Gamesbeat Summit 2019

19 Mar 19
VentureBeat
Dorian has raised $2 million in funding for interactive storytelling for a new generation of readers. The San Francisco-based company is developing an “immersive fiction app” that is inspired by experimental storytelling such as Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, where the viewers could make choices for the show’s characters. The money comes from game-focused investors March Capital Partners, with participation from London Venture Partners (LVP) and others. (Two leaders from those firms, Gregory Milken of March Capital Partners and David Gardner of LVP, will speak on game investing at our GamesBeat Summit 2019 event in Los Angeles on April 23 and April 24). Dorian wants to build the future of fiction-based interactive media for mobile. Immersive storytelling is a rapidly growing category, and the funding will give help Dorian deliver multiple stories for different audiences, with the first focus on millennial and Gen Z women. Dorian’s interactive fiction “Dorian was started by women in leadership roles, which helps us create stories that feature diverse and authentic female role-models that are scarce in interactive entertainment and particularly in games,” said CEO Julia Palatovska in a statement. “When we talk to players, we hear that young women are tired of the Cinderella stories that still dominate content for women. Dorian will give players control over their individual storyline, the opportunity to connect with like-minded people and the chance to express themselves through meaningful choices that make a difference.” As storytelling is a social activity by definition, Dorian works on a new take of the choose-your-own adventure genre. Players may collaborate and make choices together. This move from traditional to interactive fiction, with readers taking the driving seat, mirrors recent shifts in television, film, art, and theater, driven by the generation of users who grew up building content in such games as Minecraft and Roblox and don’t want to be passive consumers. Dorian said its product will not only let users make decisions in interactive nonlinear digital stories, similar to what audiences experienced in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, but also enjoy deep social collaboration with their friends and families. Dorian is a new take on choose-your-own-adventure stories. “Dorian identified a generation shift in content consumption habits and aims to build a platform to reach both underserved female audience and the next generation of content creators,” said Gregory Milken, Managing Director, March Capital Partners. “Being attuned to their audience has given Julia and her team an advantage in creating an app that will make them leaders in the interactive digital fiction space.” For the past 10 years, women have made up nearly 50 percent of people who play games in the United States, especially on mobile devices. Yet only around 20 percent of the professionals within the gaming industry are women. This leads to the lack of female-friendly content, the company said, with most games being built by men and for men. Addressing this is one of the main motivations for starting Dorian. Dorian is led by game industry professionals with many years of experience in mobile games and entertainment. Palatovska most recently worked at games-focused VC fund LVP, which is now an investor in Dorian’s seed round, after helping build game publishing and content pipeline at mobile games publisher G5 Games that got publicly listed in the Nasdaq Stockholm. She teamed up with Jordan Lee, who has been in senior game engineering roles at multiple mobile game studios such as Nexon M and Digital Chocolate; and Heather Logas, former game designer at Pixelberry, the studio behind one of the leading interactive fiction apps Choices: Stories You Play. “We invest solely in the digital games industry because of our deep conviction that even the most traditional hobbies will be dominated by digital formats,” said David Lau-Kee, general partner at LVP, in a statement. “Dorian’s focus on interactive storytelling and their strategy to build a new medium combining fiction with social gameplay appeals immensely, and the positive response from early users confirms Dorian’s ability to address a huge and often misunderstood audience.” Other investors in the round include MTG (acquirer of ESL, InnoGames, and Kongregate); Century Game, backer of Kakao Games; Joi Ito’s fund, Neoteny 4; and prominent angel investors in games: Jens Hilgers, known for cofounding ESL; Kevin Lin, cofounder of Twitch; Holly Liu, previously cofounder of Kabam and now a visiting partner at Y Combinator; and Jonathan Zweig, former founding CEO of AdColony and currently cofounder and CEO of AppOnboard.
18 Mar 19
VentureBeat
The University of Southern California has a reputation for running great undergraduate and graduate programs in game design. And today, it will take a big step to unifying its film and computer science game programs under the leadership of Danny Bilson. Bilson was named chair of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts Interactive Media & Games Division (IMGD) in July 2017, and now he takes on the title of director of USC Games, taking over from former director Tracy Fullerton. In an interview with GamesBeat, he said his goal is to further improve the collaboration between the film school and computer science departments in the creation of ground-breaking video games. Bilson is a writer, film director, producer, and game executive who held senior executive roles at THQ and Electronic Arts. He has been on the faculty of the USC School of Cinematic Arts since 2005, where he has taught screenwriting, narrative design, and currently leads the Advanced Games Project. He most recently sold Da 5 Bloods, a screenplay co-written by himself and his late writing partner Paul DeMeo, to Academy Award Winning Director Spike Lee. He has recently consulted at Walt Disney Imagineering on elements of Disneyland’s Star Wars Land, as well as developed a new animated property in partnership with Film Roman and a drama series with Sonar Entertainment. The announcement was made by Elizabeth Daley, the Dean of the School of Cinematic Arts, and Yannis Yortsos, the dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. USC Games will support both independent and major studio game development; foster a diverse student body that produces both creative and innovative content; continue to build wide-ranging curricula which cover a multiple of areas of interactive entertainment; and build a robust industry placement pipeline for students. Key initiatives for USC Games will span several growth areas to include: hosting industry workshops where students design and work on commercial games with industry partners; building a robust job placement initiative for graduating students; the creation and design of games for health; as well as an expansion of design training and experimentation for board games. Other areas of focus will be strategic partnerships in the rapidly-growing location and theme-based entertainment space, as well as continuing to build the recently-announced, highly-successful USC Esports Union. I interviewed Bilson about his new role and his views of the game industry and USC’s collaboration with game companies. Bilson will be talking about where games are going at our GamesBeat Summit 2019 event in Los Angeles on April 23-24. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation. Disclosure: My kid is going to the USC film school’s media arts+practice division. Danny Bilson previously ran the Advanced Projects Class at USC IMGD school. GamesBeat: Congratulations on the new title. It sounds like this was where it was going a couple of years ago, whenever it was that you got the last promotion. Danny Bilson: We talked when I became chair of IMGD. One of my main goals was to unify the two schools, the engineering school, and our school, under the USC Games banner, which had been set up previously by Tracy Fullerton and some of the other folks at the school. But it wasn’t being executed in a thorough enough way to where there was a really great partnership between the two schools. My number one objective was to make it better. It’s taken about a year of negotiating the official nature of the arrangement between Viterbi and the School of Cinematic Arts to get us where we are today, which is a kickoff to — I call it USC Games 2.0, but really it’s a fulfillment of the original vision. To explain it a little further and make it simple, both sides, both faculty and all the curriculum, it all rolls up under the USC Games label now. We’re going to be doing a lot of things in the next year to update and improve the program. Which, of course, we can do when we’re unified. It’s much easier. USC Games GamesBeat: What are some examples of this more collaborative structure? Bilson: We have four or five goals put together. We have to update our curriculum because the world of free-to-play is a really important aspect of game development now. We have some classes in that, two important classes. One is sponsored by Zynga and one is sponsored by Scientific Games. But we need to build up that side of the program. We want to get our students managing a live game and running live ops before they graduate. We want them on a project to get that experience in school. That’s one of the goals. The other most important goal going forward is building stronger industry relations for job placement. Our film school has a fantastic program for placing students. We want to do it as well as they do. They call it their First Jobs Program. We’re just starting to talk to industry about setting up that kind of relationship for our students. Part of that, also, is having better communication with industry around what current needs are from a graduating student of a game design school. That changes all the time. Fortunately, most of us at USC Games are consumers of games and understand the industry and how it’s moving and shifting in its play patterns and habits. But we have to adapt our curriculum and our job placement program to support that so that our students are well-trained for the industry four years from now. GamesBeat: It seemed like one of the things that have happened is that game design is just one small part of the jobs base now. The number of people designated as game designers seems small compared to the number of other jobs in a game company. Bilson: Right. Part of the program — what USC Games allows for is a stronger cross-disciplinary program than we had before. Meaning that both the engineering students and the cinema students are going to be getting much more education in different aspects of game development. It’s not going to be silo’d. The engineers are going to get much more creative and production class support and the designers and producers are going to get much more engineering support. A lot of that comes through working together closely, but you’re right. In the future, our students have to have a general knowledge of all aspects of game development, and certainly specializations in one or two. GamesBeat: There are some silos in the industry as well. Bilson: Yeah, but the way games are evolving as an entertainment art form — one thing is narrative in a stronger form than ever before. We’re a great storytelling school. This is just one aspect of the curriculum, but there will be more narrative classes for our technicians, as well as our designers. In games, everything is storytelling. The art form has evolved to a point now where it can tell