new gaming subscription service Apple Arcade may have been a bit of a footnote at its Services event earlier this month compared to the stage time given to more prime time-ready efforts like Apple TV+ and Apple News+, but the company is throwing some major funding behind its effort to get people paying a monthly fee for exclusive titles. The company has already set aside a budget of more than $500 million for its Arcade service, according to a report in the . The service, arriving in the fall, will let users play exclusive gaming titles across their Apple devices ad-free and offline. The titles will be free of micro-transactions, unlike many of the popular gaming titles on the App Store. While the company has already reportedly spent more than $1 billion on its TV+ content service, the gaming subscription world marks another uncharted territory for Apple as it will put the tech giant in the position of curating with its cash by directly funding titles for exclusive launches on Apple Arcade. At its event, the company detailed that it will have more than 100 new and exclusive gaming titles launching as part of its service. The report states that in order to receive funding from Apple, developers will have to eschew releases on the Google Play Store and refrain from taking part in other gaming subscription services. After a “few months” of exclusivity, developers will be able to release their games on non-mobile platforms such as PCs and gaming consoles. The company is focusing its efforts on funding indie titles as opposed to bankrolling AAA studios to create an exclusive epic. As with Apple TV+, we’re still waiting on exact details regarding price and availability.
is about to launch an even cheaper Xbox One S. In order to cut costs, the company is removing the BluRay disc drive altogether. According to leaked marketing images spotted by (via ), the console could launch on May 7th for €229 in Germany. Given that the launch is just a few weeks away and that those marketing images line up perfectly with , chances are this is the real deal. As you can see on WinFuture’s images, it looks exactly like an Xbox One S without the disc slot. The console is called Xbox One S All Digital and comes with a 1TB hard drive — most standard Xbox One S consoles currently also feature a 1TB hard drive. Microsoft states clearly that this console is only for digital games. If you already have physical Xbox One games, you won’t be able to insert them in the console. Customers get three days fore free with the console through download codes — Minecraft, Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 3. You can then buy more games in the online store or subscribe to the Xbox Game Pass to access a library of games. This model should cost €229 in Germany, but you might be able to buy it for less. For instance, an Xbox One S officially costs €299 , but you can easily buy it for €200 on Amazon and through other retailers. Microsoft usually uses the same price points in USD. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Xbox One S All Digital officially costs $229 in the U.S. It’s clear that Microsoft is testing the market with this console. The company has been pivoting to a subscription model. The Xbox brand is evolving from a gaming console brand to a service brand. This should be a key differentiating factor of Microsoft’s strategy with the next generation of consoles.
Amazon-owned game-streaming site is today publicly launching its first game. But it’s not a traditional video game — like those the site’s creators stream for their fans. Instead, the new game is called “Twitch Sings” and is a free karaoke-style experience designed for live streaming. The game, which was , includes thousands of karaoke classics that players can sing either alone or in a duet with another person. In addition, streamers can choose to sing as themselves in a live camera feed, or they can create a personalized avatar that will appear in their place. (The songs are licensed from karaoke content providers, not the major labels.) But unlike other karaoke-style apps — like TikTok or its — Twitch Sings is designed to be both live-streamed and interactive. That is, viewers are also a part of the experience as they can request songs, cheer with emotes to activate light shows and virtual ovations and send in “singing challenges” to the streamer during the performance. For example, they could challenge them to sing without the lyrics or “sing like a cat,” and other goofy stuff. “Twitch Sings unites the fun and energy of being at a live show with the boundless creativity of streamers to make an amazing shared interactive performance,” said Joel Wade, executive producer of Twitch Sings, in a statement. “Many games are made better on Twitch, but we believe there is a huge opportunity for those that are designed with streaming and audience participation at their core.” The game is designed to not only capitalize on Twitch’s live-streaming capabilities, but to also engage Twitch viewers who tune in to watch, but don’t stream themselves. More notably, it’s a means of expanding Twitch beyond gaming. This is something Twitch has attempted to do for years — back in 2015. It has , and has partnered with various media companies in order to stream marathons of fan favorites — like painting series or cooking show, for example. Its own studio has produced non-gaming shows like . Last year, Twitch with Disney Digital Network to bring some of its larger personalities over to Twitch, as well. Those efforts haven’t really helped Twitch break out with the non-gamer crowd. Karaoke may not do the trick either. In reality, this “game” is more of a test to see if Twitch can turn some of its platform features — like its chat system and custom interactive video overlays — into tools to help increase engagement among existing users and attract new ones. It still remains to be seen if and how the game actually takes off. The game was unveiled today at TwitchCon Berlin, where the company announced it had added more than 127,000 Affiliates and 3,600 new Partners in Europe since the beginning of 2018. The company also detailed a few other updates for Twitch creators, including those across payments, streaming and discovery tools. Starting Monday, April 15, Twitch will pay out in just 15 days after the close of the month, instead of 45, eligible creators that reached the $100 threshold. In May, it will make the (paid sponsorship opps) available to Partners and Affiliates in Germany, France and the U.K., and will partner Borderlands 3, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 and Unilever, in Europe. In June, Twitch is also rolling out faster search, automated highlight reels (recaps) and the ability to sort through channels in a directory by a range of new options — including lowest to highest viewers, most recently started or suggested channels based on their viewing history. TwitchCon Europe 2019 is streaming live this weekend at
