which surged +59% during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to Unity) and the market of gaming digital assets traded between consumers. Advertising within games is a meaningful source of revenue for many mobile gaming companies. In-game ads in just the U.S. drove roughly $3 billion in industry revenue last year, according to eMarketer.

To compare with gaming, the global markets for other media and entertainment formats are:

Counting gamers

Of 7.8 billion people on the planet, 4.2 billion (53.6%) of whom have internet connectivity, 2.69 billion will play video games this year, and Newzoo predicts that number to reach three billion in 2023. It broke down the current geographic distribution of gamers as:

  • 1,447 million (54%) in Asia-Pacific
  • 386 million (14%) in Europe
  • 377 million (14%) in Middle East & Africa
  • 266 million (10%) in Latin America
  • 210 million (8%) in North America

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Animal Crossing’s summer update will let you swim for sea critters – TechCrunch

There’s huge news today for Animal Crossing: New Horizons players still devoted to the most pleasantly addictive way to stay kind of sane stuck at home during the pandemic. In the biggest update yet to the Nintendo Switch hit, players will soon be able to explore the water around their island. Oh — and Gulliver is a pirate now.

The free update will arrive on July 3, marking the first of two waves of new content due out in the summer season (for players in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway!). The update invites players to plunge into the ocean and swim around to collect anemones, starfish, eels and other sea-faring creatures, which can then be donated to their museum collection. The mysterious second half of the update is due out in early August.

The game will also add another new character, Pascal, a sea otter who you can hit up for new recipes. Anyone who’s played past Animal Crossing titles will recognize Pascal as a chill guy who doles out equally chill pearls of wisdom while casually treading water.

For a game that revolves around familiar cycles — collecting fruit, pulling weeds, shaking trees to find nice living room furniture — the addition of swimming and diving is actually a pretty big change. And it’s probably a good reason for anyone who went hard on New Horizons in the early days of the pandemic and ran out of things to do to revisit the game. It’ll be interesting to see what else Nintendo has in store for New Horizons, as it’s the first Animal Crossing title in a gaming era that expects plenty of post-release downloadable content already plotted out on the roadmap.

It’s also the perfect time to casually stroll out among your villagers while acting like no time passed at all if, like me, your wife accidentally broke one of your Switch controllers and you haven’t played in three weeks. Lolly, if you’re reading this, I want you to know they were back-ordered and this doesn’t change anything between us. Really.



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Sony will now pay researchers $50,000+ for critical PS4 bugs – TechCrunch

Think you’ve found a way to consistently brick someone’s PS4, or make it run code that it shouldn’t? Sony wants to know — and now they’re willing to pay.

This morning Sony announced that it’s opening its bug bounty program to the public, and will pay for newly discovered bugs and exploits that impact either the PlayStation 4 or their online PlayStation Network.

Sony is pretty explicit about what kind of bugs they’re looking for: anything that hits “the PlayStation 4 system, operating system, accessories” in its current and/or beta form, or that impacts any of a handful of PlayStation Network domains/APIs. Tactics like socially engineering Sony employees or DDoSing their servers, meanwhile, aren’t allowed.

Bugs found in the PlayStation Network will have base bounties of $100-$3,000 or more (depending on severity), while critical bugs found related to the PS4 itself will pay $50,000 or more. You can see Sony’s breakdown, including what’s in/out of the program’s scope, right here.

(Note the focus on PlayStation 4. Finding a new way to break the ol’ PS2 is cool and all, but Sony won’t be dishing out any money for it.)

In a blog post announcing the bug bounty program, Sony notes that they’ve actually been running this program quietly with a handful of researchers for a while now — today, though, they’re opening it up to anyone with the skill and interest. The program’s HackerOne page says Sony has already paid out over $170,000 to researchers, with an average bounty of around $400.

Microsoft launched a similar bug bounty program for Xbox Live earlier this year.

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