Athenascope nabs $2.5M seed led by First Round to bring gamers AI-edited highlight reels

Athenascope nabs $2.5M seed led by First Round to bring gamers AI-edited highlight reels

4:28pm, 8th February, 2019
As massive cross-platform gaming titles become even larger time-sucks for a lot of people, it’s probably worth reflecting on how to savor your in-game accomplishments. Streaming of eSports celebrities on sites like Twitch has taken off like no one imagined, but for the most part the toil-heavy editing processes has left this attention largely focused on those with the ambitions of making gaming their full-time gig. is a small startup aiming to tap computer vision intelligence to record, review and recap what more novice gamers were able to pull off in their latest battle royale with a short, shareable highlight reel. The team is led by Chris Kirmse, who previously founded Xfire, a game messaging client that Viacom bought in 2006 for north of $100 million. The company announced this week that they’ve closed a $2.5 million seed round led by to grow its tools and its team. They’re also rolling out their AI highlight reel tool for gamers. The tool is pretty customized for individual titles; they’re launching with support for Fortnite, Rocket League and PUBG, but Kirmse hope to expand that list significantly in the future. a partner at First Round Capital who is joining Athenascope’s board, highlighted that a lot of existing tools for gaming entertainment are “really skewed towards the high-end.” “They’re not democratized, they’re for professional gamers,” Kopelman told TechCrunch. “What I think Chris is trying to do with Athenascope is enable anyone to create these high-quality game highlights — what the pros have to do manually.” The company is tackling a problem familiar to video-editing software companies, how do you prevent footage from dying on the device. The answer here is the same as many others have posited, tapping computer vision deep learning to do the heavy lifting in determining what footage is interesting and worthy of a highlight reel. Athenascope has some key advantages over the companies like GoPro that are trying to do the same with real world video, namely the games they support operate in fundamentally more predictable ways and 2D interface cues offer some pretty healthy indicators of when exciting stuff is going down. The game isn’t a plug-in that needs pipeline access to your Fortnite account or anything, the product simply analyzes exactly what you’re seeing when you play. The startup is also working on cool tools that allow you to see multiple perspectives of individual moments in gameplay by essentially syncing together footage from other people involved in a match that are also Athenascope’s service and giving a sort of multi-view replay. The company has broader ambitions of how it can evolve these gaming insights with computer vision, including ways to help gamers learn about their strengths and weaknesses in a way that lets Athenascope serve as a sort of computer vision coach. For now though, the big focus is on getting gamers these entertaining snapshots of their gaming experiences in an intelligent way.
GeekWire Calendar Picks: Wizard World, board games, and lots of advice for startups

GeekWire Calendar Picks: Wizard World, board games, and lots of advice for startups

3:09pm, 8th February, 2019
One of the biggest pop culture conventions in the Pacific Northwest is happening in Portland the weekend of Feb. 22. draws in big crowds and big guests every year. Some of this year’s guests include Jason Momoa (Aquaman and Game of Thrones), Melissa Benoist (Supergirl), and many guests from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What’s the best way to beat the blues after the biggest snowstorm in recent memory? Spending Valentine’s Day playing board games with your special someone, of course. Mox Boarding House, the combo pub and board game store in Bellevue, has some special food on the menu and lots of 2-player board games for you try out and you don’t have to figure out the rules on your own. Mox will have staff on hand to help you learn to play. The starts at 11:30 a.m. and goes until closing on Thursday, Feb. 14. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : A chance to meet game designers and give feedback on their latest games at Wayward Coffee House in Seattle; 2 to 6 p.m Sunday, Feb. 17. : A presentation about the basics of the startup business model at The Univerity of Washington CoMotion Innovation Lab in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Friday, Feb.22. : A presentation about the benefits of continuing to grow and learn throughout your career at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22. : A presentation to help startups figure out their valuation without revenue or profits at WeWork SLU in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25. : An event where beginners and experienced developers can work together on open source projects at North Seattle College in Seattle; 6p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25. : A presentation about how startups can navigate public relations on a small budget at Galvanize in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26. For more upcoming events, check out the , where you can find meetups, conferences, startup events, and geeky gatherings in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Organizing an event? .
FIFA 19 Loot Boxes Removed In Belgium After Controversy

FIFA 19 Loot Boxes Removed In Belgium After Controversy

11:25am, 7th February, 2019
Electronic Arts has finally come to terms with Belgium's laws and has announced that it will be removing the loot boxes from FIFA 19 after the Belgian gambling commission found this game, and other titles, in violation of current gambling laws.
Hatch, Rovio’s ‘Netflix for gaming,’ picks up NTT Docomo as a strategic investor

