video games

3 lessons from Roblox’s growth to gaming dominance

Posted by | david baszucki, EC-1, Facebook, Gaming, Media, mobile gaming, Nintendo, online games, Roblox, Software, Startups, Venture Capital, video games, Virtual reality | No Comments

Our recently published EC-1 on Roblox recounts the origin story and growth prospects of the company. But there’s one more piece to the story: what Roblox’s impact will be on gaming and the broader startup industry, if the company manages to multiply its current 90 million users.

roblox maus 1

Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox

We’ve distilled three key ideas out of the EC-1 — lessons that may apply not only to game developers and gaming entrepreneurs, but also to the broader startup industry.

Lesson 1: UGC is a missed opportunity in games

Roblox has shown that user-generated content (UGC) is a missed opportunity for much of the game industry. The company aspires, in a way, to be the YouTube of games. And it is succeeding, with 50 million experiences from 2 million creators to date.

The game industry generally has two problems with UGC. One is the games themselves: AAA games today are too complex, and lack the flexibility and simplicity needed for robust UGC. Roblox shows that a simpler look and feel is a valid alternative to today’s super-sized, beautiful AAA games. (Minecraft proved much the same.)

The other problem is the greater complexity of making games than, say, videos or music. Roblox solved this problem by building its own game engine, which is designed solely to output Roblox-style experiences.

But increasingly, engines like Unity are capable of accomplishing similar feats: games are getting easier to build. It’s now possible that savvy entrepreneurs could build a platform like Roblox, without building an entire game engine.

Lesson 2: New opportunities in gaming are still coming

The game industry is infamously cyclical. New platforms emerge, become promising, then grow overcrowded and competitive. Usually, this cycle relates to hardware (the iPhone, virtual reality helmets, game consoles like the Nintendo Switch) or massive changes in consumer behavior (the emergence of Facebook, the early growth of the internet). But Roblox, a pure software play, shows that exceptions could exist.

It’s still early days. Roblox reported that it paid out $30 million to game developers in 2017, doubling to $60 million in 2018. Developers receive a quarter of the revenue made from their games, with another quarter covering payment processing and another quarter covering cloud hosting. Its top 10 developers made about $3 million on average each. Seven of its games have also entered a “billion plays” club:

Adopt Me, a newer game, hit 440,000 concurrent users in June, a new record for the platform.

When a new platform appears, it’s usually found by amateur developers first. That’s certainly the case with Roblox: its successes are being created almost exclusively by first-time game developers in their teens and twenties. At some point, professional developers are likely to conclude they can do at least as well. The current market is particularly exciting because many games are fairly simple and lightweight — recent breakout hits like Camping 2 and Weight Lifting Simulator 3 are significantly smaller than comparable games on other platforms.

For entrepreneurs interested in creating new platforms or portals Roblox’s success as a combined game engine and self-contained platform also shows that opportunities still exist — if you have the patience to wait for them to mature.

Lesson 3: Patience can create amazing growth cycles

It took Roblox 15 years to grow to its current point. But most of that growth is recent: as seen in the chart above, Roblox experienced 10x growth in about 3 years, from 9 million users in February 2016 to 90 million in April 2019.

So what went into the decade or so during which Roblox was a much smaller platform? As we tell it in the origin story: a great deal of work, and very little paid acquisition.

In its early years, Roblox did buy users, to seed a user base while it worked on an impossibly large vision that included a game engine, platform, social features, a creator community, and its own games. But after a few years, it stopped buying users.

All of its growth since has been organic. That’s from two main sources: word of mouth, and YouTube users who watch one of the many Roblox streamers. Of course, any company can try to do the same. But Roblox had the patience to build a unique product — one which took years of work to even reach partial completion.

The key to it all was long-term adherence to a long-term goal: the creation of a new category, which it calls “human coexperience”. Today, Roblox still can’t be called part of a new category; it’s a game platform. But with more years of work, it may eventually get there.

For more on the Roblox story, see Part 1: The Origin Story, and Part 2: The Business Plan.

Update: TechCrunch corrected “2 million experiences” to be 50 million experiences from 2 million creators. We also provided more context of the revenue breakdown of payments made on Roblox to developers.

