Gaming

Free to play games rule the entertainment world with $88 billion in revenue

Posted by | fortnite, free to play, Gaming, TC | No Comments

They may be free, but they sure pay. Games with no upfront cost but a plethora of other ways to make money generated a mind-blowing $88 billion in 2018 according to SuperData’s year-end report — leaving traditional games (and indeed movies and TV) in the dust.

While it may not come as a surprise that F2P (as free to play is often abbreviated) is big business at the end of 2018, the Year of Fortnite, the sheer size of it can hardly fail to impress.

The total gaming market, as this report measures it, amounts to a staggering $110 billion, of which more than half (about $61 billion) came from mobile, which is of course the natural home of the F2P platform.

Credit: SuperData

The $88 billion in F2P revenue across all platforms is large enough to produce a dynamite top 10 and an enormously long tail. Fortnite, with its huge following and multi-platform chops, was far and away the top earner with $2.4 billion in revenue; after that is a jumble of PC, mobile, Asian and Western games of a variety of styles. The top 10 together brought in a total of $14.6 billion — leaving a king’s ransom for thousands of other titles to divide.

The vast majority of F2P revenue comes from Asia. Powerhouse companies like Tencent have been pushing their many microtransaction-based games

“Traditional” gaming, a term that is rapidly losing meaning and relevance, but which we can take to mean a game that you can pay perhaps $60 for and then play without significant further investment, amounted to about $16 billion across PCs and consoles worldwide.

An exception is the immensely popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, one of the hits that touched off the “battle royale” craze, which took in a billion on its own — though how much of that is sales versus microtransactions isn’t clear. Amazingly, Grand Theft Auto V, a game that came out five years ago, generated some $628 million last year (mostly from its online portion, no doubt).

The top titles there are nearly all parts of a series, and all lean heavily toward the Western and console-based, with only pennies (comparatively) going to Asian markets. China is a whole different world when it comes to gaming and distribution, so this isn’t too surprising.

Lastly, it would be neglectful not to mention the explosion of viewership on YouTube and Twitch, which together formed half of all gaming video revenue, with Twitch ahead by a considerable margin. But the real winner is Ninja, by far the most-watched streamer on Twitch with an astonishing 218 million hours watched by fans. Congratulations to him and the others making a living in this strange and fabulous new market.

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Netflix thinks ‘Fortnite’ is a bigger threat than HBO

Posted by | fortnite, Gaming, Media, Mobile, Netflix | No Comments

Netflix thinks “Fortnite” is a bigger threat to its business than HBO. The company in its latest quarterly earnings report released on Thursday said that while its streaming service now accounts for around 10 percent of TV screen time in the U.S., it no longer views its competition only as those services also providing TV content and streaming video.

“We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO,” the company’s shareholder letter stated. “When YouTube went down globally for a few minutes in October, our viewing and signups spiked for that time…There are thousands of competitors in this highly fragmented market vying to entertain consumers and low barriers to entry for those with great experiences.”

In other words, Netflix today sees its competition as anyone in the business of entertaining their customers, and eating up their hours of free time in the process. That includes breakout gaming hits like “Fortnite.”

Netflix’s statement comes at a time when the internet, mobile and gaming have been shifting consumer’s focus and attention away from watching TV.

In fact, all the way back in 2012, mobile industry experts were warning that time spent in mobile apps was beginning to challenge television. And a few years ago, apps finally came out on top. For the first time ever, time spent inside apps exceeded that of TV.

Fortnite, in particular, has capitalized on this change in consumer behavior and has now grown to more than 200 million players. (Netflix just reached 139 million, for comparison’s sake.)

In 2018, Fortnite — along with other multiplayer games like PUBG — pushed forward a trend toward cross-platform gaming that’s capable of reaching consumers wherever they are, similar to streaming apps like Netflix. According to a recent report from App Annie, this is just the tip of the iceberg, too. Cross-platform gaming, including not only Fortnite and PUBG, but also whatever comes next, is poised to grow even further in 2019.

