video gaming

Where FaZe Clan sees the future of gaming and entertainment

Posted by | Activision, epic games, esports, faze clan, fortnite, gamer, Gaming, instagram, Microsoft, National Football League, social media, TC, Twitch, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Lee Trink has spent nearly his entire career in the entertainment business. The former president of Capitol Records is now the head of FaZe Clan, an esports juggernaut that is one of the most recognizable names in the wildly popular phenomenon of competitive gaming.

Trink sees FaZe Clan as the voice of a new generation of consumers who are finding their voice and their identity through gaming — and it’s a voice that’s increasingly speaking volumes in the entertainment industry through a clutch of competitive esports teams, a clothing and lifestyle brand and a network of creators who feed the appetites of millions of young gamers.

As the company struggles with a lawsuit brought by one of its most famous players, Trink is looking to the future — and setting his sights on new markets and new games as he consolidates FaZe Clan’s role as the voice of a new generation.

“The teams and social media output that we create is all marketing,” he says. “It’s not that we have an overall marketing strategy that we then populate with all of these opportunities. We’re not maximizing all of our brands.”

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Xbox Series X is Microsoft’s next-gen console, arriving late-2020

Posted by | amd, Gaming, hardware, Microsoft, microsoft windows, phil spencer, TC, video gaming, xbox, xbox 360, xbox live | No Comments

If you didn’t watch last night’s Game Awards, you may have missed it. But Xbox Series X is the company’s  next-generation console, and will be arriving in late 2020. Thankfully, Microsoft has kindly cataloged all of the images, media and even a little information online. Oh, and we’ll almost certainly be hearing a LOT more about the Xbox Series X before it arrives for the holidays in 2020.

Xbox head Phil Spencer has a pretty long breakdown over on the the official blog. But let’s start with the obvious here. The Series X looks…different. Surely the meme makers are already working overtime on this one, but to my mind, it looks like a more traditional PC or maybe even a router.

It’s tall (around three times as tall as its predecessor), it’s rectangular, it’s black. It’s fairly minimalist. A lot of people seem to be comparing it to a refrigerator, which is fine. Honestly, I think it’s got that working for it. Surely plenty of people are looking for something that more seamlessly blends in with its surroundings.

The last few generations have found consoles transforming from specialty items into catch-all media players, and there’s something to be said for a product that can sit on your shelf, largely undetected. Notably, the blocky design means that the console can be oriented either vertically or horizontally, depending on your spacing needs.

The latest version of the Xbox Wireless Controller arrives alongside the new system, because, well, you’re going to need something to control it with. It’s a bit smaller than the previous version, “refined to accommodate an even wider range of people,” per Spencer.

The buttons are largely intact, with the addition of a Share button for taking screenshots and game clips. The new controllers ship with the system and will be compatible with both the Xbox One and Windows 10 systems.

Speaking of older systems, the Series X is set up to support backward compatibility for all older systems, along with Xbox One accessories. Per Spencer:

Building on our compatibility promise, with Xbox Series X we’re also investing in consumer-friendly pathways to game ownership across generations.

Leading the way with our first-party titles including Halo Infinite in 2020, we’re committed to ensuring that games from Xbox Game Studios support cross-generation entitlements and that your Achievements and game saves are shared across devices.

Spec information is still pretty light for this first pass, but Spencer promises 4K playback at 60FPS (with potentially up to 120FPS) and support for both Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and 8K capability:

Powered by our custom-designed processor leveraging the latest Zen 2 and next generation RDNA architecture from our partners at AMD, Xbox Series X will deliver hardware accelerated ray tracing and a new level of performance never before seen in a console. Additionally, our patented Variable Rate Shading (VRS) technology will allow developers to get even more out of the Xbox Series X GPU and our next-generation SSD will virtually eliminate load times and bring players into their gaming worlds faster than ever before.