Powered by WPeMatico

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

Posted by | Activision, Apple, Apps, Atlassian, Club-Penguin, Computer games, dave baszucki, David Sze, EC-1, engineering, Facebook, Friendster, funding, Fundings & Exits, fundraising tactics, Gaming, Google, Greylock Partners, Growth, growth tactics, Habbo-Hotel, IMVU, king.com, Kongregate, Mark Zuckerberg, Media, Metaplace, Mojang, MySpace, Roblox, Second-Life, Startups, TC, video games, Virtual reality, Windows | No Comments

There are successful companies that grow fast and garner tons of press. Then there’s Roblox, a company which took at least a decade to hit its stride and has, relative to its current level of success, barely gotten any recognition or attention.

Why has Roblox’s story gone mostly untold? One reason is that it emerged from a whole generation of gaming portals and platforms. Some, like King.com, got lucky or pivoted their business. Others by and large failed.

Once companies like Facebook, Apple and Google got to the gaming scene, it just looked like a bad idea to try to build your own platform — and thus not worth talking about. Added to that, founder and CEO Dave Baszucki seems uninterested in press.

But overall, the problem has been that Roblox just seemed like an insignificant story for many, many years. The company had millions of users, sure. So did any number of popular games. In its early days, Roblox even looked like Minecraft, a game that was released long after Roblox went live, but that grew much, much faster.

Yet here we are today: Roblox now claims that half of all American children aged 9-12 are on its platform. It has jumped to 90 million monthly unique users and is poised to go international, potentially multiplying that number. And it’s unique. Essentially all other distribution services offering games through a portal have eventually fizzled, aside from some distant cousins like Steam.

This is the story of how Roblox not only survived, but built a thriving platform.

Seeds of an idea

GettyImages 1027412388

(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Before Roblox, there was Knowledge Revolution, a company that made teaching software. While designed to allow students to simulate physics experiments, perhaps predictably, they also treated it like a game.

“The fun seemed to be in building your own experiment,” says Baszucki. “When people were playing it and we went into schools and labs, they were all making car crashes and buildings fall down, making really funny stuff.” Provided with a sandbox, kids didn’t just make dry experiments about mass or velocity — they made games, or experiences they could show off to friends for a laugh.

Knowledge Revolution was founded in 1989, by Dave Baszucki and his brother Greg (who didn’t later co-found Roblox, but is now on its board). Nearly a decade later, it was acquired for $20 million by MSC Software, which made professional simulation tools. Dave continued there for another four years before leaving to become an angel investor.

Baszucki put money into Friendster, a company that pre-dated Facebook and MySpace in the social networking category. That investment seeded another piece of the idea for Roblox. Taken together, the legacy of Knowledge Revolution and Friendster were the two key components undergirding Roblox: a physics sandbox with strong creation tools, and a social graph.

Baszucki himself is a third piece of the puzzle. Part of an older set of entrepreneurs, which might be called the Steve Jobs generation, Baszucki’s archetype seems closer to Mr. Rogers than Jobs himself: unfailingly polite and enthusiastic, never claiming superior insight, and preferring to pass credit for his accomplishments on to others. In conversation, he shows interests both central and tangential to Roblox, like virtual environments, games, education, digital identity and the future of tech. Somewhere in this heady mix, the idea of Roblox came about.

The first release

Powered by WPeMatico

Dr. Mario World now available on iOS

Posted by | Apps, arcade games, Gaming, ios devices, Mario, Mobile, mobile games, Nintendo, Peach, TC, tetris, video games | No Comments

Nintendo’s latest mobile game is now available for iOS devices, a day before its official target launch date. The game is based on the Nintendo game created in 1990 for the NES and Game Boy, and re-released/re-made a bunch of times over the years for various Nintendo consoles.

Dr. Mario World, the iOS game available now, is, like its predecessors, a matching puzzle game in which you as Dr. Mario (or maybe you’re just a colleague of Dr. Mario? It’s somewhat unclear) cure “viruses” by matching pill colors to the little jerks. This version has a number of additional gameplay features compared to the first, which was pretty Tetris-like in play. It also focuses on drag-and-drop mechanics, instead of manipulating pills like Tetris blocks as they fall.