(Norwescon Image) — “We earth men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things.” That statement seems eerily on point for what’s going on in the world right now, but it’s actually a quote from “The Martian Chronicles,” written by Ray Bradbury back in 1950. Works from authors such as Bradbury and Isaac Asimov as well as newer books from fantasy and science fiction authors are the centerpiece of , which takes place from April 18 through April 21. While its focus is literary, the event also includes other media such as movies and games. It’s also where the annual Philip K. Dick Awards are presented for new science fiction books. — Everyone has some biases in their life, but those biases can bleed into the development of artificial intelligence in ways we may not realize. This is the topic of , which takes place on April 17. This presentation will focus on how companies can reduce biases slipping into their algorithms by helping employees to reduce biases in real life. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : The first in a number of presentations to help new business owners at Miller Nash Graham & Dunn in Seattle; 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 18. : A presentation about how startups can prepare themselves to do business on a global scale at Anthony’s Forum at the University of Washington in Seattle; 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 18. : A presentation about the latest advancements in 3D printing technology and its uses at Thinkspace in Seattle; 7 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, April 18. : A convention focused on anime at Washington State Convention Center in Seattle; Friday, April 19 – Sunday, April 21. : A showing of 18 popular anime films at Cinerama in Seattle; Friday, April 19 – Wednesday, April 24. A presentation for startups about how to determine their companies’ value and have discussions with investors at the University of Washington in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 19. A presentation about web accessibility and where to start at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 19. 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? .
What is If they recognize the name, most people would rightly tell you it’s a company that makes mobile games, like Pokémon GO, or Ingress, or Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. But no one at Niantic really seems to box it up as a mobile gaming company. Making these games is a big part of what the company does, yes, but the games are part of a bigger picture: they are a springboard, a place to figure out the constraints of what they can do with augmented reality today, and to figure out how to build the tech that moves it forward. Niantic wants to wrap their learnings back into a platform upon which others can build their own AR products, be it games or something else. And they want to be ready for whatever comes after smartphones. Niantic is a bet on augmented reality becoming more and more a part of our lives; when that happens, they want to be the company that powers it. This is Part 3 of our on Niantic, looking at its past, present, and potential future. You can and . The reading time for this article is 24 minutes (6,050 words) The platform play After the absurd launch of Pokémon GO, everyone wanted a piece of the AR pie. Niantic got more pitches than they could take on, I’m told, as rights holders big and small reached out to see if the company might build something with their IP or franchise. But Niantic couldn’t build it all. From art, to audio, to even just thinking up new gameplay mechanics, each game or project they took on would require a mountain of resources. What if they focused on letting these other companies build these sorts of things themselves? That’s the idea behind Niantic’s Real World Platform. This platform is a key part of Niantic’s game plan moving forward, with the company having as many people working on the platform as it has on its marquee money maker, Pokémon GO. There are tons of pieces that go into making things like GO or Ingress, and Niantic has spent the better part of the last decade figuring out how to make them all fit together. They’ve built the core engine that powers the games and, after a bumpy start with Pokémon GO’s launch, figured out how to scale it to hundreds of millions of users around the world. They’ve put considerable work into figuring out how to detect cheaters and spoofers and give them the boot. They’ve built a social layer, with systems like friendships and trade. They’ve already amassed that real-world location data that proved so challenging back when it was building Field Trip, with all of those real-world points of interest that now serve as portals and Pokéstops. Niantic could help other companies with real-world events, too. That might seem funny after the mess that was the first Pokémon GO Fest (). But Niantic turned around, went back to the same city the next year, and pulled it off. That experience — that battle-testing — is valuable. Meanwhile, the company has pulled off countless huge Ingress events, and a number of Pokémon GO side events called “Safari Zones.” CTO Phil Keslin confirmed to me that event management is planned as part of the platform offering. As Niantic builds new tech — like, say, more advanced AR or faster ways to sync AR experiences between devices — it’ll all get rolled into the platform. With each problem they solve, the platform offering would grow. But first they need to prove that there’s a platform to stand on. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Niantic’s platform, as it exists today, is the result of years of building their own games. It’s the collection of tools they’ve built and rebuilt along the way, and that already powers Ingress Prime and Pokémon GO. But to prove itself as a platform company, Niantic needs to show that they can do it again. That they can take these engines, these tools, and, working with another team, use them for something new.