Hatch, Rovio’s ‘Netflix for gaming,’ picks up NTT Docomo as a strategic investor

10:24am, 7th February, 2019
Rovio’s efforts to diversify beyond its Angry Birds franchise is getting a little investment boost today. The company that Japan’s NTT Docomo is taking a stake in , a Rovio subsidiary that describes itself as the “Netflix of gaming,” providing subscribers with a rotating mix of freemium games from a mix of publishers, with the option of paying a single monthly fee for a wider mix. Docomo and Rovio are not discussing the size or value of the stake, but a spokesperson for Rovio told TechCrunch that prior to this deal, Hatch was 80 percent owned by Rovio and 20 percent by Hatch personnel. He didn’t specify who had sold shares to Docomo in this latest transaction. The deal will cover not just investment to expand the Hatch platform and number of games on offer — currently the selection numbers more than 100 — but to bring Hatch specifically to the Japanese market. This will include, starting next week (February 13), a soft launch of Hatch on Android devices in the country, as well as prominent placement of Hatch on Docomo’s Android TV service, sweetening the deal with three-month free trials of the Premium tier. The Android TV offering is a key OTT play for Docomo. Known primarily as one of the country’s biggest mobile carriers (and, historically, a trailblazer in mobile services, setting the pace for how much was building in the world of mobile content globally in the earliest days of mobile phones), like other network service providers, Docomo has been hit hard by the huge wave of services that bypass carriers and strike billing deals directly with consumers. Hatch will be one more feather in Docomo’s cap to try to lure more people to its service, which can be subscribed to and paid for by way of Docomo’s “d Account,” an iTunes-style platform that people can use regardless of which network carrier they contract with. Like Netflix, Amazon and other OTT video streaming plays, the concept behind Hatch is to offer a mix of games from various publishers, as well as developing its own selection of games in-house that it hopes will be popular enough to help differentiate the service from the rest of the field. That is critical, because Hatch and Rovio are not the only ones vying for the title of “Netflix for gaming.” Other formidable hopefuls include , , , and perhaps . The current selection of games on Hatch include Monument Valley, Space Invaders Infinity Gene and Hitman GO, with a new game called Arkanoid Rising — “a bold new reimagining of the arcade classic produced in association with Japanese gaming legends TAITO” — coming in the spring, which will be “the first Hatch Original exclusive to the platform.” Down the line, there also will be collaborations to develop esports events and more titles, Rovio said. The move is a natural one for Hatch, given gaming culture and how strong it is in Japan. “Japan is the world’s third largest games market and where the video games industry as we know it was born. In this extremely competitive market we couldn’t be happier to work with a partner like Docomo to help take our vision of cloud gaming mainstream,” says Juhani Honkala, Hatch founder and CEO, in a statement. “Docomo’s leading contributions to 5G technology and infrastructure and commitment to amazing new 5G-enabled services make the company an ideal strategic partner in Japan, and we look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration.” “We are excited to work together with Hatch, a great example of the new type of consumer services, which can bring out its potential towards the 5G era,” added Takanori Ashikawa, director, Consumer Business Department of Docomo, in a separate statement. “Hatch’s vision for cloud gaming changes the way people play and discover games, and our shared goal to enrich the everyday lives of our customers makes Hatch an excellent strategic partner for the long term.” Since its , Rovio has been facing a lot of , in part because of strong competition in the gaming industry and the company’s over-reliance on a nearly 10-year-old franchise amid a bigger industry shift to new tastes in games — marked by the rise of streamed, multiplayer titles like Fortnite. But while overall profits have at the company, sales of some titles have actually grown, with Angry Birds 2 — now almost three years old — . In that context, a different focus by way of Hatch, with a little financial help from NTT Docomo, could be the bet that helps catapult Rovio to a new level of the gaming playing field.
Xbox Live on Android, iOS and Switch? Sizing up Microsoft’s latest cross-platform move

Xbox Live on Android, iOS and Switch? Sizing up Microsoft’s latest cross-platform move