For instance, you have other doctors from the rich Mario fictional world to call upon for help, including Dr. Peach and Dr. Bowser, as well as assistants, including Goomba, Koopa Troopa and others who apparently never either attained or aspired to professional medical doctor status. These have different skills that can make virus busting easier, and Nintendo plans to update the game with fresh doctors and assistants regularly.

Multiplayer is also part of Dr. Mario World, and you can go head-to-head or work together. Predictably, if you’ve followed Nintendo’s foray into mobile titles, this one is free-to-play, with in-game purchases for unlocking more play time and unlacing additional characters and upgrades.

Powered by WPeMatico

Tesla is bringing the ‘Fallout Shelter’ game to its cars

Posted by | arcade games, asteroids, Atari, automotive, Bethesda Games, e3 2019, Elon Musk, fallout, Gaming, missile command, TC, Tesla, video games, video gaming, ZeniMax Media | No Comments

As part of the gaming option for Tesla’s cars, Todd Howard, the director of Bethesda Games, said that the company’s “Fallout Shelter” game will be coming to Tesla displays.

Elon Musk is a huge fan of the Fallout series, saying in an interview at the E3 gaming conference that he’d explored “every inch” of Fallout 3.

Earlier this year, Tesla announced that it was adding “2048” and “Atari’s Super Breakout” to the list of games that drivers and passengers can play on the company’s dashboard display.

The company added Atari games to its slate of apps and services last August via a software update. At the time, the initial slate of games included “Missile Command,” “Asteroids,” “Lunar Lander” and “Centipede.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Google’s Game Builder turns building multiplayer games into a game

Posted by | cloud gaming, Developer, e-commerce, freeware, Gaming, Google, Javascript, Minecraft, Software, stadia, Steam, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Google’s Area 120 team, the company’s in-house incubator for some of its more experimental projects, today launched Game Builder, a free and easy to use tool for PC and macOS users who want to build their own 3D games without having to know how to code. Game Builder is currently only available through Valve’s Steam platform, so you’ll need an account there to try it.

After a quick download, Game Builder asks you about what screen size you want to work on and then drops you right into the experience after you tell it whether you want to start a new project, work on an existing project or try out some sample projects. These sample projects include a first-person shooter, a platformer and a demo of the tool’s card system for programming more complex interactions.

The menu system and building experience take some getting used to and isn’t immediately intuitive, but after a while, you’ll get the hang of it. By default, the overall design aesthetic clearly draws some inspiration from Minecraft, but you’re pretty free in what kind of game you want to create. It does not strike me as a tool for getting smaller children into game programming since we’re talking about a relatively text-heavy and complex experience.

To build more complex interactions, you use Game Builder’s card-based visual programming system. That’s pretty straightforward, too, but also takes some getting used to. Google says building a 3D level is like playing a game. There’s some truth in that, in that you are building inside the game environment, but it’s not necessarily an easy game either.

One cool feature here is that you can also build multiplayer games and even create games in real time with your friends.

Traditionally, drag-and-drop game builders feel pretty limited. The Area 120 team is trying to overcome this by also letting you use JavaScript to go beyond some of the pre-programmed features. Google is also betting on Poly, its library of 3D objects, to give users lots of options for creating and designing their levels.

It’s no secret that Google is taking games pretty seriously these days, now that it is getting ready to launch its Stadia game streaming service later this year. There doesn’t seem to be a connection between the two just yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Game Builder on Stadia, too.

Powered by WPeMatico

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey now offers a way for you to create your own quests

Posted by | assassin's creed, assassins creed iii, e3 2019, Gaming, player, TC, ubisoft, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was definitely my favorite game of 2018, and it’s getting even better thanks to a couple of new updates Ubisoft announced at E3 this year that help make the most out of the game’s incredibly detailed depiction of a mythically massaged Ancient Greek setting.