Quiz Khalifa aka Host Malone aka Trap Trebek aka HQ Trivia’s Scott Rogowsky has been pushed out of the live mobile gaming startup. The two split due to disagreements about Rogowsky attempting to take a second full-time job hosting sports streaming service DAZN’s baseball show while moving to only hosting HQ on weekends, first reported. HQ wanted someone committed to their show. Now co-founder and CEO Rus Yusupov confirms to TechCrunch that Rogowsky will no longer host HQ Trivia. He tells me that the company ran a SurveyMonkey survey of its top players and they voted that former guest host Matt Richards rated higher than Rogowsky. Yusupov says HQ is excited to have Richards as its new prime time host. It’s also putting out offers to more celebrity guests to host for a few shows, a few weeks, or even a whole season of one of its time slots. HQ Trivia’s new host Matt Richards The departure could still shake HQ’s brand since Rogowsky had become the defacto face of the company. But he was also prone to talking a lot on the air and promoting himself, sometimes in ways that felt distracting from the game. Rogowsky has also been using HQ’s brand to further his standup comedy career, splashing its logo on advertising for his shows like this one below at a casino where “The centerpiece is a live trivia competition”, he told . TechCrunch had if he wasn’t properly compensated with equity in HQ Trivia that would only vest and earn him money if he stuck around. The damage to HQ could worsen if he’s scooped up by Facebook, Snapchat, or another tech company to build out their own live video gaming shows. HQ Trivia provided this statement on Rogowsky’s exit: “We continue to build an incredible company at HQ Trivia, from drawing hundreds of thousands of players to the platform daily, to increasing the size of the prize, to attracting strong talent. We’ve come a long way since Scott Rogowsky’s first trivia game and we’re grateful for everything he’s done for the platform. This is a team that creates products for talent to really shine—we’re just getting started at HQ Trivia, and as he makes his next move, wanted to take a minute to thank him for being part of our journey.” Yusupov tells me he’s excited about exploring new hosts, noting that Richards in a person of color who brings more diversity to HQ’s lineup. who has appeared on CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, Nickelodeon’s School of Rock and was a voice-over host for game show Trivial Takedown on FUSE. Yusupov says the team feels jazzed about the new creative opportunities beyond Rogowsky, though the CEO says he appreciates all that its former host contributed. Richards will have the tall task of trying to . It climbed the app store charts to become the #3 top game and #6 overall app in January 2018, and peaked at 2.38 million concurrent players in March 2018. But it’s been on a steady decline since, falling to the #585 overall app in August, and it dropped out of the top #1500 last month according to . HQ Trivia was installed over 160,000 times last month on iOS and Android with approximately $200,000 in in-app purchase revenue, according to . But that’s just 8% as many downloads as the 1.97 million new installs HQ got in March 2018. Exhaustion with the game format, so many winners splitting jackpots to just a few dollars per victor, and laggy streams have all driven away players. The introduction of a new in August hasn’t stopped the decline. And the may have impeded efforts to turn things around. There’s a ton of pressure on the company after it raised $23 million, including a. Even if HQ Trivia fades from the zeitgeist, it and Rogowsky will have inspired a new wave of innovation in what it means to play with our phones.
In just a few years, has evolved from internal side project into an independent industry trailblazer. Having reached tremendous scale in such a short period of time, Niantic acts as a poignant crash course for founders and company builders. As our shows, lessons from the team’s experience building the Niantic’s product offering remain just as fresh as painful flashbacks to the problems encountered along the way. As we did for our , we’ve poured through every analysis we could find on and have compiled a supplemental list of resources and readings that are particularly useful for getting up to speed on the company. Reading time for this article is about 9.5 minutes. It is part of the . Feature illustration by Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch. I. Background: The Story of Niantic | August 2015 | In August of 2015, Niantic announced that it would spin out from and become an independent company. As discussed in WSJ’s coverage of the news, Niantic looked at the spin out as a way to accelerate growth and collaborate with the broader entertainment ecosystem.