stories as well as books and films. We have to develop talent that can do that. Again, that’s one aspect of the art form, narrative. There are so many aspects to game development, to making a great game. We have to cover all the bases and teach them for, as I said, three or four years from now. GamesBeat: What are some other goals that you have in mind? Bilson: We’re going to get back to something that we used to do years ago, which we called game industry workshops. These are more industry-sponsored labs where our students are working on commercial products or iterating on commercial products and inventing more things in the space. We’ve partnered with industry and they share their tools and technology with our students generally, and our students work with their hardware and software to develop products for them, but most importantly to innovate. That’s what we do at a research university. That’s what our students do, to invent the game industry of the future and not repeat what we do now. Every lab we set up, or game industry workshop will be a very strong innovation point. Another area we’re pushing into is next-generation location and theme-based entertainment. Think of it as where live-action role-playing meets 3D projection and inventory and actors and costumes and sets. We see it as an interesting place where storytelling and technology and game design and interaction are meeting for the future. We’re partnering with some very interesting people. I can’t announce them yet, but in that space. It also ties to our minor in theme park design. We hope, in the future, to turn that into a proper degree down the road. That’s another one of our longer-term goals. USC School of Cinematic Arts GamesBeat: That makes me think of a mocap studio, something like that. Are you talking about something like Magic Leap, or…. Bilson: No, it’s more like some of the things you’ll be seeing in Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, where you’re connecting some lightweight role-playing to the activities in a physical space, using costumed hosts and actors to integrate with guests or participants. Usually, you use a smartphone app to hold your inventory and move the story along, but there are lots of different ways to do this. It’s an exciting nascent art form that a lot of people are interested in for the future. GamesBeat: So something like the Void. Bilson: It’s like the Void with more role-playing. There are lots of ways to do this, and many places for technology to lift this new art form up. I also wanted to talk about — one of the major investments is going to be in games and health, under Marientina Gotsis’s leadership. She has a lab that works in places where games can help people. We’re starting to put a project every year into our capstone production class out of that lab. We’re going to do a project every year to educate and/or help people, not just entertain them. Building out that division or aspect — we already host a secondary degree there, but we want to invest in that and build that out, because along with entertainment if we can do anything to contribute with our art form to society and people’s health, we should. There’s a lot of enthusiasm around that. We can also have some interesting partnerships with people in the health field. As an example, we’re looking at carpal tunnel syndrome on keyboards and different health aspects around esports. That brings me to one of my last points, which is the USC Esports Union, which we founded under our division. It’s founded to host teams from all over USC and regulate that in a way to keep it healthy, fun, and functional. That’s another one of our big initiatives that Jim Huntley is managing for us. There’s a lot going on in trying to do esports well. It’s so new that people are trying different things. We have a lot of strategies around how to do that well. We want to try to get, certainly, the toxicity out of it, and get it to a bigger sense of fun and a social experience around events, where people can gather around games and have fun, have some more casual activities. We want to make it more inclusive, so it’s not just elite, hardcore players. The last thing is we’re going to be going further into board game design and production. It’s been a foundational part of our program, but our students are able to actually Kickstart and ship games before they graduate out of there. We’re getting pretty good at it. The board game industry is a viable career path now. It’s exploding. For our students who are interested, we’re going to be offering more classes in board game design and production. Down the road, we’ll be looking for, probably, a minor in board game design, and then we’ll see how the industry takes it. It’s all the same thing. Board game design, pen and paper design, is foundational to everything we do digitally. It’s all part of the same education platform. Danny Bilson (in blue) has held jobs in both games and films. GamesBeat: It looks like you’ve been thinking a lot about the future at the same time you’re thinking about this current collaboration between the schools. Bilson: Absolutely. All those pillars or objectives are for the joint program. As a joint program, we have the resources and the people and the talent to go after this kind of growth and improvement to the program. Goal number one was to create and build a solid unified program, and I have to thank both Professor Zyda and Professor Fullerton for all the work they’ve done setting this up, and for the teamwork, we’re going to have going forward. That’s very important. But with this platform, we feel like we can go after these kinds of improvements to the program. We’re number one, but I think there’s a lot more work to do to be number one in the future. GamesBeat: Now that you’re one person with the title running USC Games. Was someone else in this role before, or is it a new position? Bilson: Tracy Fullerton was the director of USC Games previously, but without all the unifying factors that we built into the new organization. They achieved a lot of things. Looking at it as if it was a startup, they published four games as USC Games on PlayStation and Xbox and PC, which is really impressive. They started the ball rolling. We’re picking it up and trying to close all the loops that weren’t closed. We’re trying to completely function as a joint program. We’re going to move all production into the old EGG Building. We’re going to have a flow of students between the SCI Building and EGG. We’re going to have much more of a flow between the CS students and the cinema students. They’re going to feel like they’re just in one school together. Those things weren’t happening. It’s fulfilling the promise. That’s how I have to look at it. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s the right target as set up by my predecessors, and we’ve hit a milestone now where we can start executing on a bunch of other verticals that are exciting for us. GamesBeat: How much of the goal is also to enable the students to get a game out while they’re students, as opposed to preparing them for the industry in the future Bilson: We have an absolute platform for publishing. We have a finish and polish class during the year where students go to take either board games or digital games to market. They get them prepared there, tested and QA’d and all that. We’ve published quite a few games out of that. We also have a bridge program in the summer for some of the more entrepreneurial teams who want to take one of their games they’ve developed in the school. Often it’s one of the AGP games, the capstone production class. Those are the larger-scale games. We prepare them for investment. There are multiple paths, but the paths to employment are, one, get employed in a studio, or two, start a studio. We do a lot of both. A lot of students want to go the indie route. If they have a small team that wants to stay together after school, the bridge program helps them get funding and get on the way to finishing their game. All of this stuff is important. The reorg is just about done, as far as the official part of it goes. The next part is all about training and paths to employment, and then all the other stuff I talked about. GamesBeat: Do you think back on a particular game or games from the school as your biggest success so far? USC’s film school. Bilson: Every year, out of the 10 large-scale games that we produce, there’s always one or two gems. Last year’s gem was One Hand Clapping, which was a game where you sing into a microphone to move the character in a platformer. It has more than 300,000 downloads from the demo and was picked up by a bunch of YouTube influencers, including PewDiePie. Every year we have a success like that for our students. Honestly, it tends to be more innovative games. The students who’ve taken a risk and spent a year and a half of their lives producing something that’s more unusual. That’s what they should be doing, I think. Every year we have one that pops. Some of the more famous ones historically, of course, was the stuff Jenova Chen did as a student — Cloud, and ultimately fl0w. Every year there’s another star. There was one from four or five years ago called House of Cards, by Sam Rosenthal, which is now called Where Cards Fall. That’s in its final months of development, and I believe it’s going to be a big title in mobile for Apple. It looks fantastic. That’s a title I would look for in the near future, which was started in school. I believe it’s going to be published in late summer or early fall. It’s been in development four years and it looks great. Every year there’s a story of a breakout game. I hope that continues. GamesBeat: Is some of the process that the cinema people come up with an idea for a game, and they have to convince the engineers to come join the project to make it. Bilson: No, it’s more like — there’s a greenlight process. We’re in the middle of that right now. It happens every spring for the large-scale games we make. We’ll make 10 to 12 of them a year. It’s known as AGP. When you hear that expression, that’s what it’s referring to. We encourage everyone to pitch, and they’re allowed anymore to even form teams. We’re trying to have more students contribute ideas. We absolutely want those ideas to come from every aspect of game development. It could be from an engineer, an artist, a writer, designer. They can become the game director from any discipline, as long as they have an interesting idea. Ideas are very important, and the diversity of content is very important. We’re right in the middle of that now. This year we have two game directors who are finishing their games. One was an animation student and the other was from the Iovine Academy of Entrepreneurship. They’re both game directors driving teams within USC Games. It’s very inclusive as far as trying to get people who have dreams — they can come from anywhere into the program and build a team and make it if it gets greenlit. GamesBeat: A lot of that sounds very practical. It’s almost like setting up a mini-industry inside USC. Bilson: [laughs] I’m only laughing because that’s what it feels like. I’ve been an executive at a couple of game publishers. It feels the same, without the P&L for games. We’re executing the same kind of vision to grow the department as you would to grow an excellent game company. A lot of that — if you start with a portfolio, it’s what we make. The creative portfolio has to be diverse for us to be effective, and I think it is. That starts with diverse students and diverse points of view and diverse creativity. I like to think that’s where we are.