The Series X will also, naturally, have an eye on cloud gaming, in addition to native hardware. Tonight’s unveil also featured a sneak preview of the upcoming Ninja Theory title, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

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Here’s where top gaming VCs are looking for startup opportunities

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, AR, Bessemer Venture Partners, Blake Robbins, Electronic Arts, esports, ethan kurzweil, fortnite, Gaming, Google, instagram, Ludlow Ventures, makers fund, Nintendo, playstation, Reddit, TC, video gaming, VR | No Comments

With cross-platform experiences like Fortnite and PUBG, in-game socializing environments, and subscription-based cloud gaming services from Playstation, Google, Amazon, and others, the gaming industry is entering a new era beyond mobile.

These days, the industry is at the center of social media and entertainment trends; gaming is expected to earn $152 billion in global revenue this year, up 9.6% year over year. 

Given my recent writing on Unity, the most-used game engine, and ongoing research into interactive media trends, I wanted to find out how top gaming-focused VCs are assessing the market right now. I asked ten of them to share which trends they are most excited about when it comes to finding investment opportunities:

  • David Gardner, Partner at London Venture Partners
  • Henric Suuronen, Partner at Play Ventures
  • Samuli Syvähuoko, Partner at Sisu Game Ventures
  • Jay Chi, Partner at Makers Fund
  • Peter Levin, Managing Director at Griffin Gaming Partners
  • Gigi Levy-Weiss, Partner at NFX
  • Ethan Kurzweil, Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Jonathan Lai, Partner at Andreessen Horowitz
  • Blake Robbins, Partner at Ludlow Ventures
  • Jon Goldman, General Partner at GC Tracker & Board Partner at Greycroft Partners

Amid the mix of predictions, there were several common threads, such as optimism about the rise of games as broader social platforms, opportunities to invest directly in new studios, and skepticism about near-term investments in augmented or virtual reality and blockchain.

Here are their responses.

David Gardner, Partner at London Venture Partners

“PC Games are back. Great place to start new IP to then migrate a success to multiple platforms. There is more innovation in business models and more open distribution on PC to facilitate audience growth without the punishment of mobile CPIs.

VR & AR remain out. We stood away from VR in the beginning and extend that to AR while the user experience for games remains a disappointment. Let’s hope those new Apple glasses do the trick!

Crypto remain a theological war zone, but honestly everything on offer has been available in the cloud world, but the real consumer benefit isn’t showing up.

We love games that are expanding audience demographics and are sensitive to less hardcore audiences.  For example, women players are estimated to account for 1 billion gamers.”

Henric Suuronen, Partner at Play Ventures

“At Play Ventures, we believe we have just entered the golden era of mobile gaming. Who would have believed 10 years ago that Nintendo and games like Fortnite and Call of Duty would all be on mobile. Mobile is not just a games platform anymore, it is THE games platform of choice for casual and core players alike. Consequently, in the next 2-3 years we will invest in 30-40 mobile games studios across the globe.”

Samuli Syvähuoko, Partner at Sisu Game Ventures

“We at Sisu Game Ventures have been investing in many sectors since 2015 including free-to-play mobile games (especially big here in Finland), VR, AR, PC, console, instant messenger, hypercasual, audio and most recently cloud-native games as well. In addition to game studios, around a third of our investments are into games related tech/infrastructure. 

We’ve so far not dipped our toes into blockchain or eSports and our appetite for doing more investments in VR and AR is nil. To me, the most interesting mega trends lie with the promise of cloud gaming when utilized to its full potential. Another term that encapsulates my excitement is games-as-a-social-hobby. Put this and the extreme accessibility of the cloud together and you’ll have a game with revolutionary potential.”

Jay Chi, Partner at Makers Fund

“We are looking closely at ‘Gaming as Media’ related content and platforms — the emergence of new interactive experience centered on ‘viewers as participants.’ Gaming as social media falls under this thesis. We are also looking for MMO and Metaverse enablers given increased demand for specialized, scalable and affordable technologies that empower lean startup teams to create and operate large-scale worlds and novel gameplays. 

We also see potential for new start-ups to emerge in hypercasual games with midcore/social meta — no one has truly cracked this genre yet.”