, the company that owns esports org and the Overwatch League’s Toronto Defiant team, have announced that (real name: Abel Tesfaye) has invested in the company. In the world of esports, OAM is a big organization — the Toronto-based company, which launched in 2017, has teams in the League of Legends European Championship, Call of Duty World League, Rocket League, Starcraft and Smite. OAM is one of only five esports orgs in the world with permanent slots both in League of Legends and the Overwatch League. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a look at one of the Toronto Defiant’s recent Overwatch League games. The terms of the investment were not disclosed, but it would appear that The Weeknd will be contributing to some marketing efforts and building brand awareness around Splyce and the Toronto Defiant. “Abel’s standing in the music industry will provide our Toronto Defiant and Splyce brands the opportunity to reach more fans and engage new audiences,” said OAM CEO and president Chris Overholt. The release also mentions that Toronto Defiant fans will see “unique joint efforts” with The Weeknd throughout the 2019 Overwatch League seasons. Here’s what The Weeknd had to say, via the release: As a big esports fan, I am really excited to be involved in this project. I am looking forward to collaborating with OverActive Media in unique and innovative ways. The Weeknd is not the first musical artist to invest in an esports org. Drake and Scooter Braun in esports company 100 Thieves in October of 2018.
Official key art for the Oculus Quest edition of Epic’s Robo Recall. (Oculus Images) A big story in the virtual reality market is the upcoming , an all-in-one portable headset that lets users enjoy VR games without requiring a wired connection to another device. Like the Oculus Go, it’s a standalone product; unlike the Go, the Quest is , combining the Go’s portability with enough onboard horsepower to run games from the Oculus Rift’s library of titles. It’s planned for release in spring of this year. In London on Tuesday morning, journalists got their first chance to go hands-on with many of the debut titles for the Oculus Quest, including a ported version of Epic Games’s . Recall, one of the top VR shooters of 2017, is being brought to the Quest by Seattle’s . Drifter VR is a small team of video game industry veterans, including CEO , who worked on the first two Gears of War games as their lead programmer. Their projects include 2017’s award-winning and last year’s Rise of the Gunters, a VR shooter made as a tie-in product for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. The company a $2.25 million seed round in 2016 from investors including Initialized Capital, Presence Capital, The VR Fund, Pathbreaker Ventures, and Anorak Ventures. GeekWire interviewed Davis about Drifter VR, its output in virtual reality, and the Oculus Quest. Robo Recall, as seen on the Oculus Quest. (Interview edited for brevity and clarity) GeekWire: Thanks for speaking with us, Ray. Can you first talk about Drifter’s founding story? Ray Davis: I started Drifter with two co-founders in the summer of 2016. , our art director, was actually at Oculus at the time, where he was doing a lot of first-party content. He got started back at id Software, so he was the art director for Doom 3, Rage, Quake, all these classic games. He was also at 343 Industries when Bungie split off, and Microsoft put him on Halo. The other co-founder, , was at Microsoft for many years, working on the Kinect at launch and on top secret stuff. With both of those guys, there was this moment where we said, “Wow, there’s some really cool technology ahead of us. We don’t know how far out this is, before it becomes viable, but creatively, this is absolutely where we wanna be.” The three of us brought that combined experience together. We love making AAA games, we’ve done all kinds of games, and the opportunity to pool that expertise and build a VR development studio was too good for us to pass up. That’s when we all jumped ship, and the rest is history, so to speak. The Oculus Quest. GW: Why’d you go for virtual reality, as opposed to anything else? Davis: I really enjoyed my time making Gears of War. There were a couple of cover-based shooters before that, but not necessarily the way that we’d envisioned it in Gears of War. I like to think that Gears helped set a new standard. If you’re going to make this kind of game, as a developer, you’re pushing what’s possible. For us, I think all the excitement was around virtual reality being sort of the last frontier. There are a lot of things in game development that you’ve understood for many years, that we’ve gotten really good at, and when it comes to VR, all kinds of things are different, like, “Hey, developers no longer have control of the camera.” That’s such a powerful tool for building experiences. How are we going to work around that, and what other new things can we find inside of virtual reality? For me personally, one of the things I really love about making VR games is taking away the plastic controller in your hands, taking away that you’re looking at a screen in front of you, so that players are totally immersed and lost in the experience. VR gives us so many more tools to accomplish that. Once you dive into that, you think, “Man, I don’t know if I could ever make a game that isn’t virtual reality at this point.” Robo