9:47am, 7th February, 2019
Microsoft Photo In a potentially seismic move for the video game industry, Microsoft is preparing to extend Xbox Live compatibility to several additional platforms, including Android and iOS mobile devices and the Nintendo Switch, according to a session description for next month’s 2019 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The session was reported by , and , but it had touted plans to show off a new software development kit “to enable game developers to connect players between iOS, Android, and Switch in addition to Xbox and any game in the Microsoft Store on Windows PCs.” Xbox Live users will be able to “take their gaming achievement history, their friends list, their clubs, and more with them to almost every screen,” the description said. This would extend Xbox Live’s reach from the 400 million Xbox and Windows 10 gaming devices, to a couple of billion devices worldwide. Microsoft declined to confirm or comment on the plans in response to GeekWire’s inquiry. However, such a move would fit with the tech giant’s strategy under CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft has increasingly been seeking to make its apps and services work across a variety of platforms, including those that the company has traditionally considered rivals. The SDK will be discussed at GDC 2019 as part of a session hosted by Team Xbox’s Jeffrey Shi and Ramsey Khadder, “.” The idea as proposed is to let the Xbox Live community take their groups, achievements, friends lists, games progress, and other means of engagement with them to non-Microsoft platforms, most notably the Switch, in the same way that Minecraft players can currently bring their data with them via Live if they change over to another system. There are a few other publishers in the games industry that attach their own independent networks to their games, most notably Ubisoft’s and Electronic Arts’s . When you install a new Assassin’s Creed or Madden game, you also run into requests to sign up for the related services. There’s also a larger movement in games right now towards “crossplay,” where certain cross-platform titles will allow you to go head-to-head against players on different services or consoles, which used to be anywhere from rare to impossible. Rocket League, Fortnite, Paladins, and SMITE, just to name a few games, all either have crossplay as of this writing, or intend to roll out the functionality soon. Last summer, Microsoft and Nintendo made big news by allowing Xbox and Switch owners to play together in Minecraft. Hey , since we can play together in now, did you want to build something? — Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) What’s different here is that Microsoft is extending the Xbox Live service, one of the pillars of its video game business, to platforms that are owned by what are ostensibly its direct competitors. Imagine an announcement by Netflix that it has reached a deal where you could watch several of its exclusive shows on Hulu, and you get an idea for how unusual this move could be. It does make sense, however, when viewed in conjunction with other initiatives like . Microsoft is still happy to sell you an Xbox if you want one, but this is consistent with its stated desire to focus on the services it provides, rather than the products it sells. It also opens up the possibility of Microsoft’s trademark first-party franchises being available for play on Android, iOS, or Nintendo devices, albeit with potential required engagement with Xbox Live. You could probably get a pretty good game of multiplayer Halo 5 or Sea of Thieves going on a Switch. Part of the session’s description also played up the appeal of the decision to independent developers, who ostensibly could “save time & expand their customer base” by offloading their social, communications, and multiplayer interactions onto Microsoft’s Xbox Live network. Instead of coding up your own account structure and online presence, the argument goes, why not simply plug into the preexisting, millions-strong Xbox Live user base? Microsoft has been criticized for its lack of platform exclusives, which tend to be the bread and butter of any video game console, but if its game plan is to use its high-engagement online service as a method of colonizing competitors’ marketplaces with its service portfolio, it’s a truly audacious move. It means that the value of the Xbox to Microsoft doesn’t necessarily involve a customer owning an actual Xbox. It also positions Microsoft as a social-network client for indies looking to build ready-made communities around their games, and gives Xbox Live a foothold on a variety of devices as the mobile gaming market continues to heat up.
Wreck-It Ralph Is Appearing In Fortnite

Wreck-It Ralph Is Appearing In Fortnite

5:45pm, 23rd November, 2018
Disney's Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks The Internet is the latest big animated movie to hit theaters. But Ralph isn't just hitting theaters... he's hitting drive-in theaters in Epic Games' Fortnite. Yes, there appears to be another crossover character coming to the Battle...
Star Citizen has Broken $200 Million In Crowdfunding

Star Citizen has Broken $200 Million In Crowdfunding

4:27pm, 22nd November, 2018
One of the biggest games currently in development isn't an AAA title; it's not some Hollywood-produced VR experiment, a movie-based game, or an LP themed around a book, song, television show or comic book. No, one of the biggest games in development is an independent project from Chris Roberts...
Street Fighter V Gets Resident Evil Costumes

Street Fighter V Gets Resident Evil Costumes

7:45pm, 21st November, 2018
Capcom isn't known for being particularly generous when it comes to free DLC in its games, but that's because the company knows that some of the content that it produces is highly popular and will see fans throwing down lots of money for said content. A perfect example of that is the new DLC pack...