Notably, Fortnite, too, has become a place where you don’t just go to play — but rather “hang out.” For kids and young adults, the game has replaced the mall or other parts of the city where kids and teens just go to be around friends and socialize, wrote tech writer Owen Williams on his blog Charged.

“Not only is Fortnite the new hangout spot, replacing the mall, Starbucks or just loitering in the city, it’s become the coveted ‘third place’ for millions of people around the world,” he said.

Roblox, with it over 70 million players, serves a similar purpose.

That means it’s also a real threat to Netflix’s time. If gamers are hanging around a virtual space with friends, they have less time to stream TV. (And perhaps — given that many of the youngest Netflix never got cable to begin with — less desire to watch TV to begin with.)

“I think about it really is as winning time away, entertainment time from other activities,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on Thursday, discussing the threat from those competing for users’ time. “So, instead of doing Xbox or Fortnite or YouTube or HBO or a long list, we want to win and provide a better experience. No advertising on demand. Incredible content,” he said.

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Niantic finalizes its Series C at $245M with a valuation of nearly $4B

Posted by | funding, Gaming, niantic, pokemon, TC | No Comments

We’ve known since around December that Niantic (the company behind Pokémon GO and the soon to be released Harry Potter Wizards Unite) was in the middle of raising a ton of money for its Series C round. At the time, it looked like it’d come in around $200 million.

The company has just officially announced the round, disclosing the final amount: $245 million.

Niantic says that the round was led by IVP, and backed by aXiomatic Gaming, Battery Ventures, Causeway Media Partners, CRV and Samsung Ventures. They also confirmed that the company’s current valuation is “nearly” $4 billion, as rumored when word of the round was first floating around.

This raise comes just as Niantic is plotting its next steps, post overwhelming Pokémon success. It’s just about to launch another game based on massively nostalgic IP with Wizards Unite, all while working on slowly opening up its armory of AR frameworks (and its massive database of locational points of interest) for third-party developers to build upon.

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Consolidation is coming to gaming, and Jam City raises $145 million to capitalize on it

Posted by | App Annie, Bank of America, Chris DeWolfe, computing, Disney, Electronic Arts, Europe, Facebook, Gaming, helsinki, jam city, King, Los Angeles, mobile game, Pixar, Recent Funding, silicon valley bank, Software, Startups, TC, toronto, United States, Zynga | No Comments

A slew of banks are coming together to back a new roll-up strategy for the Los Angeles-based mobile gaming studio Jam City and giving the company $145 million in new funding to carry that out.

There’s no word on whether the new money is in equity or debt, but what is certain is that JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and syndicate partners, including Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Bank, are all involved in the deal.

“In a global mobile games market that is consolidating, Jam City could not be more proud to be working with JPMorgan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Group to strategically support the financing of our acquisition and growth plans,” said Chris DeWolfe, co-founder and CEO of Jam City. “This $145 million in new financing empowers Jam City to further our position as a global industry consolidator. As we grow our global business, we are honored to be working alongside such prestigious advisers who share Jam City’s mission of delivering joy to people everywhere through unique and deeply engaging mobile games.”

The new money comes after a few years of speculation on whether Jam City would be the next big Los Angeles-based startup company to file for an initial public offering. It also follows a new agreement with Disney to develop mobile games based on intellectual property coming from all corners of the mouse house — a sweet cache of intellectual property ranging from Pixar, to Marvel, to traditional Disney characters.

Jam City is coming off a strong year of company growth. The Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game, which launched last year, became the company’s fastest title to hit $100 million in revenue.

Add that to the company’s expansion into new markets with strategic acquisitions to fuel development and growth in Toronto and Bogota and it’s clear that the company is looking to make more moves in 2019.

Jam City already holds intellectual property for a new game built on Disney’s “Frozen 2,” the company’s newly acquired Fox Studio assets like “Family Guy” and the Harry Potter property. Add that to its own Cookie Jam and Panda Pop properties and it seems like the company is ready to make moves.