18 Mar 19
VentureBeat
Oblong Industries is giving us a little taste of the future with Rumpus, a visual collaboration tool for virtual teams on the Mac. It lets everyone share their screens at once or point at something at the same time, even if they aren’t in the same room. Oblong CEO John Underkoffler is best known as the science adviser for the landmark sci-fi film Minority Report, where actor Tom Cruise uses “data gloves” and gesture controls to manipulate a transparent computer. As the CEO of Oblong Industries, he has been trying to bring that vision to life. And now he’s ready to rumpus. Rumpus is a way for purely virtual teams to share multiple screens of content simultaneously. It makes web conferencing rich in both content and context; provides simultaneous access to shared screens from meeting participants; and delivers a new layer of communication with shared cursors, annotation, and emojis for signaling sentiment. You can use Rumpus in the loft. Underkoffler founded the company in 2006 and launched the Mezzanine software for interacting with screens via gestures for enterprise collaborators in 2012. I visited Oblong’s warehouses in downtown Los Angeles in May 2017. There, I saw huge video walls, curved to immerse the user inside a visual experience. You could really see data and the connections between objects in a visual way. He showed me you could grab an image and seamlessly toss it from a computer screen to a big video wall. IBM subsequently used those screens in its “immersion rooms,” which give people a 300-degree view of a giant video wall. (Our GamesBeat Summit 2019 event will hold a session in front of a video wall at Oblong’s office in downtown Los Angeles.) Tom Cruise in Minority Report inspired lots of tech companies. With Rumpus, Underkoffler’s team is targeting the small screen. Rumpus for virtual teams builds upon a particular insight gleaned from Mezzanine usage. In aggregated opt-in data from Mezzanine customers, Oblong noted that when they are sharing, 62 percent of the time they are sharing multiple streams. This means that when given the opportunity to share content concurrently, people generally will. Rumpus will allow remote workers to make multiple streams of visual material easily and concurrently accessible. “The way people communicate and collaborate is evolving,” said Ira Weinstein, analyst at Recon Research, in a statement. “Traditionally, a collaboration session involved a group of people in the same location viewing a single piece of content. An advanced session allowed remote participants to see the same content item. Today, however, many organizations are looking for a more dynamic and agile experience that allows multiple people to contribute content simultaneously from various devices and locations. Rumpus helps address these next-gen expectations.” You can use Rumpus on the couch. The idea is to bring focus to meetings, bounce ideas around, and get team members to share their screens at the same time so all the content needed for a meeting is readily available. Users can browse additional material or switch presenters, with no sharing permissions required so everyone can contribute to the meeting and not worry about interrupting it. You can show what’s important to you by using your cursor to mark a certain spot on a presenter’s screen. (It’s a lot like the non-verbal communication in the game Apex Legends, where you can double-click on a spot on the screen where you see a distant enemy, alerting your squad mates). Everyone gets a “personal cursor” to indicate what they are viewing. And to further support remote workers Rumpus offers emojis, the language of the social web, to help “remoters” feel more connected and engaged. “Rumpus is a really exciting new product release for us because in a way it completes the story,” said Underkoffler in an interview with VentureBeat. “It completes one of the biggest stories we’ve been working on since the beginning.” You can use Rumpus in the kitchen. He said that “collaboration” has been a diffuse term but at Oblong it means what is necessary to achieve a “deep, shared, cognitive context between two or more people.” “Effectively, it’s a mind meld,” he said. “You want enough of your brain to overlap with another human brain so that you can do things together that you couldn’t do during normal interaction or couldn’t do by yourself. That’s what we get at with Mezzanine, with multiple parallel streams available at the same time. You can move your content around in a fluid way. Multiuser. Multiscreen. Multisite. Multistream. All those multis come together in a way that for us is getting close to what people get visually in the real world when they are working in a non-digital way.” Underkoffler added, “Collaboration systems should be rich enough to allow Minority Report-level work, to support urgent decisions they have to make, work they need to finish, or conclusions they need to get to that involve lots and lots of data. If it looks and feels like Minority Report, that’s not an accident.” John Underkoffler hopes gaming will lead us to new user interfaces. While Mezzanine has been a room-based product that lets you share things across screens, Rumpus is for virtual meetings. In the early days, presenting to people was more like a monologue, but Mezzanine makes it feel like a dialogue. With Rumpus, you can join a session from afar and participate as a first-class citizen. “It’s been in the back of our heads for at least five years,” Underkoffler said. “We have a great room, but we heard a lot from the start, ‘What if you can’t be in the room?'” Rumpus So Rumpus takes pieces of Mezzanine, and Oblong had to invent new things to add more of the human cues that are available in person but lost when you are remote. Everyone gets a cursor, which brings back the “human pointing experience,” Underkoffler said. You can now indicate you are interested in something on the screen in a non-invasive way in which you are “not required to be the center of attention,” he said. The visual reactions to what is being presented give the speaker in a meeting real-time feedback without a lot of disruption. Underkoffler said Rumpus is not trying to reinvent audio and video conferencing, but when both content and conversation need to happen in a meeting, traditional products fail. (We all know the phrase “Death by Powerpoint.”) Rumpus is available as a separate product, targeted at distributed teams. It is available as a public beta for download today on the Mac, and it will launch officially in the second quarter on Windows.
16 Mar 19
CryptoCenterNews

Blockchain and games have an enticing future. Companies are setting up $100 million fund to entice developers to make games with blockchain, the secure and transparent decentralized ledger technology that powers Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. But plenty of game industry people are skeptical, considering the slide in the value of cryptocurrencies in the past year. […]

16 Mar 19
Official Blockchain News & Information

[ad_1] Blockchain and games have an enticing future. Companies are setting up $100 million fund to entice developers to make games with blockchain, the secure and transparent decentralized ledger technology that powers Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. But plenty of game industry people are skeptical, considering the slide in the value of cryptocurrencies in the past […]

16 Mar 19
VentureBeat
Blockchain and games have an enticing future. Companies are setting up $100 million fund to entice developers to make games with blockchain, the secure and transparent decentralized ledger technology that powers Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. But plenty of game industry people are skeptical, considering the slide in the value of cryptocurrencies in the past year. A handful are jumping into it and testing the waters. At Tron’s recent summit in January, I moderated a panel with three of these experimenters: Taehoon Kim, CEO of Power Rangers mobile game maker nWay; Dan Chao, head of startup Rogue Nations Games and maker of Crypto Assault; and Jared Psigoda, CEO of BitGuild. “Our biggest problem right now, to be frank, is that most of the blockchain games that are being made suck,” Psigoda said. Then again, there was a day when most of the mobile games out there sucked, yet entrepreneurs like Chao made out nicely when they sold their startups to larger game companies. Ubisoft has become active in blockchain games, but a lot of big companies are sitting on sidelines. If they sit too long, they may have to pay a lot to acquire the blockchain game startups. Or those startups will acquire them, Psigoda said, tongue in cheek. I’ll be moderating a fireside chat with Tron CEO Justin Sun next week at Pocket Gamer’s Blockchain Games Next event on March 19 at 2 p.m. at Bespoke in San Francisco. I’ll also be moderating a panel with Taehoon Kim at PAX East in Boston on March 28. Tron’s Roy Liu will also speak at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2019 event in Los Angeles on April 23-24. Here’s an edited transcript of our panel. Tron gaming panel (left to right): Dean Takahashi, Taehoon Kim, Dan Chao, and Jared Psigoda. Taehoon Kim: My name is Taehoon Kim. People call me TK. I’m the CEO of nWay. We make real games for emerging platforms, and the emerging platform now is blockchain, so that’s where we’re going now. Dan Chao: I have a small team just half a block from here. We’ve been working on a blockchain game called Crypto Assault, which is a kind of strategy MMO, where hundreds of thousands of players all live in a world together deploying tanks and jets and killing each other. Jared Psigoda: I’m the CEO of BitGuild. We’re a blockchain gaming company. We originally started building games on Ethereum, and later migrated to Tron. We also have Guild Chat, our social messenger, which allows you to trade crypto, get crypto coin drops. We have a bunch of other projects that we’re working on. GamesBeat: Could you tell us what you’re doing in the realm of blockchain and games and crypto? Why are you here? What got your interested in blockchain? Kim: I’ll step back and talk about the blockchain gaming ecosystem right now. Currently, the way I look at it, it’s mainly people who are already crypto holders. It’s people who have all these cryptocurrencies and they’re all trying to make money. It’s not necessarily the gamer crowd yet. Naturally, you see games that are more gambling-focused, pyramid scheme games, games that feel like lotteries. Real games haven’t yet arrived on blockchain. We’re working closely with Tron to figure out how we can get more mass-market adoption. How do we get gamers into games that have blockchain elements for trading and real-world value in game items? We’re doing some R&D right now, and we’re also working on a separate game that brings a whole new experience for this type of genre. Chao: Like a lot of people, CryptoKitties popped up on the radar for me and I was really interested. I’ve always loved hopping to a new platform to see if something relevant is there. When Facebook games, and subsequently mobile games, came out, that was very interesting. I love solving new problems and seeing–what is the value add for blockchain in games? Is there really something there? It was maybe last April that we started looking into making blockchain games, seeing if we could bring something a bit different from what we were seeing already. Dean Takahashi of GamesBeat (left) and Taehoon Kim of nWay. Psigoda: I’ve been a hardcore gamer for as long as I can remember. Pretty much all the MMOs you can think of, I played them, from Ultima