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How Unity built the world’s most popular game engine

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Europe, game engine, Gaming, mobile game, unity, video gaming | No Comments

What do BMW, Tencent, Pokémon Go creator Niantic, movie director Jon Favreau and construction giant Skanska have in common? They’re all using the same platform to create their products.

Founded in a small Copenhagen apartment in 2004, Unity Technologies’ makes a game engine — a software platform for building video games. But the company, which was recently valued around $6 billion and could be headed toward an IPO, is becoming much more than that.

“Unity wants to be the 3D operating system of the world,” says Sylvio Drouin, VP of the Unity Labs R&D team.

Customers can design, buy, or import digital assets like forests, sound effects, and aliens and create the logic guiding how all these elements interact with players. Nearly half of the world’s games are built with Unity, which is particularly popular among mobile game developers. 

And in the fourteen years since Unity’s engine launched, the size of the global gaming market has exploded from $27 billion to $135 billion, driven by the rise of mobile gaming, which now comprises the majority of the market.

Unity is increasingly used for 3D design and simulations across other industries like film, automotive, and architecture and is now used to create 60% of all augmented and virtual reality experiences. That positions Unity — as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg argued in a 2015 memo in favor of acquiring it — as a key platform for the next wave of consumer technology after mobile.

Unity’s growth is a case study of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. While other game engines targeted the big AAA game makers at the top of the console and PC markets, Unity went after independent developers with a less robust product that was better suited to their needs and budget. 

As it gained popularity, the company captured growth in frontier market segments and also expanded upmarket to meet the needs of higher-performance game makers. Today, it’s making a push to become the top engine for building anything in interactive 3D.

This article is part of my ongoing research into the future of interactive media experiences. This research has included interviews with dozens of developers, executives, and investors in gaming and other industries, including interviews with over 20 Unity executives.

Founding

Unity was founded in Copenhagen by Nicholas Francis, Joachim Ante, and David Helgason. Its story began on an OpenGL forum in May 2002, where Francis posted a call for collaborators on an open source shader-compiler (graphics tool) for the niche population of Mac-based game developers like himself. It was Ante, then a high school student in Berlin, who responded. 

Ante complemented Francis’ focus on graphics and gameplay with an intuitive sense for back-end architecture. Because the game he was working on with another team wasn’t going anywhere, they collaborated on the shader part-time while each pursued their own game engine projects, but decided to combine forces upon meeting in-person. In a sprint to merge the codebases of their engines, they camped out in Helgason’s apartment for several days while he was out of town. The plan was to start a game studio grounded in robust tech infrastructure that could be licensed as well.

Helgason and Francis had worked together since high school, working on various web development ventures and even short-lived attempts at film production. Helgason dropped in and out of the University of Copenhagen while working as a freelance web developer. He provided help where he could and joined full-time after several months, selling his small stake in a web development firm to his partners. 

According to Ante, Helgason was “good with people” and more business-oriented, so he took the CEO title after the trio failed to find a more experienced person for the role. (It would be two years before Ante and Francis extended the co-founder title and a corresponding amount of equity to Helgason.)

They recruited a rotating cast to help them for free while prototyping a wide range of ideas. The diversity of ideas they pursued resulted in an engine that could handle a broad range of use cases. Commercializing the engine became a focus, as was coming up with a hit game that would show the engine off to its best advantage; for indie developers, having to reconstruct an engine with every new game idea was a pain point that, if solved, would enable more creative output. 

Supported by their savings, a €25,000 investment from Ante’s father, and Helgason’s part-time job at a café, they pressed on for three years, incorporating in the second year (2004) with the name Over The Edge Entertainment.

The game they ultimately committed to launching in spring 2005, GooBall, was “way too hard to play,” says Ante and didn’t gain much traction. Recognizing that they were better at building development tools and prototypes than commercially-viable games, they bet their company on the goal of releasing a game engine for the small Mac-based developer community. Linking the connotations of collaboration and cross-compatibility, they named the engine Unity.