Meanwhile, games are quickly becoming the go-to revenue driver for the entertainment industry. According to data collected by Newzoo, mobile games revenue reached a record $63.2 billion worldwide in 2018, representing roughly 47 percent of the total revenue for the gaming industry in the year. That number could reach $81.3 billion by 2020, the Newzoo data suggests.

Roughly half of the U.S. plays mobile games, and they’re spending significant dollars on those games in app stores. App Annie suggests that roughly 75 percent of the money spent in app stores over the past decade has been spent on mobile games. And consumers are expected to spend roughly $129 billion in app stores over the next year. The data and analytics firm suggests that mobile gaming will capture some 60 percent of the overall gaming market in 2019, as well.

All of that bodes well for the industry as a whole, and points to why Jam City is looking to consolidate. And the company isn’t the only mobile games studio making moves.

The publicly traded games studio Zynga, which rose to fame initially on the back of Facebook’s gaming platform, recently expanded its European footprint with the late-December acquisition of the Helsinki-based gaming studio Small Giant Games.

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Fortnite bugs put accounts at risk of takeover

Posted by | computer security, cryptography, fortnite, Gaming, Hack, hacking, Password, Prevention, Security, security breaches, software testing, spokesperson, vulnerability | No Comments

With one click, any semi-skilled hacker could have silently taken over a Fortnite account, according to a cybersecurity firm that says the bug is now fixed.

Researchers at Check Point say the three vulnerabilities chained together could have affected any of its 200 million players. The flaws, if exploited, would have stolen the account access token set on the gamer’s device once they entered their password.

Once stolen, that token could be used to impersonate the gamer and log in as if they were the account holder, without needing their password.

The researchers say that the flaw lies in how Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, handles login requests. Researchers said they could send any user a crafted link that appears to come from Epic Games’ own domain and steal an access token needed to break into an account.

Check Point’s Oded Vanunu explains how the bug works. (Image: supplied)

“It’s important to remember that the URL is coming from an Epic Games domain, so it’s transparent to the user and any security filter will not suspect anything,” said Oded Vanunu, Check Point’s head of products vulnerability research, in an email to TechCrunch.

Here’s how it works: The user clicks on a link, which points to an epicgames.com subdomain, which the hacker embeds a link to malicious code on their own server by exploiting a cross-site weakness in the subdomain. Once the malicious script loads, unbeknownst to the Fortnite player, it steals their account token and sends it back to the hacker.

“If the victim user is not logged into the game, he or she would have to log in first,” said Vanunu. “Once that person is logged in, the account can be stolen.”

Epic Games has since fixed the vulnerability.

“We were made aware of the vulnerabilities and they were soon addressed,” said Nick Chester, a spokesperson for Epic Games. “We thank Check Point for bringing this to our attention.”

“As always, we encourage players to protect their accounts by not re-using passwords and using strong passwords, and not sharing account information with others,” he said.

When asked, Epic Games would not say if user data or accounts were compromised as a result of this vulnerability.

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The Sims gets its own in-game Alexa-style assistant, Lin-Z

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, ea, Gaming, The Sims | No Comments

There’s nothing like The Sims to log off from reality for a bit. Getting away from the increasingly ubiquitous world of smart assistants, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. EA announced this week that the perennial favorite life simulation series is getting its very own smart assistant.

Lin-Z is a lot like an in-game version of Alexa — or, for that matter, Google Assistant or Siri or Bixby or Cortana, et al. Accessed via a smart speaker with a familiar glowing green diamond, the assistant can play music, do trivia, tell jokes, turns lights on and off (smart home!) and order different services, like food, gardening and repair.

That feature is available this week in The Sims 4 for PC and Mac. Fittingly, the real Alexa is also getting a bunch of Sims-related skills, including trivia and the ability to play songs from the game’s soundtrack. That one’s available for users in Australia, Canada, India, the U.S. and the U.K., for those looking to further blur the lines of reality.