Online to EverQuest to World of Warcraft. All of the Diablos, everything like that. One of the interesting things I saw in those games was the one of the most fun things to do was to trade items with other players. If I’m playing Diablo as a mage and you’re a barbarian, if I pick up a really cool barbarian item — those games were all built around being able to trade items and trade currencies. Also, one of my first businesses was a World of Warcraft gold farm in China. The concept of virtual currencies being worth real money has been an obvious concept to me since I was 12 years old. Once I saw blockchain come out, with the ability for these virtual tokens to have real value and for you to trade them frictionlessly through the blockchain, there was this eureka moment. Hey, we can make some really cool games that make us feel like we did in the ‘90s, when there was trading. It’s not like the mobile games there are now, where you just keep spending money yourself, but you can never trade your items with another player. It’s a pretty fascinating industry, and it’s just getting started. We wanted to be a part of it. GamesBeat: Three to five years from now, the definition of success here might be that we get the CEOs of Electronic Arts and Activision and Ubisoft sitting up here talking about blockchain games. What’s going to get us to that kind of outcome, to that kind of future, where this meets its full potential? Kim: It reminds me of the free-to-play business model. A long time ago the big publishers were laughing at it, saying it would never work, and now they’re all over it. It’s just a matter of time before they understand this. Chao: What really gets us there is cracking the game design that actually works with blockchain. I’m not convinced we’ve seen it yet. What I always say to people is that my depressing outlook on blockchain in the future — if it’s just used to tokenize cosmetic skins in Fortnite, then that’s probably not the most exciting thing it can do. But also, finding a game design that’s not just gambling or a CCG, something like that, that’s going to be the real thing that breaks it wide open. Whether it’s something that looks like Roblox — there are a lot of things to think about. It’s going to have to be that game design that really cracks it open. BitGuild’s Bitizens Psigoda: I agree. Our biggest problem right now, to be frank, is that most of the blockchain games that are being made suck. 2018 wasn’t too great of a year for blockchain games. It’s going to require time. As you mentioned, 10 years ago, when we were at the Game Developers Conference talking about this new thing called free-to-play games, where instead of going to Best Buy and spending $60 to buy a game, the game would be completely free, and you could just buy these items in the game for 99 cents or a couple of dollars — if you talked to Blizzard or Activision or EA or any of those companies back then, they’d say “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. We’ll never do anything like that.” But if you look now at the entire mobile game industry, and a lot of the PC game industry, pretty much all of the most popular games are free to play with microtransactions. We found out that it’s more profitable to make a game free than to make people spend money for it up front. Fortnite does $10 million a day in revenue, something like that? When EA and those guys come back to talk in three years, new generations of game design are always done by the scraggly startups. They’re not done by the big guys. The big guys, if we’re lucky, will come in and buy us in a few years. Or we’ll buy them. [laughs] Kim: The term “blockchain games” is going to disappear. Once we reach mass-market adoption, it’s just going to be games, and they’re going to have blockchain elements to them. GamesBeat: What do you think of the choices you have to make now? Which platform do you choose, whether it’s Tron or EOS or others? What are some important things that you have to decide at the beginning? What decisions do you have to make right now about what to support? Kim: If you’re making an app or game that’s exactly like what’s out there, obviously you go to Ethereum. But the reason we’re working with Tron is because they’re very forward-thinking. They’re working closely with us to make changes to the platform and create new experiences, lowering the barrier to entry for regular gamers. That’s the main reason we’re working with Tron. Crypto Assault Chao: When we were first getting started, it came down to market cap and users. You wanted to pick the blockchain with the most users. But now that’s changing a bit. Obviously there are Tron and EOS, which support games in a great way. They’re really helping out with marketing and visibility. On the technical side, transactions per second is a big deal, as well as gas prices. Really optimizing for lower gas prices is super important. But you have to weigh that with how much the users actually care about having the entire game on chain. For example, our game is actually mostly — 99 percent is off chain. It’s like playing a normal game, with a centralized server. The units, the map, all the commands, all that stuff is on the server when they’re moving around. But the purchase of the units is all done on chain. Whenever a new unit is created, that’s also done on chain. At first I was a bit nervous about users not being okay with that, but ultimately it doesn’t really seem like they care. They just want to play a fun game, and then they want to get some amount of their investment out of it. That’s a kind of long-winded way of saying, does transaction speed matter? Once transaction speed gets down to under a second, can you start to do everything on chain, and is that really still the right choice? Obviously there’s the gas cost there. There’s also a lot to do with seed funding. Some of the other ecosystems like Tron are helping out in that manner too. That can be very important when you’re starting a new business. BitGuild’s ecosystem Psigoda: For us, I’ll summarize it in two points. The first point, as mentioned, is the question of centralization versus decentralization. I think it was CryptoKitties that had an interesting data point, that 99 percent of their traffic or something like that left their website when they saw they needed to install MetaMask to play the game. I’m not of the opinion that absolutely everything needs to be decentralized, because in the long run what players care about is playing a good game. It’s not about our grand vision of decentralized products. Number two, again, is the choice of your blockchain. As I mentioned, we started out on Ethereum. We launched seven or eight games on Ethereum. To us, it was not acceptable to spend a dollar in transaction fees to buy an item that cost 50 cents, and then wait five minutes for the transaction to go through. The decision came down to which blockchain was really going to be able to support games. EOS was one of them. Tron was one of them. We thought very hard about both of them. They’re both fast. They both have little to no transaction fee. Justin Sun is the founder of Tron. He also started Peiwo and has been named to the Forbes 30 under 30 lists for Asia and China. The main deciding factor in why we chose to move to Tron was the community. There are many blockchains now where you can say they’re technically able to run a blockchain game. They have fast transaction speeds and so on. But the bigger question is, who is going to play those games? Those games are being played with the token of that blockchain. Tron games are being played with TRX. If you have another blockchain that technically solves your problem, but they have 200 holders of their token, then you don’t have a community to play your game. We found out, with Tron — we’ve had the greatest support from the Tron foundation as well as the community, and there are a lot of people in the Tron community who really want to figure out more ways to use their tokens. Gaming has been one of the most obvious ways for them to do that. GamesBeat: We all remember how important whales were in the free-to-play space, for mobile games and social games. The community with a lot of whales, maybe, is the one you want to be attracted to. Psigoda: Tron has some whales, yeah. GamesBeat: If you apply your imagination to it, what could happen with blockchain games? I didn’t think that much about blockchain and crypto until I talked to Tim Sweeney of Epic Games. He said that this could be the way we get to the metaverse, the virtual world of virtual worlds that comes up in stories like Snow Crash or Ready Player One. Is that one of the end goals that you think is possible? Psigoda: Again, most people have probably seen Ready Player One. If you haven’t, I’d recommend it. When we talk about the metaverse, we’re almost thinking of a life in the future where we spend a significant amount of our time inside of virtual worlds. I’d almost argue that we’re partially there. The reason I say that is, sometimes, if we stop and think and look around at how many of us are glued to our screens every day, whether that’s your mobile phone or your computer or a tablet — just get on a subway sometime and look around you. When 99 percent of the people in a room are staring at a mobile phone screen, are they really here, or are they somewhere out there? Adding on to that, in the future — we talk about things like how artificial intelligence is going to lead to far fewer jobs in certain industries like manufacturing. Even doctors, in the future, could be replaced by AI. Adding virtual reality to that, how virtual reality has evolved over the years, we’re looking at a possible picture some time in the future where all of us, or a significant portion of the population, spends a lot of time inside of virtual reality, or inside of these virtual worlds. What will happen is that there are going to be people who earn their livings inside virtual spaces. People have done this in games like Second Life or Entropia Universe or EVE Online for years. In my opinion, blockchain is going to enable assets you acquire in these video games or virtual worlds — you’ll be able to convert those directly into a hamburger at your local McDonald’s. Items you acquire in these metaverses or virtual worlds, through the power of blockchain, are going to be translatable into real money in the real world. Nothing else other than blockchain can make that happen. Kobe Bryant made an appearance along with Tron founder Justin Sun at the NiTron Summit. Chao: I’d say maybe don’t watch Ready Player One. Maybe save yourself two hours there. [laughs] But that’s not my point. My point is, I’m a gamer first. I’m not a blockchain utopian thinker. I don’t think it’s going to solve everything. My thing that I really wonder about — blockchain items, in order for them to have value, we can’t give them away for free. There has to be some initial cost in order to acquire these items. Currently we have games — whether you’re sitting there in ARK or Minecraft or whatever, punching a tree getting wood out of it, that wood comes for free, right? If that eventually gets crafted up into an item, it’s going to be hard for that item to be worth something, because all that wood comes out of a non-zero-sum economy. That’s where I think, whether it’s the metaverse or whatever — that’s going to be the hard part to crack. Are we all going to be okay with an economy where we get nickeled and dimed for every single resource and item we create?That’s why I think this works really well with cosmetic items, but it has a hard time working with functional items, at least from a business standpoint.