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Tencent to take 29% stake in multiplayer games maker Funcom

Posted by | Asia, China, dune, Europe, Funcom, Gaming, online games, Oslo, supercell, Tencent, video gaming | No Comments

Chinese social media and gaming giant Tencent is taking a 29% stake to become the largest shareholder in Oslo-based Funcom.

The indie games developer is responsible for multiple adaptations involving the “Conan the Barbarian” franchise, such as “Age of Conan” and “Conan Exiles,” as well as a number of other multiplayer titles — including a forthcoming open world sandbox game that will be set in the “Dune” sci-fi universe.

The news that Tencent has entered into a share purchase agreement to acquire almost a third of the company was announced in a press release today. The Chinese giant has agreed to acquire all the shares belonging to the Norway-based KGJ Capital AS, which is currently the largest shareholder in Funcom.

Commenting in a statement, Funcom CEO Rui Casais said: “Tencent has a reputation for being a responsible long-term investor, and for its renowned operational capabilities in online games. The insight, experience, and knowledge that Tencent will bring is of great value to us and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to develop great games and build a successful future for Funcom.”

Tencent, which has a substantial games operation of its own, also holds stakes in a number of other major games makers — including Riot Games, Epic, Supercell, Ubisoft, Paradox, Frontier and Miniclip.

A prolonged games licensing freeze in China dented Tencent’s profits last year. And earlier this year, while it reported record profits in its Q1, it also recorded its slowest revenue growth since going public.

Regulatory risk at home is one reason for Tencent to expand its stakes in overseas games developers and tap into a global audience to stoke growth.

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Nintendo’s ‘Mario Kart Tour’ is out now for iPhone, iPad and Android

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Gaming, iPad, iPhone, Mario, mario kart, Mobile, Nintendo, super mario kart, TC, video gaming | No Comments

Mario Kart Tour, Nintendo’s latest mobile game, is now available on iOS for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, as well as on Android devices. The game, like Nintendo’s other mobile releases, is free to play, with in-app purchases (in-game currency called “rubies”) that you use for upgrades and unlocks.

Players immediately unlock one rider and get a tutorial to start, which introduces them to the Mario Kart Tour driving mechanics, which are slightly different than the ones you’re probably used to if you’ve played Mario Kart games for Nintendo’s various consoles. Specifically, your kart will always be moving forward, so there’s no acceleration to press; instead, you slide your finger side to side on the screen to steer left and right, with a tap firing off any items or weapons you might pick up.

High scores earn you points that can be redeemed for in-game unlocks, and the game also features other new mechanics, like “frenzy mode,” which gives you a timed period of unlimited item use whenever you pick up three of the same. Special challenges are also new in this mobile iteration, which introduce new ways to win instead of just placing first in a race with other kart drivers. Mario Kart Tour also features online ranking with other mobile players worldwide.

The “Tour” component of the game is also a new twist: Nintendo is mixing courses inspired by real-world cities in with levels that are taken from classic Mario Kart games, and these will be cycling every two weeks for a fresh global tour on a regular basis. In-game characters will also get costume variants that are inspired by these globe-trotting destinations.

Based on Nintendo’s track record, Mario Kart Tour should be perfectly playable without any in-game purchases, but players may feel that they hit a progression wall pretty quickly without picking up some currency. It’ll be interesting to see how this one fares, given that Apple has just introduced its own Arcade subscription service focused on games that eschew in-app purchase mechanics — including cart racer Sonic Racing, which looks very much like it was once intended to offer similar in-app mechanics before Arcade came along.

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Launching from beta, ProGuides is making money ensuring that gamers never play alone

Posted by | Advancit Capital, east coast, esports, game design, gamer, Gaming, league of legends, Los Angeles, ProGuides, Quest Venture Partners, Startups, TC, video gaming | No Comments

When ProGuides pulled the covers off of its service earlier this year, the young Los Angeles-based startup intended to give gamers a way to train with professional and semi-pro esports players from around the world.