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Improbable urges Unity to unsuspend their license, rectify ‘farcical’ situation for developers

Posted by | Gaming, improbable, unity | No Comments

Improbable may be pissed at Unity, but they still want them back.

In a blog post titled “A final statement on SpatialOS and Unity,” the team at the cloud gaming startup aimed to tell their side of the story and implored Unity to “clarify their terms or unsuspend our licenses.”

Unity is a game engine that developers use to create, among other things, games. Improbable offers a cloud solution to developers that basically enables large multiplayer online gameplay by rendering the game worlds across multiple servers on its SpatialOS platform.

Yesterday, Improbable announced that Unity had terminated their game engine access and that developers that used SpatialOS were in danger of losing their work. Unity responded that live and in-development games were fine and that Improbable was in violation of their new terms of service and needed to negotiate a new partnership.

In the new blog post, Improbable doesn’t mince words, saying it “still has all its Unity license and access suspended. We cannot easily fix bugs, improve the service or really support our customers without being in a legal grey area. Anyone who has ever run a live game knows this is a farcical situation that puts games at risk.”

Last night, Improbable appeared to leverage their relation with rival engine-maker Epic Games to put the heat on Unity, creating a $25 million fund with the gaming giant to help developers move to “more open engines,” a pretty transparent knock on Unity.

Improbable now seems to be claiming that Unity basically changed the rules on them and was trying to bully them into a deal that none of their other partners have requested.

“We do not require any direct technical cooperation with an engine provider to offer our services – Crytek, Epic and all other providers clearly allow interoperability without commercial arrangement with cloud platforms. We have no formal technical arrangements there and have not required any with Unity for years.”

Losing Unity support is a huge blow to Improbable, which has raised $600 million largely on the promise that it can revolutionize online gaming, something that would prove difficult to do without one of the largest available game engines.

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Epic Games receives an ‘F’ from the Better Business Bureau

Posted by | epic games, fortnite, Gaming, TC | No Comments

The Fortnite community may be polite, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting the customer service they deserve. The Better Business Bureau gave Fortnite maker Epic Games an “F,” the lowest possible grade.

The Better Business Bureau, which is not a government agency but rather a national network of nonprofits that measures how well businesses handle dispute resolution and relays that information to customers, says that 247 of 271 BBB complaints filed in the last year have gone unanswered by Epic.

An Epic spokesperson told Kotaku that “Epic Games is not affiliated with the Better Business Bureau and has redirected all player submitted complaints from the BBB to our Player Support staff.”

Kotaku points out that the BBB isn’t necessarily above reproach. TIME reported in 2013 that the one branch of the BBB based in Los Angeles had been involved in a pay-to-play scheme:

While the BBB offers consumers many services—lists of popular scams to watch out for and such—the organization’s mission isn’t to have your back. From top to bottom, the BBB is funded by the annual dues paid by businesses it anoints with “accreditation,” which allows the companies to put those iconic BBB stamps of approval on their storefronts and websites. This fact raises obvious questions about an inherent conflict of interest: The organization’s customers are businesses, not taxpayers or consumers. How can the BBB serve as an honest broker between businesses and consumers when it is fully funded by one of these parties? Many argue that it cannot — that there’s a natural incentive to paint its paying clients in the best possible light.

Epic Games is not accredited with the Better Business Bureau.

Here’s what the BBB had to say about its rating for Epic Games:

Epic Games is the creator of a number of well-known games that have a global following; in addition to Fortnite and Infinity Blade, they make Unreal, Gears of War, and Shadow Complex. The company has grown significantly in the past twelve months, and their most popular game, Fortnite, currently boasts more than 6 million followers on Twitter. A majority of complaints submitted to BBB against Epic Games deal with customer service and refund or exchange issues. One complainant wrote, “Epic Games failed to protect customer security, resulting in several unsanctioned charges over mine and my partner’s account.” Another complainant added that, “There is no phone number or proper email response time to return my unauthorized charge of $160. Nobody will answer, and I feel cheated.”

