games

Through crowdsourcing, Cerberus Interactive wants to take location-based gaming to the masses

Posted by | Age of Empires, augmented reality, austin, bangladesh, Cerberus Interactive, games, Gaming, Los Angeles, New Orleans, niantic, Pokémon Go, Prince, Reddit, Salman Khan, simulation, Software, steve huffman, TC, Toshiba, video gaming | No Comments

Sami Khan began his work in the startup world by marketing mobile-based investment services like Acorns.

Now the marketer who helped grow that business to a nearly $1 billion valuation is turning his attention to location-based gaming in the hopes that he can take on leading contender Niantic with a faster, more flexible and fan-driven approach to game development with his new startup, Cerberus Interactive.

Khan’s pitch is that he’s taking the skills he honed building up services like Acorns or the browser extension for bargain hunters, Honey, to game development to make games more viral from their inception.

The biggest thing is how do you de-risk what is perceived as a hit-driven industry?,” Khan asks. “Games are closer to digital apps than back in the days of the console and companies should ship it like an e-commerce concept… If adoption of the game is going to be the decision factor of whether a game fails or succeeds… why isn’t the adoption of the game tested before the title is built or while the game is being conceived?”

So for his first foray into gaming, Khan is combining a crowdsourced approach to the development of the game and applying it to what many people think is gaming’s next big frontier — the location-based game phenomenon that hit its stride with Niantic’s Pokémon GO.

Right now in location-based games you have the behemoth which is Niantic,” says Khan. “Right now the gaming industry looks at location-based games as its own sub genre. But when we look at location-based games, we believe that location-based games have an aspect that it is a game mechanic within other games.” 

The first game that Cerberus is developing is a base-building simulator akin to a title like “Age of Empires,” but based on real-world locations. “Simulation games or casual games with location built in will have a bonus or an advantage over the stationary games that we play today,” says Khan.

The “Atlas Empires” title that Cerberus is currently developing is being made in concert with the gamers who might want to play it. So far, an undisclosed number of customers are already paying to have a say in certain aspects of the game’s development — kind of like a premier tier within a crowdfunding campaign.

Khan, a New Orleans native who splits his time between Los Angeles and Austin, has enlisted some marquee investors in his bid to challenge both the traditional ways in which games have been developed and the current industry leader.

Strategic investor MobilityWare has signed on to back the company along with individual investors like Steve Huffman, the co-founder and chief executive of Reddit, and Blake Chandler, the chief business officer of the runaway social network hit, TikTok.

Khan traces his love of games to his time visiting his cousins in Bangladesh and playing “Prince of Persia” on an early Toshiba laptop. “I remember sitting around the computer, watching my oldest cousin play because my dad didn’t want any of the kids touching the laptop,” Khan says.

So far the beta version of “Atlas Empires” has had 50,000 downloads and has about 1,000 daily players, Khan says. The commercial version of the game is expected to go live in the first quarter of 2020, says Khan.

Powered by WPeMatico

‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’ reaches 400K downloads, $300K in consumer spend in UK and US

Posted by | App Annie, Apps, games, Gaming, harry potter, harry potter wizards unite, Mobile, niantic, sensor tower | No Comments

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the highly anticipated new mobile game from Pokémon GO makers Niantic and Warner Brothers’ games division, is off to a good start, but it’s not breaking Pokémon GO records. According to preliminary estimates from Sensor Tower, the new game has been installed some 400,000 times in its first 24 hours in its launch markets of the U.S. and U.K. — where the game arrived ahead of schedule on Thursday. Gross player spending in these markets hit around $300,000 across both iOS and Android during this time.

This is not the full picture, however.

The game was also available in Australia and New Zealand during a pre-launch beta trial of sorts, and is only now rolling out to worldwide users on a country-by-country basis. During its beta test period, Sensor Tower estimates the game grossed around $80,000.

But in the same number of days, Pokémon GO grossed $1.6 million in those two markets.

Following its U.S. launch, it took Harry Potter: Wizards Unite around 15 hours to reach the No.1 position on the iOS App Store. This ascension is also going a bit slower than Pokémon GO did when it arrived. That game was an immediate hit, debuting at No. 1 on its launch day of July 6, 2016. It was then installed 7.5 million times in the U.S. during its first 24 hours. And it didn’t reach the U.K. until seven days later.

In its first 24 hours, Pokémon GO became the No. 1 app by revenue in the U.S., as well. The new Harry Potter title is ranked No. 102 overall for iPhone revenue and No. 62 among top grossing games, Sensor Tower says. It’s also No. 48 for U.K. revenue. (It’s not yet ranked on Google Play.)

App Annie hasn’t yet put out numbers related to Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’s revenue, but the company tells us it hit No. 1 in the U.S. for downloads as of 12 AM on June 21, 2019. And for consumer spending, App Annie says the game broke into the top 100 grossing games by hitting No. 63 as of 7:00 AM June 21 on iPhone in the U.S.

The new game’s lesser demand compared with Pokémon GO could be attributed to a number of factors. Pokémon GO was hugely anticipated, had a massive fan base ready to download and was one of the first compelling use cases of AR in gaming.

Harry Potter’s fan base is active as well, but they’ve also had other games to play before now.