Starting today via an open beta, players can get in on one of these new features — Story Creator Mode, which is a web-based way for anyone to design, build and share their own in-game story-based quests. That’s right: You’re the myth-maker now, with a quest-building mechanic that lets players choose from six kinds of quest objectives, including assassination of specific targets; rescuing individuals; visiting different locales throughout the world and more. You can write your own dialog, with branches that respond to player choices, and you can add options for in-dialog lying or even let the player go ahead and attack NPCs to end conversations.

All of these missions, once built, can be shared with other Assassin’s Creed Odyssey players regardless of platform — so if you’re playing on PS4, you can share missions to players on Xbox, for example, and vice versa. This whole feature makes me super excited, because I spent literally months creating campaigns in the original Starcraft’s campaign building tool, and I will do the same thing with this. Hmu if you want my missions.

Meanwhile, players with less interest in creating something new, and more interest in visiting something that already exists to savor the details Ubisoft put in this game, can take advantage of the new Discovery Tour mode that’s coming later this fall. Basically it takes out any conflict elements and adds 300 guided tour stations, which provide details about Ancient Greek life, mythology, architecture and philosophy. The game’s dialog engine does double duty here to offer up interactive quizzes.

I like learning — who doesn’t like learning? This sounds great. But I’ll probably spend more time building campaigns than taking in the sites.

Powered by WPeMatico

Pokémon Sword and Shield arrive worldwide on November 15, 2019

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, hop, Nintendo, player, pokemon, TC, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Nintendo Switch has Pokémon games, but it doesn’t really have its own Pokémon games, not in the true sense. Pokémon Sword and Shield, coming November 15, 2019, will be the first real Pokémon games (don’t even mention Pokémon Let’s Go – don’t) for Nintendo Switch, and now we know more about them thanks to today’s Pokémon Direct livestream event from Nintendo.

Starting with the intro video, you can tell that Sword and Shield will be a full-fledged new extension of the Pokémon world taking place in the new Galar region – a fact emphasized by the theme song that played over it which featured the catchy hook “A whoollle new worlllddd.”

Plus in this new region, part of the fiction is that everyone loves watching battles on TV, which seems like it will come into play for big battles. We also got a glimpse at a bunch of new Pokémon, including a sheep one called Wooloo; a flower thing called Gossifleur (which evolves to Eldegoss); plus a “bite” type called Dredgnaw.

There’s also a new place called, not super imaginatively, the “Wild Area” which is pretty much an open world between human settlements where you get the chance to encounter wild Pokémon you can catch. These will vary depending on weather conditions and time of day, and it looks like much more of a free-ranging experience, when compared to the relatively hard-tracked previous instalments.

Pokémon also get a special power called ‘Dynamax’ in this instalment, which is a special power that makes them huge and more powerful for three turns. This also factors into a new mode where up to four Pokémon trainers can team up to squad raid a single Dynamax wild Pokémon who retains their amped up power for the duration of the conflict. At the end, players get a chance to capture the Pokémon – and some are exclusively available to catch this way.

We also got an intro to new characters including region champion Leon, his younger brother Hop (a primary rival for the player), plus a really quick look at some of the gym battles.

The real capper though was a CG cinematic introducing the game’s legendaries, which are wolf-like Pokémon who have – you guessed it – a sword and a shield respectively. These are called Zacian and Zamazenta.

Powered by WPeMatico

Fortnite Season 9 adds two locations and wind transport, but is mostly just new virtual items

Posted by | epic games, fortnite, fortnite battle royale, Gaming, video games, video gaming | No Comments

It’s that time again. Parents across the world are doling out $15 to Epic Games after the developer released Season 9, the latest update for its hit game Fortnite that’s particularly popular among kids and young adults.

Fortnite is estimated to have more than 250 million players, and it has proven to be a major money-spinner for Epic thanks to sales of seasonal Battle Passes, skins and virtual items for avatars. That’s very much the focus for Season 9, which dropped today and is really about the cosmetics, with the latest Battle Pass unlocking more than 100 rewards, including a range of new skins and characters.

Season 9 is an upgrade that’ll keep existing gamers locked into Fortnite through evolution — there are no radical changes to excite new or less-active players.