Epic has also had issues with account hacking on Fortnite, which has led the company to incentivize two-factor authentication on accounts by offering a special emote.

Though we are moving to an increasingly digital age, with email, Twitter and live-chat customer service growing more prevalent, there are certain instances where customers may feel they need to speak to another human being about their issue. Account hacking and unauthorized charges are two such situations, and the Epic Games support page doesn’t list a phone number, but rather asks customers to look up their question within a support FAQ or email.

We reached out to Epic Games but haven’t heard back.

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Improbable and Epic Games establish $25M fund to help devs move to ‘more open engines’ after Unity debacle

Posted by | epic games, Gaming, improbable, unity, unreal engine | No Comments

Improbable is taking a daring step after announcing earlier today that Unity had revoked its license to operate on the popular game development engine.

The U.K.-based cloud gaming startup has inked a late-night press release with Unity rival Epic Games, which operates the Unreal Engine and is the creator of Fortnite, establishing a $25 million fund designed to help game developers move to “more open engines.”

An incoming blog post penned by Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney and Improbable CEO Herman Narula reads, in part:

To assist developers who are left in limbo by the new engine and service incompatibilities that were introduced today, Epic Games and Improbable are together establishing a US $25,000,000 combined fund to help developers transition to more open engines, services, and ecosystems. This funding will come from a variety of sources including Unreal Dev Grants, Improbable developer assistance funds, and Epic Games store funding.

This is pretty bold on Improbable’s part and seems to suggest that Unity didn’t give them a call after Improbable published a blog post that signed off with, “You [Unity] are an incredibly important company and one bad day doesn’t take away from all you’ve given us. Let’s fix this for our community, you know our number.”

Unity, for its part, claims that they gave Improbable ample notice that they were in violation of their Terms of Service and that the two had been deep in a “partnership” agreement that obviously fell short. The termination of Improbable’s Unity license essentially cut them off from a huge portion of indie developers who build their stuff on Unity.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney was quick to jump on the news earlier today, rebuking Unity’s actions.

This highlights a point: In the ecosystem like Unreal, Unity or Godot, companies live and die by the ground rules that are established. Devs have put years of their lives into building something, and nothing is worse than changing the rules and confiscating their investments.

— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) January 10, 2019

“Epic Games’ partnership with Improbable, and the integration of Improbable’s cloud-based development platform SpatialOS, is based on shared values, and a shared belief in how companies should work together to support mutual customers in a straightforward, no-surprises way,” the blog post reads.

In a way this is a positive development for Improbable, suggesting that Epic Games is committed to sticking with the startup, but at the same time, one wonders how Unity and Improbable’s relationship managed to sour so quickly based on what’s been said publicly today.

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A Pong table managed to wow CES 2019

Posted by | CES 2019, Gaming, hardware, Pong | No Comments

That’s not the kind of headline one expects to write going into the week. But here we are. Universal Space’s analog Pong table is a mindblower in a whole unexpected way. The tabletop machine goes more retro than retro by bring pong into the real world through the magic of magnets (some day, perhaps, we’ll discover how they work).

There’s a square “ball” and a pair of rectangular paddles on either side, moved back and forth by spinning a wheel. Like the classic game, spinning faster and hitting corners puts a little English on it, as they say in billiards. Players score by striking the opposite side the ball. From there, you tap an orange arcade button to fire it back.

It’s really a thing to behold — even more so in single player mode, where the machine controls the other panel. You’ve got easy, medium and hard options for that. I’d start off slow, because there’s a bit of a noticeable lag that takes some getting used to.

It’s a neat parlor trick, and one that will almost certainly get party guests excited. It’ll cost you, though — $3,000 to be precise. The arcade model is an additional $1,500. It’s a lot to pay for what feels like a kind of one trick pony. Like the original Pong, it’s hard to imagine it holding one’s attention long enough to justify the price.

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