For example, Jam City has a Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game that’s been getting a huge boost since yesterday’s news of the new Niantic title. That points to a case of mistaken identity or perhaps clever App Store SEO… or both.

It’s also worth noting the App Store itself has changed in the years since Pokémon GO’s launch.

In September 2017, Apple introduced its brand-new App Store that took the emphasis off its Top Charts as a means of discovery, and instead features apps in editorial “stories” on its Today tab. Within the dedicated apps and games section, the revamped App Store points users to editorial collections, with Top Charts only found upon scrolling down the page quite a bit.

We’ve heard from some developers that these changes reduced their downloads, as getting into the Top Charts doesn’t drive numbers like it used to. They said getting into the Today tab’s feature editorial doesn’t send as many installs, either. But this is all anecdotal — and of course, Apple doesn’t talk about numbers like this. Further investigation is needed.

In any event, the two app store intelligence firms — App Annie and Sensor Tower — both predict big numbers for the new Harry Potter title over time.

Sensor Tower estimates the game will pull in $400 million to $500 million in revenue in its first year. However, the firm notes that Harry Potter isn’t as popular in Asia — a market that delivers Pokémon GO over 40% of its revenue.

App Annie, meanwhile, predicts the game will hit $100 million in consumer spend in its first 30 days. (Pokémon GO hit this milestone in two weeks.)

“Pokémon GO shattered mobile gaming records, clearing $100 million in its first two weeks and becoming the fastest game to reach $1 billion in consumer spend,” noted App Annie. “While we don’t expect it to surpass Pokémon GO’s launch, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is set to clear $100 million in its first 30 days — which is no small feat.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Mobile games now account for 33% of installs, 10% of time and 74% of consumer spend

Posted by | Android, android apps, App Annie, app stores, app-store, Apps, games, Gaming, Google Play, iOS, iOS apps, Mobile | No Comments

Mobile gaming continues to hold its own, accounting for 10% of the time users spend in apps — a percentage that has remained steady over the years, even though our time in apps overall has grown by 50% over the past two years. In addition, games are continuing to grow their share of consumer spend, notes App Annie in a new research report out this week, timed with E3.

Thanks to growth in hyper-casual and cross-platform gaming in particular, mobile games are on track to reach 60% market share in consumer spend in 2019.

The new report looks at how much time users spend gaming versus using other apps, monetization and regional highlights within the gaming market, among other things.

Despite accounting for a sizable portion of users’ time, games don’t lead the other categories, App Annie says.

Instead, social and communications apps account for half (50%) of the time users spent globally in apps in 2018, followed by video players and editors at 15%, then games at 10%.

In the U.S., users generally have eight games installed per device; globally, we play an average of two to five games per month.

The number of total hours spent on games continues to grow roughly 10% year-over-year, as well, thanks to existing gamers increasing their time in games and from a broadening user base, including a large number of mobile app newcomers from emerging markets.

This has also contributed to a widening age range for gamers.

Today, the majority of time spent in gaming is by those aged 25 and older. In many cases, these players may not even classify themselves as “gamers,” App Annie noted.

While games may not lead the categories in terms of time spent, they do account for a large number of mobile downloads and the majority of consumer spending on mobile.

One-third of all worldwide downloads are games across iOS, Google Play and third-party app stores.

Last year, 1.6+ million games launched on Google Play and 1.1+ million arrived on iOS.

On Android, 74 cents of every dollar is spent on games, with 95% of those purchases coming as in-app purchases, not paid downloads. App Annie didn’t have figures for iOS.

Google Play is known for having more downloads than iOS, but continues to trail on consumer spend. In 2018, Google Play grabbed a 72% share of worldwide downloads, compared with 28% on iOS. Meanwhile, Google Play only saw 36% of consumer spend versus 64% on iOS.

One particular type of gaming jumped out in the new report: racing games.

Consumer spend in this subcategory of gaming grew 7.9 times as fast as the overall mobile gaming market. Adventure games did well, too, growing roughly five times the rate of games in general. Music games and board games were also popular.

Of course, gaming expands beyond mobile. But it’s surprising to see how large a share of the broader market can be attributed to mobile gaming.

According to App Annie, mobile gaming is larger than all other channels, including home game consoles, handheld consoles and computers (Mac and PC). It’s also 20% larger than all these other categories combined — a shift from only a few years ago, attributed to the growth in the mobile consumer base, which allows mobile gaming to reach more people.

Cross-platform gaming is a key gaming trend today, thanks to titles like PUBG and Fortnite in particular, which were among the most downloaded games across several markets last year.

Meanwhile, hyper-casual games are appealing to those who don’t think of themselves as gamers, which has helped to broaden the market further.

App Annie is predicting the next big surge will come from AR gaming, with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite expected to bring Pokémon Go-like frenzy back to AR, bringing the new title $100 million in its first 30 days. The game is currently in beta testing in select markets, with plans for a 2019 release.

In terms of regions, China’s impact on gaming tends to be outsized, but its growth last year was limited due to the game license regulations. This forced publishers to look outside the country for growth — particularly in markets like North America and Japan, App Annie said.

Meanwhile, India, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia lead the emerging markets with regard to game
downloads, but established markets of the U.S. and China remain strong players in terms of sheer numbers.