15 Mar 19
VentureBeat
I’m pleased to report we’ve got a near-complete agenda for our GamesBeat Summit 2019 conference, which has a great roster of speakers and takes place in Los Angeles on April 23-24. Our 10th annual event will take place at Two Bit Circus, the micro-amusement park in downtown Los Angeles, and we’ve got more than 80 speakers talking about our theme of “Building gaming communities” across two days. The code GBS19EXPERIENCE will unlock a 20 percent discount on your registration. We filled out our the agenda earlier this year than we ever have before, and we think that’s going to result in a stellar event. Our emcees across two concurrent stages include Andrea Rene of Whats Good Games, Tommy Tallarico of Intellivision and Video Games Live, and Elizabeth Howard of Aspyr. We’re calling the stages the Boss Stage and the Hero Stage, and we’ll have a couple of small rooms available for “Unconference,” as well as plenty of options for entertainment at Two Bit Circus. Please check out the full agenda here online. Tuesday, April 23, 2019 Andrea Rene is co-emcee on Hero Stage and on-camera host, producer & writer for “What’s Good Games” Opening Gathering 11:00 a.m. – 1:05 p.m. 1:10 p.m. – 1:20 p.m. Introductory remarks by Dean Takahashi, lead writer for VentureBeat’s GamesBeat 1:20 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. “The Landscape of Gaming” with Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Securities – Boss Stage Andrea Rene and Tommy Tallarico (co-emcees for Hero Stage) 1:30 p.m. – 1:50 p.m. “How to Take Risks and Run a Studio for Decades” with Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games, moderated by Morgan Webb – Boss Stage “How Riot Games Views Community” with Chris Greeley, senior manager of esports league operations at Riot Games – Hero Stage 1:50 p.m. – 2:10 p.m. “Hollywood and Games 3.0” Special guest, moderated by Chris Heatherly, executive vice president of Games and Digital Platforms, NBC Universal – Boss Stage “Games of the future” with Danny Bilson, chairman USC Interactive Media and Games Division – Hero Stage 2:10 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. “If Adtech is Dead, What Comes Next?” with Brian Bowman, CEO of Consumer Acquisition – Boss Stage 2:10 p.m. – 2:50 p.m. “Growing up Bushnell” with Brent Bushnell of Two Bit Circus, Tyler Bushnell of Polycade, Wyatt Bushnell, and video game pioneer Nolan Bushnell; moderated by Alissa Bushnell – Hero Stage 2:30 p.m. – 2:50 p.m. “Eat or Get Eaten – Consolidation is Coming” with Frank Gibeau, CEO of Zynga; moderated by Michael Metzger, partner at Drake Star – Boss Stage 2:50 p.m. – 3:10 p.m. Q&A on “The Death of Third-Party Ad Tech” with Brian Bowman, CEO of Consumer Acquisition – Hero Stage 3:10 p.m. – 3:40 p.m. Where Game Communities are Going, with USC professors Scott Rogers, Archie Prakish, and Scott Easley, moderated by Gordon Bellamy of USC – Hero Stage 3:20 p.m. – 3:40 p.m. “The Mobile Game Company for Hollywood” with Chris DeWolfe, CEO of Jam City, moderated by Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities – Boss Stage 3:40 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. JamCity Coffee Break Eight of our key speakers at GamesBeat Summit 2019. 4:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. “Renewal: Why Institutional VCs Are Turning to Games Again” with Gregory Milken of March Capital Partners, Ethan Kurzweil of Bessemer Venture Partners, Scott Rupp of Bitkraft, and moderated by Eric Goldberg of Crossover Technologies – Boss Stage “Building a Game Studio From Scratch” with Rob Pardo, head of design and operations at Bonfire Studios; moderated by Morgan Webb, community and culture at Bonfire Studios – Hero Stage 4:30 p.m. – 4:50 p.m. “The Future of the Blockchain and Crypto Gaming Community” with Brock Pierce, chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation; moderated by Dean Takahashi, lead writer for GamesBeat at VentureBeat – Boss Stage 4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. “The Future of the Blockchain and Crypto Gaming Community” with Leo Olebe, Global Director, Games Partnerships at Facebook; Jason Rubin, vice president of AR/VR partnerships and content at Facebook; moderated by Andrea Rene, cofounder of Whats Good Games – Hero Stage 4:50 p.m. – 5:20 p.m. “Chasing the Fun” with Vince Zampella, CEO of Respawn Entertainment; moderated by Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games – Boss Stage 5:00 p.m. – 5:20 p.m. “Influencer Campaigns that Work” with Dodger, Omeed Dariani, CEO of OPG.tv, Brian Perry, Senior Marketing Manager at Wizards of the Coast; moderated by Adam Lieb, CEO of GameSight – Hero Stage 5:20 p.m. – 5:40 p.m. “Giving a Voice to a Truly Global Game Development Community” with Rami Ismail of Vlambeer; moderated by Ivan Lobo, founder and president of Gamelab – Hero Stage “Communities That Last for Years” with Owen Mahoney, president and CEO of Nexon; moderated by Michael Pachter – Boss Stage 5:40 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. “The Future of Kids Communities” with Jesse Divnich, vice president of research and strategy at Interpret; moderated by Michael Cai, president of Interpret – Hero Stage “Location-Based Entertainment Then and Now” with Brent Bushnell of Two Bit Circus and Atari cofounder Nolan Bushnell; moderated by Jason Robar, Co-Founder & CPO at AuthorDigital – Boss Stage 6:00 p.m. Closing Remarks & Opening Reception Wednesday, April 24, 2019 Tommy Tallarico is co-emcee on Hero Stage and head of Intellivision Entertainment and founder of Video Games Live. 8:00 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. Registration & Breakfast 9:15 a.m. – 9:20 a.m. Opening remarks with Dean Takahashi, lead writer for GamesBeat at VentureBeat – Boss Stage 9:20 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. “Lightning Talks” with Niko Vuori of Drivetime; Ned Lerner of Hearo.Live; moderated by Colin Campbell of Polygon – Boss Stage 10:00 a.m. – 10:20 a.m. “The Wisdom of Owning Game Studios” with David Haddad, president of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment; moderated by Mike Vorhaus of Vorhaus Advisors – Boss Stage 10:20 a.m. – 10:50 a.m. “Surviving China’s Gaming Market” with Greg Pilarowski, founder of Pillar Legal; Taewon Yun, general manager of global publishing at Super Evil Megacorp; Andrew Tang, chief business officer at Gamepoch; moderated by Lisa Cosmas Hanson of IGDA – Boss Stage “Taking Esports to the Next Level” with Peter Levin, president, Interactive Ventures, Games & Digital Strategy at Lionsgate; Mike Sepso, chairman, Electronic Sports Group, investor, and strategic advisor New York Excelsior – Hero Stage 10:50 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. “MMO Gamers Are More Diverse Than You Think” with Kristen Dumont, CEO of Machine Zone – Boss Stage “What PC Gamers Want,” with Roger Chandler, senior vice president of Intel; moderated by TBD – Hero Stage 11:10 a.m. – 11:40 a.m. “When Everybody Plays” with TBD, moderated by Keisha Howard, founder of Sugar Gamers – Boss Stage “Seed Stage Investing for Games” with David Gardner, general partner of London Venture Partners; Ed Fries, former head of Microsoft Game Studios; and Charles Hudson, managing partner at Precursor Ventures; moderated by Eric Goldberg of Crossover Technologies – Boss Stage 11:40 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. “Gaming’s New Growth Areas” with Kevin Chou, CEO and cofounder of Forte Labs; moderated by Mike Vorhaus of Vorhaus Advisors – Boss Stage “Q&A on Why Hardcore MMO Gamers Are More Diverse Than You Think” with Kristen Dumont, CEO of MZ – Hero Stage 12:00 p.m. – 1:10 p.m. Lunch More speakers at GamesBeat Summit 2019. 1:00 p.m. – 1:55 p.m. Breakout – “Science fiction, technology, and games” with TBD and Alex McDowell (Panel located at Oblong Industries). Breakout – Monetization and Payments with Katie Hutcherson Madding, global product director of Adjust; Yaron Oliker, cofounder of Unbotify; moderated by Steve Peterson, co-creator of Champions Breakout – Blockchain Panel with Roy Liu, head of business development at Tron Foundation; Sebastian Borget, cofounder of Pixowl; Miko Matsumura, general partner of Gumi Cryptos; Nicolas Pouard, blockchain initiative manager at Ubisoft 2:00 p.m. – 2:40 p.m. “The Future of Influencers and Gaming Videos” with Ryan Wyatt, Global Head, Gaming & Virtual Reality at YouTube – Boss Stage “Building a Community for Girls” with Taina Malen, chief marketing officer and chief operating officer Star Stable Entertainment; moderated by Perrin Kaplan, principal of Zebra Partners – Hero Stage 2:20 p.m. – 2:40 p.m. “Video Games Live, Intellivision, and Gaming Communities” with Tommy Tallarico, president and CEO of Intellivision Entertainment; moderated by Mike Gallagher, consultant at GetIntrepidity – Boss Stage “Dealing With Gamers Across the Decades” with Raph Koster, veteran game designer, creative executive and author; moderated by Amy Jo Kim, CEO, startup coach and bestselling author – Hero Stage 2:40 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Afternoon Break 3:00 p.m. – 3:20 p.m. TBD – Boss Stage Q&A on The Future of Influencers and Gaming Videos with Ryan Wyatt, global head of gaming and virtual reality at YouTube; moderated by Mike Minotti, review editor at GamesBeat – Hero Stage 3:20 p.m. – 3:40 p.m. “Unconscious Bias” with Celia Hodent, game user experience Consultant; moderated by Andrea Rene, cofounder of Whats Good Games – Hero Stage We’re reaching wide with our speakers for GamesBeat Summit 2019. 3:40 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. TBD 3:40 p.m. – 4:20 p.m. “Secret Speaker” with somebody secret – Boss Stage 4:20 p.m. – 4:40 p.m. “Building a Brand New AAA Studio” with Michael Condrey, studio manager of 2K Silicon Valley; moderated by Dean Takahashi, lead writer for GamesBeat – Boss Stage 4:40 p.m. Closing Reception  
14 Mar 19
VentureBeat
Facebook is launching a new way to view gaming content on the social network: the Facebook Gaming tab. The tab is in its initial rollout today to tens of millions of people, and that will expand to more people in the coming weeks. Last year, Facebook announced a redesign to the mobile app navigation bar on Facebook for people to get personalized shortcuts to the products they use most often. The Facebook Gaming tab is one of those shortcuts, said Vijaye Raji, vice president of gaming at Facebook in an interview with GamesBeat. “Gaming is pretty huge on Facebook, with 700 million people on our platform,” said Raji. “They play games, watch each other play games, or build communities in groups.” As an example, the Pokémon Go group in Seattle will share screen shots of their latest catches and go to outings in parks. Facebook will describe the game community features next week at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Facebook’s Leo Olebe and Oculus’ Jason Rubin will also speak at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2019 event in Los Angeles on April 23-24. “This is the kind of community we want to foster and grow on Facebook, true to our overall mission,” Raji said. The social network has 105 million monthly active users who are using more than 300,000 gaming groups. “We’ve noticed how diffused this gaming community is.” Facebook Gaming Tab demo Sometimes these gamers get their information on News Feed, sometimes they do it in groups, and sometimes they have special pages around a particular community, game, or streamer. The whole idea behind the Facebook Gaming tab is to make it easier to find information. In one place, you can play games, watch gaming videos, connect with gaming groups, and discover new things you can engage with. The tab appears at the bottom of the screen on mobile devices. “This is a dedicated gaming hub,” Raji said. “It’s an easy way to aggregate gaming content.” Eligibility for receiving the Facebook Gaming tab is determined based on how often you interact with gaming content on a monthly basis: playing games on Facebook, watching gaming videos, or participating in gaming groups. For people who don’t have the new Gaming tab on their home nav bar, it is available in the Games bookmark in the bookmarks menu on the Facebook app. You can do things like follow a streamer and subscribe to that streamer’s feed for a monthly fee. When they go live, you are notified. If you have a turn to play in a game, you get a notification. The experience in the Facebook Gaming tab brings together a lot of the initiatives the Facebook Gaming team has been working on over the last few years. For example, Facebook started building this initially with gaming video back in June, when it announced fb.gg; the ability to play games is powered by the Instant Games platform which opened for all developers last year at GDC 2018 (news here); gaming videos in the Gaming tab are from streamers in our partnered gaming creator program, which we started in January of last year, in addition to esports organizations and gaming publishers. Facebook did an initial test of a gaming video destination last year. Facebook is also continuing to beta test a standalone Facebook Gaming app on Android, which includes more features than you’ll find in the Facebook Gaming tab.