But as users signed on to the service, it became clear that they weren’t looking for training necessarily… Instead, what players wanted was a ringer.

“After we launched the beta, we found some interesting user behavior,” says Sam Wang. “We found that gamers were experienced already and wanted experienced players who are better than [the matches] the game can provide… At the end of the day you do get to play with someone pretty awesome and is something that I think can make games better.

That’s right, ProGuides is pitching a marketplace for experienced gamers so that its customers aren’t randomly matched with some noob if they can’t game with their usual partners.

“Our tagline is ‘Play with pros’ now,” says Wang. “We already have over 5,000 sessions that were played in the last two months.”

The professional gamers who list their services on the site charge an average of $10 per session and ProGuides takes about a 25% cut. The company lowers its rates for popular gamers or gamers who are willing to spend more time on the platform either selling their services or actually coaching esports players.

Wang says that pros on the platform are making anywhere from $750 to $2,500 per month and that there are currently 250 coaches on the platform.

A typical session on ProGuides lasts around 45 minutes and players are available for Fortnite, League of Legends, Super Smash Brothers, CS:GO and Hearthstone.

ProGuides raised $1.9 million in pre-seed funding last June. The company is backed by Amplify, an LA-based early-stage investor and company accelerator, Quest Venture Partners, Greycroft Tracker fund and the GFR Fund.

The LA-based company also has some venture-backed competition on the East Coast. Gamer Sensei, which has raised roughly $6 million (according to Crunchbase) has a similar proposition. It’s backed by Accomplice and Advancit Capital.

Screen Shot 2019 08 29 at 9.17.36 AM

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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.

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Mario Kart Tour arrives on iOS and Android on September 25

Posted by | Android, Apps, entertainment software association, Gaming, Japan, Mario, mario kart, miitomo, Mobile, Nintendo, TC, United States, video gaming | No Comments

Nintendo’s next mobile game, Mario Kart Tour, will be available on iOS and Android devices starting on September 25. The official Twitter account for the game revealed the launch date, and shared the pre-registration link where users of both platforms can sign up to get the game when it launches.

The mobile installment of Nintendo’s incredibly popular cart-racing franchise was originally announced last year, and at that time had a planned launch window of sometime before the end of March 2019. Nintendo later updated that date to sometime during this summer in order to “improve [the] quality of the application and expand the content offerings after launch,” according to a statement in one of the game-maker’s earnings reports.

September 25 is technically after the end of summer, the last day of which is officially September 23, but it’s pretty close. Nintendo also released Dr. Mario World earlier this year, so it’s been a busy year for the company in terms of launching mobile adaptations of its popular franchises.

Mario Kart Tour had a closed beta in the U.S. and Japan, which was Android-only, earlier this year. Details from the beta include a look at the rather expansive roster, as well as a lot of in-game purchase mechanics that might frustrate fans of the main series.

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SNES controller for Switch shows up in FCC filing, hinting at SNES games for Nintendo Online

Posted by | controller, Federal Communications Commission, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, Nintendo, Nintendo 3DS, TC, video gaming, virtual console, Wii, Wii U | No Comments

Nintendo looks set to release wireless SNES controllers for the Nintendo Switch, which likely means it’ll also be bringing classic SNES titles to its Nintendo Online virtual gaming library. The news comes via an FCC filing (hat tip to Eurogamer), which includes a diagram of what looks very clearly to be the backside of a Super Nintendo-style wireless controller.

The diagram includes a model number that uses the “HAC” code that Nintendo employs to designate Switch accessories, and history suggests that the arrival of retro-inspired hardware for the Switch also means throwback games are on their way. Nintendo launched wireless NES controllers for the Nintendo Switch in September, and they arrived alongside NES games delivered via Nintendo Online as free perks for subscribers.

The FCC filing is more or less concrete proof that Nintendo intends to release something, but the rest is speculation (if very likely, informed speculation) at this point. Still, it seems inevitable that Nintendo bring its SNES library to the Switch, especially since it did so for the Wii Virtual Console before.

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