With the continued steady growth in consumer spend and the stable time spent in games, App Annie states the monetization potential for games is growing. In 2018, there were 1,900 games that made more than $5 million, up from 1,200 in 2016. In addition, consumer spend in many key markets is still growing too — like the 105% growth in two years in China, for example, and the 45% growth in the U.S.

The full report delves into other regions as well as game publishers’ user acquisition strategies. It’s available for download here.

Powered by WPeMatico

‘Gato Roboto’ and ‘Dig Dog’ put pixelated pets to work in gleeful gaming homages

Posted by | games, Gaming, Nintendo Switch, Reviews, Switch, TC | No Comments

Drawing inspiration from games of yore but with dog and cat protagonists that signal light adventures rather than grim, dark ones, Gato Roboto and Dig Dog are easy to recommend to anyone looking to waste a couple hours this weekend. Not only that, but the latter was developed in a fascinating and inspiring way.

Both games share a 1-bit aesthetic that goes back many years but most recently was popularized by the inimitable Downwell and recently used to wonderful effect in both Return of the Obra Dinn and Minit. This is a limitation that frees the developer from certain concerns while also challenging them to present the player with all the information they need with only two colors, or in Dig Dog’s case a couple more (but not a lot).

In the latter game, you play as a dog, digging for bones among a series of procedurally generated landscapes populated by enemies and hazards. Dig Dug is the obvious callback in the name, but gameplay is more bouncy and spontaneous rather than the slower, strategic digging of the arcade classic.

On every stage you’re tasked with collecting a bone that’s somewhere near the bottom, while avoiding various types of enemies and traps or, if you so choose, destroying them and occasionally yielding coins. These coins can be traded with a merchant who appears on some stages, offering various gameplay perks like a longer dash or higher jump.

Get it! Get the bone!

The simple controls let you jump, dig, and do a midair dash that kills enemies — that’s pretty much it. The rest is down to moment-to-moment choices: dig around that enemy or go through them? If I go this way will I trap myself in this hole? Is it worth attacking that bat nest for a coin or will it be too hard to get out alive?

Collected bones contribute towards unlocking new stages with different, more dangerous enemies and devious traps. It gives a sense of progression even when you only get a bone or two, as does your dog rocketing back upwards in a brief but satisfying zoomies celebration every time. So even when you die, and you will die a lot, you feel like you’re working towards something.

It’s a great time-waster and you won’t exhaust its challenges for hours of gameplay; it’s also very easy to pick up and play a few stages of, since a whole life might last less than a minute. At $4 it’s an easy one to recommend.

Interestingly, Dig Dog was developed by its creator with only minimal use of his hands. A repetitive stress condition made it painful and inadvisable for him to code using the keyboard, so he uses a voice-based coding system instead. If I had been told I couldn’t type any more, I’d probably just take up a new career, so I admire Rusty Moyher for his tenacity. He made a video about the process here, if you’re curious:

Gato Roboto, for Switch and PC, is a much more complicated game, though not nearly so much as its inspirations, the NES classics Metroid and Blaster Master. In Gato Roboto, as in those games, you explore a large world filled with monsters and tunnels, fighting bosses and outfitting yourself with new abilities, which in turn let you explore the world further.

This one isn’t as big and open as recent popular “metroidvanias” like Hollow Knight or Ori and the Blind Forest — it’s really much more like a linear action-adventure game in the style of metroidvanias.

The idea is that you’ve crash-landed on a planet after tracking a mysterious signal, but the spaceman aboard the ship is trapped — you play his cat, Kiki, who must explore the planet in his stead.

At first (or shall I say fur-st) you really are just a cat, but you’re soon equipped with a power suit that lets you jump and shoot like any other action game. However, you frequently have to jump out of it to get into a smaller tunnel or enter water, in which the suit can’t operate (and the cat only barely). In this respect it’s a bit like Blaster Master, in which your pilot could dismount and explore caves in top-down fashion — an innovation that made the game one of my favorites for the system. (If you haven’t played the Switch remake, Blaster Master Zero, I implore you to.)

Gato Roboto isn’t as taxing or complex as its predecessors, but it’s not really meant to be. It’s a non-stop romp where you always have a goal or an obstacle to overcome. The 1-bit graphics are so well executed that I stopped noticing them after a minute or two — the pixel art is very clear and only rarely does the lack of color cause any confusion whatever.

Like Dig Dog and Downwell before it, you can pick up color schemes to change the palette, a purely aesthetic choice but a fun collectible (some are quite horrid). The occasional secret and branching path keeps your brain working a little bit, but not too much.

The game is friendly and forgiving, but I will say that the bosses present rather serious difficulty spikes, and you may, as I did, find yourself dying over and over to them because they’re a hundred times more dangerous than ordinary enemies or environmental hazards. Fortunately the game is (kitty) littered with save points and, for the most part, the bosses are not overlong encounters. I still raged pretty hard on a couple of them.

It’s twice the price of Dig Dog, a whopping $8. I can safely say it’s worth the price of two coffees. Don’t hesitate.

These pleasant distractions should while away a few hours, and to me they represent a healthy gaming culture that can look back on its past and find inspiration, then choose to make something new and old at the same time.