14 Mar 19
VentureBeat
Nexon and Big Huge Games have announced that DomiNations, the empire-building game now hitting its fourth anniversary, has been downloaded more than 50 million times. On top of that, the developer is releasing a major content expansion for DomiNations, Space Age, on Tuesday, March 19 on mobile devices. DomiNations is a good example of a game that seems to live forever, and it is the reason that Nexon acquired Big Huge Games three years ago. I interviewed Tim Train, cofounder of Big Huge Games, about the latest update and details on a civilization game that took the genre that started on the PC and brought it to iOS and Android. In this game, players build a civilization, taking it on a historic journey through the ages of humanity, striving to raise their budding nations up from the huts and spear-wielding warriors in the Stone Age to the advanced cities and devastating weapons of the Cold War era. “Things are going great overall,” said Train, in our interview. “We’ve had five age updates so far, with dozens of updates on varying degrees of features over time. We know there are hundreds of millions of people out there who love world history, and they can’t get enough content.” DomiNations Now they can turn their eyes to the heavens and advance to the Space Age, where they can research new technologies, construct powerful new buildings and troops, and take on greater challenges in events that recognize great moments in world history. In honor of the historical Space Age, the update adds new leader Sally Ride, NASA astronaut and first American woman to go into space, as well as Space Shuttle and SETI Wonders to bolster players’ technology and civilizations. DomiNations’ Space Age update. Additionally, events surrounding the Space Age launch celebrate pioneers like Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel to space, as well as events and milestones of humanity’s exciting leap into space such as Sputnik, the Moon Landing, and Apollo 13. The events will offer players unique rewards as they prepare to propel their nations towards the stars. Big Huge Games and Nexon will be offering a first look at all of the new content, features, and upgrades available in the new age via live stream on Twitch and Facebook today with the recording posted on the DomiNations YouTube channel the following day. DomiNations has more than 50 million downloads. DomiNations’ Four Year Anniversary event kicks off in mid-April and will last for two celebratory weeks of giveaways, rewards, and sales along with the healthy dose of active fun they have come to expect from the long running live service. Big Huge Games has scheduled surprise activities and events to challenge players to evolve their strategies and encourage the community, who have now spent over 6,000 cumulative years (longer than all of recorded human history) attacking their enemies in player-versus-player (PvP) battles. DomiNations has had five major age updates. In DomiNations, players choose between one of eight nations to lead as they research technologies, gather resources and build hundreds of unique structures, weapons and technologies, all while defending themselves from other players and attacking those that get in their way. Alliances can be forged and multiplayer conquests can be as massive as World War conflicts, where 50 vs. 50 players battle for control of the world. Train and longtime collaborator Brian Reynolds started Big Huge Games near Baltimore in 2013. Reynolds left the company, but Train said he still sees him regularly for board game nights. And Train said that he likes working with Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney (one of our speakers at GamesBeat Summit 2019 in Los Angeles on April 23-24). “Owen aligns with my 30 years of best practices on how to make great games,” Train said. “You trust in creative leads. Prototype to find the fun. Don’t commit resources until you do, and then go make it. I can’t imagine a better working relationship.” Big Huge Games has been doing updates every two or three months. As to why it has lasted so long, Train said, “We made a fun game that we delighted in playing. That was one of Sid Meier’s rules: make games you want to play. And people love playing as a king or queen or general. There’s a lot of passion among players for human history.” As for designing a new game, Train said, “When we are excited about a prototype idea, we put a team on it. We keep it small, give a lot of power to creative leads, and also try not to get too emotionally attached to a prototype.” Train said one team is finding success and he will talk about it in the future. He said that the studio and the Nexon ownership has given the company the freedom to “not put out pretty good games.” He added, “Putting out pretty good games makes you a pretty good studio. Pretty good studios just get clobbered in this market. You have to put out great games.”
12 Mar 19
VentureBeat
About 91 percent of children ages 3 to 12 ask for parental permission before making purchases in mobile games, according to a report from analyst firm Interpret. And among the kids who ask for permission, 27 percent — the biggest category — want items to customize their characters. Just 13 percent are looking to protect a kingdom or a city — the smallest category. “Our just-released GameByte report shows that almost all children ask their parents’ permission before making in-game mobile purchases,” said Jesse Divnich, the vice president of research and strategy at Interpret, in an email to GamesBeat. “That means publishers and advertisers need to be mindful that they’re essentially targeting a dual customer base. Parents are always going to look out for what’s best for their children, and convincing parents that your game aligns with parents’ expectations is an important step in the engagement process.” He added, “Understanding the complexities of this dual customer base is difficult and sometimes expensive. However, the publishers and advertisers that do put in the effort are far more successful in the market.” (Divnich will be a speaker at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2019 event on April 23 and April 24 in Los Angeles). The report said that 78 percent of kids say being able to play with their parents is an important factor when deciding which games to play. Perhaps counter-intuitively, this appears to be true among both younger (81 percent — ages 3 to 9) and older (77 percent — ages 10 to 12) kids. Allowances play an important role in kids’ spending. 33 percent of parents say they give their children some form of a regular allowance. 19 percent of parents give their children video game allowances specifically. Just 26 percent of kids ages 3 to 5 get some form of an allowance, but that number grows to 39 percent among kids ages 10 to 12. Console purchases FIFA 18 in action on the Nintendo Switch. What consoles are kids asking their parents to buy them in 2019? Sixty percent are asking for a Switch, with 49 percent  wanting the PS4 and 48 percent the Xbox One. Kids spend a lot on entertainment. Parents estimate they spent $1,300 on entertainment products for their kids in 2018, up 25 percent from the previous year. One-third of that spending was on video games. Across all entertainment categories, video games showed the most the growth (up 34 percent) over last year. It is interesting that the study found that kids ask for permission. Facebook recently disclosed information in a court case that showed how, early on, the company acknowledged that it tried to defraud children and parents by getting kids to spend money in free-to-play games.