In terms of gameplay, Fortnite has added two new locations. Neo Tilted replaces Tilted Towers, which was destroyed by a volcano eruption last week, then there’s Mega Mall, which is an upgrade on Retail Row. Epic has added “Slipstreams,” which are turbines that power a wind-based transport system for getting across the map quickly, and potentially adding an interesting new combat angle.

There’s also a new “Fortbytes,” which is essentially a hidden item challenge. Gamers who bought a Battle Pass can collect a series of 100 collectible computer chips that are scattered across the map. There are an initial 18 released, with a new arrival each day — those who collect them all can unlock rewards and “secrets.”

There’s just one new gun on offer, the combat shotgun, which doesn’t seem particularly impressive, while grenades have returned. A large number of weapons have been removed — or “vaulted” in Epic parlance — and they include clingers, pump shotgun, poison dart trap, scoped revolver, suppressed assault rifle, thermal assault rifle and balloons.

That’s about the sum of the new update, although Fortnite does now include three new limited time games: three-person squad “trios,” a “solid gold” mode that uses legendary weapons and “one shot,” a sniper-only battle set in a low-gravity environment.

Powered by WPeMatico

Snapchat will let you play as your Bitmoji in video games

Posted by | Apps, Avatars, Bitmoji, Developer, Gaming, Mobile, snap inc, Snap Kit, Snapchat, Social, TC, video games | No Comments

Want your video game character to look just like you? Soon you’ll be able to scan an in-game code with Snapchat to play as your personalized Bitmoji avatar on PC, console and mobile games. Today Snapchat announced its new Bitmoji for Games SDK that will let hand-selected partners integrate 3D Bitmoji as a replacement for their character skins. With support for Unity, Unreal and the Play Canvas engine behind Snap’s new Bitmoji Party game inside Snapchat, the SDK should make it easy for developers to pipe in life-like avatars that give people a stronger emotional connection to the game.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer to bring Bitmoji into games. Games can be so much more engaging with you…in the game,” Bitmoji co-founder Ba Blackstock tells me. “We’re adding an identity layer to gaming that has the potential to have a transformational effect on the industry.”

Snapchat has a massive opportunity to colonize the web — and the games ecosystem — with its Bitmoji instead of waiting for developers to make half-assed clones. Bitmoji is perhaps Snapchat’s most popular and enduring feature now that Stories and ephemeral messaging have been widely copied, with 330 million estimated downloads, according to Sensor Tower. As I wrote in my feature piece on Snapchat’s new platform strategy, “To stop copycats, Snapchat shares itself,” every distributed instance of the company drives attention back to its original apps, and each partnership it establishes is one more ally in the fight against Facebook.

Snap’s new CMO

Snap’s new CMO Kenny Mitchell

As Snapchat moves into this new era of marketing itself through Bitmoji, today it also announced it has hired a new CMO, Kenny Mitchell. He was formerly the VP of marketing at McDonald’s and the head of consumer engagement at Gatorade. Mitchell oversaw the sports drink’s Serena Williams tennis game that lived inside a Snapchat ad and saw an average of over 200 seconds of play time, and its viral Super Bowl augmented reality lens that let you dump a cooler of Gatorade on yourself.

“Kenny’s consumer marketing expertise and his deep understanding of our products will be a great combination for Snap,” writes Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

The company has seen many senior execs depart over the years due to clashes with Spiegel over leadership, so we’ll see if Mitchell sticks around. He’ll be spearheading Snap’s new marketing campaign to reactivate Android users frustrated by its buggy app and bring them back to its newly reengineered version. “I look forward to helping Evan and Snap continue to tell their story to people around the world, and working with my new colleagues as we define the future of the camera and self-expression,” Mitchell writes.

Bitmoji, the visual identity layer

Snap acquired Bitmoji parent Bitstrips in 2016 for just $64 million, propelling it to become a staple top 10 app. Snap launched its Snap Kit platform in June 2018, allowing developers to integrate Bitmoji into the keyboards of their apps like Tinder for use as chat stickers or 2D profile pics. And this month, at Snap’s first Partner Summit, it launched partnerships to bring Bitmoji to the Venmo feed, Fitbit watch faces and more. But now it will let 3D Bitmoji replace your in-game character head-to-toe.