Powered by WPeMatico

Eyeing an entry into China, Roblox enters strategic partnership with Tencent

Posted by | children, China, Education, games, Gaming, kids, Roblox, STEM, Tencent | No Comments

Kids gaming platform Roblox has its sights set on China with today’s news that it has entered into a strategic relationship with Chinese tech giant Tencent. The companies announced a strategic partnership that will initially focus on education — specifically, coding fundamentals, game design, digital citizenship and entrepreneurial skills.

The joint venture — still unnamed — will be based in Shenzhen, Roblox says. And its eventual goal is to bring Roblox to China. This is something Roblox has been steadily working toward ahead of today, most recently by adding support for Chinese languages and making its coding curriculum available for free in Chinese.

The first initiative from the new JV will be a scholarship fund that sponsors 15 young developers, who will fly to the U.S. to attend a week-long creator camp at Stanford University. The camp, taught by iD Tech, will teach the students game design, including how to create 3D worlds, along with programming fundamentals using Roblox’s developer tools and Lua code.

Roblox and Tencent, together with the China Association for Educational Technology (CAET), are calling for applications from creators ages 10 through 15. Teachers will be encouraged to nominate their students, who can apply online on Roblox’s website. The submissions close on June 14, and scholarship recipients will be notified on June 28.

The first camp will run the week of July 23, and a second session will run the week of August 18. During camp, students will work, eat and stay at Stanford.

“I’m extremely excited to partner with Roblox,” said Steven Ma, senior vice president of Tencent, in a statement. “We believe technological advancement will help Chinese students learn by fueling their creativity and imagination. Our partnership with Roblox provides an engaging way to reach children of all ages across China to develop skills like coding, design, and entrepreneurship.”

“Tencent is the perfect partner for Roblox in China,” added Roblox founder and CEO Dave Baszucki. “They have a deep understanding of the Chinese market and share our belief of the power of digital creation and our vision to bring the world together through play.”

The multi-year JV will continue to invest in educational initiatives, including local coding camps, training programs for instructors to build custom courses and more.

Unlike other gaming companies, Roblox has to do more than just finding a way into China with the help of a local partner — it also has to create an active community of game creators in the region. That’s because Roblox is a gaming platform, not a game maker itself. Instead, third-party creators build their own games on Roblox for others to play.

Roblox gets a share of the revenue the games make through sales of virtual goods.

In 2017, Roblox said it paid out $30 million to its creator community, and noted that number would more than double in 2018. In April, Roblox noted that game players and creators now spend more than a billion hours per month on its platform. Now valued at more than $2.5 billion, Roblox claims more than 90 million monthly active users — a number that could dramatically increase if Roblox launched in China.

Powered by WPeMatico

Microsoft’s Mixer now lets streamers reward fans for participation, not just subscriptions

Posted by | game streaming, games, Gaming, Microsoft, mixer, Social, streaming, Twitch | No Comments

On game-streaming platforms today, there’s really only one way to earn status within a creator’s community: you have to become a subscriber. Microsoft’s game-streaming service Mixer is today aiming to offer a third path to status through loyalty and participation. In doing so, it hopes to better differentiate itself from larger rivals like Twitch and YouTube.

Channel Progression, as this new feature is called, is a system that rewards community members and a streamer’s fans for more than just their financial contributions. It also takes into account other activity within the channel and on Mixer as a whole.

Members can level up by participating in the stream’s chat, by their repeat visits, by using Skills (aka other forms of expression like stickers, effects and GIFs that are used in chats) and more. That means that viewers will be able to earn rewards and raise their rank by just participating — watching, chatting, following, subscribing and, later, through other actions, as well.

As streamers participate, they’ll rank up, gaining them bragging rights and other perks that will vary by their rank level. They also can check on their rank at any time by clicking on the “Your Rank” button at the bottom-left corner of the chat box.

The feature is rolling out on Wednesday May 1, 2019 to all streamers on Mixer — not just Mixer Partner, as it’s designed to not only be a way for streamers to grow their own communities, but for Mixer itself to grow.

In the future, however, Mixer Partners will be able to also reward monetization actions, like subscribing and gift subscriptions, and for spending Embers (virtual currency).

The changes come at a time when there’s been a rise in complaints over how hard it is to get noticed on the leading game-streaming site, Twitch. Some smaller streamers told The Verge last summer they spent years broadcasting to no one, and found it difficult to grow their community, despite the effort Twitch has made in this area. More recently, that’s included the launch of a four-person Squad Stream, to help creators get discovered.

Despite this, Twitch’s long tail continues to grow — according to a recent report from StreamElements, the top 1,000 Twitch channels were responsible for 57% of Twitch’s viewership hours in Q1 2019, and the long tail (those beyond the top 10,000 channels) was responsible for 20%. In total, Twitch hit 2.7 billion hours of content watched in Q1, the report claimed.

Mixer, by comparison, is much smaller. Its numbers may have quadrupled since Q1 2019, but that’s only going from 22 million hours watched to 89 million. It still has much, much further to go to catch up with YouTube Live, not to mention Twitch.