Recall, as seen on the Oculus Quest. GW: How did you guys end up working on the Robo Recall port? Davis: It’s actually an interesting story. Before we started Drifter, my last job was as the general manager on Unreal Engine 4 at Epic Games. One of my responsibilities was shepherding all the early VR incubation efforts. A lot of the work we did was in partnership with Oculus back in the day, like on . To come back around, last summer, Epic Games and Oculus were having a conversation. “Hey, Robo Recall is one of people’s favorite games to play on the Rift. We think it’d be fantastic on the Quest. How do we make this happen?” And my friend was like, “How about Drifter?” Because obviously, we had that relationship with Epic. We ended up on that project for about five-and-a-half months. Working on the Quest was just fantastic. We were able to preserve the core gameplay that makes Robo Recall so fun, and we had a good time figuring out just what the hardware is capable of, and still maximizing the visual fidelity and what you can squeeze out of it. GW: Can you talk about the challenges of porting it from the Rift to the Quest? Davis: The Quest is based on a , so when you compare it to a desktop GPU, there’s an order of magnitude less of raw power that you’re dealing with. You have to take into account the power requirements of common techniques, like visual effects. What we spend a lot of time doing is running the device and then working backward. How can we change some of the content, and keep true to the visual style, while reaching our performance target? It involves modifying the content, the environments, bringing down poly counts, sort of the usual process across the board. Also, there’s a lot of great new technology for performance that Oculus and Epic have been doing research on. A lot of it’s just that we can do more with the hardware we already have, given that everyone is much more educated on VR and the opportunities there.
Kids gaming platform most recently , has reached a new milestone of 90 million monthly active users, the company on Sunday. That’s up from the 70 million monthly actives it at its last funding round — a $150 million Series F announced last fall. The sizable increase in users is credited to Roblox’s international expansion efforts, and particularly its more recent support for the French and German languages. The top 150 games that run on the Roblox platform are now available in both languages, along with community moderation, customer support and parental resources. The gaming company also has been steadily growing as more kids join after hearing about it from friends or seeing its games played on YouTube, for example. , it has become a place that kids go to “hang out” online even when not actively playing. The games themselves are built by third-party creators, while Roblox gets a share of the revenue the games generate from the sale of virtual goods. In 2017, Roblox paid out $30 million to its creator community, and later said that in 2018. It says that players and creators now spend more than a billion hours per month on its platform. Roblox’s growth has not been without its challenges, however. Bad actors last year subverted the game’s protections to — a serious problem for a game aimed at kids, and a PR crisis, as well. But the company addressed the problem by quickly securing its platform to prevent future hacks of this kind, apologized to parents, banned the hackers and soon after a “digital civility initiative” as part of its broader push for online safety. Months later, International expansion was part of the plan when Roblox chose to raise additional funding, despite already being . As CEO David Baszucki explained last fall, the idea was to create “a war chest, to have a buffer, to have the opportunity to do acquisitions,” and “to have a strong balance sheet as we grow internationally.” The company soon made good on its to-do list, in October 2018 when it picked up the app performance startup, PacketZoom. It also followed Minecraft’s footsteps , and has since been working to make its service available to a global base of users. On that front, Roblox says Europe has played a key role, with millions of users and hundreds of thousands of game creators — like those behind the Roblox games “Ski Resort” (Germany), “Crash Course” (France) and “Heists 2 (U.K.). In addition to French and German, Roblox is available in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and plans to support more languages in the coming months, it says. But the company doesn’t want to face another incident or PR crisis as it moves into new countries. On that front, Roblox is working with digital safety leaders in both France and Germany, as part of its Digital Civility Initiative. In France, it’s working with e-Enfance; and in Germany, it’s working with Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (USK). Roblox also added USK’s managing director, Elisabeth Secker, to the company’s . “We are excited to welcome Roblox as a new member to the USK and I’m honored to join the company’s Trust & Safety Advisory Board,” said Elisabeth Secker, Managing Director of the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK), in a statement. “We are happy to support Roblox in their efforts to make their platform not only safe, but also to empower kids, teens, and parents with the skills they need to create positive online experiences.”