For now, the SDK will be free to top developers chosen for the program from PC, Mac, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android and other platforms. Surprisingly, most game devs just build their own avatar customization feature from scratch, but they’re typically focused on clothes and crazy hairstyles rather than fine-tuning a face that looks like your own. And while customized avatars are common in shooter games, Bitmoji could bring them to platform, racing, dancing, puzzle, fighting and role-playing games too.

Bitmoji for games won’t be an open platform, to ensure the brand isn’t misused. Blackstock explains that “You can look at what we’re doing with Bitmoji Kit where we have guidelines of best practices of how to use Bitmoji and not use Bitmoji. We’ll apply the same kinds of guidelines to gaming.” That might mean no extra graphically violent games, or anything in which players might revel in inflicting pain on a personalized avatar. But Fortnite, with its cartoony violence, might be an ideal Bitmoji partner.

Snap’s global head of gaming partnerships, John Imah, says he could imagine using his Bitmoji in titles from Star Wars, Lego, Mario Kart or Warcraft. Depending on how their models for characters, landscapes and items work, developers may have to do some work to make Bitmoji work gracefully. But Imah says when it can, “There will be some modification on our end to make sure this works within their engine so we can make this process as seamless as possible for these developers.”

Users will design their avatar in the Bitmoji or Snapchat app, though there may be in-game customization options down the line. If users ask to import their Bitmoji, the game will show a QR Snapcode on screen that users can scan with the Snapchat camera. That authentication unlocks their Bitmoji to use as an avatar skin in the game. Suddenly, every quest, battle and cutscene becomes about them, not some generic character.

Given Fortnite is earning hundreds of millions of dollars selling cosmetic upgrades, the inevitable question is whether Snap will start selling bonus outfits, items or face options for Bitmoji. “It’s really early days for Bitmoji for Games. It’s something we’ll explore later down the road,” Imah tells me. Imagine if kids could buy Supreme sweatshirts or fresh Nikes for their Bitmoji? That could be a lucrative new business for Snap that’s strengthened by each Bitmoji partnership, and at a time when it’s eager to boost revenue and cut losses as it aims for profitability.

Bitmoji for Games could cement Snapchat as the best way to visually represent yourself online without a photograph. As the darker sides of the internet and human nature come into focus for the tech industry, we need more ways to be ourselves while retaining privacy. Bitmoji could deliver the emotional connection of seeing yourself as the hero without the risks of exposing your true face.

Powered by WPeMatico

Are women better gamers than men? This startup’s AI-driven research says yes

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Dota 2, gamer, Gaming, machine learning, Mobalytics, player, Runa Capital, Startups, stereotypes, TC, video games, virtual assistant | No Comments

Last year the Gosu.ai startup, which has developed an AI assistant to help gamers play smarter and improve their skills, raised $1.9 million. Using machine learning, it analyzes matches and makes personal recommendations, and allows gamers to be taught by a virtual assistant.

Because they have this virtual assistant they can now do some interesting research. For the first time ever, we can actually peer over the shoulder of a gamer and find out what makes them good or not. The findings are fascinating.

Gosu.ai surveyed nearly 5,000 gamers playing Dota 2 to understand which factors separate successful and less-successful gamers.

They found that although only 4 percent of respondents to the survey were women, it turned out that those women that responded had a 44 percent higher win rate on average than the men.

Does this suggest women are better gamers than men? This isn’t a scientific study, but it is a tantalizing idea…

The study also found that the higher your skills in foreign languages, the slower your skills improve. They also found that people without a university degree, people who don’t travel and people who play sports increase their game ratings faster. Similarly, having a job also slows growth. Well, duh.

Gosu.ai’s main competitors are Mobalytics, Dojo Madness and MoreMMR. But the main difference is that these competitors make analytics of raw statistics, and find the generalized weak spots in comparison with other players, giving general recommendations. Gosu.ai analyzes the specific actions of each player, down to the movement of their mouse, to cater direct recommendations for the player. So it’s more like a virtual assistant than a training platform.

The startup is funded by Runa Capital, Ventech and Sistema_VC. Previously, the startup was backed by Gagarin Capital.

Powered by WPeMatico