Mixer’s Channel Progression feature was originally announced in November as part of Mixer’s “Season 2” release. It launches tomorrow to all on Mixer.com on the desktop and will roll out to all other platforms in the weeks ahead.

Powered by WPeMatico

‘The Division 2’ is the brain-dead, antipolitical, gun-mongering vigilante simulator we deserve

Posted by | games, Gaming, Opinion, review, TC | No Comments

In The Division 2, the answer to every question is a bullet. That’s not unique in the pervasively violent world of gaming, but in an environment drawn from the life and richly decorated with plausible human cost and cruelty, it seems a shame; and in a real world where plentiful assault rifles and government hit squads are the problems, not the solutions, this particular power fantasy feels backwards and cowardly.

Ubisoft’s meticulous avoidance of the real world except for physical likeness was meant to maximize its market and avoid the type of “controversy” that brings furious tweets and ineffectual boycotts down on media that dare to make statements. But the result is a game that panders to “good guy with a gun” advocates, NRA members, everyday carry die-hards, and those who dream of spilling the blood of unsavory interlopers and false patriots upon this great country’s soil.

There are two caveats: That we shouldn’t have expected anything else, from Ubisoft or anyone; and that it’s a pretty good game if you ignore all that stuff. But it’s getting harder to accept every day, and the excuses for game studios are getting fewer. (Some spoilers ahead, but trust me, it doesn’t matter.)

To put us all on the same page: The Division 2 (properly Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, which just about sums it up right there) is the latest “game as a service” to hit the block, aspiring less towards the bubblegum ubiquity of Fortnite and than the endless grind of a Destiny 2 or Diablo 3. The less said about Anthem, the better (except Jason Schrier’s great report, of course).

From the bestselling author of literally a hundred other books…

It’s published by Ubisoft, a global gaming power known for creating expansive gaming worlds (like the astonishingly beautiful Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey) with bafflingly uneven gameplay and writing (like the astonishingly lopsided Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey).

So it was perhaps to be expected that The Division 2 would be heavy on atmosphere and light on subtlety. But I didn’t expect to be told to see the President snatch a machine gun from his captors and mow them down — then tell your character that sometimes you can’t do what’s popular, you have to do what’s necessary.

It would be too much even if the game was a parody and not, as it in fact is, deeply and strangely earnest. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

EDC Simulator 2

The game is set in Washington, D.C.; its predecessor was in New York. Both were, like most U.S. cities in this fictitious near future, devastated by a biological attack on Black Friday that used money as a vector for a lethal virus. That’s a great idea, perhaps not practical (who pays in cash?), but a clever mashup of terrorist plots with consumerism. (The writing in the first Division was considerably better than this one.)

Your character is part of a group of sleeper agents seeded throughout the country, intended to activate in the event of a national emergency, surviving and operating on your own or with a handful of others, procuring equipment and supplies on the go, taking out the bad guys and saving the remaining civilians while authority reasserts itself.

You can see how this sets up a great game: exploring the ruins of a major city, shooing out villains, and upgrading your gear as you work your way up the ladder.

And in a way it does make a great game. If you consider the bad guys just types of human-shaped monsters, your various guns and equipment the equivalent of new swords and wands, breastplates and greaves, with your drones and tactical launchers modern spells and auras, it’s really quite a lot like Diablo, the progenitor of the “looter” genre.

Moment to moment gameplay has you hiding behind cover, popping out to snap off a few shots at the bad guys, who are usually doing the same thing 10 or 20 yards away, but generally not as well as you. Move on to the next room or intersection, do it again with some more guys, rinse and repeat. It sounds monotonous, and it is, but so is baseball. People like it anyway. (I’d like to give a shout-out to the simple, effective multiplayer that let me join a friend in seconds.)

But the problem with The Division 2 isn’t its gameplay, although I could waste your time (instead) with some nitpicking of the damage systems, the mobs, the inventory screen, and so on. The problem with The Division 2 isn’t even that it venerates guns. Practically every game venerates guns, because as Tim Rogers memorably paraphrased CliffyB once: “games are power fantasies — and it’s easy to make power fantasies, because guns are so powerful, and raycasting is simple, and raycasting is like a gun.” It’s difficult to avoid.

No, the problem with The Division 2 is the breathtaking incongruity between the powerfully visualized human tragedy your character inhabits and the refusal to engage even in an elementary way with the themes to which it is inherently tied: terrorism, guns, government and anti-government forces, and everything else. It’s exploitative, cynical, and absurd.

The Washington, D.C. of the game is a truly amazing setting. Painstakingly detailed block by block and containing many of the most notable landmarks of the area, it’s a very interesting game world to explore, even more so I imagine if you are from there or are otherwise familiar with the city.

The marks of a civilization-ending disaster are everywhere. Abandoned cars and security posts with vines and grass creeping up between them, broken and boarded up windows and doors, left luggage and improvised camping spots. Real places form the basis for thrilling setpiece shootouts: museums, famous offices, the White House itself (which you find under limp siege in the first mission). This is a fantasy very much based in reality — but only on the surface. In fact all this incredibly detailed scenery is nothing more than cover for shootouts.