11 Mar 19
VentureBeat
Niantic and Warner Bros.’ WB Games studio showed off the first gameplay for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, a mobile game that is based on the same location-based technology behind Pokémon Go and Ingress. It’s time for all of us to be spellbound. The long-awaited game has been in the works for a few years, and it will debut on iOS and Android in 2019, according to a press briefing led by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment president David Haddad and Niantic CEO John Hanke in San Francisco. Niantic provided the underlying Niantic Real World platform for augmented reality and map-based gameplay while WB Games in San Francisco created the game. The publisher is Portkey Games, a Warner Bros label. The game is a big test of where the location-based gaming phenomenon created by Pokémon Go (which generated $2 billion in revenues) can go next. (Haddad will be a speaker at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2019 event in Los Angeles on April 23-24). The game takes players into the world of the Harry Potter novels and movies as well as Fantastic Beasts. Much like Pokémon Go, the game includes augmented reality animations where players can use their smartphones to see animated creatures in the real world. By walking around the real world, players can find objects or creatures and interact with them, including walking around 3D animations of locations from Harry Potter locations. Like Pokémon Go, it is a free-to-play game with in-app purchases. A Demiguise AR encounter in Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. In Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, players are new recruits of the Statute of Secrecy Task Force working to solve the mystery of the Calamity. Because of this event, the secrets of the Wizarding World are at risk of being exposed to ordinary people (muggles). Players unite to fight the threat. They will be able to explore their neighborhoods and cities to discover mysterious artifacts, cast spells, and encounter fantastic beasts and iconic characters along the way. While players explore the real world, they will find a variety of Wizarding locations on their map, such as inns, greenhouses, fortresses, and magical traces where players can trigger specific encounters. When you find an inn, you can go inside it and eat some food, which gives you energy so that you can cast spells. There will be more than 100 types of encounters in the game, and that will expand over time. The game is built around a story with a multiyear narrative arc that will have players solving various mysteries, including the truth behind the Calamity. When you run into creatures in the world, such as Dementors, you’ll have to fight them by casting spells. The basic mechanic to cast a spell is to precisely trace a pattern, or glyph, on your screen. If you do it well, you’ll have a better chance of doing damage to the creature, which you can view in AR or an animated mode. You’ll see magical trades on your smartphone screen map as you walk around. If you tap on them, you’ll try to beat their “confounding magic.” Overall, based on my experience with the game, I saw it as a more than a “reskin” of Pokémon Go. This game builds on the platform that Niantic made and makes use of it to create a bigger experience. You can do things like collect ingredients to make potions or seek out enemies to fight. While Pokémon Go is more casual, Harry Potter is more of a game. It is still accessible to everyone, but it has things that only fans of the franchise will appreciate — like 3D renderings of places in the Wizarding World. There’s no launch date yet. The game will be available in 19 languages at launch: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Danish, Turkish, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Latin American Spanish. The game has no relationship to the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery mobile game from Jam City. Making the world more social and fit The animated world of Harry Potter is overlaid on the real world. Niantic’s aim in creating its game is to get people outside and exploring the world around them, instead of staying inside glued to screens. It wants people to exercise more and become familiar with the monuments and other things around them. Combining Harry Potter with Niantic’s exercise gaming is sure to trigger a lot more exercise for sedentary gamers. With Pokémon Go and Ingress, Niantic’s fans have walked more than 23 billion kilometers (14.3 billion miles) to date, Hanke said. “It’s like McDonald’s, you know, with 23 billion served for us,” he said. More than 3 million people attended real-world social events in Pokémon Go in 2018, with single-day attendance at one event exceeding 100,000 people. And 190 million friend connections have been made to date, he said. The platform can support 100 million people in a single instance of the game, Hanke said. Insight firm AppAnnie estimated that Pokemon Go has 460 million downloads to date, and it estimates that Harry Potter could generate more than $100 million in revenue in its first month. “We think there is adventure in every neighborhood, wherever you live, and we will help you find it and exercise,” said Hanke. “So all of us, from time to time, need a little nudge to get outside and get our daily steps in or get our workout in. And we want to be that nudge.” Hanke said the company also wants to promote the idea of “real-world social.” “For us, social is not chatting online,” he said. “Social is people coming together and doing stuff together in real life. In the beginning, it was about activities that I can do with my kids and my wife as a family together.” Players can submit locations to be candidates for landmarks in the game worlds, and today, thanks to Ingress, Ingress Prime, and Pokémon Go, there are millions of real world locations identified as landmarks in the animated world. If you walk to all of those places, you’ll get over that “epidemic of people sitting on the couch,” Hanke said. As for the accessibility, Hanke said, “I like the balance of the game [when it comes to] approachability. We’re certainly striving to have the game be one you can walk up to and begin playing and not be overwhelmed by the complexity. But [it] also has depth there, waiting to be discovered.” More gaming in the gameplay A Portkey in Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. While Pokémon Go focused on collecting at the outset, the Harry Potter game will start with more gameplay options for players. Eventually, over two-and-a-half years, Niantic added to Pokémon Go more features, such as friends, a greater variety of creatures, raids, trading, and player battles. Harry Potter won’t start with all of those, but Niantic now has the benefit of having developed those things in its previous games, and that could make them available in Harry Potter sooner, Hanke said. The Harry Potter game also has more activities for hardcore gamers with Wizarding Challenges, which resemble the raids in Pokémon Go. With those synchronous multiplayer activities, players can team up and attack fortresses on the map. That gives players leveling-up experiences similar to role-playing games, with things like shared arenas, combat encounters, and group-wide arena effects. Adding to the RPG gameplay, players can specialize in different professions: Auror, Magizoologist, and Professor. Players from different professions will be encouraged to work together to defeat Wizarding Challenges and unlock rare content. And then, there are treats for fans of the Harry Potter world in the form of Portkeys. Upon discovering and activating a Portkey Portmanteau, players will be able to reveal an immersive VR-like experience and transport themselves to explore iconic Wizarding World locations. I saw one such place in the form of Ollivanders Wand Shop in the Diagon Alley area. This shop looked beautiful, and it is unlike anything you can do in Pokémon Go. If you visit greenhouses scattered throughout the world, you’ll be able to collect different kinds of ingredients. With those, you can craft potions. The kind of ingredients available will depend on your biomes, with ingredients available changing based on weather conditions. Making the game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. The team was inspired by a quote from the wizard Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter world. He says to Harry, “Of course it’s happening inside your head here. But why on earth should that mean it’s not real?” Hanke said that he grew up with the Harry Potter franchise but found he wasn’t nearly as big an expert on it as many fans among the employees at Niantic and Warner Bros. They viewed it as a dream come true to work on it. Jonathan Knight, vice president and studio head at WB Games in San Francisco, said that his company set up both a games label, Portkey games in partnership with Rowling, and a game studio to create the game. Rowling’s people make sure that the game is authentic and consistent within the franchise, but she did not otherwise have involvement with the project. The idea was to put the player at the center of their own adventure inspired by the Wizarding World. The team created a lot of original, authentic content in the form of art, animation, sound, visual effects, and story. “Harry Potter fans deeply believe that they have this wizarding potential and that the line between the wizarding world and the real world is paper thin,” Knight said. Alex Moffit, product manager at Niantic, said that the world of Harry Potter is so dynamic that the team tried to convey that by adding a lot more motion to the animated world. So, you’ll see smoke billowing from the chimneys of inns on the map. When you come upon creatures, you’ll see them through augmented reality, overlaid on the real world. And you’ll be able to take selfies with them. This “photo mode” may inspire more people to use the AR features in the game. More of the story and gameplay Harry Potter is held down by a Dementor in Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. The game takes place after the events of the Deathly Hallows, the final Harry Potter book. All wizards and witches have to unite to fight the threat. Mary Casey, executive director of product at WB Games San Francisco, said that in the game, a law was passed in 1692 that created a Statute of Secrecy, which sought to keep the Wizarding World secret from muggles. The developers didn’t mention it, but that so happens to be the year of the Salem witch trials. But a Calamity has occurred, threatening the sacred law and creating the risk of items known as “foundables” appearing all over the place. These are artifacts like wizards, beasts, and items that have been scattered throughout the mobile world. They are shrouded in a type of magic known as “confoundable magic,” but it’s not clear how long that shroud will last and the objects will remain hidden. The British Ministry of Magic has called the wizards together to explore their neighborhoods, find the foundables, overcome the confoundable magic, and return the items to their rightful place. If you travel, you’ll find different creatures in different places. The game kicks off with a call to arms to join the Statute of Secrecy Task Force and scour the world for the items. You create a Ministry ID, create your avatar, pick your magical house (like mine, Gryffindor) and customize it as you wish. When you find a foundable like Harry Potter, you’ll see him being threatened by a Dementor. You have to cast enough spells in a synchronous battle to defeat the Dementor and liberate Harry. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. In the demo, I walked around the Ferry Building in San Francisco and found various creatures. I had a hard time getting better than a “fair” rating in how accurately I traced the glyphs on my screen to cast the spells. But only a few of my attempts failed. You can use potions to improve your chances of winning a fight. When you fight creatures, you have to block their spells by swiping on the screen. That adds some skill to the fighting. I think this fighting is where the game departs from the fighting in trainer battles in Pokémon Go. We also had a chance to go into a fortress and attack a number of creatures. We started in a group of five, with each of us attacking one of the five opposing creatures. Once we all defeated our opponents, we were able to share in some loot. As you collect items, you’ll receive a treasure chest in which you can place the items. The magical items are rooted in landmarks. And what you find there is affected by things, such as natural phenomenon like weather, time of day, or the state of the moon. “Maybe players will see things differently and look at the world in a different way,” Moffit said. As for adding more features in the future, Hanke said, “We have the advantage of two-and-a-half years of development on the platform. And we have a nice tool chest of features and technologies. So, it should make things go faster.”
01 Mar 19
VentureBeat
Against all odds, Respawn Entertainment‘s Apex Legends has become one of the most popular games in the world. It had a surprise launch just 25 days ago, but it surpassed 25 million users in its first week. It was late in the crowded first-person shooter battle royale genre, which boasts titles like Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Call of Duty: Blacks Ops 4’s Blackout. Last week, analyst Colin Sebastian of Baird Research noted that Apex Legends had surpassed 100 million hours of streaming on Twitch, beating Fortnite during the same period. Engagement has slipped slightly to No. 2, behind Fortnite, in recent days, according to social analytics firm Spiketrap. But it is still highly successful, and today, Gen.G announced it would even form an esports team for Apex Legends. People have taken to call the game the “Fortnite killer.” Fortnite itself was dubbed the PUBG killer before that, and PUBG had knocked out H1Z1. Perhaps we are in a cycle, with very little visibility into what comes next in battle royale. I think it was so smart of Epic Games to raise $1.25 billion while Fortnite was on top. Because right now, it looks like Fortnite has some serious competition. I have been playing a lot of Apex Legends, and I’ll relate my feelings below about why it’s such a great game. The success of Apex Legends should surprise no one. It comes from the team that made Titanfall and Titanfall 2, and before that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Vince Zampella, CEO of Respawn Entertainment, leads the team and he deftly engineered the sale of Respawn to Electronic Arts for $455 million in November 2017. Apex Legends didn’t come from creative copycats. It came from a seasoned team that jumped on the hot trend of 2017: battle royale. Zampella, who has kindly agreed to speak at our GamesBeat Summit 2019 event on April 23-24 in Los Angeles, told me in an interview that the small team that created Apex Legends was simply told to “chase the fun.” Vince Zampella is CEO and cofounder of Respawn Entertainment, maker of Apex Legends. “We kind of set out to find the fun. This is what became the fun and the focus of the team,” Zampella said. “It’s a new, emerging mode. For us, it’s about mixing it up. We try to never do the same thing too many times in a row. This was about, how do we as a team and a company grow? This was something that resonated so well that it had to be the focus of what we do. We needed to get this out.” Mackey McCandlish, design director, said in an interview the team began before Titanfall 2 shipped in the fall of 2016. They prototyped early games and decided whether they were fun or not. In early 2017, PUBG exploded and Respawn paid attention. It was working on other games at the time — including Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a title that is expected to be launched next month. To the dismay of fans, Respawn even decided to postpone Titanfall 3 in favor of Apex Legends, though Zampella noted that no one should make assumptions about whether Respawn has had to make tough tradeoffs. As the team kept going, it committed the sacrilege of jettisoning Titans. That was harsh, considering the game takes place in the Titanfall universe. Titans, which are giant mech suits piloted by humans, are beloved by fans of the franchise. The Titans can do enormous damage in the Titanfall games, but the Apex Legends team couldn’t figure out how to make battle royale matches with Titans fair. After all, if one player gets into a Titan in such a match, he or she could lay waste to everyone else. One by one, the assumptions about how to do a battle royale game were tested. If they were fun, the conventions stayed in the game. If they weren’t, then they got booted. There was, for instance, no point in gathering everyone in a pre-game arena before the match, as they only delayed the launch of a relatively short game. They got rid of the 100-player roster, falling upon 60 as a more manageable yet sizable number. They went with a smaller, more densely packed map. Teams consisted of three players, instead of four. They also added communications mechanics that allowed players to signal the finding and precise location of cool loot without having to say so using the microphone. You could use the same kind of communication to indicate the location of an enemy you spotted. Players were also encouraged to stick together, revive injured players, and even bring fallen comrades back from the dead. “It’s a young genre. It has conventions,” McCandlish said. “But since it’s a young genre, you have to look at each convention from first principles and say, ‘Is that just because it happened to be that way? Or is that the best way?'” Chasing the fun Dean Takahashi pumps lead into someone who is already dead, as his partners have enabled him to win an Apex Legends round. I’ve chased the fun myself, sticking with Apex Legends even as other big titles like EA/BioWare’s Anthem and 4A’s Metro Exodus games came out. All three of the games have small problems with bugs that have been annoying, and I hit a major one that stalled my progress in the PC version of Metro Exodus. So I’ve been playing Apex Legends exclusively, trying to get better at the game. One day, I’ll return to those other games, hopefully. That’s hard for me, as anyone with knowledge of my game skills can tell you. I play shooters more than any other game genre, but in competitive matches, I always get killed more than I score. But this game is accessible. It rewards you for being persistent and learning how to play any of the eight different characters. I’ve stuck with Lifeline, the medic, and she has served me well. I am playing it on a Windows PC with an AMD Threadripper processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics card. It runs smoothly, but the game still crashes now and then. I found that my mouse and keyboard skill had atrophied quite a bit. I would shoot well if I was standing still. Or move well if I wasn’t shooting. But I had trouble doing both, and I was getting eviscerated in gun battles as I moved in predictable ways. I went six days without a kill at the start. But then I switched to a USB-connected Xbox One controller. With the two sticks, I found it was easier to move fluidly and aim at the same time. My kills have now shot up to 35, and I’ve reached level 25. Once I solved that aiming and moving problem, I worked on other skills like playing with different characters or reviving teammates. Like Call of Duty’s Blackout battle royale mode, the guns feel good in Apex Legends. If you’re standing at the correct range, you can generally hit a target that you’re aiming at. The weapons run out of ammo fast, so you have to hope to get extended clips as you gather loot. My favorite weapon combo is a Spitfire machine gun and a EVA-8 shotgun. The victors: Dean is the one on the right, with zero kills in the match. I love the small nuances of Apex Legends. As in any battle royale game, you are vulnerable when reviewing the gear of someone who has been gunned down. While looting, the smart communications system tells you that if you pick up a new gun, it should automatically equip that gun with compatible attachments that you already have. Half the time, my microphone doesn’t work. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had troubles with it on my Windows machine. I think I’ll have to find friends on Discord and communicate that way instead. But you don’t always need the microphone, as noted earlier. Often, I’ll play with people who have hundreds of kills. But I’ll also play randomly with people who have no kills. I defer to the veterans on where to land, but I notice they are invariably overconfident. They land in the zones where there are lots of enemies, and they wind up getting us all killed quickly. I like to land far away from the crowd, but I have trouble getting us to those locations upon jumping out of the spacecraft. Sometimes the veterans are harsh, criticizing me for failing to keep up with them or hit my targets. But others offer good advice. I tag along with them and on two occasions, they have carried me to victory. That’s a nice feeling, and it’s not as rare as with other matches. In Blackout, for instance, you have a one in 25 chance of winning. With Apex’s three-player teams and 60-player roster, you have a one in 20 chance of winning. That has happened for me twice now, and you can see one of the matches in the video embedded in this game. Hilariously, at least to me, my comrades both got nine kills each in the match, while I got zero. But hey, at least I didn’t get myself killed in this match. Other times, I get to play the veteran and lead our team so we don’t get shot early or caught outside the shrinking circle. At some point, I may get tired of the map. But so far, I’m enjoying myself. And I can see the infinite ways that Respawn can iterate and improve the game. They can, for instance, add new maps, new weapons, and new characters. I realize that we’re on the ground floor of what could be a very long game. But Respawn should enjoy it while they can. After all, at this rate, somebody else could come out with a new battle royale game and knock out Apex Legends. But I have to say. Apex Legends is such a breath of fresh air. It restores my faith that creativity and fun always come out on top. Respawn chased the fun, and it caught it.
27 Feb 19
VentureBeat
Electronic Arts, Amazon, and Comcast have joined the bidding to buy Asian online gaming firm Nexon, according to a published report. In doing, so, the separate bidders join previous bids submitted by Netmarble, Kakao, and private equity fund MBK Partners. South Korea’s Maeil Business newspaper reported the new bids, based on confidential sources. Ultimately, the deal is expected to top $9 billion, which is the value of shares held by Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju and his family. He has announced he plans to sell his 98.64 percent stake in NXC, which owns 47 percent of Nexon. The Tokyo-based Nexon has been a huge player in online games with titles like Dungeon Fighter Online and Maple Story, and it has been moving into mobile. To rise above the norm, Nexon has been signing deals with well-known creative developers. Earlier this month, South Korean news web site Daum reported that Kim was planning to sell his stake in the company. I’ve since heard similar confirmations of the intended sale. In addition, investment firms such as KKR, TPG, and Carlyle are reportedly attempting to partner with U.S. gaming companies to round up the funds for a bid. Owen Mahoney, CEO of Nexon, will be a speaker at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2019 event on April 23 and April 24 in Los Angeles. EA declined to comment, and we’ve asked the other parties for comment. The Korean bidders are arguing that they are better bidders as Nexon is an important national asset of South Korea (while Nexon’s headquarters is in Tokyo, most of its developers are in South Korea). “I am not an expert in Korean law and certainly the Koreans often treat gaming as a “god-like” activity, so maybe this will be forced by the government of Korea to go to NetMarble,” said Mike Vorhaus, CEO of Vorhaus Advisors and a longtime game industry analyst. “But I think companies like EA, Amazon, Comcast could all be higher bidders because the value of Nexon is immense to them — for EA it fills some big holes at the company, for Comcast it gets them into gaming in a very big way – which is a better growth business than TV and films — and for Amazon it positions them as a major player, overnight, especially in PC and to some extent mobile games. If the company is forced to sell to NetMarble, I don’t think the shareholders will be getting full value unless they match these new offers.”