I can’t tell you how many times my friend and I traversed intricately detailed monuments, halls, and other environments, marveling at the realism with which they were decorated (though perhaps there were a few too many gas cans), remarking to one another: “Damn, this place is insane. I can’t believe they made it this detailed just to have us do the same exact combat encounter as the entire rest of the game. How come nobody is talking about the history of this place, or the bodies, or the culture here?”

When fantasy isn’t

Now, to be clear, I don’t expect Ubisoft to make a game where you learn facts about helicopters while you shoot your way through the Air and Space Museum, or where you engage in philosophical conversation with the head of a band of marauders rather than lob grenades and corrosive goo in their general direction. (I kind of like both those ideas, though.)

But the dedication with which the company has avoided any kind of reality whatsoever is troubling.

We live in a time when people are taking what they call justice into their own hands by shooting others with weapons intended for warfare; when paramilitary groups are defending their strongholds with deadly force; when biological agents are being deployed against citizenry; when governments are surveilling and tracking people via controversial AI systems; when the leaders of that government are making unpopular and ethically fraught decisions without the knowledge of their constituency.

Ultimate EDC simulator

This game enthusiastically endorses all of the previous ideas with the naive justification that you’re the good guys. Of course you’re the good guys — everyone claims they’re the good guys! But objectively speaking, you’re a secret government hit squad killing whoever you’re told to, primarily other citizens. Ironically, despite being called an agent, you have no agency — you are a walking gun doing the bidding of a government that has almost entirely dissolved. What could possibly go wrong? The Division 2 certainly makes no effort to explore this.

The superficiality of the story I could excuse if it didn’t rely so strongly on using the real world as set dressing for its paramilitary dress-up-doll fantasy.

Basing your game in a real world location is, I think, a fabulous idea. But in doing so, especially if as part of the process you imply the death of millions, a developer incurs a responsibility to do more than use that location as level geometry.

The Division 2 instead uses these deaths and the most important places in D.C. literally as props. Nothing you do ever has anything to do with what the place is except in the loosest way. While you visit morgues and improvised mass graves piled with body bags, you never see anyone dead or dying… unless you kill them.

It’s hard to explain what I find so distasteful about this. It’s a combination of the obvious emphasis on the death of innocents, in a brute-force attempt to create emotional and political relevance, with the utterly vacuous violence you fill that world with. It feels disrespectful to itself, to the setting, to set a piece of media so incredibly dumb and mute in a disaster so credible and relevant.

This was a deliberate decision, to rob the game of any relevance — a marketing decision. To destroy D.C. — that sells. To write a story or design gameplay that in any way reflects why that destruction resonates — that doesn’t sell. “We cannot be openly political in our games,” said Alf Condelius, the COO of the studio that created the game, in a talk before the game’s release. Doing so, he said, would be “bad for business, unfortunately, if you want the honest truth.” I can’t be the only one who feels this to be a cop-out of pretty grand proportions, with the truth riding on its coattails.

Perhaps you think I’m holding game developers to an unreasonable standard. But I believe they are refusing to raise the bar themselves when they easily could and should. The level of detail in the world is amazing, and it was clearly designed by people who understand what could happen should disaster strike. The bodies piled in labs, the desolation of a city overtaken by nature, the perfect reproductions of landmarks — an enormous amount of effort and money was put into this part of the game.

On the other hand, it’s incredibly obvious from the get-go that very, very little attention was paid to the story and characters, the dialogue, the actual choices you can make as a player (there are none to speak of). There is no way to interact with people except to shoot them, or for them to tell you who to shoot. There is no mention of politics, of parties, of race or religion. I feel sure more time was spent modeling the guns — which, by the way, are real licensed models — than the main “characters,” though it must have been time-consuming to so completely to purge those characters of any ideas or opinions that could possibly reflect the real world.

One tragedy please, hold the relevance

This is deliberate. There’s no way this could have happened unless Ubisoft, from the start, made it clear that the game was to be divorced from the real world in every way except those that were deemed marketable.

That this is what they considerable marketable is a sad sort of indictment of the people they are selling this game to. The prospect of inserting oneself into a sort of justified vigilante role where you rain hot righteous lead on these generic villains trampling our great flag seems to be a special catnip concoction Ubisoft thought would appeal to millions — millions who (or more importantly, whose wallets) might be chilled by the idea of a story that actually takes on the societal issues that would be at play in a disaster like this one. We got the game we deserved, I suppose.

Say what you will about the narrative quality of campaigns of Call of Duty and Battlefield, but they at least attempt to engage with the content they are exploiting to sell the game. World War II is marketable because it’s the worst thing that ever happened and destroyed the lives of millions in a violent and dramatic way. Imagine building a photorealistic reproduction of wartime Stalingrad, or Paris, or Berlin, and then filling it not with Axis and Allied forces but simplified and palatable goodies and baddies with no particular ethos or history.

I certainly don’t mean to equate the theoretical destruction of D.C. with the Holocaust and WWII, but as perhaps the most popular period and venue for shooters like this, it’s the obvious comparison to make thematically, and what one finds is that however poor the story of a given WWII game, it inevitably attempts to emphasize and grapple with the enormity of the events you are experiencing. That’s the kind of responsibility I think you take on when you illustrate your game with the real world — even a fantasy version of the real world.

Furthermore Ubisoft has accepted that it must take some political stances, such as the inclusion of same-sex player-NPC relationships in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey — not controversial to me and many others, certainly, but hardly an apolitical inclusion in the present global political landscape. (I applaud them for this, by the way, and many others have as well.) It’s arguable this is not “overt” in that Kassandra and Alexios don’t break the first wall to advocate for marriage equality, but I think it is deliberately and unapologetically espousing a stance on a politically and societally charged issue.

It seems it is not that the company cannot be overtly political, but that it decided in this case that to be political on issues of guns, the military, terrorism, and so on was too much of a risk. To me that is in itself a political choice.

I do think Ubisoft is a fantastic company and makes wonderful games — but I also think the decision to completely divorce a game with fundamentally political underpinnings from the real politics and humanitarian conditions that empower it is a sad and spineless decision that makes them look both avaricious and inhumane. I know they can do better because others already have and do.

The Division 2 is a good game as far as games go. But games, like movies, TV, and other media, are very much art now, deserving of criticism as to their ideas as well as their controls and graphics; and as art, The Division 2 is as much a barren wasteland scoured of humanity as the D.C. it depicts.

Powered by WPeMatico

In a challenge to Twitch and YouTube, Facebook adds ‘Gaming’ to its main navigation

Posted by | Facebook, Fb.gg, games, Gaming, Hub, Mobile, Social, streaming, Twitch | No Comments

Facebook’s gaming efforts and challenge to Twitch are taking another big leap today, as the social network begins the initial rollout of a dedicated Facebook Gaming tab in the main navigation of Facebook’s app. The goal with the new addition is to help people more easily find games, streamers and gaming groups they follow, as well as discover new content, based on their interests.

After clicking the new Gaming tab, there will be a feed of content that points to instant games you can play with friends; videos to watch from top streamers, esports organizations and game publishers; and updates from your various gaming groups, the company says.

The new Facebook Gaming tab builds on the gaming video destination the site launched last year as Fb.gg. That hub had offered a collection of all the video games streaming on Facebook, and a way for gamers and fans to interact. As a top-level navigation item, Facebook’s new Gaming tab will now further extend the gaming hub’s reach.

While Twitch and YouTube are today dominating the gaming space, Facebook’s advantage — beyond its scale — is its promise of a reduced cut of transactions. On Fb.gg, gamers were able to attract new fans with the aid of Facebook’s personalized recommendations based on users’ activity, and then monetize those viewers through a virtual tipping mechanism.

Facebook’s cut of those tips ranges from 5 to 30 percent, with the cut getting smaller when users buy larger packs of the virtual currency. Meanwhile, Facebook’s fan subscriptions payments for streamers also see it taking a cut of up to 30 percent, the same as YouTube but smaller than Twitch’s roughly 50 percent.

That could potentially attract streamers who want to maximize their earnings and believe they can port their audience over to a new destination. Of course, some streamers may not trust Facebook to maintain those same percentages over time, nor believe it will ever offer the sorts of features and innovations that a more focused gaming destination like Twitch can.

Facebook also last year experimented with making its gaming hub mobile with the launch of Fb.gg as a standalone mobile app.

The app, like the web-based gaming hub, offered a way for gamers and fans to discover content, join communities and even play instant games like Everwing, Words with Friends, Basketball FRVR and others.

However, the strategy of keeping Facebook’s Gaming efforts more separated from Facebook’s main site may not have paid off — the Fb.gg Android app, for example, only has some 100,000+ installs according to Google Play.

Instead, much like YouTube recently decided, Facebook will now leverage the power of its platform to boost interest in its gaming content.

YouTube in September said it was giving its Gaming hub a new home right on the YouTube homepage, and would shut down its standalone Gaming app. (The latter doesn’t seem to have occurred, however). As YouTube noted, gaming was a popular category, but the majority of viewers weren’t looking for a separate app or experience — they were just visiting YouTube directly.

Similarly, Facebook today says that more than 700 million people play games, watch gaming videos or engage in gaming groups on Facebook. That’s a far larger number than those who downloaded the Fb.gg app, and surely a much larger number than those who have been visiting the Fb.gg destination directly.

That said, Facebook is continuing its tests on mobile with a standalone (rebranded) Facebook Gaming app on Android, which will have more features that the Gaming tab.

Facebook says it will roll out the Gaming tab to a subset of the more than 700 million Facebook game fans, and will expand it over time to more gaming enthusiasts across the network. If you don’t see the new tab in your main navigation bar, you can still find it by going to the Bookmarks menu on Facebook.

Powered by WPeMatico

App stores to pass $122B in 2019, with gaming and subscriptions driving growth

Posted by | App Annie, app stores, app-store, Apps, games, Gaming, Media, Mobile, mobile video | No Comments

Mobile intelligence and data firm App Annie is today releasing its 2019 predictions for the worldwide app economy, including its forecast around consumer spending, gaming, the subscription market and other highlights. Most notably, it expects the worldwide gross consumer spend in apps — meaning before the app stores take their own cut — to surpass $122 billion next year, which is double the size of the global box office market, for comparison’s sake.

According to the new forecast, the worldwide app store consumer spend will grow five times as fast as the overall global economy next year.

But the forecast also notes that “consumer spend” — which refers to the money consumers spend on apps and through in-app purchases — is only one metric to track the apps stores’ growth and revenue potential.

Mobile spending is also expected to continue growing for both in-app advertising and commerce — that is, the transactions that take place outside of the app stores in apps like Uber, Amazon and Starbucks, for example.

Specifically, mobile will account for 62 percent of global digital ad spend in 2019, representing $155 billion, up from 50 percent in 2017. In addition, 60 percent more mobile apps will monetize through in-app ads in 2019.

Mobile gaming to reach 60% market share

As in previous years, mobile gaming is contributing to the bulk of the growth in consumer spending, the report says.

Mobile gaming, which continues to be the fastest growing form of gaming, matured further this year with apps like Fortnite and PUBG, says App Annie . These games “drove multiplayer game mechanics that put them on par with real-time strategy and shooter games on PC/Mac and Consoles in a way that hadn’t been done before,” the firm said.

They also helped push forward a trend toward cross-platform gaming, and App Annie expects that to continue in 2019 with more games becoming less siloed.

However, the gaming market won’t just be growing because of experiences like PUBG and Fortnite. “Hyper-casual” games — that is, those with very simple gameplay — will also drive download growth in 2019.

Over the course of the next year, consumer spend in mobile gaming will reach 60 percent market share across all major platforms, including PC, Mac, console, handheld and mobile.

China will remain a major contributor to overall app store consumer spend, including mobile gaming, but there may be a slight deceleration of their impact next year due to the game licensing freeze. In August, Bloomberg reported China’s regulators froze approval of game licenses amid a government shake-up. The freeze impacted the entire sector, from large players like internet giant Tencent to smaller developers.

If the freeze continues in 2019, App Annie believes Chinese firms will push toward international expansion and M&A activity could result.

App Annie is also predicting one breakout gaming hit for 2019: Niantic’s Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which it believes will exceed $100 million in consumer spend in its first 30 days. Niantic’s Pokémon GO, by comparison, cleared $100 million in its first two weeks and became the fastest game to reach $1 billion in consumer spend.

But App Annie isn’t going so far as to predict Harry Potter will do better than Pokémon GO, which tapped into consumer nostalgia and was a first-to-market mainstream AR gaming title.

Mobile video streaming

Another significant trend ahead for the new year is the growth in video streaming apps, fueled by in-app subscriptions.

Today, the average person consumers more than 7.5 hours of media per day, including watching, listening, reading or posting. Next year, 10 minutes of every hour will be spent consuming media across TV and internet will come from streaming video on mobile, the forecast says.

The total time in video streaming apps will increase 110 percent from 2016 to 2019, with consumer spend in entertainment apps up by 520 percent over that same period. Most of those revenues will come from the growth in in-app subscriptions.

Much of the time consumers spend streaming will come from short-form video apps like YouTube, TikTok and social apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

YouTube alone accounts for 4 out of every 5 minutes spent in the top 10 video streaming apps, today. But 2019 will see many changes, including the launch of Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, for example.

App Annie’s full report, which details ad creatives and strategies as well, is available on its blog.

Powered by WPeMatico

Microsoft’s game streaming service Mixer adds more ways for streamers to make money

Posted by | game streaming, games, Gaming, Microsoft, mixer, streaming | No Comments

Microsoft today is rolling out a new version of its game streaming service, Mixer, which it’s calling “Season 2” to reflect the fact that the changes are ongoing, not a one-day release. The company says it’s specifically investing in new areas around expression, monetization and creator communities.

The first of these, called Skills, are focused on giving users more ways to participate in chats with stickers and GIFs, and other screen effects that remind you a bit of those you’d find on iMessage. For example, there are celebratory fireworks and confetti to be tossed around, as well as a beach ball that the community members can keep bouncing.

Streamers will like these, too, as it helps them make money.

“Every time you use a Skill on a partner’s channel, it supports that partner financially,” Microsoft says.

It also says the selection of Skills will be updated regularly, going forward.

Another addition is a way to support favorite streamers via “Sparks,” which are earned by watching streams. These can then be spent on Skills and help partnered streamers reach milestones that translate to cash payouts.

Some high-value Skills will be purchased using a new virtual currency, Mixer Embers. These are the next step up from Sparks, and gives fans’ favorite streamers direct financial rewards.

In 2019, Microsoft says it will also introduce the Mixer progression system, to better reflect a community member’s status, beyond just how much they’ve contributed financially. The system will reward a viewer’s engagement with a streamer’s community and Mixer as a whole, and allows members to “level up” by participating in chat, using Skills and earning Applause from others.

Mixer is also rolling out improved video capabilities with the enabling of automatic bitrate switching, more options for use of FTL streaming and the addition of a feature for reporting any video-specific issues.

Skills and Sparks Patronage on Mixer are live now, with Mixer Embers and Progression arriving in the weeks and months ahead.

The changes fall on the heels of Twitch’s annual conference, TwitchCon, where it announced its own set of new features, including new ways for streamers to grow, connect with their community and monetize. Standouts included the launch of group streaming and a karaoke game, as well as changes to badges, new moderation tools and the expansion of sponsored opportunities.

Powered by WPeMatico